If you’re planning your first trip to Japan, you’re in for a treat. Japan is a country that’s rich in culture, history, and natural beauty. The allure of cities like Tokyo and Osaka, the unique foods you know you’ll find, the temples in Kyoto, the dramatic views of Mt. Fuji – it’s all just pure excitement. We love visiting Japan and will never get enough of it.
However, with so much to see and do on a trip to Japan, it can be overwhelming to even know where to start. We’ve put together a guide to the best places to visit in Japan for first timers for that reason. In this guide, we’ll break down how to plan your trip, and where to go, as well as what to see and do.
Whether you’re interested in exploring the bustling cities, immersing yourself in Japanese culture, or simply soaking up the stunning natural scenery, we’ve got you covered. In this blog post, we’ll be suggesting some of the best places to visit in Japan for first-time travelers, so you can make the most of your trip and create unforgettable memories.
If you have longer to spend in Japan, you can expand this itinerary to any length you wish.
You’ll definitely want to add the top Japanese cities to your itinerary – especially the three listed above. But save time for smaller cities, like Hokkaido and Nara, if you can.
Planning Your Trip
If you’re a first-time visitor to Japan, planning your trip can seem overwhelming. However, with some careful budgeting and consideration of the best time to visit, you can create an itinerary that will allow you to experience all that Japan has to offer.
Japan can be an expensive destination, but there are ways to keep costs down. One option is to travel during the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn when the weather is mild, and the crowds are smaller.
Another option is to stay in budget accommodations such as hostels or capsule hotels. You can also save money by eating at local restaurants and street vendors instead of expensive sushi restaurants.
When budgeting for your trip, be sure to factor in the cost of transportation. The Japan Rail Pass is a cost-effective way to travel around the country, especially if you plan to visit multiple cities. You can purchase the pass online before your trip, and it will allow you to ride most trains, including the shinkansen bullet trains.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Japan depends on your preferences. Spring (March to May) is a popular time to visit because of the cherry blossom season, but it can be crowded and expensive. Autumn (September to November) is another popular time to visit because of the fall foliage, and the weather is mild.
If you prefer to avoid the crowds, consider visiting during the winter months (December to February). While it can be cold, you’ll have the opportunity to experience winter festivals and enjoy winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding.
When planning your itinerary, be sure to consider the weather and seasonal events. For example, if you’re interested in skiing, you’ll want to visit during the winter months, and if you want to experience the cherry blossoms, you’ll want to visit during the spring.
Places to Visit in Japan for First Timers
When it comes to exploring Japan for the first time, you cannot miss out on the major cities that offer a unique blend of modernity and tradition. Here are some of the cities that you should definitely explore:
The bustling capital city of Japan, Tokyo, is a must-visit destination for first-timers. From the iconic Tokyo Tower to the vibrant Shibuya Crossing, you won’t run out of things to do, even if you spend weeks there.
Some of the top attractions include the Sensō-ji Temple, the Imperial Palace, and the Tokyo Skytree. If you love shopping, head to the Ginza district, which is known for its high-end shopping malls and luxury boutiques. And be sure to experience a tea ceremony.
Here are some of the top things to do in Tokyo. Also check out our 3-day itinerary for Tokyo to find more extensive details on how to fit it all in:
- Visit the Tokyo Skytree: This is the tallest tower in the world and offers stunning views of the city from its observation deck.
- Explore the Tsukiji Fish Market: This is the largest fish market in the world and is a must-visit for seafood lovers. You can watch the fishmongers at work and sample fresh sushi from the market’s many restaurants.
- Wander through the Meiji Shrine: This is one of Tokyo’s most famous shrines and is surrounded by a beautiful forest that offers a peaceful escape from the city.
- Experience Tokyo’s nightlife: Tokyo has a vibrant nightlife scene, with everything from karaoke bars to nightclubs and jazz clubs.
- Visit the Imperial Palace: This is the residence of the Emperor of Japan and is surrounded by beautiful gardens that are open to the public.
- Explore Harajuku: This is a trendy neighborhood that is known for its fashion and street style. It is also home to many cafes, restaurants, and shops.
- Visit the Senso-ji Temple: This is the oldest temple in Tokyo and is located in the Asakusa neighborhood. It is a popular tourist attraction and is known for its beautiful architecture and traditional Japanese atmosphere.
- Enjoy the cherry blossoms: Tokyo is famous for its cherry blossom season, which usually takes place in late March or early April. During this time, the city is covered in beautiful pink flowers and there are many festivals and events to celebrate the season.
» Check out these top places to stay in Tokyo.
Osaka is known for its delicious street food and vibrant nightlife. The city is home to some of the best food markets in Japan, such as Kuromon Ichiba Market and Dotonbori. You’ll want to save plenty of time to visit the temple and shrines.
For a fun day out, head to Universal Studios Japan, which is one of the most popular theme parks in the country, but there are dozens of other day trips from Osaka to take. Check out our 2-day Osaka itinerary for more.
Here are some of the top things to do in Osaka:
- Visit Osaka Castle: This is one of the most famous landmarks in Osaka and is a must-visit for history buffs. The castle dates back to the 16th century and offers stunning views of the city from its observation deck.
- Explore Dotonbori: This is a vibrant and colorful neighborhood that is known for its street food, shopping, and nightlife. It is a great place to try local specialties like takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pancakes).
- Visit the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan: This is one of the largest aquariums in the world and is home to a wide variety of marine life, including whale sharks and manta rays.
- Wander through Shinsekai: This is a retro neighborhood that is known for its unique architecture and delicious food. It is also home to the Tsutenkaku Tower, which offers great views of the city from its observation deck.
- Explore the Umeda Sky Building: This is a unique skyscraper that is known for its futuristic design and stunning views of the city from its observation deck.
- Visit the Shitennoji Temple: This is one of the oldest temples in Japan and is a great place to learn about the history and culture of Osaka.
- Take a day trip to Universal Studios Japan: This is a popular theme park that is home to many attractions based on popular movies and TV shows, including Harry Potter and Jurassic Park.
Kyoto is a city that is steeped in history and culture. It is home to over 2,000 temples and shrines, including the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Fushimi Inari Shrine. The city is also known for its traditional Japanese architecture, which can be seen in the Gion district.
If you want to experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, head to the Uji district, which is known for its high-quality tea. Here’s our complete 3-day Kyoto itinerary. Two days is about the amount of time most people spend in the city before heading out on day trips from Kyoto.
Here are some of the top things to do in Kyoto:
- Visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine: This is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto and is known for its thousands of vermilion torii gates that line the hiking trails up the mountain.
- Explore the Kinkaku-ji Temple: This is a stunning temple that is covered in gold leaf and is surrounded by a beautiful garden and pond.
- Wander through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove: This is a beautiful forest of bamboo that is a great place to take a peaceful stroll and enjoy the natural beauty of Kyoto.
- Visit the Kiyomizu-dera Temple: This is a historic temple that is known for its stunning architecture and beautiful views of the city from its hilltop location.
- Explore the Gion District: This is a traditional neighborhood that is known for its geisha culture and historic architecture. It is a great place to stroll through the streets and explore the many shops and restaurants.
- Take a walk through the Philosopher’s Path: This is a beautiful walking path that runs along a canal and is lined with cherry trees, making it a popular spot for hanami (cherry blossom viewing).
- Visit the Nijo Castle: This is a historic castle that was built in the 17th century and is known for its beautiful architecture and stunning gardens.
Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan and is known for its natural beauty. The island is home to several national parks, such as Shiretoko National Park and Daisetsuzan National Park, which offer stunning views of mountains, lakes, and forests. Hokkaido is also known for its delicious seafood, such as crab and salmon.
Here are some of the top things to do in Hokkaido:
- Visit Sapporo: This is Hokkaido’s largest city and is known for its vibrant food and beer scene. It is also home to many museums and galleries, as well as the famous Sapporo Snow Festival.
- Explore the Shiretoko Peninsula: This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is known for its stunning natural beauty, including waterfalls, hot springs, and wildlife like brown bears and sea eagles.
- Visit the Asahiyama Zoo: This is Hokkaido’s most famous zoo and is known for its unique exhibits, including a penguin walk and a polar bear tank with a glass tunnel.
- Go skiing or snowboarding: Hokkaido is known for its world-class ski resorts, which offer some of the best powder snow in the world.
- Visit the Otaru Canal: This is a historic canal that is lined with old warehouses that have been converted into shops and restaurants. It is a great place to enjoy a romantic stroll and sample some of Hokkaido’s delicious seafood.
- Explore the Furano and Biei areas: These are two beautiful areas that are known for their stunning natural beauty, including rolling hills, flower fields, and lavender farms.
- Visit the Noboribetsu Onsen: This is one of Hokkaido’s most famous hot springs and is known for its healing properties. It is a great place to relax and unwind after a day of exploring.
Kanazawa is a city located on the west coast of Japan and is known for its traditional Japanese crafts, such as pottery and lacquerware. The city is home to several museums and galleries, such as the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and the Kanazawa Noh Museum. If you want to experience traditional Japanese gardens, head to the Kenroku-en Garden, which is one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan.
Here are some of the top things to do in Kanazawa:
- Visit Kenrokuen Garden: This is one of Japan’s most famous gardens and is known for its stunning landscapes, including ponds, streams, and waterfalls.
- Explore the Kanazawa Castle: This is a historic castle that was built in the 16th century and is known for its beautiful architecture and stunning views of the city.
- Visit the Higashi Chaya District: This is a traditional neighborhood that is known for its historic tea houses and geisha culture. It is a great place to stroll through the streets and enjoy the traditional architecture.
- Visit the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art: This is a modern museum that is dedicated to contemporary art and is known for its unique and innovative exhibits.
- Explore the Nagamachi Samurai District: This is a historic neighborhood that was once home to samurai warriors. It is known for its traditional architecture and historic landmarks, including the Nomura Samurai House.
- Visit the Nishi Chaya District: This is another traditional neighborhood that is known for its historic tea houses and geisha culture. It is a great place to experience traditional Japanese culture.
- Try Kanazawa’s famous seafood: Kanazawa is located on the Sea of Japan and is known for its delicious seafood, including sushi, sashimi, and crab.
Yokohama is a port city located south of Tokyo and is known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere. The city is home to several museums, such as the Yokohama Museum of Art and the Cup Noodles Museum. If you love shopping, head to the Minato Mirai district, which is known for its high-end shopping malls and entertainment complexes.
Historical Sites and Monuments
If you’re interested in history, Japan has a lot to offer. From ancient castles to modern memorials, there are plenty of historical sites and monuments to explore. Here are a few must-see places for first-time visitors:
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Hiroshima is home to one of the most significant monuments in Japan: the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. This park serves as a reminder of the devastating atomic bombing that occurred during World War II.
The park features several monuments and memorials, including the Atomic Bomb Dome, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Atomic Bomb Dome is the only structure that remained standing near the epicenter of the explosion. It’s a powerful reminder of the destruction that occurred and the importance of peace.
Nijo Castle is a historic castle located in Kyoto. It was built in the 17th century and served as the residence of the Tokugawa shoguns. The castle is known for its stunning architecture and beautiful gardens.
One of the most unique features of the castle is its “nightingale floors,” which were designed to squeak when walked on to alert the shoguns of any potential intruders. Nijo Castle is a must-visit for anyone interested in Japanese history and architecture.
The Imperial Palace is the official residence of the Emperor of Japan. It’s located in the heart of Tokyo and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and moats. The palace itself is not open to the public, but visitors can explore the East Gardens, which are open year-round. The gardens are home to several historic structures, including the Fujimi-yagura watchtower and the Otemon Gate. The Imperial Palace is a great place to learn about Japanese history and culture.
When visiting Japan for the first time, immersing yourself in the country’s rich culture is a must. Japan has a unique and fascinating culture that is deeply rooted in tradition and history. Here are some cultural experiences that you should not miss:
One of the most iconic cultural experiences in Japan is visiting the Geisha District. Gion is the most famous Geisha district in Japan and is located in Kyoto. Here, you can see Geishas walking around in their traditional attire. You can also book a Geisha experience where you can watch a traditional dance performance, play games, and enjoy a traditional Japanese meal.
Sumo wrestling is a traditional Japanese sport that dates back over 1,500 years. It is a fascinating and unique experience that you should not miss. You can watch Sumo wrestling matches at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo. The Sumo wrestling season takes place three times a year, in January, May, and September.
Visiting Shinto shrines is an essential cultural experience in Japan. Shinto is the native religion of Japan, and there are thousands of Shinto shrines throughout the country. Some of the most famous shrines include the Meiji Shrine and the Fushimi Inari Taisha.
The Meiji Jingu Shrine is located in Tokyo and is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife. The Fushimi Inari Taisha is located in Kyoto and is famous for its thousands of torii gates that lead up to the shrine.
When visiting a Shinto shrine, it is important to follow proper etiquette. Before entering the shrine, you should purify yourself by washing your hands and mouth at the temizuya. You should also bow twice, clap your hands twice, and then bow once more as a sign of respect.
If you’re a nature lover, Japan has plenty to offer. From towering mountains to serene islands, Japan’s natural wonders are truly awe-inspiring. Here are three must-visit destinations for first-timers:
No trip to Japan is complete without a visit to Mount Fuji. This iconic mountain is Japan’s highest peak and is revered by locals and tourists alike. Whether you want to hike to the summit or simply admire the view from afar, Mount Fuji is a must-see.
Located just off the coast of Hiroshima, Miyajima Island is a serene and picturesque destination. The island is home to the famous Itsukushima Shrine, which is known for its floating torii gate. Take a stroll along the island’s beaches, hike to the top of Mount Misen, or simply relax and take in the stunning scenery.
If you’re a fan of hiking and outdoor adventure, the Japanese Alps are a must-visit destination. This mountain range spans across several prefectures and offers some of the most stunning scenery in Japan. From snow-capped peaks to crystal-clear lakes, the Japanese Alps are a nature lover’s paradise.
When visiting Japan, trying the local cuisine is a must. Japanese food is known for its fresh ingredients, unique flavors, and beautiful presentation. There are also a lot of unique Japanese drinks you’ll want to try.
Japanese street food is a great way to experience local flavors and culture. Some popular street food dishes include:
- Takoyaki: Small balls of batter filled with diced octopus, tempura scraps, and green onion.
- Okonomiyaki: A savory pancake made with cabbage, meat or seafood, and topped with a variety of sauces and toppings.
- Yakitori: Grilled chicken skewers with a variety of seasonings and sauces.
- Gyoza: You can find gyoza all over Japan at street stalls and in Gyozarias.
Sushi and Ramen
Sushi and ramen are two of the most well-known Japanese dishes. Sushi is made with vinegared rice and a variety of toppings, including raw fish, cooked seafood, and vegetables. Ramen is a noodle soup dish with a flavorful broth, various toppings, and noodles.
When it comes to sushi, there are many different types to try, including:
- Nigiri: A piece of fish or seafood on top of a small ball of rice.
- Maki: Rolled sushi with seaweed on the outside and rice and fillings on the inside.
- Sashimi: Slices of raw fish or seafood served with soy sauce and wasabi.
Ramen is also a popular dish with many regional variations. Some popular types of ramen include:
- Shoyu: A soy sauce-based broth with thin noodles, pork, and green onions.
- Tonkotsu: A rich, creamy broth made from pork bones with thick noodles, pork, and other toppings.
- Miso: A broth made from fermented soybean paste with thick noodles, pork, and vegetables.
Each region in Japan has its own unique cuisine and specialties. Some popular regional dishes include:
- Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki: A savory pancake with layers of noodles, cabbage, meat or seafood, and topped with a fried egg.
- Osaka-style takoyaki: Small balls of batter filled with diced octopus and topped with sauces and toppings.
- Hokkaido-style seafood: Hokkaido is known for its fresh seafood, including crab, salmon, and sea urchin.
Leisure and Entertainment
If you’re looking for some leisure and entertainment during your trip to Japan, there are plenty of options to choose from. Here are a few sub-sections that will help you plan your itinerary.
Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Japan is a must-visit destination for any fan of theme parks. The park has a variety of attractions based on popular movies and TV shows, including Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and Minions. You can also catch live shows and parades throughout the day. Be sure to check the website for park hours and ticket prices.
Shopping in Ginza
Ginza is one of the most upscale shopping districts in Tokyo. Here, you’ll find a variety of high-end stores and boutiques, as well as department stores like Mitsukoshi and Matsuya. If you’re looking for luxury goods or unique souvenirs, Ginza is the place to go. Don’t forget to check out the famous Wako building and its iconic clock tower.
Nightlife in Shibuya
Shibuya is one of the liveliest neighborhoods in Tokyo, and it’s a great place to experience the city’s nightlife. The area is known for its clubs, bars, and karaoke joints. One of the most famous spots in Shibuya is the Shibuya Crossing, which is often called the busiest intersection in the world. If you’re looking for a fun night out, Shibuya is the place to be.
What are some must-see cities in Japan for first-time visitors?
Tokyo is a must-see city for first-time visitors to Japan. It is the capital city and is home to many iconic landmarks such as the Tokyo Tower, the Imperial Palace, and the Sensoji Temple. Kyoto is another must-see city, famous for its beautiful temples, shrines, and gardens. Osaka is also a great city to visit, known for its delicious food and vibrant nightlife.
What is the best time of year to visit Japan?
The best time of year to visit Japan depends on your preferences. Spring (March to May) is a popular time to visit because of the cherry blossom season. Summer (June to August) can be hot and humid, but it is a great time to enjoy outdoor activities. Fall (September to November) is a beautiful time to visit because of the autumn foliage. Winter (December to February) is a great time to visit if you want to experience winter sports or see snow festivals.
How many days should I spend in Japan?
The number of days you should spend in Japan depends on what you want to see and do. A week is a good amount of time to see some of the major cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. If you want to explore more of Japan, consider staying for two or three weeks.
Is $5000 enough for a one-week trip to Japan?
Yes, $5000 is enough for a one-week trip to Japan, but it depends on your travel style and preferences. Japan can be an expensive country to visit, but there are ways to save money, such as staying in budget accommodations and eating at local restaurants. It’s important to budget for transportation, food, accommodations, and activities to make the most of your trip.
Be Prepared For Travel
Planning is the most important part of any successful trip. Do it the easy way:
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited over 75 countries. Her work has been published in numerous guidebooks, websites, and magazines.