Temples & Shrines

Kinkaku-ji Kyoto's iconic golden temple.

Tōdai-ji Grand wooden home of Nara's famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha) statue.

Sensō-ji Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temple and a pilgrimage site for more than a millennium.

Tōshō-gū Ornate mausoleum for Japan's legendary shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Oku-no-in Other-worldly, ancient Buddhist temple full of moss-covered stupas and soaring cedars.

Ise-jingū Japan's spiritual centre, dedicated to the Sun Goddess.

Zenkō-ji Nagano temple with fascinating secret passages and stories.

Fushimi Inari-Taisha Photogenic procession of torii (gates) up a Kyoto hillside.

Gardens

Kenroku-en Kanazawa's strolling garden is considered a masterpiece of the form.

Ryōan-ji Kyoto's famous Zen rock garden.

Ritsurin-kōen Seventeenth-century landscape garden in Takamatsu, once the playground of lords.

Katsura Rikyū Former imperial villa with gardens that unfold in a series of stunning vistas.

Byōdō-in Rare surviving example of a Heian-era 'Pure Land' garden.

Saihō-ji Kyoto's 'Koke-dera' (moss temple) has enchanting, velvety grounds.

Adachi Museum of Art The museum's picturesque landscape garden rivals the paintings inside.

Kōraku-en Sprawling strolling garden with ponds and teahouses in Okayama.

Crafts

Downtown Kyoto Japan's highest concentration of high-class shops specialising in crafts like washi (Japanese handmade paper).

Kanazawa A city with a well-preserved artisan culture, especially known for lacquerware and gold leaf.

Bizen Pottery centre known for its bold earthenware; tour a kiln or shop the galleries.

Morioka The place in Japan to buy tea kettles and other wares made of cast iron.

Kyūshū Ceramic Museum See examples of the different styles produced in this region famous for pottery.

Kogensya Sendai boutique with high-quality crafts from all over northern Honshū.

Tsuboya Pottery Street Folksy Okinawan pottery in Naha.

Markets

Nishiki Market Kyoto's central food market, with plenty of packaged items – like rice crackers and sake – for souvenirs.

Daichi Makishi Kōsetsu Ichiba Naha's central market brims with island specialities.

Asa-ichi A mix of old and new at this morning market at the tip of the Noto Peninsula.

Dōguya-suji Arcade Covered arcade for myriad kitchenware items in Osaka.

Sunday Market Running for over 300 years with all sorts of stalls in Kōchi.

Ōmi-chō Market Kanazawa's central fish market, full of tasty creatures from the Sea of Japan.

Ameya-yokochō Tokyo's last open-air market dates to the tumultuous days after WWII.

Hakodate Morning Market Popular spot for browsing and seafood breakfast in southern Hokkaidō.

Architecture

Naoshima An island of contemporary art museums, including several designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

Omote-sandō Boutique-lined boulevard that doubles as a walk-through showcase for contemporary Japanese design.

DT Suzuki Museum Meditative monument to Zen scholar DT Suzuki by Taniguchi Yoshio.

Meiji-mura Repository for fascinating examples of Meiji period (1868–1912) architecture, when Japan opened to Western influence.

Miho Museum IM Pei–designed museum of ancient artefacts sunk into a mountain.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Tokyo's city hall, by pre-eminent modernist Tange Kenzō.

Festivals

Gion Matsuri Kyoto's famous festival is a traditional summer rite and street party rolled into one.

Yuki Matsuri Sapporo's annual snow festival never fails to grab headlines with its elaborate ice sculptures.

Nebuta Matsuri The deep north's spectacular parade of colourful, illuminated festival floats.

Awa-odori Matsuri Japan's biggest (traditional) dance party takes over Tokushima in August.

Earth Celebration Quiet Sado-ga-shima rocks out to the beat of world-renowned taiko drummers (and more).

Takayama Matsuri Parade floats roll through the charming mountain outpost of Takayama.

Fuji Rock Festival The biggest weekend of the year for music lovers in Japan.

Daimon-ji Gozan Okuribi Kanji (Chinese characters) are spelled out in fire on the hills above Kyoto.

Pop Culture

Akihabara Tokyo's famous hot spot for fans of anime, manga and video games.

Ghibli Museum Enchanting museum designed by Japan's leading animator, Miyazaki Hayao (the king of Japanese anime).

Unicorn Gundam True-to-size model from the beloved anime series Gundam lording over Tokyo Bay.

Kyoto International Manga Museum Galleries of manga, plus special exhibitions and workshops.

Mizuki Shigeru Museum Pilgrimage spot in Western Honshū for fans of Mizuki's other-worldly characters.

Godzilla Head See the monstrous icon of Japanese pop culture among Tokyo's skyscrapers.

MariCAR Cosplay (costume play) go-karting through the streets of Tokyo.

Beaches

Nishibama Beach This stretch of Aka-jima is possibly the best of several white-sand stunners in Okinawa's Kerama Islands.

Sunayama Beach Postcard-perfect beach with a rock arch on Miyako-jima.

Habushi-ura This long sandy stretch on Nii-jima is a favourite destination for Tokyo surfers.

Kominato Kaigan Quintessential tropical scene 1000km from the mainland, on Chichi-jima.

Ikumi Beach Laid-back hub of Shikoku's growing surfing community.

Ōkinohama Two-kilometre stretch of unspoilt sand in remote southwest Shikoku.

Castles

Himeji-jō Majestic castle, original (but recently restored) and considered the greatest in the country.

Matsumoto-jō Japan's oldest surviving wooden castle, in the mountains of Nagano.

Matsue-jō Excellent views from atop the original wooden keep and boat rides around the moat.

Matsuyama-jō Among Japan’s finest original castles, lording over Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku.

Hikone-jō This 17th-century stunner has a rare, intact keep.

Inuyama-jō Japan's oldest standing castle began life as a fort in 1440.

Nijō-jō Kyoto's castle is known for its 'nightingale' floors that creak when you walk on them.

Shuri-jō The seat of power of the former Ryūkyū Empire, painstakingly reconstructed from historical records.

Osaka-jō Reconstruction of Osaka's famously flamboyant castle.

Museums

Tokyo National Museum Home to the world’s largest collection of Japanese art.

Kyoto National Museum Kyoto's top museum with classical artworks, historical artefacts and temple treasures.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum Evocative (and often heartbreaking) account of the atomic bomb and its aftermath.

Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum Deep dive into Okinawa's history, way of life and ecosystem.

Mori Art Museum Blockbuster shows by top contemporary Japanese and foreign artists.

Kyūshū National Museum A collection that highlights the island's historical ties to the Asian continent.

Edo-Tokyo Museum The story of how a fishing village evolved into a sprawling, modern metropolis.

Nara National Museum Excellent collection of early Buddhist sculpture.

Train Journeys

Kurobe Gorge Railway Thrill ride along bridges suspended over the dramatic Kurobe Gorge.

Ibutama Limited Express Wood-panelled with window-facing seats, rounding the scenic coast from Kagoshima to Ibusuki.

Resort Shirakami Stylish sightseeing train hugging the rugged northern coast between Akita and Aomori.

Sunrise Seto/Izumo Japan's last, old-school sleeper train travels from Tokyo to Takamatsu and Izumo.

JR Senmō Line Tiny two-car train running along Hokkaidō's northern coast, past antique wooden stations.

Enoden Beloved streetcar that winds through the coastal communities between Kamakura and Enoshima.

Scenic Views

Miyajima See the island's famous floating torii (gate) at high tide.

Matsushima Look over the bay towards the hundreds of tiny windswept islands, spiked with wispy pines.

Kamikōchi Admire the snowcapped peaks of the Japan Alps from this idyllic river valley.

Kussharo-ko Crystal-blue caldera lake in Hokkaidō, best viewed from the mountains above.

Inasa-yama See Nagasaki's stunning nightscape from atop this nearby mountain.

Iya Valley Head to Oku-Iya ('deep Iya') to see the vine bridges suspended over the gorge.

Hakone Catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji reflected in Ashino-ko on a clear winter morning.

Oki Islands Rugged coastal cliffs on remote, barely developed islands.