Home Destinations

FIRST TIME IN JAPAN: Here are the places you absolutely must visit

Japan can seem pretty overwhelming at first glance. There’s just so much to see, so much to do, and don’t get us started on all the delicious food to try. […]

Japan can seem pretty overwhelming at first glance. There’s just so much to see, so much to do, and don’t get us started on all the delicious food to try.

To make things easier for the first-time visitor to Japan, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 places you absolutely must visit on your first trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Are you ready?

Let’s go!


1. Shinjuku


Be dazzled by Tokyo’s famous neon lights in bustling Shinjuku, Tokyo’s major commercial and administrative centre.

One million passengers reportedly pass through the turnstiles at Shinjuku train station every day – a true marvel to be seen at peak hour.

Head here for shopping, food, nightlife, karaoke and all-round craziness.


2. Mount Fuji


Fuji-san, as it’s known in Japanese, is an active volcano (3,776m) about 100km from Tokyo.

It’s considered one of Japan’s three sacred mountains and is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site.

With a reputation for being extremely shy – it’s only visible from Tokyo on particularly clear days – this iconic volcano is best visited as a day trip from Tokyo. Popular vantage points include Hakone and the Mt Fuji Five Lakes region.

For the active traveller, Mount Fuji can be hiked during summer.


3. Sumo Tournament


A trip to Japan isn’t complete without attending a sumo match.

Sumo is a combat sport where two rikishi (sumos) fight in a ring utilising various winning techniques. It has a long history and is Japan’s national sport, loved by many.

There are six main tournaments throughout the year, held in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka.

Check out the Japan Sumo Association website for up-to-date tournament dates.


4. Akihabara


If you’re into anime, toys and video games, then make sure you spend a couple of hours ambling around Tokyo’s “Electric Town” (as it’s roughly translated).

Besides anime, you’ll also be able to buy the latest gadgetry and electronics currently on the market, and then wrap up the day with lunch at one of those quirky maid cafes.


5. Kamakura


Once the political centre of medieval Japan, Kamakura is a popular day trip destination from Tokyo (one hour from Tokyo station) and the home of dozens of Buddhist Zen temples and Shinto shrines.

The Kotoku-in Temple’s Great Buddha – a 13m-high bronze statue – is the city’s most recognisable landmark.


6. Osaka


The Japanese take their food seriously in Osaka, Japan’s third biggest city.

Famous as the home of takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (a savoury pancake topped with meats, seafood, mayonnaise and thin flakes of dried bonito), head on down to the Dotombori area for the best food in town.


7. Universal Studios Japan


Spend a day at Universal Studios Japan and ride the famous Flight of the Hippogriff, a family-friendly roller-coaster inspired by Harry Potter.

Located in Osaka, the theme park features dozens of attractions and rides suitable for travellers of all ages.


8. Kyoto


The former capital of Japan, Kyoto is awash with quaint temples and immaculate gardens dating back hundreds of years. It’s pretty much a city frozen in time.

Key attractions to check out in Kyoto include Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion (covered in gold leaf and built at the end of the 14th century), the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine gates, and the magnificent Kiyomizudera, providing spectacular views of Kyoto from its lookout point.


9. Himeji Castle


Regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, Himeji Castle dates back to 1333 and is made up of 83 buildings with an advanced defensive systems from Japan’s feudal period.

Himeji Castle is the largest and most visited castle in Japan and was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country.

The castle reopened in March 2015 after extensive restoration.


10. Hiroshima


Pay your respects to the victims of the WWII atomic bombing at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park before exploring this charming, modern city on Japan’s main island of Honshu.

Hiroshima is also home to a fine Japanese landscape garden, Shukkeien, and the Hiroshima castle.

Just 35 minutes from Hiroshima city by train and ferry is the sacred island of Miyajima, with the World Heritage listed Itsukushima Shrine characterised by the giant red “torii” gate resting in the sea.

If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a traditional Japanese wedding here!

Feeling inspired?

Click here to improve your knowledge of Japan.

READ: CITY GUIDE: Explore 1,000 years of history in traditional Kyoto

READ: SETO INLAND SEA: 5 reasons why you need to explore the scenic waterway

What is on your itinerary to Japan?