Essential Guide: What To See In Japan

Foreground topiary with Hiroshima Castle behind

For visitors to Japan, there are endless options of interesting places to visit and weird and wonderful experiences to have. So, where do you start? Here are our suggestions of what you can do with a couple of weeks in Japan.

The Must See Places in Japan

Most visitors to Japan prioritise Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. This is a good place to start. Use these three cities as the basis to your itinerary and mix and match a few other stops along the way.

Tokyo cityscape seen from Metropolitan Government Building, Shinjuku


Lanterns leading to the Thunder Gate at Sensoji Temple, Asakusa

Sensoji Temple

Tokyo (4 - 5 days)

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Jinja is the most popular shrine in Tokyo. It gets so busy at New Year that they have traffic lights to control the pedestrians.

Yoyogi Park

Visit on a Sunday to see groups of Rockabillies, sporting leather, denim and perfectly coiffed quiffs, busting out classic dance moves.


Check out the cosplayers hanging out by the station on weekends or take a walk down the bustling Takeshita Dori to find the latest quirky fashions.

Tsukiji Market

The world's largest fish market. Get there early to see the tuna auction (numbers are limited) or eat the freshest fish for breakfast at one of the tiny sushi restaurants. Tsukiji Market is likely to move to a new location in the near future so check before you visit.


See the gigantic lantern hanging from the Thunder Gate at Sensoji Temple. Nakamise, the street leading to the temple, is lined with open-fronted shops brimming with trinkets and souvenirs.


Visit the Panasonic Centre and have fun playing with the latest innovative gadgets and future technology.  Try out everything from electric massage chairs to an adaptive living room that could change the face of social interactions forever.


Dedicated to comics, computer games and maid cafes, Akihabara is otaku (nerd) heaven.  Not to mention the excessive quantities of manga porn.

Tokyo Skytree

The tallest tower in the world, Tokyo Skytree offers panoramic views of the city from 450m up. Try the observation deck at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku for a free alternative.

Tutu wearing mannequins on Takeshita Dori, Tokyo

Takeshita Dori

Master preparing sushi at Tsukiji Market, Tokyo

Sushi Restaurant, Tsukiji Fish Market

Where to Eat in Tokyo


The Nishi Azabu branch of Gonpachi provided the inspiration for the Japanese scene in Kill Bill. This lively izakaya serves mainly skewers and soba. There's a more formal sushi restaurant upstairs.

Busy izakaya with hanging lights at Gonpachi, Tokyo


Skewered foie gras and strawberries at Gonpachi, Tokyo

Gonpachi's Foie Gras and Strawberries

Kyoto (3 - 4 days)


Step back in time as you wander through the narrow cobbled streets past traditional townhouses, streams and shrines and see elegant geisha in full regalia scurrying between social engagements.


This temple was shortlisted in nominations for the New 7 Wonders of the World.  Admire the views across Kyoto or drink from the triple streams of the waterfall for longevity, exam success or love.


A lavish palace with samurai armour, hidden alcoves for the bodyguards and the ultimate protection against stealthy ninja assassins, the squeaky 'nightingale' floorboards.


The iconic Golden Pavilion is stunning at any time of year whether shimmering in the sunshine, surrounded by scarlet autumn leaves or dusted with snow.  It is a little awkward to get to using public transport though.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Thousands of vermilion torii gates form tunnels that snake all over the mountainside. There are stone foxes at every turn, messengers to the gods and faithful guardians of the granary key.

Two geisha wearing kimono in Gion, Kyoto


Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion reflected in lake in Kyoto


Nara (1 day)

Nara is an easy day trip from Kyoto or Osaka.

Nara Park

Over 1000 deer roam freely in Nara Park.  Buy some deer crackers and watch the deer bow in a polite request for food.  Withhold their treats at your peril.

Todaiji Temple

See the gigantic Buddha inside the world's largest wooden building or try to squeeze through the hole in one of the supporting pillars to gain enlightenment.

Sagi Pond

Relax and admire the view from the floating pavilion at one of Nara's most scenic spots.

Sagi pond with over water pavilion at Nara Park, Japan

Sagi Pond

Todaiji Temple butsuden and gate seen from pond in Nara, Japan

Todaiji Temple

Where to Eat in Nara

Restaurants in Nara are generally overpriced and uninspired. The park is a fine place for a picnic however. Convenience stores sell a good range of lunch supplies. The butaman (hot pork dumplings) and curry doughnuts are highly recommended, unless you're on a diet.

Hiroshima (2 - 3 days)

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

See the twisted remains of the genbaku dome, the only building to survive the atomic blast.  Contemplate the eternal flame among the memorials at the peace park.  Visit the peace memorial museum for a fascinating but thoroughly depressing insight into the horrors of the A-bomb attack and its lasting effect on Hiroshima's residents.


Our favourite place in Japan.  See the huge torii gate rising out of the waves and the wonder that is the world's largest rice scoop.  Marvel at the hundred of statues at Daishoin Temple on your way up the mountain.  You may share the summit with deer as you take in the spectacular views over the islands of the Inland Sea.

The derelict Genbaku Dome with twisted remains of dome in Hiroshima Peace Park

Genbaku Dome

Children's Monument topped with child holding crane in Hiroshima Peace Park

Hiroshima Peace Park

Where to Eat in Hiroshima


A multi-storey building packed full of restaurants that only serve one thing, Hiroshima style okonomiyaki.  Take a seat at the counter and watch the chef deftly prepare your meal, a layered pancake with cabbage, sweet okonomiyaki sauce and your choice of topping.

Neon billboards with Glico man runner on Dotonbori, Osaka

Dotonbori, Osaka

Giant yellow polka dot pumpkin on Naoshima seafront, Japan


If You Have More Time


The lively social hub of Dotonbori is a good place to start for a Blade Runner-esque scene with all the neon pizzazz you would expect from a Japanese city.  Take a walk around Osaka Castle Park or check out the view from Japan's tallest skyscraper, Abeno Harukas.

Himeji Castle

This pristine white castle is Japan's largest and a UNESCO world heritage site.


A wacky art exhibition that covers an entire island.  Hire a bike and cycle around to see polka dot pumpkins and multicoloured animals or explore the fishing village of Honmura, now part of the Art House Project.

Mount Fuji

A perfectly conical volcano and the highest peak in Japan. Do the circuit at Hakone for scenic views from a distance or hike to the summit in time for sunrise (only during the summer climbing season).

Torii gate silhouetted against predawn sky at Mount Fuji summit in Japan

Predawn Mount Fuji

Himeji castle rising from trees in Japan

Himeji Castle

What Else to Do in Japan

Take a Bath

Visit an onsen (hot spring) for a relaxing soak in a communal bath. Choose wisely and you could find yourself bathing outside surrounded by lush vegetation and admiring the view.  Just be sure to wash using the showers at the side before getting into the bath.

Visit a Cat Cafe

Relax with a drink and play with the resident moggies. There are several variations of animal cafe with owls now the most popular.

Japan Travel Tips

If you plan to travel from Tokyo to Hiroshima and back, you may find a one week JR pass more economical than buying individual train tickets.  The JR Pass allows unlimited travel on most JR trains, including the Shinkansen (bullet train) and also the JR ferry to Miyajima.  It is only available to tourists and must be pre-ordered before you arrive in Japan.

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