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These are our top picks to visit in Japan!

A new year means new adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun. It hasn’t been long since the pandemic ended, and everyone is looking for a well-deserved break and new ports of call in Japan. We’ve taken the opportunity to travel, explore and gorge—and then we compiled a list of our favorite travel destinations in Japan for 2023.

Each destination highlights something we love about Japan, from bustling hot spots to beautiful traditional towns and natural scenery. If you’re traveling to one of these destinations, we want to hear about it. Tag us on social media with #GaijinPotTravel.

10
Iwate

Iwate Prefecture has quickly been picked up on the radar of tourists in Japan thanks to its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty.

Morioka, the capital of Iwate, boasts historical sites like Morioka Castle and Ishiwarizakura (The Rock-Splitting Cherry). The city is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hiraizumi and the gorgeous Chusonji Temple. Both places offer a glimpse into the region’s history and traditions. Captivating sights like Mount Iwate and the scenic Sanriku Coast rival even the iconic Mount Fuji. And hot springs such as Appi Onsen have ample relaxation and rejuvenation.

Best of all, Iwate is perfect for any season. Spring brings cherry blossoms, with parks like Tsunagi Sakura Park ideal for hanami (cherry blossom viewing). Summer hosts lively festivals like the Sansa Odori and beach activities along the coast. Autumn showcases vibrant foliage, particularly in places like Genbikei Gorge. Winter gets heavy snowfall, creating a powdered wonderland for ski resorts like Appi Kogen.

9
Chichijima, Tokyo

Chichijima is a beautiful secluded island located in the Ogasawara Archipelago of Japan. There is no airport so the only way to visit is a 24-hour ferry trip across the ocean, a journey that makes the experience that much more enjoyable. It is an island paradise known for its untouched natural beauty and aqua-marine waters. You can explore hiking trails, go snorkeling or diving to uncover vibrant coral reefs, or simply relax on beaches practically all to yourself.

The waters of Chichijima are teeming with diverse marine life, including dolphins and green sea turtles—a delicacy of the local culture and important and protected species. Whale watching is also popular; humpback whales can be spotted around the island during migration season.

A former WWII stronghold, Chichijima also has a rich history. Visitors can explore historical sites like the Peace Memorial Park and the Ogasawara Museum to learn about the island’s past. Chichijima offers a unique blend of nature, heritage and tranquility that makes it a worthwhile destination to visit in Japan.

8
Aichi Prefecture

Aichi Prefecture is a captivating region located in central Japan. With a blend of history, natural beauty and lively modern cities, Aichi offers a diverse range of attractions and experiences.

Explore the stunning Yotsuya no Senmaida, a series of terraced rice fields made with a truly incredible engineering feat from 400 years ago. Nature lovers will also be captivated by Atera No Nanataki, a magnificent seven-tiered waterfall nestled amidst lush greenery.

Step back in time as you wander through Asuke Town, with its well-preserved traditional architecture and charming streets. During summer the streets are lit up by locals with big lanterns, making it a popular date spot at night. In October they celebrate the Asuke Festival, where beautiful floats parade around the streets with young dancers aboard them.

Right near Asuke Town, you can experience the seasonal beauty of Korankei—famous for its vibrant autumn foliage. Take a leisurely stroll along the picturesque river or hike the trails up Mt. Iimori which reaches a height of around 254 meters. For a more modern experience, visit the innovative Toyota City, where automotive enthusiasts can explore the Toyota Automobile Museum or witness the car manufacturing process at the Toyota Kaikan Museum.

7
Koyasan, Wakayama

Shrouded in mist, a spiritual adventure awaits you at the top of Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture. Bordered by vibrant Osaka and historic Nara, this mountain has much to offer beyond the earthly plane. Famous as a religious retreat since the early 9th century, Mount Koya is home to Shingon Buddhism. Founded by Kobo-Daishi, this mountain is a site for prayer, research and deep devotion among practicing monks.

Travelers to this holy ground can spend an overnight stay at one of the many temples. Walk through the many stone lantern line roads and spend an hour or two exploring the main temple complex called Danjo Garan. Learn how the monks at Mount Koya go about their lives by eating shojin ryori (traditional Buddhist cooking made without meat or fish) and joining them during morning prayer.

No trip to Mount Koya would be complete without a visit to Okunoin. Found at the top of the mountain, this complex is the largest cemetery in Japan. Here you’ll find the tombstones of several historical figures including warlords like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Date Masamune, the founder of Sendai. Walk past 300,000 moss-covered gravestones tracing back thousands of years as you make your way to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi.

6
Otaru, Hokkaido

Otaru, a charming city nestled in Hokkaido, is renowned for its canals, well-preserved historical buildings and enchanting atmosphere. Take a leisurely stroll along the famous Otaru Canal, where old-fashioned street lanterns glow and reflect over the water. As you continue your exploration, you’ll come across Sakaimachi Street, which is adorned with captivating shops housed in charming merchant buildings, cozy cafes, museums and renowned glassware studios.

Otaru has gained fame for its exquisite glassware. Immerse yourself in the city’s glassware shops where you can marvel at delicate glass creations and participate in workshops. The Venetian Museum of Art, both exhibits and sells beautiful glassworks.

Otaru is renowned for seafood so treat yourself at the vibrant seafood markets and savor sushi and sashimi-don (sashimi over rice). Beyond the city limits, Mt. Tengu awaits, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the sea and cityscape. During winter, Otaru transforms into a snowy paradise with flickering candles set in lanterns made of snow.

5
Itoshima, Fukuoka

One of the best-kept secrets in Fukuoka is this sleepy seaside town brimming with endless natural beauty and local flare. Less than an hour from central Fukuoka, Itoshima is a popular summer getaway for most locals.

Follow the coastline to discover stunning beaches and watch the best sunsets in the country. Most notable of these beaches is Sakurai Futamigaura which is home to meoto iwa (married rocks) that symbolize the marriage between Shinto gods Izanagi and Izanami. Framed by a pearly white torii gate (shrine gate) near the shoreline, it’s a sight to behold no matter the season.

Up in the mountains, Shiraito Falls in Mount Hagane awaits. In June, marvel at thousands of blooming ajisai (hydrangeas) that frame the waterfall and come hotter days, events like somen-nagashi (flowing noodles) are held on-site. After exploring the great outdoors, sit back and relax at one of the many charming, locally-owned cafes.

4
Matsushima, Miyagi

When visiting the Tohoku region, Matsushima always comes to mind as a premiere sightseeing destination. One of Japan’s top three most scenic views, you can watch the sunrise over 260 islands across the horizon.

For as long as anyone can remember, there have been countless songs and poetry have been dedicated to the natural beauty of Matsushima. Most notable of these artisans include Matsuo Bashu, a haiku master who once explored the islands during ancient times. Today, there’s a boat tour named after him that takes travelers on a cruise around the different formations that crowd the bay.

Back on shore, there’s still so much to see and do. Start by exploring Benzaiten Temple by crossing the picturesque Fukuura Bridge. Then make your way to Zuiganji Temple a 1,000-year-old national treasure lined with moss-covered Buddha statues from a bygone era. Come winter, don’t miss out on the annual oyster festival held every February. In the middle of summer, enjoy fireworks and lanterns light up the sky.

3
Kamakura and Enoshima, Kanagawa

Kanagawa’s Kamakura and Enoshima are easily accessible from Tokyo, making them ideal day trip destinations. You can hop on a train and reach Kamakura in just an hour. Once the political capital of Japan, Kamakura is home to numerous historical treasures such as the iconic Great Buddha (Daibutsu), and several ancient shrines such as the beautiful Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine and Zeniarai Benten Shrine.

Enoshima, a small island connected to the mainland by a bridge, offers spectacular coastal views and a peaceful atmosphere. The island features shrines, scenic walking trails and captivating sunsets. You can climb Enoshima’s iconic lighthouse for panoramic views. There are also several traditional shops and even a popular spa and onsen (Enoshima Spa) where you can relax after a long day of walking.

Kamakura and Enoshima are known for delicious local cuisine, like savory shirasu (baby anchovies), grilled fish, ice creams, taiyaki (fish-shaped pastries) and tempura.

2
Gokayama and Shirakawa, Toyama and Gifu

Experience the beauty of rural Japan’s past in the Gokayama area and Shirakawa village. Nestled at the base of the majestic mountains of Gifu and Toyama prefectures, these areas offer a glimpse into the traditional countryside lifestyle.

In the Gokayama area, you’ll find the Ainokura Gasshozukuri Village, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Explore its narrow streets and marvel at the well-preserved gassho-zukuri, houses with steeply angled thatched roofs. Many of the houses are still lived in, along with small museums and artistic workshops too.

Find the biggest concentration of gasshozukuri houses in the Shirakawa Village, also a UNESCO World Heritage site. For a sweeping overhead view of the village, a short climb or shuttle bus ride takes you to the Shiroyama Viewpoint.

1
Kanazawa, Ishikawa

Kanazawa is a hidden gem that offers a delightful blend of everything we love about Japan. In a lot of ways, it’s a lot like Kyoto just without the crowds. For example, there are historic districts like Higashi Chaya and the Nagamachi Samurai District, with traditional wooden architecture, teahouses and narrow streets that transport you back in time. You might even spot a geisha or two.

An absolute must-visit, Kenrokuen Garden is one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens; a masterpiece of landscape design with meticulously manicured landscapes serene ponds and quaint tea houses. Nearby Kanazawa Castle was once the imposing domain of the powerful Maeda clan.  The castle has been faithfully reconstructed, offering a glimpse into its historical significance.

Kanazawa is also renowned for its traditional arts and crafts. The city is famous for producing gold leaf, which is used to decorate various objects. A popular Kanazawa treat is soft-serve ice cream wrapped in a sheet of edible gold leaf.