Which one is more interesting Kyoto or Tokyo
The 22 most beautiful sights in Japan
For many, Japan is a dream destination. The country is hard to beat in terms of versatility and offers huge cities, beautiful nature and many cultural highlights. In this article we will show you 22 great sights in Japan.
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Japan is an incredibly pleasant country with very loving and polite people. Traveling Japan is just fun.
We have traveled a lot in the world, but Japan is one of the travel destinations that we remember particularly well.
In this article we would like to give you a first impression of the sights and highlights that await you in Japan.
So you can get in the perfect mood for your trip.
You can find more information about many places in detailed articles, which of course we have always linked for you.
All our Japan articles at a glance
The most beautiful sights on a map
For a first rough orientation in Japan, we have drawn the most important sights for you on a map.
You can also save the map on your computer or mobile phone:
Click here to download our Japan sights as PDF.
# 1 Tokyo
Japan's capital is often the first stop for foreign travelers and is one of Japan's most popular travel destinations - for good reason.
Tokyo is seething with creativity and innovation. There is something new or crazy to discover around every corner and if you get bored in Tokyo, you have to deliberately lock yourself in your hotel room.
Anyone who has visited Tokyo will feel like in a small town in Berlin or Frankfurt afterwards. The city is just huge, crazy and incredibly crowded - but at the same time extremely interesting.
Tokyo itself has a lot of sights to offer and you can easily spend several days or even a whole week here.
The highlights include beautiful temples and shrines, such as the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa or the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, the impressive Imperial Palace, spectacular views from Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree and exciting districts such as Shibuya and Shinjuku.
Tokyo is actually the ideal introduction to the adventure of Japan, because here the city and the people are prepared for foreign tourists. The city is considered to be one of the safest and cleanest cities in the world and with English you can get along relatively well here. So don't worry and join the hustle and bustle.
You can find more information about Tokyo in our other articles:
The most beautiful sights in Tokyo
Where to stay in Tokyo Our hotel tips
# 2 Kyoto
Kyoto is Japan's second major tourist destination and has more than earned its popularity.
Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the seat of the emperor for more than 1,000 years. The city owes its unbelievable wealth of cultural treasures to this fact. If you want to get a taste of old Japan or have your make-up done as a geisha, this is the place for you.
Kyoto alone is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, around 1,600 Buddhist temples and around 400 Shinto shrines - but nobody really knows.
You will find that it is completely impossible to move around Kyoto without visiting temples and shrines. Behind every inconspicuous street corner or even squeezed in between apartment buildings or office buildings, they enrich the cityscape in all shapes and sizes.
All of the temples in Kyoto will be impossible to visit, but there are some must-sees that you definitely cannot miss. These include the Kiyomizu-dera, best known for its wooden pillar terrace that protrudes over a wooded abyss. The view from here is especially beautiful in autumn, because the color of the leaves below the terrace is absolutely spectacular.
Other top attractions include the Kinkaku-ji, better known as the "golden pavilion" and the Fushimi Inari Shrine. The bright red shrine is not the actual attraction, but the path that leads from the shrine to the Inari mountain behind. Over a distance of 4 km it is covered by thousands of red toriis (shrine gates).
You can find more information about Kyoto in our article:
Kyoto: The most beautiful sights and our best tips
# 3 Osaka
Osaka is the heart of the Kansai region and the third largest city in Japan. Here, the turbulent city life mixes with a very special atmosphere, which is mainly due to the mentality of its residents.
Osaka is basically Tokyo's rebellious little sister - a little more alternative, a little louder and a little less polite, but more cordial.
Osaka is not yet one of the absolute top sights in Japan, but now more and more travelers are stopping here.
One of the main attractions of Osaka is the local cuisine. You shouldn't miss out on okonomiyaki (hearty pancakes fried at the table - in the broadest sense) and takoyaki (octopus dough balls) in particular.
But there is also no lack of classic sights here. Osaka-jo Castle is one of the most beautiful in Japan and the Dotombori district offers alternative city flair and a lively nightlife.
You can find more information about Osaka in our article:
Osaka: The most beautiful sights and our best tips
# 4 Hiroshima
We don't need to write much about Hiroshima's sad story. The first atomic bomb drop in history made the city sadly famous, and the Peace Park is an impressive and moving monument.
Especially the accompanying Peace Museum is not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, you should definitely visit it once, because it is an experience that you will definitely never forget.
Still, Hiroshima is generally not a sad place. The city has managed to rise from the ashes in an incredibly impressive way and is now a green metropolis with a relaxed atmosphere and a lot of quality of life.
In Shukkeien Garden, a beautiful landscaped garden, you can, for example, feed hundreds of colorful koi fish or climb a miniature Fuji. The impressive castle is also worth a visit.
You can find more information about Hiroshima in our article:
Hiroshima: The most beautiful sights and our best tips
# 5 Yokohama
Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan and is right next to Tokyo. If you drive from one city to the other, it would be almost impossible to find the border without appropriate signs, because the two cities merge more or less seamlessly.
With Yokohama so much in Tokyo's shadow and lacking an abundance of world-famous attractions, the city often doesn't get the attention it deserves. Yokohama has a lot to offer and impresses with its modern and alternative atmosphere.
Are you into small craft beer breweries, tiny jazz clubs and all kinds of international restaurants? Or how about a detour to Chinatown or the beautiful harbor?
Especially if you are in Tokyo for a long time, a detour to Yokohama is definitely worthwhile.
Our special recommendation: The Cupnoodle Museum! You heard right, a museum entirely dedicated to the invention of instant noodle soup. Something like that only exists in Japan.
You can find more information about Yokohama in our article:
Yokohama: The most beautiful sights and our tips
# 6 Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan and is especially admired by the Japanese for its beautiful and even shape.
It is very popular both as a viewpoint from a distance and with mountaineers. Both experiences are quite different from each other. From a distance, absolutely suitable for postcards, the barren mountain slopes of Mount Fuji are more reminiscent of an apocalyptic landscape with a strong problem of overpopulation when climbing.
During the main season from July 1st to August 31st there are queues here. Nevertheless, the ascent is quite strenuous and a well-known Japanese proverb says: “Anyone who climbs Mount Fuji is wise. Anyone who climbs it twice is a fool. "
Nevertheless, there is a widespread belief in Japan that you have to have climbed Mount Fuji at least once in your life - number one on the national bucket list, so to speak.
If you don't have any mountaineering ambitions, we can particularly recommend two places from which you have a great view of Mount Fuji: the Fuji-Q Highland, an amusement park at the foot of Mount Fuji that has some of the best roller coasters in the world and the Fuji-Hakone National Park, which is a great attraction in itself.
By the way, both are ideal as a day or weekend trip from Tokyo.
# 7 Izu Peninsula
A little south of Tokyo, at the foot of Mount Fuji-san, lies the Izu Peninsula. As part of the Izu-Hakone National Park, it is easy to reach from Tokyo and offers many locals a valued local recreation area.
The white, clean beaches are popular with swimmers and scuba divers alike, and if you want to enjoy that Japanese beach feeling without flying to Okinawa, you've come to the right place.
The Kunomi Beach in Matsuzaki is particularly beautiful, and there is also a view of Mount Fuji. Otherwise, the main attraction of Izu is above all the beautiful landscape and nature.
Green forests and beautiful paths along spectacular cliff sections and one or the other hot spring invite you to relax and unwind.
# 8 Koya-san
Koya-san is an ideal destination if you suffer from temple blues - the almost inevitable sensory overload in Kyoto after the fiftieth shrine or temple on the same day.
But even if you need a little more green around you after the hustle and bustle of the big city in Osaka or just like nature, you are spot on here.
The Koya-san is considered a sacred and mysterious mountain and offers its very own landscape that seems a little enchanted.
Even the way here is adventurous. The train meanders past narrow valleys and high mountains and the last part then has to be covered by cable car.
And you wouldn't be in Japan if there weren't some shrines or temples on the way up.
Some of these temples are known to accept tourists as novices for a short period of time. If you have the time, it is a really unique experience to get a taste of the life of a monk for a few days.
# 9 Nara
Nara is another former imperial city that offers a whole range of great sights. A visit to Nara is perfect as a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka.
Like Kyoto, this city is bursting with cultural treasures and has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Most of the city's attractions are located within the sprawling Nara Park, which features hundreds of Sika deer roaming around the park. These deer are used to people and anything but shy - especially if you buy a few roe deer biscuits to feed on site.
Some particularly clever animals have even learned a trick: they bow to the visitors, of course in exchange for biscuits.
If you are finally several cookie packs poorer and finally on the way to culture and sights, you will inevitably come across the Todai-ji Temple, because it cannot be overlooked and offers another superlative in addition to the largest Buddha statue in Japan ("Daibutsu") . The largest wooden building in the world, in which the Daibutsu is allowed to live according to their status.
And behind the Buddha, always following the children, you will find another small attraction: the Buddha's nostril. Exactly the size of a daibutsu's nostril, there is a hole in a wooden pillar and enlightenment awaits those who can squeeze through. Not bad, right?
# 10 Nikko
Nikko is a small town about 150 km north of Tokyo and is definitely worth a day trip (or a weekend).
The Tosho-gu shrine, where the famous image of the three monkeys can be admired, is known and loved by tourists at home and abroad. Everyone in this country knows these three monkeys, even if they are not even aware of it.
The monkeys have now even been immortalized as emojis - there is no better way to make the leap into modern times. The monkeys, who cover their ears, mouth and eyes, stand for "hear no evil, say no evil and see no evil."
Their real relatives, the Japanese macaques, unfortunately do not stick to this resolution and like to cause trouble in Nikko because they were fed by many tourists. You should not ignore the warning signs that prohibit feeding, because the cheeky animals can get pretty aggressive and have stolen many a bag or camera.
If you have undertaken the drive to Nikko, we recommend that you do not leave it to the monkeys and the Tosho-gu shrine, but look around a little further.
Nikko is surrounded by beautiful nature and is ideal for short hikes through the surrounding mountains, which are part of the Nikko National Park. The Kegon waterfalls, numerous onsen (hot springs) and Lake Chuzenji are also waiting here.
# 11 Kanazawa
Kanazawa, a medium-sized city on the west coast, is often referred to as "Little Kyoto".
This is because the once very rich city has a large number of very well-preserved historical buildings and districts. And while Kyoto is of course much more famous and has a long list of highlights, many visitors find Kanazawa to be the smaller and more pleasant counterpart in comparison.
After all, excessive tourism is often a blessing and a curse, and there is really a lot going on in Kyoto. Kanazawa, on the other hand, gives the feeling of having arrived in ancient Japan in a very authentic way, without the tourist crowds disturbing the picture.
You should definitely take a look at the Nagamachi and Higashi Chaya districts. A special plan is not necessary: just run and let yourself go.
If you haven't had enough of drifting, then take a look at Kenrokuen Park, one of the most beautiful landscaped gardens in Japan. The sight is fantastic at any time, but especially in spring and autumn. If you can find your peace of mind anywhere in a matter of hours, it's here.
# 12 Himeji
Himeji Castle, or the Castle of the White Heron, is Japan's most famous and beautiful castle and dates back to the 17th century in its current form.
Standing with white walls on a hill above the city of the same name, it is one of the most imposing buildings in the country and at the same time looks as if it had sprung from the pages of a fairy tale book.
Although the elegant style makes Himeji look more like a castle than a fortress, the castle has long been considered practically impregnable. A sophisticated system of trenches, walls, towers and winding corridors offered protection and security for centuries.
The castle is also surrounded by well-tended gardens that go perfectly with the fairytale look of Himeji.
Our tip: If you just want to visit the castle, you can simply stop in Himeji on the way from Osaka to Hirsohima. You can lock your luggage in the train station, look at the lock and then continue on.
# 13 Kamakura
Kamakura is a coastal city in southwest Tokyo and another ideal day trip destination from the capital.
Kamakura can be reached by train in less than an hour and a half and is picturesquely framed between the sea and forested mountains. Especially in summer and generally on weekends, tourists flock from Tokyo who are looking for relaxation and recreational fun.
Kamakura is home to several famous temples and shrines, the most famous of which is the Kotoku-in, as it is home to Japan's second largest Buddha statue and the largest in the open air.
Apart from these cultural highlights, Kamakura mainly offers beaches and wooded hills and mountains that are great for hiking and swimming. If swimming is too boring for you, you can go kitesurfing instead - or watch the others do it.
You can find more information about Kamakura in our article:
Kamakura sights: Tips for a trip from Tokyo to Kamakura
# 14 Miyajima
The sacred island of Miyajima is only 20 km from Hiroshima and is one of the most popular (and most photographed) sights in Japan.
Miyajima is an absolute must-see, but unfortunately hopelessly overcrowded, especially on weekends. So we would strongly recommend visiting the island on a weekday. But what is there to see anyway?
The main attraction here is clearly the Itsukushima Shrine, which used to be the holiest place in the country. It was so sacred that ordinary citizens were not allowed to enter the island. That has changed in the meantime, but for women only in the 20th century.
The shrine itself is built on wooden pillars and stands in the water at high tide. The torii, the wooden gate to the shrine, also stands in the water at high tide and gives the impression that it is floating.
Apart from this famous sight, Miyajima offers a few other attractions: on the one hand numerous tame deer that roam the island, and on the other hand the Misen mountain, which can be climbed on well-developed paths or with the help of a cable car.
Amazingly, there is no longer any trace of the crowd at Itsukushima Shrine and if you are a fan of silence, nature and great views, I can only warmly recommend this detour.
You can find more information about Miyajima in our article on Hiroshima:
Hiroshima: The most beautiful sights and our best tips
# 15 Sapporo
Sapporo is the largest city of Hokkaido, the northernmost of the four main islands of Japan.
It is characterized by a significantly colder climate and offers protection from heat and humidity in summer and plenty of snow in winter. If you want to check out Hokkaido, you'll find the perfect base here.
Sapporo is also ideal for winter sports enthusiasts and offers ski slopes even in the middle of the city. The city itself is still relatively young and is therefore rather sparsely populated with classic sights.
An absolute magnet for visitors, however, is the annual snow festival that takes place in February, during which numerous sculptures and buildings of all types and sizes are built from ice and snow in Sapporo and then illuminated. The results range from cute to spectacular and especially in the dark the sight is impressive.
If you want to see the snow festival, you should definitely take care of your accommodation as early as possible, because good and cheap rooms are quickly booked out during this time.
In addition, Hokkaido as such has a lot to offer, especially for nature lovers. If you are in Sapporo, you should therefore definitely plan trips to the surrounding area.
# 16 Okinawa
Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture of Japan and consists of three archipelagos that are actually so far south that they are geographically closer to Taiwan than Japan.
They differ from mainland Japan in many ways, due on the one hand to the subtropical climate and on the other hand to their own history and culture. Okinawa was once an independent kingdom called Ryukyu and has only officially been part of Japan for 140 years.
For this reason, you can still find many special features on this island paradise today, from the food to the architecture to the very own Okinawa dialect.
Today Okinawa is known as the Hawaii of Japan and has truly earned this title. Countless white beaches and turquoise blue water invite you to swim, snorkel and dive.
Mangrove forests and jungles are home to a flora and fauna of which various species only occur on Okinawa. The Royal Palace and the landscaped gardens around it are worth a visit and anyone who likes water sports has landed in paradise here anyway.
In short, Okinawa offers everything a vacationer's heart desires and more - and that with daily sunshine.
Okinawa is not on the agenda for most travelers, but for a second, third or fourth visit to Japan it is definitely worth a detour.
# 17 Nabana no Sato
In the city of Kawana, between Tokyo and Kyoto, is the Nabana no Sato flower park.
As part of the amusement park “Nagashima Resort”, the botanical garden offers lavishly planted and illuminated seas of flowers and lights. The flowers to be admired depend partly on the season, but there are also some permanent sections, such as a plum garden, a rose garden with over 800 different types of roses and the so-called Fuji Island, from which you can enjoy an excellent view over the park can.
In order to make the park a tourist attraction in winter too, the focus in Nabana no Sato is mainly on light illuminations from the end of October until March.
The most famous and popular here are the light tunnels and water lights, which are the largest of their kind in Japan. The success was so resounding that the park is now often more visited in winter than in summer and has become a romantic must-see, especially for couples.
By the way: Right next to the amusement park is the “Nagashima Spa Land” water park. If you are traveling with a child (or if you just feel like having fun yourself), a detour is even more worthwhile.
# 18 Hakone Open Air Museum
The Hakone Open Air Museum harmoniously combines international and Japanese art with the impressive panorama of the surrounding mountains.
On more than 70,000 m², the sculpture park shows works of art by Picasso, Rodin and Miró, among others.
The special thing about this is that some sculptures can hardly be recognized as such, such as the “Symphonic Sculpture”. This is a tower, including a spiral staircase inside, which is completely surrounded by ornate stained glass windows and leads to a viewing platform.
Several buildings show other art objects of all kinds, from paintings to glass art to tapestries. If you need a bit of variety after so much mental stimulation, you can take a foot bath outside and watch the children do their gymnastics in the art playground. Or you just join in - you only live once.
# 19 Cherry blossom in Japan
The Japanese love cherry trees and that is another highly understated explanation for the Japanese phenomenon of the cherry blossom, which is known as sakura in Japan. There is not only one word for cherry blossom, but also its own name for looking at the cherry blossoms: It is called hanami.
Sakura and Hanami attract millions of Japanese to their cities' parks in March and April each year. Anyone who has not seen this spectacle before can hardly imagine why this is such a huge thing in Japan. But once you do it, you won't get rid of Hanami fever.
Preparations begin at the beginning of the year: the news announces the blooming of the very first cherry blossoms in southern Okinawa, cherry blossom calendars are being sold for the year, and the weather report includes forecasts and reports on the progress of the cherry blossom by area and city.
When the time has finally come and the cherry blossom has arrived home, housewives, grandparents, children or anyone else available will be sent off to get a seat early enough. The parks, riverside and all open spaces with cherry blossoms are laid out in a hurry with blue plastic sheeting, on which many an unhappy family member has to keep watch until the rest of the family arrives in the afternoon or evening.
Then people sit there and eat what they bring with them, sometimes grilled, drink a lot of alcohol, talk and laugh while looking at the beautiful white and pink cherry blossoms that form a cotton-wool-like canopy.
The cherry blossom itself stands for beauty and transience, because it only blooms for one to two weeks a year. It is intended to remind you to enjoy life and its beauty as long as it lasts.
A trip to Japan to see the cherry blossom is definitely a highlight. However, this time is also one of the most expensive travel times in Japan.
You can find more information about the cherry blossom in Japan in our article:
Cherry Blossom in Japan: The Best Time to Travel and the Most Beautiful Places!
# 20 Drive the Shinkansen
Shinkansen is the name of the Japanese bullet trains - so far, so simple.
And what should be so special about traveling by train that it appears here in an article about the most beautiful sights in Japan?
Well, we're in Japan after all. And one of the fascinations of Japan is to make new and unique experiences out of the most everyday things and a train ride on a Shinkansen is definitely one of them.
Shinkansen have a few characteristics that set them apart from train travel in Germany (and in most other countries): They are incredibly fast, incredibly punctual, incredibly clean and incredibly safe.
The whole thing works mainly because of the extremely high technical standard and because each Shinkansen line has its own rails, which they do not have to share with other trains or freight traffic. The high level of service in Japan does the rest and a normal train ride feels like a first-class flight.
Another attraction are the so-called "Ekiben". These lunch boxes are sold at stations and on the trains and usually contain local specialties. Quite a few enthusiasts are said to have traveled only for the local Ekiben, so don't be afraid and give it a try.
Our tip: For foreign tourists there is the Japan Rail Pass, which can make the use of Shinkansen much cheaper. If you plan more than one or two trips a week, it is often worth it.
Buy Japan Rail Pass: Our experiences and tips
# 21 themed cafes
Let's now turn to a somewhat less classic and culturally not quite as demanding attraction in Japan: the themed cafés.
After all, Japan stands not only for temples and samurai, but also for bizarre things and a motley pop culture. This is by no means just a cliché and the numerous themed cafés in Japan take this into account in an entertaining way. By the way, this is the best place to be in Tokyo, but most other big cities usually offer at least a few classics as well.
The most famous offshoot of the themed cafés are certainly the Maid Cafés, in which the inclined visitor can be served by pretty, young maids and be slain by cuteness and kitsch. The male counterpart are the Butler Cafés - not quite as famous, but definitely worth a visit.
But otherwise the choice is almost endless: in the Robot Café scantily clad girls dance on giant robots, in animal cafés (from cats and dogs to rabbits or owls) there are pats with drinks and the numerous anime cafés attract fans in droves.
Or how about a vampire café, prison café, ninja café or the Kawaii Monster Café, for example? Either way, you can take the topic seriously, because the implementation of the topic is not limited to the decoration. The food, the service and the appearance of the employees are also entirely subject to the relevant topic.
A visit to a themed café is simply part of a trip to Japan.
# 22 Japanese cuisine
Japanese cuisine is as exotic as it is delicious and, above all, versatile and for us one of the top attractions in Japan.
Anyone who thinks there is only sushi in Japan will not believe their eyes. Basically the assumption is correct that there is a lot of rice and a lot of fish here. That's just not all.
The Japanese like to eat meat dishes, noodles, vegetables, stews, deep-fried and roasted foods - and always in excellent quality. The great thing about Japanese food is not only that it tastes so good in general, but also that it is so unique.
Of course you can also find pizza, burgers and spaghetti in Japan or dishes from other Asian countries. But many Japanese dishes can only be found here - there is no counterpart and no “It tastes like XY”. These are dishes that cannot be found anywhere else in this form.
But let's come to a few specific recommendations. Especially in summer you should eat your way across all the street stalls that are held at the numerous street festivals at this time. You can't go wrong here and it's cheap too.
In addition to the classics such as ramen (noodle soup) and sushi, you should definitely try a classic Japanese meal with rice and many small side dishes that you can get in numerous restaurants or hotels.
In autumn and winter, we particularly recommend Japan's great stews such as sukiyaki or oden and if you have a few euros left in your travel budget, go eat yakiniku. Here, the best meat you have ever eaten is grilled on grills right at the table.
As we write these lines, we think back to Japanese cuisine so wistfully that we get hungry straight away.
These were our 22 favorite sights and highlights in Japan. We hope we were able to arouse your desire to travel to Japan. In any case, while we were writing, we really felt like traveling to Japan again.
When planning your trip to Japan, be sure to check out our other articles. There you will find lots of practical tips and information for your trip.
Do you have questions or suggestions? What is your favorite attraction in Japan? Should we definitely mention a place here in the article? We look forward to your comment!
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