Japan is one of my favourite countries. The local food is amazing, fashion so kawaii, its temple and flower festivals so vibrant, streets are clean, people friendly… I could go on an on. But one thing travel photographers will appreciate is how photogeni Japan is. So here are my 20 favourite photos of Japan with some background info.
Table of Contents
- 1 Skytree Tower, Tokyo
- 2 Temple Festivals
- 3 Fuji-Yama
- 4 Osaka Nightlife
- 5 Matsumoto Castle
- 6 Snow Monkeys
- 7 Japanese Villages
- 8 Cherry Blossoms
- 9 Nara
- 10 Wisteria Season
- 11 Shibazakura
- 12 Shrines and Temples
- 13 Nara Deer
- 14 Wakayama
- 15 Japanese Flowers
- 16 Nature
- 17 Cats
- 18 Japanese Socks
- 19 Shibuya and Harajuku
- 20 Kyoto
- 21 Japan Travel Resources
Skytree Tower, Tokyo
Shrines and Temples
Shibuya and Harajuku
One of the most iconic sights in Tokyo is Skytree in Asakusa, Tokyo. You can see it from afar and it is the world’s tallest tower with a height of 634 meters. Especially during cherry blossom season in Tokyo, walking along the river promenade makes for amazing pics. Your friends will be so jealous of your photos from Japan! (Bonus: You can get up and have a 360° view over vibrant Asakusa. Get your ticket online to avoid waiting in line – particularly during sakura season and Golden Week! It can take hours.)
I absolutely adore the various temple festivals (matsuri) across Japan. You don’t even need to come during big ones, such as for sakura season or the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa. The photo was taken at Yasaka Koshindo in Kyoto, where you write your wishes on a colourful “kukurizaru” ball. If you give up a greed, your wish will come true.
A definite must for any photo of Japan is Mount Fuji. You can see it from afar and don’t necessarily have to plan a Fuji holiday at its nearby towns, such as Kawaguchiko and Hakone (though it’s highly recommended). Hiking Fuji is akin toa pilgrimage and there are ten stations to reach. Reach the last one before sunrise for an epic experience. For most of the year, you can only ever get up as much as Fifth Station (if buses go or you are willing to hike halfway). Only when all of the snow has melted in late August, you can actually join hundreds of others on the last half.
Most people associate the busy Japanese nightlife with Tokyo’s neon lights and gaming arcades. I, however, prefer Osaka’s Tennoji and Dotonbori districts with its colourful lights, wonderful Osaka cuisine (such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki). It’s busy both day and night but nearly not as crowded as Shibuya.
Japan has over 100 castles of its original 5000 left and they are well worth a visit. (Fun fact: Germany has over 20,000 castles.) If you must choose, why not pick either of the two Crow Castle (Matsumoto or Okayama) as well as the white Himeji castle?
Japan has so many adorable animals. On my bucketlist, the famous Jigokudani snow monkeys were ranking high and naturally I had to visit them. But there are plenty of thers, too, such as Cat Island (I’ve only been to Tokyo’s Cat Street so far). Just do your research before you visit places like Cat/Otter/Owl Cafes or Fox Island to check if animals are actually treated right because conditions are not ideal.
I love to get out of the city and wandering in nature. Even if you are in busy Kyoto for sakura season, plan a trip to Arashiyama. Most people know it as the place with the famous Bamboo Forest, but what about its historical temples, kimono forest, old bridge and wonderful parks and mountains?
I don’t need to tell you how amazing cherry blossoms in Tokyo and all over Japan are. These trees are planted in alleys, near rivers and around parks and are perfect for picnics! Mingle with locals, drink sake, eat bentos and admire the pink petals – both day and night thanks to pink night lanterns.
TWo of my favourite places in Japan are Nara and Nikko. Both are steeped in history, the former having been Japan’s capital and both having UNESCO heritage sites. If you can plan a day trip from Osaka and Tokyo respectively, it’s well worth it.
If you cannot make it for cherry blossom season, don’t fret. There are tons of (spring) flowers blooming in Japan that are likewise breathtaking. The Japanese love their flowers and dedicate entire parks and festivals to them. One unmissable one is wisteria season at Ashikaga Flower Park.
The Shibazakura Fuji Festival is another convincing reason to visit Mount Fuji. It will stand out from your photos from Japan tremendously! Pink flower carpets, green forest trees and the blue mountain in the back. What’s not to love?
In Kyoto alone, there are more than 1600 temples and over 400 Shinto shrines. Just imagine how many there are spread out all over the country! Shintoism and Buddhism are an essential part of the Japanese culture and practised side by side. So if you need some relaxing time, want to make a wish or just admire beautiful architecture and historical buildings, check out a local shrine or temple. The stones shown in the photo represent Jizo, guardians of travellers and children.
These cute Nara deer deserve another post because they are both adorable AND cheeky. Don’t mistkae the fact that they roam freely and aren’t scared of humans with them being tame. They are still wild animals and greedy ones. Give them a rice cracker and they might chase you for more. If you think about it, they would make the cutest dictators (I made a Sci Fi video about it).
Most tourists cover the main stops along Honshu on their maybe week long Japan itinerary, which includes Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and maybe Nagoya. But what about the hidden gems, the lesser known towns, villags and landscapes? One of them is Wakayama, which is just an hour away from Osaka and well worth a visit.
To get absolutely amazing Japanese photos, you need to come visit for Japanese spring flowers. There are new ones nearly every week – and not just pink sakura blossoms. How about pastel azaleas, vibrant tulips or baby blue oceans of flowers on the floor?
Skip the cities for a change and visit Japanese nature. Seriously, hiking in Japan is so easy and rewarding. If you’re down, you could even walk a pilgramge trail, such as up Mt Fuji or Kii peninsula and rest for the night at a temple. My favourite nature and temple spot is Nikko, North of Tokyo.
Did you know that the Japanese call cats neko? Cats are widely beloved and you can find the occasional one wandering around Japan’s cities, too. A well known location for spotting them in Tokyo (during dusk/dawn) is Yanaka Ginza near Nikko Station.
Ha! Gotcha! You probably thought this was just another photo of Osaka castle but no, it’s about the adorable socks I bought myself as a gift from Japan. I absolutely love souvenir shopping in Japan, there are tons of amazing things to be had even in 100 yen ($1) stores, such as chopsticks, dinnerware, clothes and stationary. So if don’t pack all the kawaii clothes but leave enough space in your suitcase. (But also know what you do need to bring to Japan because sizes are small.)
Even if you don’t care an inch about kawaii fashion in Harajuku and Shibuya and you hate crowds, I still say it is quite an experience worth having. You can get off right at the Harajuku station (JR) or the Meiji-jingumae “Harajuku” Station (Tokyo Metro), have a look around and then escape into the Yoyogi Park.
The former Japanese capital is undoubtedly one of the main attractions to (foreign) visitors. Its Old Historic Centre has so much culture and heritage to offer. You can try and glimpse geishas in Gion District (or see a Geisha performance), climb nearby mountains, visit a temple festival, dress up in a kimono, stroll along the rivers and canals, visit temples and shrines galore, etc. You can easily spend days in Kyoto without getting bored. It’s such a vibrant city, on and off the beaten paths.
Japan Travel Resources
- Travel Guides – To learn even more about wonderful destinations in Japan, epic restaurants and reviewed hotels, get a handy travel guide, such as Lonely Planet in advance. They also contain helpful basic phrases.
- Railpass – It’s totally possible to get around by bus in Japan. However, to maximise your sightseeing, jump on a shinkansen, bullet train. These are included in the JR Railpass, which is only available for foreign toursists and delivered to their address abroad. It’s worth it if you use JR trains a lot each day. It also works on the airport rail line at Tokyo’s and Osaka’s airports and within those cities.
- Travel Insurance – No matter how short your trip is, you need to cover your bases with a travel insurance. You can never know if something will come up – from a delayed flights, lost luggage or accident. Japan is a safe country, but some days luck isn’t on your side.
- Accommodation – Hostels aren’t all that great in Japan and during high season, they aren’t cheap. For a traditional stay, opt for a rykokan, which can be reserved over Booking.bom. Airbnb is an alternative, but there are recent changes to protect the local housing market. It is still possible to use it though and if you haven’t tried it before, here is a $25 voucher.
Local tours – As a solo traveller, I love small group tours to meet with fellow travellers and hear cool stories from locals. It’s one of the best ways to really get to know a place or jsut get a good overview with key landmarks and their history. Or get a private tour in Tokyo. Check out getyourguide for local tours.
Which photo of Japan did you like most of all?