Tokyo is a vibrant mix of traditional temples spotted among ultramodern skyscrapers, districts of neon, and a sprawling urban city. For the traditional, don’t miss the Imperial Palace, Sensō-ji Temple in the Asakusa District, the Meiji Shrine for starters. For shopping, the Ginza District is a good place to begin. If museums and science are your thing, I would suggest checking out the fantastic National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno Park (and be sure not to miss the park and zoo while you’re there). Or if you’re looking for something a little different, check out the Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest wholesale seafood market in the world.
If you’re like me, you may want to escape the city and see some Nature. Mount Fuji is one of the world’s most famous mountain scenes, typically pictured with blossoming cherry trees, however, Fuji isn’t always so lovely as it is an active volcano. The peak hits 3,776 meters and is part of a centuries old pilgrimage. It’s considered one of the most sacred mountains in Japan, and easily one of the most picturesque places.
Daigo-ji & Kotoku-in Temples
Two of the most impressive temples in Japan are must sees for all first-time visitors. When the leaves are burning red and orange and yellow, The Daigo-ji is perhaps the most beautiful place on earth. It is known as the main devotion of Yakushi, and its name pays tribute to the most profound parts of Buddhist thought. The Kotoku-in Temple enshrines Amitabha Buddha, a statue standing around 11.3 meters and weighing 121 tons.
Blooming Cherry Blossoms at Shinjuku Gyoen
Another candidate for the most beautiful place on earth, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is famous for its blooming cherry blossoms. It has over 1,000 trees of varying species that bloom lovely shades of pink and pale in Japan’s capital city.
Regarded as the finest surviving castle in all of Japan, it sits hilltop in Hyōgo Prefecture, and is truly a sight to be seen. You will want to tour the complex around the castle before moving on to the next great castle.
The Hirosaki Castle is much smaller than the Himeji, but it is home of the Snow Lantern festival and a fine place to experience traditional culture. The castle was built in 1611, and was home of the Tsugaru clan.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
The infamous ruin from WWII, known as the ‘Atomic Bomb Dome’ sits as a peace memorial in Hiroshima, now 71 years since the devastation where 140,000 were killed.
The Shirakawago Village is a small village still featuring the traditional houses in the Gassho style.
Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and is now known as one of the most famous places for pre-modern Japan. Earlier in this article, I singled out the Daigo-ji Temple, but Kyoto offers numerous Buddhist temples, gardens, shrines and palaces, and traditional wooden homes. You don’t come to Kyoto for a single temple, because it is the food and the culture, and the geisha who you must experience – at least once in life, right?
The Three Great Gardens of Japan
Kenroku-en in Kanazawa is one of the oldest Japanese gardens in Japan. The way the gardens work beautifully around the mirror surface of the water will entrance you. Then there’s Koraku-en in Okayama, where the style differs tremendously from the first of the great gardens. The third of the great gardens of Japan is the Kairaku-en in Mito, where the cherry blossoms and bamboo make a bold statement of beauty. My favorite is the Kenroku-en for its traditional aesthetics, and how it works so naturally with nature, with an almost magical feeling.
(Photo credits: image #1 by dalobeee, #2 by aigle_dore, #3 by travelbusy, #4 by aigle_dore, #5 by racingsnake, #6 by jordimarsol, #7 by bignavijp, #8 by 88491388@N05, #9 by cliffano, #10 by 43547009@N00, #11 by 92100908@N05 via Flickr)