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Popular Places To Visit

Japan is full of a great number of fascinating places to visit. It is true that the country is not particularly large in terms of sheer geographical size, at least compared to some countries. Still, the fact remains that Japan is comprised of 377,944 square kilometers of mountains, cities, agricultural fields - and even some lakes and volcanoes.

Given its span north to south across several degrees of latitude, Japan features a number of different climates. You can find surfing, scuba diving, mountain climbing . . . even cowboys and cattle.

When it comes to finding popular places to see in Japan, part of where you visit will depend upon your interests. For example, what is the best place to visit in Japan for one person will certainly be different for someone else.

And yet, there are a handful of popular places to see in Japan that nobody can debate are very much worth seeing at least once.

Best Cities To Visit

Do you love big cities? The hustle and bustle of people going about their busy days in a strange new city is exciting for some travelers. Others love the spectacle of millions of sparkling lights from skyscrapers, bridges, billboards and cars in every direction.

If you are one of those who just loves exploring a new big city, Japan is a wonderful destination. In Japan you can find the world's largest city (by metro area), Tokyo, as well as many others with over one million residents.

When it comes to the best cities in Japan to visit, here are the biggest cities in Japan ranked in order of population:

Tokyo: 8.5 million

Yokohama: 3.6 million

Osaka: 2.6 million

Nagoya: 2.2 million

Sapporo: 1.9 million

Kobe: 1.5 million

Kyoto: 1.5 million

Fukuoka: 1.4 million

So, which cities in Japan should you visit first? If your travel plans have you flying into Narita International Airport, you will be in the perfect position to visit the big cities in Eastern Japan, first.

Big Cities In Eastern Japan

Start with Tokyo, the largest city in the world by metro area. Whether your interests are watching traditional kabuki theatre, visiting the Meiji Shrine, going on a ghost tour, or seeing the National Science Museum - there is a ton to do in this great city. In fact, there is so much to do in Tokyo that you are advised to purchase a good guidebook.

Next, take the approximately 45-minute train ride from Tokyo to Yokohama. Yokohama features Japan largest commercial port, making for majestic views of Yokohama bay. The city also features popular attractions such as Japan's largest Chinatown, the Minato Mirai shopping district, and the Hakkejima Sea Paradise. Note: any good Tokyo, Japan travel guide will have information on Yokohama, given the two cities' close proximity.

Meanwhile, if you plan to take the bullet train from Tokyo toward the Kansai area, be sure to stop by in Nagoya, which lies just between Eastern and Western Japan. Popular things to explore in Nagoya include the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium, the Higashiyama Koen (zoo and botanical garden), and Midland Square.

Big Cities In Western Japan

If you plan to arrive into Japan via Kansai International Airport, definitely plan to spend some quality time in Osaka. Adventures to consider while there include Spa World, Universal Studios Japan, the National Bunraku Theatre, and the Tennoji Zoo. For nightlife, check out Dotonbori.

While in the Osaka area, go ahead and check out Kobe and Kyoto, as well.

Attractions in Kobe include Meriken Park & Harborland, Kobe Overseas Chinese History Museum, the Oji Zoo, and Mt. Maya.

Meanwhile, Kyoto features some of the most fascinating remnants of traditional Japan available anywhere. Particularly worth seeing are the Kiyomizu Temple, the Sanjusangendo Hall, the Eikan-do, and the Kodai-ji Temple.

Other Big Cities

Fukuoka and Sapporo, on the other hand, are far away from both Osaka and Tokyo. To visit either of these destinations from either Osaka or Tokyo will require long train rides and/or a domestic flight. However, if you love big cities, they are definitely worth the visit.

Fukuoka is way down south on the island of Kyūshū. Must-see things to do and see in Fukuoka are: the Tenjjin Underground City, Ohori Park, Nokonoshima Island, the Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome, and Fukuoka Tower.

Meanwhile Sapporo is on the northern main island of Hokkaido. You can find things in Sapporo and the surrounding areas that you will not find in the lower three main islands of Japan. Some potentially exciting destinations in Sapporo include: the Sapporo Snow Festival, the Sapporo Dome, the Mt. Okura Observatory, Odori Park.

Historical Places Rich In History

The entire country of Japan is full of historical places rich in history. You can find Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in all cities and in most towns. If you have particular interest in the ancient shrines and temples of Japan, be sure to visit the following three cities:

Kyoto: Located in Western Japan (Kansai region), Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years, and the city today still draws praise as Japan's most beautiful city. Today Kyoto has an amazing number of temples, places and shrines. Some must-see cultural attractions in Kyoto include. In fact, 17 of them are designated as World Heritage Sites. These include: Kinkaku-ji, Ryōan-ji, Ninna-ji, Kōzan-ji, Shimogamo Shrine, Kamigamo Shrine, Nijō Castle, Nishi Hongan-ji, Tō-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Ginkaku-ji, Tenryū-ji, Koke-dera, and Daigo-ji.

Nara: This beautiful city is also packed with a lot of historical wonder. It does not garner nearly as much attention as does nearby Kyoto, but it is well-worth visiting if you have an interest in historical Japan. While in Nara, be sure to visit Nara Park, the Nara City Museum of Photography, and the Heijyōkyū Palace Site.

Kamakura: This town, near Tokyo, actually served as the capital of Japan from 1185 to 1333. Being that it is within daytrip distance from Tokyo, it is a popular destination for Japanese and foreigners alike. Several shrines and temples adorn Kamakura, many of which can be explored on foot not far from the train stations. Others can be comfortably reached via bus or taxi.

The Hot Spring (Onsen) Experience

One of the most pleasurable and unique experiences for Westerners visiting Japan is a visit to an onsen, or hot spring. Forget what you know about visiting hot springs or hot spring resorts in other countries. In Japan, it is a whole experience. Onsen are popular destinations for Japanese families, group trips and businesspeople. They are also a favorite among foreigners.

Genuine Japanese hot springs are powered by underground volcanic (geothermal) activity. The magma heats mineral water to super-hot temperatures - which enterprising onsen designers funnel into their baths. Many Japanese believe in the health-restorative nature of the mineral water. You can often find detailed mineral composition charts on the walls of the dressing rooms or in the bath areas.

Note that true onsen are supplied by geothermally-heated water. By contrast, sentō are simply public baths supplied by heated tap water.

A visitor to Japan will find onsen peppered throughout the country, as they number in the thousands. Some are set up to accommodate visitors who are interested in taking a quick dip in the hot, mineral-rich water in the form of a day trip. Others are incorporated into hotels, ryokan, or bed and breakfasts (minshuku) and can accommodate individuals, families or groups for overnight stays.

Bathing is generally unisex, meaning that the men and women bathe in separate areas. All bathers are required to wash themselves off in rinsing areas near the baths. Traditionally, nude bathing is the norm, although some mixed bathing onsen require bathing suits.

There are too many onsen to list here, so check with your hotel, ryokan or minshuku attendant when you arrive in Japan to find one near you. Some of the most famous are the Kusatsu Onsen (Gunma Prefecture), the Atami Onsen (Shizuoka Prefecture), Echigo Yuzawa Onsen (Niigata Prefecture), Hakone (Kanagawa Prefecture), and Gero Onsen (Gifu Prefecture), and the Kinugawa Onsen at Nikkō City (Tochigi Prefecture).