Japan is one of the world’s leading nations and has lots to offer visitors. Some 8.61 million people visited Japan in 2010, setting a new record. The island nation’s attractions include the major cities of Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka, its religious shrines, its war heritage and its beautiful and often dramatic natural environment.
Japan’s major cities are undoubtedly its most famous places. Rough Guides describe Tokyo as “one of the world’s most exciting cities,” and with around 8 million inhabitants, Japan’s capital is always busy. Nearby Yokohama is smaller but still boasts a population of some 3.6 million. It has a more international heritage, visible in some of its Western-style architecture and retains a sizable foreign population today. Further south, Osaka is the country’s third-largest city and has a long history of religious significance and a reputation for good food.
Temples and Shrines
The Ise Grand Shrines are the most important Shinto religious site in Japan. The complex stands in around 5,500 hectares of sacred forest and the relationship of the shrine to the surrounding forest and river system is a demonstration of the Shinto approach to nature. Parts of the shrine complex, particularly the area surrounding the Omiwa Shrine, have been used for religious ceremonies for more than 2,000 years. Frommer’s points out that Japan’s religious structures are some of the country’s most popular visitor attractions and recommends a visit to the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo to experience the lively atmosphere of the city’s oldest temple.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are two of the best-known places in Japan, albeit for all the wrong reasons. The world’s first atomic bomb attack took place at Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, while a second device was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. The skeletal remains of the city’s Commercial Exhibition Hall were the only building left standing in the area after the blast, which killed around 140,000 people, and after the war were preserved as a reminder of humanity’s destructive capacity and a symbol of hope for the future. Today the building and the surrounding Peace Memorial Park is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site. In Nagasaki a Peace Park to the north of the city center provides a place to remember the events of Aug. 9, 1945 that destroyed the city.
Japan has more than two dozen major volcanoes, according to the United States Geological Survey, and of these, Mount Fuji is probably the most famous. Standing at 12,388-feet, Mount Fuji is also Japan’s highest volcano and is the main attraction in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. The cone-shaped volcano has great spiritual importance for many Japanese and the Shizuoka Prefecture asks that visitors treat it with great respect. Aside from Fuji-Hakone-Izu, Japan has 28 other National Parks, ranging from the lakelands of the Shiretoko National Park in the far north to the wild mountainous landscape of the Kirishima-Yaku National Park in the south.