On the surface, Japan appears extremely modern, but as you prowl further into its streets and everyday traditions you will be able to connect with the country’s antiquity.
From pop culture on Tokyo’s streets to the remnants of the world’s first nuclear attack in Hiroshima, Japan offers a mélange of sights for its visitors.
Its centuries-year-old culture makes the entire country timeless, especially the famous landmarks in Japan.
its ancient foundation runs a modern lifestyle with fast bullet trains and avant-garde technology. This harmonic amalgamation of the old with the new makes Japan a beautiful place to visit.
Surrounding the well-structured urban cities of Japan are lush areas of Kyoto. Deemed as one of the prettiest places in Japan, the city is also a cultural center with art galleries and museums.
There is a really good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no extra cost to you.
Having a Japan Rail Pass is often the cheapest way to travel around Japan.
Japan has a lot of good hotels but you can also stay in an Airbnb. If this is the first time you will be staying in an Airbnb, you can enjoy a great discount by signing up through this link.
Check out our ultimate Japan travel guide where you can find all our Japan articles.
Here you find a step by step guide on how to plan your Japan vacation.
If you are looking for the best Japan package tours, click here.
Before we start with our complete list of famous places in Japan let us answer some questions our readers have.
- How many landmarks are there in Japan? Japan has more than 3000 famous landmarks.
- What are three famous Japanese landmarks? Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, Mount Fuji, and the Golden Temple in Kyoto are amongst the most famous landmarks.
- What is the most famous building in Japan? The Hiroshima Peace Memorial symbol of lasting peace in Hiroshima is one of the most famous buildings in Japan. Other famous buildings are The Tokyo Skytree and the Tokyo Imperial Palace.
Famous places in Japan
While the list of beautiful places to visit in Japan is endless, here is a list of 10 famous Japan landmarks.
Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo
Visiting Japan but missing Shibuya Crossing is like traveling to Paris and missing the Eiffel Tower. It is a must-see on your Japan bucket list.
It is an iconic square that is always bustling with local and international visitors.
This major landmark in Japan sprawls just outside Shibuya Station.
Sitting on the crossroads of a busy square, the crossing witnesses action in all four directions.
Lording the Shibuya Crossing are three skyscrapers, each with a mammoth of a TV screen mounted on the top. The surrounding area is also always awash in lights, advertisements, and a crowd that is constantly pouring in from all the side streets.
The crossing, one of the most famous places in Japan, may come across as tacky in the pictures, but it is the same mad mess you see in a carnival.
The crossing and its environs are also a vibrant spot for nightlife.
You will find streets teeming with bars, restaurants, shopping malls, clubs, and izakayas ( an informal Japanese bar where you can find alcohol and snacks).
- The best places to visit in Tokyo.
- The perfect Tokyo itinerary for first-time visitors.
- A first-timers guide to Tokyo’s public transport.
- Best cherry blossom spots in Tokyo.
- Where to stay in Tokyo.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
The horrors of Hiroshima bombing are indescribable even now, more than 7 decades later.
Japan has made tremendous efforts to give the city a new start and commemorate the victims of the world’s first nuclear attack.
The memorial has become the symbol of lasting peace of Hiroshima and a focus for prayers hoping for world peace.
Although the Atomic Bomb Dome was sited underneath the explosion, it escaped complete destruction. Its tragic remnants stand tall in the park as a vivid reminder of the Second World War.
Surrounding the memorial are other traces of war. The monuments include the Children’s Peace Monument, the Flame of Peace, the Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
Located near the memorial is also the Rest House whose basement has been kept just as it was after the bomb.
Here you can find more info on what to do in Hiroshima.
The sight of this memorial is tragic but hopes for a world without nuclear weapons. Dipped in a sad past, looking into the bright future, it is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Japan. This is a Japan landmark you absolutely shouldn’t miss while you are in Japan.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Have you ever considered watching monkeys enjoy a hot water spa as their natural routine? You can witness this stunning view at the Jigokudani Monkey Park.
Perched at the height of 850 meters, the park is cupped in the lush Valley of Yokoyu River.
Interestingly, the name Jigokudani translated to “Hell Valley”. It was inspired by the landscape here, which includes steep cliffs and steaming springs.
Despite being associated with a fire-gutted place, the valley is mostly shrouded deep in snow. It may have been hell to humans, but to the monkeys, it is no less than a paradise.
Here you will find troops of Japanese macaque aka snow monkeys resting in the hot springs.
With their eyes closed, they seem like ancient sages who are meditating.
Seeing these snow monkeys was one of the highlights of our 3 weeks in Japan.
The best time to visit this unique place is between December and March when the cliffs are covered in snow.
Gion District of Kyoto
Gion District of Kyoto is the most famous Geisha district in the country.
It is wedged between the Yasaka Shrine and the Kamo River. It is brimming with shops, teahouses, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
One of its most attractive sights is the wooden Machiya merchant houses.
Their typical Japanese architecture and olden charm make them a must-see in Japan.
The most famous area of the Gion district is Hanami-koji Street.
It is lined with several well-preserved Machiya houses and fine-dine restaurants, some of which even serve Kyoto-style kaiseki Ryori.
Another scenic cranny in the district is the Shirakawa Area which runs along the eponymous canal.
The stone-made footpath here is lined with willow trees. This serene corner is less touristy and crowded compared to Hanami-koji.
The most unmissable activity in the district is to be entertained by the Geishas.
The cultural shows are held at the Gion Corner located at the end of the Hanami-koji street.
The show gives you an introduction into the traditional Maiko, an apprentice Geisha, art forms in one 45-minute show.
Reviews of the show are mixed.
You don’t have to watch the show to see Geikos and Maikos. Many walk through the streets on their way to their customers.
Note that the district is the residential area for many geiko and maiko. Therefore, be respectful and do not photograph anyone without permission.
We definitely recommend taking a guided walking tour around this enchanting district.
Perched at the height of 3776 meters, Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest summit.
Nearly perfect in shape, this active volcano is sacred to the country and is famous among globetrotters.
If we had a ranking of most famous places in Japan, Mount Fuji will top it with the 200,000 people who climb its summit every year.
The mountain has been a sacred site since at least the 7th century for those who practice Shinto. You will find many dedicated shrines at the base and along the ascent of Mount Fuji.
While mountaineering can be done throughout the year, ambitious climbs to the summit are allowed only between July and September.
Carry well-maintained, reliable climbing equipment with you to ensure the personal safety and safety of other climbers around you.
Hobbyist hikers will find many hiking trails swinging across the prominent mountain.
Paved roads also take climbers to the 5th station halfway up the mount with little to no difficulty.
If you fancy a day trip to Mount fuji, click here. If you prefer a guided mount fuji tour, take a look at our extensive overview.
The Golden Temple in Kyoto
The Golden Temple is one of the most famous Japanese landmarks.
Locally known as Kinkakuji or Golden Pavilion, it is a Zen temple built in typical Japanese architecture with the top two floors covered in gold leaf.
Another architectural highlight of this former retirement villa is that each floor boasts a different style.
This is because the temple was built to reflect the extravagant Kitayama culture, which was a thing of wealthy aristocrats during Yoshimitsu’s times.
The first floor echoes the palatial Shinden style with wooden pillars, white plastered walls, and statues of Shaka or Gautam Buddha and shogun Yoshimitsu.
The second floor represents the samurai Bukke style and houses Kannon Bodhisattva and statues of the Four Heavenly Kings.
The uppermost floor takes its cues from the style of the Chinese Zen Hall. It is crowned with a golden phoenix and adds a glorious element to the temple.
Note that entering the pavilion is not allowed, but you can get great views of this impressive temple from across the placid pond.
Visiting the Golden Temple was a highlight of our Kyoto itinerary.
Floating Torii Gate Miyajima
This floating Torii Gate is another one of the architectural gems and famous landmarks in Japan! It is a part of the Itsukushima Jinja, the centuries-old shrine which makes the Miyajima island famous.
The name of Miyajima itself translates to “shrine island” in Japanese, courtesy of the spectacular shrine.
Its iconic “floating” appearance may be an illusion but creates a jaw-dropping sight for the visitors, specifically during high tide.
The view at night glows with several warm lights and their reflection in the sea. However, note that entry to the sanctuary is not allowed after sunset.
The good news is that the view can still be enjoyed by boat cruises. Each cruise lasts for about thirty minutes, giving ample time to drink in the illuminated sight of the shrine. The boats will take you through the Torii Gate, making the ride even more worth it.
If you don’t want to take a boat cruise, you can easily visit Miyajima as a day trip from Hiroshima.
The gate is being renovated in 2020 and expected to open again later this year. During the renovation, the Torii gate is completely covered in scaffolding and not visible.
(The list continues below this picture)
Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto
Perhaps, this shrine in Kyoto is the most unique and beautiful place to visit in Japan.
Making it this pretty is not one, but a complete tunnel of vermilion Torii Gates.
The tunnel fades away into the wooded forest that shrouds the sacred Mount Inari.
Fushimi Inari is a sacred shrine dedicated to the Shinto god of rice. According to the local belief, foxes are the messengers of Inari. Therefore, you will find many fox statues dotting the temple.
Just like the tradition and culture of Japan, its shrine also has ancient origins. Fushimi Inari dates back to 794, way before the capital of the kingdom moved to Kyoto.
After visiting the shrines and paying respect to the deity, you could also hike the 233-meter high mountain. The trailhead to the nature trail begins at the rows of Senbon Torii or “thousands of Torii Gates”.
On your way to the wilderness, watch for the inscriptions on each Torii Gate which denotes the name of the individual or company that donated it.
Note that the grounds are open 24/7. If you want to beat the crowds we advise you to go early in the morning or after sunset.
Wondering what else you can do in Kyoto at night, click here.
(The list continues below this picture)
Set in the less-touristy but equally beautiful city of Matsumoto, complete with a pond on the front, and surrounded by cherry blossoms, Matsumoto Castle is a sight for the sore eyes!
It is doubtlessly one of the prettiest places in Japan.
It’s one of few well-maintained original castles in Japan and it is a “hirajiro” which makes it even more unique. A hirajiro is a castle which is not pegged on a mountaintop but sits more vulnerable amidst plains.
Anyone looking to witness an authentic, complete castle in Japan must never miss Matsumoto. Unlike many ferroconcrete castles, this one boasts a wooden interior, adding a sense of ingenuity.
The highlights also include steep wooden stairs, an opening for archers, openings to drop stones on invaders, and an observation deck on the sixth floor.
During winter, the backdrop of the castle robes itself in deep snow, adding a pristine quality to the entire premise.
Alternatively, adding a pop of color to the castle’s environs during spring are many cherry blossoms.
The area is in full bloom during mid-April.
We also visited Matsumoto castle during our 14 days in Japan and absolutely loved it.
Dotonbori in Osaka
What makes Dotonbori in Osaka one of the famous places in Japan is its vibrance which comes from flashy neon lights, extravagant signage, and an array of eateries and bars.
The “Dotonbori” name generally refers to both, the street and the canal.
The region is the most colorful and vivid and is for sure not to be missed while you are in Osaka.
However, behind this effervescent area is a somewhat somber backstory.
The history dates back to the 17th century when a merchant named Yasui Doton invested his entire capital to realize an ambitious plan. It was to divert and expand the Umezu River into a new waterway.
Unfortunately, the war intervened, killing the merchant during the Siege of Osaka. Later, his cousins completed his work and named the new canal “Doton Canal” after his name.
With the arrival of the canal, trade flourished, bringing with it the new and then-popular theatre culture. While the culture has mostly vanished together with the theatres which were destroyed in WWII bombings, the area still bustles with energy.
One theatre called Shochikuza still remains. It hosts plays, operas, musicals, and even modern dramas.
Dotonbori Street is also a gastronomic wonderland with a variety of cuisines brimming the restaurants and food stalls.
- The Osaka itinerary that shows you all the highlights.
- Amazing things to do in Osaka at night.
- Where to stay in Osaka for first-time visitors.
The ancient land of Japan is dotted with many famous places to visit.
From old-world theatres and gold-laden shrines to bustling city centers, Japan exudes beauty in a variety of ways.
The seamless fusion of the urban and natural regions also adds a harmonic charm to the country.
Among many prettiest places in Japan, the top 10 have been listed here to inspire your next voyage to Nippon.
In the list, you will find shrines, floating gates, scenic landscapes, mountains, urban squares, and even castles.
The aim is to inspire a tour that entails the entire character of the country.
Are you traveling to Japan for the first time? Don’t forget to check out our Japan travel tips.