2019 is just around the corner. I’m sure you have lots of travel ideas bouncing around in your head. Will 2019 be the year you decide to visit Japan? If you’re still on the fence about visiting Japan in 2019, this blog post will help you decide which places to include in your itinerary.
And download the free packing checklist here. It even includes seasonal items so you can easily pack for a trip to Japan during summer or winter:
1 Nagoya Castle
This is probably not the first thing on many people’s of things to see in Japan. But Nagoya is the longest place I’ve lived abroad, and I love it deep within my soul. Nagoya is often passed over by tourists moving between Tokyo and Kyoto. As a self-appointed ambassador to Nagoya, I will promote this city any chance I get.
Nagoya Castle is the traveller’s highlight here. The castle is one of the largest in Japan and a historically important castle during the Edo period. It was built in 1612 for the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. These days the castle is set up as a museum with each floor having a different theme. From the top, you can look out over the city.
2 Kiso Valley
The Kiso Valley is in Nagano prefecture and runs alongside the Japanese Central Alps. It’s home to several old post towns of the old road, the Nakasendo. While this used to be an important trade and commerce road, today it is a quiet tourist attraction.
Two well-preserved post towns are Magome and Tsumago. These two towns are a reminder of times past in Japan when travellers would stop for a meal and sleep between Tokyo and Osaka. It’s possible to hike between the two towns on the old Nakasendo trail. The hike takes you deep into the peacefulness of the mountains, trees, and waterfalls. Nature-lovers shouldn’t miss this.
I’ve gushed about Shirakawago multiple times on my blog: in winter, in spring, and in autumn. This mountain village in Gifu prefecture is dotted with steep thatched-roof farm houses. It’s a very different side of Japan than the bright cities and sacred shrines. You can even stay overnight in the farmhouses. It’s easy to get to Shirakawago from Nagoya and is worth at least a day trip.
4 Mt. Fuji
An iconic image of Japan, Mt. Fuji is the tallest mountain in this country. It truly stands out too because it’s not surrounded by other mountains. An active volcano, Mt. Fuji juts up on the borders of Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures. There are multiple places with the best views of Mt. Fuji from different angles.
Admire Mt. Fuji from afar, but if you’re going to visit Japan in the summer you may want to consider hiking to the top. This is best way to experience Mt. Fuji–to endure and suffer the hardship of a steep and oxygen-thin hike. But reaching the top is a reward unlike any other.
Hiking Mt. Fuji is no easy feat, and you shouldn’t attempt to do it without some planning. Here is my advice for considering and planning a trip to he top of Mt. Fuji:
- Dos And Don’ts Of Climbing Mt. Fuji: Learn From My Mistakes
- Hiking the Fujinomiya Trail On Mt. Fuji: My Experience and Recommendations
- Complete Mt. Fuji Climbing Guide + Free Preparation Checklist
5 Fushimi Inari
This is the place in Kyoto where people take the photo of the path completely walled-in by red torii gates. Fushimi Inari has a shrine dedicated to foxes at the bottom of a mountain. Spend some time exploring the shrine before beginning the hike. The hike does take a few hours, and both times I went, I didn’t bother to go all the way to the top. Someday I will…
To get the photo of the red torii gates with no people in them will take some time. Best to avoid weekends or holidays, and come earlier or later in the day when the crowds are less.
Just outside of Tokyo, Kamakura is recognized by the 13-metre high bronze Buddha statue. Kamakura is relatively small to explore, and is an enjoyable day trip from Tokyo. In addition to the main Buddha statue and temple, there are dozens of other temples and shrines, as well as beaches.
The city of Nikko is in the mountains north of Tokyo and is full of World Heritage shrines and temples. The most famous is Nikko Toshogu Shrine. You can also go hiking in the mountains. Autumn is a great time to visit Nikko around the Chuzenji Lake when the leaves are red and orange.
Most people who visit Japan come to Tokyo at some point. While Tokyo might seem like a massive city with high-rises and shiny things, there’s a lot of history at the same time. One popular temple is Asakusa.
Asakusa is like stepping out of the big city (except there’s still a lot of people) and into something you would expect to find in Kyoto. Outside the temple grounds is a large hanging lantern. Inside you walk along a busy street with vendors selling all assortments Japanese souvenirs. Then you greeted with the temple itself, filled with incense and brightly painted walls.
9 Shibuya and Harajuku
While you’re in Tokyo, you’ll want to check some of the busy and popular areas. Shibuya and Harajuku are two different places, but they are close enough that you could walk or take a short train ride.
Shibuya is the site of the busiest scramble intersection in the world. Once the lights turn red, hundreds of people flood into the street, crossing paths in every direction. Harajuku is the home of extreme fashion trends, though these seemed to have been toned down since the first time I visited in 2005. Harajuku is filled with lots of little shops selling clothes, jewellery, food, and more.
Matsumoto is a city in Nagano prefecture and home to the black castle. The castle picture-perfect with the mountains in the background, a small moat, and red bridge. Elsewhere in the city are streets lined with old-style buildings and shops. And venturing into the mountains will reward you with mountain views, hiking trails, and ski slopes.
Hiroshima is an interesting city with a mix of culture and war history. This is where the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. Visit the Peace Memorial dome–the building that was at the epicentre of the explosion and not completely destroyed.
Also take a day trip (or overnight trip) to Miyajima to visit Itsukushima Shrine. Miyajima is where you can see the large red torii gate that appears to be floating. If you visit Japan with a JR Pass, the JR ferry to Miyajima is valid. Just make sure you check the tide table before you go if you care about whether the tide is in or out. Read my post that compares Miyajima at high tide and low tide to see which you might prefer.
Among tourists Nara is most famous for the deer. The deer are very tame and will eat right out of your hand. You can even buy snacks for them. Watch out for the deer poops though.
The deer are cute and all, but my favourite thing about Nara is the giant Todaiji temple and giant Buddha statue. There is so much history around this temple and so many things to be amazed about when you see this place. After seeing the main temple complex, there lots of small side temples to explore.
A visit to Japan will likely bring you to Kyoto. Here is where there is a famous bamboo grove. The bamboo towers above you and is a nice place to keep cool during the summer months. Like many famous places in Japan, it’s busy here. It can be very hard to take a good photo without people in the way. Luckily, I discovered the not-so-secret secret about the best time to visit Arashiyama.
14 Temple-hopping in Kyoto
Temple-hopping is THE thing to do in Kyoto. I know some people tire of it, but I don’t get temple fatigue. I love visiting all the temples in Kyoto, and I’ll even visit them more than once. A few of the popular temples and shrines to see in Kyoto are Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), Kiyomizu Dera, Heian Shrine, Sanjusangendo, and Tenryu-ji. But there soooo many more–literally hundreds of temples.
Kobe is often ignored except when it comes to Kobe beef. And yes, this is the place to get it. But there’s more to Kobe than just beef. The city is tucked in between the mountains and the ocean, so there are views in both directions. The mountains have hiking and waterfalls, and the ocean side has Kobe Port. Nearby the Port is also Chinatown where you can feast on all types of dumplings and peking duck wraps.
Osaka has Universal Studios Japan, endless shopping, streets lined with food, a castle, and loads of other things for tourists to see and do. Head to Osaka for a mix of modern and historical sites.
The northern most part of Japan is Hokkaido. A colder climate that the rest of Japan, Hokkaido is the place to go for a comfortable summer and a snowy winter. Enjoy nature in Hokkaido, and see a different side from the rest of Japan. There’s a famous snow sculpture festival in the winter.
Another cool thing to do is take a tour on the ice-breaker ships. I haven’t done this, but it’s definitely a thing I would want to do if I go to Hokkaido at the right time of year.
Okinawa! Okinawa is the tropical part of Japan with hundreds of islands and the clearest blue waters you have seen. I’ve been too Okinawa seven times, and there always something new to discover. There are beaches nearly everywhere in Okinawa.
Okinawa, known by it’s historical name Ryukyu Kingdom, is also famous for Ryukyu glass. This is a hand-blown glass that looks like waves and ripples in the sea. There are even places around the main island of Okinawa where you can blow your own glass as a souvenir. And don’t forget to try Okinawa soba with the local pork.
19 Road trip to somewhere!
This is not so specific, but it’s a lot of fun to go a road trip in Japan. All you need to do is have a general idea of where you want to go or some vague destination. It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular–even something like a lighthouse works! The fun of road tripping in Japan to drive through the countryside and see parts of Japan tourists almost never get to experience.
So, are you eager to start planning your trip to Japan for 2019? If you need more help, planning a trip to Japan, check out my free resource library for Japan trippers. It has packing checklists, travel cheatsheets, and travel budget guides to help make your trip successful. Sign up to my mailing lest and get instance access to the library!