Top 10 Tourist Destinations in Japan

Nov 28th, 2008 | By | Category: Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo and Vicinity

A Visit Japan campaign was launched by the Japanese government with the establishment of the Japan Tourism Agency in October of this year.  The Visit Japan campaign is aiming to increase the number of annual visitors to from the 6 million that came in 2007 to 10 million by 2010 .  So where do most of the tourists go?  According a recent report in The Japan Times first time visitors tend to gravitate towards larger cities like Osaka and Tokyo, and to Mount Fuji.  They come to learn about the culture and see the beautiful temples and shrines and many come to explore the country’s unique culinary landscape.  While Tokyo is a great city, I’m not sure that it warrants 7 of the top 10 spots in Japan, as reported by Forbes in July of this year.  Here are the Top 10 Tourist Destinations in Japan according to the Japanese National Tourist Organization:

#1 Shinjuku, Tokyo

Ginza at NightThe New York bar where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson enjoyed cocktails in the movie Lost in Translation offers great views of the Tokyo skyline from Shinjuku.  Approximately 2 million people move through Shinjuku’s vast train station each day and it is the portal to a busy business area populated by modern skyscrapers and fashionable department stores.  One of Tokyo’s best parks, Shinjuku Gyoen is also located in Shinjukju and you can get a taste for Tokyo’s red-light nightlife in Kabukicho (learn about recently released audio tour of Shinjuku at Ping Mag).

#2 Ginza, Tokyo

Ginza is to Tokyo what 5th Avenue is to New York.  This famous shopping district is famous for it’s grand nightly display of colorful neon and almost every luxury store that you can imagine.  The area is also home to some great western style and modern architecture and the main street in closed to traffic on weekend afternoons which make being seen that much easier – because being seen or saying that you have been to Ginza has a certain cache worldwide. (Ginza map)

#3 Shibuya, Tokyo

Shibuya is full of trendy and cool stores that cater to Tokyo’s younger generation.  The famous Hachiko Crossing is one of the busiest intersections in the world and is home to large video screens, funky billboards and one of Starbucks busiest stores in the world.  Catch the energy of the area with a walk around Shibuya.

#4 Harajuku, Tokyo

Gothic Lolitas and Japanese Princesses will vie for you attention in Harajuku.  Takeshita Dori is home to stores that cater to the areas denizens and also offers insight into trendy Tokyo street fashion. In start contrast, only a short distance away from the cutting edge of the Tokyo youth scene you will find the peaceful confines of the Meiji Jingu Shrine. (Harajuku walking map)

#5 Asakusa, Tokyo

Asakusa Senso-ji Gate Asakusa’s Senso-ji temple and Nakamise Dori, a shopping street leading up to it are well worth visiting on any trip to Tokyo.  The area is also home to a number of famous tempura restaurants an is a short walk from the Kappabashi wholesale district where you can pick up beautiful Japanese dishes, ceramics, iron tea kettles, knives and even one of the plastic food replicas that you will find in almost every restaurant window in Japan.  Asakusa is also the place where you can embark on a cruise of the Sumida river. (Asakusa area map)

#6 Ueno, Tokyo

Ueno Park is home to a zoo, a number of temples, some of Tokyo’s best museums and is one of city’s most famous areas for viewing the Cherry Blossoms each spring.  Just outside the park is Ameya-yokocho, a bustling street market filled with tiny shops and vendors’ carts – pick up a local snack or souvenir or simply stop for a refreshment after a stroll through the park. (Ueno Walking Map)

#7 The Rest Of Tokyo

There is a lot to see in this city with a population that exceeds 12 million and is divided into 23 separate wards.  Other areas that made this roundup of the most popular sights in Tokyo are the ultra modern cities within the city: Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Midtown and Odaiba.  To get a glimpse of how royalty lives you may also want to consider a visit to the Imperial Palace, home to the Emperor of Japan, and the adjacent gardens.

#8 Yokohama

A beautiful port town about a half an hour outside of Tokyo by train, Yokohama is home to one of the biggest Chinatowns in the world and some great examples of foreign architecture.  The Minato Mirai area is home to a modern shopping area and a Ferris Wheel that offers a stunning view of the bay.  See these and all of the other great tourist spots that Yokohama has to offer.

Osaka Castle#9 Kyoto

Kyoto can be described as the cradle of Japanese history and culture. Once the capital, Kyoto has an amazing number of ancient temples, shrines, traditional buildings and excellent museums that are well worth visiting.  Kyoto is one of the most beautiful places in Japan and is well deserving of a spot on this list.

#10 Osaka

Osaka, two-and-a-half hours from Tokyo by shinkansen, is home to traditional architecture and the famous Osaka Castle.  About 40 minutes away is Himeji Castle, a World Heritage Site built from the 14th to 17th centuries and nearby Kobe is home to the world famous beef of the same name.  Visit the Osaka and Kobe tourism websites to learn more about theses great cities.

Returning visitors are a bit more adventurous and head for some of the other regions of Japan to enjoy great skiing and hiking in Hokkaido or some of the areas well know for their onsens or spas.  With the slowing of the worldwide economy and an underdeveloped tourism infrastructure Japan has it’s work cut out to increase the number of tourists that visit each year.

I hope that the Visit Japan Campaign is successful as it will allow visitors and foreign residents to learn more about areas of Japan that would otherwise remain undiscovered.

Image Credit:  Personal Collection, Flickr, Sensō-ji Temple (Asakusa, Tokyo) & Japan – May 12th 2007 – Himeji and Osaka Castle 036

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  1. Underdeveloped tourism infrastructure is definitely a problem - it’s easy enough to get around the cities, but for tourists to make their way significantly out and into the (beautiful) countryside is nearly impossible.

    I’d recommend anyone who wants to see the Japan beyond the cities to contact Kevin and Tomoe at One Life Japan Tours ( They run bike and walking trips in deepest Nagano which really integrate with the local community and environment.

  2. Interesting list and probably correct. If a foreign visitor is interested in taking photos, then it is hard to beat the streets of Akihabara and the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.
    Also shouldn’t Nara and Nikko be on this list? Much nicer than Kyoto.

  3. Gregory;

    In my opinion this list is far from complete but is does represent where people tend to go so is worthy of reporting. I really do hope that the Visit Japan Campaign is successful if promoting some of the other areas of the country that are not as well know by tourists.

    Chris, thanks for the tip on One Life in Japan, I’ll be checking it out for sure.

  4. The thing is if the tourist bureau wants to promote tourism then they have to actually gie people places to go - which means actually telling people about places other than Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka which everyone knows about. Giving these districts in Tokyo a whole place on the list is ridiculous - surely people don’t spend as much time in say Ginza as they do in the whole of Kyoto or Osaka - it’s just not oranges with oranges.

  5. Makes me want to go back to Japan.

  6. […] an example of this let’s take a look at how long it will take you to get to and from the  Top 10 Tourist Destinations in Japan using Hyperdia, one of the best tools to to use when planning your route about the country by […]

  7. I LOVE JAPAN SO GANNA GO THERE xD love for anime there fashion and there cool tourist destinations :p

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