Japan is a hot destination for many reasons - the food, the iconic traditional culture, the ultra-modern technologies, the stunning nature to name just a few. With so many incredible cities and charming towns that offer such a variety of personalities, sights and activities, the question on the tip of everyone's tongues when it comes to planning a trip to this magical country is "where should I start?" Everyone's got to start somewhere and so we've trialled and tested all that Japan has to offer and we've come up with a list of the 5 top places that you MUST go to when you're visiting Japan. With many of the cities combining old traditional Japanese culture and modern life, we've selected some which give a mixture and some which offer one unique side. We've also picked places that are on the top of everyone's list and some more obscure locations, which are more often than not done as day trips but which should be enjoyed to their fullest extent!
If you’re looking for maximum exposure to Japanese culture, then Kyoto is the one for you. Considering that Kyoto was once the imperial capital of Japan, it’s unsurprising that when most people picture Japan, they’ll imagine the Japanese temples, the iconic red gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha, geishas and cherry blossom all of which are symbols linked closely to Kyoto. Visiting Kyoto is like seeing how Japan as a whole used to be thousands of years ago, before it became famed for its innovation and modern technology. Kyoto should be on everyone’s bucket list and we’d recommend visiting some of the thousands of temples and shrines (including the famous Kinkaku-Ji Golden Temple and iconic Fushimi-Inari Taisha), wandering around the Gion district (aka the Geisha district - if you’re lucky you’ll get to see a Geisha in the flesh!) and marvelling at the beauty of the vast Arashiyama Bamboo forest. Other cool activities include visiting a Sake brewery and learning how to become a Japanese samurai master! We hit all of these attractions and take part in all of these activities on our mind-blowing 12-day Legend of Japan tour, so take a look!
Tokyo is probably the only city in the world that has such a harmonious balance between ultra-modern city life and the country’s traditional culture. This means that visiting Tokyo is a very rich cultural experience because whether you’re hitting up the anime district (for all those die-hard manga and anime fans, they’ll be well acquainted with the Akihabara district) 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 chaotic… but in a good way and it’s impossible to ever be bored. You can spend hours watching people cross the famous Shibuya intersection or admiring the impressive Japanese street style. If you’re going to Tokyo, some things that you can NOT miss are having a karaoke party, watching a show at the robot cafe and visiting the Imperial Palace.
Similar to Tokyo, Osaka is pretty populated and is Japan’s third-largest city! Osaka is a charming city that is a one-stop-shop of all the best bits of Japanese culture… we’re talking the crème de la crème of Japanese food, incredible nightlife (more so than neighbouring cities like Kyoto, which tend to be a bit quieter) and famous castles. Considered by most as the home of the best places to eat, drink and partaaaay in Japan, this city definitely shouldn’t be missing off anyone’s itinerary when planning a trip to Japan. Travellers who like to party (c’mon, who doesn’t?!) should hit up the Dotonbori district which is flooded with shining neon lights (of course this is a must-do on our Legend of Japan tour). However, if culture is more your thing then not to fear! Osaka is filled with historical sights - we’d recommend a visit to Osaka’s famous Castle, the Sumiyoshi Shine and Shitennonji Temple.
4. Mount Fuji & Hakone
Hakone is a small town located in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. It’s famous for the natural beauty that surrounds it as it’s nestled in the foothills of snow-capped Mount Fuji and has incredible views of it across Lake Ashinoko, providing picture-perfect, postcard-worthy panoramic vistas of Japan’s tallest mountain and one of its most notable symbols. This iconic natural beauty is a MUST see and is a necessity for any trip to Japan, so Hakone is an obvious choice for location when visiting this area of Japan. Other top attractions in Hakone are its hot springs, pirate ship trips across Lake Ashi and the ropeway cable cart that provides unrivalled scenic views of Lake Kawaguchiko and Mount Fuji.
Koyasan is an important religious destination and, as such, is home to lots of temples and shrines! Many people visit Koyasan as a day trip from Osaka, but we’d really recommend staying over in one of the temples in order to fully experience and appreciate the monk’s way of life and to have the authentic Japanese experience of staying in a temple, which is something that not all travellers can say that they’ve done. It is a place like no other which combines religious monuments with an abundance of stunning nature. There are lots of hikes that can be done in Koyasan but what is most impressive is how nature almost takes over the religious monuments to create a beautiful co-existence between mother nature and these man-made structures, meaning that the religious temples in Koyasan look nothing like temples that you can see in other areas of Japan.
These are just the 5 top places in Japan that you really can't miss out on if you're going to travel to this incredible country, but the rest of Japan has lots to offer too! All we can say is that Japan is on our bucket list and we want to get there ASAP! We can't wait to get out there in August 2022, hopefully with you joining us on our Legend of Japan tour!
See you in Japan,