Take our user survey here!

Top 10 Japan Travel Destinations For 2017

Our predictions for the best places to visit in Japan this year.

With Tokyo pulling out all the stops as it prepares to host the 2020 Olympics, Lonely Planet announcing Japan as this year’s number 2 best country to visit, a weak yen and the relaxing of visa regulations, the time has never been more right to plan a trip to Japan.

The question is, where to go? These islands abound with more sights than seemingly possible for such a small country. Perhaps you’re planning your first trip ever. Or maybe you’ve travelled Japan so extensively that you’re actually running out of places to go.

Here are our top ten picks for the best destinations of 2017. Whether they’re up-and-coming underdogs not yet discovered by the masses, or established travel hotspots with something new to offer, each place deserves your consideration. Happy travels!

Takaragawa Onsen, Gunma Prefecture

10. Gunma

Foreign visitors generally overlook this rural, landlocked prefecture that lies not far from Tokyo. That’s a shame, because this humble hinterland contains some of the best onsen in the country. In 2017 it will host the Nakanojo Biennale, one of a few innovative art festivals pioneered in Japan.

9. Tokyo Disney Sea

A longtime favorite of families, theme park fans, and schoolgirls in matching outfits, Tokyo Disney Sea is staying current with some new attractions based on popular films. Slated to open in 2017, these include a ride based on Finding Nemo and sequel Finding Dory, as well as a replica of Arendelle, the village from the movie Frozen. The park is also celebrating the 15th anniversary of its opening from April 15th, 2016 to March 17th, 2017, with a number of special shows as part of “The Year of Wishes.”

Nagasaki, Japan at Confucius Shrine.

8. Nagasaki

This year, Nagasaki was overshadowed by Hiroshima during the memorial events of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombs. 2017 is a prime time to explore this vibrant port city that embodies world peace and cultural exchange. With rare influences from Europe and China thanks to its history as a trading port, including a uniquely international food culture, Nagasaki makes a colorful addition to your itinerary.

Ishigaki island lagoon in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan

7. Okinawa

Okinawa is truly unlike anywhere else in Japan. Perhaps that’s why it keeps growing in popularity as a tourist destination, as evidenced by the rapid expansion of its airports. Because of its growing international tourism sector, it was chosen as the site of the 2017 Routes Asia conference where around 400 aviation companies will convene. It’s never been easier to reach this formerly isolated cluster of stunning subtropical islands, so see for yourself why everyone’s migrating south.

Performers stand in front of a giant snow sculpture at the Sapporo snow festival

6. Sapporo

Hokkaido was named Lonely Planet’s top travel destination in Asia for 2016. Start with its capital – a city that might seem surprisingly cosmopolitan and trendy, depending on how much you know about Japan’s northern frontier. Sapporo will hold the 2017 Asian Winter Games, so you can check out all the venues, and even do a few runs on the prized slopes yourself. Marvel at the inconceivable snow sculptures in the Snow Festival, and stuff your face with the freshest produce from land and sea.

Mountain landscape near Asahidake in Daisetsuzan national park, Hokkaido. With ropeway station.

5. Daisetsuzan

Of course, you’d miss out on Hokkaido’s best if you didn’t venture into its unrivaled nature. Celebrate Japan’s newest holiday, Mountain Day, with a trip to its largest national park. Home to multiple volcanic mountain ranges, Daisetsuzan is an incredible playground for hikers and skiiers. Plus thanks to charming onsen towns, a family-friendly ice festival, and some of the best autumn foliage in the country, you don’t need to be an athlete to enjoy immersing yourself in nature here.

View of Takachiho Gorge

4. Takachiho

Legend has it that Takachiho is where the gods once landed on earth, and it’s not hard to see why they picked this lush slice of paradise. The roads to Takachiho were damaged during the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake, but buses are back up and running and tourists warmly welcomed. With some companies offering discounts to encourage travel to Kyushu, now’s the time to score a cheap vacation and help the local economy recover. Spiritual healing in action.

3. Kanazawa

Kanazawa will hold the KOGEI World Competition in 2017, showcasing traditional craft techniques with a forward-thinking spin from around the world. This artistic city is the perfect fit, given that it’s home to both a centuries-old heritage of exquisite craftwork, as well as the cutting-edge 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Though its popularity is booming after recently becoming a stop on the Shinkansen, Kanazawa is still a smaller and quieter alternative to Kyoto for lovers of traditional Japanese culture.

Nachi, Japan at the pagoda of Seigantoji and Nachi no Taki waterfall, Wakayama Prefecture

2. Kumano

Part of the sacred Kii Mountain Range, Kumano Sanzan is made up of three ancient and historically important shrines. The way to reach them is by joining over 1000 years of pilgrims on the Kumano Kodo hiking routes. Your journey through these purifying forests can be punctuated by relaxing stays in traditional ryokan and minshuku. Though there’s no specific reason to go in 2017, surely the zen masters would agree that there’s no better time than the present moment (or, as soon as you can get a plane ticket).

Matsushima, Japan coastal landscape from Mt. Otakamori. Miyagi Prefecture

1. Miyagi

Having rapidly recovered after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, Miyagi’s tourism industry is still lagging, despite being ready and eager to receive visitors. This prefecture’s unique attractions can’t be missed: there’s the famous Tanabata Matsuri in capital city Sendai; a cat island and fox village for animal lovers; lovely onsen; and Matsushima Bay, which holds the ranking of one of Japan’s three most scenic views. With the prefectures affected by the earthquake thinking up creative ways to lure tourists, including a new partnership with Niantic to add bonuses for Pokemon Go players, you’re sure to find a gracious welcome.