12 places to see on a first time visit to Japan

Japan is a fascinating country of contrasts where ancient temples coexist with futuric neon streets. Travelling in the land of the rising sun is like a dream. As a tourist you’re amazed how smooth it all works, although the sheer amount of humans will leave you overwhelmed. Nothing symbolizes efficiency better than the famous Shinkansen bullet train for which potential delays are measured in seconds. Overall, the public transport system puts the rest of the world to shame. The Japanese people respect each other and follow the rules. At Shibuya crossing, one of the world’s busiest intersections, you could actually cross the road in a sea of pedestrians without touching anyone else.

Japan is as beautiful as convenient. Be inspired and informed at the excellent site Japan Guide, purchase a JR Pass in advance for unlimited long distance train travel, and get ready for the dream trip! Below are 12 places you absolutely need to see on your first time visit to Japan.

1. Chureito Pagoda (Shimo-Yoshida)
02 Chureito Pagoda
Elle Kirsten is certain there’s a rip in space that causes time to freeze at this place. Safe to say, the observation deck view with the red pagoda and Mount Fuji is one of the most iconic ones in Japan. Imagine seeing it with cherry blossoms or red autumn leaves against a blue sky!

2. Miyajima
03 Miyajima Itsukushima Shrine
The nature and sea made me instantly feel at home in Miyajima. This peaceful island with free roaming deers and a giant torii gate was such a contrast to the sensory overload in the cities.

04 Miyajima deers

05 Miyajima Great Torii

3. Shibuya Crossing (Tokyo)
06 Shibuya crossing
The scramble crossing in Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s most famous places. 41 seconds of organized chaos follows in an endless repeat loop every time time the lights turn green for pedestrians.

07 Shibuya crossing nightSome recommend watching the crossing from an elevated position such as Starbucks or the public Shibuya Mark City, but I think you need to stand at the street down at ground level with other people all around you to really take in the atmosphere.

4. Fushimi Inari Shrine (Kyoto)
08 Fushimi Inari Shrine self portrait
Walking through thousands of vermillion torii gates at Mount Inari was my favourite experience in Kyoto. At night there was an eerie feeling to the sacred mountain.

09 Fushimi Inari Shrine

5. Shinjuku Gyoen (Tokyo)
10 Shinjuku Gyoen
The national garden Shinjuku Gyoen is a relaxing oasis in a city full of life and sounds. It’s also one of the most beautiful places to see the cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

6. Mori Tower Sky Deck (Tokyo)
11 Mori Tower sky deck
There’s no feeling such as standing on an open air sky deck with wind blowing through your hair while you’re watching that 35 million metropolis lit up as darkness falls. Arrive before sunset to enjoy both day and night views at the same visit.

7. The Golden Pavilion (Kyoto)
12 Golden pavilion
The golden pavilion is the picture perfect symbol of the traditional Japan. It’s one of those iconic buildings you want to see in person.

8. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (Kyoto)
13 Arashiyama bamboo forest
They say that one can hear the whisper of the wind, but all I heard was the sound of camera shutters. The lush green bamboo forest is a great experience even with the crowds, but you need to come here really early if you want to have it to yourself.

9. Umeda Sky Building (Osaka)
14 Umeda Sky Building sunsetThere’s something captivating about seeing the sunset from the open air deck at Umeda Sky Building in Osaka. Perhaps it’s just the way the sun falls below the mountains.

15 Umeda Sky Building night

10. Peace Memorial Park (Hiroshima)
17 Hiroshima Peace Memorial
The Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima left me with mixed emotions. I came here on a gray day and felt an inevitable sadness about everything. However, I also sensed hope when looking at the thousands of paper cranes at the children’s monument. Visiting The Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima is a humbling experience.

18 Hiroshima Cenotaph

11. Shinjuku (Tokyo)
16 Shinjuku neon street
In Tokyo I felt a bit lost in translation at Park Hyatt Hotel’s New York Bar, but the real movie-like experience was walking the streets of Shinjuku. The rain and the neon lights made it Blade Runner-esque.

12. Chidorigafuchi (Tokyo)
19 Chidorigafuchi moat
Japan is MAGICAL in the cherry blossom season. My sakura dream came true in Tokyo. I was so lucky to visit Chidorigafuchi on a sunny day.

20 Chidorigafuchi

As I travelled across the main island I fell in love with Japan the way you fall alseep: slowly, and then all at once. Japan is special, it’s a country you need to see yourself.

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Mathias is a travel addict who loves cherry blossoms, sunsets and the sea.

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