Last Updated on September 15, 2021 by Jim Ferri
The top 10 places in Japan that you shouldn’t miss…
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Whether it’s the pop culture you encounter on the streets of Tokyo or the ancient one you experience in Kyoto, you quickly realize Japan is a country of astonishing disparities. So much, in fact, that you can find it both weird and wonderful at the same time.
From Japan’s neon-painted cities to its mountain-dappled countryside, it’s a unique place. It’s also a country that’s relatively easy to travel about since its famous bullet trains link major population areas. Best of all, Japan is easily accessible from just about anywhere in the world.
Surprisingly, Japan can be less expensive to visit than many other major destinations. Public transportation is often convenient, safe, and cost-effective, important if you’re on a budget. On the other hand, the 100 or so railway lines in Tokyo alone can prove a bit daunting.
Always popular, Japan will likely become even more so following the postponed Olympic games taking place there in July/August 2021. (Even now there’s a mini-hotel boom going on in the country.)
But whether you go to Japan before, during, or after the games you’ll find the country fascinating. To help you in your planning, consider these ten popular places that have been intriguing travelers for centuries.
Tokyo, Capital City of Japan
Japan’s capital, with its mixture of traditional and modern urban life, is the most popular tourist destination in the country. Sensoji Temple is one of its iconic historical sites, and the Imperial Palace provides a traditional and royal air. Furthermore, the city’s Ginza, the equivalent of New York’s Madison Avenue, is world famous, as is the Harajuku Japanese-teen street fashion that influences international fashion industry.
While you’ll find plenty of authentic Japanese dining in Tokyo, you’ll also find top-quality international restaurants as well. Tokyoites have a discriminating palate for top quality international cuisines including Italian, Chinese, French, etc. Moreover, you’ll find Sushi restaurants plentiful in the outer market of the famous Tsukiji Fishmarket.
Kyoto, One of the Best Places in Japan to Visit
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, Kyoto is the most popular destination for foreign visitors to Japan. The ancient capital is a city that embodies all that people think of regarding ancient Japanese traditions. That means, of course, you’ll see centuries-old temples, ryokans (Japanese traditional inns), teahouses, geisha, etc., all ancient and authentic traditions. Kyoto’s cityscape is well maintained, and there are many cultural workshops in which visitors can participate. Be aware, however, that Kyoto has banned photography of geishas on certain streets due the behavior of some tourists.
The name Kanagawa may not be very familiar to American tourists. This, however, is the prefecture where Yokohama (Tokyo’s neighboring city) and Kamakura (a historic city along the coast) are located. With a huge Buddha statue, it’s an attractive and accessible destination for those who stay in Tokyo (just an hour or so away by train). Many travelers come to stroll between temples along the calm beaches. Hakone, where people go for hot springs, ryokan, and the magnificent view of Mt. Fuji, is also in the Kanagawa prefecture.
Osaka, Japan’s Foodie City
As the second largest city and a major business travel destination, Osaka is the home of several major international companies. But in addition to business, Osakan culture is also heavily focused on food. In fact, some lovers of Japanese cuisine view Osaka as the capital of an affordable dining spree! Outside of the urban centers, pockets of tranquility are tucked away in the countryside.
Chiba, Gateway to Japan
Just east of Tokyo, Chiba is where Japan’s gateway Narita International Airport is located. The city of Narita, close to the airport, is sometimes visited as a “quick taste” of Japan during a layover. The Tokyo Disney Resort is also in Chiba, just across the border with Tokyo. The Tokyo Motor Show takes place in Makuhari Messe, one of the largest and popular convention centers in the country.
Known for traditional manufacturing, Aichi thus attracts many business travelers. Morreover, it’s also the home of Toyota Motors. Midway between Tokyo and Osaka, is Nagoya, a major location for business conferences that also attracts visitors with its castle, museum, and gardens.
Nara, the First Capital of Japan
Nara, another of the best places in Japan for travelers, is the very first capital of the country even before Kyoto. Although the Nara era was less than 80 years long, the city is the birthplace of the fundamentals of Japanese tradition. In spite of an obvious Chinese influence in architecture, UNESCO designated Nara’s landmarks and designated them as World Heritage Sites.
Known as the global peace center, Hiroshima is world-renowned because of the atomic bomb. The Peace Memorial Museum, located right next to the dome that was the only structure to survive at ground zero (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site), is a must-see for visitors here. The city also has another World Heritage Site: Itsukushima Shrine of Miyajima Island, one of the postcard icons of Japan.
Okinawa – Japan Overseas
A group of islands stretching southward from Japan, Okinawa is the country’s equivalent of Hawaii. The islands have a unique indigenous culture and are popular for their sub-tropical climate and beautiful beaches. It’s also renown for some of the world’s best diving spots and its incredible Churaumi Aquarium.
The greatest attraction for tourists to Hyogo prefecture is Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of the most impressive castles in all of Japan if not all of Asia. Close to Osaka, the prefecture is also home to the city of Kobe. It’s considered by some to be one of Japan’s most attractive cities, despite being leveled by a massive earthquake in 1995.
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