Photo Guide: Where to Go in Japan

08-DSC_8074From high-rise-filled cities to small mountain villages, with thousands of temples and gardens in between, visitors often find it difficult to decide where to go in Japan.  After a magnificent 3 weeks traveling this island nation, following geishas in the streets of Kyoto, visiting snow monkeys in the wild, sleeping in a Buddhist Monastery to exploring the bustling streets of Tokyo, we just barely scratched the surface of all that Japan has to offer.  Here is our itinerary, in photos, of one of our all time favorite holiday destinations.

Kyoto

kyoto gardenOur trip started in Kyoto where we spent 6 days seeking out geishas, meandering through exquisite gardens and sampling amazing food from tiny hole in the wall restaurants. Dining in KyotoKyoto is a fascinating city full of temples, shrines, and amazing vantage points, a photographer’s dream. Temples of JapanBefore getting lost amongst all there is to do in Kyoto, hit up the major attractions of Fushimi Inari Shrine, Arashiyama’s bamboo forest and the Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion.Fushimi Inari ShrineFor us, the fun of any trip is the randomness you happen across while aimlessly wandering.

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Nara

Between Kyoto and our next stop of Koya-San, we spent a day in Nara, the former capital of Japan, to pet the wild deer roaming the grounds outside of Todai-ji Temple. Todaji Temple NaraTodai-ji houses the Great Buddha in the world’s largest wooden building.

Todai-ji, NaraIf that’s not enough to lure you here, this compact town boasts 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites making it a must visit on most itineraries to this region.

Koya-San

Grave sites at Koya SanI have always had a thing for cemeteries around the world. I find it fascinating how other cultures honor their dead. Given that, a visit to Koya-San was high on my list. It takes a few trains, a cable car and a bus to reach this hilltop community, but it’s worth it. Koya San JapanBilled as the largest graveyard in Japan, it is ridiculously beautiful. There is a collection of more than 200,000 tombstones scattered in an ancient forest. There are no bodies buried here, only headstones and memorials for all who have passed. Koya-SanWe spent the day wandering the paths through the graveyard all the way to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Koya-San. One of the most memorable, moving and picturesque cemeteries I have ever visited.

Hiroshima

HiroshimaEveryone knows of Hiroshima, from it’s history of being the first place where an atomic bomb was dropped. But that history overshadows an impressively vibrant and strikingly beautiful modern city. We were awestruck how much we loved Hiroshima. Peace Park, HiroshimaIt possessed none of the vast wasteland of death and destruction our minds had come to associate with it. But the history of the city cannot be ignored. One of the most visited places here is Peace Memorial Park. The exhibits here are so eye opening, educational and hauntingly beautiful.

Miyajima IslandAnother major draw to Hiroshima is a day trip to Miyajima Island, listed as one of Japan’s three most scenic spots. The Great Torii of Istukushima Shrine welcomes you to an island full of natural beauty, walking trails and culture.

Okonomiyaki, JapanHiroshima also is home to our favorite travel food ever, Okonomiyaki.

Takayama

TakayamaHopping the train inland, we headed to the beautifully preserved traditional town of Takayama. Few other cities in Japan retain the feel of ‘old Japan’ like Takayama. It ranks high among travelers hoping to get a feel for rural life. Sake, JapanBesides taking photos and cruising the streets, the main attraction here is the sampling of traditional sake!

Hida Folk Village, JapanFor a recreated display of rural life of centuries old Japan, we headed out to the Hida Folk Village where dozens of traditional houses were rebuilt here after being dismantled throughout the region.

Shin-Hotaka RopewayGetting our fill of old town Japan, we headed out to the mountains via the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway. This ropeway climbs over 3,000 feet up the side of the mountain, which includes Japan’s third highest peak. Shin-Hotaka RopewayThe excitement of the journey was the ride up and down the mountain in double decker gondola cars! Even being May, there was still plenty of snow on the ground and freezing cold.

Yudanaka – Jigokudani Park

Snow Monkey Park JapanAnother highlight on our trip was our time in Yudanaka at the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. We had planned only one day here, but were so enamored by these beautiful creatures that we couldn’t pull ourselves away! Snow Monkey ParkA few hundred photos later, we managed to move on to our next destination. This is a must visit on any Japan itinerary. Snow Monkey ParkWant to increase your anticipation, check out the livecam.

Nagano

64-DSC_0539Popping into Nagano en route to Tokyo, our main focal point was a visit to the famous Zenkoji Temple. Zenkoji is famous for housing the first Buddhist statue to come to Japan.   Details of Temple in NaganoWe spent the day exploring the fascinating details around the temple, learning some of the history and just generally standing around in awe of the beauty housed within.

Tokyo

TokyoWithout living in Tokyo, you will never get a real feel for all that exists in this massive metropolis. There is just too much to take in during a short visit. Sumo in TokyoEven after 6 days here, you could spin us around and we would be lost! The must do, iconic sites like Ueno Park, Shibuya crossing, Yoyogi Park and the Tsukiji Fish Market will take up some time in any itinerary, but the best times come from just exploring the back streets, soaking up the vibe of this eclectic metropolis.

Metro in TokyoYou can’t go wrong in Tokyo. Ride the subways, pop into shops like Muji and just generally explore the quirkiness and amazingness this city has to offer.

Is Japan on your bucket list? Already been, if so, what are your favorites?

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19 Responses to “Photo Guide: Where to Go in Japan”

  1. Yvon ~ TripBitten Says:

    Such great photos! It really wants me to book those tickets right now! Hopefully later next week :)
    I’m going to look around if you have more Japan posts up! :)
    Yvon ~ TripBitten recently posted…My really bizarre sleepover at a Korean bathhouseMy Profile

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  2. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer Says:

    Great list (and beautiful photos). Kyoto and Nara have been high on my list of places to visit for a while, but I did not know about Yudanaka – Jigokudani Park, and now I want to add it to my list for when I return back to Japan 😀
    Chanel | Cultural Xplorer recently posted…5 Ways to Explore Asakusa in TokyoMy Profile

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  3. Esther Says:

    I really have to check out Japan someday, it looks awesome!!

    Reply

  4. N J Magas Says:

    I don’t know if I can pick a favorite spot in Japan. Over the years I’ve come to love so much about this country but my favorites are definitely the out of the way places without too many other travelers.

    Reply

  5. Anda Says:

    Very beautiful images, Karilyn! I’ve never been in Japan but your post convinced me that I should.
    Anda recently posted…Lucerne to Interlaken via the GoldenPass RouteMy Profile

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    • kkowen Says:

      It is such an amazing country. I can’t wait to go again. We felt like we had seen so much, but when you look at the map, we saw so little!

      Reply

  6. Lyn - A Hole in my Shoe Says:

    Karilyn this is one of the best blog covers of Japan I have seen, thank you so much for giving me another reason why I need to get there one day. Thank you for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard and please come back again and share another travel blog wit us next week.
    Lyn – A Hole in my Shoe recently posted…Perth itinerary – Day twoMy Profile

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  7. Packing my Suitcase Says:

    Ohhh, wonderful pictures!! I really hope to visit Japan one day, such an amazing country with so much history!
    Packing my Suitcase recently posted…Monday Escapes #2My Profile

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  8. Robyn Says:

    Ah thanks so much for this! It’s so thorough and has some absolutely beautiful photos! I’m hoping to head to Japan later in the year, so this is brilliant!

    http://www.thetechgypsy.com

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  9. Andrea Says:

    I just booked a trip to Japan last week. I’m excited about all the delicious food and sights!
    Andrea recently posted…Kayaking Keuka Lake and Keuka Artisan BakeryMy Profile

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  10. Wayne Seto Says:

    Amazing photos! I’d like to make it to Japan sooner than later. What held me back in the past is the perceived high cost of Japan. How expensive it to travel around Japan?
    Wayne Seto recently posted…I Am The Walrus: My Jaunt Through The Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, India.My Profile

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    • kkowen Says:

      It really is expensive. Right now the exchange rate is pretty good, but we were hard pressed to find accommodation for less than $100 a night! The ryokan’s with shared bath were still pretty expensive. The best deals we found typically were Japanese business hotels, so not really set up for foreign travelers, but the rooms were good sized and met our needs. Food – we managed to eat relatively cheaply except in Tokyo. Some great local shops with such fresh delicious food. Although the running joke was “second dinner” because we usually were hungry again by 10! It’s worth saving your pennies to go and just be able to enjoy it rather than constantly worrying about if you can go in xyz garden or whatever.

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  11. Rocio Says:

    Thank you so much for making this post, Japan is such a fascinating place! Loved your suggestions, until now I wanted to go to Tokio but now I am more curious about other places that Japan offers to the world.
    Cheers,

    Rocio.
    http://runawaybabe.com
    Rocio recently posted…A place named Wildpark Peter und PaulMy Profile

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  12. roamingpursuits Says:

    Fascinating post and wonderful photos.

    Reply

  13. Maggie Says:

    I will be making a round trip with a few mates to Taiwan, Japan then Korea. Is it easy to find free wifi there on the go? It will be a kinda spontaneous trip and we plan on leaving the city to expore with GPS. I don’t want to get SIM cards as I mainly communicate through twitter or skype anyway. Would it be safer to rent routers with unlimited wifi we can split. There are so many router rental sites to choose from in each country, anyone has good recommendations in terms of coverage/ price? Or better yet, somewhere i can settle all at once in Aussie? Haha thanks!

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