Whether you’re seeking a taste of nature, historic sites or buzzing megacities, Japan has an incredible variety of places to visit. Its density of remarkable destinations makes it feel larger than it actually is.
We’ve rounded up the top 10 spots in Japan you can’t miss, from Mt Fuji to the beautiful island of Yakushima. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a lifetime of memories, these are the places you should be exploring!
As Japan’s most iconic feature, Mount Fuji is a coveted destination for climbers and hikers alike. With its symmetrical slopes and snow-capped peak, it has been revered as a spiritual and cultural symbol for centuries.
Its name translates as “the stairway to heaven” and it’s considered a pillar of the Shinto religion, a place where deities can be reincarnated. It is also a place of pilgrimage, an important site for receiving revelations and a dwelling place for ancestors.
There are many shrines on the mountain to worship the gods, and climbing has been a popular activity since its creation. The first foreigner to reach the summit was Sir Rutherford Alcock, who did so in 1860.
But despite its sacred importance, Mount Fuji has also been plagued by pollution. Thousands of people converge on the mountain every year to pick up litter. Toyohiro Watanabe founded the Fujisan Club in 1998 to conduct cleanup campaigns and raise public awareness of the problem.
Kyoto is Japan’s ancient capital and is home to classical Buddhist temples, gardens, imperial palaces, and Shinto shrines. This culturally rich city has something for everyone, whether you’re looking to experience an authentic tea ceremony, learn about traditional arts and crafts, or explore the local food scene.
During the Heian era, Kyoto was associated with aristocratic elegance, art and poetry, literature, and religious learning. Literary treasures like Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagun, along with the Tendai and Shingon sects of early Buddhism have their roots in this period.
The Muromachi period was a time of cultural revival and high achievement, with the birth of ikebana flower arrangement, the tea ceremony and the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji). Unfortunately, this era was followed by the Onin War (1467-1477), when battles between samurai factions destroyed much of the city.
Today, Kyoto is a modern city and features a variety of shops, restaurants and other attractions. It’s also known for its kaiseki ryori, or exquisite multi-course dining experiences, and its famous geisha.
Takayama is the perfect spot to visit if you’re looking for a trip back in time to the Edo Period. It’s home to traditional wooden merchants’ houses, shops and breweries.
One of the highlights in Takayama is the Old Town district, known as Sanmachi Suji, which is lined with quaint souvenir shops and sake breweries. This street is an easy walk from the station and a great place to explore during your visit.
The city is also famous for its biannual Takayama Festival, going back to the mid-1600s, which features parades with ornate, gilded floats and puppet shows. You can admire these floats in the Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall.
Another must-visit museum in Takayama is Hida Minzoku Mura Folk Village, which showcases dozens of old farmhouses and houses. This open-air museum is a great place to learn more about the area’s rich history and heritage, including carpentry and woodworking, Shunkei transparent lacquer on stained wood, washi paper, pottery and ceramics, leather tanning and indigo dyeing.
The port city of Yokohama is the birthplace of modern Japan and a fascinating place to explore. As a cultural center, it offers a rich mix of history, international cafes and restaurants, and a vibrant alternative scene.
Its storied past began in the mid-nineteenth century when Yokohama was a gateway to foreign trade and a symbol of the end of Japan’s national isolation. Relations between fanatic Japanese isolationists and the influx of foreign traders were tense, particularly during the first year.
Yokohama’s rich cultural heritage is evident in its Chinatown district, filled with Chinese restaurants and shops. You can also find a number of museums dedicated to traditional art, such as the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum and the Matsuri Museum.
Yokohama was a major hub of foreign exchange and trading in the nineteenth century, and today it remains an important center of business. Its many historic edifices, including the former headquarters of the Yokohama Specie Bank and the Red Brick Warehouse, are architecturally impressive.