Have You Seen The Top 3 Views in Japan Yet?

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 (Kyoto)

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.

Top 3 Views in Japan Amanohashidate

Top 3 Views in Japan Amanohashidate Top 3 Views in Japan Amanohashidate

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 (Miyagi)

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“.

Top 3 Views in Japan Matsushima

Top 3 Views in Japan Matsushima Top 3 Views in Japan Matsushima

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 (Hiroshima)

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.

Top 3 Views in Japan Miyajima

Top 3 Views in Japan Miyajima Top 3 Views in Japan Miyajima

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! emoticon
And as I’m so curious I’d also want to hear why they’re your favorites.


  • The three top views in Japan are definitely worth a visit. I’m quite fond of Miyajima and the floating shrine gate of Itsukushima Shrine. The welcoming committee of deer are a warm introduction to the island. I highly recommend spending a night here in a traditional Japanese ryokan to soak up the experience for two days rather than a quick day trip. I haven’t really thought about my top three views in Japan. That is a tough question. Would be hard to narrow it down to only three. Let me think about it.

    • I fear most people are on a busy schedule and won’t have time to stay overnight, but I second your recommendation! ^__^
      I know, right? It’s so difficult to just name three as there are far too many great sights in Japan.

  • Hello,

    I will give only my top 3 views with Japan castle :-)

    – Uwajima (Shikoku) : A small tenshu but with an amazing mood
    – Matsumoto : It’s beautiful with the Alpes mountains behind
    – Kaminoyama : Not a very popular castle but the garden is “magnifique” with a beautiful view on the valley

  • I have been to all 3. The one I would take out for sure is Amanohashidate. While nice, it didn’t impress me all that much..

    I would indeed prefer Matsumoto, like Julien M. Interesting and attractive.

    To me, Kyoto is unequaled, because of the quantity of gorgeous temples and gardens, and pretty neighborhoods. And I love Tokyo.

    On the other hand, I found Hiroshima of little interest. Yes, something tragic happened there, but let’s get over it.

    • I think Amanohashidate is quite nice, but of course it’s not a top view in my eyes. Like I said my personal top 3 list would look quite different, so I totally agree with you.

      When you say Hiroshima, do you include Miyajima? I’ve found a few nice spots in Hiroshima, but I was a bit disappointed because I went to Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Memorial Hall first – if that makes any sense. ;)

  • No, I view Miyajima as separate, because, while you have to go through the Hiroshima JR station, it is totally independent. I like Miyajima very much.

    I had a short visit of Hiroshiima only because the small group I was with went there. Only thing I liked was the okonomiyaki!

    • Sad to hear you didn’t like Hiroshima. There are so many things to explore, but some are far from the city center or even outside of the city.
      And of course it depends on your interests as well. :)

  • Jasmine,

    Wonderful post with great photos. I thought I’d try that trick to see the Bridge to Heaven, but thought better of it since my knee is shot to hell, so I just copied the pic, enlarged it and rotated it 180. OK, I must be dense, but I don’t see it, can you explain in detail what is meant by “Bridge to heaven” please! You’re not pranking us are you and this isn’t some dirty joke about that terrain looking like some part of a woman is it…hmmmm, maybe I’m just too old to see it then… LOL ;P !

    FYI, the Itsukushima Shrine gate in the water is in so many Japanese Manga and Anime that it’s probably recognizable to anyone that has ever spent time reading or watching the myriad of High School dramas and comedies that are out there on the internet fan-subs. What is the pic below and to the left of the big red gate in the water, the one of a building on stilts in a pond or lake?? Is that the actual Shrine associated with the gate? In any case, have you posted other large pictures of that building, it looks really interesting!

    BTW, I already knew that almost all Germans never prank, I was just teasing you, Gomen’nasai.

    P.S. This is totally unrelated and it’s probably out of the question, but do you know if it’s possible to visit the Japanese islands still held by Russia??

    • There’s no hidden meaning behind this all.
      You’re supposed to see the sandbank as a bridge that is leading up to the sky (to heaven). The angle of my photos isn’t perfect for doing so. You probably should go there yourself, find a good observation spot and then you might be able to see it. There’s no magic behind this. It’s pretty simple. Maybe you need a bit of imagination as well, though.

      Really? I can’t remember ever seeing it in any drama, movie or anime (which doesn’t mean that it wasn’t featured in any, I simply might have forgotten about it).
      Yes, that’s Itsukushima Shrine in the photo. :)
      Hm, I might have posted a few on Facebook, but there will be more photos in a separate blog post about Miyajima.
      For now, just copy and paste the photo link into your browser and you should be able to see a larger verison of it. :D

      I just had a pamphlet about this in my hands the other day, but I can’t remember where I put it. I think it’s possible to visit them, but I’m not sure.

  • I was lucky enough to see my top three views on my most recent trip, and the strangest thing was that none of them were planned! In no particular order:

    Mt. Misen: This is the mountain that forms Miyajima, and you can take a ropeway most of the way up, then climb the rest of the way to the top. From the very top there’s a nearly 360-degree view of the Inland Sea, which we got to see at sunset. It was breathtaking.

    Fushimi Inari Taisha: There’s a specific place to go for this one. Fushimi Inari Taisha is a rather popular shrine in Kyoto, but if you go at night you can get the best night view of Kyoto imaginable. Climb to the first true rest area, then follow the trail off to the left. The trail that way is not frequently used and not well-lighted, so bring a flashlight. You’ll eventually come to a huge clearing with a view down onto the city in the valley. Absolutely gorgeous. (The rest of the shrine is gorgeous at night too, even if you have trouble finding the path to the city view.)

    Haemida Beach, Iriomote Island (Okinawa): It’s tough to get out here, but if you can, the sea is the most gorgeous blue and the forest the most gorgeous green. The “sand” is little bits of coral, and it’s extremely quiet and peaceful. There wasn’t anyone on the beach the day we went, and I can’t imagine it’s super popular, so you’re likely to wind up with the whole beach to yourself. It’s easy to just stare out over the water and space out while the waves roll in.

    • Thanks for sharing your top three views with us, Erin.
      I’ve been to all three places. And while I love ALL of them, ESPECIALLY Iriomote, I’m not sure if those would be my top three.
      But I can totally see why you picked them. :D

  • It’s awesome that you covered Miyajima! You see, I grew up in Hiroshima, and I have a lot of memories in it. As a child, I would always look forward to playing with wild deer. Also, we would buy momiji manju on the way home as an omiyage. Good days.

  • I’ve only been to Miyajima out of the three so far, I didn’t really think much of it. Felt it was a bit too touristy, the deer weren’t well looked after either. However, I did absolutely love Hiroshima — beyond the bomb sites it has so much to offer that many overlook. The temple walk, Toshogu Shrine and walking up to the Pagoda were my highlights and the castle one of my favourites (am I allowed to say that I liked it more than both Himeji and Osaka Castles?)

    Hopefully I’ll be going to Matsushima and Tohoku next June, but I’m actually most excited to see Amanohashidate, it seems like the most beautiful of the three. Years ago, way before my first trip, I saw an ukiyo-e of Amanohashidate and it captured my heart. I think it was what made me actually want to visit Japan in the first place, so I will definitely cherish my visit there when I finally see it some day.

    • Hi Jane,
      Glad you liked Hiroshima. Yes, there are so many places in Japan that are LUCKILY not very well-known and thus not so crowded. And sometimes those are REAL hidden gems.
      I sometimes don’t even want to post about them, because I’m worried that they’ll get crowded in the long run when more and more people know about those places.
      It’s the same with Rabbit Island (which is near Hiroshima City). When I visited, it wasn’t crowded at all, but nowadays everybody seems to know about it. ;)

      Hiroshima Castle is quite nice, but definitely not one of my favorites. But I still have a long way to go. I’ve only been to about 130 Japanese castles or so, there’s still so much to explore! :D

      Amanohashidate is soooo beautiful. I’m sure you’ll love it! ^_^

  • I’ve not seen the other two you described myself, but i’d definitely have Itsukushima on my top 3. But of the places i have visited, Kamikochi would definitely be in and then it depends on how i want to go. I would either list Inari if i’m looking for tradition/nature, or the Dotonbori canal in Osaka if i’m looking for sheer sensorial experience. The area close to the Geico man neon in the evening is an unbelievable sight.

    • Everybody has their own fav list. :)
      These official lists are good as a guidance if you’re looking for new things to check out, but they’re not ultimately true.
      After all it depends on personal preference.

      I hate to admit that I still haven’t been to Kamikochi although it’s been on my list for such a long time now. ^^;

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