Top 8 Must-Visit Places In Japan

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The Land of the Rising Sun is truly a must-visit for first timers. From historic shrines & temples, picturesque mountains, to eye-catching gardens & palaces, exploring the island of Japan will definitely be worth every penny. Japan is not only an archipelago of futuristic wonders, but also a place filled with a perfect blend of interesting stories, a rich culture, intriguing traditions, and endlessly interesting travel destinations to be booked for your future itineraries. If you’re wondering about visiting here, check out our top 8 must-visit places in Japan.

  1. Imperial Palace (Tokyo)

After the central government’s authority had weakened in the 15th century, a particular need for castles arose. Japan had also fallen into the chaotic era of warring states (Sengoku Jidai). That’s why small castles were built on top of mountains for defense purposes. 

As Tokyo’s most well-known landmark, the Imperial Palace with its beautiful 17th-century gardens surrounded by moats and walls is a world away from the bustling city. Just a 10-minute walk from Tokyo Station and the high-rise financial district of Marunouchi, this serene lush oasis covers an admirable 1.15 square kilometers in the Central Chiyoda Ward. In 1869, the palace was built on the site of the former Edo Castle and it became the permanent home of the Imperial Family. While the interior of the palace is not open to the public–except on rare special occasions like the Emperor’s Birthday or New Year’s Eve greeting–the surrounding topiary trees, manicured lawns, and meticulously maintained fresh garden are not only visually ravishing but provide a symbol of what being royalty is about. In addition, visitors are permitted to tour around the East Higashi-Gyoen Garden and the spectacular view of the prominent Nijubashi Bridge (Double Bridge)–all for free.

  1. Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Hiroshima)

Reminiscence of the darkest hours of Japanese History, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen K?en) stands at the epicenter of the atomic blast on the former commercial and political heart of the city. A few years after the A-Bomb was dropped by the Americans in August 1945, Hiroshima has become a symbol of lasting peace. Japanese officials decided that the city was not to be rebuilt but instead to construct memorial buildings, monuments, and museums relating to the events of that fateful day. 

Besides the gardens and grounds with their colorful cherry blossoms, you’ll find the Peace Memorial Museum, with a wide variety of exhibits pertaining to the issue of world peace. In addition, in the park is where you’ll spot the Flame of Peace, the Memorial Cenotaph, as well as the Atom Bomb Dome, the ruins of an administrative establishment that sit at the center of the explosion.

  1. Todai-ji Temple (Nara)

Nara’s most admired park, Todai-ji Temple is a must-see when visiting this region. The main hall of the temple once held recognition in 1998 as the largest wooden building in the world. Even today, at two-thirds of its actual size, visitors look like miniature versions of themselves when standing in front of its grand edifices, the Great Buddha Hall, and the Great South Gate. 

If that wasn’t imposing enough, Todai-ji temple is also home to the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world, measuring a monumental 53 feet (16 meters) high. The Nara Temple has been the heart of Buddhism in Japan since its construction in AD 749. Todai-ji is one of eight monuments in Nara included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation and currently serves as headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism. With Todai-ji’s remarkable size, historic significance, extraordinary Buddha statue not to mention being situated in a city with important national treasures and works of art, make this temple a must-visit in Japan. 

  1. The Island Shrine of Itsukushima (Miyajima)

Known as Japan’s Shrine Island, the Itsukushima Shrine is visually rather eye-catching. The shrine was built on a small island, a few meters from the coast of Hiroshima. This remarkable location ensures that the red color of the shrine contrasts radiantly with the blue seawater, and the surrounding woodland nearby. When you view it from the mainland shrine complex, it’s notable Torii gate appears as if it’s floating on the water during high tide like a mystical island. Interestingly, the manner in how the Shinto temple appears to almost float isn’t just a piece of layout brilliance but was a conscious attempt by its original architect and builders to dedicate the shrine to the Princess daughter of the wind god, Susanoo as well as to avoid disturbing spirits who are said to settle in the small inlet.

Due to its beautiful and harmonious architecture, its rich history, and its impact on Japanese culture, the Shinto Temple has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Today, you can explore the shrine from the network of wooden pathways linking all of the establishments in the complex. You can also travel through the site from the comfort of a ferry ride that passes by the glorious shrine.

  1. The Hakone Open-Air Museum (Kanagawa)

Covering roughly 70,000 square meters, the Hakone Open-Air Museum boasts its vast outdoor art and sculptures from Marta Pan, Picasso, Henry Moore, and others.

This museum opened in 1969 and was the very first outdoor museum in the country with the goal of making exalting sculpture art. Approximately 120 sculptural masterpieces and 300 indoor exhibitions of the works of Picasso are on permanent display across the large sculpture park. In addition to appreciating these magnificent works of art, the museum is also a perfect spot to go for a leisurely stroll with the lush landscapes surrounding the area while viewing the mountains of Hakone. There are also play sculptures that kids can touch and have fun with, as well as a maze where the whole family can enjoy.

  1. Nikko Toshogu Shrine (Nikko, Tochigi)

As the symbol of the spiritual magnetism of Nikko, Nikko Tosho-gu is the final resting place of the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu. This feudal family ruled the country for over two and a half centuries. Although the famous leader, whom the shrine honors, is of great importance, the major drawcard of Nikko Toshu-gu is the luxurious design and architecture of the shrine’s exterior.

Carefully carved painted in gold and embedded with powerful and fierce dragon heads, the shrine blends Buddhist and Shinto architectural features to design an exterior quite unlike any other shrines in Japan. When visiting the magnificent Shinto temple, a highlight is exploring around the sprawling grounds and wandering the five-story pagoda and storehouses that lie tall and proud in front of the main entrance gate. What’s more, is that the location of the shrine is surrounded by natural and historical attractions.

  1. Himeji Castle (Himeji)

Another must-see palace to visit in Japan is Himeji Castle. This hilltop castle is situated in Hy?go Prefecture in Himeji. The palace complex consists of 83 buildings and Himeji Castle is declared to be the most pristine example of customary Japanese castle architecture. Many even said that the structure resembles an egret taking flight with its dazzling white exterior. 

The majestic castle was built in 1333 by the samurai warrior, Akamatsu Norimura as a fortress. Over the course of the past several centuries, the initial construction has been subject to significant remodeling schemes where several buildings were added as the palace changed hands. Miraculously, Himeji Castle survived WWII unscathed even though surrounding areas were bombed mercilessly. Like many places and landmarks on this list, Himeji Castle was also included in a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

  1. Koyasan Okunoin (Wakayama)

Mount Koya (Koyasan) in Wakayama is a sacred mountain and temple complex introduced by Kobo Daishi, as the sanctuary of Shingon Buddhism about 1, 200 years ago. Known as the largest cemetery in all of Japan, Okunoin is the site of the Kukai’s cemetery and another 200 thousand of samurai. Moreover, Mount Koya was settled back in 816 in a high valley that lies between the eight peaks of the mountain while its complex has grown to over 100 temples. This place serves as a popular pilgrimage route and one of the most sacred places in Japan that were recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2004. 

What makes this place a must-see site in Japan is that Okunoin is the mausoleum of the monk that founded the temple complex and is lit by thousands of lanterns. According to tradition, the lights have been burning constantly for more than 1,000 years now since his death. What’s more, it was built with unique headstones filled with giant spaceships and other strange monuments. You can also see a monument specially built by a pesticide company to commemorate all of its insect victims. 

Final Tips 

Whether you opt to see the enthralling view of the Imperial Palace or explore the peculiar tradition and mystery of Okunoin (and if you happen to include Japan in your bucket-list), the best way to visit all of Japan’s magnificence is to create a flexible trip planning for your sightseeing itinerary during the quieter shoulder season–according to previous visitors. Always check the authorities for the latest updates and possible requirements and restrictions that may affect your plans. Now, if you could go to one of these must-visit places in Japan, where would you go first?

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