Japan is a bucket list destination for travellers from around the world. With its vibrant culture and incredible attractions, it’s easy to see why so many people are keen to visit. However, with so many cities and locations to choose from, it can be difficult to decide where to stay, especially on your first visit to the country. Here are some of the top destinations to consider when planning a trip to Japan, which you can easily combine to create a longer trip taking in multiple cities over a week or two.
Where does the name ‘Japan’ come from?
You may be wondering why is Japan called Japan? In English, we called the country “Japan”, whereas the Japanese refer to it as “Nippon” or “Nihon”. You may be somewhat familiar with the Japanese language, and know that they use a few different letters and characters. When written in Japanese, the first symbol of Nippon means “sun” or “day”, and the second symbol represents “origin”, which is why the country is often referred to as The Land of the Rising Sun. In the southern part of China, and back in the time of Marco Polo, these symbols were pronounced as Ji-pang or Zu-Pang, which is how Marco Polo brought the name of Japan to the Western World.
The Capital of Japan – Tokyo
In my opinion, no trip to Japan is complete without spending at least a few days in Tokyo. It’s the capital and busiest city in the country and contains a fantastic mix of modern life and traditional Japanese culture. Most visitors fly in and out of Tokyo, so will likely start or end their trip here. The Imperial Palace is located within large public gardens and is one of the most visited sites in the city. Don’t miss the Meiji Shinto Shrine, which is surrounded by woods and is known for its towering gate. You could easily spend a week here exploring everything the city has to offer and discovering popular places such as Harajuku and Takeshita Street.
Explore Japan’s traditions in Kyoto
While Tokyo is the most-visited city in the country, if you are particularly interested in seeing a more traditional side of Japan, I’d recommend placing Kyoto at the top of your list. You’ll see geishas walking around in kimonos, traditional wooden teahouses and incredible forests of bamboo here. While the downtown area is now home to more modern high-rise buildings than before, if you escape the main part of the city, you’ll find older houses and narrow streets. No trip to Kyoto is complete without seeing the Fushimi Inari shrine, and I’d recommend spending a minimum of three nights here.
Osaka – experience a modern Japanese city
Osaka is a must-see area for many visitors and offers incredible dining opportunities and fun amusements such as Universal Studios Japan. It’s a modern city that can also be visited as a day trip from Kyoto. Don’t miss seeing Osaka Castle as well as spending time at night in the Dotonbori region, which offers fantastic dining and entertainment.
Other areas to visit in Japan
While you could easily spend two weeks between the three cities listed above, if you are looking for quieter towns and cities to visit, there are many other options available to you. Takayama is a small town located near the Japanese Alps that is full of beautiful shrines and traditional houses. For a great view of Mt Fuji, head to Hakone, where you can try and catch a glimpse of the mountain from the lake or by cable car. Finally, to escape the tourists, I’d recommend visiting Kanazawa, which offers well-kept gardens and interesting museums.
While Tokyo and Kyoto are the most commonly visited places in Japan, there are simply endless towns and cities for you to visit. It’s a diverse and beautiful country with something to offer to visitors around every corner. Wherever you choose to stay on your next trip, you’ll be impressed by the hospitality and warm welcome you receive throughout this incredible country.