Asian countries generally have a reputation for 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 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 to include in your Japan Itinerary.
1. Imperial Palace
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. The inner grounds of the Palace are not permitted to the general public as it is an active residence, however, there are certain Government Licensed tours that allow visitors to take a look inside the Imperial Palace.
But it’s a great location to include in your Japan Itinerary if you ever plan to travel and explore all bits of Tokyo.
2. Tokyo Tower
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 333 meters.
The tower itself is inspired by the Eiffel Tower in France and is 13 meters taller. Among the giant 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 from above. Tokyo Tower’s main observation deck is 150 meters (492 ft) high and covers two floors.
There is another smaller observation deck above at 250 meters (820 ft) which requires an additional ticket. You can use the elevator to reach up or enjoy the stairs all the way up!
3. Kinkakuji Temple
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.
4. 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.
6. Lake Ashinoko
Located southwest of Mount Hakone, lake Ashi is a crater lake in Honshu, Japan. Comprising an area of 7.1 sq. kilometres, 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.
7. Nara Park
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.
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 twin towers of the Metropolitan Government Office are also a must-visit if you plan to travel to the district. At the Metropolitan Government Office, you can enjoy a free observation on their 45th floor.
If you’re visiting in spring or autumn, you’ll be able to click some unique insta-worthy captures here in Shinjuku.
9. Nagoya Castle
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 neighbouring Hommaru Palace, once was a military base, but today it’s open for tourists visiting 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.
10. Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo frankly is famous for its tall towers and observation decks. Since March 2011, the Tokyo Skytree in Sumida city has been the tallest tower in the world.
At the base of this structure is a shopping mall with an aquarium. Travellers also visit the observation deck offering scenic 360-degree views of the whole of 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 challenging. Nevertheless, the Skytree should be on your Japan Itinerary.
11. Tokyo Disneyland
Located in Urayasu, Tokyo Disneyland is the first International Disney theme park to be opened outside of the United States. Spanning over 115 acres, the theme park 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.
Tokyo is also home to Tokyo Disneysea, the world’s one and only Disney theme park themed to the sea.
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.
13. Osaka Castle
The highlight of any Japanese experience, Osaka Castle is the poster landmark of Japan for travellers. Famous as a photograph hotspot during the spring cherry blossom season, 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.
14. Universal Studios Japan
Located in Osaka, Universal Studios Japan is one of the five themed studios owned by its trademark company in the United States and the first park to be built in Asia.
Similar to Disneyland, but offering better experiences for adults as well, Universal Studios in Osaka presently has a number of parks.
It also hosts shows of all kinds including simulators and rollercoaster rides for adults. The joys you wouldn’t experience in Disneyland, you can experience here in Universal Studios, so don’t miss it out.
15. Mount Fuji
Located around 100 kilometres 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 for decades.
There are many temples and shrines located around the base of the mountain including the Okumiya shrine. Standing tall at 3,776 meters, the view of this picturesque peak can be sighted from Tokyo and Yokohama during colder days compared to summer.
One surprising fact that many travellers are unaware of is that part of Mount Fuji is privately owned.
16. Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Located in Yamanouchi of Shimotakai District, Jigokudani is a nature 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 be fed.
December to March is the best time to travel to Jigokudani if you want to witness the ideal Snow Monkey sight.
The Dotonbori neighbourhood 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 as scenic as the ones in Amsterdam, but it sure would contend one of the best canal ride experiences in Asia. Dontonbori is also known for its insane amounts of street food like Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki.
Passing by the neon-lit city of Dotonbori is simply amazing. Congested streets are common here in Dotonbori, so make sure to add this unique experience to your Japan Itinerary.
18. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
The beloved screensaver for many travel lovers, the surreal Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is located in the tranquil west of Kyoto – a must-include in your Japan itinerary.
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 Experience
The Japanese rail system is something out of the ordinary.
Shinkansen – also known as bullet trains are something every traveller must experience while in Japan. Unlike other Asian countries, Japanese trains are much more 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 Japan Rail Pass, also called the JR Pass, is a rail pass for overseas visitors sold by the Japan Railways Group and is valid for unlimited travel on all major forms of transportation provided by the JR Group in Japan. Passes start from 7 days, 14, and 21 days.
The tickets – compared to other transportation methods – can be quite expensive with its luxury offering, but the experience is something to remember.