Shibuya – Tokyo
Taking a trip to Tokyo? You’ll be sure to end up at Shibuya. The sprawling capital’s commercial and business centre, this is a place popular with tourists and locals alike, a buzzing spot that has become renowned as Tokyo’s best shopping and entertainment district. Home to the two busiest train stations on Earth — Shibuya and Shinjuku — this can be a chaotic place, but get your bearings and you’ll soon find your feet.
The famous Hachiko Crossing is a case in point, with 3000 pedestrians crossing at peak time. It’s also an amazing sight at night. Maid cafe is a must-do for the quirkiest Japanese experience. Manga and anime fans will love the atmosphere. Eat some delicious sushi at ‘Genki Sushi’ and take a stroll in Yoyogi Park.
With its countless shops, restaurants and nightclubs, Shibuya never sleeps, this a colourful spot that can tire out tourists. But there are places here to enjoy a little quiet time too. When it all gets too much, head to the Meiji Shrine, set in 170 acres of beautiful forest, to recharge your batteries before heading back out onto the busy city streets once again.
Take a step back in time in the beautiful Kiso Valley, a place where ancient Japan endures and a world away from the hustle and bustle of the country’s chaotic cities.
The superbly-preserved post towns of Magome, Narai and Tsumago demand a visit, with the stone paths and traditional wooden buildings entrancing those who are fortunate enough to spend a little time in these peaceful parts.
Running alongside the spectacular mountains of Japan’s Central Alps, the Kiso River is a place of immense natural beauty, beckoning those with a penchant for the great outdoors and always a popular spot for hikers. Trek the historic Nakasendo trail or head for the foothills of Mount Ontake and Komagatake, the choice is yours. With all the fresh air and exercise, you’ll be sure to leave Kiso feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and all set to take a trip back to modernity.
Cross the Kamogawa River and discover shrines and temples aplenty, Eastern Kyoto awash with sights to savour and a great deal to see and do. Be sure to set aside sufficient time to explore the narrow streets here, as this is no place to rush. To do this properly, it’s important to take things slowly.
Start at Kiyomizudera, one of Japan’s most celebrated temples, before heading towards Higashiyama, a preserved historic district that demands to be explored. Ginkakuji is always worth a visit, whilst Gion — the famous Geisha district — is not to be missed. This is a peaceful place, its cobbled streets a far cry from Japan’s modern urban hubs, and with Kyoto’s Eastern Mountains providing a picturesque backdrop, you’ll find strolling the winding lanes and alleys here an enjoyable experience.
Be sure to look out for the Philosopher’s Path, a beautiful trail lined with cherry trees. Visit during spring and you’ll be treated to a spectacular natural show, with the blossom out and beautiful flowers all around.
Kabukicho – Tokyo
Known as the ‘Sleepless Town’ for obvious reasons, something is always happening in chaotic Kabukicho, Shinjuku’s famed entertainment district and a place that demands a visit after hours.
It’s a place of bright lights and ever-bustling streets, where anything is possible and everything is available. It’s also Tokyo’s red-light district, although that shouldn’t put you off. Certain areas can be a little shady, it’s true, but stick to the main streets and this is a thrilling place to spend a little time.
Nightclubs, shops, hotels and restaurants are in plentiful supply, whilst there’s always something to see, and the atmosphere is always buzzing. Look out for hawkers and always keep your wits about you, but don’t be afraid to visit. No trip to Japan’s chaotic capital would be complete without making a visit to Kabukicho, so buckle up, soak up the sights and, above all, enjoy.
Sprawling Osaka is immense — Japan’s second largest metropolitan area after Tokyo, it can seem a little daunting at first, but get your bearings, do a little research and a world of attractions and activities await.
Located on beautiful Honshu, this is a port city, with a great deal centred around the modern waterfront, not least Universal Studios, which always proves popular with families. Osaka Aquarium is another a top spot for kids and adults alike, whilst for those interested in history, the 16th century castle is the place to be.
There’s so much to see here that anyone planning a trip to Osaka should be sure to set aside sufficient time to visit the major attractions. Enjoy the modern architecture, sample the legendary nightlife, and be sure to explore the countless street food stalls that dot this vibrant city, you’ll never be short of something to do here.
Visitors are drawn to Hitsujiyama Park in late spring time to see the beautiful pink moss fields — a breathtaking experience that is not to be missed. Located in Chichibu, just a short trip from central Tokyo, this is a treat for all the senses, with vibrant colours as far as the eye can see and Mount Fuji, with its imposing snow-capped peak, providing a spectacular backdrop.
There are beautiful blossoms to see here too, but the moss phlox flowers are the main draw, with late April and early May the best time to visit, when the fields come alive and all is pink, white, purple and blue.
It’s no surprise that Hitsujiyama gets busy at such times, but don’t let that put you off. For the best views, head into the surrounding hills, where benches await and the fields can be enjoyed, from a distance, in peace, quiet and tranquility.
Tokyo is a modern metropolis, but in Asakusa, the city’s traditional past can still be discovered. Tourists head here to visit the traditional shops and food stalls on Nakamise — the district’s main street — whilst the ancient Sensoji-ji temple, dating back to the seventh century, is always a popular spot.
Explore by foot or take a rickshaw, getting around is easy here, and you’ll soon leave Tokyo’s skyscrapers and modern glass buildings behind. It’s like taking a trip back in time and, although the streets here can get crowded, it’s an experience that must not be missed.
For those interested in Japan’s traditional festivals, the third weekend in May is a good time to visit, when the Sanja Matsuri — the Three Shrine Festival — comes to town. Dating back to 1649, this is Tokyo’s most famous such event, attracting more than one million people and always an experience to savour.
Like to see Japan’s best blossom? The cherries in Ueno Park are hard to beat, with more than 1,000 trees lining the central pathways and no shortage of visitors enjoying their splendour.
The best time to visit is in late March and early April and, although this means that the main areas can become rather crowded, the park is so large that quiet spots can still be found. Established in 1873 in the Taito district of Tokyo, Ueno ranks amongst the sprawling city’s best attractions, with numerous museums to visit.
Be sure to check out Tokyo National Museum, the Science Museum and the Metropolitan Art Museum, before heading to the zoo, Japan’s first and a popular place for families. Shinobazu Pond is the perfect spot for a picnic, whilst there are no shortage of paths and tracks to explore for those keen to leave the crowds behind.
Just a short trip from Tokyo, tourists flock to Kamakura to kick back on the pristine sand beaches and sample Sagami Bay’s renowned surf. Japan’s foremost seaside resort town, this is a place where the focus is on fun, although Kamakura does have a serious side, and the region’s rich historic past is fascinating indeed.
There are countless Zen temples and Shinto shrines to visit, whilst Kotoku-in’s famed bronze Buddha — standing 13 metres tall — demands to be seen and is always a popular attraction.
For those keen to beat the crowds, Kamakura’s forests are dotted with tracks and trails that are crying out to be explored, whilst the island of Enoshima makes for an interesting trip. Yet more often than not, you’ll be drawn back to the beach, with Yuigahama and Zaimokuza in particular proving popular with those keen to lie back, relax and soak up the warm Japanese sun.
No visit to Japan can be considered complete without catching a glimpse of Mount Fuji. The iconic volcano — at 3776 metres, the country’s highest peak — can be seen from miles around, of course, but for those keen to get up close and personal, opportunities abound.
Head to the Fuji Five Lake region at the mountain’s northern foot, or lie back and relax in the hot springs at Hakone, the choice is yours. Feeling active? Mount Fuji is open for climbing during July and August and there are several routes to choose from. It might be considered active, but Fuji-san hasn’t erupted since 1707.
Prefer to see the snow-capped peaks from a distance? You can spot Mount Fuji from Tokyo and Yokohama on a clear day — visibility is better during the colder months of the year — whilst enjoying the view from a speeding Shinkansen train is an experience that’s hard to beat.
Sprawling Nagoya might not enjoy the same cosmopolitan reputation as Tokyo and Osaka, but delve beneath the surface of this fast-growing urban centre and activities and attractions abound.
Home to more than two million people (and counting), Nagoya’s past as a manufacturing and shipping hub means it is sometimes believed to be boring, but those fortunate enough to visit are treated to some of Japan’s top sights, with parks aplenty, green spaces galore and countless museums amongst the leading tourist spots.
The excellent Railway Museum is well worth a visit, so too Tokugawa Art Museum, whilst those seeking thrills and spills should head to the outskirts, where the giant rollercoasters of Nagashima await. Like to discover the city’s rich history? Be sure to head for the reconstructed castle, Osu Kannon Temple and Atsuta Shrine. It might not enjoy the same cosmopolitan reputation as Tokyo and Osaka, but with so much to see and do here, Nagoya might just be Japan’s best-kept secret.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Located in Kyoto’s north-western suburbs, Arashiyama appeals to those who have an eye for the otherworldly. There’s a great deal to see and do in this much-visited region of Japan, but there’s nothing that can compete with the breathtaking bamboo forest, which draws tourists keen to step straight from the crowded suburban streets into a fantastical land that is like no other on Earth.
The tall trees of this sprawling grove reach for the skies, whilst the long paths that cut through the bamboo forest demand to be explored. It’s a tranquil place to savour, where all is at peace, and calm and quiet abound.
Planning a trip to Arashiyama? Do be sure to check out Tenryu Temple and the surrounding Storm Mountains, whilst those fortunate enough to visit during springtime are sure to be treated to a spectacular natural show, as countless blossoming cherry trees provide a beautiful backdrop, making for an unforgettable experience.
For those seeking a glimpse of Japan’s ancient past, there can be nowhere better than Shirakawago, a breathtaking historic preserved village in the remote Shogawa River Valley.
Located in central Japan, this is a place of outstanding natural beauty, surrounded by thick forests and imposing mountains, and well worth taking a trip from the well-beaten tourist path.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Shirakawago beckons visitors with its steep-roofed Gassho-Zukuri homes and traditional farmhouses, some of which date back more than 250 years.
Combining Japanese history with the country’s spectacular natural wonders, there’s no bad time to visit, with the cherry blossoms in spring, green rice fields in summer, colourful leaves in autumn and spectacular snowfalls in winter. Be sure to visit Ogimachi Village, where some of the finest houses can be found, before climbing up into the surrounding hills for amazing views out over the valley.
Located in central Tokyo, Akihabara is a bustling shopping district, a chaotic place of vibrant colours and bright lights, where modern Japan comes alive and life is lived at a relentless pace.
This is a retail hub that specialises in the latest electronics and tech, with small stalls and vast department stores jostling for space and shoppers everywhere.
In recent times, Akihabara has also become home to Japan’s otaku culture, and those interested in Anime and Manga are advised to head here. Chuo Dori, the area’s main street, can be busy, although Sundays are a good time to visit, when cars are prohibited during the afternoon rush.
Take a trip, bag or bargain or just engage in a little people watching from a side-street cafe, you’ll find that there’s nowhere else quite like Akihabara. For an authentic glimpse of modern Japan, this is the place to be.
There’s much to see in Nikko, but for most, it’s Toshogu — the famed Shinto shrine — that brings them to these parts. Dating back to 1617, this is Japan’s most lavishly-decorated shrine, a splendid sight that demands to be seen and one that ranks amongst the country’s most photographed spots.
Home to the mausoleum of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and the marvellous Yomeimon Gate, this is a popular place indeed. But peace and quiet can still be found here.
Located in the beautiful Tochigi Prefecture, to the north of Tokyo, Nikko National Park is a tranquil spot indeed, with its lakes and waterfalls, hot springs and wild roaming monkeys.
Hiking trails dot the mountainous landscape and the Toshogu crowds can soon be left behind. Take a trip in the autumn, when Nikko is at its colourful best. With so much to see and do in this small city, be sure to set aside enough time to take it all in.
Fushimi Inari Shrine – Kyoto
Considered the most important of all the shrines to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, Fushimi is a stunning sight indeed. Located in southern Kyoto, visitors head here to see the famous torii gates, which straddle a vast network of tracks and trails.
So impressive in scale, there are thousands here. It’s no surprise then that exploring can take quite some time. Fushimi’s sun-dappled trails lead from the shrine’s main buildings into the beautiful wooded lands of sacred Mount Inari, which rises 233 metres, an imposing sight that demands to be explored.
Pick a path and see where it leads — but do be sure to set aside some time to discover the shrine’s impressive buildings, which tourists often overlook. There are no shortage of shrines to visit in Japan, but there are few that can rival Fushimi and we can’t recommend a visit enough.
Visitors flock to Osaka’s Nishinomaru Garden in Spring to catch a glimpse of the famous cherry blossom for which Japan is so renowned.
With around 600 cherry trees here, there are few better places to witness the spectacular sight, but regardless of the season, there’s always something that makes Nishinomaru worth a trip. This is a place of beautifully-manicured lawns and exquisite topiary and, although located in bustling Osaka, peace and quiet can always be found within the tranquil grounds here.
Part of Osaka Castle Park, the garden commands a marvellous view of the castle tower, moat and imposing stone walls, whilst for those keen to kick back and relax, there’s no better place for a picnic. Like to explore the castle a little more closely? It’s always worth a visit. Be sure to climb to the tower’s top for spectacular views of the beautiful gardens and the modern metropolis beyond.
Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, but for all that it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in activities and attractions. For those seeking the country’s great outdoors, this is the place to be.
With a mountainous interior to explore and a 1,200-kilometre Buddhist pilgrimage route that encircles the island and demands to be trekked. Honouring Kukai, a monk from the eighth-century, there are 88 temples to discover on the long and winding path. Ticking them off one at a time is an immense challenge indeed.
With countless inland hiking trails and white water rapids to explore, there’s no shortage of things to do here, but Shikoku isn’t just for the active and the adventurous. Take a trip to Matsuyama, where a fascinating castle awaits, or kick back and relax at the ancient hot springs at Dogo Onsen, the choice is yours.
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
There’s nowhere quite like Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, located in Yamanouchi, in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture, where visitors flock to see the famed macaques bathing in the steaming hot spring waters.
It’s a strange sight, but look beyond the bizarre for a moment and this is a spectacular place to take a trip. Not far from Shibu and Yudanaka, the picture-perfect valleys of the Yokuyu River make for an eye-catching backdrop, part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, and worthy of a visit in their own right.
Be sure to take time to explore the forests and trails that dot the area, before heading to see the snow monkeys, who are always to be found in the man-made pool that fills with the naturally-hot spring waters for which the region is renowned. They’re here all year round — but to get the full effect, it’s worth waiting until the snow has fallen, usually between December and March, before making a visit.
Dating back to 1592, Matsumoto is one of five castles designated as ‘National Treasures of Japan’. Boasting the country’s oldest surviving donjon, this is a place of great historic significance.
One of the most complete castles remaining in Japan, Matsumoto’s splendour makes it a must-see attraction for all travelling through the Nagano Prefecture. Imposing and important, this is a popular spot for tourists.
It can get busy, with the peak period for visitors in April and May, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom and the waiting time to enter can top two hours. But come at other points in the year and it is possible to beat the crowds.
Look out for the summer festivals, whilst those who visit after dark will get to see the castle illuminated, a sight that is not to be missed. Sometimes called Crow Castle due to its famous black exterior, Matsumoto is always an impressive sight. There’s no question that this is one for the bucket list.
Sacred and spectacular, Nachi Falls is a sight to behold, the tallest uninterrupted drop waterfall in Japan and a place of immense natural beauty. Located in Nachikatsuura in the country’s Wakayama Prefecture, travellers head here to see the powerful waters take a 133-metre plunge over the tree-lined cliffside. Yet for all their splendour, there’s rather more to Nachi than the falls alone.
Home also to the Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine, its place on the UNESCO World Heritage list of Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes is warranted indeed, with Nachi being an important location on the legendary trail that runs through the beautiful Kii Mountain Range.
Calm and quiet, this is a tranquil place indeed, with the soothing sounds of the waterfall a continuous soundtrack. Take a trip and be sure to explore the countless tracks and trails that dot the hillsides. Trust us on this — the great outdoors doesn’t get much greater.
The Blue Pond
The Blue Pond is a spectacular sight, with its brightly-coloured waters beckoning visitors with an eye for the otherworldly. The vibrant colour that gives the pond its name is all natural, due to the minerals dissolved in its waters, but the lake itself is artificial, a man-made erosion system that was designed to protect nearby Biei from the volcanic mudflows that, at one point, threatened the town’s very existence.
Built in 1988 following the dramatic eruption of Mount Tokachi, the Blue Pond is an unlikely destination for tourists, yet visitors continue to be drawn to its shores, not far from the popular hot spring town of Shirogane Onsen.
Surrounded by forests and boasting a mountainous backdrop, it’s a place of great beauty, where peace and quiet can always be found. Easy enough to reach from Sapporo, the Blue Pond is well worth a trip for anyone holidaying in Hokkaido.
Take a step back in time in Tsumago, where the atmosphere of the Edo period endures, and modern life’s stresses and strains can be put to one side. The 42nd of the 69 post towns on the legendary Nakasendo route, Tsumago is the best preserved of all, a place where cars are prohibited on the streets during daylight hours, and where great lengths have been taken to ensure that telephone lines and power cables are concealed, adding to the illusion that this is a place from another age.
The town itself is small — you can walk from one end to the other in a little over 15 minutes — but for all that it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in spirit. Life is simple here and the peace and quiet is something to savour. Take our advice — take a trip to Tsumago and take that step back in time.
Considered one of the holiest places in Japan, Mount Koya beckons visitors in search of spiritual experiences. This is a vast temple settlement in the country’s Wakayama Prefecture, located to the south of Osaka and Kyoto, and as far removed from modern Japan’s chaotic cities as it is possible to be.
The centre of Shingon Buddhism, some 100 temples and monasteries dot this sacred place, a peaceful, wooded land, with mile upon mile of paths to walk and forests galore to explore. Be sure to visit Torodo Hall, with its 10,000 eternally-lit lanterns, before spending some quiet time at Okunoin Cemetery, Mount Koya’s most famous landmark, a spiritual site indeed and home to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi.
So peaceful is Mount Koya that, when the time comes to depart, you won’t want to leave. Take our advice and plan an overnight stay — there’s nothing that can beat sleeping in a shukubo (a traditional temple lodging) here.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Visitors take the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route to reach the so-called Roof of Japan — a breathtaking experience that is not to be missed for those with an eye for adventure. Beckoning sightseers and climbers alike, the spectacular passage up Mount Tateyama offers activities for all, with views to savour and a great deal to see and do.
Great care must be taken for those keen to climb, and sufficient experience and equipment are recommended. For everyone else, there are choices galore, with some of the country’s finest attractions accessible and available to all.
Visit Shomyo, Japan’s highest waterfall, and Mikurigaike, the rejuvenating hot springs, before taking a boat ride on Lake Kurobe, an interesting experience at such altitude. With a ropeway, cable car and Japan’s only trolley bus all in service here, getting around is easy, making this a must-visit destination for anyone planning a trip to the Japanese Alps.
The famous floating Torii Gate marks the entrance to the centuries-old Itsukushima Shrine, an ancient wonder that continues to beckon visitors to Miyajima — Shrine Island — in Western Japan’s Hiroshima Bay.
Part-submerged at high tide, the much-photographed gate gleams in the sunshine, entrancing tourists and pilgrims alike, and pointing the way to the place that most here have come to see. The famed Shinto shrine is the main draw, but there’s far more to Itsukushima, a place renowned for its ancient temples and sprawling forests, and no matter your mood, you’ll find that there are attractions aplenty.
Perhaps the best way to experience Itsukushima is from the water, with boat cruises available, some of which take passengers right through the Torii Gate to the shore. With more than 1400 years of history to discover here, give yourself plenty of time as there’s no shortage of things to see and do.
Tokyo’s oldest temple is a must-see for all who visit Japan’s entrancing capital. This means it is often busy, but careful planning and clever timing means the crowds can be avoided and this fascinating slice of the city’s ancient past can still be savoured in peace.
For those able to wait until evening, when most tourists have left, there is an added bonus — the illuminated temple a spectacular sight as the Tokyo light begins to fade. It is now, after hours, that Senso-ji comes alive.
There’s a reason that this is the city’s most photographed and famous temple and, for those seeking a glimpse of Japan at its most authentic, it doesn’t get much better than this. Breathe in the aromas 0f incense that linger in the air and soak up the peace and quiet that abounds here. It’s as though time stands still at Senso-ji, making this the ideal destination for those seeking to leave Tokyo’s chaotic streets behind.
Visitors head to Naoshima, an island town in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, to immerse themselves in art, with abundant museums and galleries galore to be found in a spectacular setting.
Yayoi Kusama’s iconic pumpkin — found at Miyanoura Port — is always a big draw, whilst those who prefer more traditional artworks are spoilt for choice, with Monet’s celebrated Water Lilies amongst the treasures that can be found here. For those keen to spend a little time outdoors, there’s more to see than the galleries and museums, with beautiful sand beaches always beckoning and a climate perfect for topping up the tan.
Life is laid back on Naoshima, making it ideal for anyone determined to escape the hustle and bustle of Japan’s major cities. Enjoy the island’s exquisite architecture or head back to the galleries, there are options for all here and, in a beautiful location renowned for its relaxed vibes, you’ll have all the time in the world.
Historic delights abound in charming Kanazawa — spared during the devastating air raids of World War II, its classic architecture is always calling to those keen to see traditional Japan up close and personal.
Located on Honshu Island, the city’s countless treasures include Kanazawa Castle, which dates back to the 1580s, whilst there are natural wonders everywhere, with imposing mountains, beautiful parklands and the shimmering Sea of Japan bordering a picturesque location to savour. The greatest treat of all, however, is to be found at Kenrokuen, considered to be the finest landscaped gardens in all of Japan.
Home to almost 8,000 trees, this is a place to get away from it all, and time spent here is rejuvenating indeed. Be sure to look out for the ancient fountain and the fabled teahouse as you wander around the perfectly-manicured grounds here. Relaxing and tranquil in the extreme, the chances are you’ll never want to leave.
Travellers flock to Nara to see the famed deer at close quarters, with more than 1,000 free-roaming animals to be seen in an historic setting that never loses its appeal. Dating back to 1880, this is one of the oldest parks in Japan and, whilst most head here to feed the deer, there’s a great deal more to see at the foot of Mount Wakakusa.
The Kofukuji and Todaiji Temples — the latter a UNESCO World Heritage Site — demand a visit, whilst there’s much to be enjoyed at the National Treasure Museum, located within the park’s grounds. But it’s the deer who dominate here, with trippers drawn to see the fabled messengers of the Shinto gods, who have learned to bow for treats, and who are well rewarded for their tricks.
Located a 45-minute train ride from Kyoto, Nara is well worth a visit for those keen to leave the hustle and bustle behind for a short time.