35 Best Sights in Nagoya, Ise-Shima, and the Kii Peninsula, Japan

Grand Shrines of Ise

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These shrines are rebuilt every 20 years, in accordance with Shinto tradition. To begin a new generational cycle, exact replicas of the previous halls are erected with new wood, using the same centuries-old methods, on adjacent sites. The old buildings are then dismantled. The main halls you see now—the 62nd set—were completed in 2013 at an estimated cost of more than ¥5.5 billion. For the Japanese, importance is found in the form of the buildings; the vintage of the materials is of little concern. You cannot enter any of the buildings, but the tantalizing glimpses of the main halls that you catch while walking the grounds add to the mystique of the site. Both Grand Shrines exhibit a natural harmony that the more-contrived buildings in later Japanese architecture do not.

Deep in a park of ancient Japanese cedars, Geku, dating from AD 477, is dedicated to Toyouke Omikami, goddess of agriculture. Its buildings are simple, predating the 6th-century Chinese and Korean influence. It's made from unpainted hinoki (cypress), with a closely cropped thatched roof. You can see very little of the exterior of Geku—only its roof and glimpses of its walls—and none of the interior. Four fences surround the shrine, and only the Imperial Family and their envoys may enter. Geku is a five-minute walk southwest of Ise-Shi Station or a 10-minute walk west of Uji-Yamada Station.

The even more venerated Naiku is 6 km (4 miles) southeast of Geku. Naiku is said to be where the Yata-no-Kagami (Sacred Mirror) is kept, one of the three sacred treasures of the imperial regalia. The shrine, reputed to date from 4 BC, also houses the spirit of the sun goddess Amaterasu, who Japanese mythology says was born of the left eye of Izanagi, one of the first two gods to inhabit the earth. According to legend, Amaterasu was the great-great-grandmother of the first mortal emperor of Japan, Jimmu. Thus, she is revered as the country's ancestral goddess-mother and guardian deity. The Inner Shrine's architecture is simple. If you did not know its origin, you might call it classically modern. The use of unpainted cypress causes Naiku to blend into the ancient forest encircling it. To get to Naiku, take Bus 51 or 55 from Uji-Yamada Station or in front of Geku to the Naiku-mae bus stop, which is right in front of the shrine. The ride takes about 20 minutes and costs ¥440.

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Meiji-mura Museum

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Considered one of Japan's best museums, Meiji-mura has more than 60 buildings originally constructed during the Meiji era (1868–1912), when Japan ended its policy of isolationism and swiftly industrialized. The best way to experience the exhibits is to wander about, stopping at things that catch your eye. There's an English pamphlet to help guide you. If you get tired of walking, hop on a tram originally from Kyoto, a steam train from Yokohama, and an old village bus; a single pass gives you access to all three for an additional fee. Among the exhibits are a surprisingly beautiful octagonal wood prison from Kanazawa, a Kabuki theater from Osaka that hosts occasional performances, and the former homes of renowned writers Soseki Natsume and Lafcadio Hearn. The lobby of legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel, where Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe were once guests, is arguably the highlight. It opened on the day of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, 11 years after the death of Emperor Meiji, and though it is not strictly a Meiji-era building, its sense of grandeur and history are truly unique. Buses run from Inuyama Station to Meiji-mura two to three times an hour from 9 to 4. The ride takes 20 minutes and costs ¥430.

Okuno-in Cemetery

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If time is limited, head for this memorial park first. Many Japanese make pilgrimages to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi or pay their respects to their ancestors buried here. Arrive early in the morning, before the groups take over, or even better, at dusk, when it gets wonderfully spooky.

Exploring this cemetery is like peeking into a lost and mysterious realm. Incense hangs in the air, and you can almost feel the millions of prayers said here clinging to the gnarled branches of 300-year-old cedar trees reaching into the sky. The old-growth forest is a rarity in Japan, and among the trees are buried some of the country's most prominent families, their graves marked by mossy pagodas and red-robed bodhisattvas.

You can reach Okuno-in by way of the 2½-km (1½-mile) main walkway, which is lined with more than 100,000 tombs, monuments, and statues. The lane enters the cemetery at Ichi-no-hashi-guchi; follow the main street straight east from the town center for 15 minutes to find this small bridge at the edge of the forest.

The path from Okuno-in-mae ends at the refined Toro-do (Lantern Hall), named after its 11,000 lanterns. Two fires burn in this hall; one has reportedly been alight since 1016, the other since 1088. Behind the hall is the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. The hall and the mausoleum altar are extremely beautiful, with subtle lighting and soft gold coloring.

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Arimatsu-Narumi Tie-Dyeing Museum


Traditional shibori (tie-dyed cotton) has been produced in this area for more than 400 years. Here you can learn about the history of the dyeing technique and see demonstrations of the production process. The museum sells samples of the cloth, which features striking white designs on the deepest indigo, as well as clothing, tablecloths, and other items. You can also try making your own tie-dyed souvenirs at one of the regular workshops, which require a reservation and have an extra cost. Arimatsu Station is 25 minutes south of Nagoya on the Meitetsu Nagoya Line.

Atsuta Shrine


A shrine has stood at the site of Atsuta Jingu for 1,700 years. After Ise, this is the country's most important Shinto shrine. The Treasure House 宝物館; Homotsukan) is reputed to house one of the emperor's three imperial regalia—the Grass-Mowing Sword (Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi)—and although it is never on public display, there are many other worthy artifacts to see. Nestled among 1,000-year-old trees, making it easy to spot from the train, the shrine is an oasis of tradition in the midst of modern industrialism. Dozens of major festivals and religious events are held here each year. From Meitetsu Nagoya Station take the Meitetsu Nagoya Line south to Jingumae Station. The shrine is across the road from the West Exit.

1--1--1 Jingu, Nagoya, 456-8585, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Shrine free, Treasure House ¥500, Treasure House closed last Wed. and Thurs. each month

Dai-mon Gate

Every year, a million visitors pass through Koya-san's Great Gate to enter the sprawling complex of 117 temples and monasteries. Traveling to Koya-san takes you through mountain wilderness, but the town itself is sheltered and self-contained. The main buildings are imposing, while the minor temples are in a wide range of styles and colors, each offering small-scale beauty in its decor or garden. Monks, pilgrims, and tourists mingle in the main street, the sneaker-wearing, motorcycle-riding monks often appearing the least pious of all.

249 Koya-san, Koya, 648-0211, Japan
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Rate Includes: Free


Tucked behind a promontory, this fishing village is an interesting stop on the journey around the headland. At a small fish market you can sample fresh squid, mackerel, and other seafood. Standing above the village is Daiozaki todai 大王崎灯台, a 72-feet tall lighthouse built in 1927 that's open to visitors daily from 9 to 4. To reach this towering white structure, walk up the narrow street lined with fish stalls and pearl souvenir shops at the back of the harbor.

Gifu Castle

This castle, perched dramatically on top of Mt. Kinka, overlooks the city center and Nagara River. It's most striking when illuminated at night, backdropped by the mountain that changes color in fall. The current building dates from 1956 (the 16th-century structure was destroyed by an 1891 earthquake) and looks like a Japanese city office from the same era, though the view of Gifu from Mt. Kinka is worth the hike. A cable-car ride up from Gifu Park (¥1,100 round-trip) gets you to the castle in 10 minutes, or you can walk the 2.3-km (1½-mile) path to the 1,079-foot summit in about an hour. Take Bus N32, N41, N80, or N86 to Gifu Park (15 minutes, ¥220).

Kinkanzan, Gifu-shi, 500-0000, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥200

Gifu City Museum of History

In Gifu Park, five minutes south of the cable-car station, sits this well-presented hands-on-museum, with exhibits covering Gifu from the prehistoric age through to feudal and pre-modern Japan. On the second floor you can dress up in traditional clothing and play old Japanese games such as bansugoroku (similar to backgammon).

Hayatama Shrine

Although the buildings here are modern re-creations, this great shrine is said to have been located here since at least the 12th century, and is steeped in much Shinto mythology. A sacred stone found here was said to have once carried three Shinto deities to Earth.

Hongu Shrine

Of the three Kumano Sanzan grand shrines, Hongu-taisha is the most revered, being the head shrine of some 3,000 Kumano shrines nationwide. It's also the one hidden deepest in the Kii Peninsula's interior. With its understated wooden structures and thatched roofs, it blends in perfectly with the giant cedars that surround it. What would have once been an arduous trek through mountain and forest is now a straightforward trip on public transport (though people still walk the pilgrimage trails). To get there from Shingu, take a bus 80 minutes to the Hongu-taisha-mae bus stop. If you are staying over in Shingu, this is easily done as a day-trip.

Iga Ueno Castle

This castle stands today because of one man's determination and wealth. The first castle built here was destroyed by a rainstorm in 1612, before it was completed. More than 300 years later, local resident Katsu Kawasaki financed a replica that sits atop vertiginous 98-foot stone walls—be careful when it's windy. Kawasaki also paid for the Basho Memorial Museum, built in memory of Japan's famous wandering poet, Matsuo Basho, which stands near the castle in Ueno Park.

Iga-Ryu Ninja Museum

The Iga-Ryu school of ninjutsu was one of the top two training centers for Japan's ancient spies and assassins in the 14th century. At the ninja residence, a guide in traditional dress explains how they were always prepared for attack. The hidden doors and secret passages are ingenious. Energetic demonstrations of ninja weapons like throwing stars, swords, daggers, and sickles are fun, and afterwards you can try out the throwing star. If you want to walk around the museum and town dressed up as a ninja, staff can point you to shops where you can rent all the gear. One special exhibit gives you some background on ninja history and techniques, while another displays the disguises and encryption used here, as well as the inventive tools that enabled them to walk on water and scale sheer walls. The museum is in Ueno Park, a 10-minute walk up the hill from Uenoshi Station.

117--13--1 Ueno Marunouchi, Iga Ueno, 518-0873, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥800; weapons demonstration ¥500; throwing stars lesson ¥300

Inuyama Castle

Inuyama's most famous sight is Inuyama Castle, also known as Hakutei-jo (White Emperor Castle). Built in 1537, it is the oldest of the 12 original castles in Japan. The exceedingly pretty castle stands amid carefully tended grounds on a bluff overlooking the Kiso River. Climb up the creaky staircases to the top floor for a great view of the river, city, and surrounding hills. The gift shops and small section of old town at the foot of the castle hill are good for browsing. From Inuyama-Yuen Eki, walk southwest along the river for 10 minutes.

Jo-an Teahouse

In the traditional Uraku-en garden, which reopened in March 2022 after several years of renovations, sits the Jo-an Teahouse. Originally constructed in Kyoto in 1618, the teahouse was moved to its present site in 1971. Admission to the garden is pricey, so it's worth paying an extra fee to be served green tea in the traditional style. Uraku-en is less than ½ km (¼ mile) from Inuyama-jo.

Kawasaki Merchant Warehouses

Near the Hoshide-kan inn, four blocks of historic buildings alongside the Setagawa River form the Kawasaki area, once a transportation and trade hub that at its peak was home to 100 warehouses and stores supplying Ise. Many of these renovated buildings now house galleries, cafés, and restaurants—like Izakaya Toramaru—while others function as simple stores, as they have done for generations. It’s a charming neighborhood to stroll for an hour or two. The tourist information center has a map of the area listing all the businesses, or you can grab a copy from the Hoshide-kan.

Kongobu-ji Temple

On the southwestern side of Koya-san, Kongobu-ji is the chief temple of Shingon Buddhism. It was first built in 1592 as the family temple of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, and rebuilt in 1861 to become the main temple of the Koya-san community. The screen-door artwork and Banryutei landscaped rock garden, the largest in Japan, are both well worth the admission fee.

132 Koya-san, Koya, 648-0211, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥1,000

Legoland Japan Resort


When Legoland Japan opened in the Nagoya port area in 2017 it gave the region something to rival the Universal Studios Japan amusement park in Osaka and Disney Resorts just outside Tokyo. Aimed at kids aged 2 to 12 (and their families), the park brings together more than 40 rides spread across seven zones, including the medieval-themed Knights Kingdom and its Dragon roller coaster and water fights in the Pirate Shores zone. As you might expect from Lego, there are also plenty of models to check out—10,000 in all using a total of 17 million Lego bricks.

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Mikimoto Pearl Museum

This museum on Pearl Island, 500 yards southeast from Toba Station, explores the history of pearl diving in Japan.

Nachi Shrine

The shrine overlooks Nachi-no-taki 那智の滝, the highest waterfall in Japan, which drops 430 feet into a rocky river. At the bus stop near the falls, a large torii (gate) marks the start of a short path that leads to a paved clearing near the foot of the falls. A 15-minute climb up the mossy stone path opposite the souvenir shops is the temple and its small museum. You can ride an elevator to the top of the bright-red pagoda for an on-high view of the waterfall. Next to the shrine is the 1587 Buddhist temple Seiganto-ji 青岸渡寺, starting point for a 33-temple Kannon pilgrimage through western Honshu. Many visitors walk here via the cobbled Daimonzaka slope 大門坂, found one bus stop before Nachi Falls, for a brief taste of the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails.

Nagara River Ukai Museum

Learn about the history of ukai fishing, in which fishermen use live cormorants to catch river fish, and the lives of the odd-looking birds at the center of it, at this smart museum alongside the Nagara River. It's near the Ryokan Sugiyama, a six-minute walk from the Ukai-ya bus stop.

51--2 Nagara, Gifu-shi, 502-0071, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥500, Closed Tues. and mid-Oct.--Apr.

Nagoya Castle


The main keep of this Nagoya landmark, a 1950s ferro-concrete reconstruction of the 1612 original, was closed in May 2018 to be pulled down and replaced by a fully wooden reconstruction by December 2022. Or that was the plan. As of March 2022, the old keep is still standing, but nobody can enter. However, the castle ground's are still more than worth a visit for the painstakingly rebuilt Honmaru Palace, which was unveiled in 2018. Made mostly of hinoki (Japanese cypress), it is richly decorated with elaborate wall and screen-door paintings, intricate wood carvings, decorative metal fittings, and fine lacquering. It's a modern-day masterpiece of traditional Japanese crafting. Check out the ceilings as you get deeper into the palace, as their design becomes increasingly more complex to reflect the higher status of those allowed into the inner sanctums. Nagoya Castle's east gate is one block north of the Shiyakusho 市役所; City Hall) subway station. If you get hungry while there, just across from the castle's east entrance is a new cluster of a dozen or so restaurants and cafes, collectively called Kinshachi Yokocho.

Nagoya City Science Museum


Given a major makeover in 2011, the seven-story Nagoya City Science Museum is packed with fun, hands-on attractions designed to teach kids of all ages about science. The highlights are a planetarium—Japan's biggest—and several visually impressive "labs" where you can experience a tornado, learn about electricity, or feel the Arctic cold.

Nawa Insect Museum

Located in Gifu Park, this small museum houses disturbingly large beetles, colorful butterflies, and other bugs.

2--18 Omiya-cho, Gifu-shi, 500-8003, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥600, Closed Tues.--Thurs.

Noritake Garden


Delicate colors and intricate hand-painted designs characterize the china of Noritake, one of the world's largest manufacturers of porcelain. Its garden complex includes a craft center—effectively a mini-factory where workers demonstrate the 15-step manufacturing process from modeling to glazing to hand painting. You can even paint a design and transfer it to a piece of china, or decorate a porcelain dinosaur. China-painting workshops run from 10 to 4, but the cost does not include the price of shipping your piece once it has been fired (only plates can be shipped overseas). The upper floors house a small museum displaying "Old Noritake" works with art nouveau and art deco influences. A free Welcome Center shows the diverse industrial applications of ceramics, from circuit boards to racing helmets. There's the odd bargain to be found in the outlet section of the company shop. Noritake Garden is a 15-minute walk north of JR Nagoya Station or five minutes from exit 2 of the Kamejima subway station, and can easily be combined with a trip to the nearby Toyota Commemorative Museum.

3--1--36 Noritake-Shinmachi, Nagoya, 451-8501, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Garden free; ¥500 Craft Center; ¥800 including Toyota Commemorative Museum; ¥2,000 to ¥3,500 china-painting workshops, Closed Mon.

Reihokan Treasure Hall

Chosen from the museum's 78,000-piece collection, you'll find more than 5,000 well-preserved Buddhist relics on display here, some dating back 1,000 years. The New Gallery houses themed exhibitions of sculpture, painting, and artifacts. The Main Gallery has a permanent exhibition of Buddha and bodhisattva figures and calligraphic scrolls. The museum sits across the road from the Danjo Garan.

Sacred Precinct

The most striking of Danjo Garan's outsized halls is the 147-feet tall Kompon-daito (Great Stupa). This red pagoda with an interior of brightly colored beams contains five large seated gold Buddhas. Last rebuilt in 1937, the two-story structure has an unusual style and rich vermilion color. From Kongobu-ji, walk down the temple's main stairs and take the road to the right of the parking lot in front of you; in less than five minutes you will reach Danjo Garan itself.

152 Koya-san, Koya, 648 0211, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥500 to enter the Kompon-daito

Sakino-yu Hot Spring

Soak in this open-air hollow among the wave-beaten rocks facing the Pacific Ocean, where it's said that emperors Saimei (594–661) and Mommu (683–707) once bathed. It's at the south end of the main beach, below Hotel Seamore.

Shirahama, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥500, ¥200 towel rental

Seki Traditional Swordsmith Museum

Seki has a 700-year-old sword-manufacturing heritage, and you'll appreciate the artistry and skill of Japanese sword smiths at this museum. Three types of metal are used to form blades, which are forged multiple times and then beaten into shape with a hammer. Demonstrations are held on the first Sunday of each month, except in October, when special displays occur during the Seki Cutlery Festival in the middle of the month. Seki is 30 minutes northeast of Gifu via the Meitetsu Minomachi Line.

9–1 Minamikasuga-cho, Sekimachi, 501-3857, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥300, Closed Tues.


About 8 km (5 miles) from Kushimoto, this is Honshu's southernmost point. Stationed high above the rocky cliffs is a white lighthouse that unfortunately closes before sunset. Adjacent to the lighthouse is a good spot for picnics and walking on the cliff paths. The beach looks inviting, but sharp rocks and strong currents make swimming a bad idea.

Nachikatsuura, Japan
Sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥300, Lighthouse: daily 9–4