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Japan

Main attractions

Itsukushima, Japan
Tori of Itsukushima / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Few years ago one of Japanese buzzwords was garapagosu, in a meaning that Japan is secluded and evolving separately from all the other world, just like Galapagos Islands.

Indeed, there are few countries in the world with such distinct and rich cultural heritage as Japan. One of the greatest achievements of Japanese culture is that Japanese have reached certain harmony with nature and every notable natural landmark in the country is part of Japanese culture.

Most interesting landmarks in Japan are:

  • Buddhist and Shinto shrines. The contrast between the ages old traditions of Japanese and modernity of their cities seems surprising - but exactly these traditions have helped to build one of world's most advanced economies. There are thousands upon thousands of diverse shrines in the country and each of them is very special and important to someone, many are unique in their concept, design and location. Some temples are known internationally, e.g. Itsukushima Shrine and Ryōan-ji with its amazing rock garden.
  • Japanese gardens. It is surprising to realize that most of Japan is pristine or near pristine land - Japan is more forested than, for example, Sweden or Russia. Japanese forests are beautiful and their beauty together with deep traditions has inspired Japanese to create some of world's most beautiful parks and gardens, such as Kyoto Imperial Palace Gardens or Shugakuin Imperial Villa Gardens.

Japan is very rich with many other kinds of landmarks. Japanese castles are unlike to other castles in the world, numerous hot springs take important role in traditional culture, here are found largest burial mounds and largest modern bridges in the world.

Natural landmarks

Rock formations

  • Onbashi natural bridge - Chūgoku. Largest natural bridge in Japan, 40 m high and 90 m wide. River flows under it.
  • Takachiho-kyo - Kyushu. Very impressive, narrow gorge with walls formed by basalt prisms. In the gorge are falling several waterfalls including the Manai Falls.
  • Yonaguni Monument - Ryukyu. Unusual underwater rock formation which resembles terraces. There are discussions whether this is natural or man made formation, which has been made several millenia ago and now inundated due to earthquakes.
Mount Fuji and comet ISON, Japan
Mount Fuji and comet ISON / Noriaka Tanaki, / CC BY 2.0

Volcanoes and geothermal features

  • Mount Fuji - Chūbu. Symbol of Japan, highest mountain in the country, 3,776 m high. This volcano has nearly perfect symmetrical form and has provided inspiration for many works of art.
  • Nakadake Crater Lake (Yudamari) - Kyūshū. Crater lake with lake, which contains very acidic (from less than 0.5 to 1.7 pH), 50 - 70 °C hot water. Lake water changes color over the time from almost white and azure to emerald green. Lake is sacred, it is located in Aso caldera - one of the largest volcanic calderas in the world, 25 by 18 km large.
  • Shōwa-shinzan - Hokkaidō. Volcanic lava dome, which rised from the wheat fields in 1944 - 1945. Now the mountain is 398 m high and is smoking.
Monkeys in Jigokudani hot springs, Japan
Monkeys in Jigokudani hot springs / Duchamp, , CC BY 2.0

Hot springs

  • Beppu hot springs - Kyūshū. A group of boiling mud pots and hot pools - jigoku. Tatsumaki jigoku geyser erupts up to 20 m high. Whole area long since ago has been turned into resort and it is not easy to distinguish what here is man-made and what - natural.
  • Jigokudani hot springs - Chūbu. These hot springs, 850 metres above the sea level, are well known due to population of Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) who since 1963 have sat in the warm waters of springs during the daytime.
  • Onneto Hot Falls and springs - Hokkaidō. Hot waterfall, formed by hot springs. Height - 30 m. Unique process of manganese ore formation is ongoing at the spring and waterfall.
  • Tamagawa Hot Spring - Tōhoku. Hot spring with the highest flow rate in Japan - 150 l/s. Spring feeds 3 m wide stream, temperature of water - 98° C, water is very acidic - 1.1 pH. Spring deposits radioactive sediments.
Kegon Falls, Japan
Kegon Falls / Okinawa Steve, , CC BY-SA 2.0

Waterfalls

  • Hagoromo Falls - Hokkaidō. Gorgeous, 270 m tall waterfall with several cascades. Water does not fall in plunges - it flows down along the cliffs.
  • Kegon Falls - Kantō. Beautiful, 97 m tall and approximately 7 m wide waterfall with a single, vertical plunge.
  • Nachi Falls - Kansai. 133 m tall and 14 m wide waterfall, which falls in a single plunge over an overhanging cliff.
  • Shōmyō Falls - Chūbu. Highest waterfall in Japan, 350 m tall. Falls have four cascades - 70, 58, 96 and 126 m high. Next to it are Hannoki Falls - 497 m tall waterfall which flows only from April to July.

Trees

  • Jōmon Sugi - Ryukyu, Yakushima. Largest and oldest sugi tree (Cryptomeria japonica (L.f.) D.Don). Circumference 16.4 m, height 25.3 m. At least 2,000 years old.
  • Kamou no Ohkusu - Kyushu. Camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora (L.) J.Presl.) with a circumference of 24.2 m. Tree is some 30 m high, with estimated age of 1,5 thousand years.
  • Kita Kanegasawa - Tōhoku. Largest ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba L.) in Japan, girth 22 m, height 40 m, considered to be over 1,000 years old, with very large chichi (stalactite like wood formations).
Senpiro Falls in Yakushima Forest, Japan
Senpiro Falls in the unique Yakushima Forest / Mark MrWizard, , CC BY 2.0

Other natural landmarks

  • Lake Mashū - Hokkaidō. Possibly the clearest lake in the world, located in the caldera of volcano and surrounded by up to 200 m tall cliffs. Now the Secchi disk can be seen in the depth of 20 - 30 m, although in 1931 it was seen in the depth of 41,6 m.
  • Naruto whirlpools - Kansai. Very impressive whirlpools which are formed by the tide in the 1.3 km wide Naruto Strait. Vortices are up to 20 m in diameter.
  • Yakushima Forest - Ryukyu. Unique ancient forest which covers major part of Yakushima island and looks like fairy tale forest. Here grow 1,900 species and subspecies of plants. On the island grow enormous and very old sugi trees (Cryptomeria japonica) which might be 3,000 years old and are considered to be sacred. 94 species of plants and hundreds of bryophite species grow only here.

Man made landmarks

Prehistoric landmarks

  • Odai Yamamoto I site - Tōhoku. Site where the oldest ceramics in the world were discovered in 1998. Earthenware vessel was used for cooking by Jōmon people sometimes around 14,500 BC. Here have been found also the oldest known arrowheads.
Ishibutai Kofun - largest megalithic structure in Japan
Ishibutai Kofun - largest megalithic structure in Japan / Tamago Moffle, , CC BY-SA 2.0

Megalithic tombs

  • Furuichi Kofun group - Kansai. Group of 123 megalithic burial structures. 31 of these structures are formed into a keyhole form. These structures were built in the time period between the late 4th and early 6th centuries and are the largest tumulus. Site includes Ôjin-tennô-ryô Kofun - second largest tumulus in Japan, 425 m long.
  • Ishibutai Kofun - Kansai. Largest megalithic structure in Japan, a burial of once important person (possibly Soga no Umako). Today here are 30 enormous stones although earlier this structure was larger and covered with soil. Ceiling of the tomb is covered with two giant stones - 60 and 77 tons heavy.
  • Kitora Tomb - Kansai. A mound with a tomb for a single, important person. Tomb was created in the time period between the 7th and the early 8th centuries AD. On the ceiling of the tomb is drawn star chart but on the walls are painted the oldest known zodiac murals in East Asia.
  • Nintoku-ryo Tumulus (Daisen Kofun) - Kansai. Largest ancient tumulus in Japan and whole world, 486 m long and up to 33 m high. Could be built as early as in the middle of the 5th century AD.
  • Takamatsuzuka Tomb - Kansai. Burial mound with amazing polychrome frescoes, created in the time period between the end of the 7th century and the early 8th century AD. Mound has a diameter of 16 m and is 5 m high. Frescoes are rich with symbolism and show four male followers and four abigails together with Chinese constellations: the Azure Dragon, Black Tortoise, White Tiger, and Vermilion Bird.

Historical villages, parts of cities

Gion district in Kyoto, Japan
Gion district in Kyoto / jit bag, , CC BY 2.0
  • Gion - Kansai. Historical district in Kyoto with exclusive quartals of geishas (here - geiko). Traditional architecture, utensils and way of life here is preserved.
  • Gokayama - Chūbu. Group of traditional villages (including Ainokura, Taira, Kamitaira, Toga) with the rare gasshō-zukuri style houses, which often are more than 300 years old and even 400 years old.
  • Gunkanjima (Hashima Island) - Kyushu. Small island which is completely covered with buildings. Here was located coal mine in 1887 - 1974. In 1959 there were living 5,259 people on this 6.3 ha island. Today no one lives here, buildings have been preserved.
  • Shirakawa-go - Chūbu. Historical village with 112 well preserved traditional houses in gasshō-zukuri style. These houses have very steep roofs to keep the snow off and large antics to grow the silkworms.

Castles

Himeji Castle, Japan
Himeji Castle / LuxTonnerre, , CC BY 2.0
  • Hikone Castle - Kansai. One of the best preserved and most interesting medieval castles in Japan, built in 1603 - 1622.
  • Himeji Castle - Kansai. Best example of the traditional Japanese castle architecture, a group of 83 buildings and extensive defensive systems. Construction started in 1333, major rebuilding took place in the 16th century and in 1601 - 1609.
  • Matsumoto Castle - Chūba. Well preserved, famous castle. Keep of the castle was built in the late 16th century and has its furniture and interiors well preserved since then.
  • Nijō Castle - Kansai, Kyoto. Large castle complex with gardens and diverse historical buildings. Castle was built in 1626, later were added many valuable buildings, such as the ornate Ninomaru Palace and Honmaru Palace.
  • Shuri Castle - Ryukyu, Okinawa. Palace and administrative center of the former Ryūkyū Kingdom. Castle was originally built before the 14th century, rebuilt after the 2nd World War. Castle complex contains numerous interesting landmarks in indigenous Ryukyu style, such as Shikina-en Gardens, Sonohyan-utaki sacred grove, Shureimon gate.

Ancient shrines

  • Okinoshima Island - Kyūshū. This small island between Korea and Japan served as a shrine in the time period between the 4th and the 10th centuries AD. Sacrifices were made to the gods to secure safe way for ocean going vessels. Island is off limits to women up to this day.
  • Sefa-utaki - Ryukyu. Old shrine, which was used by Ryukyu people for millenia. Consists of a group of caves at the sea. Ancient buildings have been destroyed.

Buddhist shrines

Kinkaku-ji, Japan
Kinkaku-ji / Laitche, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
  • Chūson-ji - Tōhoku. Buddhist temple which was founded sometimes around 1100 AD. Temple includes a mausoleum Konjiki-dō, which is made from the wood which is covered with gold leafs and contains mummies.
  • Hōryū-ji - Kansai. Complex of Buddhist temples. Pagoda of the temple is one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world, built soon after 594 AD. Next to it stands Kon-dō prayer hall, which was built around 670 AD and has original murals. Temple contains many invaluable treasures of Buddhist art from the 6th - 7th centuries.
  • Kinkaku-ji - Kansai. This is a magnificent Zen Buddhist temple: a wooden structure, covered with gold leafs. It was initially built in 1397, was burnt down several times and last reconstructed in 1955. Garden around the temple belongs to most beautiful gardens in the world.
  • Kiyomizu-dera - Kansai. Large Buddhist temple, founded in 798. The enormous and beautiful main building has been built without a single nail.
  • Kōfuku-ji - Kantō. Ancient Buddhist temple, established in 668 AD and moved to its present location in 710. Oldest current buildings are from the 13th century.
  • Rinnō-ji - Kantō. Complex of 15 Buddhist temples, initially founded in 766 AD. Includes the famous Sanbutsudō with gold leafed statue of goddess with thousand arms.
  • Ryōan-ji - Kansai. A Zen Buddhist temple, renowned for its dry rock garden from the late 15th century, containing 15 boulders, of which only 14 can be seen from any angle. Only the enlightened are able to see the 15th.
  • Tōdai-ji - Kantō. An important and beautiful Buddhist temple complex established in 728, it contains the largest wooden building in world. Sika deer are roaming freely here.
  • Tō-ji - Kansai. Old, interesting Buddhist temple, founded in 796 AD, the oldest in Kyoto. Wooden pagoda is 54.8 m high, tallest wooden structure in Japan.
Torii in Fushimi Inari, Japan
Torii in Fushimi Inari / Paul Vlaar, Wikimedia Commons and www.neep.net

Shinto shrines

  • Atsuta Shrine - Chūbu. One of most revered Shinto shrines, established in the late 1st - early 2nd century.
  • Fushimi Inari - Kansai. Head shrine of goddess Inari, large temple complex developing since 711 AD. Unusual feature is path to inner shrine covered with thousands of wooden gates (torii) donated by businessman and individuals - as Inari is goddess of industry and worldly success.
  • Ise Grand Shrine - Kansai. One of holiest Shinto shrines, especially inner shrine - Naikū. Here is worshipped goddess Amaterasu-ōmikami. It is considered that history of this shrine goes back to 4 BC, first shrine built roughly at 692 AD. Wooden buildings are built in specific style and rebuilt every 20 years.
  • Itsukushima Shrine - Chūgoku. One of most beautiful Shinto shrines, with its design established in 1168. Famous feature - wooden gate (tori) standing in sea - one of symbols of Japan.
  • Izumo-taisha - Shimane. Shrine with a very long history and once most popular pilgrimage site in Japan.
  • The Wedded Rocks, Japan
    Meoto Iwa - Shinto shrine / M.G., Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0
    Kumano Hayatama Taisha, Kumano Hongū Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha - Kansai. Three ancient, most important Kumano shrines, located some 30 - 40 km from each other. This is sacred area since prehistoric times and is believed to have special powers, e.g. in healing. For millenia pilgrims have travelled between these shrines.
  • Meoto Iwa - Kansai. Shinto shrine - two rock stacks which are joined by a rope. According to Shinto these rocks represent the union between a man and women. Rope needs to be replaced several times every year.
  • Nikkō Tōshō-gū - Kantō. One of the most beautiful Shinto temples in Japan, initially built in 1617. Complex of buildings includes Yōmeimon - richly decorated gate. The incredibly ornamented buildings contain countless symbols, oncluding the famous three monkeys who hear, speak and see no evil.
  • Shimogamo - Kansai. One of the oldest Shinto shrines, founded in the 6th century AD. Temple protects Kyoto from evil influence.
  • Usa jingū - Kyūshū. Important Shinto shrine, developed since the 8th century AD. It is possible that here in 779 AD was built the first shrine-temple of Japan called Miroku-ji. Current beautiful buildings were built in the middle of the 19th century.

Parks and gardens

Kyoto Imperial Palace Gardens, Japan
Kyoto Imperial Palace Gardens / np&djjewell, , CC BY 2.0
  • Cedar Avenue of Nikkō - Kantō. World's longest tree avenue - 35.41 km long. Avenue is adorned with some 13,000 cryptomeria trees which were planted some 400 years ago.
  • Kairaku-en - Kantō. One of three great gardens in Japan. Park was set in 1841 and is especially beautiful during the bloom of plums.
  • Kenroku-en - Chūbu. Another one of three great gardens in Japan, developed in the 1620s - 1840s. One of the most beautiful parks in the world.
  • Kōraku-en - Chūgoku. Third of three great gardens in Japan, set in 1700.
  • Kyoto Imperial Palace Gardens - Kansai. Beautiful gardens around the former imperial palace of Japan. Planning and buildings in the garden have provided much inspiration for modernist architecture and urban planning.
  • Shugakuin Imperial Villa Gardens - Kansai. Group of imperial gardens which belong to greatest achievements in the Japanese gardening.

Bridges and tunnels

Akashi Kaikyō Bridge, Japan
Akashi Kaikyō Bridge / Takuma Kimura, , CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Akashi Kaikyō Bridge - Kansai. Suspension bridge with the longest span in the world, 1,991 m long. Bridge was constructed over sea strait in 1998.
  • Kintai Bridge - Chūgoku. Interesting wooden arch bridge, built in 1673. Bridge has five arches resting on massive stone piers.
  • Seikan Tunnel – Tōhoku and Hokkaidō. Longest tunnel in the world, built in 1988 under Tsugaru Strait. This rail tunnel is 53.85 km long and goes up to 240 m below the sea level. Two railway stations are located below the sea.

Sites of legends

  • Aokigahara - Chūbu. Large, nearly pristine and ghostly, quiet forest with gruesome fame as the most popular place for suicides. Forest is reportedly haunted by Yūrei - dangerous spirits of deceased.

List of described attractions by regions

Japan has a traditional division in 8 regions which include two geographically separated island chains (Nanpō and Ryukyu). Here below they are listed in alphabetical order:

Chūbu
Chūgoku
Hokkaidō
ArrowOnneto Hot Falls and springsMineral springs, Thermal springs, Waterfalls, Ecosystems
Kansai
Kantō
Kyūshū
ArrowKamou no OhkusuTrees
Nanpō (part of Kantō)
Shikoku
Ryukyu (part of Kyūshū)
ArrowJōmon SugiTrees
Tōhoku

Map of Japan

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