If you are currently living in Japan, consider visiting these popular sightseeing spots before inbound tourists are allowed back into the country. Due to overtourism, the atmosphere of many of these locations has changed dramatically in recent years. They are currently more relaxed, but when the country opens up, they will, again, be inundated with crowds.
This is not a list of my favorite places; these are the 10 locations that I feel have changed the most due to the influx of inbound tourists. I have always enjoyed visiting them, but this is an opportunity to enjoy a more authentic atmosphere.
#1 Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture: Tokyo’s closest mountain resort, Hakone is filled with fantastic museums, interesting historic sites, and beautiful nature – including some of Japan’s best views of Mt. Fuji.
#2 Hiroshima & Miyajima: Home of the Atomic Bomb Dome and Itsukushima Shrine, two sites designated World Heritage for very different reasons. Visit both for a well-rounded trip.
#3 Kamakura & Enoshima, Kanagawa Prefecture: Both are an easy day trip from Tokyo, but should be visited separately as there is plenty to see and do in each. Kamakura is one of Japan’s ancient capitals – filled with impressive temples and shrines. Enoshima is a tiny island with a fascinating history and an interesting mix of sightseeing spots.
#4 Kiso Valley, Nagano & Gifu Prefectures. An ancient highway running through the mountains once linked Kyoto and Tokyo. Historic post towns (Tsumago, Magome, Narai…) sat along the route and these ‘juku’ retain their original atmosphere.
#5 Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture: A World Heritage site and one of the most important Buddhist centers in Japan. A visit to Koyasan isn’t complete without an overnight stay in one of the temples.
#6 Kyoto: My favorite city in the entire world, it is always a wonderful place to visit. However, some of the city’s most famous sites (ex. Kiyomizudera) were filled with unbearable hordes of tourists, but are now a pleasure to explore.
#7 Nara: The capital of ‘ancient Japan’, many of the city’s top spots, including some World Heritage sites, are located in & around Nara Park, which is also filled with wild (but tame) deer.
#8 Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture: An awe-inspiring temple complex surrounded by giant cedar trees and many impressive natural sightseeing spots. A long day-trip from Tokyo – a stay overnight is recommended.
#9 Dotonbori, Osaka: Although meant to be lively and full of people, it is now a lot easier to mingle with the locals in this popular entertainment district.
#10 Shirakawago: A historic thatched roof village located deep in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture. It is often a visited in combination with nearby Kanazawa. If possible, stay overnight in both locations.
NOTE: Until it is safe to do otherwise, when you visit these, and any other travel destinations in Japan, please act responsibly – in particular, please wear a mask. Most Japanese believe that mask wearing prevents the spread of disease. In Kyoto this May, 90% of the non-Japanese tourists that I have seen are not wearing masks. I have spoken to many locals about this and it causes them a great deal of stress. They want to warmly welcome international tourists, but they fear for their own health and the health of their elderly family members/friends. They are wearing masks to protect you, please show them respect by wearing one too.