27 of the Best Places to Visit in Japan
Want to visit Japan but not sure where to start? While most articles just pile a bunch of typical famous spots into a things-to-do-in-Japan article, we've broken down ours into categories based on the type of things you want to do while in Japan. Find out what kind of traveler you are, and then head off on your own customized trip through the best places Japan has to offer.
Mar 11 2021 (May 12 2021)
Japan’s a big country. With snow-laden slopes in Hokkaido, subtropical beaches in Okinawa, glittering city centers in Tokyo, and quiet backcountry shrines scattered across the country, there’s a lot to see and do in not a lot of time. Short of living here for a decade, you definitely won’t be able to see everything in Japan. That being said, you can still accomplish a lot, even on a short trip or vacation. Here, we've distilled the best Japan has to offer into one easy-to-read article. Further, we've divided up the destinations into categories based on travel interest to make it easier to find that dream vacation spot. Enjoy!
Classic Stops for Japan First-Timers
If you’ve never been to Japan before, or simply want to hit up the most famous spots, these are the destinations for you. Containing some of the largest cities and most popular places to visit, a first trip to Japan that doesn't have one of these cities on the itinerary is a rare trip indeed!
Tokyo - The Capital City
You could spend an entire vacation exploring Tokyo and barely scratch the surface. Home to the Japanese national government, the Emperor, and 37 million Japanese people, the city exists as the country’s political, economic, and cultural center. Technically made up of 23 wards, and further divided into innumerable districts, towns, and stations, each area of the city hosts hundreds of unique activities to do, people to meet, and things to experience.
While there are innumerable train lines that run across the metropolis, the Yamanote Line is the most used and forms a loop around some of the most popular destinations. Riding it, one can drop by Chiyoda city, in the center of Tokyo, to see the National Diet and the Imperial Palace. Continuing south, you can visit the Tsukiji Market and the ritzy Ginza district. Taking it further west, the train will stop by Shibuya, where there is gourmet food and shopping awaiting you before you head north to Harajuku for fashion and the Meiji Shrine for a breath of fresh air.
Rounding out the northern section of the loop, see Ikebukuro for cafes and manga culture before stopping in Ueno for the zoo and a variety of museums. Finally, make your way back south again, toward the center of the city, dropping by Akihabara on the way to relish in the world of anime and electronics. And that’s just to start!
Kyoto - The Ancient Cultural Center of Japan
While Tokyo may be the current center of Japan, Kyoto was the historical center. The seat of the Imperial House until 1869, Kyoto is host to dozens of historical properties and heritage sites, along with a preserved architecture unique to the city. In the center of the city lies the old Imperial Palace and gardens, which now exist as a large city park that can be freely walked through.
In the east, Kiyomizudera is a temple site that offers a stunning vista of the city and its surrounding landscape, and just below it is Higashiyama, a preserved historical district with the atmosphere of old Japan. In the south, you can take a hike through thousands of vermilion torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine, a spot that has been featured in many movies.
Over in the western hills on the outskirts of the city, there are many temples nestled amongst the forests of Arashiyama, which is also home to a famous bamboo grove that has become a classic photo spot.
Finally, perhaps the most recognizable temple in all of Japan is Kyoto's Kinkakuji, a gold-clad temple located in the north of the city. Like Tokyo, because so many tourists visit Kyoto each year, it is a very easy city to enjoy as signs, menus, and even information at the temples and shrines are all translated into English.
Osaka - The Big City With A Big Personality
The other major metropolis in Japan is Osaka, which served as the nation’s historical commercial hub. The city continues to carry that legacy into the 21st century with an outspoken and friendly culture along with being one of Japan’s culinary hotspots. For historical properties, visit the oldest temple in Japan, Shitennoji, and then Osaka Castle, built and then besieged in the 16th and 17th centuries respectively.
After that, you've got to try all the delicious food. Dotonbori is the center of eating and nightlife in the city, and it is rife with shops, diners, and restaurants. A classic and an Osaka favorite is "takoyaki," small fried dough balls filled with octopus, that are usually eaten as street or festival food.
For a sit-down option, one cannot leave Osaka without trying "okonomiyaki," or savory Japanese pancakes. A batter is whipped up and stuffed full of meat, vegetables, and various other toppings before being grilled in front of you, topped with sauce and mayonnaise, and finished off with seaweed and bonito flakes on top.
Finally, another popular type of restaurant in Osaka is called "teppanyaki." Like okonomiyaki, you sit around and grill while the chef cooks your food right in front of you, immediately serving when it is finished. Since Osaka is close to Kobe, it is a great place to try Kobe beef, and teppanyaki is one of the best ways to do so.
For Those Looking for Adventure
If cities aren’t a big hit for you, or if you want a more active, thrilling experience in Japan, check out the destinations recommended below. We’ll have you biking across the sea, bungee jumping off bridges, and flying on some of the tallest and fastest roller coasters in the world.
Shimanami Kaido - Bike Across the Inland Sea
A stretch of six volcanic islands spans the sea in between Onomichi on the main island and Imabari on Shikoku. Connecting this gorgeous chain of peaks and beaches is a recently-constructed highway called the Shimanami Kaido. While it makes for a pleasant enough drive, the real claim to fame for adventure-seekers is the biking trail that runs along it.
Built in tandem with the bridges of the highway, the bicycle path works its way across all six of the islands to make a trail 70 kilometers long. Going from mountain valleys to scenic beaches to awe-inspiring rides spanning the sea, the trail can be completed in about a day for the determined biker, though options exist to make it a two or three-day adventure as well. Bikes are rentable on either end of the highway, though most people will start in Onomichi and make their way south.
Whether you're an experienced cyclist or just someone looking for a more unique and personal way to experience a beautiful part of Japan, this is a great activity to plan for your trip!
Ryujin Otsuribashi - The Highest Bungee Jump In Japan
The longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Japan is host to more than just gorgeous views of the Hitachiota countryside in Ibaraki Prefecture. While you can simply enjoy a walk across the gorge above Ryujin Lake, what most people come to do is jump off it!
With over 100 meters of height above the valley’s floor, the bungee jump at Ryujin bridge is the highest in Japan. The first jump will cost about 16,000 yen, but if you decide to go again, the price for the second jump drops to only 7,000. When you’ve finished your jump, the surrounding area is also famous for its hiking trails.
For a thrill that will also get you out into the Japanese countryside where not as many tourists go, this is a cool option.
Fuji-Q Highland - Japan's Premier Coaster Park
Boasting four giant and often record-breaking roller coasters along with numerous other anime and horror-themed attractions, Fuji-Q is the place to go for the thrill-seeker. Each of the main attractions was built with furthering the boundaries of roller coaster technology in mind.
Fujiyama, the biggest roller coaster in the park, was the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world when it opened in 1996. Do-Dodonpa was the fastest roller coaster when built-in 2001, and still has the fastest acceleration in the world at launch. Eejanaika is the second-ever “4th dimension” roller coaster, with seats that can rotate 360 degrees allowing for over a dozen inversions over the course of one ride. And finally there is Takabisha, which has the steepest drop of any coaster in the world at 121 degrees.
If you need a break from the thrill of the above, you can visit the Haunted Hospital or any of the attractions based on animes such as Mobile Suit Gundam and Hamtaro.
For Nature Lovers
Maybe you want a bit of peace and relaxation, or time away in the mystical forests of the Japanese islands. Look no further than a pilgrimage hike through the Kii peninsula, the stunning beaches of Okinawa, or the primeval forests of Yakushima.
Kumano Kodo - An Ancient Pilgrimage Route
A series of ancient pilgrimage routes, the Kumano Kodo leads hikers to three sacred shrines in the Kii Peninsula. Snaking their way through picturesque Japanese forest and mountain passes, the Kumano Kodo is one of only two pilgrimage trails listed as a World Heritage site.
Historically, they were used to inspire religious experience among those who walked them, including various emperors, who would only find the shrines at the end of the route after a long and arduous journey. Although most of the coastal routes have disappeared due to the development in Wakayama Prefecture, many of the interior routes remain for intrepid pilgrims looking for a serene and captivating hike.
Okinawa - Japan's Own Tropical Paradise
It’s hard to put Okinawa into words; a dazzling vacation spot chock-full of luscious tropical nature, ringed by beautiful sandy beaches and the warmth of the Pacific Ocean. From landing in the capital of Naha, travelers have the choice of exploring nature on the main island, Okinawa, or visiting the numerous other islands in the chain.
Drop by Japan’s largest aquarium, Churaumi, visit the tropical forests and pineapple plantations, scuba dive among the many coral reefs, or simply relax on the pearlescent white beaches. Okinawa is a Japanese paradise.
Yakushima - Home of a 7,000-Year-Old Cedar
If less-developed nature is of interest, Yakushima Island is the place to go. Off the southern coast of Kagoshima prefecture in Kyushu, the entire island is a national park and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Accessible only by hydrofoil or car ferry, the island hosts unspoiled wilderness and some of the last of the endangered subtropical evergreen forests of Japan. These include a large number of primary forests of Japanese cedar trees, along with some ancient examples such as the several thousand years old Jomon cedar.
The lushness of Yakushima’s forests was the inspiration for the Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke, and that's really what it looks like when you're there. Whether you just want to relax while soaking in the natural scenery at one of the luxury hotels on the island or are interested in some hiking, canoeing, or other outdoor activity, Yakushima has something for everyone.
For a Taste of Ancient Japan
Find yourself fascinated with traditional Japanese arts and living? The following towns make it their mission to preserve the Japan of the early modern period and bring it to life.
Kanazawa - A Little Kyoto, Without the Crowds
Largely spared the fire-bombing that befell many Japanese cities towards the end of World War 2, Kanazawa boasts one of the largest collections of traditional Japanese castle-town architecture in the country. The geisha district is home to numerous examples of Edo-era houses lit up with Taisho-era street lamps, while the Nagamachi Samurai District sports the large mansions of its namesakes. The castle that used to be the center of the town burned down in an unfortunate late-19th century fire, but it is slowly being reconstructed and can also be visited. If traditional castle-town architecture isn't enough, Kanazawa also hosts Kenrokuen, which is one of Japan’s most famous landscape gardens.
Kanazawa is sometimes called "little Kyoto," and you'll see why if you visit. While it has been steadily gaining popularity as a tourist spot, it is still vastly less busy than Kyoto, giving it a slightly more personalized feel.
Shirakawa-go - A Unesco World Heritage Site
Nestled amongst the mountains of Gifu prefecture, Shirakawa-go is a traditional Japanese mountain village. What makes it notable is its large collection of historical farmhouses, most of which were constructed in the 19th century. These houses, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, sport the traditional thatched and heavily steepled roofs common among the mountain villages of its era.
Called “gassho-style,” the roofs of these traditional buildings resemble hands clasped in prayer. The steepling helps with the heavy winter snows experienced in the mountain region, which makes for extraordinarily scenic winter views. Many of the houses now serve as museums offering a look into traditional ways of life and detailing the development of rural architecture, restaurants, and even "ryokan" (traditional Japanese inn) that visitors can stay in.
Ouchijuku - A Beautifully-Preserved Traditional Japanese Town
A former post town along the Nishi Kaido trade route, which connected Aizu in Fukushima to Nikko in Tochigi during the Edo era, Ouchijuku exists as another finely preserved example of an old Japanese village. While Kanazawa exemplifies the castle town and Shirakawa-go the mountain village, Ouchijuku was a rest stop for traders and travelers along the road.
Full of traditional inns, restaurants, and shops, Ouchijuku's main street serves as both a museum to the Edo era and a place to explore traditional foods and crafts. In the culinary realm, Ouchijuku’s claim to fame is “Negi soba,” a handmade soba noodle dish where the chopsticks are replaced with a giant leek that you use to scoop us the noodles.
For a unique look at old Japanese life in a well-preserved town, it doesn't get much better than Ouchijuku.
For Anime and Manga Fans
If you’re the type of person who schedules their life around the release of manga volumes or seasons of your favorite anime series, the following three destinations are exactly for you. They include the centers of anime and manga culture in Japan, along with some nice nostalgic throwbacks to classic series.
Akihabara, Ikebukuro, and Nakano Broadway - Tokyo's Otaku Hotspots
There’s no better place to be than Tokyo for the anime or manga fan. Home to the big three hotspots of Akihabara, Ikebukuro, and Nakano Broadway, you can easily spend days in the city exploring everything there is to offer. Akihabara, located in central Tokyo, was originally the place to go for electronics. Over the past couple of decades, however, the neighborhood shifted to also become a hotspot for anime and manga-focused stores as well as gaming stores, maid cafes, and more. Here, you’ll find wall-to-wall shops selling all sorts of anime, manga, and gaming merchandise, though it is primarily aimed at male consumers.
On the other hand, Ikebukuro, in northwestern Tokyo, orients itself more toward female shoppers. The anime and manga stores there are buttressed with butler cafes (the reverse of maid cafes) and "dojinshi" (self-published manga) that are aimed at women.
Finally, there’s Nakano Broadway in Western Tokyo. Much smaller compared to the giants of Akihabara and Ikebukuro, Nakano is a single shopping complex with multiple levels dedicated to anime merchandise and idol goods. Nakano Broadway has a better selection of used and retro anime goods, so it's the place to go if you're searching for goods from an anime that you loved when you were a kid.
Dogo Onsen - Get Spirited Away
Located in Matsuyama in northeastern Shikoku, the Dogo Onsen stands as one of Japan’s most celebrated hot spring locations. Favored by many in the elite classes, everyone from top officials to the imperial family itself has made trips to the warm waters and many onsens that dot the city.
The most famous of these onsens is the Dogo Onsen Honkan, built in 1894. Its ancient wooden facade and maze-like interior are said to be the inspiration for the award-winning Studio Ghibli film “Spirited Away.” Come and get lost amongst the busy and bustle of the onsen, and stay for the rest and relaxation.
Ghibli Museum - The One and Only
Beloved by anime fans across the world, Studio Ghibli has put out many classic films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away. Located in Mitaka in western Tokyo, the museum opened in 2001 and was an instant hit. Designed to be experienced as well as portray the legacy of the studio and its director Hayao Miyazaki, there are permanent exhibitions about his movies and the creative process, along with numerous twisting hallways, deadends, and other curiosities that reflect Miyazaki’s quirky personality.
The museum also hosts yearly temporary exhibits that showcase work from other studios. In the basement, there is a theater that screens films developed by Studio Ghibli that are unique to the museum. Despite it being a museum dedicated to film, cameras and photography are banned within the premises, as Miyazaki wanted the museum to be experienced rather than captured. Due to its enduring popularity, tickets must be purchased in advance—usually by several months—for the exact date that you want to visit, so plan ahead!
For Those Who Want to Relax in Japanese Style
If a spa vacation sounds up your alley, then you cannot go to Japan without visiting some traditional "onsen" (hot springs)! Here we will introduce some of the best onsen resorts in Japan, which combine a scenic environment with the relaxation of public and private baths.
Hakone - Wonderful Hot Springs with Mt. Fuji as a Backdrop
Known for its hot springs, recreational activities, and proximity to Mount Fuji, Hakone is one of the premier resort destinations in Japan. Located within day-trip distance of Tokyo, in Kanagawa prefecture, the town is mostly within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National park. The volcanic activity of this park lends the city its famous hot springs, of which there are dozens scattered around the area.
Most onsen, like the famous Yumoto onsen, are attached to ryokan, meaning that travelers can both bathe and spend the night, relaxing throughout a multi-day holiday. One doesn’t have to stop at just onsen, however, as the scenic beauty of the area is just as attractive for Japanese and international tourists. Located near Mt. Fuji, Lake Ashi is renowned for its views of the mountain and pleasure cruises.
Kusatsu - Incredible Waters In the Middle of the Mountains
Sitting at 1200 meters above sea level, Kusatsu is the most famous mountain resort town in Japan. Known for its strong and abundant hot spring water, Kusatsu has long been a premier wellness destination, where people of all sorts travel to seek cures for their ailments in the baths. The active underground volcanic activity near the town not only heats the water but also imparts a strong acidity to it, so strong that it is said to kill most common bacteria.
Stay at any of the many ryokan in the center of town for the full experience, bathing during the day, and relaxing at night. In winter, you can bathe outdoors and watch the snow fall, or, take to the slopes in the small ski resort near the town.
Nyuto Onsen - Escape to the North of Japan
Eight traditional ryokan mark the Nyuto Onsen area in eastern Akita Prefecture. Each of these ryokan, some operating for over 300 years, offer a look into the traditional pastime of public and wellness bathing in Japan.
One can of course choose to stay at one of the ryokan and enjoy the relaxation accompanying it, or purchase a pass that allows for bathing at all eight destinations. Each ryokan and bath will offer something a little bit different, outdoor baths vs indoor, mixed vs. gender-specific, etc. Make it a day trip to enjoy all the relaxation Nyuto’s nature and baths have to offer.
Japan as a nation is famed for its culinary prowess, and if you’ve come to indulge, then you cannot pass up the following cities! Covering the broad spectrum of soup to seafood, let your gut do the talking as you explore these wonderful destinations.
Hiroshima - Home of some of the Best Okonomiyaki in Japan
Although there is plenty else to do in Hiroshima, from the peace park to its castle, the city is also famous as a great food destination. Most notable of all delicacies served in the city is its okonomiyaki, understated by the fact that per population it hosts the most okonomiyaki restaurants in Japan.
Okonomiyaki, also known as the savory Japanese pancake, is beloved across Japan as both soul food and a fun dish to make together with your friends or family. Traditionally, the Osaka-style dish is cooked up from a pancake batter mixed with a variety of colorful ingredients like cabbage and pork, which are then fried together to form the pancake.
Hiroshima-style, however, flips that idea on its head and instead separates all the ingredients to form a kind of pancake tower. A thin crepe forms the base, while cabbage, pork, squid, yakisoba noodles, and eggs are generously piled on one another while it cooks. When going to an okonomiyaki bar, expect to be seated at a counter behind which you can watch the chef cook your okonomiyaki.
Hiroshima is also known for its oysters (of which it accounts for 70% of Japan’s national production!); "momiji manju," which are maple leaf-shaped cakes filled with red bean paste; and tsukemen, chewy ramen noodles that are served with a bowl of dipping sauce.
Hokkaido - The Freshest Seafood, Miso Ramen, and "Genghis Khan!"
The largest prefecture in Japan and one of its most popular culinary destinations, the cold northern island of Hokkaido is famed for its fresh seafood and soup dishes. One such dish is called "kaisen-don" (fresh sashimi rice bowl) which uses freshly caught salmon, crab, and a whole host of other delightfully fresh seafood. You can't leave Hokkaido without enjoying this at least once.
Other than seafood, Hokkaido ramen stands out as one of the must-try varieties of ramen in Japan. In the capital Sapporo, they make the soup with a miso broth and then top it with locally-produced butter, sweet corn, and various forms of seafood (all depending on the ramen shop where you get it). In Hakodate and Asahikawa, they make a broth using chicken instead of pork, and usually add soy sauce to the base, while in Muroran, they make curry ramen that is increasingly becoming popular.
Finally, you can get what is oddly known as “Genghis Khan,” a dish named after the notorious conqueror of Mongolian origin. Sliced lamb is cooked up with bean sprouts and other vegetables on a cast-iron grill said to resemble the hats worn by Mongolian warriors.
Fukuoka - Birthplace of Hakata Ramen
On the complete opposite end of Japan sits the city of Fukuoka, in northern Kyushu. Well known across the country as a “gourmet heaven,” the city has numerous culinary delicacies and its own takes on popular Japanese dishes. Up top is the winter classic “motsunabe,” which is nabe, a kind of Japanese hot pot, made with motsu, which are beef innards. The innards and vegetables are simmered in a savory broth, lending it an extremely creamy flavor that is unique to motsunabe and does wonders to warm up the body on a cold winter night.
Fukuoka can also claim itself as the birthplace of one of Japan’s most popular styles of ramen, Hakata ramen, which is made with a rich pork bone broth. Although you can get this style across the nation, the purest versions of the dish come from restaurants in Fukuoka.
If fish is what you like, Fukuoka is famed for its seafood, and in particular, mackerel. One variant which is popular at pubs is "goma saba," or sesame mackerel, where they take the fish and season it in soy sauce and sesame seeds to make a delicious snack. Similarly, the city is also known for its tiny "gyoza," or one-bite dumplings, that are often served as side dishes to its ramen.
If you come to Fukuoka to eat, be ready to leave a few pounds heavier!
For the Historically-Inclined
Interested in battles and bastions, or monks and monasteries? Japan’s got castles, temples, and historical sites nestled into every nook and cranny. The following are some of the best examples of historical properties and sites Japan has to offer.
Himeji Castle - The Most Beautiful Japanese Castle
The best remaining example of classic Japanese castle architecture, Himeji stands proud as both Japan’s biggest castle and as its most visited. Known as the “White Heron Castle,” both for its white exterior and claimed resemblance to a heron taking flight, the castle was originally built on top of Himeyama Hill in the 14th century as a fort. Over the next few centuries, the fort gradually expanded in size and depth, until being dismantled and rebuilt as a castle for Himeji town.
The castle continued to grow through the 16th and 17th centuries with the additions of new wings, walls, and a towering central keep. Persevering through disaster and war, the castle has remained intact since its inception, and although constantly renovated and rebuilt, it remains one of the few genuine examples of Japanese castle architecture. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993, you can explore 83 buildings, 11 corridors, 15 gates, and 32 earthen walls. Within the main keep exists a museum that not only details the castle's history, but the general history of the area and the weapons kept inside.
If you have any interest in Japanese history, Himeji is a must-stop.
Nara - Deer and Ancient Shrines
Before Kyoto, there was Nara, which was the seat of the emperor from 710 to 794, and was Japan’s first permanent capital city. What this has led to is a city with a rich and ancient history, most notably a heavy presence of temples and shrines.
Central to the city is Nara Park, which contains many of the aforementioned temples. This includes such places as Todaiji, a large Buddhist temple; Kasuga Taisha, a brilliantly red Shinto shrine famous for its many lanterns; and Kokufuji, home to Japan’s second-tallest wooden pagoda and the former family temple of the Fujiwara clan.
Also within the park are numerous deer. Historically, a well-known myth for the city was that one of Shinto’s many gods, Takemikazuchi, arrived in the city on a white deer to guard it shortly after its founding. Deer have since been a revered animal, and as such, have become accustomed to the presence of humans. Visitors can freely walk among them, and many vendors sell deer "senbei," or deer crackers, that you can feed to them.
Nagasaki - Japan's Only Contact With the Outside World During Isolation
On the far western reaches of Japan is Nagasaki, on the island of Kyushu. Due to its south-western location and proximity to mainland Asia, Nagasaki long existed as one of Japan’s most important ports for historical contact with foreigners. This can be best seen with the former island of Dejima, where Dutch traders were allowed to live and trade as the only Europeans permitted into the country during its period of self-imposed isolation.
Due to its connections abroad, Nagasaki also boasts a collection of old churches, as the city used to be a hotbed of Jesuit and other Christian missions. The Dutch were far from the only foreigners in the city, however, and Nagasaki also has a large and very old Chinatown which, just like Dejima, existed as a compound for Chinese traders to live and sell goods. Along with this, you can see a very unique Japanese shrine for Confucianism, a Chinese traditional religion that otherwise has few adherents in Japan.
Other historical places to visit include the city museum and the peace park, dedicated to the memory and understanding of the atomic bombing in 1945.
Nagasaki's rich collection of significant historical landmarks make it a must-visit for any history buff.
For Those Who Want to Go Off the Beaten Path
If you’ve been to Japan before and seen all of the above, or are just someone who likes to find their own adventure, it may be time to take the road less traveled. Although not famed abroad, these locations are famed within and draw Japanese tourists from all over the country. Lose the crowds, hit the backcountry, and explore these quiet and local regions.
Shikoku - The Smallest of the Main Japanese Islands
Shikoku, the smallest and least-populated of Japan’s four main islands, is well worth the visit if you want a more personal take on Japan. Bisected by a large mountain range that contains the tallest mountains outside of central Japan, a majority of the population lives on the north half of the island, facing the Seto Inland Sea. Of the four main cities, only one of them, Kochi sits on the southern coast.
Off the northern coast of the island exists another, smaller island called Naoshima. It serves as a giant modern art exhibit, with several art museums and an array of public art installations scattered across its beaches and throughout its small towns. To the southeast of Naoshima and across the Seto Inland Sea you can find Naruto, a city on the extreme northeastern edge of the island. Best known for its giant whirlpools, which are easily seen directly off the coast, the city is also the start for the Shikoku pilgrimage, or "Ohenro," which takes pilgrims to 88 of Shikoku’s Buddhist temples.
Moving further south and taking advantage of the subtropical climate are the beautiful beaches of Kochi, one of the least-visited prefectures in Japan. As you explore this part of the country, you might often look around and realize that you are the only non-Japanese person in the restaurant or ryokan where you are staying. If this sounds like your cup of tea, give Shikoku a try!
Tohoku - One of the Least-Visited Regions of the Country!
Containing practically everything north of Kanto save for Hokkaido, Tohoku is a massive place. With everything from apple-picking in Aomori to the ski slopes of Fukushima, Tohoku is known for its abundant nature (and accompanying activities) and friendly locals.
Fukushima Prefecture sits as its southern anchor and third largest prefecture in Japan (behind Hokkaido and fellow Tohoku prefecture Iwate). Visit the slopes of Bandai in winter for fantastic skiing, see the recently-reconstructed castle in Aizu-Wakamatsu, or enjoy some truly charming towns such as Iwaki City.
To the north of Fukushima lies Miyagi Prefecture, with Sendai, the largest city in Tohoku. Here, you can try Sendai's renowned beef-tongue delicacy at numerous restaurants while also stopping by the beautiful islands of Matsushima Bay, considered one of the best views in Japan.
Going further north through Iwate and Akita, you can visit many of the numerous "onsen" (hot springs) in the area and enjoy the local culture at some of the best festivals in the country. Finally, stop in Aomori and go apple picking in a prefecture known for its fruit products, or enjoy daily snowfall in one of the snowiest cities in the entire world.
The Tohoku area is huge, and you could plan your entire trip just traveling around its cities and small towns, enjoying the local hospitality and taking advantage of its beautiful nature.
Southern Kyushu - Filled With Hidden Gems
While northern Kyushu has made many of the spots in the list above, southern Kyushu is not to be forgotten. With a subtropical climate and active volcanic areas, it makes for a warm-weather break with breathtaking views.
Visit Kagoshima Prefecture's capital of Kagoshima City and you will be immediately met with the large volcano in the bay, Sakurajima, which means “Cherry Blossom Island.” As one of the most active volcanoes in Japan, it is almost always continuously smoking, providing a tropical backdrop to the city. There's plenty to do there in the city, or you could slip away on a getaway to the onsen resort town of Ibusuki.
To the east of Kagoshima City lies the Kirishima area, which is a volcanic mountain range straddling the border between Kagoshima and nearby Miyazaki. It not only plays host to a wonderful assortment of onsen but also has some wonderful trails for hiking for those who want to see volcanic landscapes on a day hike or camping trip.
Traveling into neighboring Miyazaki Prefecture, one comes across one of the most important areas in Japanese mythology with the scenery to match. The sun goddess, Amaterasu, was said to have hidden out in Takachiho, in Miyazaki, from her cruel brother before she was coaxed out by a coalition of her fellow gods. Situated in a beautiful gorge dotted with waterfalls, you can find the shrines dedicated to her and the myth as well. Miyazaki, the capital of the prefecture, used to be one of Japan’s premier honeymooning spots, due to its warm climate and is host to a number of resorts and beaches to relax at.
For a trip to an old part of Japan that is popular among Japanese travelers, southern Kyushu is where it's at!
So, Do You Know Where You'll Be Heading On Your Japan Trip?
Of course, all the above is just a start. Just because a single destination is considered the “best” of all destinations doesn’t mean the runner-ups aren't just as worthy of a visit as well! Take each of these recommendations as a further jumping-off point to explore each area. The deeper you dive anywhere in Japan, the more hidden places and secret second bests you’ll find. Check out some of the articles linked above for more in-depth guides to the above locations, and you too can realize your perfect trip to Japan.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.