Japan is a country that is brimming with history, culture, and stunning natural wonders. There aren’t many countries, in my opinion, that have such a deep connection with their heritage than Japan and you can plainly see this when visiting the country.
There are thousands of hidden gems and famous landmarks in Japan from the beautiful unique parts of nature to their sacred shrines and temples and their amazing city landscapes but, you can’t see them all in one trip.
We are going to focus on the most famous landmarks in Japan, so on your next trip to this exquisite country, you can make sure you spend your time looking at the right places.
Just on the outskirts of Kyoto, you’ll find a very famous landmark in Japan, the Fushi-Inari Taisha Shinto shrine. It is, in fact, Japan’s most famous Shinto shrine and it was built way back in 711 AD making it just over 1000 years old.
You have probably seen a photo or two of Fushi-Inari Taisha as it’s famous for the thousands of red torii gates that lead you to it from the base of the Inari Mountain. The shrine was built in dedication to the god of rice and today many people still climb the mountain to worship in the shrine and wish for good fortune.
As well as being a religious place, the area around Fushi-Inari Taisha and the Inari Mountain is also very popular for hiking and when you ascend the many steps to reach the shrine, you will see why.
From the base on the Inari Mountain, you will follow a network of hiking trails with the red torii gates leading the way. The pathway is paved making the hike easy but it does get rather steep in a few sections but it’s worth the effort as you’ll slowly rise above Kyoto and see incredible views along the way and stroll through the beautiful forest.
The hike might take up to 3 hours in total, plus there are some cafes restaurants where you can pitstop along the way. Getting to Fushi-Inari Taisha is incredibly easy as it’s just a short walk from both JR Inari Station and Fushimi Inari Station. The shrine is always open too so a sunrise or sunset hike are both great options and it’s free to enter.
If you’re ever in Kyoto and feel like you need a break from the buzzing city vibes then visiting one of Japan’s most famous natural landmarks, the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, will have you relaxed and peaceful in no time.
You’ll find the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest outside of Kyoto on the western edge of the city and it consists of pathways surrounded by towering bamboo that has grown up to 15 metes tall. Walking through this UNESCO World Heritage Site bamboo forest is nothing short of amazing as it takes you away from the city noise and into complete peace within a matter of seconds.
Now, going all that way to hang out in some bamboo might not be for everyone. Luckily, the bamboo forest is just outside of the northern gate to the Tenryuji Temple which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the surrounding area is also home to various parks and the Katsura River.
Getting to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is best done via train to the Torokko Arashiyama Station from which the bamboo forest and temple are just a 5-minute walk. It’s always open and free to explore so you can choose your perfect time of day to visit.
If finding peace in nature is something you love doing, then this famous landmark in Japan is going to be right up your alley.
The Hakone Shrine sits right inside a national park along the shores of Lake Ashi. The Hakone Shrine is over 100 years old is home to a Shinto museum, stunning lake views, and the Torii of Peace which actually sits within the lake and appears to float on the water when seen from a distance.
A visit to the Hakone Shrine won’t take very long as the site is quite small but there is a lot to do in the Hakone region. It’s famous for its natural hot springs, stunning views of Mt Fuji over Lake Ashi, and during springtime, the area is covered in beautiful wildflowers.
You also have the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park to explore while you’re there so if you love to hike and enjoy time on a lake, this is a great region of Japan to visit.
While traveling around the Hakone region be sure to use a Hakone Free Pass. This gives you 2 days of unlimited use of public transportation and includes the use of boats, buses, trains, ropeways, and cable cars, allowing you to fully explore the area.
A few hours north of Tokyo in the Nikko National Park, on the shores of Lake Chuzenji and at the base of Mount Natai lies one of Japan’s best famous landmarks, the Kegon Falls.
The Kegon Falls is thought of as the best waterfall in all of Japan. The water flows out of Lake Chuzenji and enters the Daiya River and when it meets the falls drops some 100 meters. While the Kegon Falls are spectacular to see, what makes them so special is how they were created as they were formed due to lava cutting through the landscape and re-routing the Daiya River.
When you arrive at the falls you’ll find two viewing platforms to look at them from. The top viewing platform is free but the second lower platform costs 600 Yen to use and is accessed via an elevator. Seeing the falls from the free platform will probably suffice but the lower platform gives you a different view and since it’s lower, you sound of the power of the waterfall is a lot more intense.
Getting to Kegon Falls is relatively easy. You’ll first need to catch a train to Nikko city and then hop on a bus to Lake Chuzenji. The bus ride lasts less than an hour, so this can easily be done as a day trip from Nikko but it’s highly recommended to spend a few nights around Lake Chuzenji to see the Shinto shrines, explore the lake, hike the mountain and see other waterfalls in the area.
The platforms for Kegon Falls are open between 9 am and 4:30 pm every day of the year with extended opening hours during certain seasons.
You might not have heard of the city of Himeji as it gets overshadowed by its neighbors Osaka and Kyoto. While visiting Himeji city isn’t on the top of everyone’s Japan to-see list, you kind of have to go there to see the Himeji Castle.
The Himeji Castle was built way back in the 1400s and is the biggest castle in the country making it a very famous landmark in Japan. The castle has had multiple owners over the last 600 or so years and with each new reign, the castle has seen additions to make it even more stunning.
The Himeji Castle sits as its own island of greenery in the center of the city. You’ll find moats, pathways line with cherry trees, and a stunning castle with towers to gaze upon. A stroll inside will have you wandering past panels covered with the history of the castle and as you slowly ascend to the top of the towers you’ll find amazing views of the surrounding city and countryside.
The Himeji Castle gardens are also something to behold and it’s worth paying the extra 50 Yen for access. You’ll be able to stroll among the cherry blossoms in spring and past the moats.
Surrounding Himeji Castle is the Himeji Museum of Art, the Zoo, the Himeji Shrine, and the Koko-en garden so a trip to the castle can be made into a full-day event if you’d like.
Getting to the Himeji Castle is easy as it’s just a few minutes walk away from the main train station making day trips from Osaka or Kyoto an option. The Himeji Castle is open from 9 am to 4 pm and it costs 1000 yen to get in, or 1050 yen for access to both the castle and the gardens.
The temple of Kiyomizu-Dera is another famous landmark in Japan and in Kyoto that is a must-see. The Kiyomizu-Dera temple is a Buddhist temple that was built in 798 AD around a sacred spring, hence why it’s gotten to be known as the Pure Water Temple and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Kiyomizu-Dera temple sits on the eastern edge of Kyoto on the hillsides of Mount Otowa. It’s most famous for its incredible views that reach out in all directions and is one of the most stunning places to visit during autumn and spring.
During the fall, the autumn leaves of the area are absolutely amazing and the area is known as one of the best places in Japan to see them. While in spring, the grounds are awash with the color of cherry blossoms.
A visit to the Kiyomizu-Dera temple isn’t just about the views though, the temple itself is pretty amazing. The main hall was built without the use of nails, the Jishu Shrine is dedicated to matchmaking (worth stopping in with your partner), the Otowa waterfall is on the grounds, and you can drink the holy water from the Otowa-no-Taki spring which is said to provide good health and long life.
There is so much to do at the Kiyomizu-Dera temple so don’t rush your way around it. You should plan to spend around 1/2 a day there and you can end the visit at one of the restaurants in the area.
The Kiyomizu-Dera temple is open from 6 am to 6 pm every day and it costs 400 Yen to enter. It’s very easy to get to with direct bus links from the main bus station in Kyoto or you can get a taxi for convenience.
Arguably the most famous landmark in Japan is Mount Fuji or Fujisan as it’s referred to in Japan. Mount Fuji is an active volcano, is considered sacred, and it’s also the highest mountain in Japan at 3776 meters above sea level.
You’ll find Mt Fuji in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and its unique symmetrical cone shape and snow-capped peak are what makes it such an iconic Japanese landmark.
You’d think seeing Mount Fuji would be easy considering its huge size but due to its location, the mountain is usually surrounded by fog and clouds. But, on a clear day, Mt Fuji can be seen from miles away, even from Tokyo!
If you’d like to climb Mt Fuji, you can only do so during the months of July and August, but you can view it from afar any time of the year. Getting to Mount Fuji is very quick and easy. Either hop on a direct bus or train from Tokyo or catch the Bullet Train to Kawaguchiko Station for another unforgettable experience.
While you can visit Mount Fuji on a day trip from Tokyo, it’s highly recommended to go for a few days. The Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is absolutely stunning and worth exploring. There are the Fuji Five Lakes, each one as beautiful as the next, numerous shrines, temples, and pagodas, waterfalls, and stunning mountain forests.
The Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine sits near the south-central Pacific coast of Japan and is part of the Kumano Kodo UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the most famous landmarks in Japan for both the historical relevance of the shrine and the stunning natural landscapes that surround it.
The Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine is the ending point for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail and the shrine consists of a red pagoda and stunning red-faced temple that stands out beautifully from the green surroundings.
Just next to the Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine is the tallest waterfall in Japan, the Nachi Falls. These falls are 133 meters high and are a part of the relevance of the nature worship that went on for centuries around the shrine. Emperors, samurais, and Buddhists traveled to the shrine to connect with the spiritual landscape of the mountains, forests, and waterfalls of the area.
A visit to the Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine and Nachi Falls will require you to rent a car as the shrine is in a remote area close to the sea and in the forest. Entrance costs nothing unless you want to visit the treasure house inside which costs just 300 yen, and it’s open from 7 am to 4:30 pm each day.
In the heart of Osaka lie Dontonbori, a canal-side entertainment area that is best visited at night. When it’s dark the illuminated boards and neon lights make you feel like you have suddenly be transported into the future.
It’s lined with many an icon too wh9ch states of a huge Glico running man plus a Kani Douraku crab and more. Dontonbori is a great place to go if you love shopping and for a night out as the canal is lined with lively bars and great restaurants.
The food along the Dontonbori is known for its kuidaore (eat till you drop) so be sure to arrive hungry and be ready to fill up.
In southern Japan just outside of the city of Fukuoka lies the Nanzoin Temple which holds of the most famous landmarks in Japan and when you get up close to it, it’s simply mind-blowing.
The Nanzoin Buddhist Temple was built in 1830 and it today houses a 300-tonne reclining Buddha that is 41 meters long and 11 meters high. The Buddha was built in 1988 as the resting place of the ashes of two of the disciples of Buddha, Ananda, and Maudgalyayana. The ashes were gifted to Japan from Myanmar and are now housed inside this amazing Buddha.
The architecture of the Nanzoin Buddhist Temple is quite remarkable, as when you enter you can’t even see the buddha. It’s only when you walk through the temple and into a large open square that you see the amazing 300-tonne reclining buddha and the 4000 plus nokotsudo around it. Its size is mesmerizing and it really does take your breath away.
It is key to understand that when visiting the Nanzoin Buddhist Temple that the monks take their temple very seriously. It is an active Buddhist temple of worship and not a place for sightseeing tourists. You are very welcome to visit and walk around the grounds but it’s not a place for selfies, loud chatting, or inappropriate clothing, all visitors must be respectful.
The Nanzoin Buddhist Temple is free to enter and is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm. Getting there from Fukuoka is easy, just hop on the Fukuhoku Yutaka train line and get off at the Kidonanzoin-Mae Station from which the temple is a short walk away.
There are other temples and shrines worth seeing in the area too plus the Fudoga falls. So a walk around the forest and then a spot of lunch at the numerous restaurants close by is a great way to spend the day.
As you can see, there is a never-ending amount of both historical and cultural landmarks in Japan as well as a tonne of stunning natural ones too. Wherever you end up going in Japan, you’re never going to be far away from an amazing landmark worth seeing, especially considering you have access to the bullet train which can get you around the country in no time!
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!