Our handy guide to sightseeing in Japan rounds up the country’s main tourist attractions, from the weird to the wonderful. It can be hard to know where to start so we’ve featured a few of our favorites to give you some inspiration.
From the glowing temples of Kyoto to Harajuku’s crazy cat street, Japan really does have something for everyone. Check our list below for some sightseeing suggestions.
What Are Japan’s Main Tourist Attractions?
One of the best things about visiting Japan is that no matter your interests, there will be something for you. For anime fanatics, there is the chance to visit some instantly recognizable locations. For those who enjoy the traditional beauty of Japanese culture, be prepared to be in awe at some of the country’s beautiful temples and shrines.
Japan is a country with a long and fascinating history and some things have stayed the same throughout: the country’s hot springs, for instance, were loved by samurai in the past and are enjoyed by everyone today. Japan’s natural beauty is also a sight to behold. All our suggestions are merely starting points. From there, discover your interests and plan a tailored trip to Japan.
Harajuku Cat Street (Tokyo)
Cat Street, despite there being very few cats to be found there nowadays, is a great starting point for anyone wishing to explore Tokyo’s infamous Harajuku area. Since it was pedestrianized for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the area has been taken over by small boutique shops and eateries.
Cat Street is an excellent place for people-watching as many local youngsters and scenesters hang around. In the past few years, the area has moved even closer to full gentrification, but Cat Street is still one of the liveliest parts of Harajuku.
Kiyomizu-Dera (literally “Pure Water Temple”) is part of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Site list for a reason. Over 1,200 years old, it’s arguably the most famous Buddhist temple in Japan and stands at the foothills of Mount Otowa, overlooking Kyoto City, with the gushing Otowa waterfall beneath. Visitors are invited to drink its water, in the belief that it will grant wishes.
The temple was shortlisted as a contender to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Dotonbori is known as the ‘heart’ of Osaka. Once a vibrant theater spot, it is now lined with hundreds of eateries and places to drink. Dotonbori offers visitors the perfect chance to soak up the friendly Osakan atmosphere. A sensory overload, with bright neon lights and the shouting of stall holders peddling their wares, visitors can eat anything from local soul food such as okonomiyaki to the more outlandish pufferfish.
Mount Fuji (Yamanashi and Shizuoka)
One of Japan’s most recognizable attractions has to be the majestic Mount Fuji. Its close proximity to Tokyo means that Tokyoites are sometimes treated to a sighting of the famous mountain from the comfort of the city.
It also makes for a great climb in the summer months, both for experienced and novice climbers.
Jozankei Hot Spring (Hokkaido)
Japan’s coldest prefecture sure knows how to warm up. The legendary Jozankei Onsen is one of the largest hot spring towns in Hokkaido, with cute Japanese inns and small hotels dotted across the region. In a ‘hot spring town’ there are many different baths that all come from the same source.
Jozankei is also surrounded by mountains and is said to be one of the best places to admire fall foliage in Japan.
Shirakawa-go is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gifu Prefecture. It offers visitors a rare opportunity to see Japanese gassho-zukuri (straw-roofed huts or house settlements).
Visitors to Shirakawa-go cannot help but be amazed at the 250-year-old houses that seemingly appear out of nowhere. Unrestrained by the seasons, the gassho-zukuri buildings look beautiful year-round, whether surrounded by autumn leaves, glowing in the sun or covered in snow.
Furuzamami Beach (Okinawa)
The Japanese archipelago is unique in its length, from the cold weather in Hokkaido — nearer to Russia than Kagoshima — to the sunny climes of Okinawa. Visitors who enjoy a bit of beach action should put Okinawa on their list.
Furuzamami Beach is located on Zamami island, a ferry ride away from the mainland. It is known for its gorgeous white sands and azure waters, offering snorkeling, swimming and diving.
Yakushima is a fairytale hiking island, with climbing vines, entwined greenery and a heart-shaped tree. No wonder it was the inspiration for Ghibli’s mega-hit movie Princess Mononoke. The small island is known for its varied and abundant wildlife — over 90 percent of the island is uninhabited. Pack your hiking boots and get ready to enter this Ghibli-like paradise.