Nowhere else mixes the ancient with the ultra-modern quite like Japan. As soon as you touch down in the Land of the Rising Sun, it’s like you’ve transported to a magical, otherworldly island where neon video games stores rub shoulders with farmers in their paddy fields. Ancient customs, cherry blossoms, high-speed trains and cutting-edge technology sit side by side in a wonderful whirlwind of Japanese culture. Here are some of the must-see sights for your vacation to Japan:

 

#1 Ishigaki

When the hustle bustle of the teeming metropolis is tiring you out then head to Ishigaki beach, west of Okinawa. This region has some of Japan’s best beaches which are also net-protected for safety. Ishigaki might not be big on culture but if you’re looking for a laid-back escape from the cities for a while then here you’ll find all the fantastic tourist water sports that you’d expect from a beach resort and the city also boasts some vibrant nightlife spots.

#1 Ishigaki

 

#2 Kamakura

For a taste of ancient Japanese culture, this town on the coast is less than an hour from Tokyo and used to be a town of important significance. The country was ruled for a hundred years from this town but now you’ll find an attractive seaside resort. You’ll discover shrines and temples here and make sure you include the Daibutsu. This massive bronze statue of Buddha is beautifully circled by trees and you should also include visits to the town’s Zen temples.

#2 Kamakura

 

#3 Takayama

Inspired by ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ or ‘The Last Samurai’? Then you’ll fall in love with Takayama. This beautiful tourist town is one of the best-preserved examples of an old Japanese town, in stunning rural surroundings. Ensure you spend some time soaking up the atmosphere in Sanmachi, narrow lanes of old wooden buildings, shops and sake breweries.

#3 Takayama

 

#4 Kyoto

A visit to what was the capital of Japan for 1000 years is a must during your stay in this incredible country. Known as the City of 10,000 Shrines, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to seeing Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. A beautiful city of gardens, ancient culture and fantastic festivals during the summer, you’ll adore this vibrant and historically important city on Honshu Island.

#4 Kyoto

 

#5 Matsumoto

If you love history and visiting castles then head to Matsumoto for Japan’s most iconic castle which is home to the Ukiyo-e Museum. The museum holds the world’s largest collection of artwork from woodblock prints. This is also an ideal region for outdoor pursuits like hiking or cycling and maybe you’ll spot one of the infamous monkeys who descend from the freezing mountain top to bathe in the hot springs of nearby Yudanaka.

#5 Matsumoto

 

#6 Nikko

A vacation to Japan should definitely include a trip to one of Japan’s most sacred sites. This is where you’ll need to go to access Nikko National Park which is famous for its Three Wise Monkeys carving. The historic temples of Rinnoji, Futarasan and Toshogu are also located here and so you should expect the area to become congested with tourists which is why it might be a great idea to hit the hiking trails of the National Park when the crowds get too much.

#6 Nikko

 

#7 Nagano

You might remember this name from the Winter Olympics in 1998. Here you’ll find a further National Park called Joshin’etsukogen and the landscape here is nothing short of breathtaking. Fresh, crisp mountain air and a stay at the iconic Zenko-ji Buddhist temple could be just the thing for seeking spiritual and physical healing in a rustic mountain village setting. The Hilda Mountains make for an impressive backdrop so if you want to immerse yourself in Japanese culture then Nagano is the place to do it.

#7 Nagano

 

#8 Osaka

Foodies will be drawn to Osaka for being the capital of Japanese cuisine. Many international companies are based here but aside from the business travel, you’ll find a wealth of restaurants as Osakan culture is very much about the stomach! Heading out from the busy urban center, you’ll discover some serene and peaceful countryside.

#8 Osaka

 

#9 Nara

Here you’ll see a heavy Chinese influence on the architecture but Nara is very much the birthplace of Japanese tradition. Such is the importance of this city that UNESCO has designated its landmarks as worthy of World Heritage status. Nara was the capital even before Kyoto so a visit to this delightful destination is highly recommended and you’ll also find a great many deer who are rather friendly!

#9 Nara

 

#10 Tokyo

A vacation to Japan is not complete until you’ve explored the lively capital Tokyo. An eclectic mix of old and new, from the Imperial Palace to on-trend teen fashion and authentic dining experiences to the traditional Tsukiji fish market. Tokyo has one of the largest populations on earth so escape it all by ascending the Skytree for the best views of the city. Whether it’s high-end shopping in the Ginza, historic tours, tranquil gardens or vibrant nightlife – Tokyo will wow you!

#10 Tokyo