Trying to define the best places to visit in Japan is near enough impossible. Each person’s likes and preferences will directly influence the type of trip they have. Into video games and manga? Then your trip will heavily feature Akihabara and Odaiba. Into fine dining? Then good luck trying to sample all 230 Michelin-starred restaurants in the city (the most of any city in the world). Despite all this, however, one thing remains constant – the abundance of scenery, atmosphere and architecture you can enjoy on any trip to Japan. Others have yet to be publicised as landmarks, such as Mount Fuji or the Japanese Alps but are no less beautiful sights. These things will never go away, destined to be there for thousands of years to come. Here are four places chosen at random that I have loved over the last two years.
Meguro River during Cherry Blossom Season, Tokyo
The residential district of Nakameguro is famous for many things, including many quality local restaurants, as well as Shokakuji Temple – a Buddhist space that is said to have been built almost 400 years ago. But perhaps the thing that makes it such an iconic Japanese landmark is the Meguro River, which features long rows of cherry blossoms on either side. That’s roughly 800 sakura trees. They are beautiful to observe in the daytime. In fact, a longtime Japanese custom is to enjoy a peaceful picnic underneath the cherry blossoms.
I pass the Meguro River every day – and so while I am used to seeing it, it got me thinking that during sakura season it really is pretty impressive, especially at night when Nakameguro turns the lights on after dark. When the trees are illuminated, visitors have the chance to take an evening stroll while also sampling the food and drink on offer at the local stalls. It all adds up to a wondrous spectacle that you won’t be forgetting anytime soon. With the next festival coming up in March 2020, find out what is in store for visitors online.
Kawai-jinja Shrine, Kyoto
Based within the grounds of Shimogamo Shrine, people visit this unique temple for prayers to be answered, be they about children’s health or finding a soulmate. On top of this, however, but the temple holds significant relevance for women who go to the temple to pray for beauty, a process that is conducted with visitors painting their ideal face on a vanity-shaped ema plaque (also called a kagami-ema). The plaque is then hung on a rack with blessings. But creating your own individual ema is not the only path to beauty. Believers in the shrine’s deity can buy a glass of bijinsui “beauty water”, which is said to work wonders on the complexion.
Hokokuji Temple, Kamakura
Located in the hills of Eastern Kamakura, Hokokuji is a small temple of the Rinzai Sect of Zen Buddhism. It has survived a great deal since its inception in 1334, with much of the structure destroyed in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. Today, those structures have been rebuilt to match the original architecture, including the straw roof in the main hall. Perhaps its most notable feature is the small bamboo grove made up of over 2000 dark green bamboo stalks. This has given the temple the unofficial nickname ‘the Bamboo Temple’. Located close to the grove is a small tea house you can make use of to enjoy the view.
Considered to be one of the three most scenic spots in the whole of Japan, Matsushima is a city on the Northeast coast of Japan’s Honshu Island. The origin of the name comes from the 260 islands that make up the location, tiny islands (shima) covered in pines (matsu). Tourists have the chance to take a cruise and view the islands from a distance or they can always rent bikes to travel around the shore. Matsushima has proven to be very resilient. Even when located in close proximity to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, there was minimal damage and casualties, with the islands acting as a form of protection. Find out the best ways to enjoy these many islands, and see how it lived up to its reputation as one of the Three Views of Japan.