Japan: Though very expensive, Japan is one of the most amazing, beautiful, and friendly countries in the world. From bustling Tokyo and zen-like Kyoto all the way to laid-back Okinawa and wintery Hokkaido, Japan is a high-tech world mixed with the politeness and respect of their past. Honestly, I love Japan. It was a life-long dream to go there and it lived up to all my expectations. Japan has mouth-watering food, majestic temples and shrines, zen gardens, lush national parks, and a rich historic culture. It’s a wonderful place and, while it may be an expensive country to visit, there are plenty of ways to make this country affordable. Don’t get scared off by the prices or the language barrier. You won’t regret your visit here – it’s one of the most amazing countries in the world. Let this travel guide help you plan an affordable trip to Japan!
Trip Planning: The planning stage of your trip can be instrumental in its success and an enjoyable part of the experience itself. You have a world of options...and plenty to consider.
Entry and Exit formalities: Visitors must hold a passport valid for at least six months & beyond at the time of entering the country. Some nationalities can obtain visa on arrival and for nationalities who requires visa please refer to the Japan consulate website: https://www.dubai.uae.emb-japan.go.jp
Transportation: Figuring out how to get around is one of your biggest pre-trip decisions. Get our holiday expert best advice on deciding between your options.
Based on your trip itinerary, our experts will help you choose wisely. You'll also find a wealth of practical travel tips.
Money: Use your money wisely. Know the best time to use cash or card — and how to avoid unnecessary fees either way — as well as tipping etiquette.
Phones and Technology: Phones and other smart devices can be huge time-savers...or expensive distractions. Get our tips for making the best use of technology during your trip, and for calling home with or without your own phone.
Packing Light: On your trip you'll meet two kinds of travelers: those who pack light and those who wish they had.
Sleeping and Eating: Your hotel and restaurant choices can be a matter-of-face chore…or they can provide rich opportunities to connect with locals and their culture.
Health & Hygiene: Take comfort: Doctors, hospitals, launderettes, and bathrooms aren’t that different. Dealing with them can even be part of the fun of travel.
Sightseeing & Activities: Once you're on the ground, the real fun begins…but it pays to have a thoughtful plan. Our experts will help you get oriented to your surroundings, use your sightseeing hours wisely, and find your way off the beaten path.
Things to see & do:
Tokyo- Japan’s busy capital, mixes the ultramodern and the traditional, from neon-lit skyscrapers to historic temples. The opulent Meiji Shinto Shrine is known for its towering gate and surrounding woods. The Imperial Palace sits amid large public gardens. The city's many museums offer exhibits ranging from classical art (in the Tokyo National Museum) to a reconstructed kabuki theater (in the Edo-Tokyo Museum).
Kyoto- once the capital of Japan, is a city on the island of Honshu. It's famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. It’s also known for formal traditions such as kaiseki dining, consisting of multiple courses of precise dishes, and geisha, female entertainers often found in the Gion district.
Osaka- is a large port city and commercial center on the Japanese island of Honshu. It's known for its modern architecture, nightlife and hearty street food. The 16th-century shogunate Osaka Castle, which has undergone several restorations, is its main historical landmark. It's surrounded by a moat and park with plum, peach and cherry-blossom trees. Sumiyoshi-taisha is among Japan’s oldest Shinto shrines.
Sapporo- capital of the mountainous northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, is famous for its beer, skiing and annual Sapporo Snow Festival featuring enormous ice sculptures. The Sapporo Beer Museum traces the city’s brewing history and has tastings and a beer garden. Ski hills and jumps from the 1972 Winter Olympics are scattered within the city limits, and Niseko, a renowned ski resort, is nearby.
Hiroshima- a modern city on Japan’s Honshu Island, was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during World War II. Today, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates the 1945 event. In the park are the ruins of Genbaku Dome, one of the few buildings that was left standing near ground zero. Other prominent sites include Shukkei-en, a formal Japanese garden, and Hiroshima Castle, a fortress surrounded by a moat and a park.
Nagoya- capital of Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, is a manufacturing and shipping hub in central Honshu. The city’s Naka ward is home to museums and pachinko (gambling machine) parlors. Naka also includes the Sakae entertainment district, with attractions like the Sky-Boat Ferris wheel, which is attached to a mall. In northern Naka is Nagoya Castle, a partly reconstructed 1612 royal home displaying Edo-era artifacts.
Fukuoka- capital of Fukuoka Prefecture, sits on the northern shore of Japan’s Kyushu Island. It’s known for ancient temples, beaches and modern shopping malls, including Canal City. Maizuru Park contains ruins of 17th-century Fukuoka Castle. The central Hakata district contains Tōchō-ji Temple, home to a 10m wooden Buddha and the Hakata Machiya Folk Museum, with displays on daily life in the Meiji and Taishō eras.
Yokohama- a Japanese city south of Tokyo, was one of the first Japanese ports opened to foreign trade, in 1859. It contains a large Chinatown with hundreds of Chinese restaurants and shops. It’s also known for Sankei-en Garden, a botanical park containing preserved Japanese residences from different eras, and the seaside Minato Mirai district, site of the 296m Landmark Tower.
Kobe-is a city on Osaka Bay in central Japan. It is known for its signature marbled beef and scenic setting of mountains framing the harbor. The Ikuta Shrine, dating to the 3rd century, is among Japan's oldest Shinto shrines. Antique cable cars connect Kobe to Mt. Rokko, which offers panoramic views over the port. Beyond the Mount Rokko hills are the outdoor hot springs of Arima Onsen.
Sendai-is a city in Japan’s Tohoku Region, northeast of Tokyo on Honshu island. The remains of 17th-century Sendai Castle, built for samurai lord Date Masamune on Aoba Hill, overlook the city and include a museum of historic artifacts. The Sendai City Museum focuses on the history and culture of Japan’s Edo period, and displays Masamune’s samurai armor.
Nagasaki-is a Japanese city on the northwest coast of the island of Kyushu. It’s set on a large natural harbor, with buildings on the terraces of surrounding hills. It is synonymous with a key moment during World War II, after suffering an Allied nuclear attack in August 1945. The event is memorialized at the city’s Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park.
Nara- is the capital of Japan’s Nara Prefecture, in south-central Honshu. The city has significant temples and artwork dating to the 8th century, when it was Japan’s capital. Deer roam in Nara Park, site of Tōdai-ji temple. Daibutsu, Tōdai-ji's 15m-high bronze Buddha, is displayed in a large wooden hall. On the park's east side is the Shinto shrine Kasuga Taisha, which dates to 768 A.D. and more than 3,000 lanterns.
Kanazawa- is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture, on Japan’s central Honshu Island. It's known for well-preserved Edo-era districts, art museums and regional handicrafts. Kenrokuen Garden, begun in the 17th century, is celebrated for its classic landscape designs incorporating ponds and streams. Adjacent Kanazawa Castle was built in the 1580s, after the defeat of the Peasant’s Kingdom, Japan's only Buddhist fiefdom.
Kitakyushu- is the northernmost city on Japan’s Kyushu Island. Kokura Castle is surrounded by Katsuyama Park, known for its spring cherry blossoms. Riverwalk Kitakyushu is a shopping mall by the Murasaki River. Northeast, Moji Port Retro Area has 1900s buildings, like the red-brick Moji Customs Building and striped Old Mitsui OSK Line Building. Vintage locomotives are displayed at the Kyushu Railway History Museum.
Shibuya- is a special ward in Tokyo, Japan. As a major commercial and finance center, it houses two of the busiest railway stations in the world, Shinjuku Station and Shibuya Station.
Chiba is the capital city of Chiba Prefecture, Japan. It sits about 40 kilometres East of the centre of Tokyo on Tokyo Bay. The city became a government-designated city in 1992.
Hakodate- is one of the main cities on Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. Looming over the town is 334m-high Mount Hakodate. The mountain's summit, reachable by aerial ropeway gondola, offers dramatic nighttime views. At its base is Motomachi, a neighborhood of steep streets with Western-style, early-20th-century buildings. A city landmark is the grand Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward, built in 1910.
Kamakura-is a seaside Japanese city just south of Tokyo. The political center of medieval Japan, modern-day Kamakura is a prominent resort town with dozens of Buddhist Zen temples and Shinto shrines. Its most recognizable landmark is the Kotoku-in Temple’s Great Buddha, a roughly 13m-high bronze statue still standing after a 15th-century tsunami. Yuigahama Beach on Sagami Bay is a popular surfing spot.
Naha- is the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, the tropical island group south of mainland Japan. It's known for Shuri Castle, the restored royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which flourished from the 1400s–1800s and invented the martial art karate. Tsuboya district is assocated with traditional ceramics like shiisa (lion-dog figures). Lined with shops, bars and restaurants, Kokusaidori is Naha's main street.
Kumamoto- is a city on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Kumamoto Castle dates back to the 17th century. On the castle grounds is the reconstructed Honmaru Goten Palace with its ornate reception rooms and murals. Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art shows both European works and Edo-period prints. Southeast of the city center is Suizenji Garden, a Japanese landscape garden with a central pond, created in the 1630s.
Niigata- is a port city on Honshu, Japan’s main island. The Minatopia history museum complex includes heritage buildings like the 19th-century Niigata Customs House. Along the seacoast, the Marinepia Nihonkai aquarium has sea otters and dolphins. Part of the Northern Culture Museum, the Ito Estate was home to a wealthy 1800s family and displays their art collection. South are the hot springs of Iwamuro.
Hamamatsu- is a coastal city in Honshu, Japan's main island. The Nakatajima Sand Dunes, a breeding ground for loggerhead turtles, fringe the coastline. Near the Act Tower skyscraper, designed to resemble a harmonica, are the global exhibits of the Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments. The reconstructed 16th-century Hamamatsu Castle has more than 400 cherry trees and an observatory with Pacific Ocean views.
Himeji- is a city in the Kansai region of Japan. It’s known for the sprawling, centuries-old, white Himeji Castle, one of the few original castles from Japan’s feudal period. The top floor of the 6-story main keep offers views over the extensive castle grounds. The Nishi-no-Maru section of the complex contains royal residential quarters. Next to the castle, Kōko-en is a traditional Edo-style garden.
Takayama- is a city in Japan's mountainous Gifu Prefecture. The narrow streets of its Sanmachi Suji historic district are lined with wooden merchants’ houses dating to the Edo Period, along with many small museums. The city is famed for its biannual Takayama Festival, going back to at least the mid-1600s, celebrating spring and fall with parades featuring ornate, gilded floats and puppet shows.
Tsukuba- is a city in Japan’s Kantō region, on Honshu island. In the city center, Tsukuba Expo Center has interactive science displays and a planetarium. Tsukuba Space Center has a rocket engine and exhibits on space exploration. North, a funicular railway and cable car run to the twin peaks of Mount Tsukuba, known for its fall foliage. At the foot of the mountain, Tsukuba-san Shrine was founded in the 7th century.
Kagoshima- a seaside city on Japan's Kyushu Island, is the capital of Kagoshima Prefecture. It's best known for Sakurajima, an active volcano that faces Kinko Bay. At its base, the Nagisa Lava Trail winds through lava fields filled with boulders. Once set on an isolated island, the volcano became connected to the Osumi Peninsula after an eruption in 1914.
Maebashi- is a city in the Kantō region of central Japan. Beside the Tone River, Shikishima Park is home to a huge rose garden. To the west, Gunma Flower Park has Japanese and English-style gardens. Northeast, hot-spring resorts dot the slopes of volcanic Mount Akagi, where thousands of cherry trees blossom in spring. Lake Onuma fills the mountain's crater. A trail leads to Fudo-Otaki Falls, which freezes in winter.
Shinjuku City- encompasses the buzzing clubs and karaoke rooms of neon-lit East Shinjuku and upscale hotel bars and restaurants in the Skyscraper District. Tokyo Metropolitan Building has a popular observation deck, and Mount Hakone rises over tranquil urban parkland. Galleries, theaters, and bookstores attract students from busy campuses. New National Stadium is a high-tech sports venue built for the 2020 Olympics.
Matsumoto- is a mountain city on Japan’s main island, Honshu. It’s known for Matsumoto Castle, a 16th-century stronghold nicknamed “Crow Castle” for its distinctive black walls. Nearby Nakamachi Street is lined with old merchant houses reminiscent of a bygone Japan. The Japanese Alps loom overhead, with hot springs, ski runs and hiking trails. In summer, a road to Mount Norikura is carved through deep walls of snow.
Morioka- is a city on Japan’s Honshu island. Iwate Park, known for its spring cherry blossoms and fall colors, is home to the ruins of 17th-century Morioka Castle. Nearby, Ishiwarizakura is a centuries-old cherry tree growing from a cracked boulder. Hoonji Temple houses hundreds of Buddhist statues. Kaiunbashi Bridge offers views of Mount Iwate. To the west there are hot springs at Tsunagi, on the shore of Gosho Lake.
Kurashiki- is a city on Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. It’s known for the centuries-old buildings and shops of the Bikan Historical Quarter. The Ohara Museum of Art has works by European masters such as El Greco and Monet. Nearby, Japan Rural Toy Museum displays toys from the 1600s to the 1980s. The Archaeological Museum has artifacts from the region’s ancient cultures. Boats cruise the district’s narrow central canal.
Saitama- is the capital and the most populous city of Saitama Prefecture, Japan. Its area incorporates the former cities of Urawa, Ōmiya, Yono and Iwatsuki. It is a city designated by government ordinance.
Matsuyama- is the capital city of Ehime Prefecture on Japan’s Shikoku Island. It’s known for its central Dōgo Onsen Honkan bathhouse, dating from the Meiji Period, with ornate, tiered wooden buildings. Nearby is Shiki Memorial Museum, dedicated to Masaoka Shiki’s haiku poetry. To the west is the restored, feudal-era Matsuyama Castle, with its hilltop gardens and seasonal cherry blossoms.
Utsunomiya- is a city on Japan’s main Honshu island. It’s known for gyoza dumplings, available at many specialty restaurants. Northwest of the center, Oya-ji Temple has a huge statue of the goddess Kannon carved from the area’s distinctive green stone. A former underground quarry is home to the Oya History Museum. Utsunomiya Museum of Art exhibits works by Chagall, Klee and other modernists.
Kawagoe- is a Japanese city northwest of Tokyo. An Edo-period castle town, it’s known for its old clay warehouses and merchant homes, called Kurazukuri. Traditional Japanese sweet shops line Meiji-era Candy Alley. Kita-in, a major Buddhist temple, features remnants of the former Edo Castle. On the temple grounds are the Gohyaku Rakan group of more than 500 stone statues of Buddha’s disciples.
Wakayama- is a city in Japan’s Kansai region. Overlooking the city, central Wakayama Castle has an original moat and stone wall. Nearby, the Museum of Modern Art displays Japanese prints, paintings and sculptures, as well as European works. To the south, Kimii-dera Temple is known for springtime cherry blossoms and views of Wakanoura Bay. Porto Europa is a theme park designed to resemble Mediterranean harbor towns.
Nagano- is the capital and largest city of Nagano Prefecture, located in the Nagano Basin in the central Chūbu region of Japan. Nagano is categorized as a core city of Japan. Nagano City is the highest prefectural capital in Japan, with an altitude of 371.4 meters.
Asahikawa- is a city on northern Japan's Hokkaido island. To the east, a cable car runs up Mount Asahi, location of the Asahiyama Zoo with its polar bears, penguins and orangutans. Closer to the center, restaurants in the Asahikawa Ramen Village offer the city's signature soy sauce–based noodle soup. Malls line the pedestrianized shopping street of Kaimono Koen, stretching north from Asahikawa train station.
Matsue- is a city on the northwest coast of Japan's main island. Matsue Castle is one of Japan's few largely intact 17th-century castles. The surrounding park is known for Jozan Inari Shrine’s fox statues. Across the castle moat, Shiomi Nawate street is lined with Edo-period samurai residences. The Lafcadio Hearn Former Residence was the Greek writer’s local home. Pleasure boats ply the waters of vast Lake Shinji.
Ōtsu- is the capital city of Shiga Prefecture, Japan. Ōtsu is known as the main port of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. It briefly served as the capital of Japan from 667 to 672 AD during the Asuka period.
Okayama- is the capital city of its namesake prefecture, in western Japan. It’s known for the 16th-century Okayama Castle, dubbed “Crow Castle” for its black exterior, and for Korakuen, an iconic formal garden. The Hayashibara Museum of Art shows East Asian art and artifacts. The Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art displays regional works. To the west, 15th-century Kibitsu-jinja Shrine features a long, covered walkway.
Toyama- is a coastal city on Japan’s main island, Honshu. In the center, Toyama Castle Park has a restored castle dating to the 1500s, plus small museums of history and art. The nearby Toyama Glass Art Museum displays striking contemporary works. Rakusui-tei is an art museum in a traditional home with a formal garden. On the Fugan Canal, Kansui Park has views of the distant Tateyama mountains.
Minato- is a special ward in Tokyo, Japan. It is also called Minato City in English. It was formed in 1947 as a merger of Akasaka, Azabu and Shiba wards following Tokyo City's transformation into Tokyo Metropolis.
Shizuoka- is a city on the south coast of Japan. It’s known for views of Mount Fuji from Miho no Matsubara beach and the Nihondaira Plateau. A cable car links the plateau to Kunōzan Tōshō-gū, an ornate 17th-century shrine and original burial place of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Sunpu Castle features ruins of the original castle and a recreated turret. The Toro Museum archaeological site displays Iron Age dwellings.
Chiyoda City- centers on the moats, gates, and pathways of the Imperial Palace East Gardens and adjoining Kokyo Gaien National Garden. Nippon Budokan hosts rock shows and martial arts tournaments, while the National Theatre stages kabuki plays and bunraku puppetry. Tokyo International Forum is a towering art and culture center. Upscale boutiques and bistros fill the busy commercial district around Tokyo Station.
Sakai- is a port city in Japan, just south of Osaka, on Osaka Bay. It's known for the Mozu Kofun, a group of large ancient burial mounds. In the city center, surrounded by 3 moats, the massive, keyhole-shaped Daisen Kofun is the 5th-century tomb of the Emperor Nintoku. East, the Mihara History Museum displays artifacts from the nearby Kurohime-yama Kofun. The hexagonal, 1877 Old Sakai Lighthouse overlooks the harbor.
Takamatsu- is a port city on Japan’s Shikoku Island. It’s known for the sprawling Ritsurin Garden, with a teahouse, koi ponds, landscaped hills and pine forests. To the east, atop Mount Yashima, Yashima-ji Temple offers panoramic views over the Seto Inland Sea. Nearby, Shikoku Village is an open-air museum with a collection of historical buildings from around the island. To the south are the hot springs of Shionoe.
Mito- is the capital of Japan's Ibaraki Prefecture. Cutting through the city, the Sakuragawa River is lined with cherry trees. Near Senba Lake, Kairakuen Garden has thousands of plum trees and azaleas. Mito’s old town is home to the Kodokan, a restored 19th-century school, and the ruins of the 12th-century Mito Castle. Art Tower Mito is a striking cultural center with a concert hall, theater and art gallery.
Shimonoseki- is the westernmost city on Japan’s main island, Honshu. At the island’s tip, there are panoramic views from the Kaikyō Yume Tower observation deck. Kaikyokan Aquarium has penguins, dolphins and around 100 species of blowfish. Nearby Karato Market is also known for its blowfish stalls. Kanmon Bridge and the undersea Kanmon Pedestrian Tunnel link the city to Kyūshū, the big island across the Kanmon Straits.
Kofu- is a city in central Japan. In its center, Takeda Shrine sits on the site of a revered 16th-century general's former home. Nearby are the ruins of Kofu Castle. The Yumura Onsen area is home to hot-spring spas. North, the Arakawa River runs through Shosenkyo Gorge, known for its vibrant autumn foliage. A trail leads to Sengataki Waterfall. A cable car runs up to Mount Rakanji, which offers views of Mount Fuji.
Takasaki- is a city in Japan’s eastern Kantō region. It’s home to a towering Byakue Kannon statue, with city views from its interior. Northwest, Shorinzan Darumaji temple is famous for its round daruma dolls, believed to bring good luck. To the north, Misato Shibazakura Park is covered in swirling patterns of pink, red and white flowers in spring. On Mt. Haruna is a Shinto shrine and Lake Haruna, a crater lake.
Mount Fuji – This 3776m foot tall mountain is located near Tokyo, and it makes for a worthy climb. is an active volcano about 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. Commonly called “Fuji-san,” it’s the country’s tallest peak, at 3,776 meters. A pilgrimage site for centuries, it’s considered one of Japan’s 3 sacred mountains, and summit hikes remain a popular activity. Its iconic profile is the subject of numerous works of art, notably Edo Period prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige.
Nikko – A little off the beaten path, there are great temples and shrines in the woods, and the woods themselves make for excellent hiking and meditating. Nikko is a small city in Japan’s Tochigi Prefecture, in the mountains north of Tokyo. It’s the site of Toshogu, the famed Shinto shrine established in 1617 as a lavish memorial for Tokugawa Ieyasu, founding ruler of the Tokugawa shogunate, or Edo Period. The shrine comprises the gilded Yomeimon Gate, the main sanctuary set in a cedar grove and the tomb itself.
Onsen – Natural hot springs are widespread throughout the country, and can be found both indoors and outdoors. Each has different mineral compositions and are a great way to soak in some traditional Japanese culture. hot springs and the bathing facilities and traditional inns around them. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsens scattered throughout all of its major islands.
The Imperial Palace - Tokyo's Marunouchi district is the Imperial Palace (Kōkyo) with its beautiful 17th-century parks surrounded by walls and moats. Still in use by the Imperial family, the Imperial Palace stands on the site where, in 1457, the Feudal Lord Ota Dokan built the first fortress, the focal point from which the city of Tokyo (or Edo, as it was then) gradually spread. As famous as the palace is the Nijubashi Bridge leading to its interior, a structure that takes its name ("double bridge") from its reflection in the water. Other notable features include the two-meter-thick wall surrounding the palace and its gates, one of which leads to the East Higashi-Gyoen Garden.
Ginza District - Ginza is Tokyo's busiest shopping area and it's as iconic as Times Square in New York, and much older. It has in fact been the commercial center of the country for centuries, and is where five ancient roads connecting Japan's major cities all met. Lined by exclusive shops and imposing palatial stores, the Ginza district is also fun to simply wander around or. Better still, sit in one of its many tea and coffee shops or restaurants while watching the world rush past. It's a shopper's paradise as traffic is barred, making it one of the world's largest pedestrian zones. Come nightfall, gigantic advertising panels on its many buildings bathe Ginza in bright neon light. You will find the famous Kabuki-za Theatre home to traditional Kabuki performances, as well as the Shinbashi Enbujō Theatre in which Azuma-odori dances and Bunraku performances are staged.
Sensō-ji Temple - Asakusa district of Tokyo, the exquisite Sensō-ji Temple (Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji)) - the city's most famous shrine - stands at the end of a long street market hosting vendors selling masks, carvings, combs made of ebony and wood, toys, kimonos, fabrics, and precious paper goods. Dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, the temple was established in AD 645 and retains its original appearance despite having been rebuilt numerous times.
Kaminari-mon Gate with its 3.3-meter-high red paper lantern bearing the inscription "Thunder Gate," as well as the famous and much-loved Incense Vat, reputed to drive away ailments.
National Museum of Nature and Science - Located in Tokyo's Ueno Park, the superb National Museum of Nature and Science (Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan) opened in 1871 and is one of the country's oldest museums. One of the country's busiest and largest museums, housing a vast collection of some 250,000 materials related to natural history and science. Fascinating interactive displays on space development, nuclear energy, and transportation, each allowing visitors a unique insight into the latest scientific and technological advances. Highlights of the Japan Gallery (Nihonkan) include numerous exhibits of prehistoric creatures and the history of the Japanese people, including traditional customs and outfits. In the Global Gallery (Chikyūkan).
Tokyo Skytree - This 634-meter-tall communications and observation tower rises out of the city's Sumida district of Minato like a huge rocket ship. The country's tallest structure and world's tallest freestanding tower), the Tokyo Skytree opened in 2012. With a base designed in the form of a massive tripod, the tower includes a number of cylindrical observation levels, including one at the 350-meter mark, and another at the 450-meter point.
Nature at Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo - the city's largest green space and one of its most popular tourist attractions. In addition to its lovely grounds, the park also boasts numerous temples and museums to explore. This 212-acre park includes highlights such as a trip on a small boat on the reed-fringed Shinobazu pond, around a little island with its Bentendo Temple. Be sure to also visit the 17th-century Toshogu Shrine (Nikkō Tōshō-gū), with its 256 bronze and stone lanterns. Another highlight here is Ueno Zoo (Onshi Ueno Dōbutsuen). Opened in 1882, it is Japan's oldest zoo, and is famous for the pandas presented by the People's Republic of China.
Tokyo National Museum – Houses of more than 100,000 important works of Japanese, Chinese, and Indian art, including more than 100 national treasures. Opened in 1938, the TNM, includes highlights such as numerous Buddhist sculptures from Japan and China dating from the 6th century to the present, as well as fine collections of old textiles, historical weapons, and military equipment. Its large collections of historical Japanese clothing and Asian ceramics and pottery. Important artwork includes Japanese paintings from the 7th to the 14th centuries, and another must-see are the museum's exquisite collections of Japanese and Chinese masterpieces of lacquerwork of various centuries, including examples of lacquer-carving, gold lacquer, and lacquer with mother of pearl.
National Museum of Western Art - Ueno Park and just three minutes' walk from Ueno Station stands the National Museum of Western Art (Kokuritsu Seiyō Bijutsukan). It was built in 1959 to plans by famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier. The exhibits, largely made up of works by important French artists, come mainly from the collections of Japanese businessman and art collector Kojiro Matsukata, bought during visits to Europe early in the 20th century.
In the courtyard are works by French sculptor Auguste Rodin, while highlights inside are canvases by Impressionists Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, and Edgar Degas.
Art at the Meiji Shrine - Dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, construction of the splendid Meiji Shrine began in 1915 and was completed in 1926. The original structure was destroyed during WWII, it was rebuilt in 1958 and remains one of Tokyo's most important religious sites. Surrounded by a 175-acre evergreen forest that is home to some 120,000 trees representing species found across Japan - as well as the interesting 'wishing tree', on which visitors can write and hang their deepest wishes - the shrine's highlights include its Inner Precinct (Naien) with its museum containing royal treasures, and the Outer Precinct (Gaien). In Outer Precinct you'll find the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, its collection of murals relating to the lives of the emperor and empress. Visit the adjacent Meiji Shrine Inner Garden (Yoyogi Gyoen), an attractive public garden complete with a teahouse, iris garden, and a pleasant arbor.
Miraikan and Edo-Tokyo Museums - The Impressive National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Nippon Kagaku Mirai-kan) simply referred to as the Miraikan - offers a fascinating insight into Japan's leading role in the field of technology. Created by Japan's Science and Technology Agency, this ultra-modern, purpose-built facility includes many hands-on interactive exhibits dealing with everything from earthquakes to weather, as well as renewable energy and robotics. Highlights include a number of displays relating to modern transportation such as a superb model of a Maglev train, as well as a robotics exhibition. Visit Edo-Tokyo Museum. Completed in 1993, the museum's exhibits deal with the region's rich past, present, and future. Of particular interest is a replica bridge leading into a mock-up of dwellings in the original old city of Edo.
National Art Center- Another of Tokyo's world-class museums, the excellent National Art Center (Kokuritsu Shin-Bijutsukan) is housed in a remarkable curved glass building in the city's Roppongi district. This superb facility only opened in 2007 and has since earned a well-deserved reputation for its fine permanent collection of more than 600 paintings, most from the 20th century. These include many important pieces of modern art and regular visiting exhibitions. Visit the Mori Art Museum (Mori Bijutsukan) on the top floors of the neighboring Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. This fine art museum is notable for its regular exhibits of contemporary artwork from around the globe.
Kabuki-za Theatre, Ginza -known as the historic Kabuki-za Theatre in the city's busy Ginza district, home to famous traditional Kabuki performances. Based upon a medieval, highly skilled, and often burlesque theatrical form including song and dance, the theater's performances are as popular among tourists as they are with Japanese-speaking people. The drama and comedy are relatively easy to follow thanks to rich visuals and theatricality. The theater's interior, usually full to capacity with some 2,000 guests, is always intimate and seems more akin to an enormous family get-together than a stage show.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan - Made of giant Lego blocks, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. One of the world's biggest attractions, this walk-through aquarium, a number of marine habitats. These include the Pacific Ocean and Antarctica, along with the Great Barrier Reef and Monterey Bay. A variety of Japanese marine life is also featured, including freshwater species, as well as native reptiles and mammals. All told, the site boasts 27 tanks, the biggest being nine meters deep and capable of easily accommodating large marine life including manta rays and sharks.
Osaka Castle - was completed in 1586 and took just three years to build. Built by famed Japanese warrior and politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the time, the largest castle in Japan. Almost all Hideyoshi's military commanders were required to contribute stones for its construction, the largest being the Higo-ishi stone, near the south entrance. Standing nearly six meters high and 14.5 meters long, it was contributed to by the celebrated General Kato Kiyomasa from the island of Shodo. After Hideyoshi's defeat in 1615, the castle was destroyed, only to be rebuilt by the Tokugawa shoguns for reasons of prestige. Again destroyed after the fall of the Shogunate, the castle was reconstructed in its present form in 1931. Highlights of five-story, 42-meter-tall main tower containing a great museum with exhibits related to the history of the castle and the city (it also offers superb views over Osaka from its upper floors). Also of interest in Osaka Castle Park is the Hokoku Shrine dedicated to Hideyoshi and his family.
Shitennō-ji Temple - Best-known temple and can trace its roots back to AD 59. It was also Japan's first Buddhist temple. Although rebuilt numerous times through the centuries (the most recent reconstruction took place in the 1960s), this lovely temple remains the oldest religious site officially. Highlights of five-story pagoda, along with a number of other exquisitely decorated buildings. The best of these are the Golden Pavilion (Kondō) with its fine statues and paintings, the Lecture Hall (Kōdō),
The Tempozan Ferris Wheel and Harbor Village - provides some of the best views over Osaka, particularly of the port area and the Tempozan Harbor Village where it's located. This massive Ferris wheel is one of the largest in Asia, standing more than 112 meters tall and with a diameter spanning 100 meters. Since 1997, offers a thrilling 17-minute journey that is especially enjoyable at night when the wheel is lit up in a variety of different colors dictated by the weather (orange when sunny weather is forecast, green for clouds, and blue for rain). Special "see-through-bottom" cars for an incredible all-round view of Osaka Bay.
Kobe Port Tower - two tall towers that have become synonymous with the city. Located on the outskirts of the city near the main harbor. Despite being a little farther away from the city center, it's certainly a must-visit attraction that draws crowds of tourists. Opened in 1963 and constructed from red steel, this earthquake-proof structure stands 108 meters tall and has retained a look of modernity. The highlight of a visit is spending time on the observation deck, affording great views over the city and the Kobe Port area.
Tsūtenkaku Tower- The oldest of Osaka's two towers, Tsūtenkaku, is located in the city center and is one of the city's best known landmarks. It was in fact built on the site of a replica of the Eiffel Tower that was constructed in 1912 and destroyed in WWII. Completed in 1956, still offers some of the best views over Osaka. The best of these views can be enjoyed from the observation level on its fifth floor, where you'll also find a shrine of the God of Happiness. If visiting at nightfall, the tower is lit up with a dizzying display of neon lights.
Osaka National Museum of Art - A unique underground art museum located just a few minutes from the city center on Nakanoshima, a small island between the Tosabori and Dōjima rivers. Opened in 1977, this important gallery contains a large collection from some of the leading international artists of the post-war period, including examples by Picasso and Cézanne and Japanese artists Kuniyoshi and Foujita.
Osaka Tennōji Zoo & Park- Osaka's largest green space, serves as a place of respite from this otherwise busy city. Noted for its many fragrant flower beds and, in spring, its cherry blossoms, the park is a delight to explore thanks also to its many fun sculptures, ponds, and bridges. It's also home to some of the city's most important tourist attractions, including the Osaka Tennōji Zoo. Opened in 1915, the zoo features a variety of species, including lions, giraffes, and elephants, all housed of the African savannah.
Osaka Science Museum- Opened in 1989 above the National Museum of Art, the museum contains numerous hands-on and interactive exhibits based on a number of science-related themes covering everything from astronomy to energy sources. It also boasts the country's first planetarium.
Umeda Sky Building- Stunning architectural designs associated with its museums and art galleries, Osaka boasts many other fine examples of modern architecture. Best known named is Umeda Sky Building (Umeda Sukai Biru), a stunning landmark consisting of two office towers joined at the top by a large platform-like structure. It's this rooftop structure that draws visitors, due largely to the network of bridges and an escalator, which join the two towers, providing plunging views of 170-plus meters that send shivers down the spines of those sensitive to heights. The views from the rooftop observatory and garden - aptly named the Floating Garden Observatory. Wander the urban garden at its base with its pleasant paths, fountains, and ponds. There's underground market designed to resemble early-20th century Osaka.
Tenmangu Shrine and the Tenjin Festival - has been held here for more than 1,000 years on the same date, July 24 and 25. It features colourful processions held both on land and on water and culminates with a spectacular fireworks display.
Much of the fun takes place around the Tenmangu Shrine, which celebrates the god of scholarship, and provides tourists a chance to experience local customs, see many traditional costumes, and enjoy the city's wonderful hospitality.
Universal Studios Japan - One of five Universal theme parks worldwide, the Osaka location offers a number of well-known pop-culture franchises, along with a few unique to the location. Recent additions include Hollywood Dream: The Ride, a fun rollercoaster that actually travels backwards at times; rides based on the Spiderman movies; and Universal Wonderland, a family-friendly area perfect for those traveling with younger kids. Uniquely Japanese-themed entertainment and characters are found in rides based on games and TV shows in the Universal Cool Japan area, including Monster Hunter and the One Piece Premier Show. The famous books and movies is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, based on the popular rides in Universal's Island of Adventure in Orlando, Florida.
Nijo Castle - complete with well-preserved walls, towers, and a moat, was built in 1603 and later served as the seat of government. The complex has several buildings containing many significant works of art, and is famous as the location chosen by the emperor to issue the rescript abolishing the country's once powerful Shogunate.
Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine - Founded in AD 711 and dedicated to the goddess of rice-growing, Ukanomitama-no-mikoto, the shrine is still frequented by merchants and tradesmen who pray for prosperity. The main building dates from 1499 and features a spectacular four-kilometer-long avenue of bright orange "torii," or arches, each dedicated by a business (it takes some two-hours to travel past the 1,000 arches lining the route).
Kinkaku-ji: The Golden Pavilion - Originally built in the 14th century as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and now a Zen Buddhist temple, the magnificent Golden Pavilion is one of Kyoto's most picturesque attractions. Taking its name from the gold leaf adorning the top two of its three floors - a design element believed to alleviate any negativity associated with death - the structure has been rebuilt in its original form a number of times, this most recent incarnation dating from the late 1950s.
The Byōdō-in Temple - established in AD 988, boasts many unique buildings, shrines, and artworks and is worthy of a visit. Highlights include the Phoenix Hall (Hoo-do), with its bronze phoenixes on its two gables and rich interior décor. This hall features 11th-century paintings, including an imposing gilded figure of Amida, an altar and ceiling inlaid with bronze and mother-of-pearl.
Daitoku-ji Temple - Zen Temple of Great Virtue one of the principal temples of the Rinzai sect and was founded in 1324. The present structures date from the 16th and 17th centuries. There are 22 buildings, 7 are open to public. Tthe Kara-mon, a Chinese-style gate with magnificent carvings, and the two-story main gate, Sammon, built in 1589 and notable for its many fine ceiling paintings and statues. The Main Hall, the Butsuden (or Daiyu-den), was built in 1664 and contains a statue of Shakyamuni with his disciples Anna and Kayo, a figure of Daito-kokushi, first Abbot of the temple.
Kyoto National Museum & Municipal Museum of Art - an art gallery established in 1897 that is widely considered the most important such museum in Japan. Pre-modern Asian art, particularly examples from Japan, the museum has been completely renovated and includes a new wing designed by architect Yoshio Taniguchi.
Nara Park and Tōdai-ji Temple -is home to history, culture, and nature. Highlights include watching the park's roe deer wander the woods and lawns while visiting its many historical buildings, including the magnificent Kofuku-ji Temple adjacent to the large Sarusawa Pond, as well as the Uneme Shrine.
Isuien Garden- home to the small yet interesting Neiraku Art Museum, opened in 1969 and is landscaped in the famous Japanese Shakkei style - literally translated as the "borrowed landscape". he older rear part of the garden, laid out in 1899, has the South Gate of the Todaiji and Mount Wakakusa as its backdrop. The older rear part of the garden, laid out in 1899, has the South Gate of the Todaiji and Mount Wakakusa as its backdrop.
Fukuoka Castle - is a fine example of the 17th-century hilltop home once preferred by the country's ruling elite. While the large remaining structure is only a small fraction of the original castle's once massive complex - it's believed to have covered an area of some 47,000 square meters - it remains an impressive site, perched high atop a tall stone foundation overlooking the Naka River.
Hokkaidō Shrine - Built in 1871, the Hokkaidō Shrine (Hokkaidō Jingū) is one of the country's most important (and visited) Shinto religious sites. Located adjacent to Maruyama Park, the shrine became even more popular after it was dedicated to the soul of much revered Emperor Meiji in 1964.
Sapporo TV Tower - Built in 1957, the 147-meter-tall Sapporo TV Tower (Sapporo Terebi-tō) remains one of the city's most visited landmarks. Easily accessible from Odori Park, the tower offers superb views over Sapporo from its observation deck, as restaurant.
Kyūshū National Museum - Opened in 2005, made headlines not only for its award-winning architectural design, but also as Japan's first new national museum to open in more than 100 years.
Kushida-jinja Shrine - Fukuoka's oldest Shinto shrines, Kushida-jinja was founded in AD 757 and contains many unique features, including exquisite carvings of the Chinese zodiac and a gingko tree said to be more than 1,000 years old.
Tsukiji fish market – Tokyo’s fish market. This market starts bright and early at 4am and - you can see the frenzied buying and selling of the world’s largest tuna market. Eat just-caught sushi for breakfast and marvel at the frenzied atmosphere.
Gion District – Otherwise known as the Geisha District, you can spend the day here for as much, or as little, as you’d like to spend. The area is filled with fascinating architecture and if you’re lucky you may be able to spot a geisha (a traditional professional entertainer). It’s also a good area for window shopping.
Pamper yourself in Maika – For the ladies, the Gion District also offers pseudo-apprentice geisha treatments. You can go and have full make-up done and try on a formal kimono. Photos afterward make for an awesome souvenir—and you can even have stickers made. This is probably the most exciting way to learn about the ancient geisha tradition.
Visit the Heian Shrine – The Heian Shrine is a popular tourist attraction so get there early if at all possible. The garden is filled with beautiful cherry blossom trees, known as sakura, and a beautiful place for some pictures. To see the trees in blossom, make sure you’re there mid-April.
Relax in Ueno Park – Ueno Park is a great place to spend the day and for free. Take your camera as it’s a perfect spot to record the many cherry blossom trees, and take a lunch too to save some extra money.
Miyajima Island – Be sure to visit this “shrine island” for all its scenic beauty. It can easily be made into a full day’s trip with the walking trails nearby. One-way tickets (including the ferry) to get you there will cost about 180 JPY. Be sure to hike up Mount Misen – it’s a great workout and the views are stunning!
Bitchu Matsuyama Castle – The entrance fee for this ancient castle is 300 JPY and it’s well worth it. See for yourself the only original, still-standing castle in Japan. It’s the country’s highest castle as well, located 430m above sea level.
Temple pilgrimage – The 88 Temple Pilgrimage is an ancient pilgrimage route that circles the island of Shikoku. The route is over 1,200 kilometers and can take between 30 and 60 days. You can, of course, just visit some of the temples and not walk the entire trail!
Ride the Tempozan Ferris Wheel – Located in Osaka, this 17-minute ride offers sweeping views of Osaka Bay and the surrounding area. Between 1997-1999, it was the world’s tallest Ferris Wheel, but it has since been outranked. It also happens to be next door to one of the largest aquariums in the world, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.
Learn to meditate – There are plenty of temples and monasteries in Japan that host daily meditations, some of which even offer accommodation & allow tourists to sample monastic life. It’s a really eye-opening experience. Feeling stressed or just want to chill out. Give it a try!
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama – If you are looking for a great hike in Kyoto, this is a hill that offers a bit of a challenge and an interesting attraction at the top. Beyond the panoramic views of Kyoto, this is an awesome place to see wild monkeys and get some fun souvenir photos. Adult admission is 550 JPY.
Stay in a ryokan – A ryokan is a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast, usually found in the more scenic regions of the country. With their tatami floors and cozy interiors, ryokans make for an intimate and unique Japanese experience. Meals are usually included, as are the traditional Japanese robes and slippers you’ll wear during your stay.
Photograph the Hells – Also known as jigoku, this is a collection of natural, geothermal hot springs located in Beppu. Each pool is a quasi-amusement park, with a unique theme. You can’t get in the water, but this is an awesome photo opportunity.
Daisetsuzan National Park – If you make it all the way up to Hokkaido, be sure to spend some time exploring Daisetsuzan National Park. The park offers numerous trails, and some of the most rugged and beautiful landscapes in the entire country. It’s a far cry from the tourist trail, so you’ll get to enjoy some rare peace and quiet.
Relax in Okinawa – If you need a break from the fast-paced life of Japan, hop down to Okinawa. Considered the “Hawaii of Japan”, life proceeds at a much slower pace here. The climate is subtropical, and there are numerous nearby islands to explore.