10 Historic Must-See Destinations in Japan

January 26, 2017

We have previously introduced many notable places to visit in Japan, such as sites for fall foliage, hot springs, or magical forests. Today, we will showcase ten new destinations—or should we say old? Japan has a very long history, and some beautiful historic sights remain underneath the shiny city trappings and modern day bustle.

Shirakawa Village

This picturesque village has been mentioned before, and with good reason. This World Heritage Site is renowned for its traditional architecture, gassho-zukuri. The name means “prayer hands construction” and refers to the narrow, triangular roofs that protect the buildings from heavy snowfall. Much of the village’s appearance has remained the same. including the lush mountains that surround it. In winter, a highly anticipated illumination event lights up the iconic architecture.


This ancient city served as a river port, dotted with signature black and white storehouses along the Canal Area . One notable attraction is the Ohara Spinning Mill, built during the Meiji Restoration. The area is also home to an old merchant district known as the Bikan historical area, containing wooden buildings from the 17th century. Another unusual feature is the lack of electric poles, allowing visitors to briefly believe they have indeed gone back in time.

Kawagoe Warehouse District

Located just 30 minutes outside of Tokyo is Kawagoe, or “Little Edo”. The city is home to many historic buildings, such as an old bell tower and Kitain Temple, which contains the only remnants of Edo Castle. As the district name suggests,the main attractions are the warehouses situated along the main street. The clay warehouses in the expensive Edo style of kurazukuri were a testament to the wealth of Kawagoe as a commercial center. Some merchants were even able to build their stores in the same style.


The streets of Hida-Takayama are perfect for scenic walks

Source: Henry Burrows via Flickr

Woodwork is a proud pastime of Japan, and the city of Takayama was famed for its carpentry experts. Historians believe that their carpenters have worked on numerous temples across the country, as well as the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. Due to the high altitude and structure of the city, the people remained fairly isolated and were able to create their own culture. The old town has been well preserved and is a popular destination for those who love history. The name Hida refers to Hida Province, which encompasses Takayama. The province was rich in forests and other resources, which greatly helped its wood industries.


The name translates to “marsh of gold”, and indeed it has known much wealth in its prime as a castle town. Appropriately, Kanazawa produces the large majority of Japan’s gold leaf, and the city’s gold-working is well known. The famed gold leaf is used for everything from food to temples. In older times, merchants and samurai flocked to the city and the population flourished. Today, the samurai and geisha quarters are popular tourist destinations. Visitors walk through the maze-like streets, marveling at the earthen walls, old architecture, and beautiful teahouses.

Kakunodate Samurai District

If we’re talking samurai districts, then the famous Kakunodate is a must-see with its wide streets and courtyards. The area has remained largely unchanged throughout the years, and visitors come from all over to see the distinctive buildings. Visitors in spring can also enjoy hundreds of cherry blossoms juxtaposed against the iconic architecture. In its prime, Kakunodate housed 80 samurai families. Today, only six houses are open to the public.

Nakasendo: Central Mountain Route

One of two routes that connected Edo to Kyoto, Nakasendo extends over 300 miles and contains 69 stations. Many people come to see the historical significance of the route, with its preserved towns as well as paths that remain in their original form. The most popular segment is in Kiso Valley, located among an old post town and ancient buildings. Also accessible is a hiking trail that leads to a second post town.


Here in this sleepy rural town lies one of the most well-preserved samurai districts. Aptly nicknamed “Little Kyoto of San-in”, the cities share a similar atmosphere. People flock to its many attractions, which include Tsuwano Castle, one of five Inari shrines in the country, and the oldest horseback archery range in Japan. Most notable, though, is the city’s main street, lined with ancient buildings and koi ponds.


At night, the bright lights of Gion provide warmth and entertainment to locals and visitors alike

Source: David Offf via Flickr

Speaking of Kyoto, the city has much to offer, including the most famous Geisha district. In Kyoto, they are called geiko, meaning “a woman of art”. First time visitors will no doubt be awed by the streets and alleys filled with traditional buildings, some of which have been restored to serve as shops or restaurants. Exclusive teahouses serve as the crown jewel. As the guests dine, the skilled geiko entertain with conversation, drinking games, music, and dance.


This small, quiet town played an important role transporting rice into the capital during the Edo Period. Today, many visitors seek out its historic center, nicknamed “Little Edo”. A lovely canal runs through the center, alongside many ancient shops, warehouses, and residences. Bridges provide access across the canal, and boat tours are available as well.

While change is inevitable, many of these historic sights still give a decent glimpse into a time long gone. Lovers of architecture and history are sure to enjoy any of these trips. The buildings may have been renovated or re-purposed, but the spirit lives on.

The post 10 Historic Must-See Destinations in Japan appeared first on YUNOMI.

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