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Best places to visit in Japan

Discover some incredible places in Japan that will inspire you to travel beyond the regular tourist hotspots.

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Japan may be a small country but it has giant sights to see across its multitude of islands.

From mega-cities filled with neon lights to mountain towns known for their hot springs, the Land of the Rising Sun has jaw-dropping scenic views, places filled with history dating back centuries and subtropical islands so beautiful you’ll feel like you’re in Hawaii.

With so much to see we’re sharing the must-visit places across the country and what to do when you’re there.

Best places to visit in Japan

1. Tokyo

Tokyo is Japan’s capital and is the most populous metropolitan area in the world.

The city is packed with modern buildings, technology and fashion but still mixes in the traditional.

It’s in this hectic-yet-organised city that you’ll find everything from neon lights to historic temples. Tokyo will not disappoint when it comes to history, the latest in everything lifestyle and more.

  • Best for: History, city and shopping lovers.
  • Where it is and how to get there: East central Japan, 60 minutes from Narita Airport on the JR Narita Express.
  • Top five things to see/do: Visit Tsukiji Market (the world’s largest fish market), see the Imperial Palace, watch a show at the Robot Restaurant cabaret, experience crossing at Shibuya Crossing and stop at Meiji Shrine.
  • How long do I need? Three to five days.
  • Recommended tour: Try Tokyo day tour to take in places such as Meiji Shinto Shrine, the Imperial Palace, the famous Nakamise Shopping Street and a cruise around Tokyo Bay.

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2. Kyoto

Kyoto is on the island of Honshu and is most famous for its traditional Japanese architecture, Buddhist temples, shrines and wooden houses. In Kyoto you can participate in formal traditions such as kaiseki dining (traditional multi-course Japanese dinner) and spot geishas in the Gion district. Kyoto is old Japan in its truest form.

  • Best for: History and culture.
  • Where it is and how to get there: Kansai region, central Japan. You can get there from Tokyo by bullet train (2 hours and 20 minutes), local train (nine hours including transfers) and bus (six to nine hours).
  • Top five things to see/do: Get a geisha makeover in the Gion district, visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine, stop at Nijō Castle, visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum, don’t miss Saihō-ji (a UNESCO World Heritage site).
  • How long do I need? Three to four days.
  • Recommended tour: The Kyoto Perfect Tour lets you discover this local area on a day tour spanning 9-11 hours long to sites such as Fushimi Inari Shrine, Gion, Kinkakuji and plenty more.

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3. Nara

Nara was Japan’s first capital and is second only to Kyoto when it comes to holding onto tradition and showcasing Japan’s history.

The city is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites highlighting the artwork and architecture dating back to the 8th century with historic structures like Tōdai-ji Temple and Kasuga Grand Shrine. Nara is popular for the Nara Park where deer roam free.

  • Best for: History, culture and nature.
  • Where it is and how to get there: South of Kyoto, central Japan. You can travel by train from major cities like Tokyo (2 hours and 20 minutes via Kyoto), Osaka (50 minutes) and Kyoto (30 minutes on Japan Railways) or by bus from Tokyo (overnight).
  • Top five things to see/do: Visit Tōdai-ji Temple (one of Japan’s most significant temples), walk through Isui-en Garden, see the tame deer in Nara Park, make a stop at Kasuga-taisha Shrine, try a kimono experience.
  • How long do I need? Half-day or full-day trip.
  • Recommended tour: A Nara deer park tour will take you to Nara Park, Tōdai-ji Temple and so much more.

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4. Osaka

Osaka is Japan’s largest city and though it’s not known for being a particularly pretty city with its concrete buildings, they are decorated in neon lights that make the city feel alive.

It’s here that you’ll find amazing street food, some of the most modern architecture in the country and great nightlife.

Located on Honshu island, Osaka is surrounded by trees covered in cherry blossoms, and Osaka Castle is surrounded by a moat.

  • Best for: City, food and nightlife lovers.
  • Where it is and how to get there: Southwest of Kyoto, central Japan. You can get there by train (2.5 hours from Tokyo and 12 minutes from Kyoto), bus (eight hours from Tokyo), plane (one hour from Tokyo) or car from major cities such as Tokyo (six hours) and Kyoto (75 minutes).
  • Top five things to see/do: Visit Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, escape the city at Hozenji Temple, try Osaka’s most famous foods such as kushikatsu (fried food on sticks) and gyu-suji nikomi (slow-cooked beef), stop by Osaka Castle and explore Dōtonbori district known for its restaurants and theatres.
  • How long do I need? Two days.
  • Recommended tour: Explore Osaka Castle and Dontonbori on this foodie-friendly tour that will have you trying local delights like okonomiyaki and takoyaki.

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5. Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is an active volcano outside of Tokyo and is the tallest point in Japan.

It is one of three sacred sites in Japan where pilgrimages took place for centuries.

Hiking to the summit is still a popular pastime and you can find Mount Fuji depicted in many paintings throughout multiple artistic periods.

  • Best for: Scenic views and active travellers.
  • Where it is and how to get there: Southwest of Tokyo. You can get there by local train (almost 2 hours and 20 minutes from Tokyo with a transfer) and bus (2.5 hours from Tokyo).
  • Top five things to see/do: Take in the site of Mount Fuji from Mount Tenjō, visit Mount Fuji 5th station, see more impressive views from Arakurayama Sengen Shrine, visit Kitaguchi Hongu Sengen-jinja Shrine and ride the Kachi Kachi Yama Ropeway.
  • How long do I need? One day.
  • Recommended tour: Take a 1-day Mount Fuji Bus Tour from Tokyo where you can see the sites, visit a ninja at the Oshino Ninja Village and ride a 4D flight simulator.

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6. Hiroshima

Hiroshima is known as the first target of an atomic bomb attack during WWII. Today visitors come to the city to see the Peace Memorial Park – but the city is far more than just remembering the past. Hiroshima is now a vibrant city with friendly locals and a laid-back feel.

  • Best for: History lovers.
  • Where it is and how to get there: Western Honshu, western Japan. You can get here by bullet train (four hours from Tokyo, 1 hours and 40 minutes from Kyoto and 80 minutes from Osaka), by bus (ten hours from Tokyo, seven from Kyoto and six from Osaka) or by plane (90 minutes from Tokyo).
  • Top five things to see/do: Pay your respects at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, visit Miyajima Island (known as the best place in the country for autumn colours), take in the views of Itsukushima Shrine (Floating Shrine), try okonomiyaki (a local delicacy) and visit Hiroshima Castle.
  • How long do I need? One to two days.
  • Recommended tour: A Hiroshima and Miyajima Island tour takes you to incredible and historic sites in Hiroshima and on Miyajima island including the only remaining bomb-damaged building.

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7. Okinawa

Okinawa Prefecture in southernmost Japan is home to semi-tropical islands with coral that more closely resembles Southeast Asia or Hawaii than Japan.

Okinawa is the largest island in the area and is the ideal jumping-off point for the smaller islands such as Tokashiki-jima and Kumejima with white sand beaches and amazing crystal-clear waters.

  • Best for: History and island lovers.
  • Where it is and how to get there: South of main island Japan. By air, it’s a 2-hour and 45-minute flight from Tokyo and 70 minutes from Kyoto.
  • Top five things to see/do: Visit Shuri Castle, explore Ocean Expo Park, lounge on beaches, dine on unique Okinawan food at Makishi Public Market and dive or snorkel around Miyako and Yaeyama islands.
  • How long do I need? Three to five days.
  • Recommended tour: An Okinawa private walking tour shows the best of the island from heritage sites to Shuri Castle and more.

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8. Furano

Furano is a year-round destination famous for its fields of lavender, poppies, lilies and sunflowers which create colourful picturesque views.

In the winter it becomes a ski destination with two snowy mountain peaks connected by lifts and gondolas, offering incredible valley panoramas.

  • Best for: Scenic views and snow activities.
  • Where it is and how to get there: Northern Japan. You can get there by local train (ten hours from Tokyo, two hours from Sapporo), by plane to Asahikawa Airport (1 hour and 35 minutes followed by a 50-minute bus from Tokyo), bus (three hours from Sapporo) or car (two hours from Sapporo).
  • Top five things to see/do: Take in the sites of the seasonal flowers, cycle around, hit the slopes, attend the Belly Button Festival and hike to Mount Furano-Nishi.
  • How long do I need? Two to three days.
  • Recommended tour: Enjoy a Private Furano and Biei Sightseeing tour to see the fields of colourful flowers and the Blue Pond.”]

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9. Hakone

Hakone is a mountain town located in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and features breathtaking views of Mount Fuji.

Hakone is famous for its hot spring resorts (called “onsens”) and it’s here that you’ll find Hakone Shrine’s famous red gate which overlooks Lake Ashi.

  • Best for: Relaxation, scenic views.
  • Where it is and how to get there: Southwest of Tokyo. You can get there by train (85 minutes) and bus (two hours) from Tokyo.
  • Top five things to see/do: Experience an onsen, visit Hakone Shrine, tour Ashinoko Lake, try a healthy egg at Ōwakudani crater to add seven years to your life and walk some of the parks hiking trails.
  • How long do I need? One to two days.
  • Recommended tour: Enjoy views of Mount Fuji on a day trip to Hakone with a Local to visit Hakone Shrine and have your chance to try stepping into an onsen.

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