Japan is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean with dense cities, imperial palaces, mountainous national parks and thousands of shrines and temples.

Shinkansen bullet trains connect the main islands of Kyushu (with Okinawa’s subtropical beaches), Honshu (home to Tokyo and Hiroshima’s atomic-bomb memorial) and Hokkaido (famous for skiing).

Tokyo, the capital, is known for skyscrapers, shopping and pop culture.

1. Tokyo


Tokyo, Japan’s busy capital, mixes the ultramodern and the traditional, from neon-lit skyscrapers to historic temples.

The opulent Meiji Shinto Shrine is known for its towering gate and surrounding woods. The Imperial Palace sits amid large public gardens.

The city’s many museums offer exhibits ranging from classical art (in the Tokyo National Museum) to a reconstructed kabuki theater (in the Edo-Tokyo Museum).


The old, narrow streets of the Asakusa district contain shops, women in kimono and the 7th-century Senso-ji Buddhist temple.

By contrast, Roppongi has lively nightclubs and karaoke bars, and Akihabara has high-tech electronics stores.

Cozy Japanese-style pubs called izakaya are scattered throughout the city. Tsukiji fish market, with a famous tuna auction, is near the center.

The Tokyo SkyTree tower offers expansive views of the city from its public observation deck.

Tokyo is famed for its vibrant food scene, and its Shibuya and Harajuku districts are the heart of its trendy teen fashion culture.

2. Osaka


Osaka is a large port city and commercial center on the Japanese island of Honshu.

It is known for its modern architecture, nightlife and hearty street food.

The 16th-century shogunate Osaka Castle, which has undergone several restorations, is its main historical landmark.

Osaka Castle

It is surrounded by a moat and park with plum, peach and cherry-blossom trees.

Sumiyoshi-taisha is among Japan’s oldest Shinto shrines.

Neon-lit Dotonbori is Osaka’s popular dining and entertainment district.

Where huge signs in the shape of sea creatures hang above eateries serving local specialties like takoyaki (octopus dumplings) and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes).

Nearby Shinsaibashi is a covered shopping arcade with trendy fashion boutiques.

Other big draws include Universal Studios Japan, the movie-themed amusement park, as well as the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, which re-creates Pacific Ocean habitats.

The top of the Umeda Sky Building, which has glass elevators and an open-air observatory, has views over the whole city.

3. Kobe


Kobe is a city on Osaka Bay in central Japan.

It is known for its signature marbled beef and scenic setting of mountains framing the harbor.

The Ikuta Shrine, dating to the 3rd century, is among Japan’s oldest Shinto shrines.

The Ikuta Shrine,

Antique cable cars connect Kobe to Mt. Rokko, which offers panoramic views over the port.

Beyond the Mount Rokko hills are the outdoor hot springs of Arima Onsen.

December’s Kobe Luminarie is an annual festival of lights commemorating a major earthquake that occurred in 1995.

Today there’s little sign of the destruction. Kobe Port Tower, with its distinctive red steel lattice and hourglass shape, is part of Harborland, a lively, open-air mall with a Ferris wheel.

In the hillside Kitano district, rows of 19th-century Western-style houses recall Kobe’s history as one of Japan’s first cities opened to foreign trade.

The restaurant scene includes steakhouses, while bars, pubs and nightclubs populate a neon-lit quarter around Sannomiya Station.

4. Sapporo


Sapporo, capital of the mountainous northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, is famous for its beer, skiing and annual Sapporo Snow Festival featuring enormous ice sculptures.

The Sapporo Beer Museum traces the city’s brewing history and has tastings and a beer garden.

Ski hills and jumps from the 1972 Winter Olympics are scattered within the city limits, and Niseko, a renowned ski resort, is nearby.

Odori Park, a long, narrow green space, runs through the center of town and hosts the winter snow festival as well as a summer beer festival and an energetic team dance competition.

Other attractions include Sapporo TV Tower, with panoramic views, and the American-designed wooden Clock Tower, which was built in the 1800s and now houses a local history museum.


Miyanomori Art Museum has an extensive collection of works by the artists Christo and his late wife and former collaborator, Jeanne-Claude.

Sapporo is also a jumping-off point for Shikotsu-Toya National Park, known for lakes, volcanoes and the hot-springs resort of Noboribetsu.

5. Yokohama


Yokohama, a Japanese city south of Tokyo, was one of the first Japanese ports opened to foreign trade in 1859.

It contains a large Chinatown with hundreds of Chinese restaurants and shops.

Also known for Sankei-en Garden, a botanical park containing preserved Japanese residences from different eras, and the seaside Minato Mirai district, site of the 296m Landmark Tower.


Every 3 years, the city hosts the Yokohama Triennale, an exhibition of modern art, at venues like the Yokohama Museum of Art, which also has a permanent collection of 20th-century art.

Other museums focus on the

1. Nautical (the Yokohama Port Museum features a retired merchant ship),

2. Industrial (the Mitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial Museum is filled with mechanical gadgets) and

3. Edible (the Raumen and Cupnoodles museums examine ramen noodle soup).

The green strip of Yamashita Park fronts the harbor, and Hakkeijima Sea Paradise offers an amusement park and an aquarium.

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