When considering Japan as a destination to visit, bright lights and bustling cosmopolitan cities often come to mind. Whilst they’re worth a visit, there is so much more to Japan than the bustling tourist hotspots of Tokyo and Osaka.
At double the size of the UK, Japan provides plenty to see and do and an equally diverse range of city life and natural landscapes.
The country is rich in culture with its Buddhist temples and traditional gardens in addition to a remarkable amount of natural beauty. Here are four places not to miss if you’re planning a trip to Japan.
Set within the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, Jigokudani Monkey park was first established in 1964. The park takes its name from its location in the Valley of the Yokoyu-River, an area featuring steep cliffs and steaming hot springs, leading locals to refer to it as ‘Hell Valley’ or ‘Jigokudani’ in Japanese.
The Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, that can be seen within Jigokudani Yaen-Koen are wild animals.
There are no fences or enclosures here, so monkeys may come and go as they please, although they will often return to the park for food. Within this beautifully scenic National Park, there are several hot springs.
During the harsh winter months, monkey’s can be seen bathing in the springs; a survival technique to regulate their body temperatures. A trip here is definitely worthy of your bucket list. A popular location, the Jigokudani Yaen-koen is also available as part of certain tours.
Upon a hilltop, within the Hyōgo Prefecture of Japan, the impressive Himeji Castle can be found. Also known as the White Heron Castle (Shirasagijo) due to its elegant, white appearance, the castle was first built simply as a small fort in 1346.
More than two hundred years later, in 1577, the castle was fortified to its current architectural magnificence with the addition of thirty towers.
Himeji Castle is now considered to be a National Treasure of Japan and is listed as a World Heritage Site.
The castle can be visited year-round however it becomes particularly busy during the spring as it’s a great place for viewing cherry blossoms. Japan is known worldwide for its cherry blossom trees and they are certainly a site not to be missed.
In the Chubū region of Honshū, stands Mount Fuji, one of Japan’s sacred mountains. This active volcano is Japan’s tallest peak and very popular with hikers.
If you want to enjoy viewing the mountain from below, head to the Fuji Five Lakes region. This popular resort is incredibly picturesque, with many watersports taking place, allowing you to take in the magnificence of Mount Fuji at leisure.
Once the capital city of Japan, Kyoto is the place to immerse yourself in the traditions of this wonderful country.
Although the city centre has become somewhat industrialised, the smaller villages towards the mountains really are the essence of Japanese culture. Here you will find ornate Buddhist temples and often see traditionally dressed geishas and monks. Be sure to sample the kaiseki dining whilst you’re here too.
Have you visited Japan? Share your recommendations with us.