The 25 best places to visit in Western Japan

 

Completed in 2006, to the north east of Kumamoto city, is the Kokonoe Yume Suspension Bridge, referred to as the 'Walkway In The Sky'. With a span of 390 metres (1,280 ft) across the gorge, hanging 173 metres (568 ft) above the ground, it is the longest and highest pedestrian suspension bridge in Japan. From it visitors can see the Shindo-No-Taki waterfall, the great forest of Narukogawa-Keikoku and the distant Kuju-Renzan mountains.

25. Kokonoe-Yume

 

In the south east of Kyushu island, the most westerly of Japan's four main islands, overlooking the Pacific Ocean near the city of Nichinan, is the Sun Messe Nichinan. Built in 1996, the site consists of seven replica Moai statues based on the originals from Easter Island. It is said that each one embodies a different power, whether it be a blessing of good health, love, leisure, marriage, money, fruitful business or academics, and as such, visitors can regularly be seen praying in front of the statues. These seven are the only replicas on the planet whose construction has been officially permitted.

24. Sun Messe Nichinan

 

Completed in 2009, to the south west of the centre of the city of Kobe, close to Osaka Bay, is the 50 ton, 15 metre (50 ft) high Tetsujin-28-Go statue, known in English as 'Gigantor'.

In 1995 the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck the city of Kobe killing nearly 6,500 people and leaving over 300,000 homeless. As the city began the difficult task of reconstruction, it looked for a symbol of inspiration that would give them hope for the future. With the great love of robots within Japanese culture, they chose one of the countries most famous metal men. Created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, a native of Kobe, Tetsujin-28-Go first appeared in comic books as far back as 1956. Today it remains a symbol of the cities recovery and an inspiration of hope to it's people.

23. Tetsujin-28-Go

 

On the Ōsumi Island of Yakushima is the 246 square kilometre (95 square mile) Yakushima National Park, part of the larger Kirishima-Yaku National Park that stretches beyond the islands borders. With hydrofoil ferry taking visitors to the island from nearby Kagoshima, over 300,000 tourists descend on Yakushima every year. The park consists of unique warm and temperate ancient forests and the largest existing subtropical evergreen forests in the region. Animals that can be spotted include the indigenous red bottomed macaques and the endangered loggerhead sea turtle. This entire endangered habitat eco-region has been declared a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site.

22. Yakushima Kokuritsu Kōen

 

To the north west of the city of Kyoto, connecting two sides of the Miyazu Bay, is the 3.3 kilometre (2 mile) long thin strip of sandy land known as Amanohashidate, part of the Tango-Amanohashidate Ōeyama Quasi National Park. Covered by about 7,000 pine trees, the view from the mountains either side of the sandbar has been deemed one of Japan's Three Scenic Views, chosen in 1915 as part of a national election.

Pictured from Mount Moju.

21. Amanohashidate

 

In the north east of Kyushu island, between Beppu Bay and the volcanic mountains ​is the city of Beppu, famed for having more than 2,000 natural hot spring vents. Among these are eight major geo-thermal hot spots sometimes referred to as the 'Eight Hells Of Beppu, nationally designated beauty spots that are for viewing rather than bathing. Each unique in colour, one of the most well known is the Chinoike Jigoku, translated to 'Bloody Hell Pond', a boiling, bubbling, steaming pool of iron rich red water. At 78 °C it was once a place of torture, where people were literally boiled to death.

Pictured is the Chinoike Jigoku.

20. Beppu Onsen

 

In the centre of Kyushu island, east of Kumamoto city is the Takachiho Gorge, a narrow chasm carved through the rock by the Gokase River. Made of steep basalt columns below thick green forest, this beautiful natural attraction is best viewed from a rowing boat that can be rented at the southern end. Alternatively there is a path that follows the gorge.

Pictured is the Minainotaki Waterfall.

19. Takachiho-kyō

 

West of Hiroshima, on the main island of Honshu is the Akiyoshidai Quasi-National Park, encompassing 45 square kilometres (17 miles) of protected land. Above ground the vast lands of the Akiyoshidai Plateau are dotted with limestone pinnacles, whilst below it holds the highest concentration of karst cave formations in Japan. These include the massive 9 kilometre (5.5 mile) long Akiyoshido Cave. The one kilometre that is open to the public is paved and well lit, taking visitors past terraces of limestone pools, underground waterfalls and a stream of cobalt blue water.

18. Akiyoshidai Kokutei Kōen

 

In the extreme west of the country, in the city of Nagasaki, is the Nagasaki Peace Park, commemorating the atomic bombing of the city on August 9th, 1945 during World War II. Established in 1955 near the centre of the explosion, remnants of the Urakami Cathedral, the grandest church of east Asia at the time, can still be seen. Within the park sits the 10 metre (33 ft) tall Peace Statue, it's right hand pointed skyward denoting the threat of nuclear weapons, the outstretched left hand symbolising peace.

Pictured is the Peace Statue.

17. Nagasaki Peace Park

 

On the main island of Honshu, within the city of Hiroshima, is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, commemorating the atomic bombing of the city on August 6th, 1945 during World War II. Commonly called the Atomic Bomb Dome, the building was the only structure left standing near the bombs hypocentre. When the city was being rebuilt many wanted the dome torn down, though many wanted the skeletal remains preserved as a memorial to the bombing and a symbol of peace, remembering the 70,000 people that were killed instantly that day, and the further 70,000 that suffered fatal injuries from the radiation fallout. As a reminder of the first atomic bomb ever used in war, the dome was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

16. Hiroshima Heiwa Kinenhi

 

Slightly south west of the city of Hiroshima on the island of Itsukushima, is the Itsukushima Shrine. First constructed around the 6th century and destroyed several times thereafter, the current shrine is believed to date from around the 16th century. Dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o no Mikoto, the Shinto god of seas and storms, the entire island is considered sacred land. Among the landmarks are the main shrine building, the five tiered pagoda and the main gate, known as the 'Torii'. Dating back to 1875, standing 16 metres (52 ft) high, it is one of Japan's most popular tourist attractions and one of the countries most recognisable landmarks. The view of the gate in front of Mount Misen is considered one of the Three Great Views Of Japan, as chosen in 1915 as part of a national election. Designated a national treasure by the Japanese government, the complex has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the 'Torii'.

15. Itsukushima-jinja

 

South east of the city of Osaka, on the main island of Honshu, is Mount Yoshino, famous for it's many thousand Sakura trees. Every autumn this relatively small 350 metre (1,148 ft) mountain comes alive with cherry blossoms attracting visitors from around the world. With several important religious and pilgrimage destinations located around the mountain, Mount Yoshino has been declared part of the 'Sacred Sites And Pilgrimage Routes In The Kii Mountain Range UNESCO World Heritage Site.

14. Yoshino-yama

 

First built in 1429 AD on Okinawa, Japan's most southern prefecture, closer to Taiwan than to the capital, Tokyo, is one of the most unique and ancient fortifications in the country, Shuri Castle. From the 15th century until the 19th it was the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, burned down and re-built several times over the centuries. In 1945 after the Battle Of Okinawa all but destroyed the castle, it was left largely neglected. After the war the castle was re-purposed as a university campus, with the central citadel and walls reconstructed based on historical records, photographs and people's memory. Despite being heavily restored in the 20th century, Shuri Castle as part of the Gusuku Sites And Related Properties Of The Kingdom Of Ryukyu has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

13. Shuri-jō

 

In the north of Kyushu island, south of the city of Fukuoka is the Buddhist temple of Nanzo-in, the main location among the 88 temples that make up the famous Sasaguri pilgrimage route. The temple is today most notable for it's reclining Buddha statue, known as Nehanzo or Shaka Nehan, at 41 metres (134 ft) long, 11 metres (36 ft) high and weighing nearly 300 tons it is often cited to be the largest bronze statue in the world.

12. Nanzo-in

 

In the south of Kyushu island, encompassing some 366 square kilometres (141 square miles) of protected land is the Kirishima Kinkowan National Park, part of the larger Kirishima-Yaku National Park that stretches to the small island of Yakushima. Known for it's volcanoes, volcanic lakes, crater lakes and thermal pools, the mountainous landscape is one of the finest natural terrains in the country. Named after the volcano group of Mount Kirishima, the highest peak in the park is Karakunidake, standing 1,700 metres (5,577 ft) above sea level.

11. Kirishima-Kinkowan Kokuritsu Kōen

 

South of the city of Osaka is the huge temple settlement of Mount Kōya, a mountain that is home to the headquarters of the Koyasan Shingon School Of Japanese Buddhism. First settled in 819 AD, the name also refers to the Kongōbu-ji or 'Temple Of The Diamond Mountain Peak', the head temple that stands today re-built in the late 19th century. Set in an 800 metre (2,624 ft) high valley among mountain peaks, the monastery has grown into the town of Kōya, which now features over 120 temples. Today as one of the Sacred Sites And Pilgrimage Routes In The Kii Mountain Range, the entire Mount Kōya has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the Danjogaran.

10. Kōya-san

 

East of Osaka and south of Kyoto is the city of Nara, the one time capital of Japan from 710 AD to 794 AD, what is now known as the Nara period. Some of the cities major attractions are based around it's important historical past, these include a handful of 6th century to 8th century temples. Some of the most outstanding are the Yakushi-ji, one of the most famous imperial and ancient Buddhist temples in Japan, the Kōfuku-ji with it's five storey pagoda and the Tōdai-ji or 'Great Eastern Temple' housing the worlds largest indoor bronze Buddha statue. Together these three temples were three of the Seven Great Temples Of Nanto. Today the five Buddhist temples, one Shinto shrine, one palace and the nearby Kasugayama Primeval Forest have been declared part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Nara UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the Kōfuku-ji.

9. Nara-shi

 

North of the city of Okayama, on the northern coast along the Sea Of Japan are the Tottori Sand Dunes. Covering an area of some 30 square kilometres (11.5 square miles) it is the largest dune system in the country. Having existed for over 100,000 years, since World War II they have been steadily decreasing due to a government reforestation program. For now this great natural site receives over 2 million visitors a year.

8. Tottori Sakyū

 

South of Kyoto, in the far south of Wakayama Prefecture is the Tendai Buddhist temple of Seiganto-ji, or 'Temple Of The Blue Waves'. According to legend, at some point in the 4th century a monk from India came following the river in search of a suitable place to worship, when he found the Nachi Falls. With a drop of 133 metres (436 ft) it is the countries tallest single uninterrupted waterfall. Like many temple buildings on the pilgrimage route, it was burned to the ground during the civil wars of the 16th century, then re-built shortly afterwards. Part of the Kumano Sanzan shrine complex, Seiganto-ji is one of the few shrine temples to have survived the Meiji Restoration, where many of the countries ancient monuments and buildings were demolished at the request of the government. Today the entire complex has been declared part of the Sacred Sites And Pilgrimage Routes In The Kii Mountain Range UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the Sanjūdō Pagoda with the Nachi Falls, considered one of the most beautiful and iconic views in Japan.

7. Seiganto-ji

 

To the south east of Osaka in Nara Prefecture is the Hōryū-ji, 'Temple Of The Flourishing Law'. Within the complex sits the five storey pagoda, standing at 34.5 metres (122 ft) high it is one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world, dating back to the late 6th century. Several of the structures, sculptures and artifacts within the complex are deemed national treasures of Japan, underlining Hōryū-ji's position as one of the most celebrated temples in the country. Once considered one of the Seven Great Temples Of Nanto, today the entire complex has been inscribed as the Buddhist Monuments In The Hōryū-ji Area UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the The Chūmon (Inner Gate) in front of the five storey pagoda.

6. Hōryū-ji

 

In the extreme west of the country, 15 kilometres (9 miles) out to sea from the city of Nagasaki is the abandoned Hashima Island, sometimes known as Gunkanjima, meaning 'Battleship Island'. Inhabited from the early 19th century due to the discovery of enormous quantities of underwater coal mines, it was in the 1950's when the population spiked and large tall stone residential buildings were constructed. As petroleum replaced coal in the 1960's the mines began to shut down, and in 1974 Hashima was abandoned completely. Today as a semi tourist attraction, the abandoned, still mostly intact concrete apartment buildings and surrounding wall has become an eerie symbol of the rapid industrialization of Japan, and one of very places on the planet with such an empty urban development. The abandoned island of Hashima has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

5. Hashima

 

In the centre of Kyushu island, east of Kumamoto city is the 726 square kilometre (280 square mile) Aso Kujū National Park, encompassing the volcano of Mount Aso and the Kujū Mountains. At 1,791 metres (5,876 ft) above sea level, Mount Kujū is the highest peak within the national park and the highest point of Kyushu island. Mount Aso is the largest active volcano in Japan, with a caldera circumference of some 120 kilometres (75 miles) it is among the largest on the planet. Visitors are able to drive up to the crater to witness some of the most rugged and volatile volcanic landscape anywhere in the world.

4. Aso Kujū Kokuritsu Kōen

 

Dating back to 1333 AD, in the city of Himeji to the west of Osaka, is the majestic hilltop Himeji Castle. Comprising of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the period, it is regarded the single finest surviving example of Japanese castle architecture. Expanding throughout the centuries, being dismantled and rebuilt, remodeled and redeveloped, surviving the Meiji Restoration process, World War II bombing and the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, this amazing structure is largely untouched since the early 17th century. In 1871 it would have been demolished had it not cost too much to tear down, and in 1945 when a bomb dropped onto the 1st floor and failed to explode it was once again spared destruction. The most visited castle in Japan, standing at a whopping 46 metres (152 ft) high it is also the largest in the country. One of the twelve original castles of Japan, one of the three premier castles along with Matsumoto and Kumamoto, a special historic site and a national treasure of Japan, it has also been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

3. Himeji-jō

 

In the centre of Honshu island, covering some 223 square kilometres (86 square miles) is the large port city of Osaka, with a population of 19 million it is the second largest metropolitan area in Japan, and among the largest in the world. Known for it's modern architecture, nightlife, neon advertising and fresh street food, Osaka is a modern city of lights with a smattering of historical sites. Chief among these is Osaka Castle, a wonderful 16th century fortification surrounded by tall skyscrapers. Other notable historical sites include the Shitenno-ji, the oldest Buddhist temple in the country dating back to 593 AD, and the Sumiyoshi-taisha, constructed in 211 AD it is among the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan.

2. Osaka-shi

 

Formerly known as Heian-kyō, the capital city between 794 AD and 1868, is today the city of Kyoto. Covering a vast 827 square kilometres (319 square miles) it's population is a mere 1.5 million. Famed for it's numerous classical Buddhist temples, palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses, Kyoto accounts for a fifth of the countries national treasures and 14% of it's important cultural properties. Home to some of the most incredible historical constructions in the country, including a contender for one of the Seven Wonders Of The World, 17 properties within the city have been deemed part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Click here for the Must See Places In Kyoto...

1. Kyoto-shi

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