When it comes to visual feasts, few countries will whet your appetite like Japan. From the natural beauty of its countryside, to its ancient castles, shrines, and temples, to boldly rising futuristic cityscapes, Japan is a country that every traveler should see in their lifetime. And the further you explore, the more that is waiting to be discovered — which is why we think you’ll love our country-intensive voyages to Japan. When you travel to Japan with us, you’ll see more of the amazing landmarks that make “The Land of the Rising Sun” such a stand-out destination.
Whether you’re returning to Japan, or you’ve had the country on your bucket list for years, there’s a lot to take in. That’s why we’ve collected a few of our favorite sights (both natural and man-made) that you won’t want to miss during your journey. Keep your eyes peeled and your camera at the ready — it’s time to discover the landmarks of Japan.
Perhaps no other landmark is as synonymous with Japan as the mighty Mount Fuji. Located northeast of Shimizu, Mount Fuji is the highest volcano in all of Japan, coming in at a towering 12,389 feet tall. In fact, Mount Fuji towers so high over the landscape that it can be seen all the way from Tokyo on a clear day.
Mount Fuji is one of Japan’s Three Holy Mountains alongside Tateyama and Mount Hakusan. It has also been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013, though its influence and admiration can be traced as far back as the eighth century.
The view of Mount Fuji from afar is impressive, but there’s plenty to see up close and in the foothills, including the Fujisan Sengen Shrine. This 1,000-year-old structure was the first Sengen shrine built in Japan, and while many more followed, it remains the most significant. You can tour this shrine, and get a little closer to Fujisan, when you join us on the Falls, Forests, and Mt. Fuji Shrine shore excursion.
Shibuya Crossing is one of those spots in a city that, even if you’ve never visited, you’ve no doubt seen in a film or photo. Think the Beatles’ Abbey Road crosswalk meets New York City’s Time Square. There’s something fascinatingly beautiful and impressive about watching locals and travelers alike make their way through Tokyo’s iconic scramble crossing, known as the busiest intersection in all of Japan (and possibly the world). It’s said up to 3,000 people, coming from all directions at once, make their way through Shibuya Crossing at a time — artfully maneuvering through the crowds to get to their destination.
For the best view of Shibuya Crossing, make your way over to the Shibuya 109-2 department store and head to Mag’s Park on the roof. Here, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the thousands of people below. Because this is such a popular spot to catch a glimpse of the Crossing, Mag’s Park is screened with Plexiglass — making it the perfect place to snap a photo without having to worry about dropping your camera!
Of course, there’s a reason so many people use Shibuya Crossing every day, and it’s not to practice making their way through a crowd. This intersection is the heart of one of Japan’s busiest shopping districts and fashion centers. It’s also where you’ll find the statue of Hachikō — the Akita dog who went to the Shibuya train station every day to meet his master. When his master passed away in 1925, Hachikō continued to return to Shibuya daily. This faithful Akita dog is a legend in Japan, and is often held up as a true example of loyalty and fidelity.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
There’s a distinct otherworldliness to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, one you’ll feel as soon as you arrive and will stick with you long after you go. Located on the western edge of Kyoto, this bamboo forest is serene, secluded, and sprawling, making it the perfect spot to take a stroll and reflect. It’s also the type of place you’ll struggle to do justice when you describe it to your friends back home. Even photos don’t quite capture how special this place is.
As you make your way through the grove, you’ll come upon the Nonomiya Shrine. This shrine may be modest in size, but it has a fascinating history that involves classic Japanese literature, imperial princesses, priestesses, ancient purification rituals, and more. You can learn all about the shrine (and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove) when you join us on a shore excursion.
Tokyo Skytree (and Tokyo Tower)
Japan’s tallest man-made structure, the Skytree holds a prominent spot along Tokyo’s skyline. It comes in at just under 2,100 feet and features two observation decks — each offering stunning views of the city and beyond. Remember when we said on a clear day you can see Mount Fuji from Tokyo? This is where you’ll find that view.
The lower observation deck (the Tembō Deck) is a perfect spot for panorama lovers, as well as those feeling brave enough to walk across the glass-floor panels to take in the city below. Typically, we would suggest not looking down, but in this case, we’ll make an exception.
Higher up, you’ll find the Tembō Galleria. This is one of the highest observation decks in the world. For a truly memorable visit, make your way up to the Galleria after the sun goes down. Taking in Tokyo lit up in all its nighttime glory is a sight that will stick with you for a lifetime.
There’s no doubt the Skytree was inspired by the original Tokyo Tower (which, itself, was inspired by the Eiffel Tower). A symbol of the city’s rebirth in the wake of World War II, Tokyo Tower was the tallest structure in all of Japan from 1958 until 2012 (when it was surpassed by the Skytree). Both are iconic landmarks in the city of Tokyo, and whether you choose the original — or the evolution — you’re sure to enjoy the view.
Ironically located in Japan’s coldest region (the northernmost island of Hokkaido) Jigoku-Dani (Valley of Hell) certainly has the kind of name that would catch anybody off guard. Don’t worry, however, if you’re interested in hot springs, you’re more likely to consider this region a fascinating paradise.
Located about 30 minutes outside Muroran, Jigoku-Dani is a 24-acre crater of geothermal activity created by the eruption of Mount Kuttara more than 20,000 years ago. It is home to dozens of natural hot water baths, and nine unique types of thermal water. Locals believe this valley to be watched over by Yukjiin — giant torch-wielding demons that protect human visitors and offer good fortunes. So, if you’re wondering about the somewhat intimidating giant statues scattered throughout the area, don’t worry! They’re there to help.
The Valley of Hell is best explored by taking advantage of the extensive network of boardwalks that run through the area. As you make your way through the valley, take a moment to dip your feet in the Ōyu-Numa footbath, where the water is a perfect 42°C. Who knew hell could be so heavenly?
Translating to Cherry Blossom Island, it might be time to update the name of Sakura-jima. That’s because, since an eruption in 1914, this active volcano has been a peninsula — thanks to lava flows that connected it to the mainland. The volcano has three peaks, Kita-dake, Naka-dake, and the currently-active Minami-dake, which spews a steady stream of smoke and ash daily.
While you’re not allowed to climb Sakura-jima, there are several lookout points throughout Kagoshima where you can get a great view of this landmark of southern Japan. Join us at Shiroyama Observation Point for fantastic views of the volcano, as well as Kagoshima Bay, or take a walk along the lava flows on your way to the Arimura Observatory before checking out even more highlights of this beautiful region of Japan.
Kawachi Wisteria Garden
Japan may be well known for its cherry blossoms, but we can’t help but be smitten by the botanical beauty of the wisteria. This is especially true after taking a stroll through the Kawachi Wisteria Garden in the southern city of Kitakyushu. Here, you can walk the famous tunnel of colorful cascading wisteria flowers, which feels a little like something out of a fairytale. But this isn’t a fantasy — the approximately 150 flowering wisteria plants (of more than 20 different species) that are used to create the tunnel are all real.
In late April and early May, you’ll find the Fuji Matsuri (Wisteria Festival) in full bloom in Kitakyushu. This is the best time to visit the city and walk the wisteria tunnel for yourself. In fact, visit during any other time of the year, and you’ll find a tunnel of vines and very few flowers. Because this is such a popular festival, you’ll need to book your time in advance. If you ask us, there’s no better way to ring in another spring season than with a walk through the wisteria.
The most impressive of Japan’s twelve original feudal-era castles, Himeji is more than a UNESCO World Heritage Site — it’s a symbol of Japan’s captivating past. Located west of Kobe and nicknamed Shirasagijo (the white heron castle), Himeji was initially constructed in the 14th century, and the current complex was completed in 1609. While it’s undergone extensive renovations over time, the castle and its grounds have remained unchanged for over 400 years.
To take in the complexity of the castle grounds, we recommend making your way to the top of the keep. Here, you’ll find a small shrine, as well as windows that provide a full view of the complex. The castle’s defences are maze-like, and were designed to slow down and confuse invading forces, though today, they’re simply fun to lose yourself in. While you’re up here, be sure to get a closer look at the fish-shaped ornaments on the roof, which are believed to protect the keep from fire.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
If you’re looking for the story when it comes to torii, Fushimi Inari Taisha is the perfect spot to start. This shrine to the kami (spirit) Inari features more than 10,000 torii gates of all sizes spread out along a wooded mountain (conveniently known as Inari). And while there are more than 40,000 Inari shrines scattered throughout Japan, this is the most important of them all.
So, why so many torii gates? Well, officially Inari is the kami of rice, but unofficially, Inari is a patron of business. And the last thing any self-respecting Japanese business wants is to fall out of favor with the spirit world. So, every one of the torii shrines you’ll find at Fushimi Inari Taisha has been donated by a Japanese business seeking good fortune (both spiritually and literally).
Torii gates aren’t the only thing you’ll see a lot of when you visit here — there are also hundreds of stone fox statues. Foxes are a sacred animal in Japan, and are also known as messengers for Inari. So, if you have some news to share on your adventure through Japan, best let it out near one of these statues!
The Atomic Bomb Dome
A breathtaking memorial to the people killed in the bombing of Hiroshima, the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park also serves as a stark reminder of the horrors of war and a symbol of world peace. Once known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, the structure was completed in 1915 — highlighted by its distinct dome. The building, while structurally interesting, was not exactly a place of cultural significance in the city of Hiroshima. However, that changed forever on August 6, 1945.
The atomic bomb was dropped almost directly on top of the dome. Surprisingly, this is probably the reason it survived the blast. Because the building was designed to withstand vertical forces, its pillars were able to absorb the downward force of the explosion. Had the bomb hit its original target, the horizontal shockwaves it caused likely would have destroyed the building. Instead, it was the only structure located within the bomb’s hypocenter left standing after the attack.
When the reconstruction of Hiroshima began, there was some debate as to whether the dome should be demolished. Ultimately, the decision was made to preserve the structure and establish the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in the surrounding area. When you visit Hiroshima today, you’ll see the Atomic Bomb Dome almost exactly as it was on that fateful day in 1945. Over the years, only minor changes have been made to the ruins to ensure the structure’s stability.
You can see this, and other icons of Hiroshima, when you join us on a shore excursion.
A Landmark Journey Awaits You in Japan
Japan is a country filled with iconic visuals, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what you’ll see when you visit with us. Start planning your adventure today by taking a look at our upcoming cruises to Japan, and get ready to check some incredible sights off your must-see bucket list.
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