Top 13 Landmarks in Japan – the Modern and the Historical
Don't know where to go in Japan? Here's a list of the 13 most iconic landmarks the country has on offer.
Japan is where East meets West, where tradition coincides with advancing technology; creating a country of futuristic skyscrapers and sacred temples both. Like yin and yang, the old and the new coexist harmoniously, giving us a mix of modern and historical landmarks to visit and enjoy. In what follows, we will present to you the 13 best landmarks Japan has to offer, including the vital information that goes with them.
Here is a comprehensive guide to Shinkansen (bullet train) that will help you get to your desired landmark.
1. Mount Fuji (Fuji-san), Shizuoka
Perhaps the most famous and iconic landmark in Japan, Mount Fuji has for millennia been the inspiration for endless poems and paintings. Its beauty is undeniable, and what drives thousands of locals and foreigners to climb the mountain every year. Though from afar it is equally as striking, with the Tokyo Sky Tree and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building probably the two best spots from which to gaze at Fuji from Tokyo on a clear day. For a guaranteed photo op of the mountain, onsen towns Lake Kawaguchiko and Hakone are a good option, allowing you to sink into a relaxing hot spring and bask in the brilliance of Fuji at the same time.
For people who want to climb Mount Fuji, we have an article that covers everything you need to know about this difficult but doable feat.
How to get there: Mount Fuji is located in Shizuoka. Mount Fuji Shizuoka Airport is the closest airport to the mountain, whilst three stations: Fujiyoshida, Gotemba or Fujinomiya, give easy access by train. There is also a bus from Shinjuku Bus Terminal to Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station (also known as Yoshidaguchi 5th Station or Kawaguchiko 5th Station) which takes you to the foot of the mountain.
2. Himeji Castle (Himeji-jo), Hyogo
Himeji Castle is also known as “White Egret Castle” (Hakuro-jo) or “White Heron Castle” (Shirasagi-jo) due to its pristine whiteness and resemblance to a flying bird. This medieval landmark is known for its structural integrity, having survived a fire, a war and an earthquake but also for its unparalleled beauty, marking it out as a top filming location, including for The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise!
Address: 68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo 670-0012
How to get there: Himeji Castle is located in Hyogo with the closest airport being Kansai International Airport and the closest station being Himeji. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from Himeji station to the castle and there is a regular bus from the airport. It also takes under 240 minutes from Tokyo to Himeji station by train.
3. Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima
Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine located on the island of Miyajima. In the past, most people were deemed unworthy to visit this most holy of shrines, nowadays however, anybody can access it by way of ferry from the mainland. Itsukushima Shrine appears to be “floating” over the water and features a “floating” Otorii gate. One can approach the gate on foot during low tide or by way of a rented sea kayak during high tide.
In addition to the shrine, the wild deer of the island are another big draw. They are seen as messengers of god and have free reign of the town, roaming freely unscared of humans.
How to get there: Get to Miyajima pier by taking a ferry from Miyajimaguchi which is 27 minutes away from Hiroshima station by train.
4. Ogasawara Islands (also known as Bonin Islands), Tokyo
Don’t let the Tokyo address fool you, this UNESCO World Heritage landmark is, in fact, a 26-hour ship ride from the Japanese mainland and an excellent getaway from civilization. The Ogasawara Islands features in both our Japan Beach article and our feature on Weird Japanese Food for its unique local delicacies. In addition to awesome beaches and unique cuisine, the Ogasawara Islands are home to many rare and endangered species.
Address: Ogasawara, Tokyo 100-2101
How to get there: 26-hour ship ride from mainland Tokyo.
5. Fushimi Inari Taisha (Fushimi Inari Shrine), Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of the most popular and important shrines in Kyoto and probably Japan as a whole. The shrine is highly important to Shintoism, however, the biggest tourist draw is probably the thousands of torii gates housed here (traditional Japanese shrine gates). The gates lead to the summit of Mount Inari, a trail that is followed many thousands each year. The patron saint of this shrine is Inari, the god of rice whose messenger is the humble fox. Expect to see numerous statues of foxes during your visit to Fushimi Inari Taisha.
Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi, Kyoto, Kyoto 612-0082
How to get there: Inari is the closest station, two stops away from Kyoto station.
6. Kinkaku-ji (also known as Rokuon-ji), Kyoto
Kinkaku-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple covered in gold leaf, thus giving rise to the name “The Golden Pavilion.” Its elegance is well captured in the reflection on the adjacent pond, a quality that also attracts thousands of tourists daily. This architectural landmark wasn’t always a temple, it was originally designed as a retirement home for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu upon whose death it became a temple. Although it has since been burned down twice, the reconstructed building is supposedly as close to the original as it can get.
How to get there: Head to Kyoto Station and from there, take bus number 101 or 205 to Kinkaku-ji.
7. Okunoshima, Hiroshima
This Hiroshima island has a grim past. Previously used to manufacture poison during World War II, many workers suffered work-related illnesses but were forbade from receiving aid. In the war’s aftermath, an attempt was made to bury the past, leading to the abandonment of the plant and the destruction of all documents relating to its former use. Decades later, victims of the plant were compensated by the government, and the Poison Gas Museum was opened in remembrance and as a reminder of the horrors of war.
Despite its grim past, Okunoshima is now known as Usagi Shima (Rabbit Island) due to its overwhelming population of 700 or so wild rabbits. These rabbits are as bold as they are adorable so you won’t have trouble finding them.
How to get there: Okunoshima is only accessible by ferries from Tadanoumi. To get to Tadanoumi, take a local train from Mihara station.
8. Hashima Island (also known as Gunkanjima or Battleship Island), Nagasaki
Hashima Island is an abandoned island, once the base for undersea coal mining in the area. Falling into decay after its desertion, renewed interest in Hashima Island since the 2000s has led to its re-opening to the public for exploration. The eery solitude and hulking concrete structures make this is a great alternative tourist destination.
Address: Hashima Island, Takashimamachi, Nagasaki, Nagasaki 851-1315
How to get there: Hashima Island is part of Nagasaki. The only way to get to the island is through paid tours. Here are three services that take you to Hashima Island: Gunkanjima Landing & Cruise, The Gunkanjima Concierge Company and Gunkanjima Cruise. The ferry terminals used by each service varies from company to company, and those ferry terminals can easily be accessed by trams from Nagasaki station.
9. Jigokudani Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen Koen), Nagano
Jigokudani bears similarity to hell frozen over in the winter, giving it its nickname“Hell’s Valley”. Despite its hellish look, Jigokudani Monkey Park, as the name suggests, is home to many tame Japanese macaques (also known as snow monkeys) who enjoy the areas onsens (hot springs). Sadly, we are not able to bathe with our distant relatives, only admire them from afar. This natural landmark is open year round.
How to get there: Jigokudani Monkey Park is part of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park (also known as Shigakogen), located in Nagano. The closest station is Yudanaka, and from there, take a bus to Kanbayashi Onsen. Afterward, it takes about 30 minutes from Kanbayashi Onsen to the park on foot. Yudunaka station is about 180 minutes away from Tokyo.
10. Tottori Sand Dunes (Tottori Sakyu), Tottori
Japan’s very own Sahara desert, albeit much smaller. This 16 km long and 2 km wide sand dune is the result of wind from the Sea of Japan, which for over 100,000 years has blown sand onto this spot. At the top of the dune, you are rewarded with stunning coastal views.
Various activities are on offer here. Walking is free, but can be difficult without the proper footwear. Why not take a camel ride or a horse-drawn carriage around the dunes for an additional fee? You can also see people sandboarding and paragliding.
How to get there: The closest station to the dunes is Tottori. From the station, catch a bus to the dunes. There are several express buses from major cities to Tottori.
11. Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Kamakura), Kamakura
Kamakura Daibutsu was erected in 1252, and it is the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan at 13.35 meters. This statue was originally housed in a temple which was swept away in a tsunami of 1498. Kamakura Daibutsu has since been left to brave the weather. Kamakura Daibutsu is located on the grounds of Kotoku-in (a Buddhist temple) which has an admission fee of 200 yen. For an additional 20 yen, you can even go inside the statue.
How to get there: Kamakura Daibutsu is located in Kamakura, Kanagawa which is more than 70 minutes away from Tokyo by train. The closest station is Hase, and from there it is a 7-minute walk to the statue.
12. Aokigahara (also known as Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees), Yamanashi
Aokigahara, also know in the West as Suicide Forest, certainly piques the interest of many. Mystical stories tell of the forest being haunted by the angry ghosts of the deceased and indeed, as the name suggests, Aokigara is the most popular site for suicides in Japan; though action is taken to do as much as possible to prevent this. Danger can also come from hikers losing there way and starving to death. However, this doesn’t dissuade people from visiting this forest, and rightfully so, the forest is serene and sublime, and as long as you’re careful, a great hiking area.
How to get there: Located at the base of Mount Fuji. The closest station is Kawaguchiko, from which take the “Lake Saiko & Aokigahara Shuyu (round trip)” Retro Bus to Saiko Bat Cave, the start of the Aokigahara trail.
13. Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo
This is one of the world’s busiest intersections, with over 250,000 people using it daily. Making the crossing is known as doing “the scramble” and a tourist favourite. With only 2 minutes before the traffic lights change to red, tourists have been known to propose to their significant others at this intersection.
Shibuya Crossing is surrounded by towering buildings and large LED advertising screens – a spectacle causing it to be one of the most popular photography sites in Japan and perhaps the world. A Starbucks on the 2nd floor of Shibuya Tsutaya is particularly popular for photographers though you’ll be lucky to get a seat by the windows overlooking the crossing.
Address: Shibuya, Tokyo 150-8010
How to get there: Shibuya Station Hachiko Exit.