From glimmering skyscrapers and flashing neon lights, to geisha scuttling down back alleyways and quaint traditional tea shops, Japan is a charming confluence of new and old, and possesses a distinct character that separates it from the rest of Asia. With so much to see and do it can be difficult to know where to start, so to help inspire you we’ve listed seven of the very best places to visit in Japan.
With over 12 million people, Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world. With its huge skyscrapers, underpasses, overpasses and crowds of pedestrians, Tokyo may not seem the most attractive city on the surface, but the city has a vibrant charm all of its own and the street level detail is what makes Tokyo such an incredibly interesting place to explore. The city has many major sights to visit such as Senso‐ji Temple in the old downtown area of Asakusa or the fashion hub of Shibuya from where all new trends are said to emanate.
Hakone is a beautiful national park area around 50 miles west of Tokyo and just to the south of Mount Fuji, Japan's most sacred peak. The area consists of a handful of small villages and hamlets all connected by a variety of local transport, including buses, cable cars and a mountain railway. Hakone has plenty to see and do, from tasting eggs boiled in volcanic waters to taking a boat trip across beautiful Lake Ashi. Or maybe you will just sit back and relax whilst soaking in one of the many therapeutic hot spring baths.
Home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, over 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, this ancient city showcases the heart and soul of traditional Japan. Kyoto boasts an array of world‐class gardens, majestic festivals and delicate cuisine, all of which make much of the rhythms of nature and the changing of the seasons. Grid‐like Kyoto does have its fair share of neon and concrete, but the discerning eye will soon pick out Kyoto’s sacred shrines, time‐honoured teahouses and mysterious geisha hidden down the quiet alleyways.
Just 40 minutes by local train from Kyoto, Nara is renowned for the wealth of its Buddhist and Shinto heritage. Nara was formerly the end of the Silk Road and was the area which first saw Buddhist teaching making the transition across the ocean from China. The myriad of shrines and temples are all set against the backdrop of the low lying mountains and in the midst of Nara Park, which is home to a vast population of pesky deer, who will happily munch on your guide books and anything else they can get their noses into.
Kinosaki Onsen is the quintessential Japanese hot spring destination. The town boasts seven bathhouses which sit among pretty streets of traditional wooden buildings and narrow bridges. Visitors to Kinosaki Onsen enjoy a stay in a Japanese inn where sumptuous cuisine is served at low tables in tatami rooms. Afterwards guests dress in provided ‘yukata’ and ‘geta’, light kimonos and wooden sandals, and take to the streets for a pleasant evening stroll around town.
Hiroshima is a city that needs little introduction. It is of course infamous for being the site of one of two atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. Despite it's tragic past, Hiroshima is now a bustling and vibrant city. The Peace Park and Museum are a poignant reminder of Hiroshima's past; other attractions include Hiroshima Castle, the baseball stadium and the Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of Art. Shukkei‐en Garden is also well worth an afternoon stroll with a number of tea houses dotted about the grounds.
Osaka is Japan's second city and an extremely vibrant and lively place to stay. The city aquarium is world class and you cannot stay in Osaka without taking a ride on one of the city's several giant ferris wheels. Osaka Castle is well worth a visit despite being a reconstruction as the original was burnt down at the end of World War Two and you will find a variety of very interesting museums scattered throughout the city. After dark Osaka really comes alive, and a walk through the bright lights of the Nanba district is a great way to take in the atmosphere, with some great people‐watching opportunities.