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Japan’s train system is complex, yet organized and well thought out. Different types of trains provide different services, from your basic jaunt around Tokyo to longer trips through the country. The Shinkansen train, aka, the bullet train, is a safe, fast way to travel to fascinating cities. To experience the best of Japan, hop aboard the train and stop at these destinations for a dose of the country’s rich culture, cuisine, history and unbelievable scenery.
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Located within Hokkaido, Hakodate is the beginning of the line and is particularly colorful in the spring when the cherry blossoms debut, or in the fall, when the leaves turn to a fiery red. Mount Hakodate is the visual showstopper, and can be accessed easily by gondola—views from the top depict the beauty of the city’s location. Hop on a street tram to explore the tasty seafood restaurants, meticulous parks and sites, but be sure to visit the Morning Market for a traditional Donburi rice bowl breakfast.
After traversing the ocean via the underwater Seikan tunnel, you’ll reach our next favorite stop, Morioka. Foliage galore greets travelers, particularly in the spring and fall. A centuries-old cherry tree, named Ishiwarizakura, is a significant site to visit in the cherry blossom hub, as it grows from a rock which has broken in half over time. Temples, castle ruins, lakes and hot springs are among the things to be explored in Morioka.
This prefecture is dotted with features like obscure shaped mountains, waters that change color, mountainside temples and traditional construction that makes one feel like they’re in the true veins of the country. Vibrant blue onsens welcome guests to revitalize their bodies, while the cuisine delves into native flavors. Yamagata Zao Onsen Ski Resort is a wonderful place to get a taste of Japan’s widespread winter sports scene, and the Frost Covered Trees of Zao are another example of the jaw-dropping landscape of this fairytale location.
Okay, this one’s a given, and it’s only this far down the list because we’re going in order. Tokyo is a blend of everything that people love about Japan and features endless unique attractions. In one instance, there will be a cozy izakaya, then all of the sudden neon lights, giant robots and outlandish cartoon characters are everywhere. Visit a temple, meditate in traditional gardens and most definitely dive into the variety of eats. It’s even worth stopping at McDonald’s to see its unusual menu items.
Elegant structures, native foliage and pristine waters contribute to Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen being one of the top three gardens in Japan. The meticulous yet naturalistic environment is either gorgeous in the snow or when the cherry blossoms bloom and serves as a pillar reason to visit this historically intact city. While an abundance of traditional food can be found, The Godburger provides a change of pace for those looking for something familiar.
Kyoto offers visitors a chance to explore the country’s top cultural attractions with long-held traditions. Shrines from the 6th century still stand, geishas can be seen walking about and a balance of old style and contemporary cuisine coexist—Okonamiyaki Katsu holds to the past serving traditional savory pancakes and yakisoba. Consider exploring via the Hidden Kyoto Bike Tour, which takes tourists on a backroad trip away from the crowds. Guides will take you to iconic sites like Kinkakuju temple, and a few local gems.
Like Tokyo, Osaka is largely city focused, while tradition still is somewhat present. You’ll find tons of interesting things to do, as there are impressive shopping areas with a Ferris wheel and the street food scene is superb. Head to the Dotonbori district for a wide selection of dishes like udon noodles, fried balls of squid, savory pancakes and an assortment of tasty skewers.
Somber no doubt, Hiroshima is a significant site in Japan, as it sits as a reminder of a devastating past. While museums and skeletons of buildings are what bring many to visit, there’s a reborn part of Hiroshima that’s vibrant and alive. Parks, blooming gardens, art, scenery and buzzing food joints now mesh with monuments, creating an enriching environment.
Often referred to as Hakata, Fukuoka is a mesmerizing port city with loads of incredible seafood, beaches and unique shopping destinations. Tenjin features an underground European hub where you can eat and hunt for treasures. Canal City is another eye-catching spot to shop and eat, as it’s curved structure wraps around a man-made waterway. Hakata Ramen is a dish specific to the region, and is much like traditional ramen, but with thin noodles and a cloudier broth. Since the thin noodle overcooks easily, you can ask for extra after finishing your first portion by saying “kaedama wo onegaishimasu”.
What better way to end an epic train trip in Japan than at the base of Sakurajima, an iconic volcano? Shiroyama Park provides great views of the city, or you could delve deeper by foot to see castles and significant places. The nature surrounding Kagoshima adds to its undeniable allure—hot springs, lava formations and the surrounding ocean waters help define this slice of the island. Kurobuta, also known as black pork, is a must try dish specific to Satsuma, or Kagoshima, Cuisine. Neighboring Okinawa partially influenced the food here, so if you haven’t had enough, hop on a plane for a short ride to explore that prefecture as well.