From the well-known to the obscure, this year’s annual ranking of top spots has some surprises in store for even the most seasoned travellers.
Travel website Trip Advisor has just revealed this year’s annual list of the best places to visit in Japan, as chosen by overseas visitors to the country. Interestingly, the entries on the list change from year to year, and this time we have everything from magic bars to illuminations and stand-up comedy venues appearing in the top 30. Let’s take a look at this year’s list below.
30. Sanjusangen-do – Kyoto Prefecture
As the longest wooden building in Japan, Sanjusangen-do is a popular site for tourists, especially at the beginning of the year when the annual kyudo (Japanese archery) competition is held, drawing competitors and spectators from all over the country. Shooting an arrow from one end of the building to the other, a stretch of 120 metres (390 feet), is a tradition that can be traced back to 1606, when a samurai hit the long-range target more than 50 times to demonstrate his archery skills.
29. Kyoto Station Building – Kyoto Prefecture
As the arrival point for many visitors to the ancient capital, it’s no surprise that Kyoto Station is on the list. The sleek, modern building serves as more than just a transport hub, though, as it’s located at the base of the famous Kyoto Tower.
28. Lake Kawaguchi – Yamanashi Prefecture
The second largest lake in the Fuji Five Lakes region is the most popular one with tourists, providing picturesque views year-round, while serving as a major hub for those climbing Mount Fuji during the July-August climbing season.
27. Nabana no Sato – Mie Prefecture
The big drawcard here is the annual winter illumination, which is said to be one of the biggest and best in all of Japan.
26. Naritasan Shinshoji – Chiba Prefecture
Located close to Narita Airport, this beautiful temple complex is one of the most convenient spots for soaking up some Japanese culture as you make your way in or out of the country.
25. Ryogoku Kokugikan – Tokyo
Ryogoku Kokugikan is better known as the venue for Tokyo’s sumo tournaments. Attending a sumo match is at the top of the bucket list for many travellers to Japan, including Hollywood movie stars, making the sumo hall one of the most popular tourist sites in the country.
24. Mount Misen – Hiroshima Prefecture
Many tourists visit Hiroshima’s Itsukushima to see the World Heritage-listed Itsukushima Shrine and its impressive vermillion torii gate rising up out of the waters off its shoreline. Recently, however, the sacred mountain behind the shrine is getting more and more attention as a tourist destination in its own right, due to its leafy trails and stunning views.
23. ROR Comedy – Osaka Prefecture
This small, intimate venue is the stage for some of the country’s best all-English comedy, with a troupe of locally-based comedians entertaining audiences with their local perspectives on life in Japan. According to visitors, this is one of the funniest nights out you can have in Japan.
22. Magic & Bar French Drop – Osaka Prefecture
Visitors to Osaka are raving about their magical experiences at the Magic Bar. After a night here, even the most hardened of skeptics end up leaving reviews like “one of the most fun nights we had in Japan!” and “I am still shocked at how awesome the magic was at this place”. The magicians, who perform right next to customers, are skilled, entertaining, and know enough English to communicate so that everyone can enjoy a fun night to remember.
21. Meiji Jingu – Tokyo
Tucked away in a 70-hectare (170-acre) forest, Meiji Jingu can be found in a peaceful stretch of nature that makes you forget the hustle and bustle of the city located around its perimeter. Dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, this grand shrine has a spiritual, historical and cultural appeal that creates a lasting impression on visitors.
20. Edo-Tokyo Museum – Tokyo
Located in the same neighbourhood as the sumo stadium, this museum is often touted as the best place to learn about the history of Tokyo, with a comprehensive collection of displays showing life as it was when it became the capital known as Edo. Here you’ll find artifacts, 3-D models and interactive exhibits that take you on a journey from the Edo period through to modern-day Tokyo, leaving you with a greater appreciation for the metropolis during your visit.
19. Matsumoto Castle – Matsumoto Prefecture
This castle, which has a history dating back to the 1500s, features original wooden interiors and external stonework, making it one of the most historical and important structures in the country. It’s also known as the “Crow Castle” due to its distinctive black exterior.
18. Okinawa Churauri Aquarium – Okinawa Prefecture
Once the largest aquarium in the world, Okinawa Churauri Aquarium is now ranked the third largest. It continues to be a popular spot for tourists, with its two whale sharks being a major drawcard for visitors.
17. Daihonzan Daisho-in – Hiroshima Prefecture
Another hidden treasure on Itsukushima is this Buddhist Temple, located on Mt Misen. The temple complex is dotted with small statues and historic buildings, and has an amazing, spiritual atmosphere that captivates visitors.
16. Hase-dera – Kanagawa Prefecture
Just a short walk from the famous Great Buddha in Kamakura, this Buddhist temple is famous for housing an impressively large wooden statue of Kannon. The 9.18-metre (30.1-foot) high wooden statue is one of the largest in Japan, and is gilded in gold, making for an impressive sight.
15. Samurai Kembu Theatre – Kyoto Prefecture
At the Samurai Kembu Theater in Kyoto you can watch a performance of kembu, a martial art that combines sword play with dance. Visitors here can get dressed up to learn a routine with the sword, receiving a photograph at the end of the experience as a memorable souvenir to take home.
14. Kenroku-en – Ishikawa Prefecture
This old private garden is so beautiful it’s been named one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, along with Kairaku-en in Ibaraki Prefecture and Kōraku-en in Okayama Prefecture.
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13. Himeji Castle – Hyogo Prefecture
Both a National Treasure and a World Heritage Site, Himeji Castle is often considered to be the country’s most spectacular castle, due to its well-preserved grounds and the fact that it was never destroyed by earthquakes, war or fire. It’s one of only 12 castles in Japan that has survived to this day in its original state.
12. Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji- Kyoto Prefecture
Formerly known as Zenrinji Temple, Eikando is famous for its stunning fall foliage. A pagoda, pond and stone garden can all be found on its beautiful grounds.
11. Nara Park – Nara Prefecture
Most famous for its large population of free-roaming deer, Nara Park is a beautiful haven of oasis in the city, with a number of important sites like Todaiji, Kofukuji, Kasuga Taisha, and the Nara National Museum all located on its grounds.
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10. Koyasan Okunoin – Wakayama Prefecture
Okunoin is the site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, who founded Shingon Buddhism. As one of the most revered figures in Japan’s religious history, Kobo Daishi is said to be resting here in eternal meditation, making this one of the most sacred places in the country. With giant cedar trees and over 200,000 tombstones lining the nearly two kilometre-long approach to Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum, a visit to this site can be a deeply moving experience, especially in winter when snow descends upon the area, creating an eerie stillness.
9. Hakone Open-Air Museum – Kanagawa Prefecture
With both indoor and outdoor exhibition spaces, this museum is most famous for its collection of paintings, sculptures and ceramic works by Picasso, housed in the two-storey high Picasso Exhibition Hall.
8. Kinkakuji – Kyoto Prefecture
The Golden Pavilion in Kyoto is so famous it barely needs an introduction. The history of the Zen Buddhist temple dates back to 1397, when it was first purchased as a villa. After being burned down in 1950 by a novice monk, the present-day pavilion was constructed in 1955, covered in gold gilding which is said to closely resemble the original structure.
7. Shinjuku Gyoen – Tokyo
This large garden once belonged to a prominent family in the Edo period before being turned over to the Imperial Household Agency of Japan. Now it’s a national park run by the Ministry of the Environment, and a particularly popular spot for players of Pokémon Go.
6. Kiyomizu-dera – Kyoto Prefecture
Founded in 780, Kiyomizudera (literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most famous temples in the country. Its wooden stage, which juts out from the main hall, looks out over the surrounding trees, giving the temple a distinct character. If you’re planning a visit in the near future, the main hall will be covered up by scaffolding until March 2020 for roof renovations, meaning the stunning balcony will be obscured from view.
5. Tōdai-ji – Nara Prefecture
Constructed in 752, this Buddhist temple complex is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Daibutsuden, or “Big Buddha Hall” is the world’s largest wooden building, and home to one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha.
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4. Itsukushima Shrine – Hiroshima Prefecture
Another World Heritage-listed site, this Shinto shrine is known for its 16-metre (52-foot) high “floating” torii gate. The beautifully designed complex is situated on the shores of Itsukushima, built like a pier over the water so that it appears to float, with visitors once steering their boats through the torii gates in order to properly enter the grounds of the shrine.
3. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum – Hiroshima Prefecture
After viewing the A-Bomb Dome and other important memorial sites around the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, a visit to the park’s Peace Memorial Museum leaves a lasting impression on visitors. The chilling displays showing personal items charred by the bomb blast and first-hand stories from survivors are a heart-wrenching reminder of the human suffering that occurred in the city, and a salient reminder of the importance of peace.
2. Akiba Fukurou – Tokyo
Despite the controversy surrounding the ethical treatment of animals at cafes in Japan, this owl cafe comes in at number two on the list of popular destinations for tourists.
This brings us, finally, to the number one top tourist destination in Japan, according to TripAdvisor…
1. Fushimi Inari Shrine – Kyoto
This isn’t the first time that Fushimi Inari Shrine has topped TripAdvisor’s list of popular destinations, and we doubt it will be the last either, with the beautifully atmospheric shrine grounds containing thousands of torii vermillion gates stretching up mountain trails, creating a magical and memorable experience for visitors.
So there you have it, the top 30 destinations for tourists in 2017, as chosen by overseas visitors. How many have you visited? Let us know in the comments section below!