Ancient traditions fuse with modern-bustle in timeless Japan, and whether you love the great outdoors, busy cities, or traditional, historic sites, Japan has something wonderful to offer.
With so many destinations though, spread out across 6,852 islands, planning your first trip to Japan can be overwhelming in choosing where to go.
Japan holds many incredible treasures, and is one of those countries which calls you back for more. There’s a lot of opportunity here for traveling off the beaten path, but if you’re planning a first trip and want to start out with the classics, the following places offer a great introductory tour.
Five Places to Visit on Your First Trip to Japan
Most trips will see you fly into Tokyo, which, with its ancient temples, neon lights, and dizzying skyscrapers, we’ll cover in the next subheading. But if you’ve chosen a window seat, you’ll spot your first Japanese icon before you even land.
Without a doubt, the most prominent landmark in Japan has, and always will be, Mount Fuji. Majestically standing at 12,388 feet in the middle of a sprawling flat landscape to the east and the south, the mountain is a UNESCO site of world cultural significance.
More than a million people climb Mount Fuji every year (during summer only), so if you’re feeling adventurous, you could be one of them. You can visit the mountain from Tokyo itself, and while you can do it in a day, there are also mountain huts if you want to stay.
The Mount Fuji climbing season is from 1 July to 14 September, though if you’re visiting out of season, or even visiting in season but just don’t wish to climb, you can still enjoy taking in the breathtaking view of Mount Fuji from a distance.
Indeed, despite being over 60 miles away, the mountain can be seen from Tokyo. You can also choose to take a bus out from Tokyo to visit the towns around the base of the mountain, and this is available year round.
Anyone traveling to Japan should spend time in the famous capital city of Tokyo. And especially if this is your first trip, it’s one of those cities you really shouldn’t miss – synonymous with Japan, can you really say you’ve visited if you haven’t been to Tokyo?!
Tokyo is a dazzling destination which is well known for its ability to keep traditional Japanese culture while embracing a passion for everything new. The world’s most populous metropolis offers a wide range of choices for culture, entertainment, dining, and shopping.
In districts like Asakusa, you’ll come across historic temples, superb museums, and lots of traditional Japanese gardens. Things in Tokyo not to miss include the mighty Imperial Palace, the authentic and bustling Tsukiji Outer Market, and the 2,080-foot-tall Tokyo Skytree’s observation decks.
About the only thing missing in Tokyo are casinos, as most gambling is illegal in the country. However, in 2018, new legislation in Japan paved the way for three casino resorts to be built, in the hope that Japan can entice casino tourists who currently visit Macau and Singapore instead. Alternatively if you prefer online gambling, sites like Casumo work throughout the country.
Tokyo to Nara City is a 3 and a half hour train journey (read this guide on Japan Rail Passes – train is the most efficient way to get around the country), but it’s definitely worth being on your first time itinerary.
No other city in Japan contrasts the hustle and bustle of Tokyo like the city of Nara, which is commonly referred to as the Temple City. If you want to feel like you’ve gone back in time, Nara should be top of your list.
The beautiful city has remained unspoiled for centuries, so it offers a glimpse of traditional Japanese culture. It is home to a large number of historic buildings, national treasures, and works of traditional art.
You’ll love spending hours roaming its winding streets and finding the city’s Seven Great Temples of Nara. The most magnificent of those is the splendid seventh-century Kofuky-ji Temple. The Hall of the Great Buddha is also worth checking out. It’s the largest timber building on the planet!
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Nara to Hiroshima by train is 4 and a half hours, but this is also a city which shouldn’t be missed. Since the horrific atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, the incredible efforts of the local Japanese people to commemorate the vibrant city are to be applauded.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates the many victims of the first nuclear attack in the world. But perhaps more importantly, the site acts as a symbol for lasting peace.
The Memorial Park is at the epicenter of the atomic explosion. You can see various memorials, monuments, and museums, as well as gardens lined with beautiful cherry blossoms.
The three key things not to miss at the park are the Memorial Cenotaph and the Flame of Peace, the Peace Memorial Museum, and the Atom Bomb Dome, which is the ruins of an administrative building that was at the center of the blast.
The Shrine Island
By taking a short ferry ride from Hiroshima, you can visit the one-off island of Miyajima, which is known the world over as Japan’s Shrine Island.
Covering just under 19 square miles, the island in Hiroshima Bay is most well-known for its Itsukushima Shrine. The eighth-century Shinto temple is dedicated to the wind god Susanoo’s princess daughters.
One can hardly describe just how incredible it is to see the shrine’s structures up close. The majority rise out of the water in such a way that it looks like they are floating on the surface.
It’s also worth taking a trip around the gorgeous grounds and gardens, where you can see deer and a wide assortment of exotic birds.
Where will you head on your first visit to Japan?