Just east of China and the Korean Peninsula is the island nation of Japan. Known as the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan is a harmonious blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge modernity. Here, tranquil Buddhist temples coexist with the bustling metropolises in cities like Tokyo and Kyoto. This intriguing blend makes for countless interesting places to visit in Japan.
Japan’s enchanting blend of ancient traditions and ultra-modern innovation make it a paradox of sorts. But it’s a paradox that has enticed and beguiled travelers for centuries.
The top places to visit in Japan offer thrilling adventures, relaxing retreats, and mesmerizing cultural experiences. It beckons travelers with its rich cultural tapestry and awe-inspiring natural landscapes. And it offers a tantalizing culinary scene that is renowned worldwide for its innovation and fresh ingredients.
Whether you’re an adventure seeker, history aficionado, or a devoted foodie, exploring Japan is the cure for any wanderlust. I visited this trove of hidden gems, iconic landmarks, and vibrant cities in January of 2019 and have dreamed of going back.
From the busy streets of Tokyo, to the serenity of Kyoto, to the beauty of the Fuji Five Lakes region, there is so much to explore in this country. The magic of Japan is unparalleled, and I can’t wait to share it with you. Come with me as I share the best places to visit in Japan that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Tokyo is a bustling metropolitan area of over 37 million residents. The most populous city in the world, Tokyo is known for its safety, cleanliness, nightlife, shopping, and award-winning cuisine. Adding to the reasons why Tokyo is among the best places to visit in Japan is its polite and helpful locals.
If you’re like me and enjoy getting a bird’s-eye view of the cities you visit, the Tokyo Skytree observation deck is a must. Another popular site, Ueno Park, is known for its annual cherry blossom blooms every spring. The park also houses various museums, including the Ueno Zoo, the Tokyo National Museum, and the National Museum of Nature and Science.
Food-wise, Tokyo is known as the culinary capital of the world, with more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city. But travelers can also find great foods like oden, soba noodles, and daikon at The Hyatt Regency Tokyo’s expansive breakfast buffet.
Ramen lovers should check out Takeichi, a local hotspot that sells a phenomenal spicy ramen with chicken, egg, chicken meatballs, lettuce, seaweed, and onions in a creamy broth. Gotsubo is an amazing eatery in Shinjuku that is famous for its fusion ramens. Try their ramen with Iberian pork, eggs, seaweed and onions in oyster broth!
If street food is what you’re after, Ameya-Yokochō Market (Ameyoko Market) is one of Japan’s best. The market is home to over 180 shops and offers not only Japanese food but also treats from China and South Korea.
A favorite dish at the market is takoyaki, or octopus fritters. You can also find raw seafood bowls containing squid, tuna, salmon, fish roe, and wasabi. I also recommend the trendy Potatorella, Korean tteok-bokki, raw oysters, and shishamo (fried smelt).
Don’t miss amazing sweets like kibi dango (mochi coated in nut flour), ichigo daifuku (mochi with strawberry), and ningyoyaki (pancakes stuffed with red bean paste) in the Asakusa neighborhood! You can also find savory local favorites like menchi katsu (fried beef/pork patties) and curry monja there!
For inexpensive but tasty options, try the beef bowls at Yoshinoya or dive into Japan’s convenience store culture. You can find high-quality onigiri, sushi, mochi, and more as you browse their shelves and refrigerators!
When it comes to magical places to visit in Japan, Kyoto is a must. This ancient city is a treasure trove of rich history and delicious traditional food that will leave you wanting more. With over two thousand Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, Kyoto offers a unique experience that is unlike any other. It’s the perfect destination for those who want a break from the fast-paced lifestyle of Tokyo and want to immerse themselves in a more relaxed atmosphere.
If you’re looking for the best views in the city, check out the Kyoto Tower, which rises high above the rest of the city from a stunning height of 330 feet! Kiyomizu-Dera Temple is a massive temple complex consisting of a whopping thirty buildings, including a grand main hall, a beautiful, towering pagoda, and much more.
The city’s most famous religious site is Fushimi Inari Shrine. Known for the over 10,000 orange torii gates that straddle the path leading to the shrine, it’s one of the most popular photography spots in Japan. The market outside the shrine is a great place to try street foods like Takoyaki, gyoza, and tofu steaks!
For more unique offerings, try the tako tamago (baby octopus stuffed with quail eggs) at Nishiki Market. The stone statues of Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji Temple are well worth a visit. I also recommend the serene Arashiyama Bamboo Grove for a beautiful respite from the city. With so many options, it’s no wonder Kyoto is among the best places to visit in Japan.
Osaka is a historic city located on the eastern coast of the Seto Inland Sea in the Kansai region of Honshu. With over 19 million residents, Osaka is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world and offers an extensive list of places to see and eat. The city has a traditional past and a modern, futuristic present-day, making it a haven for tourists from around the world.
One of the top places to visit in Japan is the Dōtonbori area, which is essentially the Times Square of Osaka. It is a thriving tourist- and nightlife-driven area with flashing neon lights, enormous illuminated billboards, and more bars than one can count. Dōtonbori is known for its delicious street food, such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
For inexpensive food in an izakaya-like setting, try the yakitori (grilled meat skewers) at Torikizokou. Try the cheese corokke, which is a croquette containing gooey, melted cheese! There are many other varieties, so several of them to see what you like!
Yamanashi is a landlocked prefecture 140km east of Tokyo known for its natural beauty, onsens (hot springs), and outdoor activities. One of my favorite attractions is the Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Center in Tsuru City, where you’ll learn about the magnetic technology that allows Maglev trains to fly at 500 km/h. Fuji-Q Highland amusement park in Fujiyoshida is a fun-filled destination, especially for roller coaster enthusiasts.
For the best accomodations, stay at La Vista Fuji Hotel & Spa. This gorgeous onsen hotel in the shadow of Mount Fuji offers therapeutic hot spring experiences, spacious rooms, late-night fine dining, and ramen options starting at 10 p.m.
One of my favorite places to visit in Japan is Fujigoku, or the Fuji Five Lakes area. These stunning lakes near the base of Mount Fuji were created by past eruptions of the volcano. Ide Brewery, located among the lakes, has brewed sake for 21 generations since 1840. Pay them a visit, sample their sake, and take some home as a souvenir!
For delicious local fare, visit Houtou Fudou, a Samurai hot pot restaurant in the Fuji Five Lakes region. Their signature dish is Houtou noodles, a hearty and flavorful meal historically enjoyed by Samurai warriors. I also recommend the inarizushi, which consists of sushi rice stuffed inside a deep-fried tofu pouch. More adventurous eaters can try a popular dish called basashi, or raw horse meat!
Odawara is a charming small city in the Kanagawa Prefecture. The city is most famous for the historic, 15th-century Odawara Castle. The castle is now a National Historic Site and Municipal Park, and contains a culture museum, a library, and an observation museum.
Visitors can also enjoy stunning views of Odawara City and Sagami Bay from the castle’s tower. For a unique experience, visitors can rent Samurai-style Japanese armor or a ninja costume and take a photo in front of the castle like I did! The castle is one of my favorite places to visit in Japan for this experience alone!
In the city, food enthusiasts can visit Odawara Oden for some warm Japanese hot pot dish known as oden. It contains several ingredients including boiled eggs and fish cakes in a soy-flavored dashi broth. The restaurant features different rooms, such as a glassed-off Stella room, a bench-style garden room facing the courtyard, and a tearoom.
Visitors should make reservations beforehand, as the restaurant is very popular. Oden can be pretty expensive, be prepared to pay well for this top-notch food experience. Best of all, Odawara is easily accessible from Tokyo, as it’s conveniently located along the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train line.
While visiting Tokyo, it’s worth setting aside a day to visit the nearby city of Atami. Atami is a popular resort city that’s close to the sea, the mountains, and hot springs. Visitors can watch fireworks, view Mount Fuji, or relax at nearby onsens. The city also serves as a gateway to popular locations like Mount Fuji, Hakone, and the Izu Peninsula.
One of the biggest attractions in Atami is the cold-resistant cherry blossom trees that line the Itokawa Promenade. Originally from India and brought to Atami by Italian visitors in 1871, these trees bloom from late January to mid-February and are celebrated in an annual festival.
Seeing the stunning pink flowers during the off-season is more cost-effective than seeing them in other locations in the spring when prices tend to be higher. They’re beautiful and help make Atami one of the best places to visit in Japan!
Japan is a magical travel destination. It’s equal parts tradition, history, and beauty, and offers a culture that has entranced travelers for centuries. From concrete jungles to glorious temples to immaculate natural landscapes, the top places to visit in Japan are just the tip of the iceberg.
There are countless destinations around the islands that are worth a visit. I highly recommend booking a trip to Japan to visit these spots, as well as others that didn’t make my list. Hit me up in the comments or on my socials to tell me all about your adventures!