Temples & Shrines

Kinkaku-ji Kyoto's iconic golden temple.

Tōdai-ji Ancient 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 collection of temples and moss-covered stupas in the forest.

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

Zenkō-ji Grand old 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 picturesque landscape garden at this Matsue museum complements the paintings inside.

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

Onsen (Hot Springs)

Kurokawa Onsen Atmospheric onsen town in Kyūshū where development is kept to a minimum.

Kusatsu Onsen The most onsen-y of onsen has highly acidic, sulphur-rich waters prized by Japanese bathers.

Kinosaki Onsen Classic onsen town that's quaint, friendly and packed with homey ryokan.

Takaragawa Onsen Wide open bath on a rushing river's banks in the mountains of central Honshū.

Hakone Yuryō Varied baths, some of which can be rented for private use, a day trip from Tokyo.

Sukayu Quintessential rustic ryokan with a huge (mixed gender) bathhouse in rural Tōhoku.

Spa World Kitschy Osaka leisure complex with dozens of themed baths.

Kaga Onsen Splurge at one of the high-end inns at this onsen resort on the Sea of Japan coast.

Dōgo Onsen Honkan Beautiful wooden bathhouse from the 1890s in Shikoku.

Onsen Tengoku Indoor and outdoor baths at the famed Hokkaidō resort, Noboribetsu Onsen.

Shopping

Harajuku Tokyo fashion central. Brand names on the main drags; avant-garde boutiques on the backstreets.

Downtown Kyoto Department stores, famed retailers of traditional crafts, tea shops and more.

Kanazawa A city with a well-preserved artisan culture; it's especially known for lacquerware and gold leaf.

Minami Osaka's streetwise shopping district has plenty of high-street brands and secondhand shops.

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

Tsuboya Pottery Street Folksy Okinawan pottery in Naha.

Markets

Tsukiji Outer Market Shop where the pros go for kitchen tools and ingredients.

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.

Hirome Ichiba Bustling market in Kōchi (Shikoku) with dozens of restaurants and food stalls.

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

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

Modern Architecture

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

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.

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

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

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art Lithesome, light-filled space by award-winning duo SANAA.

Umeda Sky Building Forty-storey, space-age Arc de Triomphe by Hara Hiroshi in Osaka.

Archi-Depot Tokyo repository for architecture models by famous names.

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).

Harajuku Where Tokyo fashion trends grow legs.

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.

Amerika-Mura Colourful Osaka warren of streetwear and secondhand shops.

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.

Shirara-hama Kansai's most popular beach has white sands and plenty of local beach culture.

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

Castles

Himeji-jō The grande dame of Japanese castles, freshly restored.

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 Castle 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.

Gasshō-zukuri Folk Village Open-air museum of traditional rural architecture.

National Museum of Ethnology Interactive showcase of the world's cultures, past and present.

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

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

Japan Folk Crafts Museum Exhibitions highlighting the beauty of everyday objects.

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

Train Journeys

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

Resort Shirakami Sightseeing train on the Gonō line, which hugs 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.

Sakurajima See Kagoshima's smoking volcano lording over the city's skyline.

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 Ashi-ko on a clear winter morning.

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