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Five Essential Places to Visit in Japan
Japan is one of the most beautiful countries I have travelled to. The combination of great food, incredible architecture and a rich history all combine to make travelling around Japan a fascinating experience.
Below are five of my top recommendations for places you must visit when visiting Japan. If you base your visit on staying in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo then you will easily be able to access all five places. I highly recommend catching the Shinkansen (bullet train) as the easiest and fastest way to explore the country.
It goes without saying that visits to major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto are definite essentials, however this guide is designed to provide recommendations, based on my personal experiences when travelling through Japan.
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) Kyoto, Japan.
Kinkaku-ji (or Golden Pavilion) is a Zen Buddhist temple in north-west Kyoto. The temple is coated in gold leaf, which is incredible, when coupled with its reflection onto the pond below. Now a popular tourist destination, the temple was originally built in 1937 as a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who eventually converted it into a temple. The gold leaf exterior was unveiled in 1955, five years after the 14th-century original was torched by one of the temple's monks.
So, why should you visit Kinkaku-ji?
The spectacle of the Golden Pavilion alone is enough of a reason to attend. Despite the large amount of visitors, when visiting the temple you can still find time for reflection, as well as peace and quiet.
Fushimi Inari Shrine (1000 Shrines)
Fushimi Inari Shrine (1000 Shrines)
While you're in Kyoto, why not also pay a visit to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, in Southern Kyoto? Famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates (wooden gates), you can walk the trails that lead into the wooded forest of Mount Inari, which stands at 233 metres and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto God of rice. The many fox statues across the shrine grounds are known as Inari's messengers.
So, why should you visit Fushimi Inari?
The walk through the wooden gates and forest almost has a magical feel about it. If you enjoy walks and beautiful scenery, then Fushimi Inari is for you. The walk to the top of the mountain takes around two hours (depending on your speed.) There are also places to eat along the way.
100 kilometres southwest of Tokyo lies Japan's tallest peak, Mount Fuji, a 3,776 metre high active volcano which stretches over Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures. It is a sacred mountain and last erupted in 1707. Many paintings and literary works since ancient times include Mount Fuji. The mountain is visited by approximately 300,000 climbers every year.
The early morning scene of the sun rising from the sea of clouds is incredibly beautiful and is regarded as a deity and worshipped by the Japanese who call it 'Goraiko'. The sun rising up on New Year's Day known as 'Hatsu-hinode' or 'the first sunrise of the year' has a symbolic importance, attracting many tourists to Mt. Fuji.
So, why should you go?
Although I did not climb Mount Fuji, just going to the mountain and admiring is incredible. It's worth going with a tour company just for the day, as they will get you there quickly (it's around three hours by bus from Tokyo) and you may also have the chance to view the mountain from a cable car - something which makes for a very memorable visit.
Harujuki is between Shinjuku and Shibuya in Tokyo. It holds one of the brightest shopping hubs, historic sites and is the centre of some of Japan's most extreme fashion.
Taskeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) is known for Harajuku's teenage culture and includes trendy shops, fashion boutiques, vintage fashion, crepe stands and fast food outlets.
So, why should you visit Harajuku?
As well as the vibrant fashion and fun vibes, Harajuku is a very unique place to visit. It's not just the fashion - Harajuku also holds history, including the Meiji Shrine, which is worth a visit as well as Yoyogi Park, a large forested area which is great for a walk!
A quick Shinkansen ride from either Osaka or Kyoto, Nara is a small city which holds significant templles and artwork dating back to the 8th century. Significant sights in Nara include the famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha) at Todai-ju Temple, Kasuga-Taisha Shrine and Nara-koen Park, with its famous semi-wild deer. This park is extremely unique and fun - you can purchase food to feed the deers (they will all gather around you for this) and enjoy the park itself, before you admire the astonishing Great Buddha.
So, why should I go to Nara?
I found that when I was in Japan, I needed just a day or two of relaxation and an escape from the madness of a major city. You can head to Nara for a day trip, however we decided to stay overnight just so we could take it a bit easier and not rush back anywhere.