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7 Best Places To Visit In Japan For First Timers

So, you’re going to Japan for the first time and want to know the best places to visit in Japan for first timers? Well, after spending several months in Japan on 2 different trips this is my advice for you on the best places to go on your first visit.

I won’t break it down into an itinerary, I already have a 2 weeks in Japan itinerary article if that’s what interests you (link at end of the article), but I recommend having a look at this post first to give you the best rundown on the best things to see in Japan on a first visit.

Naturally, there are so many great places to visit in Japan that they can’t be all included for a first time visit. These are the main things you will definitely want to see.

I highly recommend getting a Japan Rail Pass (get one with that link) if you plan on moving around a lot long distance between cities. It will save you time and money.


Best of Japan, Tokyo at night.

For most people visiting Japan for the first time Tokyo is the place you will go to in the beginning. That’s for good reason, it’s one of the most vibrant cities in the world and a great entry point into the world of Japan.

Tokyo is buzzing with its modern contemporary culture. Yet, at the time you can find old temples and historic cultural places to see.

I’m only listing a few of the main things to see in Tokyo as there are so many! This article is more about the main regions to visit.

Check here to find places to stay in Tokyo.

Places to visit in Tokyo

Shibuya Crossing

This is a very non-traditional place in the historical sense, but in the modern sense it’s a must-visit. It’s the buzzing heart of modern Tokyo and the famous Shibuya Crossing is there.

Senso-Ji Temple in Asakusa

Now this is where to of to get a feel of ancient Japan. The Senso-Ji temple is one of the Asakusa is a buzzing area in its own right and worth exploring.


Sumo is one of the most traditional sports in Japan and I highly recommend seeing a match in the. main stadium in Tokyo if there is one going on.

However, sumo is not a year round thing and matches are only held at certain times so check before if there is anything going on.

Have a look at my article here for much more ideas on things to do in Tokyo.

Also for things to do around Tokyo have a look at the best day trips from Tokyo.


backpacking Japan

Welcome to the cultural capital of Japan! Kyoto is the ultimate city in Japan for temples and is a must go to for places to visit in Japan for first timers for traditional Japanese culture.

It’s possible to see the best of Kyoto in one day but you would be very rushed. It’s best to spend at least 2-3 days to see the best of the city.

Must-visit places in Kyoto


This is one of the most photographed temples in Japan

Fushimi Inari Shrine

This shrine is one of the best shrines to visit in all of Japan.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The bamboo grove is not just a place to see a beautiful bamboo grove as the whole area is brimming with old temples and Japanese gardens. The grove is just the natural highlight of the area.

Kyoto/Osaka travel tip: get a Kyoto-Osaka Sightseeing Pass (1 Day/2 Days, Kyoto Pick Up) which will help you a lot with getting around and sightseeing in Osaka and Kyoto.

Check here to find places to stay in Kyoto.


Osaka or Kyoto. Osaka Castle.

Aside from Tokyo, Osaka is another excellent city to enter Japan for the first time, especially for a backpacker as this is where many budget airlines fly to. Osaka was my first city to visit in Japan.

Although Osaka doesn’t have a lot of attractions in the city itself, as compared to Tokyo and Kyoto, it does have its own vibe that makes it worth staying for a night or 2. I spent 1 month in Osaka and loved it.

Find places to stay in Osaka here.

Places to visit in Osaka

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle is the main historical place to visit in Osaka, although it is a modern remake of the original, it’s still good to visit.

Shinsaibash and Dotonbori

This is where the soul of Osaka lies. It’s Osaka’s version of Tokyo’s Shabuya district. Bright lights and lots of people and food places everywhere. It’s best experienced at night.


ononomiyaki osaka

Osaka is known as the ‘nations kitchen’ because some of the best Japanese food in the country can be found in the city. honestly, one of the best places to visit in Japan for first timers is simply to go to restaurants/food stalls/cafes and eat a lot!

You can read more of the best things to do in Osaka in that article.

There are some amazing day trips from Osaka that are highly recommended and great for some of the best places to visit in Japan for first timers. One of those trips would take you to Koyasan where you can visit one of the best Buddhist temple complexes in Japan up in the mountains nearby Osaka.

Check here to find places to stay in Osaka.

Temple in Koyasan:

Best places to visit in Japan for first timers. Temple in Koyasan.


Nara is a must visit, along with Kyoto, if you have an interest in the old cultural part of Japan as it has some of the oldest temples in the country.

You can easily do a day trip to Nara from Kyoto or Osaka.

Places to visit in Nara

Todai Ji Temple

This temple is the largest wooden structure in the world and houses the Great Buddha statue inside.

Nara Koen Park and the Deer

If you get a bit ‘templed out’ then head to this park which is nearby the temple complex and relax in its peaceful setting where there are also plenty of friendly cute dear to watch.

If you do decide to spend a night in Nara then check places to stay in Nara here.

Hiroshima (and Miyajima)

Osaka to Hiroshima day trip, best places to visit in Japan for first timers.

Hiroshima is where the first atomic bomb was dropped in World War 2 and therefore everything you see in Hiroshima is of modern construction.

It’s worth going to Hiroshima to learn the history of this very sad and moving part of history and to see how the city rose from the ashes to be the great cosmopolitan city that it is today.

Places to visit in Hiroshima

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Hiroshima peace Memorial Day trip from Osaka

This is a very sobering place to visit where you can learn about the destruction of the atom bomb on the city.

Miyajima Island

It’s on Miyajima Island (also known as Itsukushima Island) where you will find the Floating Tori Gate, one of the most photographed and best places to visit in Japan for first timers.

You can actually visit Hiroshima on a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto, which is actually what I recommend to do. However if you do decide to stay the night you can check here to find places to stay in Hiroshima.


Hakone is easy to recommend as one of the best places to visit in Japan for first timers for the simple reason that it’s easy to get to from Tokyo and will give you the chance to enjoy the Japanese pastime of taking an Onsen (hot spring) bath.

It’s a town located in a mountain area west of Tokyo and is famous as a onsen town where, like I already mentioned, you can enjoy plenty of onsen bathing and you also get a great view of Japan’s most iconic mountain, Mount Fuji.

Getting ready for an onsen bath:

Best Japanese onsens.
In my yukata before getting into an onsen in Beppu.

You can do a long day trip from Tokyo but it’s worth spending a night in Hakone to take it easy from the onsen bathing.


Things to do in Okinawa. Beach in Okinawa.

I’ve saved Okinawa for last as I actually wouldn’t really recommend Okinawa for someone looking for places to visit in Japan for first timers.

However, if you’re looking for a slightly different side to Japanese culture, as well as plenty of great beaches and island life, then Okinawa is a great place to visit.

If you’re short on time for your first trip to Japan, say 1-2 weeks, then skip Okinawa and concentrate on the Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka regions.

You could actually take a flight from Tokyo or Osaka to there and spend say a quick 2 days in Okinawa to get a taste of what it’s like there.

Best Places To Visit In Japan For First Timers

So that should give you a good idea of where to go and what to do for the best places to visit for first timers in Japan.

It has to be said that no matter what, on a first trip to Japan you should at least see Tokyo and Kyoto, and use Kyoto or Osaka as a base to do day trips to many sites in the surrounding region.

As I mentioned before I highly recommend getting a Japan Rail Pass (get one with that link) if you plan on moving around a lot long distance between cities.

I recommend using SafetyWing Travel Insurance for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

Here’s the link to my 2 weeks in Japan itinerary.

For much more reading on Japan have a look at all my guides for Japan.

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