Japan Bucket List: 47 Attractions in Japan's 47 Prefectures
- Published: Oct 19 2021
- Last updated:
With so much on offer, choosing which prefectures to visit in Japan can be a tough call. So why not try and conquer them all? Japan's 47 prefectures are all filled with incredible wonders, and this article will introduce one must-see spot in each. Read on to learn about each Japanese prefecture and find out what they're famous for!
1.Hokkaido Prefecture: Mt Hakodate
Located on the southern tip of Hokkaido's Hakodate peninsula stands the 334 meter-tall Mount Hakodate, famed for its spectacular night views. An evening trip up the ropeway to the summit on a clear day will be rewarded with a glittering expanse of city lights framed by Hakodate’s two bays, with the twinkles of bobbing fishing boats slowly meandering across the water.
2. Aomori Prefecture: Sannai Maruyama Site
This exceptionally well-preserved village from the Jomon period(13000BC -300 BC) is a fascinating archaeological site. Originally, the village contained over 700 structures, including houses, roads, burial pits, and storage buildings. Today, the excavated site has largely been recovered, and visitors can enter reconstructions of some of the dwellings and excavation sites. Objects discovered on the site, including tools and clothing, are exhibited at the onsite museum (the Jomon Jiyukan), providing an insight into everyday life during this period in Japanese history.
3. Iwate Prefecture: The Golden Hall at Chūson-ji Temple
The Konjikii-dō, or Golden Hall, at Chūson-ji temple is a lavishly decorated temple structure with an interior and exterior clad entirely in gold leaf. Established in 1124, it is one of only two surviving buildings from the original temple complex. Its ornate decoration points to the region’s history as an area of significant gold production and wealth. A fine example of the craftsmanship of the late Heian period (794 - 1185), Konjikii-dō was the first building to be designated a National Treasure of Japan.
4. Miyagi Prefecture: Matsushima Bay
Inspiring a famous haiku by Basho, Miyagi Prefecture's Matsushima Bay is known as one of Japan's "Three Great Views." 260 pine-clad islands are dotted across the emerald waters of the bay, some connected by scenic bridges, while others are home to ancient temples and shrines. An observation tower (Shitaikan) has been constructed offering views across the bay, and ferries take visitors to view the islands not accessible by foot.
5. Akita Prefecture: Nyuto Onsen
At the foothills of Mount Nyuto lie a cluster of 8 onsen ryokan (traditional Japanese inn with hot spring baths), collectively known as Nyuto Onsen. The hot spring baths are famed for their soothing, milky waters and the rustic charm of the ryokans constructed to access them. The oldest of these is Tsurunoyu Onsen, which has rooms dating back to the Edo Period, and a large, mixed-gender outdoor bath, or "rotenburo." All of the baths have views of the mountain scenery, which change according to the season but are particularly atmospheric during the autumn and winter. Check out this article for more information.
6. Yamagata Prefecture: Risshaku-ji Temple
Popularly known as Yamadera (literally: mountain temple), the stunning temple complex of Risshaku-ji is dotted across the slopes of Mt. Hoshu to the east of Yamagata Prefecture. A one-hour walk up a series of 1015 stone steps will take you up the rocky mountainside and past the temple’s sub-structures to the spectacularly located Okunoin Temple and Daibutsuden Hall. From here, visitors can take in incredible views of the surrounding mountains, as well as a chance to absorb and appreciate the spirituality of the sacred site. It is especially beautiful during the autumn when the valley and mountains are ablaze with the changing leaves.
7. Fukushima Prefecture: Goshikinuma
Fukushima Prefecture’s Goshikinuma, meaning "five colored ponds," can be discovered on an other-worldly hike along a beautiful nature trail in Bandai-Asahi National Park. Red, green, and turquoise ponds and lakes are revealed to visitors as they make their way through the wilderness. Formed after the eruption of Mount Bandai in 1887, the different ponds and lakes (which actually number many more than five) contain volcanic elements and minerals that give the water their surreal, brilliant colors. Some of the lakes can be enjoyed on a rowboat, giving hikers a chance to rest their feet and view the remarkable waters close up. For more information see this article.
8. Ibaraki Prefecture: Hitachi Seaside Park
Ibaraki Prefecture’s Hitachi Seaside Park is best known for its splendid display of blue nemophila that carpet Miharashi Hill in the spring. The flowers' baby-blue hue mimics the blue of the sky and the sea on a clear day, creating a magical, uplifting atmosphere. Other seasonal flowers can also be found here, including cosmos and narcissus. It is a large, spacious park, also featuring cycling paths and a small amusement park. Check out this article for more information.
9. Tochigi Prefecture: Nikko Toshogu Shrine
Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture's Nikko City is a magnificently decorated memorial to Tokugawa leyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was extensively enlarged and adorned in the 17th century, with many of the buildings featuring intricate carvings and gold leaf detailing. Located in the beautiful forests around Nikko, it is both a spectacular and serene place to visit. For more information on the Nikko area, see this article.
10. Gunma Prefecture: Kusatsu Onsen
Nestled in the secluded mountains of Gunma Prefecture is the resort town of Kusatsu Onsen. Known for having the largest volume of flowing hot spring water in Japan, Kusatsu town is centered on the remarkable Yubatake (hot water field) which is the resort's main source of hot spring water. Water rising directly from the source is cooled along a series of wooden channels that stretch through the town, while maintaining its purity and minerals.
11. Saitama Prefecture: Kawagoe
Kawagoe is a historic town in Saitama Prefecture that maintains the atmosphere and charm of the Edo period(1603 - 1868). Located only 30 minutes from central Tokyo by train, Kawagoe’s main street is lined with clay-walled "kurazukuri," or warehouse buildings that remain remarkably unchanged from their heyday as a center of trade in the Edo Period. As so many historic shops and warehouses are preserved here, Kawagoe is affectionately known as ‘Little Edo’. For more information about Kawagoe see this article.
12. Chiba Prefecture: Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple
While Narita International Airport may be Chiba Prefecture's most frequented destination, close by lies the impressive, ancient temple complex of Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. Dating back to A.D 940, the history and exquisite temple architecture of Naritasan should not be missed. Approached via a quaint and historic shopping street, the whole complex is imbued with charm and as one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples, it is also culturally significant.
13. Tokyo Prefecture: Tokyo Skytree
The sprawling mass of Tokyo is full of wonders and hidden charms. The ever-evolving city streets offer an abundance of restaurants, galleries, cafes, museums, parks, and gardens that could take a lifetime to fully explore. To get a sense of the full extent of the vibrancy of the city and the many riches to be discovered, why not visit Tokyo Skytree for a lofty view over the city skyline? Standing in a relatively low-rise neighborhood, the Skytree is the tallest tower in Japan (and among the tallest in the world, for that matter), enabling visitors the chance to fully appreciate the sheer size of Tokyo, as the view of the city spreads before you without obstructions. Restaurants, shops, and an aquarium can be found inside the tower, but the view is the top reason to go.
14. Kanagawa Prefecture: Hokokuji Temple
A relatively small temple located in the hills to the east of the seaside town of Kamakura, Hokokuji is best known for its impressive bamboo grove. Over 2,000 bamboo stalks sway over pathways through the grove, leading to a teahouse where visitors can enjoy a refreshing and traditional cup of matcha tea.
15. Niigata Prefecture: Sado Island
Formerly an island of exile, today Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture is a popular retreat, with high-quality hot springs, nature, history, and culture on offer for visitors. The discovery of gold in the 17th century changed the fortunes of this small island, and visitors can still pan for gold today. Other popular activities include a visit to one of the island's many renowned sake breweries, a trip on a "tarai-bune," or wash tub boat, a swim in the clear water of the beautiful coastline, and taiko drum workshops. The Sado Island Earth Celebration every August showcases some exceptional traditional taiko drumming.
16. Toyama Prefecture: Alpine Route and Kurobe Dam
One of the best ways to experience the northern Japan Alps is via the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in Toyama Prefecture. This high-altitude route through the mountains connects Toyama City with Omachi Town in Nagano Prefecture and is only accessible from April to November. The scenery is majestic, and while much of the route is traversed via ropeway, cable cars, and trolleybuses, some sections of the stand-out "snow corridor" in Murodo are taken on foot. Alpine flowers in the summer, the color of the fall leaves, and the picturesque Kurobe Dam are other nearby attractions.
17. Ishikawa Prefecture: Kenroku-en Garden
One of the "Three Great Gardens of Japan," Kenrokuen in Ishikawa Prefecture is located in what was previously the outer gardens of Kanazawa Castle. Lovingly maintained by the ruling Maeda family for nearly 2 centuries, the gardens were opened to the public in 1871. They are particularly known for their delightful seasonal changes, and for the large pond called Kasumigaike. For more ideas see this article.
18. Fukui Prefecture: Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
Located in a rich area for dinosaur excavation in Fukui Prefecture, the Dinosaur Museum is the largest of its kind in Japan and one of the top dinosaur museums in the world. With over 40 full dinosaur skeletons on display, as well as a number of life-size animatronic dinosaurs, this museum is sure to delight both young and old alike. The museum also contains hands-on exhibits, where visitors can handle real fossils, and a research laboratory where active scientists can be viewed at work.
19. Yamanashi Prefecture: Chureito Pagoda
The Chureito Pagoda in Yamanashi Prefecture is a fundamental component in one of Japan’s most famous views. The five-storied pagoda surrounded by cherry trees overlooking Mount Fuji is instantly recognizable, featuring in many guide books and posters of Japan. It was constructed in 1963 in memory of the citizens who lost their lives to war. It is most spectacular in spring and autumn, when the mountaintop pagoda appears to either rise from a cloud of cherry blossoms, or dazzle amongst the fiery red maples.
20. Nagano Prefecture: Matsumoto Castle
In Nagano Prefecture can be found one of Japan’s oldest and most complete castles. The iconic black-painted wooden keep is the oldest of its type in Japan. Dating from 1595, it is informally known as the Crow Castle due to its unique color. It is a flat-land castle that rises in picturesque layers from the large surrounding moat. It was designed as a defensive fortress, and signs of its former use are still visible throughout the castle.
21. Gifu Prefecture: Shirakawa-go
A visit to Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture is to step back into the past. On arrival, you will find a traditional, picturesque village of heavily pitched, thatched-roof houses surrounded by lush, green mountain scenery. The fairy-tale buildings are dotted amongst rice paddies and quaint pathways, and it is thought that the oldest have stood for over 300 years. Its historical importance is reflected in its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a number of buildings have even been converted into museums educating visitors on the history of the village and the architecture. See this article for more things to do in Shirakawa-go.
22. Shizuoka Prefecture: Mt Fuji
Unquestionably the most iconic symbol of Japan, Mount Fuji has been cherished as a sacred mountain since ancient times. No quintessential Japanese view is complete without the appearance of "Fujisan," and for many visitors, climbing the mountain is the ultimate Japanese experience. Standing on the border of Shizuoka Prefecture and Yamanashi Prefecture, there are many ways to enjoy the mountain, but the most intense is the option to climb it. The official climbing season runs from July to September, and as the tallest mountain in Japan, it is not for the faint hearted. For ideas on the best places to admire Mt Fuji see this article.
23. Aichi Prefecture: Inuyama Castle
Standing in a prominent position on a hill next to the Kiso River in Aichi Prefecture, Inuyama Castle is one of the oldest surviving castles in Japan. Originally constructed in 1537, the main structure is built with wood and preserves a beautiful, authentic interior. Below the castle is a charming old-timey castle town, with shops, cafes, and restaurants where you can easily spend the whole day.
24. Mie Prefecture: Ise Jingu
Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture is generally considered to be the most important Shinto site in the whole of Japan, containing 125 shrines centered around two main shrines called Naiku and Geku. As such an important and sacred place, Ise Jingu has attracted pilgrims for millennia. Often thought of as the birthplace of Japanese spirituality, Ise Jingu is also located at the start of the Iseji Route of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail, and so is located in a region of Japan rich in cultural and spiritual significance. For a complete guide to the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail see this article.
25. Shiga Prefecture: Hikone Castle
One of Japan’s most beautiful castles is located in Shiga Prefecture on the banks of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. Completed in 1622, the castle took over 20 years to build, and served as the seat of the local "daimyo," or feudal lord, until 1868. Much of the castle remains remarkably intact following the end of the feudal age, and the castle keep has been designated as a national treasure. The most popular time to visit the castle is during the spring, when the 1,200 cherry trees planted around the castle are in bloom.
26. Kyoto Prefecture: Philosopher's Path
With so many beautiful temples, shrines, gardens, and streets, it is exceptionally difficult to pick just one highlight from the culturally-rich Kyoto Prefecture. A great way to start is a walk down the Philosopher's Path in Kyoto City. A favorite haunt of the Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro, this atmospheric 2km pathway stretches along the canal in Kyoto's Higashiyama District, passing numerous famous temples and cozy cafes on the way. For more ideas on what to do when visiting Kyoto see this article.
27. Osaka Prefecture: Dotonbori
For many people, a visit to Osaka means excellent food and lots of it! The best place to soak up both the fun atmosphere of the city and to sample an array of delicious foods is Dotonbori; a bustling, restaurant-lined street with towering neon signs that runs parallel to the Dotonbori Canal. See this article for recommended eating spots in Dotonbori.
28. Hyogo Prefecture: Himeji Castle
One of Japan’s 12 original castles, the elegant Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture is often referred to as the White Heron Castle due to its white walls and pleasing architectural forms. Standing on top of a hill, the main keep is made up of six storeys, and is exceptionally well preserved, earning it a designation as both a National Treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
29. Nara Prefecture: Todai-ji
Nara Prefecture has no shortage of incredible temples, but Todai-ji stands out as one of the most historically and culturally significant temples in all of Japan. Opened in 752, Todai-ji was once one of the most powerful Buddhist temples in the country, wielding considerable influence over the government. Today, visitors can find the largest Great Buddha statue in Japan at 15 meters high, as well as one of the country’s largest wooden structures. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there are extensive gardens as well as museums and national treasures to visit also. For more ideas on what to do in Nara Prefecture see this article.
30. Wakayama Prefecture: Nachi-no-Otaki
One of the highlights of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail, Nachi-no-Otaki (Nachi Falls) in Wakayama Prefecture is the tallest waterfall in Japan, falling 133 meters through an ancient, majestic forest. As the home of a Shinto deity, the waterfall is considered sacred, and many pilgrims visit to experience both the beauty and spirituality of the natural wonder. A 30-minute hike up the mountain will take you to Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine, another picturesque stopping point on the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail, offering incredible views of Nachi Falls.
31. Tottori Prefecture: Tottori Sand Dunes
Stretching for over 2 kilometers in the San’in Kaigan Geopark in Tottori Prefecture are some of the most impressive sand dunes in Japan. The rippling sand is constantly on the move, creating a magical landscape with views over the ocean. Visitors can explore the dunes on a camel or on a horse-drawn cart, while sandboarding and paragliding are also options for the adventurous.
32. Shimane Prefecture: Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine
Izumo Taisha in Shimane Prefecture is one of the oldest and most important Shinto shrines in Japan. Constructed at some point before the early 700s, the shrine is the home to the deity Okuninushi no Okami, the creator of the land of Japan. Folklore suggests that every year, all of the deities in Japan gather at Izumo Taisha for a meeting of the gods, and many visitors come here at this time to pray for good fortune.
33. Okayama Prefecture: Okayama Korakuen Garden
Next to Okayama Castle in Okayama Prefecture is a beautiful landscaped garden called Okayama Korakuen. One of the "Three Great Gardens of Japan," Okayama Korakuen was designed in 1687 as a place of entertainment for the local ruling family. It was opened to the public in 1884, from which time many visitors have come to the garden to enjoy the large pond, water features, and walking paths, as well as the spacious lawns.
34. Hiroshima Prefecture: Itsukushima Shrine
One of the most iconic shrines in Japan, Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture is best known for its mystical "torii" gate built over the sea, which appears to float during high tide. Many of the other shrine buildings are also built over the water, enhancing the atmosphere and ethereal qualities of a visit to Miyajima, the island where the shrine is located. Illuminated at night, the shrine and the island can be viewed from boat tours at high tide, while during low tide visitors can walk all the way up to the main torii gate. For more ideas on what to do when visiting Itsukushima Shrine see this article.
35. Yamaguchi Prefecture: Motonosumi Shrine
The incredible sight of 123 bright red torii gates snaking a path along the jagged coastline of Yamaguchi Prefecture is one of the highlights of a visit to Motonosumi Shrine. The tradition of throwing a coin into the shrine’s offertory box is given a twist here, as the box is placed high on top of the first torii gate. Visitors to the shrine must attempt to throw their offering into the box, and those who are successful can wish for good fortune.
36. Tokushima Prefecture: Vine Bridges of the Iya Valley
In Tokushima Prefecture’s Iya Valley can be found the unique sight of bridges made from vines stretching across a crystal clear river. Surrounded by pristine wilderness, the bridges seem to merge with their surroundings, enhancing the landscape and providing a destination for tourists in this secluded corner of Japan. Originally, 13 bridges crossed the valley here, but today only 3 remain, which are regularly maintained to ensure for the public’s safety. The origin of these bridges is unclear, but many believe that they were constructed by Kōbō Daishi on his travels around Japan. Another theory suggests they were built by defeated Heike soldiers while fleeing from their pursuers.
37. Kagawa Prefecture: Ritsurin Garden
Ritsurin Garden in Kagawa Prefecture is a beautiful early-Edo Period landscape garden, set in front of the forest-covered Mt Shiun and featuring ponds, hills, and pavilions. Located in Takamatsu City, the garden has both Japanese-style and Western-style sections, and is large enough to offer a full day's worth of strolling and exploring.
38. Ehime Prefecture: Dogo Onsen
Said to be an inspiration for the popular Studio Ghibli movie "Spirited Away," Dogo Onsen in Ehime Prefecture is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. It is best known for its sprawling, wooden public bathhouse, the Dogo Onsen Honkan, which takes bathers through a maze of pathways and criss-cross stairs to the hot spring baths on offer. Located within the city of Matsuyama, there are also a number of "ryokan" (traditional Japanese inns) available for guests to stay in and enjoy the waters, as well as fun retro shopping streets in the city to explore.
39. Kochi Prefecture: Niyodo River and Nakatsu Gorge
The stunning, miraculous cobalt blue waters of the Niyodo River in Kochi Prefecture are amongst the purest in Japan. The surrounding hills and volcanic rock formations add to the beauty of this region, which, along with nearby Nakatsu Gorge, offer hikers and campers endless opportunities to explore and experience Japan’s natural beauty at its finest. Hikers can also look out for statues of the Seven Lucky Gods, which are dotted across the valley.
40. Fukuoka Prefecture: Yatai Food Stalls
For many travellers, one of the highlights of a visit to Japan is the food, and a unique way to experience the riches on offer is a visit to the Yatai Food Stalls in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture. The open air food stands set along the waterside on Nakasu Island provide a particularly atmospheric place to enjoy a range of dishes such as "yakitori" (grilled chicken skewers), "oden" (various stewed ingredients in a flavorful broth), and Hakata Ramen, the famous type of ramen that originated in Fukuoka.
41. Saga Prefecture: Ouo Shrine
Stretching out to sea and seeming to float at high tide are the three torii gates of Ouo Shrine in Saga Prefecture. The water level can change by as much as 6 meters between low and high tide, making for a view that changes dramatically throughout the day. The shrine is particularly beautiful during the Yukino Lantern Festival, held every August, when 500 lanterns are placed around the shrine gates.
42. Nagasaki Prefecture: Gunkanjima
About 20 km off of Nagasaki’s port lies the unusual island of Hashima, nicknamed "Gunkanjima" (Battleship Island). This small island was previously the home to roughly 5000 residents who lived and worked here when the island was an active coal mine. So much land was built up to accommodate the workers that the island came to resemble an enormous battleship, hence its nickname. The mine was closed in 1974 and the island was abandoned. The eerie sight of the deteriorating buildings has attracted tourists, who can view the island from specially-constructed observation points.
43. Oita Prefecture: Hells of Beppu
The bubbling, steaming springs of Beppu Jigoku in Oita Prefecture have been spooking and surprising all those who come across them since ancient times. In the past it was assumed that the water was cursed, and from this the pools have gotten their informal name of "The Hells of Beppu."Too hot to enter, the waters vary in color, ranging from bright aquamarine to rusty red and milky white. At the Kamado Jigoku, or "The Cooking Pot Hell," various foods are cooked in the steam of the bubbling onsen. In fact, food cooked in the steam of the onsen can be found across the area and shouldn't be missed! More volcanic activity can be experienced at the Tatsumaki Jigoku, where geysers erupt every 30-40 minutes.
44. Kumamoto Prefecture: Kumamoto Castle
Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto Prefecture has stood as an imposing, impenetrable fortress since its foundation in 1467. Its steeply sloping ramparts and black and white exterior attract close to 2 million visitors annually, who come to admire its architecture and history. Visitors should be aware that some parts of the castle grounds, including the castle palace, are currently off-limits due to reconstruction works after the 2016 earthquakes, but that reconstruction is taking place quickly and the parts that are open are well worth visiting.
45. Miyazaki Prefecture: Takachiho Gorge
The scenic Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki Prefecture contains a navigable river, sheer cliff sides, and numerous waterfalls. Formed by an ancient lava flow, the unique geography of the gorge is particularly impressive seen from the river. Rowboats can be rented, and the water is easy to navigate. The nearby Takachiho Shrine is also a beautiful spot to visit.
46. Kagoshima Prefecture: Shiratani Unsuikyou Ravine (Yakushima)
Yakushima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture is well known for its staggering natural riches, including some of the oldest trees in Japan. One of the highlights is the Shiratani Unsuikyou Ravine, which stretches through the island’s thick forests. An inspiration for Studio Ghibli's movie "Princess Mononoke," the moss covered rocks, ferns, and ancient trees create a mystical, otherworldly landscape best discovered at a slow pace on one of the many hikes available in the area.
47. Okinawa Prefecture: Kabira Bay (Ishigaki Island)
Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture is a popular tourist destination, well known for its tropical climate, mangroves, pristine beaches, and coral reefs. The scenic jewel of the island is the stunning Kabira Bay. A popular way to explore the bay is on a tour in a glass-bottomed boat, which takes full advantage of the crystal clear waters. The bay is also famous as one of only two places in Japan where black pearls are cultivated, and there is a jewelry shop where you can learn about the process and buy a black pearl souvenir to bring home.
Travel Japan One Prefecture at a Time
No matter which prefecture you choose to visit on your trip to Japan, something spectacular will be waiting for you. Abundant natural beauty, cultural heritage, and exceptional food can be found in all corners of Japan, so take this list as a starter and explore for yourself!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.