It seems you can’t turn your head in Japan without stumbling upon beauty. After spending a year living there, I still want to go back to visit everything I might have missed.
Because of the geographical structure of the Japanese archipelago, Japanese destinations can span a ridiculous number of climates, meaning there’s everything from rainforests, beaches, to snowy mountainside towns and floral imperial gardens. Step outside the concrete jungles and there’s a complete buffet of jaw-dropping landscapes and impossibly old historic buildings. So pick one, and feast on it’s deliciousness.
1. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto
The amount of beauty that is available in Kyoto is so limitless, it’s unbelievable. From Gion, Kyoto’s old Geisha district, to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. You’d need to spend days in Kyoto to experience it all. Sadly, this list isn’t the 10 most beautiful destinations in Kyoto.
For this list I went with Arashiyama, a forest pathway of tall, thin bamboo stalks that cover the entire grove with a green canopy. The pathway itself is actually fairly small, though the forest itself seems to stretch on for miles in all directions. It’s the perfect place for keen photographers to experiment with light and shadows, interesting patters made by the bamboo.
It’s well worth the visit if you go early in the morning to avoid the high-tide tourist times. Be on the look out for monkeys which are frequently spotted playing in the bamboo.
2. Kumano Nachi Taisha
One of three incredibly exquisite shrines in Japan, Kumano Nachi Taisha resides on the backdrop of mountains covered in evergreen forestry seemingly completely untouched by human interference. And right next door, the famous Nachi waterfall can be seen, the tallest waterfall in Japan reaching around 133m.
The shrine itself is said to be over 1000 years old and was built as a gift to the spirit of the waterfall. The site is still considered a religious destination filling the area with an air of divine mystery, but be careful and respectful of the monks if you ever catch them in the middle of prayer, or walking to and from the waterfall.
3. Shirogane Blue Pond, Biei
Just outside of Hokkaido is one of the most unique sites of Japan. The Blue Pond. It is a manmade body, filled with magnesium rich waters which is what gives the water its striking blue colour. The old dead trees that still stand in the blue and the vivid green forest background makes the entire setting seem like something from a fantasy land.
The area, except for the water itself, is mostly free roaming so you can take walks along the banks and along the paths for a photo-op. It’s fairly recluse with few tourists year-round making it quite the gem for an eager traveller.
4. Iya Valley, Shikoku Island
Is Iya Valley Japan’s best kept secret? It might just be.
On Shikoku, Japan’s fourth largest island, in Tokushima Prefecture, the scenery is dramatic and wild, vastly different to the finely trimmed Japanese gardens and very organised concrete jungles. Iya Valley is a secluded area within an area mostly known for its rugged mountain slopes and rocky gorges gushing with mountain springs.
The tracks that cross through these areas are mostly following trails that have been there for hundreds of years, following vine bridges and mountain paths which completely are open to the public and well worth the visit.
Iya is also famed for its incredible hot springs that sport the most magnificent views of the mountain backdrop. Spend a couple nights are one their hot spring inns to enjoy immersing yourself in a side of Japanese culture you never thought you’d see.
5. Himeji Castle
Proclaimed a world heritage site, Himeji Castle is one of the most unmissable Japanese destinations for any traveller worth their salt.
When you’re standing in the presence of an architectural masterpiece like Himeji castle, it really paints an imposing figure. Sitting on top of hill, surrounded by a labyrinth of palace gardens and moats and watch towers, it survives as one of only 12 original castles still standing in Japan today. (all of which are very much worth a visit, but I can’t in good faith fill my list with castles).
6. Tottori Sand Dunes
Normally, you’d never associate Japanese destinations and sand dunes. But in the Sanin Kaigan National Park in Tottori prefecture, that’s exactly what you get. The dunes remain a highlight for the national park with the vastness and majestic site being a popular tourist attraction. They stretch for around 16km across the coast with camel rides across the sands available.
7. Aharen Beach, Okinawa
There are a number of terrific beaches in Okinawa, from Naha to Miyakojima. But Aharen, located on Tokashiki island, is probably the most beautiful. It has white soft sand with dazzling blue waters and designated zones for swimming and snorkelling.
Tourists also love this beach for its close vicinity to restaurants, shops and working toilets.
8. Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto
The popularity of this place skyrockets during the spring and summer periods in the middle of the day, so if you’re looking to get photos, best try and avoid the rush. Try going early in the morning to avoid the tourist trap (and for a beautiful sunrise over Kyoto).
One of the more unique Japan destinations, Fushimi Inari Taisha has red gates tunnelling up the side of a mountain, with gardens of shrines seemingly dotted around the path. Take a moment to go off the beaten track and explore some of the narrow side paths to see some truly spectacular mountainside scenery.
9. Shirakawa-go Village
Shirakawa-go was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1995 for its preservation of traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses. This mountainside traditional Japanese village can be found in Gifu, and remains the most popular attraction of the prefecture.
The site is open year round, but a great time to go is during winter. When the snow piles on the farmhouses straw roofs, the village becomes a cosy setting in comparison to the bitter cold weather. So be sure to wrap up warm.
10. Hitachi Seaside Park
Hitachi Seaside Park remains as another hidden gem of Japan. The massive park spans nearly 500 acres of space, almost all of it taken up by blooming flowers of every colour imaginable.
Tourists are drawn to the park during the spring period in April to view the flowers in bloom, but visiting the park in Autumn will let you view the spellbinding sight of the round, deep red bassia shrubs that stretch on for miles.