Top things to do

Top ChoiceBuddhist Temple in Kōya-san



Oku-no-in, whose name means 'inner sanctuary', is perhaps the most intensely spiritual place in Japan. At its farthest reaches is the Gobyō, the crypt that Shingon Buddhism founder Kōbō Daishi entered to began...

Top ChoiceBuddhist Temple in Nara



Nara's star attraction is its Daibutsu (Great Buddha), one of the largest bronze statues in the world. It was unveiled in 752, upon the completion of the Daibutsu-den (大仏殿, Great Buddha Hall), built to house it....

Top ChoiceCastle in Himeji



Himeji-jō is Japan's most magnificent castle, built in 1580 by general Toyotomi Hideyoshi and one of only a few original castles from that era (most are modern concrete reconstructions). Its white-plaster facade...

Top ChoiceShinto Shrine in Ise-Shima


Ise-jingū's inner shrine is dedicated to the sun goddess, Amaterasu-Ōmikami, considered the ancestral goddess of the imperial family and guardian deity of the Japanese nation. Naikū is particularly revered...

Top ChoiceBuddhist Temple in Nara



Hōryū-ji was founded in 607 by Prince Shōtoku, considered by many to be the patron saint of Japanese Buddhism. It's renowned not only as one of the oldest temples in Japan but also as a repository for some of the...

Top ChoiceBuddhist Temple in Kurama & Kibune



Located high on a thickly wooded mountain, Kurama-dera is one of the few temples in modern Japan that manages to retain an air of real spirituality. This magical place gains much of its power from its brilliant...

Top ChoiceCastle in Osaka



After unifying Japan in the late 16th century, General Toyotomi Hideyoshi built this castle (1583) as a display of power, using, it's said, the labour of 100,000 workers. Although the present structure is a 1931...

Top ChoiceBuddhist Temple in Ōhara



Famed for its autumn foliage, hydrangea garden and stunning Buddha statues, this temple is deservedly popular with foreign and domestic tourists alike. The temple’s garden, Yūsei-en, is one of the most...

Top ChoiceMuseum in Nara

Nara National Museum

This world-class museum of Buddhist art is divided into two sections. Built in 1894 and strikingly renovated in 2016, the Nara Buddhist Sculpture Hall & Ritual Bronzes Gallery displays a rotating selection of...

Top ChoiceTemple in Northern Kansai


Bujō-ji was founded in the 12th century by Emperor Toba, and while the main hall has been repaired over the years it stands pretty much the same as it always has: a simple wooden structure with a terrace...

Top ChoiceMuseum in Shiga Prefecture

Miho Museum

Secluded amid hills and valleys near the village of Shigaraki, this knockout museum houses the Koyama family collection of Japanese, Middle Eastern, Chinese and South Asian art, and beautifully displayed special...

Top ChoiceTemple in Yoshino


Kimpusen-ji, founded in the 7th century, is believed to be the incubator of Shugendō, a unique Buddhist sect that incorporates Shintō traditions and Taoism and is associated with the storied yamabushi (ascetic...

Top ChoiceShinto Shrine in Hongū

Kumano Hongū Taisha

Kumano Hongū Taisha is one of the Kumano Sanzan (three great shrines of Kumano) and if you're following the traditional pilgrim route, it's the first one you'll encounter. Though the shrine has been rebuilt many...

Top ChoiceNotable Building in Osaka

Abeno Harukas

This César Pelli–designed tower, which opened in March 2014, is Japan's tallest building (300m, 60 storeys). The observatory on the 16th floor is free, but admission is required for the highly recommended...

Top ChoiceShinto Shrine in Nara

Kasuga Taisha

Founded in the 8th century, this sprawling shrine at the foot of Mikasa-yama was created to protect the new capital, Nara. It was ritually rebuilt every 20 years, according to Shintō tradition, until the late...

Top ChoiceArea in Osaka


West of Midō-suji, Amerika-Mura is a compact enclave of hip, youth-focused and offbeat shops, plus cafes, bars, tattoo and piercing parlours, nightclubs, hair salons and a few discreet love hotels. In the middle...

Top ChoiceCastle in Hikone


Completed in 1622, this diminutive castle of the Ii family of daimyō (domain lords) is rightly considered a National Treasure; much of it remains in its original state. Two unusual features are the teppōzama and...

Top ChoiceBuddhist Temple in Nara Prefecture


Secluded in thick forest, this Shingon temple was founded in the 9th century. It's nicknamed 'Women's Kōya-san' because, unlike the more famous centre of Shingon Buddhism, it welcomed female students. The...

Top ChoiceArea in Osaka



Highly photogenic Dōtombori is the city's liveliest night spot and the centre of the southern part of town. Its name comes from the 400-year-old canal, Dōtombori-gawa, now lined with pedestrian walkways and with...

Top ChoiceVegetarian in Kurama & Kibune


Yōshūji serves superb shōjin-ryōri in a delightful old Japanese farmhouse with an irori (open hearth). The house special, a sumptuous selection of vegetarian dishes served in red lacquered bowls, is called...