Japan is a popular tourist destination for a variety of reasons, including food, iconic traditional culture, cutting-edge technology, and breathtaking natural beauty, to name a few. With so many amazing cities and quaint towns offering such a diverse range of personalities, views, and activities, the question on everyone’s lips when considering a vacation to this magical country is “where should I begin?” Everyone has to start somewhere, so we’ve tried and tested everything Japan has to offer and compiled a list of the top 5 spots you MUST visit when visiting Japan. With numerous cities mixing ancient traditional Japanese culture and modern living, we’ve chosen a few that provide a balance and those that only have one distinct side. We’ve also chosen destinations that are at the top of everyone’s list as well as some more obscure locations that are commonly done as day trips but should be appreciated to the maximum!
Kyoto is the place to go if you want to get the most out of Japanese culture. Given that Kyoto was originally Japan’s imperial capital, it’s no surprise that when most people think of Japan, they think of Japanese temples, the distinctive red gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha, geishas, and cherry blossoms, all of which are intimately associated with Kyoto. Visiting Kyoto is like experiencing Japan as it was thousands of years ago before it became known for its inventiveness and contemporary technology. Kyoto should be on everyone’s bucket list, and we recommend seeing some of the thousands of temples and shrines (including the famous Kinkaku-Ji Golden Temple and the landmark Fushimi-Inari Taisha), as well as strolling through the Gion neighborhood (called the Geisha district). If you’re lucky, you could get to see a Geisha in person!) While admiring the immense Arashiyama Bamboo forest’s splendor. Other exciting activities include visiting a Sake brewery and being a Japanese samurai master!
Tokyo is likely the only city in the world with such a wonderful combination of ultra-modern metropolitan life and traditional culture. This means that visiting Tokyo is a very rich cultural experience because whether you’re visiting the anime district (for all those die-hard manga and anime fans, the Akihabara district is well-known) and wandering around the streets flooded with neon lights, or visiting the world-famous Senso-Ji temple and Meiji Shrine, Tokyo will blow your mind! Tokyo is fast-paced and hectic… but in a good manner, and it’s impossible to become bored there. You might spend hours appreciating the excellent Japanese street style or watching people pass the renowned Shibuya junction. If you visit Tokyo, don’t miss out on having a karaoke party, watching a show at the robot cafe, or visiting the Imperial Palace.
Osaka, like Tokyo, is densely populated and is Japan’s third-largest city! Osaka is a wonderful city that encapsulates the finest of Japanese culture… We’re talking about the best of Japanese cuisine, fantastic nightlife (even more so than neighboring cities like Kyoto, which tend to be a little calmer), and iconic castles. Most consider this city to be the home of the best places to eat, drink, and party in Japan, and it should not be overlooked when planning a vacation to Japan. Travelers who enjoy a good party (and who doesn’t?!) can visit the Dotonbori neighborhood, which is awash with bright neon lights (of course this is a must-do on our Legend of Japan tour). But don’t worry if culture is more your thing! Osaka is rich in historical sites, including the iconic Osaka Castle, the Sumiyoshi Shine, and the Shitennonji Temple.
Hakone and Mount Fuji
Hakone is a small village in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. It is famous for the natural beauty that surrounds it, as it is set in the foothills of snow-capped Mount Fuji and boasts wonderful views of it over Lake Ashinoko, affording postcard-worthy panoramic panoramas of Japan’s largest peak and one of its most prominent icons. Because its renowned natural beauty is a must-see on any trip to Japan, Hakone is an easy choice for a location when visiting this region of Japan. Other popular Hakone attractions include its hot springs, pirate ship rides over Lake Ashi, and the ropeway cable cart, which offers unrivaled views of Lake Kawaguchiko and Mount Fuji.
Koyasan is a popular religious site, thus there are many temples and shrines! Many visitors visit Koyasan as a day trip from Osaka, but we’d recommend staying in one of the temples to truly experience and understand the monk’s way of life and to get the authentic Japanese experience of staying in a monastery, something not all tourists can say they’ve done. It is a unique location that mixes religious monuments with abundant natural beauty. There are numerous climbs at Koyasan, but what is most striking is how nature virtually takes over the religious structures, creating a magnificent co-existence between mother nature and man, which means that the religious temples in Koyasan are unlike temples in other parts of Japan.