"In Japan, I was immensely impressed by the politeness, industrious nature and conscientiousness of the Japanese people."
― Paul Getty
The East Asian archipelago of Japan, the "Land of the Rising Sun", lies in the Pacific Ocean. The country remained isolated from the world up to the second half of the nineteenth century, and developed its own unique culture and way of life. As the country opened its boundaries for the rest of the world, it came under a lot of new influences, which it absorbed unhesitatingly. Today, the country's culture is a beautiful blend of its own indigenous traditions, combined with the elements from other cultures. This quintessentially Oriental land of ancient gods and customs is also a pioneer of liberalism and modernity. Japanese people savor hamburgers as much as they enjoy sushi, and this is what has made the country one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Every year, millions of tourists from around the globe flock to this exotic archipelago, comprising some 6,853 volcanic islands. The temples, shopping districts, palaces and castles, beaches, theme parks, and museums have all been promoted as tourist attractions, and also attract a substantial number of visitors.
Famous Japanese Vacation Spots
Japan has a large number of tourist destinations, including as many as 16 World Heritage Sites, which attract more than 30 million tourists, domestic and foreign, every year. Here are some of the best vacation spots in Japan, where tourists can not only stay comfortably, but also gain an ultimate Oriental experience.
Tokyo, the Japanese capital, is the world's largest metropolitan economy. Tokyo also tops the list of the most popular Japanese vacation spots, where millions of tourists from all across the globe flock each year to experience the Oriental way of life. It is also one of the most visited cities by Japanese domestic tourists. The city is famous for its numerous downtowns, stores, and entertainment districts. Famous tourist attractions in and around Tokyo include Shibuya and Harajuku, two of its major entertainment districts, the Tokyo National Museum that houses about 37% of the artwork of Japan, the Imperial Palace, the Meiji Shrine, and the Sensō-ji temple. Tourists visiting Tokyo also visit several sites around the city, which include, amongst others, Mount Fuji, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Rainbow Bridge
is a famous suspension bridge that connects Tokyo with the man-made island of Odaiba. During the holiday season, the bridge is illuminated with rainbow-colored, solar-powered lights, hence the name.
One of Japan's most spectacular castles, the Himeji Castle
is Japan's national treasure, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What is most striking about this edifice is the fact that it was never, even once, destroyed or damaged in wars or natural calamities throughout history, and thus, survives in its original form.
The Tokyo Imperial Palace
is the residence of Japan's royal family and one of the most visited tourist spots in Tokyo. The palace complex houses private royal residences, a museum, an archive, and several administrative offices. Beautiful Japanese-style gardens surround the complex.
People visiting Tokyo always make it a point to visit the world renowned Mount Fuji
, a stratovolcano, that lies about 100 km southwest of Tokyo. One of the most recognizable icons of Japan, Mount Fuji is the favorite site of both, climbers as well as sightseers.
One of the grandest religious complexes of Tokyo, the Sensō-ji temple
is dedicated to Kannon
, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. It is Tokyo's oldest temple, built as a five-storied pagoda. Within the temple complex, there are a number of O-mikuji
(fortunes written on strips of paper) stalls, which are visited by a large number of people. The Japanese-style garden located within the temple adds to the serenity of the place.
The second-tallest artificial structure in Japan, the Tokyo Tower
is inspired by the Eiffel Tower. It houses museums, shops, restaurants, and two observation decks.
Best time to visit: Though the best time to visit Tokyo is between mid-July to August, the city can be visited all through the year. However, from December 31 through the first four days of January, the Japanese seem to take a nationwide holiday.
Geisha in Gion
One of the oldest metropolises in Asia, Kyoto served as the imperial capital of Japan for a period of over 1,000 years. However, now it is the capital of Japan's Kyoto Prefecture. Located in the central part of the Honshu island, the city is abuzz all round the year with millions of tourists, both domestic and international. The city boasts of a number of temples, parks, museums, imperial residences, business districts, and plenty of options for shopaholics. Plus, there are a huge number of historic monuments, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The city and its precincts offer numerous attractions, such as the Nijō Castle, the Iwatayama Monkey Park, the Kyoto Tower, and Gion, one of the main tourist districts in Kyoto, alongside over 2,000 temples and shrines.
Located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, is the shrine of Fushimi Inari, an important Shinto place of worship. The shrine is famous for its numerous torii gates, which form a network, leading to a wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari.
The tallest structure in Kyoto, the Kyoto Tower is an observation tower, which also houses a 3-star hotel and numerous shops, which attract a lot of tourists.
One of the most popular Buddhist shrines in Kyoto, the five-storied pagoda of Tō-ji is the tallest wooden tower in Japan. Apart from featuring a variety of Buddhist sculptures, there is a beautiful Japanese-style garden surrounding the shrine, which is a major tourist attraction.
The Gion district in Kyoto was built during the Middle Ages, in order to accommodate the pilgrims visiting the Yasaka Shrine, an important Shinto place of worship. Today, the district is one of the main tourist hubs in the city, with old-style Japanese teahouses, and shopping arenas. Gion's traditional entertainers, the Geisha, are also very popular.
A part of the group of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Kyoto, the Kiyomizu-dera is an independent Buddhist temple, known for its location on a hillside, thus, offering an admirable view of the entire city. It has attracted popular attention since 2007, when it was nominated as one of the 21 finalists for the New Seven Wonders of the World.
One of the important flatland castles of Japan, the Nijō Castle complex houses two palaces (one in a ruined condition), other subsidiary buildings, and numerous beautiful gardens and groves. The plum orchard within the castle premises is particularly famous.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Kyoto is between March to May, and September to November, simply because the weather seems to be more favorable during these months. Otherwise, it tends to rain heavily in June, and August is the hottest month of the year.
The city of Nara, the capital of the Nara Prefecture in Japan's Kansai region, is another popular vacation spot in the country. Like Kyoto, Nara also boasts of numerous temples, shrines, and imperial remains. Added to this, the city also has a number of parks, gardens, and mountain ranges. A group of eight temples, shrines, and ruins in the city, along with the famous Kasugayama Primeval Forest are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, under the collective title, 'Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.'
Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan, the Heijō Palace in Nara served as the residence of Japan's Imperial family from 710 CE to 784 CE. In recent years, major parts of the palace have been reconstructed, in order to make it more tourist-friendly.
The Kasuga-taisha, or the Kasuga Grand Shrine, is an important Shinto shrine in Nara city. Apart from being a pilgrimage site, it is known for its numerous stone lanterns that lead up to the main shrine.
The Tōdai-ji Buddhist temple complex is also listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism. Its major attraction is the bronze statue of Buddha Vairocana, the largest in the world.
The Nara Park is an official Natural Monument of Japan. It is famous for its wild sika deer, which according to a local folklore are considered sacred.
Best time to visit: The best time to plan a vacation in Nara is between October to November (late autumn), when one can witness the leaves changing colors, or in early April, which is the time for cherry blossom. The city also attracts a lot of tourists during festive times, like during the Lantern Festival in February and August. However, during the festival season, the city tends to be overcrowded, and tourists may face problems in getting accommodation, if not booked well in advance.
Beach in Okinawa
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture of Japan, and comprises hundreds of volcanic islands. Okinawa is known for its numerous beautiful and pristine beaches, subtropical climate, and unique history. Millions of tourists from across the globe visit Okinawa each year, mainly for its natural beauty. Okinawa boasts of vast expanses of natural beauty, ranging from deep oceans to towering forest vegetation. Several imperial ruins, such as the Shuri Castle in Naha city, Okinawa's capital, tell tales of the prefecture's glorious history. Tourists can also enjoy the various forms of Okinawa's traditional entertainment, which they have preserved till date. Thus, from the serenity of nature to the awe-inspiring Oriental experience, Okinawa has a lot to offer to the tourists from all walks of life.
The Kokusai-dōri is a main shopping arcade in the city of Naha, the capital of the Okinawa Prefecture. The street is lined with numerous top brand stores, restaurants, and bars.
The beaches of Okinawa are the prefecture's defining features. Visitors are often found strolling along these beaches, enjoying the heat of the sun, sand, and sea.
The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is a part of the Ocean Expo Park. The aquarium has four floors, featuring deep-sea creatures, and about 80 different species of corals.
The Manzamo Point in Okinawa is one of its most popular scenic spots. It is an uplifted coral reef cliff, offering a spectacular view of the blue ocean waters beneath.
An outstanding example of Japanese landscaping, the Kenroku-en is an old private garden and is considered as one of the top three gardens in Japan. Located on a land measuring 25 acres, the garden has a number of ponds, waterfalls, bridges, maple and cherry blossom trees, and teahouses.
The Sefa-utaki, which means, "purified place of Utaki" is an oldest Shinto shrine in Okinawa, dating back to the earliest period of Okinawan history. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the shrine premises consist of overhanging ledges, towering rock formations, and caves.
Best time to visit: Okinawa is one of the most popular winter getaways in Japan. However, the best season to visit these islands is in the months of July and August, when the rainy season has just got over and summer has just begun. In September, Okinawa experiences some fierce typhoons. October and November are also good months to visit the prefecture.
Kobe Port Tower
The capital of Japan's Hyōgo Prefecture, Kobe is the fifth largest city in the country. Located on the Osaka Bay, Kobe is famous the world over for its hot springs, scenic harbor, numerous shopping districts, and a fine nightlife. The Kobe harbor, with its Port Tower and Pearl Bridge, is the foremost tourist attraction of the city, alongside its many parks, the Alpine Botanical Garden and Nunobiki Falls, and of course, the picturesque Mount Rocco. Kobe is also famous for its entertainment precinct, which features live music, museums, and a harbor cruise tour boat, alongside sumptuous traditional Japanese cuisine.
Since 1995, the city of Kobe has been holding a light festival, known as the Kobe Luminarie
, in December each year, to commemorate the Great Hanshin earthquake. More than 200,000 lights are lit each year, and the festival attracts over four million tourists, annually.
The Port of Kobe
is much more than just a maritime port. It has a number of amusement facilities for the public, including the Kobe Port Tower
that offers a fabulous sight of the bay, and the Meriken Park
, a waterfront park, featuring the Kobe Maritime Museum
and some hotels.
The Akashi Kaikyō Bridge, a.k.a. the Pearl Bridge
, is yet another attraction of Kobe city. For a brief period, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. At night, the bridge is illuminated with a total of 1,737 lights.
Best time to visit: In spring, between March to May, and in autumn, between September to November, are the best times to visit Kobe. During these seasons, it is not too rainy and humid, thus, making it easier for the tourists to roam around the city.
Miyajima Island Pagoda
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
The first city in the history of the world to have experienced a nuclear attack, Hiroshima is the capital of Japan's Hiroshima Prefecture. The city has a long imperial history from the 16th century onwards, owing to which, it has a lot of historical places which the tourists can visit. The city boasts of two World Heritage Sites, viz. the Itsukushima Shrine and the A-Bomb Dome of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Other places of interest in Hiroshima include the Hiroshima castle, various temples and shrines, and the Hiroshima Peace Park.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
has been built in memory of those citizens of Hiroshima, who were killed or suffered the aftermath of the nuclear attack on the city. The A-Bomb Dome
, a monument on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is a ruined Industrial Promotion Hall, that remained partially standing, despite the nuclear attack.
Another World Heritage Site in the Hiroshima Prefecture, the Itsukushima Shrine
is a Shinto shrine, known for its famous "floating" torii gate. Built in the Seto inland sea, the shrine is one of the prominent icons of Japan.
One of the major landmarks of the Hiroshima Prefecture is the Miyajima Pagoda
, a five-tiered Buddhist shrine. Located very close to the Itsukushima, it is situated on a high ground, thus, making it one of the most imposing structures.
The Hiroshima Castle
was built in the late 16th century to serve as a residence of the feudal lord of Hiroshima. The atomic bombing did destroy it to some extent, but it was restored, and a replica of the original was also built in 1958. The replica now houses a museum.
Best time to visit: The ideal time to go to Hiroshima is in autumn, between early September to late October, when the temperatures are steady. One can also visit in spring, between March and April; however, the temperatures during this season are highly unreliable.
The Cherry Blossom Festivities
The highly recommended season to visit Japan is the Sakura
or the cherry blossom season. Millions and millions of people flock to Japan to witness and enjoy the wonderful sight of the delicate cherry blossoms, and their absolutely intoxicating fragrance. The cherry blossom season depends highly on the weather conditions and differs from place to place. However, many flower-viewing parties are held at different places in Japan, during this season.
Generally, in many cities, the festivities begin from the middle of March, when it is spring season, and though the weather is a little chilly and damp, one can always find all the hotels and other tourist accommodations completely clogged with visitors.
In 2008, about 8.3 million foreign tourists visited Japan, a figure that remained steady till 2011. However, following the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, the number of foreign tourists has declined drastically. Efforts are being made continuously by the Japanese government to revive tourism in the country, and they have been successful to a certain extent in attracting more tourists. So, if you are a foodie, interested in shopping, love to see historic sites, and if the culture is more to your taste, Japan is just the perfect place for you to spend your vacations.