Japan, the land of the rising sun, is a country filled with beauty, energy and ambition, a once-in-a-lifetime destination that will leave an indelible mark on your soul.
With its fascinating contrasts of traditional and modern, Japan has something for every visitor: stimulating culture, breath-taking scenery, fascinating shrines, beautiful old castles, and the food – oh, the food! It’s a country filled with unexpected surprises, and the spontaneous of you who embrace the unexpected will revel in being lost in a world so completely different to their own.
In hopes of inspiring you to visit this marvelous country, I’ll show you here a selection of 12 breath-taking sights and experiences in Japan that no traveler should ever miss:
1. VISIT THE SENSO-JI TEMPLE IN ASAKUSA,TOKYO
Senso-ji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest and most popular Buddhist temple. Its history goes back to 628, when a gold statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, was found in the nearby river. Take your time to observe all the unique rituals and watch the devotees’ as they write prayers on wooden plaques, rub incense smoke into their skin and drink the water from the dragon head’s faucet.
2. GET A BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF THE CITY
Tokyo Skytree (634m) and Tokyo Tower (333m) are the two tallest artificial structures in Japan. The red and white Tokyo Tower is wrapped in a warm light at night, while the Skytree is painted in a circus of lights, but in the end, they both offer visitors a chance to enjoy an amazing panoramic view of Tokyo.
3. EXPERIENCE THE MADNESS OF SHIBUYA CROSSING
If you’ve seen photos of an insanely busy intersection with mobbed crosswalks packed with pedestrians, you’ve probably seen Shibuya, aka the busiest intersection in the world. It’s a good place for people watching, window-shopping and snacking on some seriously weird food. You can observe the spectacle of lights and people from the Starbucks on the north side, or you can experience the madness for yourself!
4. GET UP *REALLY* EARLY FOR TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
Japan’s fish markets are all exciting, lively and a significant part of the local culture, but the Tsukiji in probably one of the best. The tuna auction is a spectacle to behold and it’s fascinating to see so many unfamiliar sea creatures. You will need an early start to catch the action though – registration for the auctions takes place at 5am (yep!) and it’s pretty much over by 9, but by then you can head over to a restaurant in Tsukiji for an awesome sushi breakfast.
5. WANDER AROUND HAMARIKYU GARDEN
The Hamarikyū garden is a Japanese-style garden located right in the middle of the Shiodome skyscrapers and, like other places across Tokyo, it was originally created as a feudal lord’s residence back in the Edo period. Its ponds are connected right to the Tokyo bay and so the water level can change with the tide. In the middle of March the flowers at Hamarikyu Garden start to bloom, with the spectacular rapeseed yellow flowers being first in the line.
6. WALK THROUGH FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE IN KYOTO
This is another gorgeous temple to put on your list. Dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and business, the shrine lies at the foot of Mount Inari, and it’s world-know for its over 5,000 red torii (shrine gates). The gates – each one a donation from a business enterprise – mark out a 4 km path that lead up the mountain to smaller shrines and awesome city views.
7. VISIT THE GOLDEN PAVILION
Nothing is as symbolic of Kyoto as Kinkaku-ji’s golden reflection in the pond. The spectacular Golden Pavilion is a former retirement villa of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and was converted into a Zen temple after his death in 1408. Its shimmering golden coating and the beauty of its natural scenery have given this building worldwide fame and the World Heritage Site status.
8. SEEK SERENITY THROUGH THE ARASHIYAMA BAMBOO FOREST
This bamboo forest is a picturesque sight that every photographer will love, and a walk so calming that the soul will find peace with every step. Entering the grove is like entering another dimension, as the bamboo seems to stretch on forever. Also, the sound of the wind in this forest is so pleasant and magnetizing that the Japanese government has included it in the list of one hundred protected sounds of the country.
9. VISIT TODAI-JI TEMPLE IN NARA
Todai-ji temple contains the famous Daibutsu, The Great Buddha, in the Daibutsu- den. It is one of the most well-known statues in Japan and was cast in 746. The Daibutsu is 15 m high, consists of 440 tones of bronze and 130 kg of gold. In other words, it’s ginormous. During the “Manto Kuyo-ye” lantern festival, all the windows are opened and an illuminated Great Buddha looks out over the large green grass.
10. FEED THE DEER
A big thank you to the lovely town of Nara for allowing me to live out a deer-world fantasy I didn’t even know I had! This park is a fabulous example of how humankind can co-exist peacefully and smoothly with nature. You can even feed the deer with some ‘deer crackers’ (shika sembei), but a packet will last around 2 seconds tops – Bambi is as cute as greedy!
11. MARVEL AT KASUGA TAISHA SHRINE
Kasuga Taisha is the most famous shrine in Nara and was founded by the Fujiwara family in the 8th century. It is well known for its outstanding bronze and stone lanterns that line the paths to the shrine and hang from the eves, all donated over the years by the common people as tokens of their faith. The lanterns are lit twice a year on Lantern Festivals in early February and mid August.
12. VISIT OSAKA CASTLE
Osaka is just a 20-minute train ride from Kyoto or Nara, and its symbol is certainly the imposing and world famous Osaka Castle. This postcard-perfect castle was originally built as a display of power by samurai warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi and was unparalleled at the time as the largest and best constructed castle in Japan. The best time to visit Osaka Castle is definitely in spring, when the surrounding park is covered in beautiful cherry blossoms.
There you have it! Twelve awesome things to see & do in Japan.
But remember, sometimes, to really enjoy a place you’re visiting, you have to get yourself lost. Wander the streets and let them take you to somewhere new. Just walk. There is so much to see and so many sights to gaze upon that no travel guide or blog post could ever show you.
Now book that flight to Tokyo!