You have booked your flights to Tokyo, your Japan Rail Pass arrived this morning, and now you are searching for a travel guide to help you choose the must see sights. Luckily for you, we have selected the ten most popular attractions from TripAdvisor, and made them into a handy one page article. All your tourism needs on a single page. Read on for the best ten must see sights during your holiday in Japan:
1. Fushimi Inari Shrine (Kyoto)
(image by flickr.com)
For more than 1,300 years, people have come to Fushimi Inari Shrine to worship the Inari God that assures bountiful crops. The shrine is the headquarters of the more than 30,000 inari shrines across Japan. The red torii gates and white foxes are the symbols of Fushimi Inari Shrine. It is said that the red color of the torii gates and the shrine building has power against supernatural powers and that the color also indicates the bountifulness of the Inari God. Foxes are believed to be the servants of the Inari God; it is said that foxes were chosen as the God’s servants because they prey on crop damaging mice and also because the color of the fox and the shape of their tails resemble ripe rice plants. Replacing the usual guardian dogs, a pair of foxes is placed at the Roumon gate as protectors against evil.
The row of torii gates called Senbon Torii is the highlight of this shrine. Senbon Torii came about due to the custom that has spread since the Edo period (1603 – 1868) to dedicate a torii gate to the shrine to express gratitude regarding the worshiper’s wish that “will come true” or “did come true.” At present, nearly 10,000 torii gates line the main path and the tradition of donating a gate is still practiced today. Based on the idea that assuring bountiful crops for farmers is relevant to assuring prosperous business for merchants, since the Edo period and onward, the Inari God has been worshiped also as a god that assures prosperous business. The grounds of the shrine stretch to Mount Inari; it takes more than two hours to cover the approx. 87 square meter shrine premises. The Senbon Torii is a short walk away from the main sanctuary. From there, as you walk toward the mountain peak, you will reach the crossroad (yotsutsuji) where you can view the entire city of Kyoto. You can also rest at a tea house while enjoying this magnificent view. Though the shrine is opened to the public 24 hours a day, we recommend visiting the shrine during the day because it has many stone steps and the lighting during the night is limited.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Tours of Fushimi Inari Shrine
2. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (Hiroshima)
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is on the opposite side of the Atomic Bomb Dome across a river. Praying for eternal world peace, this park was established near the hypocenter of the atomic bomb explosion. A large number of monuments to the atomic bomb victims and peace monuments are set up in the vast grounds of the park. The monument at the center of the park dedicated to the atomic bomb victims is shaped in a form of a house to protect the souls of the victims from rain and wind. When looked at from the front, you can see the Atomic Bomb Dome in the distance just under the “roof” of this house-shaped monument. The engraving on the stone plate inside this monument reads “Please rest in peace; for we shall never repeat the error.” The rock chamber in the center contains 107 booklets that list the names of atomic bomb victims (292,325 people).
The model for the girl of the Children’s Peace Monument is Sadako Sasaki who had been exposed to the atomic bomb radiation at the age of 2 and died of leukemia at the age of 12. Prompted by the suggestion of a young man who found out about Sadako’s death from a newspaper article, funds were raised and this monument was built to commemorate the souls of the children who lost their lives due to the atomic bomb. The Bell of Peace built in the park in 1964 is used every year at the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony held on August 6. Also, it has been selected as one of Japan’s 100 sound-related spots people wish to preserve for future generations. In addition to the annual ringing of this bell, a chime is played every morning at the park at 8:15, the time when the atomic bomb was dropped. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is also located in this park. This museum collects and displays the belongings of the atomic bomb victims as well as images and materials that depict the horrors caused by the bomb.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
- Tours of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
3. Itsukushima Shrine (Hiroshima)
(image by en.wikipedia.org)
Itsukushima Shrine is constructed in the architectural style of the Heian period (794 – 1185); it is a unique building which likens the Seto Inland Sea to a pond. This grandeur, red lacquer-coated shrine blends natural and man-made beauty in perfect harmony; the view completely changes during high tide when the shrine and corridors appear as though they are floating in the sea. The entire island is considered as a holy object in which a deity resides; in the front of the holy island is Seto Inland Sea and in the background is Mount Misen where the gods descend. Itsukushima embodies the form of the ancient Japanese Shinto worship in which people found gods in nature and worshipped mountains, oceans as well as natural phenomena. For this reason, it has been listed as a World Cultural Heritage site. The Island can be accessed by a 10-minute ride on a ferry leaving from the JR Miyajimaguchi Station and arriving at the Miyajima Sanbashiguchi. It is a 15-minute walk from here to Itsukushima shrine. You will be walking through the Omotesando shopping avenue which is filled with souvenir shops and restaurants. While walking through this avenue, we recommend checking out the world’s largest wooden scoop on display. We also recommend munching on Hiroshima’s famous grilled oysters or maple shaped steamed sweet buns. The highlights of Itsukushima shrine include the 60t, 16m high grand torii gate, the 275m long corridor, and the delicate yet extravagant main sanctuary.
Mount Misen is another spot you don’t want to miss. The cable car stop “Koyodani Station” is a 15-minute walk from Itsukushima shrine. When heading to this station, you will be walking through the Koyodani Park where you can enjoy cherry blossoms in spring, tender new leaves in summer, and colored leaves in autumn. Especially, the park’s approximately 200 maple trees display a spectacular view of vibrant colors in November. Enjoy a “walk in the sky” on the cable car while looking down at the magnificent views of the Seto Inland Sea and virgin forests. The final stop is Shishi-iwa Station from which you can walk to the Shishi-iwa Observation Deck and then onto the Seikado building of the Daishoin temple that houses the “ever burning fire” which is said to have been burning for 1,200 years. After that, walk through the tunnel of the enormous Kuguri-iwa rock to get to the best highlight of the mountain, the Mount Misen Observation Deck. It is located at the mountain peak from which you can enjoy a panoramic view of the islands dotting the Seto Inland Sea. Before leaving the island, we recommend watching the sun set into the sea at Miyajima’s sunset spot Mikasa-no-hama. Enjoy the magical view of the grand torii gate “floating” in the sea, lit up by the setting sun.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 300 / Child: ¥ 100
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Itsukushima Shrine
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Itsukushima Shrine
- Tours of Itsukushima Shrine
4. Todaiji (Nara)
People have always loved Todaiji, which was completed in the year 752 and continues to be a religious place down to this day. The essential sights include the buildings that were rebuilt after being destroyed in fires caused by wars, Daibutsu (the great Buddha), masterpieces from the geniuses Unkei and Kaikei, and the statues of the guardian deities.
Todaiji is a cultural property in Nara that is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. It is home to countless works of art and structures that are designated National Treasures, and is full of objects of extremely significant cultural value. Here, you will experience the dynamic atmosphere of a history spanning the ages in such objects as the main temple building, which houses Japan’s largest temple, and Daibutsu (the Great Buddha statue).
At a height of 8.4 meters, the huge wooden images of guardian deities (National Treasures) flanking Nandaimon on both sides are not to be missed. Records show that these figures were made by the genius Buddhist image sculptors Unkei and Kaikei and their 13 disciples in just 69 days during the Kamakura period in the year 1208. These vivid and powerful statues stand magnificently, captured in a moment with their clothes fluttering in the wind. They have an incredible realism so that even their blood vessels can be seen. The image of the powerful Rikishi is a masterpiece of art from the middle of the Kamakura period.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 500 / Child: ¥ 300
5. Eikan-do (Kyoto)
(image by flickr.com)
In 853, Shinjo, the student of the monk Kukai, established the temple. The official name is Zenrin-ji, but due to the deeds of helping out the disadvantaged by the 7th head monk Yokan, it started to be called Eikan-do. Since long ago, fall foliage that strives to become the best in Kyoto can be seen here to the extent that people say “Autumn means the maples in Eikan-do”. Passing through the main gate, the path lined with autumn trees continues on, and there is a breathtaking beauty to the leaves that can be seen over the tiled roofs. The scenery of the bright red autumn leaves reflected in the large Hojo Pond and Kin’un Bridge within the grounds is splendid. In November, you can appreciate the beautiful autumn leaves when they are illuminated for night viewing. At night, the pond becomes like a mirror, and the leaves reflected in the pond at a 360-degree angle is marvelous. During the fall season, the crowds are very heavy so it is necessary to allow for time. But Eikan-do also has plenty of things to see even outside of fall. There are ceremonial piles of sand in front of the Karamon gate used by the Emperor which are stepped on before entering Shaka-do Hall to cleanse the body. Vivid images are painted on the fusuma sliding doors among the 6 rooms that make up Shaka-do. Midway, there is the “Trident Pine”, an unusual tree which splits into 3 main branches. It is said that holding the needles will grant you “wisdom”, “compassion” and “sincerity”, and they can be obtained for free at the souvenir shop on the grounds. The wooden stairway, Garyorou, is along a mountain slope and it feels like walking through the inside of a dragon. Brilliantly painted pillars are present in the wonderful Amida Hall which is famous for the “Mikaeri Amida”, a statue of the Amida Buddha looking over its shoulder. At the hall one early morning, Yokan had been training in the hall when the Amida Buddha appeared in front of him, looked back over its shoulder and said “Yokan, you are slow” with a calm smile.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 600 / Child: ¥ 400
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Eikan-do
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Eikan-do
- Tours of Eikan-do
6. Jigokudani Monkey Park (Nagano)
(image by flickr.com)
Jigokudani Monkey Park is located in the beautiful Yokoyugawa Valley in northern Nagano Prefecture. At an altitude of 850m and surrounded by steep cliffs which are covered in plenty of snow in winter, the area is so desolate that it has been referred to as being “hellish” due to the spewing steam from the fountains. The wild macaques have been living here in this mountain area since long ago, but with the felling of the forests, their natural habitat was eroded and damage was done to their diet which brought the monkeys to the verge of extinction. To save them, the first director of the park, Sogo Hara, actually tried feeding the monkeys, and from the development of an environment where Man and monkeys could co-exist, the beginnings of the park were seeded. Since the park’s opening in 1964, it has gone through its ups and downs but it has become a popular spot for people from around the world as a paradise where wild monkeys can be seen up close.
Macaques soaking away in an onsen Due to the artificial feeding, the rich lifestyle at the monkey park where the worries of famine have disappeared has given way to a lot of free time for the macaques. One day, a nearby open-air bath used by humans became accessible to baby monkeys which started the story of “The Onsen Monkeys”. As with Man, the soothing phenomenon of the bath spread around to the other macaques and it was passed down the generations so that a hot spring environment for Japanese macaques, the only one of its kind in the world, was born. The appearance of the monkeys enjoying a spa in the harsh snowscape of winter and in a dreamy state of mind is enough to captivate anyone. Incidentally, the hair and sweat glands of the monkeys have been formed such that they don’t get a chill once they leave the bath. Also, there are plenty of leisure activities such as onsen, winter sports and highland trekking in the surrounding areas. And besides the winter scenery, the area is also surrounded by the beautiful highland scenery of summer, so get your fill of holiday by spending a relaxing time with the monkeys.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 500 / Child: ¥ 250
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Jigokudani Monkey Park
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Jigokudani Monkey Park
- Tours of Jigokudani Monkey Park
7. Okunoin Temple (Mount Koya)
(image by flickr.com)
Known as a power spot, Okunoin Temple is where the founder of the Shingon sect, Kobo Daishi (the monk Kukai), performed the ultimate ascetic training in which he practiced austerity to the point of death. To get to Okunoin Temple, visitors walk along a 2km approach to the temple from Ichi-no-hashi Bridge to the mausoleum. According to the tradition, Grand Master Kukai comes to this Ichi-no-hashi Bridge to greet you at your arrival and then later to see you off. For this reason, visitors bring their hands together and bow once toward this bridge as a form of prayer. Along the approach are more than 200,000 monuments including graves, prayer steles and memorials. The temple is also well known as the spot of the graves of famous, powerful feudal lords and samurai warriers who fought more than 500 years ago including the grave of Nobunaga Oda and the memorial pagodas of Shingen Takeda and Masamune Date. The remains and personal belongings of the deceased family members have been brought to the sanctuary of Mount Koya for generations by people praying for the rebirth of the deceased ones in the Pure Land.
The temple has been collecting people who make wishes and prayers for the repose of the departed soul, and by that, it has been collecting spiritual energy. This sacred spot has come to be revered by people of all social levels–members of the Imperial court, aristocrats, samurai worriers, and the commons–and it has prospered as a place of comfort and support for people regardless of their sect. Pilgrims, who are called ohenro-san, pray in gratitude to Grand Master Kukai in front of his mausoleum at Mount Koya Okunoin Temple before departing on a pilgrimage to express their joy of “kechien (to make a religious connection)” and after finishing it to report “kechigan (to finish ascetic practices for making a wish).” The temple premises is mystic and sublime; the gigantic cedar trees and moss-covered stone pagodas speak of the temple’s 1,200 years of history.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Okunoin Temple
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Okunoin Temple
- Tours of Okunoin Temple
8. Hakone Open-Air Museum (Hakone)
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
At The Hakone Open-Air Museum, an outdoor art museum that boasts a vast site covering approximately 70,000 square meters, you can enjoy sculptures from Henry Moore, Marta Pan and others.
The park, which is Japan’s first outdoor art museum, was opened in 1969 with the goal of making sculpture art more popular. Approximately 120 sculptural masterpieces are on permanent display across the huge sculpture park. These works of art can be enjoyed while viewing the mountains of Hakone. Calmly walking among nature while enjoying famous sculptures up-close is a real thrill that is unique to the outdoor art museum. There are also play sculptures that children can touch and have fun with, and other features that the whole family can enjoy, such as the maze.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 1,600 / Child: ¥ 800
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Hakone Open-Air Museum
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Hakone Open-Air Museum
- Tours of Hakone Open-Air Museum
9. Shinjuku Gyoen (Shinjuku)
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
This park was originally created as a garden specifically for the Imperial family for recreation and guests of the family, and was designated as an Important Cultural Property. Shinjuku Gyoen boasts a size of 58 hectares and consists of 3 types of gardens: an English garden known for its gentle slopes and public gathering space during hanami season, a French garden with sycamore trees and a Japanese garden with a central pond.
During the year, there are numerous events held at the park; there are participatory events such as photography lessons and contests in addition to chrysanthemum flower exhibitions and traditional Japanese art performances of Noh theatre. Once every month, the Edo Tokyo vegetable market and Shinjuku Gyoen flower market are also held. It is prohibited to bring alcohol into the park to ensure that the peace and calm is kept at Shinjuku Gyoen. A visit to the garden is highly recommended during the cherry blossom and fall foliage seasons, but in general it truly is the ultimate place to take a break from the noise and bustle of the hectic Tokyo.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 200 / Child: ¥ 50
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Shinjuku Gyoen
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Shinjuku Gyoen
- Tours in Shinjuku Gyoen
10. Kinkakuji (Kyoto)
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Kinkaku is a three-story building made of wood. The first story is in the style of a Heian palace, the second story is in samurai-house style, and the third story is in the style of a Zen Buddhist temple. The second and third stories are covered in gold leaf, as is the inside of the third story, except for the floor. The Kinkakuji seen today was rebuilt in 1955 after the building was destroyed by fire in 1950. Major repairs were carried out in 1986, when the gold leaf was reapplied so as to achieve the appearance seen today. Kinkakuji is one of Kyoto’s foremost sightseeing spots, and it is popular with tourists throughout the year due to the beautiful glittering appearance that contrasts with nature in all four seasons.
Kinkaku, which glitters with gold, is not the only highlight of Kinkakuji. As the name implies, Kyokochi Pond (mirror pond), which is in the garden with a path in front of Kinkakuji, reflects the beautiful view of Kinkaku like a mirror. It is a designated national Place of Scenic Beauty and a National Historical Site. There is also a famous teahouse built in the Edo period called Sekkatei. Sekkatei was given its name due to the beautiful evening view of Kinkakuji from the slightly elevated location of the teahouse.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 400 / Child: ¥ 300