Japan is that friend that truly appreciates you for who you are – not despite of your quirks but because of your quirks. It is a country where beauty reigns in every corner – from the personalities of the local people to the architecture and the flora and fauna. Within minutes of stepping off the plane at Tokyo’s Narita airport – greeted by warm smiles and quirky confectionary – I was ready to delve head first into this beautiful country and it’s fascinating culture. Within minutes of stepping back on the plane at Osaka’s Kansai airport two weeks later – wearing a bittersweet smile and a suitcase full of matcha items – I was ready to return. What follows is 10 of the most beautiful places that I visited in Japan that redefined the meaning of beauty in the dictionary of my mind and continue to fill my most Wes Anderson-esque day dreams.
1. Arashiyama’s Path of Bamboo
Despite boasting a mere length of 300 meters, the Path of Bamboo in Kyoto’s Arashiyama region appears as if the portal to a whole other world; a world straight out of the pages of a fairytale by the Brothers’ Grimm. Although during the day, the path can appear more crowded than a subway train in Tokyo during peak hour, if you arrive early (i.e. before 8am) or take advantage of a rainy day, you may just be lucky enough to get the place to yourself. For that however brief moment of quiet, the wisdom and zen of the towering green stalks of bamboo will permanently seep into your soul; as you listen to the bamboo sway in the wind, creaking softly as they collide and bend, and breathe in the cleansing scent of the damp forest.
2. Chidorigafuchi Moat
At Chidorigafuchi, the beauty of Japan is brought alive by the image of couples and families rowing away their day together; smiling and laughing. During spring time, the beauty of this shared love is highlighted by the addition of weeping cherry blossom trees which completely line the banks of the moat. However, this site is more than just a pretty face, as it also holds significant historical importance as the moat for the Edo Castle during the age of the Tokugawa shoguns as well as the Imperial Palace that stands upon the site today.
3. Chureito Pagoda
I’m 99.9% certain that there is a rip in space/time at this exact spot, that causes time to freeze. I don’t quite know how long I stood behind the Chureito Pagoda gazing with love heart shaped eyes out to Mt Fuji and the sea of cherry blossoms surrounding it; but it could never be long enough. While the view is breathtaking enough, the site also holds historical and cultural importance as the pagoda is actually part of the Arakura Sengen Shrine, built way back in the 8th century.
4. Nara Deer Park
If you have ever wondered what life would be like if deer took over the Earth, then a visit to Nara Deer Park will put your thoughts to rest. Considered according to Japanese legend as messengers of the God’s, the deer of Nara have been encouraged to congregate within the area over the past several hundred years and today prance around town as the most iconic symbol of the city and a recognized natural treasure. Although the deers are wild, they have been semi-tamed by tourism, with some even learning to bow to ask visitors for food. That said, they can most definitely become aggressive if they think you will feed them – or they smell food in your bag as my friend and her soon-to-be-eaten-by-a-deer lunch found out. Just how many deer are there? The latest count puts it over 1200 deer!
5. Osaka Castle
Complete with an extensive garden that changes colour with the season, a moat with a wooden bridge just waiting for Prince Charming to trod over on his horse and a pastel color-palette straight off a 16th-century ball gown, Osaka Castle must be where Disney princesses go to spend their ‘Happily ever after’. Between the stunning aesthetics and rich history of this site, it’s little wonder why the castle is constantly ranked as one of the most visited attractions in all of Japan.
6. Kinkakuji Temple
A traditional Buddhist temple… With a gold lead façade… Set upon a reflecting zen pond – need I say more?
7. Miyajima Shrine
Although the city of Hiroshima is most internationally famous as the site of the US atomic bomb attack back in 1945, there is so much beauty to be witnessed here. Through the juxtaposition of the devastation of the atomic bomb attack and the beauty and tranquility in the Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima will show you the beauty of peace. Through interactions with the kind-hearted second-generation atomic bomb survivors teaching visitors to make origami paper cranes, Hiroshima will show you the beauty of the human spirit. Through the sunsets at Miyajima Shrine, Hiroshima will show you the beauty of Japan’s nature. The city is a perfect template for demonstrating how with openness, hope and ingenuity, even one of history’s greatest crimes can be made into something truly beautiful.
8. Fushami Inari Shrine
Comprised of a seemingly endless series of 12,000 tori gates leading up a forested mountain, the Fushami Inari Shrine is undeniably one of the 10 most beautiful places to visit in Japan for both its natural and manmade elements. With the gates dating all the way back to 711 A.D., experiencing each and every one of these well-preserved gates is like touching a piece of human history. It is, quite simply, one of the most impressive sights that I experienced in all of Japan.
9. Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Forget Tokyo Disneyland, the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is Disneyland for snow monkeys and I assure you that choosing to spend a day in Jigokudani instead will leave you 100% more satisfied and love-heart eyed. Word of advice though, do not touch, startle or stare into the eyes of the monkeys (no matter how cute they are) as this is not a zoo and these animals are WILD and will behave as such.
10. Hiroshima Castle
Constructed in 1590, Hiroshima Castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb, much like everything else in Hiroshima. In the years since however, the castle has been restored and today stands tall and proud as a physical embodiment of resilience (as well as our wildest tree house fantasies).
Do you have a beautiful place to add to the list of place to visit in Japan? Let me know in the comments below!
Elle is a world-wanderer, star-gazer, dog-lover and meteorologist in the making. When she’s not busy studying the Earth’s climate, she’s off experiencing it first hand all around the world. Over the past 3 years, Elle has traveled to 31 countries across Europe, Asia, Oceania and the United States and has no plans of stopping anytime soon. You can follow her colorful adventures on her Instagram, Facebook and at thisisyugen.com.