My bucket list for places to visit in Japan is huge. Still, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Japan – living in the country and traveling around often.

This list will change, but for now, here is my favourite 8 places in Japan…


Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture is easy to get to – 2 trains at the very minimum, a cable car and bus – but this mountain town is dotted with spectacular sites. Visitors typically stay in an actual temple and can participate in Buddhist prayer.

The Great Stupa of Koya-san at dawn (HDR Photo), Wakayama Prefecture, Japan
The Great Stupa of Koya-san at dawn (HDR Photo)
Traditional Japanese stone lantern at Danjo Goran, Koya-san「石燈籠 / ishi-dourou」
Traditional Japanese stone lantern at Danjo Goran, Koya-san「石燈籠 / ishi-dourou」

Japan Photo: Koyasan: Traditional Japanese Stone Lanterns, Ishi-Dōrō (HDR Photo)


Daigo Temple is 1 of 17 on the list of world heritage sites in Kyoto. I visited on a very hot summer day, during the Japanese school holiday, and the place was mostly empty. The temple is actually just outside of Kyoto city, a little further out compared to the more well known sites of Kyoto.

The oldest building in Kyoto: Five storied pagoda at Daigo-ji
Daigo-ji’s 5 storied pagoda… one word: impressive (HDR Photo)

The shrine complex has 3 distinct areas. My favourite building here is the gojū-no-to 「five storied pagoda, 五重塔」 which has stood since 951.

Benten-dō, hall, bridge and pond at Daigo-ji in Kyoto
An icon on Daigo-ji: The Benten-dō (HDR Photo)

Travel Guide: Daigo-ji, Kyoto: Travel Guide + Photos

Fushimi Inari Taishi

Fushimi Inari Shrine is a must-visit site in Kyoto. It’s another one on the list UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto. This mountain shrine is stunning. Walking along the 4km of mountain paths, lined with thousands of vermilion torii gates, you forget what era you’re in… you could be strolling through Muromachi period Japan.

Fushimi Inari Romon (HDR Photo)
Fushimi Inari Taisha’s Main Gate (HDR Photo)

Japan Photo: Shrine & Temple Architecture: The Tower Gate (at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto – HDR Photo)

Looking through the torii Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto
Looking through the torii…

Travel Guide: Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Shrine and the 5,000 Vermilion Gates


One summer in Japan I stayed with a friend in the Kiso Valley of Japan. We hiked Mt Ontake in Nagano Prefecture. We also visited a couple of small post towns along the Nakasen-do, an ancient route leading from Tokyo to Kyoto. These two towns (Narai-juku and Tsumago-juku) have retained their Edo period appearance, for an authentic traditional Japan experience…

Tsumago-juku, Nakasen-do
Tsumago-juku, Nakasen-do
Narai-juku, Shiojiri-shi, Nagano-ken
Narai-juku, Shiojiri-shi, Nagano-ken

Travel Guide: Narai-juku/奈良井宿: Traditional Japan on the Kisoji/Nakasendo

Hakone Shrine

I was inspired to visit Hakone Shrine by one of my favourite HDR photographers Trey Ratcliff, who produced an amazing HDR photo of the lantern lined path leading toward the main shrine. Hakone Shrine is a popular day trip for residents of Tokyo. The shrine itself is nestled on the foot of a mountain. On a clear day you can even see Mt Fuji from the foot of Lake Ashi.

Hakone Shrine: Torii gate on the water (The Torii of Peace 「平和の鳥居」) of Lake Ashi (HDR Photo)
Hakone Shrine: Torii gate on the water (The Torii of Peace 「平和の鳥居」) of Lake Ashi (HDR Photo)
9 Headed Dragon Water Purification Basin, Hakone Shrine (HDR Photo)
9 Headed Dragon Water Purification Basin (HDR Photo)

Travel Guide: Hakone Shrine Travel Guide (Info + 14 HDR Photos)


From traditional and ancient Japan, to a thriving city hot spot… Dotonbori in Osaka is the first place I ever visited in Japan. Full of neon signs, restaurants, bars and long malls of shops, this place is a huge tourist area. You’ll always see something unique and perhaps a little bit crazy in Dotonbori…

Ebisu Bridge, Dotonbori, Osaka 「大阪道頓堀えびす橋」
Ebisu Bridge, Dotonbori, Osaka 「大阪道頓堀えびす橋」

Japan Photo: Dotonbori, Osaka: Strange Sights by the Glico Man Sign on Ebisu Bridge

Shopping at Dotonbori's American Village in Osaka
Shopping at Dotonbori’s American Village in Osaka


Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Museum is a very powerful place to visit. We’ve all heard the history of what happened there in 1945, but visiting the park you get a sense of perspective about how much of a huge impact the atomic bomb really had here.

Hiroshima A-Bomb Dome during Spring in Japan
Hiroshima A-Bomb Dome during Spring in Japan

Japan Photo: Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome during Spring


Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture. It’s not a tourist destination, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. I lived here for a year, working as an Assistant Language Teacher. It’s an industrial city, the headquarters of the Toyota Motor Corporation. But among the automotive city are some amazing people – with cool job titles like electric hybrid engine engineer – and special little sites hidden among the highway overpasses and huge Toyota employee apartment complexes…

Wakamiya-Hachiman-sha Shrine, Toyota-shi, Aichi-ken, Japan (HDR Photo)
Wakamiya-Hachiman-sha in Toyota city (HDR Photo)

Japan Photo: A Small Local Shrine, With Lots of Character in Toyota City (HDR Photo)

Toyota FJ Cruiser with custom gold artwork
A Toyota FJ Cruiser with golden custom artwork representing elements of nearby Nagoya Castle.
Toyota Stadium - home of J League team Nagoya Grampus - at Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture
Toyota Stadium – home of J League team Nagoya Grampus – at Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture

Japan Photo: Toyota Stadium: Home of J-League team Nagoya Grampus

That’s my top 8, for now, what’s in yours?

My top 8 places in Japan will change as I continue to travel the country.

What special places would be on your list?