People often ask me about places in Japan that one needs to visit no matter what.
There is no easy answer to that. First-time visitors prefer Tokyo, Kyoto and maybe Hiroshima.
It also depends greatly on the season and your interests.
But don’t worry, there is an ‘ancient’ top 3 list that might help you when planning your Japan trip.
Actually there are quite a few top 3 lists (e.g. the top 3 night views, top 3 gardens). While they might not display the best of the best, these spots have been chosen a long time ago and as I’ve visited all of them, I gradually will post about them and tell you what I think about it.
Maybe I’ll even post my own top list(s) in the future – in case you’re interested.
Japan’s Top 3 Scenic Places
The list of the 3 most scenic sights in Japan (日本三景, nihon sankei) was composed in the 17th century (1643) by the Japanese scholar, Gaho Hayashi.
Let me tell you that all of them are worth visiting! They were chosen for a reason and you can’t go wrong with any of them. However, they’re quite far apart from each other, so you might not be able to visit all three of them during a short trip.
I’ll introduce them today and you can choose which one you like best.
Amanohashidate (天橋立) literally translates to “heaven bridge“. In fact, it’s a a 3.6 km long sand bar with lots of pine trees. While it is located in Kyoto Prefecture, it’s a bit far from Kyoto City.
The “bridge to heaven” becomes visible if you view it upside down. Bend down, put your head between your legs. Sounds super weird, looks creepy, but that’s how you’re supposed to do it. It’s a lot of fun!! And yes, I’ve done it, too.
If you do it, it really looks like a path or a bridge straight up to heaven.
The beach along the sand bar is quite nice. You can either walk all the way or rent a bicycle – which is what I did (because I was a bit short on time).
Besides the unique landscape, there are also several shrines and temples you can check out.
You can access Amanohashidate using the Hashidate Limited Express directly from Kyoto. There’s also a local line that will take longer, but is cheaper.
If you’re using the Japan Railpass, please note that you have to pay an additional fee in order to get to Amanohashidate. It’s not fully covered by the pass.
If you have some extra time, I recommend getting off a few stations earlier at Fukuchiyama to check out Fukuchiyama Castle. You could also visit the famous “Castle in the Sky” in Hyogo Prefecture if you’re already up in the north.
Matsushima (松島) is another of the top 3 views in Japan. It literally means pine tree island(s). And that’s pretty much what you get to see when you visit. There are over 200 pine-covered islands! Most of them are super tiny. There are tour boats that will take you near the islands, but the best view comes from afar. You can easily reach all the sights on foot.
This scenic landscape is located in Miyagi Prefecture and was slightly damaged by the 2011 quake and tsunami. You can visit without any problems nowadays. Access is provided by train from Sendai. The closest train station is “Matsushimakaigan“.
I visited Matsushima a long time ago. So, I explored it without having seen much of Japan yet. I remember I was really impressed, saying how beautiful it was repeatedly, taking too many photos.
However, now – almost a decade later – I would never say that this deserves a spot in the top three of Japan’s most scenic places. My advice is to go there only if you’re in the region to see other things you’re interested in as well. I would never ever travel out of my way just to go there.
But don’t worry, there are quite a lot of sights nearby that are worth visiting such as Sendai City. Nearby Aizu-Wakmatsu and its castle are great, too. And don’t forget to visit Tashirojima, better known as Cat Island!
Miyajima (宮島) is probably the most famous and popular among the top 3 views in Japan. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And while I usually prefer the less-known sights, I can full-heartedly recommend this one to you. I’ve visited many times, but the best time is during cherry blossom season and in late November when the autumn leaves are at their best.
Miyajima is a small island not too far from Hiroshima City. Literally “Miyajima” translates to “Shrine Island“, but that’s just a nickname. The original name of the island is Itsukushima (厳島). Back in the days, women were not allowed to access the island. Old people were brought away to die somewhere else in order to keep the purity of the island and Itsukushima Shrine.
Nowadays, everyone can visit. The highlight is the floating red shrine gate of Itsukushima Shrine. Also breathtaking is the view from the top of Mt. Misen!
There are many wild deer – similar to Nara. They’re not very shy, some are even aggressive in order to get some food from you.
You can easily access Miyajima by train or tram line coming from Hiroshima. From Miyajimaguchi Station it’s a short ferry ride (~ 10 mins) to get to the island.
Once you’ve arrived, you can get to all the sights on foot.
If you have more than a day, I recommend checking out a few nearby sights. Of course, you shouldn’t miss Hiroshima City with the castle, A-Bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Museum. But there’s also Rabbit Island! Furthermore I’d suggest checking out the popular Kintaikyo Bridge in Iwakuni (Yamaguchi Prefecture) – especially during cherry blossom season.
Need More Information?
So, for all three of these sights there will be in-depth blog posts in the future. Make sure you won’t miss any of them by signing up to my free newsletter.
If you have any questions right now, feel free to ask away in the comments below!~
What Are Your Top 3 Views in Japan?
I know that everyone has different interests and tastes, so I think these kinds of lists are a bit “fishy”. But they still can give some orientation or inspiration.
I don’t want to spoil the fun, but my top 3 list would certainly look different! I’ve already visited all 47 Japanese prefectures. I’ve seen so many places, some even more than once. But what I’m interested in (especially castles and cats) might be different from what you’d like to see.
That’s why I’d love to hear your personal “Top 3 Views in Japan”.
Don’t be shy and share them in the comments!
And as I’m so curious I’d also want to hear why they’re your favorites.