15 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Japan

Jul 22, 2021

Many first-time visitors to Japan are often surprised to learn that, as one of the world's most advanced industrialized nations, this relatively small Asian country also boasts a rich and fascinating history that dates back thousands of years.

Indeed, long before many of Europe's most spectacular cathedrals were built, Japan's Shinto and Buddhist temples were already well-established and drawing pilgrims and patrons for their often elaborate designs and décor. At the same time, the country was already perfecting the skills and trades that would set it on the path to riches, from fine porcelain and ceramics to textiles such as silk.

Much of this rich tradition has, despite wars and natural devastation, been preserved (or rebuilt), and a visit to Japan is a memorable adventure. Boasting an endless list of top attractions, fun things to do, and points of interest to explore, a vacation in Japan is certainly a great investment of time and money. Discover the best places to visit in the country with our list of the top tourist attractions in Japan.

Tokyo Tower

Photo of Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower: en.wikipedia.org

Tokyo Tower (Toppu Jingū) is the city's most popular attraction. It's a 1,004-foot metal latticework skyscraper capped with a bright red flying saucer. Built in 1958 to commemorate the completion of the Tokyo International Airport, it was the world's first observation tower. Visitors can reach Tokyo Tower by elevator or the world's first gondola lift. From the upper floors, there are views across the vast Imperial Palace grounds and Tokyo Bay to the nearby islands.

Mount Fuji

Photo of Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji: en.wikipedia.org

The tallest mountain in Japan, Mount Fuji towers over Tokyo. It is also known as Fuji-san and is the most popular tourist destination in the country. The impressive volcanic crater of Mount Fuji and its snow-covered peak is visible from everywhere in Tokyo. At an elevation of 2,353 meters (7,728 feet), it's Japan's highest peak. Buddhists consider Mount Fuji to be one of the three sacred mountains in Japan (along with Mount Hiei and Mount Yoshino) and the symbol of Japan's imperial capital. Visitors from abroad are expected to make special arrangements to visit Mount Fuji - usually in the form of a guided tour of the mountain. There are no facilities on the mountain itself. You can, however, climb to the top of the mountain for spectacular views. There is one airport on the island, which is served by a limited number of flights and trains, but the island is best reached by ferry or from the neighboring Japanese city of Ishikawa, where a bus from the ferry terminal is available.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Photo of Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Hiroshima Peace Memorial: en.wikipedia.org

The Atomic Bomb Dome, an important reminder of the terrible devastation of the city of Hiroshima following the dropping of an atomic bomb on 6 August 1945, is one of the main attractions of the park. The monument is on the grounds of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, and has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The museum exhibits document the history of nuclear weaponry in the 20th century, as well as the devastating power of the atomic bomb. Visitors can see parts of the bomb as they were found at the site of the blast, listen to recordings of survivors and listen to archive material from the U.S. military, including a recording of the atomic blast itself. Located in Hiroshima, the park commemorates not only the victims of the bomb, but the thousands of other people killed in the 6-kilometer blast radius. Nearby is a memorial for the thousands of victims who lost their lives in the fiery city of Nagasaki. This is the last memorial of its kind in the world. The Mount Peace Summit (Taiyū Sensō-Mura), a beautiful park designed to overlook the ruins of Hiroshima and provide views of a miniature version of the Big Bang, is also worth visiting.

Kamakura

Photo of Kamakura
Kamakura: en.wikipedia.org

As a major city on the eastern side of Japan's main island, Kamakura (also known as Kamakura Jodai), is the center of worship for the ancient religion of Zen, which flourished in Japan during the Heian period. Known to be the site of the first temples in the Kamakura Period, it's been extensively rebuilt over the last several hundred years to give it a flavor of historical and artistic splendor. Of note here are the Great Buddha, the Shisen-do (Colored Spirit Hall) and a number of artistic relics, such as the golden torii that flank the Seifuku-ji temple. See also the renowned archery hall Senpuku-ji, and also its museum and numerous art collections.

Himeji Castle

Photo of Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle: en.wikipedia.org

Himeji Castle (Himeji-jo) is one of Japan's best-preserved castles and an excellent example of the fortifications built as the country began to consolidate its military power in the early 1500s. Himeji's use as a stronghold and symbol of national unity lasted until the mid-19th century when it was in turn taken over by the army and used to defend the feudal government. It has since been redeveloped and opened to the public. At present, Himeji is one of Japan's most popular tourist destinations, and Himeji Castle is perhaps the most popular stop. The castle has been carefully restored and its grounds provide a peaceful escape from the surrounding urban sprawl, particularly in the early morning or evening.

Tokyo

Rising majestically from the central Minato district, Tokyo is Japan's business, entertainment, and retail center. It's home to 100 years' worth of cutting-edge architecture including Tokyo SkyTree, Tokyo Tower, and the legendary Tsukiji fish market, and is one of the world's most fascinating cities. Tokyo, whose name translates as "a tower in the water," has been a place of worship since the time of the first shoguns. Some of its best-known Buddhist temples, shrines, and museums lie in the old Imperial Palace district. Other famous sites include the glittering Tokyo Tower and the tourist-orientated shopping and entertainment districts of Harajuku and Shibuya. The old town of Asakusa is home to Sensō-ji, Tokyo's best example of a Zen temple, as well as the fascinating Ueno Royal Park. More of a working-class district than others, it also has a high concentration of cheap restaurants. Visit Tokyo on a shoestring, with a 24-hour visit from Narita Airport, arriving by rail or boat, and including a full-day cruise on the canal around the Imperial Palace.

Read more 👉  Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Tokyo

Kyoto Castle

Photo of Nijō Castle
Nijō Castle: en.wikipedia.org

Built by the Oda clan, which controlled central Japan from the mid-14th century, Kyoto Castle (Kyoto-jo) once stood in a prominent position in the center of the city. In the 1950s it was destroyed and moved to the grounds of the Imperial Palace. As a result of its relocation, it's now on the opposite side of the Kamogawa River from the palace and can be reached by foot or cable car. The castle is a large, sprawling, 20th-century building with Japanese architecture blending with traditional European styles. Some highlights include the impressive view of the river from the castle gardens, the "jumping" stage used for ceremonies, the Imperial Court Chamber (Kyoto-jo Teien), and the ancestral halls of the Oda clan. If you are looking for information on the castle grounds, the adjacent Kyokan Garden has formal gardens, a teahouse, and a popular teahouse museum. The Uchiwa-ya shops in the city also specialize in the goods that were once stored in the castle dungeons.

Tokyo Sky Tree

Photo of Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Skytree: en.wikipedia.org

The high-rise Tokyo Sky Tree is the tallest tower in Japan, and with a height of 634 meters is the tallest freestanding structure in the world. Designed by Arata Isozaki, the base of the tower is designed like a fan-shaped pine tree and the spectacular near-vertical shaft is capped with a spiraling metal spire reminiscent of a lance. The Tower opened in 2012 to great acclaim. The 40th floor is the observation deck at the tip of the tower, which offers views that are not to be missed. Situated at an altitude of 505 meters, the viewing deck allows visitors to take in views that go on for miles. Sky Tree is Japan's largest and most technologically advanced communications facility and boasts a number of other firsts. It's the first major structure in the world to be equipped with an ultra-high-speed data transmission system. There are a number of food, entertainment, and retail outlets on the 40th floor, and Tokyo Skytree is said to be the fastest elevator in the world. However, the main attraction is the 360-degree observation deck at the tip of the tower. Here visitors can take in spectacular views in the 30 seconds it takes to go from the observation deck to the central elevator shaft.

Osaka Castle

Photo of Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle: en.wikipedia.org

Built in 1586 by famous Japanese warrior and politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Osaka Castle (Ōsaka-jō) was at the time the largest and most important fortress in the country. Although destroyed and rebuilt a number of times since, the present structure, built in 1931, remains true to the original. Highlights of a visit include the huge five-story, 42-meter-tall main tower. Built on an imposing 14-meter-tall stone base, the tower is home to a number of displays detailing the history of the castle and the city. Be sure to visit the top floor for its superb views over Osaka, an especially attractive sight as the sun sets. Also of interest in Osaka Castle Park is the Hokoku Shrine, while Osaka's best-known temple, Shitennō-ji, is also worth visiting and dates back to AD 59. Notable as Japan's first Buddhist temple, this lovely shrine features a five-story pagoda along with a number of other exquisitely decorated buildings. Among them are the Golden Pavilion (Kondō), with its fine statues and paintings; the Lecture Hall (Kōdō); and a lovely covered corridor linking three of the site's gates.

Kyoto

One of the best known of the temples of Japan, Kyoto's (Kyōto-jo) traditional name, "Heian-kyō," derives from the period when the city began to flourish from the eighth to the 12th century. During this time, Kyoto was the center of culture and society, as exemplified by its art, culture, architecture, literature and many famous Japanese poets and artists. Today Kyoto is one of Japan's most beautiful and rewarding cities. Visitors can easily get around by train or JR bus, but it is best to hire a private guide, as many sightseeing points are too small to reach alone. If you are not traveling with a car, the simplest option for sightseeing is to hire a guide from a local travel agency for half a day or an evening. Tours can range from walking tours to small group excursions.

Read more 👉  Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Kyoto

Tokyo Imperial Palace

Photo of Tokyo Imperial Palace
Tokyo Imperial Palace: en.wikipedia.org

The Tokugawa shogunate, a powerful clan of the Edo Period (1603-1867), built this palace in 1854 to mark the 60th anniversary of the shogun's victory in the Bakumatsu (Warring States) era. It was an extravagant celebration of this victory, however, as the country was then governed under the Meiji Restoration, during which many important and highly valued objects were taken from Japan and brought to Europe, including countless works by great artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as the china collection of King Louis XIV. The palace was the site of the entrance ceremony for the Occupation of Japan by the Allies in 1945. The castle's spectacular architecture, including its many mirrored halls and lavish rooms with golden carpets, silk walls and vases and ceramic pots is still intact.

Fukushima Prefectural Art Museum

Photo of Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art
Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art: en.wikipedia.org

In the days following the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, which left over 20,000 people dead or missing, the Japanese government responded by building the country's first museum dedicated to nuclear radiation. The Fukushima Prefectural Art Museum, on a forested site 25 kilometers east of the city of Fukushima, opened in August 2012. It is located in a well-designed concrete building, the first of its kind built in Japan, and displays exhibits on the impact of the disaster and nuclear safety to the public in English. The museum is in its early days of operation, but at the time of writing its initial exhibitions were scheduled to run through March 2016. There is still plenty to see, but don't miss the exhibition 'Radiation and Spirit' devoted to the Fukushima Art Association's photographic project to document the Fukushima disaster.

Ryukyu Islands

Photo of Ryukyu Islands
Ryukyu Islands: en.wikipedia.org

Forming a beautiful chain off the southwestern coast of Honshu, the Ryukyu Islands consist of 18 islands and are home to a number of extremely fascinating temples and shrines. The largest of these is the Shuri Castle, or Kasagi Castle, built between AD 881 and 947. Kasagi Castle is an enormous citadel, originally built by a ruler of the Ryukyu Kingdom who ruled during the 880s. Although extensive changes were made to the castle over the years, the impressive centerpiece of the structure remains, with a central gate tower fronting a raised moat. The interior is graced by magnificent shōgun-era woodwork and decorative ceramic stonework. In addition to the central castle, there are other significant architectural structures including Kurokado, a spectacular multi-colored concrete pagoda dating back to the 1800s; and the colourful shrines of the islands. Turtle populations have been dwindling on these islands due to overfishing, prompting many Japanese officials to consider renaming the islands as a way to highlight their cultural heritage.

Hakone

Photo of Hakone
Hakone: en.wikipedia.org

Hakone has long been a popular getaway from the bustling cities of Tokyo and Yokohama. Located on the westernmost tip of Japan's main island of Honshu, it has a rich history as a famous spa town dating back to the Edo Period. During this period, the area was very isolated and, as a result, the natural beauty of the region was largely undisturbed, and it has since been declared a national park. It's easy to see the area's subtropical climate at Hakone today, which, like Kyoto, features cherry trees in the spring, blooming azaleas in the summer, and maple trees in the fall. A number of nature preserves in Hakone's Alila Spa Hotel are excellent for hiking and observing birds. The panorama from Mount Rishiri, Japan's highest point, is magnificent.

Kanazawa

Photo of Kanazawa
Kanazawa: en.wikipedia.org

Kanazawa is a sleepy old city with streets lined with ancient wooden buildings. It was founded in the mid-16th century and, though small in size, is rich in culture. The most beautiful of its famous wooden buildings is Uemachi, a beautifully preserved shopping street that runs from the Uemachi Gate to the Kanazawa Castle. From Uemachi to the castle, the main route is lined with an abundance of geisha house fronts, small shops, traditional restaurants and souvenir stalls. About a 10-minute walk from the Uemachi gate is the Uemachi Theater, with its 12th century pagoda-style building. Nearby are a number of places of interest. The Kanazawa Arts Museum, one of the best in Japan, with its beautiful galleries and gardens, is close to the Uemachi Gate. The Yagura temple, which dates from the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) is on the route to the castle. On its roof is a carved statue of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Tokugawa shogunate and unified Japan. From the castle, there are plenty of nearby sights, including the Kanazawa Castle Museum, which hosts exhibitions of Japanese ceramics.