Japan is a land of contrasts, from serene forest walks to bustling megacities. It offers a wealth of experiences for travellers, making it a must-visit destination for many. With so much to explore, planning a trip to Japan can be overwhelming, but fear not – we’ve got you covered. Here are the top 6 places to visit in Japan.
Best for contemporary culture, Tokyo is a city that is always pushing the boundaries of what is possible. It is the perfect spot for contemporary art and architecture, pop culture, shopping, drinking, and entertainment. But more than any other sight, it's the city itself that enchants visitors. With a diverse collection of neighbourhoods, no two experiences of Tokyo are ever the same.
Best for traditional experiences, Kyoto was Japan's imperial capital for a thousand years and is home to more than a thousand temples. The city is the culture of tea, the art of the geisha, and a rich food culture, including kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine).
For those interested in exploring temples and Japanese Buddhism, Koya-san is a must-visit destination. Located in Wakayama Prefecture, Koya-san is a monastic complex that was founded in the 9th century. Visitors can take a funicular up to the complex, where over 100 temples can be found. One of the highlights of Koya-san is Oku-no-in, a cemetery considered one of the most sacred places in Japan. Here, visitors can walk among towering cryptomeria trees and stone stupas covered in moss and lichen. Other temples offer the chance to stay overnight, dine on traditional Buddhist cuisine, and participate in morning meditation with the resident monks.
Okinawa and the Southern Islands are tropical paradises that offer a unique experience compared to the rest of Japan. This semi-tropical archipelago, located between Kyushu and Taiwan, was once its own kingdom, the Ryukyu Empire, before being annexed by Japan in the 19th century. The cultural differences are still apparent today, from the architecture to the food. The beaches here are some of the best in Japan, with sugar-white sand and turquoise waters. Snorkelling and scuba diving are popular activities, or you can simply bask in the sun and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere.
While Tokyo is often the focus of many Japan trips, Osaka is a must-visit destination for street food and nightlife. Osaka is Japan's third-largest city and is known for its signature dish, takoyaki, grilled octopus dumplings. The city also has a dramatic night scene, with a dazzling display of LED lights, animated signage, and flashing video screens along the canalside strip Dotonbori. Osaka has its own pace, spirit, and zest for life, with an unofficial slogan of Kuidaore, which means "eat until you drop."
For those who love hiking and mountain scenery, Kamikochi is a stunning natural vista that should not be missed. Located in the Northern Japan Alps, Kamikochi is a highland river valley surrounded by soaring peaks. Easy day hikes are possible through tranquil forests of willow, larch, and elm along the pristine Azusa-gawa River. For the more experienced hikers, Kamikochi is the gateway to more challenging treks up some of Japan's tallest mountains, such as Yari-ga-take, which stands at 3180m. Private cars are banned from Kamikochi, which lessens the impact of the crowds and allows visitors to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
In conclusion, Japan is a diverse and fascinating country that offers something for everyone. From bustling cities to serene natural landscapes, Japan's unique culture and traditions are on full display in each destination. These top 10 places to visit in Japan should be on every traveller's list, but there are many other destinations to explore as well. Whether it's your first time in Japan or a return visit, you are sure to be enchanted by this beautiful and fascinating country.
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