What to visit in Japan – the main attractions of the “Land of the Rising Sun”. From Tokyo to Jigokudani and Fuji to Itsukushima: a travel itinerary. What did you manage to see in Japan in two weeks and why did I choose these places?
Japan is one of the most mysterious and curious countries on the planet. At least that’s how it always looked in my eyes. Many differences from European customs, special traditions, ancient beliefs – any natural object has self soul – plus an original mentality and culture. All this against the backdrop of advanced technology and the ability to survive in a very difficult seismic terrain.
All this eventually turned my idea of visiting Japan into an obsession. So I didn’t rest until put it into practice.
The preparation took more than one year. And the funds that were spent to personally see the most interesting places in Japan will be enough to make a full-scale safari in Tanzania. And then rest another month in a great hotel in Zanzibar.
- Well, or even spend a month or so visiting Barcelona and other Spain attractions…
But to each his own. I do not regret!
On the contrary, I remember my trip to Japan with nostalgia. Like some of the most precious diamond in my travel collection so far.
And I feel like returning to see Tokyo and Kyoto again – it would be nice when the sakura blossoms again.
Visit the Japanese Matsushima archipelago and get to Hokkaido. Try to find nirvana in the Kenroku-en park flooded with light of blossoming plums…
To link all the places where I was going to visit in Japan, in a convenient route, I had to work hard. But in the end, everything turned out very well.
First I visited Tokyo, then I went north to see the Nikko temples and the snow monkeys. Then moved south – not to climb Fuji is obviously a crime.
And for a snack I left Kyoto with landscape gardens and pagodas that have always inspired me. Charming “White Heron Castle” in Himeji. And a sacred place for any Japanese – Itsukushima. Along the way, I also visited Hiroshima, because considered that it was impossible not to bow to this tragic place.
I won’t bore you much with transport details – if I mention everything, not even the most patient person will read this story to the end. Instead, I will try to introduce you in absentia to each of the sights of Japan that I have seen.
- I’ll tell you exactly what you need to pay attention to and why! In a concise but informative format.
TOP 8 Japan Main Attractions
Of course, an ordinary tourist will not be able to visit all the places described in my review. But I hope he at least knows what to look for first. Where exactly is Nikko and the sacred Fuji, how many kilometers from Tokyo to Kyoto, what is Nihon Sankei and much more!
The name translates simply as “Eastern Capital”. And it is one of the largest cities in the world. Plus and one of the most interesting! Tokyo became the official capital of the country relatively recently, in 1868. Simultaneously with the move from Kyoto of the imperial dynasty.
To explore Tokyo at least in a hurry, you need to spend at least 2 days. Below I will list the places that it is desirable to include in the itinerary of moving around the Japanese capital:
Imperial Palace of Kokyo. Tourists are not allowed inside – the emperor is sacred to Japan. But from the outside you can see the residence of the monarch and take a walk in the well-groomed East Park!
Ginza district, the most expensive and prestigious in Tokyo. It is here that the best restaurants in Tokyo are located, serving traditional Japanese cuisine. Here you can taste both incredibly delicious sushi and try the deadly puffer fish.
The Meiji Shrine, dedicated to the famous Japanese emperor, is the largest such complex in the capital. Not too old, but built with incredible love for national traditions. The temple complex is surrounded by Yoyogi Park, which is a separate well-known attraction in Tokyo.
Tokyo National Museum – in its halls you can learn literally everything about the traditions of Japan. Get acquainted with traditional Japanese painting and samurai traditions, study the history of Buddhism from the very beginning and find out what real Japanese swords look like.
The museum is located in Ueno Park. Where is located another remarkable place – the city zoo. It will almost certainly interest tourists with children. But I traveled around Japan alone, so I didn’t waste time looking at the animals.
Tokyo Sky Tree is the second tallest building in the world after the Burj Khalifa. Naturally, I couldn’t help but get up. Full height – Sky Tree – 634 meters, tourists can visit observation platforms at an altitude of 350 and 450 meters.
One of the three most beautiful landscape parks in Japan. Although in my opinion it is inferior to Kenroku-en in Kanazawa.
But since Kairaku-en organically fit into my route, but Kenroku-en did not, I decided to visit it. And since the time of the trip was chosen wisely – at the beginning of the March – and it was just at the time of flowering plums, did not lose.
After all, Kairaku-en is famous for its plum grove. Which was broken in the middle of the 19th century and today has become quite large.
Nearly 100 different plum varieties are planted in the park. And the total number of trees is more than 3 thousand. When they begin to bloom, and this happens at the very end of February, the area becomes like a huge cloud.
The aroma intoxicates, and a feeling of causeless joy settles in the soul. From February 20 until the end of March, the Plum Blossom Festival is held in Kairaku-en.
And the park itself is very good: laconic and well-groomed. Inside there are several ponds with carp, bridges, obligatory: cedar and bamboo groves. As well as the elegant aristocratic villa Kobuntei.
Immediately behind Kairaku-en Park, which is located on a hill, is Senba Park with a lake. Their territory is united and you can walk without noticing the borders.
Swans live on the lake.
To get to Kairaku-en Park, you need to drive to Mito Station.
Nikko Park, which is only 2 hours drive from Tokyo (about 125 km), is one of the most interesting sights in Japan. A bizarre and most importantly organic symbiosis of forests and mountains, waterfalls and man-made temples.
The main and most magnificent of them is Toshogu. Memorial to the memory of the first shogun of the Tokugawa family, legendary from the point of view of Japanese history, Iyaesu.
Iyaesu bequeathed to bury himself in this place. And at the same time build a small temple and honor yourself as a god. The descendants fulfilled his order, but not to the end – the sanctuary turned out magnificent
In Japan, there is even an expression that if you have not seen Nikko, then you have not recognized the real kekko. Kekko in Japanese means something absolutely beautiful.
Toshogu Temple was built in the early 17th century. Over 15 thousand craftsmen worked on the creation of the complex, decorated with the utmost splendour.
Rich carvings, abundant gilding, as well as the scale of the Shinto shrine Toshogu are frankly dissonant with the deliberate severity and conciseness of Buddhist shrines. In the same Itsukushima, and in many temples in Kyoto, such a luxury would shock the creators.
There are also many references to Buddhism in Toshogu architecture. For example, three famous monkeys: one of them covers its ears, the second covers its mouth, and the third covers its eyes. Which is a clear illustration of the three Buddhist virtues: not to listen, not to speak, and not to see anything bad.
What to See
The most opulent structure in Toshogu is the “Gate of Dreams”, Yomeimon, to which visitors climb a steep stone staircase. The inner gates of Caramon and the chapel of Misoradono are also beautiful. And the five-tiered pagoda, erected to replace the one that burned down in the early 19th century, looks like the work of aliens.
The tomb of Iyaesu himself, for the glorification of whose deeds everything was built, is very modest. It is located on a hill above Toshogu. And you definitely need to go up there – from this place you have an excellent view of the surroundings.
There are a couple of other places in Nikko worth visiting. Rinnoji stands first in the path of a tourist following from the station, and is the masculine of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu.
Futarasan is the oldest temple here, it was erected in honor of the deity of Mount Nantai back in 767, long before the concept of shogun itself arose. Very beautiful and “Holy Bridge” or shinkyo, thrown over the river Daya.
The easiest way to get to Nikko is by train. Either owned by the privately owned Tobu Rail Line or by the renowned JR, Japan Rail.
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, located near the town of Yamanouchi in Nagano Prefecture, is one of the most interesting attractions in Japan. This place, which looks much more natural and pleasing to the eye than a traditional zoo, is home to Japanese macaques. Also known as “snow monkeys”.
The ritual of bathing primates in natural hot springs gushing in an artificial pond attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists to Jigokudani every year.
The name means “hell valley” in Japanese. In total, more than 150 monkeys live in the park.
Japanese macaques in their natural environment live not only here, but also up to the northern coast of the island of Honshu. And apparently these are the most frost-resistant monkeys in the world.
Monkeys in Jigokudani are not at all afraid of visitors, letting them get closer to a good frame distance. For that they are thanked with some kind of treat.
They also do not always bathe in springs, they prefer the cold season. So it’s better to go to Jigokudani in winter or when it’s cold.
I advise you
To Come to the Park
early in the morning, when tourists from Tokyo have not yet caught up. Otherwise, you will have to observe them from behind the backs of others.
In order to get to the park one of the first, you can stop in the cozy towns of Shibu Onsen or Yudanaka Onsen, which are located on the way from the station to Jigokudani itself. They are real spa resorts – there you can also improve your health by bathing in hot springs.
The easiest way to get to Jigokudani is by train from Tokyo. Nagano can be reached by a high-speed shinkansen.
Next, you need to purchase a separate train ticket from Nagano Electric Railway. You get to Yudanaka station and then by bus or on foot along the path to the mountains. There is about 1.5 km to go, the trail is marked with a shield with the name of the park and signs.
Also known simply as Fuji or (respectfully) Fujisan, the “sacred” mountain in the Japanese sense. And anyone who has even a vague idea of Japan has heard of it.
Fujiyama is located on the east coast of the island of Honshu. To this day, it is considered an active stratovolcano. The last major eruption took place in the early 18th century. Curiously, the sights of Tokyo from Mount Fuji can theoretically be seen in good weather… with binoculars!
In good weather, Fuji is also
Visible from Tokyo
Since there are no significant elevations between it and the main Japanese metropolis. The mountain has a relatively low height of 3,776 meters and a surprisingly symmetrical conical shape.
It is part of one of the national parks of Japan, Fuji-Hakone-Izu, which, in addition to it, includes several more mountains and five lakes. The volcano is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Moreover, not as a miracle of nature, but as a key cultural attraction!
According to Japanese traditions, Mount Fuji is enough to climb only once in a lifetime. Because: “the fool is the one who did not climb Mount Fuji and twice the fool is the one who did it again.”
The first ascent to the mountain was made in 663 by an unknown monk. Since then, the Japanese have regularly climbed here, since climbing skills are not needed for this. Before the enlightened Meiji era (1868-1912), women were “ordered” to enter the mountain so that the sacred essence of Fuji would not be defiled.
The First Foreigner
to climb Mount Fuji was the diplomat Rutherford Alcock. In September 1868, he climbed up in 8 hours, enjoyed the views and went down in just 3 hours.
- Today, about 500,000 people climb the mountain every year!
I advise you to start the ascent still dark in order to meet the dawn at the top. But be careful – in the dark here you can cling to the stones and get seriously injured.
The best time for climbing is from May to October, when the weather conditions are optimal. The death of tourists during the ascent occurred, mainly due to hypothermia …
And remember that every Japanese considers it his duty once in a lifetime to climb Mount Fuji. Add to this the masses of foreign tourists, and you will understand that you will not be alone during the ascent.
Kyoto is the ancient imperial capital of Japan, where many ancient temples and world-famous “Japanese gardens” have been preserved. The city is also known as Heian. Which means “Capital of Tranquility and Peace” in Japanese.
Kyoto is located on the island of Honshu but not on the coast. Transport accessibility of the city is excellent, although it does not have its own airport.
But the Kyoto station is considered the second busiest in Japan. And high-speed shinkansen trains will quickly deliver a tourist from Tokyo, even from any other point in the country.
It is impossible to see all the interesting places in Kyoto in one day. So if you want to enjoy communication with this unique city, book a good hotel in advance and stay for 2-3 days.
I can talk about the sights of Kyoto for a long time, but I won’t. Just advise you to first of all pay attention to the Kamigamo-jinja shrine, and the Buddhist Kiyomizu-dera.
Not a single tourist passes Kinkaku-ji, the “Golden Pavilion”. Be sure to spend a couple of hours in the classic “rock garden”, Ryoan-ji. And marvel at the emerald tones of the “moss garden”, Saiho-ji.
The city has preserved the old imperial palace with a park that occupies a very large area and the Nijo feudal castle. In which Tokugawa Ieyasu, already mentioned by me, lived when he came from Tokyo.
Or “White Heron Castle” – a well-known fortress in Japan and abroad. Without going against the facts, it can be called the most famous castle in the Land of the Rising Sun. Yes, and the biggest too.
Why is it called “White Heron Castle”? The Japanese believe that Himeji Castle is shaped like a running heron.
Every year, millions of tourists visit this most prominent attraction in the literal sense. For 30 years, since 1993, it has been on the list of the World Heritage of Humanity.
Himeji Castle is located in the town of the same name just west of Kyoto. That is why I included it in my itinerary – it is convenient to get there.
The fortress stands on the highest point, Himeyama Hill, 45 meters high. Its main castle tower is 46 meters high and the total area occupied is over 2 km2. That is, 2 or even 3 times the size of the Vatican!
Near the castle, a traditional Japanese-style Kokoen garden was laid out. The place becomes especially beautiful in early spring, when the Japanese plum, sakura blossoms. Enveloping everything around with its soft pink foam…
How to Get to Himeji
I went by car. But, of course, you can also get to the castle by public transport.
In particular, Japan Rail trains run here from Tokyo – you need to spend about 3 hours and 40 minutes on the way. There are also buses to Himeji from the terminal in Shinjuku. On the way they are 8-9 hours.
If time permits, the antagonist of the “Egret Castle” can also be visited nearby. Black as night, Matsumoto, “Crow Castle”, rises near the city of Oyama, another 50 km to the west.
On the way to Itsukushima, I stopped in Hiroshima. Just to see how the city lives today, on which the atomic bomb was once dropped. Please pray that something like this never happens again…
Sacred to the Japanese, Itsukushima Island is located in the Inland Sea of Japan in Hiroshima Bay. Its second name is Miyajima, “Temple Island”.
There are several Shinto shrines here, but the most famous, bearing the same name, Itsukushima, is especially revered. For this is a sacred place dedicated to the three daughters of the wind god Susanoo.
The temple is one of the three most famous views of Japan, Nihhon Sankei, and is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The local torii, the traditional sacred gate found in any Shinto shrine, is the largest in Japan. They have a height of 16 meters and are installed directly in the water.
There are several smaller temples and pagodas on Itsukushima Island. Tourists on the funicular can also climb the largest local hill, Mount Misen. Near the top is the Daisho-in Buddhist temple. It was founded by Kukai himself, the creator of the Shingon school.