11 beautiful places in Japan to add to your travel bucket list
From serene shrines to cherry blossom-covered rivers, there's no end to the beautiful sites you can see in Japan.
Famed for its captivating, historical sites and enthralling nature, Japan rightfully holds a place on many people's bucket lists. While spending my semester abroad in the country, I had ample time to discover much of what Japan has to offer. But if your time is more limited, it can be difficult to decide exactly where to visit. So out of all the places I explored, here are my top 11 must-see spots in Japan. These will give you some travel inspiration for the future, and should convince you that Japan is a country you have to visit one day!
1. Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto
Let's start off with one of the most iconic locations in all of Japan. Fushimi Inari is the head of Japan's Inari shrines, dedicated to the Shinto fox god Inari and famed for their trails of red gates ("torii" in Japanese). As the head shrine, Fushimi Inari is said to hold a staggering 10,000 torii, although the true number is likely to be much higher. Gates are donated by businesses or individuals looking to appease Inari—the god of fortune—and the names of donors are found inscribed on the back of each torii. So to appreciate the full Japanese beauty of these never-ending tunnels of gates, you'll want to turn around!
And if you have some extra time at Fushimi Inari, try exploring off the main tourist path. You might just find a secret bamboo forest and these magical bamboo gates!
2. Meguro River, Tokyo
If you're lucky enough to travel during Japan's cherry blossom season, then this river in Tokyo is a must-see. More than 800 trees line Meguro River, bursting into beautiful blooming arches between late March to early or mid-April. As one of the most popular sites for cherry blossom viewing, a seasonal festival is held here each year. Along your stroll down the river are bridges that offer a central view of the blossoms reaching across the water.
The sights become especially beautiful at night when coloured lanterns are lit to create a dreamy atmosphere.
3. Nikko National Park, Nikko
125km north of Tokyo, Nikko is known as a prime location for experiencing the beauty and nature of rural Japan. The most famous site is Toshogu Shrine—inside Nikko National Park—which holds some of the most intricate and unique architecture that Japan has to offer. Many tourists come to see the three wise monkeys, representing the principle "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil," who originate from a carving on the sacred stable at this shrine. You can scroll through the photos above to see it!
Besides the shrine, Nikko is full of lavish nature waiting to be explored. There's Shinkyo Bridge, a stunning red bridge over clear blue waters, and Kegon Falls, a breathtaking waterfall easily accessible by bus.
Nikko is perfect as an overnight trip from Tokyo, and ideal if you're looking to explore a more rural side of Japan.
4. Shuri Castle, Naha, Okinawa
Speaking of places featuring architecture unique from the rest of Japan, next we have Shuri Castle. The castle itself is strikingly beautiful, constructed in a style very different from others in Japan. You're also free to explore the castle grounds, which are full of flowers and nature reminiscent of tropical Hawaii. Located on Okinawa, a separate island about a two-hour flight from mainland Japan, this one is a little trickier to get to. However, this and the many other beautiful sites on offer make Okinawa well worth the journey if you ever get the chance!
5. Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima Island
Of all the shrines in Japan, this may be the one I considered the most beautiful. Itsukushima Shrine is famed for its iconic "floating torii," a huge gate which becomes partially submerged during high tide. The shrine itself is gorgeous, offering incredible views of the mountain and ocean scenery from inside and during low tide, you're able to walk out on the beach and take pictures next to it. You can often see demonstrations of Japanese martial arts and swordplay against the backdrop of the floating torii, too.
The shrine is on Miyajima Island, which is easily accessible by a 10-minute ferry from the port south of Hiroshima. Miyajima is also populated by many wild deer, who are regarded as messengers of the gods in Shinto faith. They're very friendly, but also cheeky—so watch them around your food!
6. teamLab Borderless, Tokyo
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This is a bit of a different one. teamLab Borderless is an interactive light museum located in Odaiba, Tokyo, and despite being a modern indoor experience, it's one of the most popular and beautiful sights to be seen in Japan. The museum has many different rooms featuring projections of flowers, animals and colours, and some can even be interacted with using the teamLab app! The artwork in each room will shift and change over time, and there's no order to the rooms or map of the museum. There are also many secret rooms to be discovered down its dark hallways. This makes for an extremely unique experience, unlike anywhere else I'd visited.
This is the perfect spot for Instagram snaps, as the projections blend over visitors, turning you into part of the artwork!
7. Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto
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Speaking of light oriented wonders of Japan, Yasaka Shrine is a must-visit if you're in Kyoto. You'll want to visit in the evening for the full effect of its numerous Japanese lanterns all lit up! I happened to come across this shrine by accident on my way to dinner, and walking through it in the evening was just magical. The entrance is also the perfect place to see the contrast between the ancient and modern Kyoto, with a busy road lined with bars and restaurants visible through the imposing Shinto gate.
8. Hakone Shrine, Hakone
Like Nikko, Hakone is a popular destination for a taste of rural Japan. Tourists enjoy its breathtaking mountain views and authentic hot springs, but Hakone Shrine itself should not be missed. The walk to the shrine is beautiful, with a path adorned by beautiful Japanese lanterns. From there you can walk up the stairs to the actual shrine, or walk down another flight of stairs to the main event—its torii gate. Situated in Lake Ashi, this gate is partially submerged just like the Itsukushima Shrine. It's a good alternative if you can't get all the way to Miyajima Island during your visit, as it's only around 80km southwest of Tokyo. But both are stunning and must-see spots in their own right.
9. Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto
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The architecture from Japan is always fascinating over the years. Did you know: Kiyomizudera translates to "Pure Water Temple" and is one of the most beautiful temples in Japan. The temple has became part of the list of UNESCO world heritage sites and is best known for its wooden stage, the stage offers visitors a gorgeous view of the surrounding scenery, as well as Kyoto in the distance. Cr: @wasabitool Follow @discoveryidea for daily content of the beautiful hotels and resorts in the world #travelescape #instapassports #travelpicoftheday #igtravelworld #travelingaroundtheworld #totravelistolive #welivetotravel #getlostnow#aroundtheworld #travelcommunity #discoveryidea #globalletravels #travelforlife #travelandleisure #lovetotravel #ilovetravel #travelstroke
Kiyomizudera Temple is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kyoto, and for good reason. The temple itself is stunning, with its iconic Japanese architecture and towering pagoda, but there's more to explore further into the grounds. You can use long poles to drink from the Otowa Waterfall, a waterfall divided into three streams, said to bring success, love and longevity. But you should only choose one, as drinking from all three is considered greedy and brings bad luck!
However, my favourite feature of this temple were the amazing views it offers across Kyoto. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Kyoto Tower!
10. Nara Park, Nara
Although this list isn't ordered, Nara Park is probably my top pick for the most beautiful place in all of Japan. It's a huge park you can easily spend the whole day in, full of some of Japan's most historical shrines and temples, peaceful Japanese gardens, and independent food stalls you can get your fix of Japanese snacks from. But most extraordinarily, the park and surrounding streets are full of friendly, free-roaming deer! They're just like the deer of Miyajima Island except these deer behave almost tame—they approach visitors in the hope of being fed deer crackers, deer-safe food sold at food stalls around the park. And best of all, these Japanese deer are so polite they bow for food! I recommend you scroll on the photo above to see for yourself!
Amazingly, Nara's deer aren't confined at all. You can meet them as soon as you come out of the station, and watch cars stop for them as they cross the road!
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Some sites to note as you explore the park are Kasuga Shrine, known for its abundance of traditional Japanese lanterns, Todaiji Temple, which holds one of Japan's largest Buddha statues, and Kofukuji Temple, including a five-storied pagoda in its grounds. On your way, you'll encounter plenty of deer looking for new friends and treats, which is always a welcome surprise! There's also Yoshikien Garden, a traditional Japanese garden which is free to enter for non-natives as long as you bring ID. It's definitely worth a visit, especially if you haven't been to a Japanese garden before, so bring a passport or driver's licence if you travel to Nara!
11. Mt Fuji, Fujikawaguchiko
We saved the most iconic one for last. Mount Fuji is Japan's highest mountain, and it's certainly a sight to behold. For the most picture-perfect view, make your way to Arakura Sengen Shrine's Chureito Pagoda. Behind the pagoda, there's a viewing platform, and you can view Mount Fuji and Chureito Pagoda together as seen above! Mount Fuji's visibility really depends on the weather, but even on the slightly cloudy day I visited, the view was absolutely beautiful. I sat for a long time just taking it in—the view is so spectacular that it's very difficult to leave.
There's also the option of climbing it for the ultimate view over Japan—if you feel up to the task!