23 Famous Spots in Japan [RANKED]


Japan is packed with famous places, many of which are recognised around the world.

During our extensive 24-day trip across the country, we packed a lot in, and visited dozens of Japan’s iconic places.

In this post, I’m excited to share our personal rankings of the top 23 most famous spots in Japan. We’ve ranked them, not on their fame, but on our experience of visiting them, so there may be some controversial rankings below.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan or just curious about its most popular attractions, I hope you find something interesting in this list.

*Disagree with these rankings!? Let us know in the comments below which of Japan’s famous spots was your favourite.

OUR JAPAN CREDENTIALS

The Reeves Roamed for 25 days through Japan, taking notes as we went. Our route was based on our typically thorough research, though we also found some surprises along the way. We only write about places we’ve actually been, so you can be confident that the details are first-hand.

READ OUR COMPLETE JAPAN GUIDE
Ben Reeve
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23. Tokyo Tower

a woman with a toddler in a carrer on her back, in front of a temple and looking up at tokyo tower
Becca and Grace staring up at Tokyo Tower behind Zōjō-ji Temple

Tokyo Tower is less famous now than it used to be.

Built in 1958 and based on the design of the Eiffel Tower, it was once the tallest freestanding tower in the world (3 metres taller than the one in Paris), until it was surpassed by its young upstart cousin, the Tokyo Skytree.

Standing at 333m tall it’s still an impressive sight, especially when contrasted against the much older Zōjō-ji Temple, but it’s got some stiff competition from other famous Japanese spots, so it came bottom of our list.

22. Shibuya Crossing

lots of people crossing the road at shibuya

This tops many people’s ‘must-visit’ list in Tokyo, but for us, the hype far outweighed the experience.

If watching lots of people crossing a road is your thing, then you’ll love it, but for us there were many more impressive tourist attractions in Japan than this.

21. Ueno Park & Zoo

the entrance of ueno zoo

Ueno Park is one of the five oldest in Japan, and contains a host of fantastic museums, as well as Japan’s oldest zoo.

It’s a good place for a day out if you’re visiting Tokyo, but we’ve pushed it down the list because it isn’t that famous outside of Japan.

20. Tokyo Skytree

tokyo skytree
Tokyo Skytree taken from Sensoji

At 634m tall, Tokyo Skytree is the tallest freestanding tower in the world.

It’s a fairly new addition to the city, having finished construction in 2011, and contains a shopping complex, aquarium and even a planetarium.

It says a lot for how many amazing famous spots there are in Japan that this iconic tower with views as far as Mount Fuji is only 19th on our list. Don’t scrub it off your Tokyo itinerary though, combine a visit to the Skytree with the nearby Sensoji Temple and Asakusa area for day that combines the best of historic and modern Japan.

19. Osaka Castle

a japanese style castle against a blue sky osaka castle

Osaka Castle’s problem is not a lack of fame, it’s that 100km west is a castle that not only is more impressive (in my opinion!), but is also in its original form.

Osaka Castle, whilst originally built in the late 1500s, the current castle keep was rebuilt in 1931, so what you are seeing, whilst an accurate reproduction, isn’t as historic as it might appear on fist viewing.

18. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

a bamboo forest is japan with people walking down the middle of it
The iconic Bamboo Grove at Arashiyama

If you’ve read any guidebooks or blogs about Japan, you’ve almost certainly seen images of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (also known as the Sagano Bamboo Forest).

Located just outside of Kyoto, it has become a victim of its own celebrity, appearing on so many worldwide lists of awe-inspiring places, it’s now the most popular place to visit in Kyoto.

Due to having a toddler in tow, visiting at the extremes of the day wasn’t possible (one of the travel tips I used to preach was getting up early, not so easy anymore!), so we arrived with the thousands of other people who wanted to see it too.

Hopefully when we come back to Japan we’ll be able to see it at a quieter time, but for now we ranked it low on the list as it was hard to enjoy a place that was designed to be peaceful in what felt more like a sports crowd.

17. The Philosopher’s Walk

a bridge over a small japanese river with a footpath beside it on philosophers walk in kyoto

The Philosopher’s Walk was not somewhere we’d heard of before coming to Japan, but it is an incredibly famous spot with people looking to see the world-famous sakura or cherry blossom.

The passage was completed in 1890 at the foot of the Higashiyama Mountain Range and was extended in 1912 and runs 2km alongside the cherry tree lined Lake Biwa Canal.

With a host of famous temples such as the UNESCO Heritage listed Ginkaku-ji along the route, the 2km path took us significantly longer than expected to walk after all the detours!

16. Dotonburi

a river flanked with modern japanese buildings in dotonburi osaka

If you were to distil the western expectation of Japanese cities into a district, you’d probably come up with something pretty close of Dotonburi in Osaka.

With neon lights, animatronics and niche restaurants in abundance, this loud, bright and extravagant part of Japan’s second city ticks a box that says ‘this is the Japan from the movies’.

15. Akhibara

machines in tokyo
A wall of machines at one of Akhibara’s arcades

I’ve intentionally grouped Dotonbori and Akhibara together on this list, as they both fulfil the same promise for their respective cities.

Packed full of arcades, anime and retro game stores, Akhibara is Tokyo’s electronic epicentre for otaku culture – which is a group typified by their obsession with computers and modern life.

14. Nara Park

a girl feeding a deer at nara park in japan
Grace feeding one of the deer at Nara Park

Despite its ancient temples (more on those later), one of the most famous spots in Nara is actually the park – thanks to its unique herd of nodding Sika Deer.

Japan is well known as the world’s most polite country, and this seems to have been passed on to its deer, who – having no doubt had a million Japanese tourists nod to them to say thankyou – nod when given one of the crackers sold by vendors around the town.

If you ask our toddler which was her favourite place in Japan, she’d definitely say Nara, and she’ll remember feeding the ‘donkeys’ forever!

13. Gion District

a lady in traditional japanese clothing standing by a red picket fence with japanese letters on it in gion district toyko
A lady in traditional Japanese dress on Tatsumi Bridge, Gion

The Gion District of Kyoto is famous worldwide for its traditional stores, tree-lined canals and being the centre of one of the most iconic symbols of Japan, the Geishas.

With numerous attractions such as the oldest Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Kenninji, and beautiful photo spots such as Tatsumi Bridge (above) there are a host of places to explore as you lose yourself amongst the teahouses and pagodas.

12. teamLab Planets

If I put together a ‘best unexpected places in Japan’ list, teamLab Planets would top it.

Becca had read all about it and wanted us to do, but I went expecting some kind of museum for kids, and was blown away.

teamLab planets is a mix between an art gallery and a soft play area, with room after room of sensory experiences, from warm knee-height water filled with virtual fish that explodes into petals, to mirrored rooms of hanging glass icicles that could be from a Disney Castle.

If you’re in Tokyo, then go (especially if you’re travelling Tokyo with kids).

11. Hakone

a red japanese tori gate beside a lake with dark trees behind it

Hakone, a small spa town an hour or so from Tokyo, is probably most famous for it unique transport – with a mountain railway, cablecar and pirate ship taking you over the mountains and across the lake.

But we’ll remember it for the relaxing onsen, the stunning torii gate at Hakone Shrine and the unforgettable black eggs which are cooked in steaming pools of a volcano.

Read Next: Complete 2 Day Hakone Itinerary

10. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

a burned out building the hiroshima town hall

As we enter the top ten, we are at the most haunting place on this list, the Atomic Bomb Dome at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

It is the only building that remained after the bombing on 6th August 1945 which killed hundreds of thousands instantly and wiped Hiroshima off the map. Little Boy exploded almost directly overhead, which allowed the strong steel and stone structure to keep its shape, and serve as a warning to the whole world about nuclear war.

9. Itsukushima Shrine

japanese torii gate in a lake with a traditional boat in front of it

This may well be the most iconic image of Japan, the torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine, taken from Miyajima Island.

It’s a UNESCO Heritage Site, with the shrine one of the most important Shinto locations in Japan, with the first buildings going up here in the 6th century.

From a famous spot perspective, it gets full marks, but it’s another Japanese place that gets incredibly busy thanks to its fame. Unfortunately, the only time I could fit in a visit was on a Sunday, and I also did it on a day trip from Osaka, meaning I was there in the middle of the day, making it the perfect storm of busyness and diluting the experience.

8. Himeji Castle

a traditional japanese castle with bridge in front of it himeji 1

Himeji Castle, often hailed as Japan’s most spectacular, stands as a towering example of classic Japanese architecture. Located in Himeji City in Hyogo Prefecture, this castle, also known as “White Heron Castle” (Shirasagi-jō), is renowned for its elegant, white appearance and intricate design.

Dating back to the 14th century, Himeji Castle has witnessed numerous historical events. It was expanded in the 17th century by Ikeda Terumasa, a gifted general under Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Remarkably, the castle has survived wars, earthquakes, and the passage of time, retaining its original form.

I visited for my usual reason (I’m a UNESCO geek), but Himeji did not let me down, this place was simply staggering from the second I got off the Shinkansen, to stepping across the wooden bridge onto the grounds.

7. Fushimi Inari Shrine

lots of red japanese style torii gates or archways with japanese letters on them

Fushimi Inari Shrine stands is truly one of the most iconic places on these islands, famed for its thousands of vermilion torii gates.

Located in Kyoto, this Shinto shrine dates back to the 8th century and is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. It’s not just the spiritual significance that captivates visitors; it’s also the mesmerising sight of the torii gates winding up the forested mountain path. Each gate, donated by individuals or businesses seeking fortune or giving thanks, creates an endless vermilion tunnel, a sight unlike any other in the world.

As a popular spot, Fushimi Inari Shrine attracts large crowds, especially during traditional Japanese festivals, though we headed here for 0745, and were lucky enough to enjoy the steep walk up the mountainside in relative isolation.

6. Yasaka Pagoda

a traditional 5 storey japanese pagoda taken at night

It travel terms, it doesn’t get more famous than this – Yasaka Pagoda is featured on the front cover of the latest edition of Lonely Planet Japan.

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Thankfully, Becca is an organised travel researcher, or we would have missed this place completely!

We missed out on the classic ‘down the hill’ shot due to construction works, but Yasaka Pagoda still made for an incredible sight.

5. Sensō-ji

two red japanese temples at night sensoji

Nestled in the heart of Asakusa, Tokyo, Senso-ji Temple is a microcosm of traditional Japan amidst the city’s modern bustle. This ancient Buddhist temple, established in 628 AD, is Tokyo’s oldest and one of its most significant.

Senso-ji, dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon, is not just a religious site but a cultural beacon, drawing both locals and tourists alike. It can get incredibly busy, but we stayed a block away from this temple for over a week, so got to see it at all times of the day.

Early morning (pre 9am) and evening (post 6pm) are the best times to come if you want a more peaceful experience. A clear crisp morning, with incense from the Jakoro burners catching on the first beams of the sun is truly spiritual experience, whereas the evening is perfect to see the red buildings contrasted against dark blue skies.

READ NEXT: 11 Things To Do Around Asakusa & Sensoji

4. Nikko

stone statues with red hats and bib on. taken at kanmangafuchi abyss, nikko, japan
The spectacular Kanmangafuchi Abyss in Nikko

Nikko was our first adventure outside of Tokyo, so it’s always going to hold a special place in my memories for showing us the misty, mossy world of the Japanese mountains.

Two trains away from Tokyo, in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko is a harmonious blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage. This scenic area, home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Shrines and Temples of Nikko, is a testament to Japan’s architectural and artistic prowess. The most renowned among these is Toshogu Shrine, a lavishly decorated complex dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Its intricate carvings, including the famous “See no Evil, Speak no Evil, and Hear no Evil” monkeys, and the striking Yomeimon Gate, are marvels of Edo-period craftsmanship.

There are so many good days trips from Tokyo, so this is a spot some people may leave off their Tokyo itinerary, but it is a very special place, and one I feel you’ve got to make time for. Please make time to walk out of town a little to Kanmangafuchi Abyss (photographed above), which has over 70 Mizo statues, and felt like a forgotten wood from a Tolkien story.

Read Next: Taking a Day Trip to Nikko: Everything You Need To Know (+ Itinerary)

3. Kinkaku-ji

a golden japanese temple with a lake in front of it

Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, in Kyoto, is a spectacle of Japanese history cloaked in gold. This Zen Buddhist temple, formally named Rokuon-ji, dates back to the late 14th century. Its top two floors, covered entirely in gold leaf, shimmer beside a tranquil pond, creating a stunning reflection that captures the essence of perfect harmony and elegance. The temple was originally a villa for a shogunate statesman before being transformed into a temple, and it has since become an iconic symbol of Kyoto.

The Golden Temple was a place we expected to just be a tourist trap, made famous for the gold rather than the location, so maybe it was the lack of expectation that left us so awe-struck.

Despite being such a famous spot, and a key stop off on the Kyoto tourist route, the way the paths through the grounds are set up, makes it easy to get a good view of Kinkaku-ji.

And what a view!

The lake and stereotypical Japanese trees backed by the gleaming temple. Wow.

2. Todai-ji

a huge wooden temple in nara japan
My first view of Todai-ji – the largest wooden building in the world.

I’d done no research about Todai-ji, other than knowing it was the largest wooden building in the world and housed giant statue of Vairocana Buddha, which is the largest bronze Buddha on earth.

The approach is set in such a way that this huge construction reveals itself all at once, giving a ‘look-at-that’ moment that will lodge in my memory forever. The photo doesn’t really do justice to the scale and beauty of this thing.

What’s even more amazing is that Todai-ji Temple in its original form larger than what we see today. The Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden), was originally about 30% larger than the current building, which was last rebuilt in 1692.

Over time, due to various factors including wars, fires, and lack of resources, the size of Todai-ji and its buildings was reduced. However, even in its current form, it remains one of the most impressive and historically significant temples in Japan

1. Mount Fuji

a man looking at mount fuji with his back to the camera a clear sky and the sun above the mountain
Ben looking up at the great mountain.

There is no more famous spot in Japan than Mount Fuji, and of all the places we visited in Japan, it was our favourite.

As ever with travel, timing was everything, and the weather was very kind to us after a week of grey conditions. But regardless, Mount Fuji is a sight that has to be seen with your own eyes to truly appreciate it, I don’t think I’ve ever spent so long just staring

Our only regret was not spending more time around Lake Kawaguchi, next time we’ll try to spend a few days here rather than a day trip.

Before You Go

This is just a taste of our Japan adventure.

If you’re currently planning you’re own trip you’ll no doubt be trying to figure out the best way to spend your time around Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

Read our full guide to get our all our best tips, routes and places to stay (and much more)….

Complete Japan Travel Guide (Perfect For First-Timers)

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AUTHOR – BEN REEVE

Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.

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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie

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