Published on January 29th, 2013 | by Tom Firehill


6 Must Visit Places in Japan in 2013

Japan is a country where rich ancient culture juxtaposes with modern bars and restaurants.

For any tourist, Japan can offer a whole range of interesting experiences, from meeting a geisha and taking part in ages-old traditions to exploring the metropolitan sights and sounds of its modern cities.

Japan displays a wide spectrum of options to explore: ancient and modern architecture, nature trails, shopping, food, traditional and religious pilgrimages, and an active nightlife.

Get a sample of Japanese culture and tradition, and a glimpse of their early Imperial glory by visiting these places:


1. Old Kyoto

Get a taste of old Japan in the various temples, shrines, and historical monuments of ancient Kyoto. Visit the amazing Buddhist Kiyomizu Temple, where not a single nail was used in constructing this wooden monument.

Other relics of ancient Japan that you should not miss seeing are the 615 year old Kinkaku Temple or Golden Temple and the Ryoan Temple.

The latter’s beautiful and calming stone garden is a good place to unwind and appreciate nature.


Old Kyoto Photo courtesy of Manganite on Flickr

You can also participate in the Japanese Tea Ceremony and stroll along Gion district, where you may meet a Geisha or two.  You can stay at old ryokans and partake in the traditional kaiseki meals.

Geisha in Gion District

Geisha in Gion District

Kyoto does not, however, wallow in the past. Visitors should consider discovering its new face. A lot of old geisha houses and teahouses have been converted to bars, restaurants, and cafes. Think about visiting Tutto Bene and Niti, prime examples of such conversions.


2. Enduring Nagasaki.

Like a phoenix that rises from its own ashes, Nagasaki has restored itself to be one of Japan’s tourist attractions. Almost blown off of the face of the earth in the 1945 atomic bombing, Nagasaki now boasts of its natural wonders, like Mount Inasa, Glover Gardens, and the Nagasaki Ropeway.

Other attractions are Battleship Island and an abandoned coal mining community off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture.


A view of Nagasaki


3. Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage

Included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Kumano Kodo is a group of well-maintained and well-marked trails that wind through fields, forests, towns, and villages across the southwestern Kii Peninsula.

The pilgrimage is slightly off the beaten path, a site not many tourists get to see. “The route leads to inspiring natural sacred sites, and along the way visitors can find isolated hot springs, delicious cuisine and authentic accommodations,” says Brad Towle of the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau.

Pilgrims get to visit the minor shrines and wander through gigantic cypress and cedar trees, rice paddies, and green-tea plantations.

Visitors can take a dip in the waters of the Tsuboyu bath for (¥750) in Yunomine Onsen. This onsen, or hot springs, is said to be the oldest in Japan at 1,800 years old. Another geological marvel is the Kawayu Onsen jusut below the Oto River. All you have to do is dig a hole in the ground, wait for it to fill, then jump in to your own instant hot spring.

The Path to Pilgrimage

The Path to Pilgrimage


If you want the more contemporary vibe, explore these parts of Japan:


4. Metropolitan Tokyo.

Tokyo, one of the world’s largest cities, epitomizes Japan’s technology, industry, and material culture. For sightseeing, nightlife, shopping, and gourmet, do not forget to visit Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, and Roppongi.

Always bustling day and night in Shinjuku

Always bustling day and night in Shinjuku

The Tsukiji Fish Market is also worth a visit. The energy is contagious. Witness Sushi restaurant owners haggle the best quality fish and seafood.  Watch fish sellers gut fish at record speed. The market is just full of fresh fish, sounds, smells, and energy.


5. Energetic Osaka

For a downtown feel, Osaka is the place to go. The second largest Japanese city, it is known for its commerce and cuisine. This city is divided into two economic parts: Kita (North) and Minami (South).

Osaka Castle in the snow

Osaka Castle in the snow

Kita is more sophisticated and upscale, offering a thoroughly enjoyable shopping experience. Amble through the chic shops and malls near the Osaka main station and along Midosuji Boulevard.

Minami, on the other hand, gives you a hint of local life. Take your pick among town’s numerous tiny restaurants which offer local fare like Okonomiyaki (savory pancake) and Takoyaki, to the more expensive bars, restaurants, and clubs.

Do not forget to visit tourist favorites like Universal Studio Osaka, Kaiyukan aquarium, and Osaka Castle.


6. Unique Okinawa

Japan has beautiful white sandy beaches too.

Japan has beautiful white sandy beaches too.

Past visitors to Okinawa observed that it does not look like Japan. This is due to the fact that Okinawa was an independent kingdom called Ryukyu until 1879. Moreover, the city was ruled by the United States until 1972. Okinawa is a melting pot of Ryukyu, American, and Japanese cultures.

The customs, culture, even the people are pointedly different from other Japanese cities. Even Okinawan cuisine is very distinctive, with its American and Latin American inspiration. Nature lovers should take to the environment of Okinawa, with its tropical climate, beautiful beaches, and nature parks.


For the ultimate adventures in culture, history, architecture, food, and nature, Japan has quite a rich menu to offer. From taking a blast into the past or delving into the heart of metropolitan Japan, to soaking your taste-buds into unique cuisine and making your own hot spring, you will never run out of things to do in Japan.

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