Japan, the country of bustling cities alongside calming gardens, offers everything from dreamy winter landscapes in Hokkaido to world-famous craftsmanship and impressive historic sights in Kyoto.
Japan is a wonderful destination for backpackers, not only because of the incredible politeness of the people, but also because of the diversity of things to see and do.
Food, culture, history, metropolis, technology and nature; Japan holds something for everyone. And it is not even that expensive, if you pay attention to some of the basic rules of backpacking on a budget. Naturally, you can easily break your bank in the larger cities, but if you play your cards right, you can enjoy one of the most beautiful countries in the world without saying goodbye to a fortune.
Japanese culture is rich and interesting and one visit will not suffice to immerse yourself fully, but you are definitely encouraged to try as many things as possible. The Japanese are incredibly polite and open to foreigners, don’t be afraid to try out new things!
PackitUp is here to supply you with the perfect bucket list across all five main islands!
Hokkaido is the northernmost of the main islands and it is a winter wonder land. Being one of the quieter areas in Japan, there is a lot of scenery to enjoy and national parks to discover. Beyond that, there are plenty of active volcanoes surrounded by natural hot springs and ski areas.
Among the must-dos on Hokkaido are:
Daisetsuzan National Park: A large national park surrounding Mount Asahi.
Sapporo: Largest city in Hokkaido, come here for beer, skiing, gorgeous mountains and the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Niseko: Japan’s #1 ski resort, open form mid-December to March.
Lake Shikotsu: Picturesque lake near Sapporo.
Lavender fields at farm Torita: Located in Furano, lavender fields as far as the eye can see.
Honshu is the largest of the main islands and home to most of the big cities, historic sights and things to do in Japan. It is not to say that you should spend all your time here, but since the islands is so large and most things are located here, you will most likely allocate the lion’s share of your time to Honshu.
The must-do list could be endless here. Some of the classics include:
Yamadera: A beautiful hillside temple which is a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty and a Historic Site.
Dewa Sanzan: Three sacred mountains with loads of sacred shrines sprinkled among them.
Tokyo: What to say? There are countless things to do in the largest city in the world. Food, technology, culture, art, history. There are unlimited things to keep you busy in Japan’s capital. If you need a place to start: Visit the Trukiji Outer Fish Market, the Akihabara district for your dose of technology, Koishikawa Korakuen is a perfect Japanese landscape garden, or the Imperial Palace. Or just take a ride on the Tokyo subway and see where you land!
Kamakura: A small town filled with historic sights, sometimes called the Kyoto of eastern Japan.
Yokohama: Japan’s second-largest city with gardens, an impressive city center and a large Chinatown district.
Mount Fuji: Iconic, epic, world-famous. Imagery of Mount Fuji is to be found around the world and the volcano has inspired plenty of artists and philosophers. The nearly perfectly shaped mountain is worshiped as a sacred site and can be seen from both Yokohama and Tokyo.
Alpine Route: A spectacular route through the Northern Japanese Alps. If you are into stunning scenery, this is a trip for you!
Kiso Valley: A valley full of post towns, taken directly out of Mangas and Animes. This is what classic Edo architecture looks like. Make sure to bring enough storage space for your camera!
Kyoto: Formerly the capital of Japan and residence of the emperor, Kyoto is full of history and art. Kyoto has not been spared all wars but was spared from the atomic bombs at the end of World War II, leaving it intact with many of it’s shrines and temples.
Mount Koya: The center of Shingon Buddhism and one of the best places to experience a night in a temple lodge.
Osaka: Modern and flamboyant, Osaka is a bustling city rivaling Kyoto and Tokyo, yet has a very different feel to it.
Hiroshima: The regional capital of Chugoku has a very tragic backstory. After an atomic bomb was dropped on the city in 1945, the city has been rebuilt under great efforts. History and culture still stands strong in Hiroshima. Not only a must-do for history buffs.
Shikoku is Japan’s fourth largest island and is home to some very nice towns and temples. You should look out for:
Naoshima: An island known for its modern art, museums and architecture.
Iya Valley: A remote valley deep in the heart of the island, characterized by steep mountains and dark forests.
Matsuyama: Largest city on Shikoku with a beautiful caste in its center.
Kotohira: A smaller city with a very popular shrine.
Kyushu has a mostly subtropical climate and is known for its active volcanoes, hot springs and beaches. As one of the earliest centers of civilization in Japan, it is another terrific mix of culture, cities and historic treasures.
Must-dos on Kyushu:
Yakushima: A subtropical island covered in cedar forest containing some of Japan’s oldest living trees.
Kurokawa Onsen: The best hot springs town in Japan! Carefully cultivated to preserve Japanese traditions and culture.
Nagasaki: A very pleasant port town that plays and important role in international trade.
Amami Oshima: A large island between Kyushu and Okinawa, full of beaches, forests and a terrific climate.
We are all the way in the south now and not on a main island anymore but in one of the main prefectures with a few dozen islands. It is very subtropical here and temperatures rarely fall below 15 degrees. Okinawa is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, coral reefs and islands.
Yes. Some of the WORLD’S most beautiful beaches. If it was for me, we would keep this a secret and enjoy it just among the people “in the know”. Scuba diving, snorkeling, lounging, Okinawa is a tropical paradise!
Yaeyama islands: A laid back and rural lifestyle, perfect to escape the bustling lifestyle of the big cities.
Okinawa island: The main island of the prefecture and a transportation hub of the area with museums and war memorials.
Miyako island: 300 km away from the Okinawa main island, Miyako island is home to perfect beaches and gorgeous coral reefs. Drop dead gorgeous diving and snorkeling spots!
Kerama Islands: 36 islands, of which only 2 are populated: Tokashiki and Zamami.