Top Places to Visit in Japan

Japan can be a place of wonder and awe if you visit the right places.  With its rich culture and extensive history there are so many places inside Japan that are worth visiting.  Even if a place is not famous there is always folk tales and history from many years ago to tell the tale of that specific place.  When every place has an interesting story to tell it’s hard to fit so many places to visit into your itinerary.  I have included many of my favorite places here but I have left out both Hokkaido and Okinawa.  Both of these places have so much to offer but I am primarily focusing on the main island in this article.  I will try and categorize destinations by city and offer the biggest and most famous, must see destinations in no particular order.

 1.    Kyoto
I will start with Kyoto because it’s my favorite city to sightsee in.  Kyoto is full of history as it was japans capital for many years.  In my opinion the historic and cultural value in this city is greater than in any other part of japan.
Kinkakuji(Golden Pavilion)
This Zen temple is particularly impressive because the whole structure is cover in gold leaf!  It is also in the midst of a beautiful garden overlooking a lake.  If you have to see one temple in Japan this would be it!
Fushimi Inari Shrine
This is a Shinto shrine famous for the thousands of tori gates lining the trails up the mountain behind the shrine.  This shrine is dedicated to Inari the Shinto god of rice.  The mountain takes about 2 hours to climb bust a viewing point around the 30 minute mark where you can look out over southern Kyoto.
Kiyomizu-dera(Pure Water Temple)
This temple is famous for its 13 meters wooden terrace over the hillside. There is a waterfall at the base of the temple that is split into 3 separate streams and each is said to give different benefits.  I believe they are success at school, longevity, and a good love life.  But to drink all 3 is said to be very greedy and frowned upon.
This spot is not so big or famous but a cute little tourist town with a famous bridge.  Most visitors walk or rent a bike to stroll around the town to see its beautiful spring and fall leaves.  However my favorite spot is the serene bamboo forest that can put all your nerves to ease.  Very beautiful!

2. Osaka
Osaka is a very lively city with lots to do.  This is the party city where the people are friendly and the nightlife doesn’t stop for the sunrise.  This busy metropolis has great shopping and the food is delicious, too.
Universal Studios Japan
I am putting this in just because it is a famous attraction but unless you find yourself completely bored I would explore other options first.  This Universal Studios was the first built in Asia and has rollercoasters and simulators.  If you have never been to a Universal Studios most rides are based on popular movies like
Spiderman and Jurassic Park.
Underground Shopping Malls
Like I said earlier Osaka has some of the best shopping in Japan.  These underground corridors are the blood and veins of this city pumping the fashion trends and lively atmosphere throughout the area.  There are many shopping districts so pick one that caters to you and go explore.  Amerikamura is a popular example of a very cool young style shopping district.
Kaiyukan Aquarium
For all you sea lovers out there Osaka has one of the biggest and best aquariums I have ever seen throughout all my travels.  It boasts 15 different tanks spread out through 8 floors.  Some of these tanks span multiple floors with a myriad of wildlife. This aquarium is also home to 2 huge whale sharks and during feeding time it can be very interesting to watch these creatures suck down thousands of gallons of plankton.  I think it’s around 25 USD to get in and you can easily spend a better part of a day here with all the shows and enormous variety of aquatic animals.

3. Nara
This city was the first capital of Japan and has many important historic sites that re preserved surprisingly well.  This city is conveniently located less than an hour train ride away from both Osaka and Kyoto.  Nara can make an excellent day trip.
Todaiji Temple
This massive temple is home a 15 meter bronze Buddha which is one of the largest in Japan.  It is also the world’s largest wooden building and one of the most historically important shrines in Japan.  It is also located inside Nara Park.
Nara Park
This park is pretty large and has a few different attractions including the Todaiji Temple mentioned above. But what makes this park different from all others is that it has over a thousand deer roaming freely and confidently around the grounds.  These deer are said to be messengers of god for those who believe in Shinto.  They are quite tame but can become a little aggressive when you try and feed them.  I suggest trying to feed them as it makes for an interesting experience.

4.  Yokohama
This is Japans second largest city and a 30 minute train ride from Tokyo.  This city is popular with foreigners and has many things to do and see.
Yokohama is home to Japans largest Chinatown.  Chinatown is a colorful place with narrow bustling streets and popular cuisine. Most thing have been Japanized a bit but you can find many interesting things here that wouldn’t normally see outside of Chinatown.  It’s good for a meal and a walk around.
Kirin Beer Village
If you like beer you might be interested in visiting the Kirin Beer Village. Kirin was founded and has deep roots in Yokohama. This place is good for a tour and to knock back a couple beers back.
Random Attractions
They include the Ramen Museum, Cup Noodles Museum, Zoorasia, and Hakkejima. Hakkejima
with looking into.

5. Tokyo
If you didn’t know already this is Japans present capital and the home to 35 million people making it the most populated city in the world. This city can offer something for everyone. Most likely you will be stopping here at some point or another in your travels. In my opinion, Tokyo is a huge and busy city that has whatever you have in your own city.  And therefore can be skipped for a place with a little more character.  But here are a few
major attractions if staying in Tokyo.
Tokyo Tower
This tower is 333 meters high and was built in 1958 as a symbol of economic rebirth. It was modeled after the
Eiffel tower and has a great view of Tokyo.
Sky Tree
This is the newest tower in Tokyo and the tallest building in Japan.  It is 634 meters tall with a shopping mall and aquarium at the base of the tower. There are observation decks at 350 and 450 meters offering a 360 degree view.
Disneyland was built in 1983 and is your normal Disneyland just smaller and more crowded than its American
DisneySea on the other hand is unique to Japan and worth a visit if you are into Disney.
This is an area of Tokyo known for its extreme teenage culture.  I am adding this just for shock value.  If you happen to be in Tokyo on Sunday you can visit Harajuku station and see some of the wildest outfits you have ever seen. These kids dress up in anime, punk, and weird outfits which is known here as cosplay.  It’s like Halloween every week and can be a very interesting stop. The nearby street takeshita dori is what draws the crowds and kids because of its eccentric stores and shops.

6.  Takayama
A small city compared to the others mentioned above is a good visit if you want to see what traditional Japan was like.  This city nestled into the Alps of Japan has very high quality timber and was founded by highly skilled carpenters working for the capital.  It has one of the best spring and fall festivals in all of Japan.
Old Town
Located in the center of the city Old Town has narrow streets lined with shops.  Some of these streets and buildings date back to the Edo Period (1600-1868).  And some of the shops and sake breweries here go back
Hida Folk Village
This display of old houses is very scenic and not to be missed.  It shows 30 traditional houses built during the Edo Period in this area.  They were all relocated to this little village and are 100% original.  It shows how life was lived here 200 years ago. Quite interesting!!
Craft Sake and Beer Breweries
This city is home to numerous breweries dating back generations.  Some of these breweries are located in Old Town and offer tours and tastings.  Great for you alcoholics out there.

7.  Mount Fuji
This mountain is an iconic symbol of Japan and should not be missed.  Even if you are seeing it from afar.  Good luck!

8. Himeji Castle
This castle is considered to be the best in Japan.  It has survived wars and bombs and has still remained intact for over 400 years.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.  It is located in Hyogo prefecture an hour train ride away from both Kyoto and Osaka.  This is the largest and most visited castle in Japan and if you want to see a castle….this should be the one!

I have covered some of my favorites and some of the most famous tourist attractions here in Japan.  With so many things to do and see this list should just be a reference of where to start.  You are bound to encounter things you have never seen before and have a great time doing it.  I hope all of you can one day visit Japan as it has changed my life!  If I have missed anything or you have any comments I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

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