Tourism in Japan attracted 8.3 million foreign visitors in 2008, slightly more than Singapore and Ireland. Japan has 16 World Heritage Sites, including Himeji Castle and Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. Kyoto receives over 30 million tourists annually. Foreigners also visit Tokyo and Nara, Mount Fuji, ski resorts such as Niseko in Hokkaido, Okinawa, ride the shinkansen and take advantage of Japan's hotel and hotspring network.
Domestic tourism remains a vital part of the Japanese economy and Japanese culture. School children in many middle schools see the highlight of their years as a visit to Tokyo Disneyland or perhaps Tokyo Tower. High school students visit Okinawa or Hokkaido. The extensive rail network together with domestic flights sometimes in planes with modifications to favor the relatively short distances involved in intra-Japan travel allows efficient and speedy transport. In inbound tourism, Japan was ranked 28th in the world in 2007. In 2009, the Yomiuri Shimbun published a modern list of famous sights under the name Heisei Hyakkei (the Hundred Views of the Heisei period).
Neighbouring South Korea is Japan's most important source of foreign tourists. In 2010, the 2.4 million arrivals made up 27% of the tourists visiting Japan.
Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō, literally "Northern Sea Circuit"), formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso, is Japan's second largest island; it is also the largest and northernmost of Japan's 47 prefectures. The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido from Honshu, although the two islands are connected by the underwater railway Seikan Tunnel. The largest city on Hokkaido is its capital, Sapporo, which is also its only ordinance-designated city.
There are still many undisturbed forests in Hokkaido, including:
- National parks
- Shiretoko National Park
- Akan National Park
- Kushiro Shitsugen National Park
- Daisetsuzan National Park
- Shikotsu-Toya National Park
- Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park
- Quasi-national parks
- Abashiri Quasi-National Park
- Hidaka Sanmyaku-Erimo Quasi-National Par
- Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan Quasi-National Park
- Ōnuma Quasi-National Park
- Shokanbetsu-Teuri-Yagishiri Quasi-National Park
Hokkaido's largest city is the capital, Sapporo. Other major cities include Hakodate in the south and Asahikawa in the central region. Other important population centers include Kushiro, Obihiro, Kitami, Abashiri, and Nemuro.
Hokkaido has the highest rate of depopulation in Japan. In 2000, 152 (71.7%) of Hokkaido's 212 municipalities were shrinking. Altogether, shrinking municipalities in Japan in the same year numbered 1,171.
The Tōhoku region (東北地方 Tōhoku-chihō) consists of the northeastern portion of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. The region consists of six prefectures (ken): Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata.
Tōhoku retains a reputation as a remote region, offering breathtaking scenery but a harsh climate. In the 20th century, tourism became a major industry in the Tōhoku region.
Hirosaki (弘前市 Hirosaki-shi) is a city located in southwest Aomori Prefecture, Japan. As of April 2012, the city had an estimated population of 180,917 and a population density of 345 persons per km². Its total area was 524.12 km². It is a castle town and was the Tsugaru clan ruled the 100,000 koku tozama han Hirosaki Domain from Hirosaki Castle during the Edo period. The city is currently a regional commercial center and the largest producer of apples in Japan. The city government has been promoting the catchphrase "Apple Colored Town Hirosaki", and "Castle and Cherry Blossom and Apple Town" to promote the city image.
Hirosaki is known for its tradition of Tsugaru-jamisen, a virtuosic style of shamisen playing.
Hirosaki Castle (弘前城 Hirosaki-jō) is a hirayama-style Japanese castle constructed in 1611. It was the seat of the Tsugaru clan, a 47,000 koku tozama daimyō clan who ruled over Hirosaki Domain, Mutsu Province, in what is now central Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, Japan. It was also referred to as Takaoka Castle (鷹岡城 or 高岡城 Takaoka-jō).
The current donjon of the castle was completed in 1811. It is a three-story building with three roofs, and a height of 14.4 meters. The design is smaller than early Edo-period varieties of donjons, and it was built on a corner of the inner bailey on the site of a yagura, rather than the stone base of the original donjon. The small size was partly due to the restricted finances of the domain towards the end of the Edo period, but its location and design were also intended to alleviate concerns which might be raised by the Tokugawa shogunate should a larger structure be built. At present, it is a separate standing structure; however, prior to 1896 it had an attached gatehouse.
The donjon is surrounded by three surviving yagura from the Edo period (the Ninomaru Tatsumi Yagura, Ninomaru Hitsujisaru Yagura, Ninomaru Ushitora Yagura), on its second bailey, and five surviving gates (Sannomaru Ōtemon Gate, Sannomaru East Gate, Ninomaru South Gate, Ninomaru East Gate, Kitanokuruwa North Gate) in the walls of its second and third baileys. All of these structures, including the donjon itself, are National Important Cultural Properties.
The surrounding Hirosaki Park around the castle grounds is one of Japan's most famous cherry blossom spots. Over a million people enjoy the park's 2600 trees (which were originally planted around in grounds in 1903) during the sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival) when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, usually during the Japanese Golden Week holidays in the end of April and beginning of May.
Hirosaki city holds an annual winter four day Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival. The festival had attracted 310,000 visitors in 1999 and included 165 standing snow lanterns and 300 mini snow caves.
The Kantō region (関東地方 Kantō-chihō) is a geographical area of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. The region includes the Greater Tokyo Area and encompasses seven prefectures: Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa. Within its boundaries, slightly more than 40 percent of the land area is the Kantō Plain. The rest consists of the hills and mountains that form the land borders. In official census count on October 1, 2010 by the Japan Statistics Bureau, the population was 42,607,376 s amounting to approximately one third of the total population of Japan.
The Kantō region is the most highly developed, urbanized, and industrialized part of Japan. Tokyo and Yokohama form a single industrial complex with a concentration of light and heavy industry along Tokyo Bay. Other major cities in the area include Kawasaki (in Kanagawa Prefecture); Saitama (in Saitama Prefecture); and Chiba (in Chiba Prefecture). Smaller cities, farther away from the coast, house substantial light and automotive industries. The average population density reached 1,192 persons per square kilometre in 1991.
The Chūbu region (中部地方 Chūbu-chihō) is the central region of Honshū, Japan's main island. Chūbu has a population of 21,715,822 as of 2010.
Chūbu, which means "central region", encompasses nine prefectures (ken): Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama, Yamanashi, and often Mie.
It is located directly between the Kantō region and the Kansai region and includes the major city of Nagoya as well as along Pacific and Sea of Japan coastlines, extensive mountain resorts, and Mount Fuji.
The region is the widest part of Honshū and the central part is characterized by high, rugged mountains. The Japanese Alps divide the country into the Pacific side, known as the front of Japan, or Omote-Nihon (表日本) sunny in winter, and the Sea of Japan side, or Ura-Nihon (裏日本), the back of Japan, snowy in winter.
Mount Fuji (富士山 Fuji-san), located on Honshu Island, is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft). An active stratovolcano that last erupted in 1707–08, Mount Fuji lies about 100 kilometres (62 mi) south-west of Tokyo, and can be seen from there on a clear day. Mount Fuji's exceptionally symmetrical cone, which is snow-capped several months a year, is a well-known symbol of Japan and it is frequently depicted in art and photographs, as well as visited by sightseers and climbers. It is one of Japan's "Three Holy Mountains" (三霊山 Sanreizan) along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku; it is a Special Place of Scenic Beauty, a Historic Site, and has been submitted for future inscription on the World Heritage List as a Cultural (rather than Natural) Site.
The Kansai region (関西地方 Kansai-chihō) or the Kinki region (近畿地方 Kinki-chihō) lies in the southern-central region of Japan's main island Honshū. The region includes the prefectures of Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyōgo, and Shiga. Depending on who makes the distinction, Fukui, Tokushima and even Tottori Prefecture are also included. While the use of the terms "Kansai" and "Kinki" have changed over history, in most modern contexts the two can be considered the same. The urban region of Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto (Keihanshin region) is the second most populated in Japan after the Greater Tokyo Area.
Himeji Castle (姫路城 Himeji-jō) is a hilltop Japanese castle complex located in Himeji, in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period. The castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jō ("White Egret Castle") or Shirasagi-jō ("White Heron Castle") because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.
Himeji Castle dates to 1333, when Akamatsu Norimura built a fort on top of Himeyama hill. The fort was dismantled and rebuilt as Himeyama Castle in 1346, and then remodeled into Himeji Castle two centuries later. Himeji Castle was then significantly remodeled in 1581 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who added a three-story castle keep. In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu awarded the castle to Ikeda Terumasa for his help in the Battle of Sekigahara, and Ikeda completely rebuilt the castle from 1601 to 1609, expanding it into a large castle complex. Several buildings were later added to the castle complex by Honda Tadamasa from 1617 to 1618. For over 400 years, Himeji Castle has remained intact, even throughout the extensive bombing of Himeji in World War II, and natural disasters such as the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake.
Himeji Castle is the largest and most visited castle in Japan, and it was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. The area within the middle moat of the castle complex is a designated Special Historic Site and five structures of the castle are also designated National Treasures. Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, Himeji Castle is considered one of Japan's three premier castles. In order to preserve the castle buildings, it is currently undergoing restoration work that is expected to continue for several years.
Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities).
The UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) encompasses 17 locations in Japan, within the city of Kyoto and its immediate vicinity. The locations are in three cities: Kyoto and Uji in Kyoto Prefecture; and Ōtsu in Shiga Prefecture; Uji and Ōtsu border Kyoto to the south and north, respectively. Of the monuments, 13 are Buddhist temples; 3 are Shinto shrines; and one is a castle. The properties include 38 buildings designated by the Japanese Government as National Treasures, 160 properties designated as Important Cultural Properties, 8 gardens designated as Special Places of Scenic Beauty, and 4 designated as Places of Scenic Beauty. UNESCO listed the site as World Heritage in 1994.
Kyoto has a substantial number of historic buildings, unlike other Japanese cities that lost buildings to foreign invasions and war; and has the largest concentration of designated Cultural Properties in Japan. Although ravaged by wars, fires, and earthquakes during its eleven centuries as the imperial capital, Kyoto was spared from much of the destruction of World War II. It was saved from the nearly universal firebombing of large cities in Japan in part to preserve it as a the primary atomic bomb target. It was later removed from the atomic bomb target list, by the personal intervention of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, as Stimson wanted to save this cultural center which he knew from his honeymoon and later diplomatic visits. As a result, Nagasaki was then added as a target.
The 17 properties of the World Heritage Site originate from a period between the 10th century and the 19th century, and each is representative of the period in which it was built. The historical importance of the Kyoto region was taken into account by the UNESCO in the selection process.
Kyoto (京都市 Kyōto-shi) is a city in the central part of the island of Honshu, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area. Kyoto is considered a beautiful city, from lakeside Biwako in the north-east, to the confluence at National Rt. 81. With temples, parks, bustling business districts, markets, from regal estates to the tightly-packed neighborhoods, Kyoto is one of the oldest and most famous Asian metropolises.
Although ravaged by wars, fires, and earthquakes during its eleven centuries as the imperial capital, Kyoto was spared from much of the destruction of World War II. It was removed from the atomic bomb target list (which it had headed) by the personal intervention of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, as Stimson wanted to save this cultural center which he knew from his honeymoon and later diplomatic visits.
With its 2000 religious places- 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, gardens and architecture intact, it is one of the best preserved cities in Japan. Among the most famous temples in Japan are Kiyomizu-dera, a magnificent wooden temple supported by pillars off the slope of a mountain; Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion; Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion; and Ryōan-ji, famous for its rock garden. The Heian Jingū is a Shinto shrine, built in 1895, celebrating the Imperial family and commemorating the first and last emperors to reside in Kyoto. Three special sites have connections to the imperial family: the Kyoto Gyoen area including the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Sento Imperial Palace, homes of the Emperors of Japan for many centuries; Katsura Imperial Villa, one of the nation's finest architectural treasures; and Shugaku-in Imperial Villa, one of its best Japanese gardens. In addition, the temple of Sennyu-ji houses the tombs of the emperors from Shijō to Kōmei.
Other sites in Kyoto include Arashiyama, the Gion and Pontochō geisha quarters, the Philosopher's Walk, and the canals which line some of the older streets.
Kyoto is renowned for its abundance of delicious Japanese foods and cuisine. The special circumstances of Kyoto as a city away from the sea and home to many Buddhist temples resulted in the development of a variety of vegetables peculiar to the Kyoto area (kyōyasai, 京野菜).
Japan's television and film industry has its center in Kyoto. Many jidaigeki, action films featuring samurai, were shot at Toei Uzumasa Eigamura. A film set and theme park in one, Eigamura features replicas of traditional Japanese buildings which are used for jidaigeki. Among the sets are a replica of the old Nihonbashi (the bridge at the entry to Edo), a traditional courthouse, a Meiji Period police box and part of the former Yoshiwara red-light district. Actual film shooting takes place occasionally, and visitors are welcome to observe the action.
The dialect spoken in Kyoto is known as Kyō-kotoba or Kyōto-ben, a constituent dialect of the Kansai dialect. When Kyoto was the capital of Japan, Kyoto dialect was the de facto standard Japanese and influenced on development of Tokyo dialect, the modern standard Japanese. Famous Kyoto expressions are a polite copula dosu, a honorific verb ending -haru and etc.
Kyoto International Manga Museum is also situated in Kyoto. For an entrance fee visitors are able to view exhibitions and read as much manga as they desire. The museum is making an attempt to acquire every manga ever published and so far houses approximately 200,000 titles.
Nara (奈良市 Nara-shi) is the capital city of Nara Prefecture in the Kansai region of Japan. The city occupies the northern part of Nara Prefecture, directly bordering Kyoto Prefecture. Eight temples, shrines and ruins in Nara, specifically Tōdai-ji, Saidai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, Kasuga Shrine, Gangō-ji, Yakushi-ji, Tōshōdai-ji, and the Heijō Palace remains, together with Kasugayama Primeval Forest, collectively form "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara", a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
According to the legendary history of Kasuga Shrine, a mythological god Takemikazuchi arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built capital of Heijō-kyō. Since then the deer have been regarded as heavenly animals, protecting the city and the country.
Tame deer roam through the town, especially in Nara Park. Snack vendors sell "shika sembei" (deer biscuits) to visitors so they can feed the deer.
The Chūgoku region (中国地方 Chūgoku-chihō), also known as the San'in-San'yō region (山陰山陽地方 San'in san'yō-chihō), is the westernmost region of Honshū, the largest island of Japan. It consists of the prefectures of Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori and Yamaguchi. As of 2010 it has a population of 7,563,428.
- Hiroshima Prefecture: Hiroshima, Miyajima, Fukuyama, Onomichi
- Okayama Prefecture: Okayama, Kurashiki, Takahashi, Tsuyama, Niimi, Bizen, Tamano
- Shimane Prefecture: Tsuwano, Izumo, Matsue, Iwami Ginzan
- Tottori Prefecture: Tottori, Misasa, Daisen, Kurayoshi
- Yamaguchi Prefecture: Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi, Iwakuni, Hofu, Hagi, Akiyoshidai
Shikoku (四国, "four provinces") is the smallest (225 km or 139.8 mi long and between 50 and 150 km or 31.1 and 93.2 mi wide) and least populous (4,141,955 as of 2005) of the four main islands of Japan, located south of Honshū and east of the island of Kyūshū. Its ancient names include Iyo-no-futana-shima (伊予之二名島), Iyo-shima (伊予島), and Futana-shima (二名島). The current name refers to the four former provinces which made up the island: Awa, Tosa, Sanuki, and Iyo.
Shikoku is also famous for its 88-temple pilgrimage of temples associated with the priest Kūkai. Most modern-day pilgrims travel by bus, rarely choosing the old-fashioned method of going by foot. They are seen wearing white jackets emblazoned with the characters reading dōgyō ninin meaning "two traveling together".
Tokushima Prefecture also has its annual Awa Odori running in August at the time of the Obon festival, which attracts thousands of tourists each year from all over Japan and from abroad.
Kyushu (九州 Kyūshū, lit. "Nine Provinces") is the third largest island of Japan and most southwesterly of its four main islands. Its alternate ancient names include Kyūkoku (九国, "Nine States"), Chinzei (鎮西, "West of the Pacified Area"), and Tsukushi-no-shima (筑紫島, "Island of Tsukushi"). The historical regional name Saikaidō (西海道, lit. West Sea Circuit) referred to Kyushu and its surrounding islands.
In the 8th century Taihō Code reforms, Dazaifu was established as a special administrative term for the region.
As of 2006, Kyushu has a population of 13,231,995 and covers 35,640 square kilometres (13,760 sq mi).
Okinawa Prefecture (沖縄県 Japanese: Okinawa-ken, Okinawan: Uchinaa-ken) is the southernmost prefecture of Japan. It consists of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long, which extends southwest from Kyūshū (the southwesternmost of Japan's main four islands) to Taiwan. Okinawa's capital, Naha, is located in the southern part of Okinawa Island. The Senkaku Islands are administered as part of Okinawa Prefecture.
As of March 31, 2008, 19% of the total land area of the prefecture was designated as Natural Parks, namely the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park; Okinawa Kaigan and Okinawa Senseki Quasi-National Parks; and Irabu, Kumejima, and Tonaki Prefectural Natural Parks.
Iriomote is home to one of the world's rarest and most endangered cat species, the Iriomote Cat. The region is also home to at least one endemic pit viper, Trimeresurus elegans. Coral reefs found in this region of Japan provide an environment for a diverse marine fauna. The sea turtles return yearly to the southern islands of Okinawa to lay their eggs. The summer months carry warnings to swimmers regarding poisonous jellyfish and other dangerous sea creatures.
Tourism in Tokyo is a major industry. In 2006, 4.81 million foreigners and 420 million Japanese visits to Tokyo were made; the economic value of these visits totaled 9.4 trillion yen according to the government of Tokyo. Many tourists visit the various downtowns, stores, and entertainment districts throughout the neighborhoods of the special wards of Tokyo; particularly school children on class trips, a visit to Tokyo Tower is de rigueur. Cultural offerings include both omnipresent Japanese pop culture and associated districts such as Shibuya and Harajuku, subcultural attractions such as Studio Ghibli anime center, as well as museums like the Tokyo National Museum, which houses 37% of the country's artwork national treasures (87/233). Though no buildings in Tokyo are World heritage sites and only the Jizo Hall of Shofuku-ji, a suburban temple, is a National treasure. Other popular attractions include the Imperial Palace, Meiji Shrine, and Sensō-ji, a popular temple. Finally, many tourists, particularly foreign tourists, visit Tsukiji Fish Market, as the time-zone difference leads to foreign visitors waking up very early local time.
Access to Tokyo is provided by airports including Narita Airport, Tokyo International Airport (Haneda, providing primarily domestic service), and the Shinkansen. Major hotel districts include Shinjuku and Tokyo Bay, although there are some hotels in many more districts.