1. Mount Fuji
One of the most beautiful places in Japan is definitely Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan and one of the country’s iconic landmarks. One of the most beautiful spots to admire Mount Fuji is definitely at the Chureito Pagoda. There is a big chance that you’ve seen this exact location pop up on Instagram multiple times before. But it’s definitely well worth your time, as it’s even more breathtaking in real life… This pagoda overlooks Fujiyoshida City and has Mount Fuji as the perfect backdrop. Especially in the cherry blossom season in mid April it’s an incredible sight to see. But, we were there just a bit after this season and as you can see on the photo above it was still absolutely gorgeous! Definitely include Mount Fuji in your itinerary and walk up to the Chureito Pagoda.
2. Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
One of the most beautiful places in Japan is Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park located in the Nagano prefecture of Japan. The main attraction at the park are the famous Japanese snow monkeys, a group of Japanese macaques known for their red/pink faces and for soaking in warm hot springs just inches away from visitors. Watching the snow monkeys and their antics is delightful. Some monkeys cuddle, some groom each other, some chase each other and play, and some just enjoy a relaxing soak in the warm water. Reaching the hot springs where the snow monkeys can be found involves a pleasant hike on a 1.6km trail through the beautiful forest. While Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is open year round, winter is the best time to view and photograph these adorable monkeys as everything is covered in snow making them true “snow monkeys” and the park a winter wonderland. After viewing the snow monkeys, you can explore the nearby town of Yamanouchi and the natural beauty of the surrounding area.
It’s the geography of Shirakawa-go that gives the small village its unique look. High in the mountains of central Japan, two things happened. Firstly, it was virtually cut off from the rest of the country for centuries and so it developed its own style of design and architecture. Secondly, the bitterly-cold winters and heavy snowfall meant the residents built houses with steep roofs about one meter thick made from bundled-together reed-like plants.
Tsumago is the 42nd of 69 traditional post stations on the old Nakasendo Trail in Japan. This trail linked Kyoto to Tokyo during the Edo Period (around AD700). The trail was used by tax collectors as a way in which to conduct their business. Tsumago has been rustically restored to the Edo period style and you’ll find narrow streets without cars and no visible power lines. It is the best-preserved town on the trail. Tsumago also maintains the Honjin (principal Inn for government officials) and the Wakihinjin (the accommodation for lower status travellers). There are popular traditional ryokans in the town, where you’ll really feel as though you have stepped back in time. Tsumago is connected by the Nakasendo trail to Magome, the post town along the trail. The Magome to Tsumago trail is a popular day hike for those wishing to experience a little of the Edo period trail.
5. Miyajima Island
Miyajima island has been nicknamed the ‘Island of Gods’ and for a good reason. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most scenic spots in Japan. Located just off the coast of Hiroshima, Miyajima is only accessible by boat. As you approach it by ferry, you’ll be treated to some spectacular views. There’s a magical contrast between the deep blue of the sea, the green forest of Mount Misen and the vermilion lacquer of Miyajima’s shrines. Miyajima’s most iconic attraction, the Itsukushima Shrine’s torii gate stands tall above the water at the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine. It is one of the most photographed torii gates in Japan. If you visit at high tide, the gate appears to be floating on the water. At low tide you can walk right up to it. Miyajima is also home to many cheeky, white-tailed deer. They love to steal your food and even your maps, and they really take their photo-bombing job seriously!
6. Kanazawa: Marsh of Gold
Kanazawa, meaning ‘Marsh of Gold’, is a hidden jewel in Japan. As one of the best preserved Edo period city in Japan it has many historical sites to offer its visitors. For instance, start your day by exploring the Kanazawa castle and the nearby Kenrokuen garden. After you can take a walk along side the Asano River and pass by the Geisha teahouse district Higashi Chaya Gai. Kanazawa also offers typical Japanese wooden houses where you can try out one of their specialties: soft ice cream topped with golden leaves. Definitely don’t skip the Nagamachi samurai district with many samurai houses. Kanazawa even has a special ninja temple: The Ninjadera Myoryuji looks plain and normal from the outside… but the inside is full of hidden passages, rooms, doors, floors and booby-traps. Just book a free tour at the tourist office in Kanazawa station, as entrance is limited.
7. The Blue Pond
The Blue Pond located outside of Furano on Hokkaido is a truly magical place. The water has a milky blue quality because of magnesium dissolved in the water. You can stroll along its shores following a path through the trees and feel like walking through a part of fairyland. This is not only because of the color of the water, but also because of the cluster of dead trees sticking out of the pond like witnesses to a time before the pond existed. Even in the high season in summer during the bloom of the lavender fields in Furano the Blue Pond is not too crowded. You can take beautiful pictures from every angle along the path. In winter the Blue Pond changes its face completely. It is the only spec of color in a world of white and gray.
8. Oirase Gorge
We’ve travelled extensively around Japan and found many unique and stunning locations but the Oirase Gorge in the northern Honshu prefecture of Aomori stands out to me for its natural beauty. The best way to experience the area is the 14 km walking trail that runs through the gorge with 14 waterfalls and rapids along it. When we were there in late September it was still very green, just a few leaves showing the first touches of gold but a few weeks later the color hits and this becomes one of the best places to experience the autumn leaves. The walking trail is a flat and well-formed path suitable for most people of average fitness as a day walk. The area is serene and beautiful but this isn’t a hike deep in the wilderness. The narrow road follows a similar route to the trail, it’s well sign posted and there are some conveniences spaced along it for use by walkers. You’ll need comfortable walking shoes and to carry your own water and snacks for the day. At the end you can catch a bus back to your starting point and if for some reason you want to stop part way just walk out to the road and you can catch the bus at marked stops.
9. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Arashiyami Bamboo Grove is a beautiful place full of tall bamboo trees. If you’ve seen a photo of Kyoto, there is a big chance that you’ve also seen the Arashiyami Bamboo Grove. It was a lot smaller than we initially thought; it’s not more than the path you see on the photo above. But, if you go early and have the place to yourself, it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s possible to access Arashiyama from the Main Street, which is located north of the entrance to the Tenryu-ji Temple. It’s not really necessary to book a tour, since it’s so small and easily accessible. Access to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is completely free.
10. Mount Yoshino
Mount Yoshino in Nara Prefecture is one of Japan’s most famous cherry blossom viewing spots. There are over 30.000 cherry trees to admire around the roads that lead up the mountain and it covers all of the paths. If you want to get the best views of the blossoms, be sure to check out either Yoshimizu-jinja Shrine or Hanayagura Observatory. Ext to the beautiful nature, there is also a lot of culture to enjoy. At mount Yoshino you you can also find lots of gorgeous shrines and temples. Furthermore, there are a lot of traditional ryokans where you can relax in an outdoor hot spring.