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A beautiful blend of ancient traditions and modernity, Japan will immerse you into its neon-lit cityscapes and unique cultural experiences. While Mount Fuji might be its most well-known natural landmark, there are a plethora of must-see attractions dotted around the country. From dazzling golden temples to bustling markets and tranquil gardens, here are the best places to visit in Japan.
Fushimi Inari-taisha is the most well-known Shinto shrine in Japan, as its 10,000 bright orange torii arches offer a beautiful display that stretches for 2.5 miles. The 1,000-year-old temple is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice and sake, and features sculptures of foxes that are considered messengers of the gods. Take a hike to the summit of this top-rated attraction in Kyoto to admire the temple in all its glory, and stop to see the miniature shrines along the way.
Toyosu Fish Market is Tokyo’s new fish market since the famous Tsukiji Fish Market closed in 2018. It’s located near Shijomae Station on the Yurikamome Line and admission is free. Best of all, you can still watch live auctions from designated viewing platforms. Walk through the fish market, then stop to indulge in one of the restaurants dotting the complex serving fresh seafood dishes.
The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is located on the outskirts of Kyoto, nestled in the quaint town of Arashiyama. Explore the neighborhood’s picturesque landscapes of rivers, mountains and greenery, where you can cross the Togetsukyo Bridge and admire the cherry blossoms or fall foliage depending on the season. The highlight of the area, take a stroll through the famous forest of bright green bamboo groves that tower above you for an otherworldly experience.
Gion is Kyoto’s famed geisha district and is lined with guesthouses, restaurants, tea houses and shops selling local crafts and antiques. It is a beautiful place to get lost in its maze of willow-lined streets, and also your best chance at spotting an elusive geisha. Spotting these beautiful geishas shuffling on wooden sandals against a backdrop of 17th-century architecture will be a memory you won’t soon forget.
Sensō-ji is considered one of the most significant Buddhist temples in Japan, dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy and happiness. The temple dates back to 645 AD and features a Kaminari-mon Gate with a 10-foot-high red paper lantern bearing the inscription “Thunder Gate”, an Incense Vat to drive away ailments and temple doves. Explore the 50-acre precinct that surrounds the temple and browse the shops along Nakamise Dori.
Soak up the history at Hiroshima, one of the best places to visit in Japan, to admire the Itsukushima Shrine and see the Atomic Bomb Dome. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum sits in Peace Memorial Park, where you can see exhibits that detail the history of the area through films, figures and picture panels. Make sure to explore the museum’s park as a famous cherry blossom viewing site, then see the plum trees that dot Shukkeien Garden that dates back to 1620.
While Nara is home to some of Japan’s richest collection of traditional sites, it is also a popular day trip from Kyoto that is famed for its resident bowing deer that roam the city. Once considered sacred, messengers of the gods, you can now visit this cultural hotspot and feed these curious creatures deer crackers. Don’t miss a visit to the area’s other cultural attractions, including the Todai-ji Temple, Isui-en Garden and Nara-koen Park.
Also known as “Golden Pavilion”, Kinkaku-ji boasts a beautiful display of golden architecture. Its top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf and this impressive structure sits atop a tranquil pond. Dating back to the 14th century, the Zen Buddhist temple is one of the most picturesque attractions in Kyoto, surrounded by an old stone pagoda and a quaint teahouse that serves traditional beverages.
A striking landmark that dates back to 1586, the Osaka Castle is one of Japan’s most beloved attractions. Browse the small museum that features a historic timeline of the area or capture a stunning bird’s-eye view of the area at the 8th-floor observation tower. The Castle is particularly beautiful in spring when the plum tree orchard shows off its colorful display of pinks and whites.
You can visit Kiyomizu-dera at any time of year, as its surrounding landscapes are an ever-changing display of natural beauty. Sitting on the Otowa Mountain in Eastern Kyoto, this temple is a great escape from the city bustle. Meander through the grounds to admire the views from the verandah on the temple’s main building, then see the Jishu Shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking.
A popular cherry blossom viewing site, Himeji Castle is the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture. Its elegant appearance is widely considered Japan’s most spectacular castle, as this well-preserved beauty is both a national treasure and World Heritage Site. Its walled paths and steep staircases lead to a small shrine at its top floor, where you can admire panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Considered Japan’s best aquarium, the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is home to around 740 species and 21,000 marine life, where its unique, three-floor facility takes you through the shallow waters down into the deep sea as if you’re on an exciting diving adventure. The Kuroshio Sea tank is impressive in size and is one of the largest in the world, where you can spot 28-foot whale sharks as well as reef manta rays.
Escape the bustle of the city at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, as it’s 144 acres offers a sensational display of foliage throughout the year. It is one of Tokyo’s largest and most popular parks, where you’ll find green spaces and scenic walking paths to soak up the area’s tranquil ambiance. The Japanese landscape garden is dotted with ponds and bridges, while a French garden and English garden are noted for their blooming cherry trees.