Japan is unlike any other destination in the world. The ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ is an exciting mix of old and new; of ancient temples and modern metropolises. It is a place where tradition meets modernity in an intoxicating way. As soon as you arrive, Japan will grab your full attention and stay in your heart long after you have left. There are countless things to do in Japan – it’s a treat for the senses!
Are you interested in the unique culture of temples, castles and geishas? Or do you want to take your taste buds on a trip by sampling Japanese food and its famous cuisine? Maybe seeing incredible landscapes or exploring cities such as Tokyo, Hiroshima or Kyoto is where your passion lies? Japan tours offer all of this and more. Better yet, you can experience many of these activities on Expat Explore’s new Highlights of Japan tour!
Here are the 24 absolute must-see sights and experiences to have in Japan:
This impressive bronze Buddha statue sits grandly on the grounds of Kotokuin Temple in Kamakura. Created in 1252 and standing at 11,4 meters high, the Great Buddha is Japan’s second-tallest bronze statue (the statue in Todaiji Temple in Nara takes first place). While visiting, keep an eye out for the traces of gold leaf found around the Buddha’s ears!
Did you know? Originally located inside a temple building, the Great Buddha has been standing in the open air since it survived a tsunami in 1492 which destroyed the rest of the temple’s buildings.
The Golden Pavilion is one of the most popular destinations in Japan and a must-see during a visit to Kyoto! The gold-leafed Zen Buddhist temple is incredibly interesting to see because of the different styles of architecture on each floor. Whether you marvel Kinkakuji set against a backdrop of green in spring and summer or white-capped in winter, seeing the shimmering gold facade reflected in the mirror pond is truly memorable!
Just off the coast of Hiroshima is Miyajima Island. Here, you will find Itsukushima Shrine – home to the famous “floating” torii gate. The well-known Shinto shrine is one of Japan’s most popular attractions, thanks to its dramatic setting, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During a visit, you can wander through the buildings, admire the incredible surroundings complete with striking mountains and blue water, and see the iconic torii gate of course!
Sitting on a hillside, in the centre of Kamakura is Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shinto Shrine. This is the city’s most important shrine and is almost 1,000 years old! Located at the end of a long approach lined with many torii (traditional Japanese gates) – enjoy the walk before touring the grounds.
You’ll find this Shinto shrine in the most spectacular setting! Located on the shores of Lake Ashi and at the foot of Mount Hakone, this shrine is nestled in dense forest and identified by the bright torii gate standing in the waters of Lake Ashi. Visiting the Hakone Shrine is an incredibly peaceful experience.
Visit one of Japan’s most celebrated and most picturesque temples! Kiyomizu translates to “pure water temple”. The temple gets its name from the nearby Otowa Waterfall. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a history stretching back over 1,000 years. After exploring the beautiful temple, take a walk on the large wooden deck and admire the scenic views.
Tokyo is one of Japan’s most popular destinations! This buzzing city is a collection of neon skyscrapers, historic temples, bustling streets and unique cuisine and culture. No Japan trip would be complete without a stop in the vibrant capital city! Embark on a tour of this eclectic destination and see how tradition meets modernity. Must-see highlights include Tokyo’s oldest temple Senso-Ji, Takeshita Street, the Tokyo Skytree, Meiji Shrine, Tsukiji Fish Market and more! Grab a drink at a local pub (known as an Izakaya) and sample some local dishes – sushi, soba noodles, tempura and ramen are just a few.
Did you know? Tokyo is home to the most Michelin star restaurants in the world!
Meeting geishas is a quintessential Japanese experience! Geishas are Japanese entertainment hostesses and the name translates to “person of the arts” with geisha performances ranging across art, singing and dance. Gion is one of Japan’s most famous geisha districts. Traditional teahouses, old wooden buildings and colourfully dressed geishas fill the streets. Stroll through the area to see the Japanese hostesses in their bright kimonos and sandals.
Did you know? Geishas are known by different names in different regions. In Tokyo, they are known as geisha, in Kyoto (and most of western Japan) they are known as geiko.
Kurashiki is a historic merchant town that offers a peek into traditional Japanese life from many, many years ago. It is well-known for its willow tree-lined canals, traditional Japanese houses, centuries-old buildings and historic quarter. During a visit, soak up the historic facts and enjoy the serene atmosphere on a walk along the canals.
A true icon of Japan! Mount Fuji stands tall in Honshū and is the country’s tallest peak. You can see Mount Fuji from a number of spots including Tokyo and Yokohama (on very clear days) and on train trips between Tokyo and Osaka further south. Great viewpoints include Nihondaira, Lake Ashi in Hakone and the Fuji Five Lakes area.
Did you know? Mount Fuji is an active volcano; the last eruption occurred in 1707.
This hilltop castle is sure to take your breath away! Himeji Castle, located in Himeji, is one of the finest examples of Japanese castle architecture in the country. It was built to resemble a bird taking flight – clear from the bright white walls and unique shape. It’s alternative name is the “White Heron Castle”. This elegant masterpiece of Japanese architecture is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Did you know? During Japan’s cherry blossom season (which usually begins in early April), Himeji Castle is an amazing spot to see the delicate flowers in bloom!
This impressive castle sits on the banks of the Asahi River and has the nickname “Crow Castle” thanks to its black exterior. The dark walls contrast brilliantly with the white walls of Himeji Castle located a few hours up the road. Only one part of the original castle (built in 1597) escaped the bombings in WW2. It was reconstructed and reopened in 1966.
Visiting one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan is a treat for the senses. While Japan is home to numerous beautiful green spaces, three hold the title of being the ‘Greats’. One of which is Korakuen Garden in Okayama. Located next to Okayama Castle, this space is incredibly serene and beautifully landscaped. Enjoy a stroll through the grounds and admire the incredible landscape work.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum are some of the most prominent sites in the city. Many will know the city’s name because of the devastating atomic bomb drop of 1945 which destroyed almost all of Hiroshima. The museum was constructed in 1955 to commemorate, honour and document the victims of the attack. During a visit, you can explore the museums, see the monuments dotted throughout the park and visit the A-Bomb dome.
Grab your cameras! Kintaikyo Bridge is one of Yamaguchi’s most photogenic spots. The impressive, curved wooden bridge made up of five arches, is a distinguished landmark in the area.
Did you know? The original version was completed in 1673 and stood strong until it was battered by a violent typhoon in 1950. The bridge was carefully reconstructed and opened again in 1953.
Kyoto is a city filled with sights and destinations that exude the feeling of “old Japan”. Think temples, shrines, serene green spaces and traditional Japanese architecture. One of the most popular and unique spots to visit is the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. The tall bamboo stalks create an otherworldly atmosphere. A visit gives you the chance to escape into nature. It also offers great photo opportunities!
Ninjas are known worldwide for being deadly assassins! These stealth warriors originated in Japan during the feudal ages. The Iga Ninja Museum was created to celebrate the history of the ninja. During a visit, learn about all things ninja. Go on a guided tour of a traditional ninja house and keep an eye out for traps and tricks as you go! Learn all about ninja tools and techniques in the Ninja Experience Hall. While, in the Ninja Tradition Hall you’ll gain insight into secret codes and how the art of ninjutsu is useful today. Visitors can even take in a ninja demonstration including Shuriken, swords, and kusarigama!
Take a trip into the world of sumo at the Kehaya-za Sumo Museum. It was established in 1990 to share the history of sumo with visitors from all over the world. Sumo is a full-contact form of wrestling that has been practiced for many, many centuries. Tour the museum and see the dohyo (sumo arena) – you can even partake in a sumo workshop!
Yanai is a historic merchant town on Yamaguchi’s south coast. During a trip, walk down the well-preserved streets showcasing charming merchant houses from the 1800s. These streets are where you will find glowing red and white Japanese lanterns, fashioned to resemble goldfish, hanging outside shop fronts. Watch a locally-led lantern-making demonstration during your visit.
Did you know? The city hosts a lantern festival every August!
Bizenyaki is Japan’s oldest pottery-making style. This ancient art form has a history stretching back centuries and the style is still practiced widely today. Take in a fascinating demonstration of Bizenyaki pottery making and see it created first-hand the traditional way.
Green tea is incredibly popular in Japan thanks to its sweet, earthy flavour and health benefits! People drink it daily across the country. Trying some of the wide selection of green teas, such as matcha, sencha and genmaicha, is a must-do when visiting Japan. Visit a working green tea farm in Shizuoka – Japan’s green tea capital. See the long, green rows of tea plants in the lush fields and enjoy a cuppa’!
Miso is a popular traditional Japanese seasoning. Take a tour of a Miso factory and learn how this popular ingredient is produced! Miso paste is made from fermented soybeans and gives Japanese food dishes an ‘umami’ taste – this is a distinct, salty flavour.
Sake is a Japanese rice wine that most people will have encountered on the menus of sushi joints and other Japanese restaurants. The Japanese alcoholic beverage is made by fermenting mai rice which has been polished to remove the bran. Enjoy a tasting in Nada, which is one of Japan’s major sake producing regions.
After geishas and sushi, karaoke is probably one of Japan’s most well-known (and well-loved!) cultural exports. They do karaoke a little differently in Japan. As opposed to singing your heart out in front of a bar or restaurant full of people, in Japan, karaoke takes place in “karaoke boxes” which are private rooms complete with seating, a screen and karaoke machine that groups of friends, family or coworkers can rent on a night out. The establishments look similar to hotels and you can order food and drinks to your karaoke box while you sing the night away.
Are any of these experiences on your bucket list? Tick them off with an amazing trip to Japan with Expat Explore! You’ll get to see the best of this incredible country’s culture, architecture, food and must-see destinations on one of our Japan group tours.
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