Japan is a country saturated with culture, nature and amazing heritage. There is a total of 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites registered in Japan currently, as of July 2017, 17 Cultural and 4 Natural. Here are 10 of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan you definitely have to visit in your lifetime!
1. The beauty of Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is a destination that serves as the symbol of Hyogo Prefecture. In 2015, the 5 year long restoration works of the castle were completed, bringing back the amazing beauty of the historic architecture. Himeji Castle became a World Heritage Site in the year 1993. The main castle tower of Himeji Castle is one of the 12 that remain in Japan today, and is also registered as a National Treasure of Japan. At Himeji Castle, you will be able to admire the pure beauty of Japan’s ancient architecture even if you are not familiar with the history of the place.
Address: 68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture
Opening Hours: 9:00am - 4:00pm
Access: 20 minute walk from Sanyo Himeji station (Sanyo Electric Railway) or Himeji station (of JR)
Website: Himeji Castle
2. The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto
The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto were designated as a World Heritage Site in 1994. This heritage site comprises of 17 sites over various locations in Kyoto that played a major role in the history of Japan. These sites include popular destinations such as Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji and Kiyomizu Dera - all major destinations in Kyoto that you cannot miss! One of the places you definitely have to visit is the Nijo Castle, a castle with over 400 years of history. The amazing architecture and artwork that you can appreciate there is breath-taking.
Find the list from these articles; 1 Day Itinerary Visiting North Kyoto’s UNESCO sites and 1 Day Itinerary Visiting South Kyoto’s UNESCO sites
3. The symbol of Japan - Mount Fuji
Although there are various famous icons in Japan, Mount Fuji is perhaps the most important symbol of Japan. It has and continues to be featured when introducing Japan, and has also been included in various artwork throughout Japan’s history. Fujisan, a sacred place and source of artistic inspiration, was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2013. You can choose to take a bus to the Fifth Step of Mount Fuji, or simply admire its beauty from the various viewing points around the mountain.
Access: [bus option] depending on where you are from. If you are traveling from Tokyo, people opt for a bus trip from Shinjuku by Fuji Express. [Shinkansen option] take “Kodama” to Shin Fuji station and take “Fuji Tozan” bus to the Mt. Fuji area
Website: Mount Fuji
4. The Kii Mountain Range and Pilgrimage Routes
The Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range was designated as a World heritage Site in 2004. This site comprises of the locations Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, and Koyasan that served as pilgrimage routes during the ancient times. Here, you can take a hike through the various locations along the pilgrimage routes and immerse yourself in the wonderful nature of Japan including great landscapes, waterfalls and rivers.
Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range
Address: Hungu town, Kumano City, Wakayama Prefecture
5. Shirakawago - the unique village found nowhere else in the world
Shirakawago is also one of the popular destinations in Japan. It was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1995. This village, located deep in the mountains, is best known for its unique houses with tall, pointed roofs. The roofs were designed as such to cater for the harsh winter environment. Shirakawago is best known for the illumination that takes place in winter, where the magical village will be lit up by warm lights. The spectacle, coupled with snow falling from the sky, is definitely worth a visit.
Address: Ogimachi, Shirakawa, Ono, Gifu Prefecture
Access: Highway buses available from various places in Japan. The major option should be a 1.5 hour bus ride from JR Takayama station
6. The natural landscape of Shiretoko Peninsula, Hokkaido
The Shiretoko Peninsula became a Natural Heritage Site in 2005. Located in Hokkaido, the most northern prefecture of Japan. Shiretoko is famous for its rich nature and landscape that cannot be experienced anywhere else in the world. Beautiful lakes like the Rausu Lake serve as the perfect spot for nature watching, and trekking through the greenery is simply amazing. Shiretoko may not be the most convenient place in Japan to visit, but it definitely is worth the travel.
Address: Shiretoko, Hokkaido
Access: 6 hour drive from Sapporo airport or 50 mins flight from Sapporo airport to Nakashibetsu airport and 1.5 hour drive
Website: Shiretoko Peninsula
7. Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima
You’ve probably seen a photo of this iconic Torii Gate from the Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima while planning your trip to Japan. Sure enough, Itsukushima Shrine is another popular destination in Japan. It was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1996 and serves as a holy place for Shintoism. At Miyajima, not only can you experience the culture of Japan, you will also be welcomed by amazing natural landscapes. The sunset view at the Itsukushima Torii Gate is the most famous iconic image from there and depending on the day and the tide, you will enjoy taking the different scenes of it in.
Address: 1-1 Miyajima, Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture
Opening Hours: Please refer to official website for boat timings
Access: 10 minute ferry ride from either Hiroshima municipal train or JR “Miyajimaguchi” station
Website: Itsukushima Shrine
8. The magic of Ryukyu Kingdom - Okinawa
The Gusuku Sites and related properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu were selected as a World Heritage Site in 2000. Okinawa, or formerly known as Ryukyu, used to be an independent kingdom before it became part of Japan. Okinawa hence has its own very unique culture and dialect. The various historical sites of the Ancient Kingdom that you can visit in Okinawa include sites such as the Shurijo Castle and other castle remains such as Nakagusuku.
Address: 1-2 Shurikinjocho, Naha City, Okinawa
Opening Hours: 8:00am - 7:30pm
Access: 12 minute walk from Yui Rail Shuri Station
Website: Shuri Castle Park
9. The sacred Yakushima Island
Yakushima Island was designated as a Natural Heritage Site in 1993 due to the unique flora and fauna that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The nature experience there is something that you cannot have elsewhere, and endemic animals such as the Yakusika Deer can be found on the island. Cedar trees that are more than 1,000 years old can be viewed, and you can also admire the beautiful view of the island from the highest mountain in Yakushima that is 1,936 meters (1.2 miles) tall!
Address: Kumage, Kagoshima Prefecture
Access: Ferries available from various ports, please refer to official website
Website: Yakushima Island
10. Gunkanjima - the battleship island like no other
The site of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2015. This Heritage Site comprises a total of 11 sites and one of the most popular destinations is Gunkanjima. Located off the coast of Nagasaki, there are only 5 cruise companies that are permitted to sail to this island. Here, you can view the remnants of the island that once used to be a key component of Japan’s industrialisation. It is highly recommended that you book your tickets in advance as it is extremely popular.
Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining
Address: Hashima, Takashima Town, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture
Opening Hours: You can access only by the certified speedboat. Check below websites for more info
Plan your travel early!
These destinations are amongst some of the most popular tourist sites in Japan and are constantly packed with tourists. Make sure you book your accommodation and packages early to have a chance to experience a marvelous visit to these places.
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