Japan is easily one of the most fascinating places to visit in Asia. It’s an enthralling mix of the modern and the ancient, a surprising blend of the familiar and the strange. Thanks to the country’s move to push tourism, Japan is also one of the friendliest places for tourists to be. But in a country where there are 4 major islands and numerous others, a first-time tourist can easily be overwhelmed by the different offerings. Where to go when you’re in Japan? Here, in no particular order, are the top 10 must-see tourist spots in the land of the rising sun:
Harajuku is a major must-see tourist spot in Tokyo for every anime and manga fan. Just off the train station, the district is famous for its young locals all dressed up in costumes inspired mostly by anime characters. It’s also home to numerous cafes and boutiques, so dining and shopping should be part of the itinerary. Since this is Japan, expect a blend of the bold and the serene. Harajuku is also where the famous Meiji Shrine is located. Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine built for Emperor Meiji and his consort. First completed in 1921, it was bombed by the U.S. during WWII but rebuilt in 1958.
Shinjuku district is found in Tokyo, Japan’s capital. A densely populated metropolis, Shinjuku offers tourists some of the best places to shop, dine, mix with the locals and take in Japanese-style nightlife. Shinjuku is also home to Ginza, the massive shopping area where some of the biggest international names (think Versace, Gucci and Fendi, among others) in the fashion world hold shop. When you travel to this area, don’t forget to drop by a Mikimoto shop. Mikimoto cultured pearls are renowned throughout the world for their ethereal beauty and craftsmanship.
To experience the old amongst the modern, head to Asakusa, also in Tokyo. This is where the 7th century Senso-ji Temple can be found. Other than souvenirs, this old neighborhood is also the ideal place to sample Japanese cuisine, since numerous restaurants can be found here. Asakusa has a rather notorious past — it used to be the place where people came for entertainment. Kabuki plays were staged in the area and it was also one of the main red light districts of the Edo era.
Kyoto is where some of Japan’s best-known shrines, temples and castles are found. It also has a high cultural and historical importance because it was Japan’s capital until 1868. Numerous areas here have been preserved remarkably well and have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Any tourist who wishes to experience feudal Japan will find this city a remarkable experience.
Osaka is one of the most important areas in Japan, considered as a major commercial, financial and industrial center. Tourists in Tokyo can travel to Osaka in just 2? hours by bullet train. The famous Osaka Castle can be found here, located within Osakajo Park. It is a mesmerizing representative of Japanese architecture, making it a popular tourist spot.
Nara is near Osaka. It was Japan’s capital for 74 years beginning in 710. A must-see tourist spot here is Nara Park, where you’ll find the 16.2m statue of the Buddha. There are also numerous temples in the area, including those in Todai-ji and Kasuga. Osaka is a major manufacturer of India ink, toys and fans.
North of Tokyo is Nikko, a place that Japanese and international tourists travel to for pilgrimage. Nikko National Park is the place to be. This is where you’ll find the Toshogu shrine, within which the mausoleum of the first shogun of the Tokugawa era was built. The architecture in this area is stunning and a view of the park is an experience no traveler to Japan should miss.
Ueno Park is a massive area near the Asakusa district that caters to both tourists and locals alike. The National Museum, Museum for Western Art, Natural Science Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Fine Art Gallery and the very first zoological garden in Japan can be found here. There is also an amusement park that is a favorite among young children that charges only a dollar. The best time to visit Ueno is in spring, when Japan’s famous cherry blossom trees are at their most beautiful.
Located just 28 miles of Tokyo, Kamakura is largely a residential district and seaside resort. This is a very interesting must-see tourist spot because of its most famous landmark, the bronze statue of the Great Buddha (called Daibutsu), which is 12.8m tall. There are also several important museums here, one of which is the Kamakura Museum of Modern Art.
No travel to Japan is complete without seeing this famous landmark. Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san to the locals) is Japan’s best-loved mountain. If you’re in Tokyo, you can probably see this famous profile on cloudless, clear days. If you’re adventurous enough, you can join one of the numerous scheduled climbs. Climbs last a maximum of two days. If you want to save time, join the groups that climb at 4pm so you can reach the top by sunrise the next day.