When visiting a new country, most travelers want to see a lot in a short amount of time. If you have big plans to visit Japan in the future I can help you whittle down your list of must sees to settle in on a good itinerary. Last September I spent an amazing 2+ weeks in Japan. While I didn’t get to see all of Japan (not by a longshot!), I was able to pick my favorite cities and sights- the don’t miss places in Japan. Without further ado here are my favorite places:
Kyoto was my favorite city that I visited during my time in Japan. The cosmopolitan city is huge but not overcrowded and crazy. The food I ate there was amazing, the people friendly, and I didn’t feel like I was going to be swept away in a crowd like I did in Tokyo.
There are many things to see and do in Kyoto like visiting the famous Golden Pavilion also known as Kinkakuji, a Zen Temple. It was pouring rain the day we were there but it was still beautiful. Make sure to take notice of the 650 year old Bonsai tree!
Outside Kyoto is the bamboo forest good for a hike and fun photos. The Daisen-in Zen temple and rock garden doesn’t allow for photos and doesn’t sound too exciting but was pretty cool! The monks coming and going made for my photo ops.
In the Gion district there are cute shops and restaurants in the old world Japanese style.
We saw a strange but cool Geisha show- the tourists filming non-stop and using flash photography almost ruined the experience but the costumes and music made for a great show! If you ever go you’ll have to tell me what you think about the puppets!
My favorite exercise in Japan came from climbing Mt Inari- the Fushimi Inari shrine. All of the bright orange torii were fun to walk through and made the 233 meter hike up not too terrible. The top is pretty uneventful so savor the views on the way up.
Koyasan was a small town near Osaka, high up on Mt. Koya. After the funicular elevates you up to the town of Koyasan, the religious center of Shingon Buddhism, stay in one of the many temples that house guests.
Here is my room before it was set up for night time.
Dine as the monks do on Japanese vegetarian cuisine- expanding your horizons past the Americanized tempura and sushi we are used to calling Japanese food.
Meditation sessions led by monks open the mind, the fire ritual and the morning chant mesmerize onlookers learning about Shingon Buddhism. The morning chant was absolutely amazing to listen to!
The Konpon Daito in the Danjo Garan complex was my favorite orange temple on the entire trip. I was really loving all the orange things in Japan.
3) The Bullet Train
Do not miss a chance to ride on the fastest trains in the world! Japan originated efficient travel. Fly through the countryside and experience the awesomeness that is the bullet train!
Passes are available through Japan rail that work on subway systems and regional trains as well.
4) Conveyor Belt sushi
My favorite food experience is a toss up between ramen and sushi. The night my new friend Elizabeth and I went to eat conveyor belt sushi wins out for a fun food experience. They do have these around the world but it isn’t too common.
Wait in line at the crowded ones (a sign of good and fresh sushi), then load up your place setting with old favorites and adventurous new bites.
I do hope to return to Japan someday and see more of it- and perhaps Kyoto when it is not sideways raining from a typhoon. Weather will not wreck your experiences here. Don’t forget about these don’t miss places in Japan when you start planning your journey.