As the regular reader of this blog knows, we made a point of trying to see as much of Japan as we could during our 3-year stay. Even though there are so many places worth visiting that we didn’t make it to, here’s my best-of list of the trips we did. Of course, this list is highly subjective, but maybe it can give people looking for someplace to go some ideas.
- Best place ever: Kyoto.
You cannot ever spend too much time in Kyoto. The temples and gardens to see are countless. Even revisiting the same places again during different seasons is beautiful. If you get to spend some time in Japan, go to Kyoto. If you get to spend some more time, go again. Whatever you do, it’s probably going to be great. Kyoto is probably my favorite place in the world.
- Walking the Nakasendo in Kiso Valley.
Of this trip I have particularly good memories (see here, here, here and here), which is probably partly due to the fact that I like active holidays. But even if you choose not to walk, the historical post stations along the old road are charming. It gives you a glimpse of the old Japan, cradled in the untouched cedar forests of the mountains, and it is completely different from what you see in the big towns.
- Cycling the Shimanamikaido from Onomichi to Imabari
Also this trip was on the active side. Passing the many small islands lying like a band of jewels in the turquoise Inland Sea between Honshu and Shikoku by bicycle was absolutely charming. The quiet atmosphere of the small fishing villages is something you don’t find in other places.
Nikko is definitely worth a visit. The town itself boasts a variety of World Heritage sites, while the Okunikko region up the mountain is home to the stunning Kegon Falls (among others), and is great for hikes and walks in Senjogahara and around Yunoko. As a stretch, it can be done as a day trip from Tokyo, but you won’t be able to see everything. So either you keep coming back, or you stay for three days.
Nara, the town of deer and temples, not far from Kyoto, should not be missed. The main sights get rather crowded, but further up in Nara park, you can enjoy the calm. Tame deer walk around everywhere. Apart from the temples and shrines, Nara has a very picturesque old town, one of the few which have escaped destruction in WWII.
Also the Kamakura region has a lot to offer. There are beautiful old temples, small hikes in the hills, the impressive Daibutsu (giant Buddha), the beach with views of Mt. Fuji in winter, Enoshima island, etc. Also Kamakura can be done as a day trip from Tokyo, but again, you won’t be able to see everything.
- Izu Islands
The Izu Islands are technically part of Tokyo, but feel really far away from everything. Experience the eerie calm of the volcanic desert of Mt. Mihara, the volcano on Oshima, or go to a surfing beach on Niijima. The islands are conveniently reachable by jet boat and are an ideal escape from Tokyo.
- Eastern Hokkaido
The region around Kushiro and the Akan National Park is full of natural wonders, such as crater lakes, sulfur spewing mountains, wetlands and hot springs. You can meet the Ainu people and watch them craft their beautiful wood carvings. Again, Hokkaido is very different from the rest of Japan.
It was actually very difficult to make a ranking of our trips. The first three were clearly my favorites, but all the others were essentially tied. I enjoyed all our trips immensely, also the ones I didn’t mention explicitly here. The ones I have chosen here are mostly places that offer a variety of different sights that can keep the visitor entertained for more than a day. I’m already looking forward to our next trip to Japan, so I can see even more of this beautiful country.