Japan is a country filled with so much history, culture and destinations. When researching places to visit in Japan it can be difficult because there are just so many options. Here at The Japanese Shop, we have compiled a list of 5 places you must visit when in Japan. Whether you are a culture vulture or a beach bum, we have got you covered!

5 Go-To Places in Japan

1. Ishigaki


5 Places You Must Visit When In Japan
Kabira Bay, Ishigaki Island

Ishigaki is the main island of the Yaeyama Islands. The Yaeyama Islands are 2,000km from Tokyo and consist of three islands: Ishigaki, Iriomote and Taketomi.

Each island has its own characteristics and can be accessed via boat from Ishigaki. The Yaeyama Islands are home to Japan’s most beautiful beaches surrounded by the clear blue East China sea.

Things to do

Amongst the cluster of islands, there are loads of activities to keep the whole family busy including:

  • Snorkel amongst the coral reefs which surround the islands. Various beaches on the Ishigaki island are net protected making them popular among families.
  • Go island-hopping and explore what each island has to offer.
    • Iriomote Island is 90% tropical and subtropical forest which encase wild cats, dynamic falls and beautiful scenery. Activites such as canoeing and trekking are available.
    • Taketomi Island is about 10 minutes from the main island and is only 9km in diameter. This unspoilt island is traditional in its transport using buffalo carriages to its breath taking scenery. This island is definitely not one to be missed.
  • Traditional festivals
  • Ishigaki has a great nighlife scene including various bars, Izakayas and clubs which stay open until the early hours of the morning


2. Hiroshima


5 Places You Must Visit When In Japan
Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Hiroshima

Hiroshima is one of Japan’s most modern cities at around 500 years old. Located on Honshu Island, Hiroshima was destroyed in 1945 during World War 2 due to an atomic bomb which was dropped killing 90% of the city.

Hiroshima memorialises the day when so many lives were lost but also represents the importance of peace amongst humanity and is commonly referred to as the peace city.

Things to do

Hiroshima is packed full of historical landmarks and the list of places to visit is endless including:

  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park originally the main commercial and political part of Hiroshima, this became the target for the atomic bomb. The memorial park spans over 120,000 square meters and is home to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the A-Bomb Dome and the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb victims.
  • Shukkei-en is a traditional Japanese garden which dates back to 1620. Being only a short distance from the Hiroshima atomic bomb explosion, the Shukkei-en was severely damaged and also became a refuge for victims of the war. Since then, the Shukkei-en has been restored to its former glory and was reopened to the public again in 1951.
  • Maneki-neko Museum and Path of Cats celebrates the home of the Maneki-neko also known as the lucky cat. The museum is filled with large and small Maneki-neko figurines and explores the history of the beckoning cat.
  • Hiroshima Castle also known as the Carp Castle was originally constructed in the 1590’s however was destroyed due to the atomic bomb. The castle was reconstructed in 1958 and now serves as a museum to remember Hiroshima before World War 2.

3. Nikko


5 Places You Must Visit When In Japan
Toshogu Shrine, Nikko

Nikko is a city located at the entrance to the Nikko National Park in the the northern Kanto region of Japan. Nikko is the third largest city in Japan and is a popular destination for its scenery and its religous history. Nikko was originally the center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship.

Things to do

Nikko is a beautiful location which moves away from the hustle and bustle of central Japan. Home to some of the most beautiful temples, shrines and garden in Japan, Nikko has a lot to offer for everyone.

  • Toshogu Shrine is lavishly decorated and exudes Japanese Tradition. The found of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Ieyasu is buried within the shrine. Ieyasu rul;ed Japan for over 250 years until 1868. Within the shrine, there are various buildings which are all designed beautifully are definitely warrant a visit.
  • You wouldn’t be able to visit Nikko National Park without experiencing the Botanical Garden. Maintained by the University of Tokyo, this garden was originally used for the study of alpine plants. Currently the Botanical Gardens homes 1500 different plant species and is still used for its study of alpine plants. The wondrous garden offers opportunities for walks whilst learning about the different plant species within the garden.
  • Shinkyo Bridge also known as ‘sacred bridge’ crosses the Daiya River leading to the Futarasan Shrine. The bridge is known as one of the three most beautiful bridges in Japan and has only been open to the public over the past couple of decades.
  • Okunikko translated as ‘Inner Nikko’ is within the Nikko National Park and offers stunning waterfalls, hot springs and breath-taking landscapes.


4. Sapporo Yuki Matsuri


Snow Sculpture at Sapporo Yuki Matsuri
Snow Sculpture at Sapporo Yuki Matsuri

Sapporo Yuki Matsuri also known as the ‘Snow Festival’ is located in Sapporo and this coming year (2016) will be held from 5th February – February 11th.

This festival is like no other, expect the unexpected. Building a snowman with a carrot and some coal will not suffice. In the Yuki Matsuri, 14 countries from all around the world compete to create the best snow sculptures, and some of them are pretty unbelievable.

Things to do

The Yuki Matsuri is spread across three sites: Odori, Susukino and Tsu Dome. Each site has something different to offer and if you can, visit them all!

  • Odori Site is located in the centre of Sapporo and is spread across 1.5 kilometers. Here you will find the largest snow sculptures in the world. Many measuring more than 25 meters in height and 15 meters wide. Snow sculptures are light up all day until 10pm. The Odori Site also contains smaller snow sculptures and often hosts concerts and events throughout the festival.
  • The Susukino Site is home to a wide selection of ice sculptures. These exquisite sculptures are lit up until 11pm. The Susukino site is only one subway stop away from the Odori Site.
  • Tsu Dome Site is the activity site. This site includes snow slides, snow rafting and even more snow sculptures. Suitable for the whole family, the site is open fro 9am-5pm daily. Within the site, there are many events going on throughout the day.


5. Nara


Deer in Nara Park, Nara
Deer in Nara Park, Nara

Located just one hour from Osaka, Nara is a city with a big past. Formely known as Heijo, the city was Japan’s first capital in 710 until the capital moved to Nagaoka in 784.

This historic city is packed full of traditional Japanese cultures including some of the oldest and largest temples in Japan.

Things to do

There is much more to Nara than simply visiting the beautiful temples and historic setting, such as:

  • Nara Park was first established in 1880 and it known as one of Nara’s main attractions. Unlike other parks, Nara Park is filled with 1200 freely roaming deer. The deer are seen as messengers which have been sent from the Gods. Deer crackers are on sale at various points in the park and some deer have learned to bow to ask to be fed!
  • The National Museum located in Nara Park is filled with Japanese Buddhist art. The multiple wings of the temple home  various Buddhist pieces including statues, paintings and scrolls. There are also temporary exhibits which are held in the museum throughout the year.
  • Wakakusa Yamayaki is an annual festival held on the fourth January of the year, in 2016 it will be held on January 23rd weather permitting. The festival consits of setting the dead grass on Mount Wakakusa on fire, this can be seen throughout the city. The festival begins at around lunchtime with small events throughout the day leading to the main event. After the mount is set a light, there is a large fireworks display. The reason behind this festival is unknown as some believe it is because of a dispute between temples and others believe it is to scare wild boars.


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