Updated: Apr 1
Asian countries generally have a reputation of being overcrowded and grimy, but Japan in the Far East debates this stereotype, narrating a whole different story to its visitors. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the laid-back alleys of Kyoto, cleanliness is something all travellers are promised of in Japan. Apart from its serene sites, Japan is also admired for its hospitality and politeness. You’ll be welcomed wherever you go. If you’re planning to travel to this marvellous destination, here is the list of places you MUST include in your Japan Itinerary.
Located right in the Capital city of Tokyo in the Shiba-Koen district, the Tokyo Tower is an observation and communication centre standing tall at 332.9 meters. The tower itself is inspired by the Eiffel Tower in France and is 13 meters taller than the Eiffel. Among the giant grey skyscrapers of Tokyo, the red tower stands like a beacon of uniqueness. It’s regarded as a symbol of economic power and change. Many buildings surpass the tower’s height, yet it offers a good view of the city when gazed from above. You can use the elevator to reach up or enjoy 600 stairs (it sure would be good exercise)
If you weren’t aware before, Japan still has an Imperial family with an Emperor whose descent dates back to the First Emperor of Japan – Jimmu. They live in Tokyo’s Imperial Palace in Chiyoda District, surrounded by enormous stone walls and moats. During World War II, the Palace was destroyed, but today it’s renovated to its current state, and it looks majestic. However, entering the inner grounds of the Palace is not permitted as it’s an active residence. But it’s a great location to include in your Japan Itinerary if you ever plan to travel and explore all bits of Tokyo.
Formally referred to as Rokuon-JI, Kinkakuji – directly translates to Golden Pavilion – is a Zen Buddhist Temple located in Kyoto, Japan. In the 14th Century, it used to be the military figurehead Ashikaga Yoshimitsu’s retirement residence which ultimately converted into a temple overlooking a pond. During autumn, the temple on the outside itself is a mesmerizing scenery to witness. The top two storeys of the pavilion are stained in gold. If you have Kinkakuji Temple added to your Japan Itinerary, we suggest you visit Sekkatei Teahouse to wind down and sip a matcha tea while enjoying the autumn bliss.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
There are many viewpoints and opinions when it comes to Japan and World War II, but if you love to travel, historic alliances would be the last thing that matters. Dedicated to Hiroshima’s heritage, the Peace memorial park stands as a reminiscence of the World’s First Nuclear attack. It is 120,000 square meters in size and houses the Peace Memorial Museum which displays the raw reality of the city’s history. The most iconic monument here is the ‘A-Bomb Dome’, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only building to stand after the explosion. The Atomic Bomb Dome was directly underneath the explosion yet managed to survive and stands as a reminder of World Peace.
Located in Japan’s Seto inland sea of Kagawa District, the city of Naoshima is any art lover’s paradise. Housing crafts and creations of many infamous artists and architectural corporations in Japan, the most symbolic structure stands by Miyanoura Port – a unique sculpture of a pumpkin. It’s not only a fascinating place for artists but a place for those looking for fresh inspiration to get away from the densely urban city and enjoy the sun, sea, and sand. The tropical summer vibe here in Naoshima is one of the reasons it’s adored by travellers.
A Lake resting by the Southwest of Mount Hakone, Lake Ashi is a crater lake in Honshu, Japan. Comprising an area of 7.1 square kilometers, the Lake was formed after Mount Hakone’s volcanic eruption which took place more than 3000 years ago. Visiting during winter or the colder season is recommended as the views then resemble a quaint European countryside. The most photographed view of Hakone is Lake Ashinoko, with Mount Fuji as the backdrop. Sightseeing cruises here are quite famous and completely worth it.
Known to be one of the oldest public parks in Japan, Nara Park in the city of Nara is a famous tourist spot which is located by Mount Wakakusa. One of the beautiful sights you’d witness here is playful and freely roaming deer. The park covers over 660 hectares of space and is one of the best experiences to add to your Japan Itinerary. According to Japanese culture, deer are thought to be God’s messengers. Hence why the deer at Nara Park and all other places have been declared as natural value.
The metropolitan heart of Tokyo, Shinjuku is the classic combination of New York City and Las Vegas of Japan. Famously known for its urban city life, top-notch clubs, exclusive restaurants, theatres, galleries, and massive skyscrapers, Shinjuku houses the world’s busiest railway station with more than 2 million passengers travelling through the subways on a regular day. The famous tall twin towers of the Metropolitan Government Office are also a must-visit if you plan to travel to the district. If you’re visiting in spring or autumn, you’ll be able to click some unique insta-worthy captures here in Shinjuku.
As if it’s straight out of a Samurai movie, the Nagoya Castle was completed during the Edo Period by military figurehead Tokugawa Leyasu in the early 17th Century. The architecture includes a golden shachihoko – a half tiger and carp often found in Japanese folklore. This historic location, along with the neighboring Hommaru Palace, once was a military base, but today it’s opened for tourists travelling from across the world. During spring, cherry blossoms emerge in the castle gardens, making it a wonderful sight for travellers in search of a Japanese Spring.
Tokyo frankly is famous for its tall towers and observation decks. The Tokyo Skytree in Sumida City Ward is one of them. Standing tall at 634 meters, the tower is considered the second tallest structure in the world. At the base of this structure is a shopping mall with an aquarium. Travellers from across the world visit the Observation decks at Tokyo Skytree. Offering scenic 360-degree views of the whole Tokyo city, one of the two decks provides a truly unique experience with a spiral ramp. If you’re weak at heart, this would be a little challenge for you. Nevertheless, the Skytree should be in your Japan Itinerary.
Located in Urayasu, the Tokyo Disneyland is the first International Disney theme park to be opened outside of the USA. The Disneyland spans over 115 acres and was established in 1983. Inviting travellers to a Kingdom of dreams and magic, Disneyland consists of seven theme parks, parades, restaurants, souvenir shops, and their themed resort. Although it’s recommended mostly for kids, it doesn’t mean the fun is less for adults. Some rides and shows stimulate the perfect amount of adrenaline for truly exotic entertainment.
Located in Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture, Kotoku-in is a Buddhist temple, famous for housing the Great Buddha of Kamakura – a giant bronze statue from the 13th Century. Back in the day, the statue was enclosed by the walls of the Kotoko-in shrine. Due to typhoons in the 1400s, the walls of the shrine were destroyed multiple times. Kotoku-in is the second tallest bronze Buddha in Japan and the tallest outdoor statue in the country.
The highlight of any Japanese experience, Osaka Castle is the poster landmark of Japan for travellers. Famous for its spring cherry blossom season and the tourist photography hotspots, the Castle is beyond just a scenic view. One of the lesser-known facts about Osaka Castle is its historic role in unifying Japan during the Azuchi-Momoyama period in the 16th Century. Looking past the blushing Sakura season, did you know that the five-storey Castle walls of Osaka were built using almost 1 million large stones? Over the years, the structure went through several renovations, and today the interior is almost completely modern, with an elevator installed too. But during cherry blossom season, tourists flock here for that perfect wallpaper photograph.
Universal Studios Japan
Located in Osaka, Universal Studios Japan is one of the six themed studios owned by its trademark company in the USA and the first park to be built in Asia. Similar to Disneyland but offering better experiences for adults as well, the Universal Studios in Osaka presently has a number of these worlds. These include Minion Park, New York, Hollywood, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and few others. The Studios also host shows of all kinds, stimulators, and rollercoaster rides for adults. The joys you wouldn’t experience in Disneyland, you can experience them here in Universal Studios, so don’t miss it out.
Located around 100 kilometers from Tokyo, Fuji-San or Mount Fuji is an active volcano and the tallest mountain in Japan. Its famous snow-topped peak has inspired many ancient arts and has been a hot topic for hikers and adventurists since decades back. There are many temples and shrines located around the base of the mountain. Standing tall at 3,776 meters, the view of this picturesque peak can be sighted from Tokyo and Yokohama much clearly during colder days compared to summer. One surprising fact that many travellers are unaware of is that part of Mount Fuji is privately owned.
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Located in Yamanouchi of Shimotakai District, Jigokudani is a natural reserve home to over 150 Japanese Macaques - also known as Snow Monkeys. These monkeys laze in the hot springs which are surrounded by cliffs and thick forests. Hence how the name Jigokudani derived, meaning Hell’s Valley. Visitors are allowed to watch these creatures bathe in the pools and interact with one another, but they are not allowed to feed. During winter from December to March is the best time to travel to Jigokudani if you want to witness the ideal Snow Monkey sight.
The Streets and the famous canal and the Bridge of Dotonbori are referred to as 'The Heart of Osaka'. The Dotonbori neighborhood is a promenade lined with bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and sightseeing locations. One of the most exciting activities to experience here in Dotonbori is the Canal cruise. It may not be scenic as the ones in Amsterdam, but it sure is one of the best Canal ride experiences in Asia. Passing by the neon-lit city of Dotonbori is simply amazing. Congested streets are common here in Dotonbori, but make sure you add them to your Japan Itinerary as the experience is incomparable.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
The beloved screensaver for many travel lovers, the surreal Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is located in the tranquil West of Kyoto. Known for its autumn backdrop and the cherry blossom bloom, back in the Heian Period Arashiyama city was said to be popular amongst nobles as a reclining destination. Today it houses many tourist hotspots, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Locals recommend renting a bicycle and riding across the lesser-known parts of the town and cruising on the canal. Arashiyama Bamboo groves are undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind scenery to witness in the whole of Asia.
Japanese Rail Visit
The Japanese Rail system is something out of the ordinary. Whilst buses are considered the main mean of transportation in less developed cities, locomotives are the most predominant and most effective. Shinkansen – also known as Bullet Trains are something every traveller must experience while in Japan. Unlike other Asian countries, Japanese rails are much convenient to get around. The main islands of Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Hokkaido are connected by an extensive system of Shinkansen, mostly owned by JR. The tickets - compared to other transportation methods - can be quite expensive with its luxury offering, but the experience is something to remember. So make sure to add it to your Japan Itinerary.