Since I often get asked for recommendations for places to visit in Japan, here are some of my favorite places.
I’ve found Japan Guide to be one of the most useful web sites for lists of interesting places to visit, along with practical information on how to get there.
Hyperdia is a useful site for checking train connections (especially if you have a rail pass and can’t use Nozomi).
If you only have a week in Japan, the most common thing to do is to spend a few days in Tokyo and a few days in Kyoto.
Depending on what time of year you go it is also worth checking out cherry blossoms, red leaves and festivals.
Other activities include staying at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) or a capsule hotel and visiting onsen (hot springs). And of course sampling the food. Depending on your interests you might enjoy going to the sumo or the baseball.
One of the world’s great cities. Highlights include:
It’s fun wandering around this neighborhood, marvelling at all the neon. The Shibuya scramble crossing (world’s busiest pedestrian crossing) is fun to watch as well.
Home to the world’s busiest train station and Blade Runner-like night skies.
Geek heaven – Tokyo’s electronic district. If you have the inclination to visit a maid or butler cafe, this is the place to do it.
New observation tower that gives a great view of one of the biggest cities in the world.
One of Tokyo’s most popular temples.
Tsukiji Fish Market
World’s biggest fish market.
Giant robots! If Michelin awarded stars for robotics, this would be the world’s greatest restaurant.
Food always tastes better when it is prepared by ninjas.
Giant Totoro! Worth a look if you’re a fan of the Ghibli movies.
Meguro Parasite Museum
Giant tapeworms! Creepy fun.
Racing around the streets of Tokyo in a go-kart while dressed as Mario is soooo much fun.
Meet cute hedgehogs.
TOKYO DAY TRIPS
Home to a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu and the carving of the 3 wise monkeys.
One of Japan’s old capitals. Lots of shrines and temples.
Views of Mt. Fuji (weather permitting) and hot springs.
A bit difficult to get to, but a great hike with stunning views.
Shrines! Temples! Shrines! Temples!
You’ve probably seen photos of Fushimi Inari’s thousands of red gates.
A temple with a beautiful wooden platform.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
More of a palace than a castle – but has the cool nightingale floors.
Temple with 1001 statues.
Monkey park and bamboo forests.
A walk along a canal. Spectacular in cherry blossom season.
I lived in Osaka for 4 years. It’s one of my favorite places in Japan, but it doesn’t have as many tourist attractions as Tokyo or Kyoto. Wandering along Dotombori is fun and if you like spas, then Spa World is worth a visit. Osaka serves as a good base for day excursions to lots of places.
Home to one of the world’s biggest cemeteries (corporate graves!). Staying overnight in one of the temples is a great experience.
Japan’s most beautiful castle.
More temples and shrines and deer!
Iga Ueno (Ninja Town)
Ninja museum and ninja shows.
Kinosaki is a good hot spring town to stay in a ryokan, eat lots of seafood and go to lots of hot springs.
Worth visiting for the Peace Park (atomic bomb site memorial) and nearby Miyajima (famous red gate floating in the water).
JIGOKUDANI MONKEY HOT SPRINGS
Monkeys! Hot springs! Best visited in winter for the snow, but still awesome the rest of the year.
Out of the way, but one of the most beautiful places in Japan. Islands south of Kagoshima. Has lots of beautiful forest walks.
Scuba diving and beaches.
NAOSHIMA ART ISLAND
Island that has lots of art installations and museums. Some great exhibits from Yayoi Kusama.
NAGASAKI (AND BATTLESHIP ISLAND)
Bomb site memorial. And you can now visit Gunkanjima (Battleship Island), deserted island that used to be one of the most densely populated places on earth.
Japan’s northernmost island is a popular place to visit in winter for skiing. In summer there are some great hikes. Shiretoko in the north of Hokkaido is especially beautiful (and the setting for my story Hokkaido Green).