Things to see and do in Japan
Japan National Tourist Organisation (JNTO) in the USAAddress: 11 West 42nd Street, 19th Floor, New York, 10036
Telephone: (212) 757 5640.
Japan National Tourist Organisation (JNTO) in the UKAddress: 28 Leman Street, Pennine House, London, E1 8ER
Telephone: (020) 7398 5678.
Attractions in Japan
Discover the floating gateway of Miyajima
Near Hiroshima is the picturesque island of Miyajima, where a famous red Shinto torii gateway seemingly floats on the sea at high tide. Attractions here include the UNESCO-listed Itsukushima Shrine, the tame deer and the cable car up the holy Mount Misen, which offers fantastic panoramic views.
See Japan's indigenous culture in Hokkaido
For a long time, this northern island was Japan's Wild West, and it still retains a distinct pioneer feel. Hokkaido is home to the last of Japan's indigenous Ainu people and visitors will find the remnants of their distinct culture. If you're short on time, visit the Hokkaido Ainu Center in Sapporo or the Ainu Museum in Shiranoi.
Capture Shirakawa-go on camera
In the mountains of central Japan, you'll find the remote, yet utterly picturesque area of Shirakawa-go. It is famed for its Gassho-zukuri farmhouses, charming traditional houses with high and narrow thatched roofs – said to resemble gassho (hands together in prayer). Many are still inhabited and open to the public, offering a fascinating glimpse of both traditional and modern rural life.
Experience the opulence of Sensoji Temple
Pilgrims have flocked to Sensoji Temple, Tokyo's most revered Buddhist sanctuary, for over 1,000 years. Originally founded in AD628 to enshrine a statuette of the Kannon Bodhisattva (the Goddess of Mercy), damage from bombing raids mean that today you'll find a lavish, five-storey reconstruction. Walk under its giant lantern to reveal smoking incense, swirling crowds and teeming shops.
See the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha in Nara
One hour south of Kyoto, Nara was the first imperial capital of Japan, and marked the far eastern end of the Silk Road. See the Great Buddha of Todaiji Temple, the world's largest bronze Buddah, and the sacred deer in ancient Nara Park.
Pay your respects at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Hiroshima in Western Honshu was destroyed by the world's first atomic bomb in 1945. Visitors come to pay their respects in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum. The park, which was reconstructed in 1949, is home to Children's Peace Monument and the A-Bomb Dome – the ruins of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Set sail for culture in Naoshima
Naoshima is an island in the Seto Inland Sea, located off the coast of Okayama Prefecture. Originally a fishing port, it is now home to an exciting array of outdoor art exhibits and contemporary art museums, including one that functions as a hotel. Old houses on the island have also been converted into exhibition spaces.
Walk the Kumano Kodo trail
The Kumano Kodo is an ancient pilgrimage route in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture. It is an area of stunning natural beauty with forests, waterfalls, tea fields and soothing hot springs. It is also the spiritual heartland of Japanese mythology, and unique for its synthesis of Buddhism and Shintoism. Since 2004, it's been a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Pack a picnic for the pretty cherry blossom parties
From April through May, sakura (cherry blossom trees) start blooming across the country, and lively parties are held underneath the pretty blossoms. Known as a Hanami party, friends and family gather for a picnic with food and drinks with the most famous areas in Ueno Park in Tokyo and Maruyama Park in Kyoto.
Tour the imperial capital, Kyoto
Don't miss Kyoto, the imperial capital of Japan for over 1,000 years. Founded in AD794, Kyoto's best sights include the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji), the Zen rock garden of Ryoanji, the dramatic verandah of Kiyomizu Temple and the medieval Nijo Castle with its musical "nightingale floor". The historic Gion geisha district makes for a wonderful late afternoon wander.
Dine out like an Emperor in Osaka
Japan's third largest city is renowned for its abundance of world-class restaurants, its historic castle (an excellent reproduction of the original) and the performing arts of kabuki (classical Japanese dance and drama) and bunraku (traditional puppet theatre). The city's Dotonburi area is particularly vibrant after dark and its aquarium shouldn't be missed – it is one of the largest in the world.
Curl up with a comic, Kyoto International Manga Museum
The Kyoto International Manga Museum, housed in an old primary school, is the first in the world devoted to the Japanese manga comics. The museum has a massive collection, both historical and contemporary, as well as international editions of Japanese comics. Visitors can take the comics off the shelf and read them in one of the many reading spaces.
See anime come to life at Studio Ghibli
Universal Studios Japan in Osaka and Tokyo's Disney Resort are both enormously popular and a great day out for families. Even better is Tokyo's delightful Ghibli Museum based on the animated movies of Studio Ghibli.
Go whale and dolphin watching
Several former whaling ports have caught onto the tourist value of switching to whale-watching tours, so climb aboard a boat to spot both humpback and sperm whales. For the best chance of seeing these incredible mammals, take to the seas between January and April. Dolphin watching is popular in eastern and western Japan.
Hit the slopes with some skiing
Come winter, do as many Japanese do and hit the slopes. Mountains here are sprinkled with top-class ski resorts, especially in the central Japanese Alps and Hokkaido, where pistes are famed for their powdery snow. Many resorts also have onsen (hot springs) to relax in après-ski.
Marvel at Himeji Castle
Himeji-jo is Japan's most impressive castle. Dating from the 17th century, it survived WWII bombings and is still in excellent condition. Dominated by a towering six-storey central donjon, Shirasagi-jō (or "white egret castle" as it is nicknamed) is supposed to resemble the shape of the bird in flight. In 1993 it was added to UNESCO's World Heritage list.
Seek out ringside seats for Sumo wrestling
Watch the theatre of a sumo contest. Witnessing sumo wrestling is pacy, exciting and truly traditional Japanese experience. Six major tournaments are held throughout the year in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day.
Breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market
Get up early to witness the world's largest fish market at Tsukiji in Tokyo. The action kicks off around 0400 and winds down around midday. Guided tours are available; afterwards, feast on the freshest of sushi and sashimi at the restaurants beside the market.
Unwind in a hot spring
When the Japanese want to relax, they head to a natural hot spring resort called oronsen. Famous soaks include Dogo in Matsuyama, Shikoku, which is one of the oldest in Japan with 3,000 years of history; and Ibusuki, on the southern tip of Kyushu, renowned for its hot-sand saunas.
Enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony
Arrange to take part in a traditional tea ceremony through the tourist information centres in Kyoto and Tokyo. The elegant ritual takes place in a chashitsu, a tranquil room designed and designated for tea, and is steeped in seasonal symbolism.