Below, you’ll learn about Japan’s must-visit destinations (as well as some places in Japan you might not have thought to visit), which will make creating a Japan itinerary a much easier affair. You’ll also get perspective on the best time to visit Japan, and tips on booking flights to Tokyo (and, in some cases, other cities in Japan).
Cities to Visit in Japan
The largest city in the world by many measures, Tokyo is a land of contrasts. Visit 8th-century Senso-ji Temple by day, and traipse amid thousands of neon signs in Shinjuku by night. Step into a fantasy world of anime and manga in the manic Akihabara district, or enter a fortress of tranquility when you visit the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. Tokyo is also within day-trip distance of some of Japan’s most scenic destinations, including legendary Mt. Fuji.
You could visit Kyoto 1,000 times and discover something new every time. Kyoto is home to the spiritual—Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Yasaka Pavilion are the city’s two most famous sights—and the surreal, whether you wander through Arashiyama Bamboo Grove or under the mesmerizing orange torii gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine. Its Gion district is also the best place in Japan to spot a real-life geisha, though you can also book a Maiko dinner to guarantee an encounter.
Forever playing second fiddle to Tokyo, Osaka is finally stepping into its own. Whether you explore the grounds of 16th-century Osaka Castle, sample street food on the colorful Dotonbori pedestrian street or take in a panorama from the Umeda Sky building, Japan’s second city is first class. Osaka also sits within day trip distance of Himeji, Japan’s most famous castle town, and Nara, where you can frolic with one of the largest urban deer populations in the world.
Most people travel to Hiroshima to see the A-Bomb Dome, and to learn more about the sad chapter in human history that unfolded here. However, there’s more to the largest city in Western Japan than tragedy tourism. The most delightful example of this is Itsukushima Shrine, a torii gate that literally floats on the water, located just off the shore of Miyajima island near Hiroshima’s city center.
Natural Attractions in Japan
The mountainous interior of Japan’s main Honshu island is delightful, no matter what you do here. Some head to the mountains outside Nagano to ski, while others walk along the Nakasendo Way, which in ancient times was a trading route between Tokyo and Kyoto. Still others exploring charming towns like Takayama, Shirakawa-go and Matsumoto, whose medieval fortress is known as the “Crow Castle” on account of its black color.
Onsen Hot Springs
Once you get past the shyness of being naked in front of total strangers, the age-old practice of bathing in an onsen hot spring is one of Japan’s most enjoyable experience. Popular onsen destinations include Hakone, a town near Tokyo that has views of Mt. Fuji on clear days, and Kyushu Island’s Beppu, which was the star of a video marketing campaign that went viral not so long ago. Many urban hotels also have public bathing areas, and while they’re often artificially fed, they still allow you to experience this custom.
Tropical Japan: Okinawa
Japan doesn’t often get accolades for its beaches—at least not from travelers who stick to the tourist trail. For coastal views and refreshing swims that’ll have you feeling like you’re in Hawaii, head to the archipelago of Okinawa. Search flights to Naha, about three hours by plane from Tokyo, and explore islands like Tokashiki, Ie and Ishigaki, whose Kabira Bay beach boasts waters that are so blue they’ll hypnotize you.Search Japan hotel deals in the Skyscanner App
Offbeat Japan Destinations
Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku
Speaking of secondary Japanese islands, each of the three main landmasses besides Honshu offers its own unique appeal. Small Shikoku, for example, is where you’ll find an 88-temple Buddhist pilgrimage trail that takes months to walk. Kyushu is not only home to aforementioned Beppu onsen, but the city of Nagasaki, which is a must-visit if Hiroshima is on your list. Hokkaido is a paradise for skier in winter, and is a wonderland of wildflowers and fresh fruit in the summer.
Wild Animal Experiences
The cat cafés you find in Tokyo are well-publicized at this point, but there are plenty of other animal experiences to have in Japan. Hike to Jigokudani, about an hour from Nagano, to visit a mountaintop onsen where red-faced macaques bath. Or, take a day trip from the northeastern city of Sendai to Zao Fox Village, where you can get up-close and personal with some of Japan’s cutest residents. Okunoshima, an island near Hiroshima, is home to more rabbit residents than human ones.
Strange Japan Gastronomy
Japanese food is more or less mainstream, even if sushi and sashimi aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, some Japanese food items are just strange. The best example of this is the so-called “Dancing Squid” you find at Hakodate Morning Market in southern Hokkaido. The animal is dead, but salt in the soy sauce causes its neurons to fire, creating the impression of a dance. Another interesting food to try in Japan is its many flavors of soft-serve ice cream, including wasabi, lavender and even squid ink.
Japan in Different Seasons
Japan is a 365-day per year destination, but each of its well-defined seasons offers its own charming benefits:
- Cherry blossom season occurs during April (and, in some parts of the country, March or May) every year, and sees the country’s iconic and beautiful sakura trees bloom.
- Japan’s summer is hot, humid and wet, but is the best time to visit certain parts of the country, such as the flower fields of Hokkaido.
- Autumn colors in Japan are vibrant, but they occur later than you might imagine. In Tokyo and Kyoto, for example, it’s not uncommon for colors to peak around December 1.
- Winter is absolutely magical in Japan, even if you’re not a skier. Visit the town of Otaru near Sapporo, for example, to marvel at the massive icicles that form along its famous canal.
Tips and Tricks for Flights to Japan
Prices on flights to Japan are lower, generally speaking, than they’ve been in years. Still, it’s worthwhile to keep a few best practices in mind as you begin your search:
- Start shopping early, but strategically. Take advantage of Skyscanner Price Alerts to become notified when prices drop.
- Keep an eye on trends over time to get an idea of what the average price is. This way, you’ll know when you’re getting a deal.
- Flexible about when you travel to Japan? Try Skyscanner’s “Whole Month” search to search an entire month for the cheapest day to fly.
- A lot of people talk about when the best time to book is, but at Skyscanner, we back our claims up with research. Learn more about our “Best Time to Book” forecast.
- Be flexible about where in Japan you land. Thanks to the country’s extensive rail network and the great value of the Japan Rail Pass, where you arrive should have little bearing on your itinerary, whether you book a flight to Osaka-Kansai or to Tokyo’s two airports.
The Bottom Line
Planning a trip to Japan can be surprisingly easy, at least once you learn the basics of places to visit in Japan. Likewise, deciding what time of year to visit Japan, and getting amazing deals on flights to Narita Airport will greatly reduce your stress as your visit to the Land of the Rising Sun draws near. Then again, the only thing certain about your trip to Japan, whether it’s your first or your fiftieth, is that it definitely won’t be your last.