You could fly to Japan, take the long bus ride to Mount Fuji from Narita Airport, and hike 3,776 meters to the top of one of the world’s highest mountains, or you could see the same sight from the comfort of your own home. Thanks to Google Street View, anyone can visit Japan’s most famous cultural landmarks. Google Street View is a feature added onto Google Maps and Google Earth that provides 360 panoramic views from many locations around the globe.
I’ve stood at the base of Mt. Fuji and visited many of Japan’s most famous temples, and throughout this time I’ve experienced some of my life’s most breathtaking moments. Many of these trips however required me to save a lot of money and put in a ton of effort in planning each visit. So I can’t tell you how amazing it is that we can live in a time where you can easily access many of this incredibly locations right from your own home.
In this post I’ll go through nine of Japan’s most famous locations that you can explore right from home. To see more of Japan’s cities and neighborhoods from Google Street View, simply go to Google Maps and type in the location you’d like to check out. On the map’s zoom controls, you’ll see a yellow pegman. Drag and drop the pegman to any location on the map to see it from ground level. If you don’t see this, it means there’s no Street View available at the moment. That being said, Google is constantly updating its database and will eventually cover most (if not all) of Japan’s major areas.
I chose many of the locations in this post based on two criteria: historical significance and cultural impact. Not to mention they’re just plain cool! Each of them is ordered in terms of their overall popularity, my own personal love for them, and the detail which Google Street View gives you. I hope you like the list I’ve put together for you. Be sure to let me know which one of these was your favorite spot in the comments!
1. Mount Fuji
I know. It’s not really the same. Sure, the strong feeling of achievement you get when you reach the top of Fuji-san won’t parallel anything that Google dishes out. But with this view, you’re guaranteed no crowds, perfect weather, and none of the painful after effects from climbing more than two miles up.
“The Street View collection covers the highly popular Yoshida trail that takes hikers up the mountain, the full walk around the crater at the top, and the quick zigzag descent,” said Setsuo Murai, representative director of Geo Partnerships for Google Japan, on Google’s official blog post. “We hope these 14,000 panos of new imagery will give climbers a sense of the terrain to expect under their feet — especially all the night-time climbers who shuffle up in the dark to see the sunrise at the crack of dawn.”
Fuji-san was awarded the honor of becoming a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) back in June 2013. This recent achievement spiked tourist’s interest in the site, attracting thousands of people to its slopes this year. Google Street View allows you to avoid all the heavy traffic from hikers crowding Fuji-san’s various climbing paths. Definitely check this one out!
2. Sensoji Temple
Sensōji is a Japanese Shinto Temple located in the heart of Asakusa, Tokyo. Don’t even bother trying to come here around new years. The crowds number in the thousands and getting anywhere near the main building is next to impossible. Google Street View is the perfect alternative.
When you first arrive at Sensōji, you’ll be greeted by the Kaminarimon, which means “thunder entrance” or “thunder gate”. This is considered one of Tokyo’s most iconic landmarks. A small traditional shopping district known as Nakamise connects the Kaminarimon to Sensōji’s second gate, the Hozomon. Beyond that you’ll find the temple’s main building for offerings and a five storied pagoda.
3. Itsukushima Shinto Shrine
Itsukushima Shrine is located on Miyajima Island. “Miyajima” itself means “shrine island”, hinting at the city’s most recognizable landmark. Itsukushima was built in a small inlet along the coast of Miyajima. Its famous torii gate is placed just outside the shrine right on the Seto inland sea. During a low tide, visitors can walk out to the torii gate and see it up close. The high tide offers a more photogenic scene (especially around sunset).
Google Street View took the opportunity to capture Itsukushima Shrine’s torii gate during a low tide, so you’re offered a rare glimpse of one of Japan’s most iconic landmarks up close.
4. Himeji Castle
Himeji-jō is one of Japan’s oldest and most famous castles from Japan’s feudal period. For over 400 years the castle has remained completely unharmed, surviving numerous WWII bombings and severe natural disasters such as the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995.
Himeji-jō is home to many famous Japanese legends, folklore, and other great tales from the past. It is one of Japan’s most important historical landmarks and was also granted status as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO back in 1993.
5. Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera is one of Japan’s most famous Buddhist temples. Its name means “pure water” which comes from the Otowa Waterfall upon which the temple is built. Located in forests of east Kyoto, the landmark was originally associated with the Hosso school of Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own branch in 1965.
The temple is known for its traditional wooden construction and an open stage which allows visitors to see the beautiful cherry trees that run along the hills of Kyoto. Kiyomizu-dera was also added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1994.
6. Great Buddha of Kamakura
The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a bronze statue which rests on the grounds of the Kotokuin Temple in Nara, Japan. Standing at a height of more than 13 meters, the Great Buddha of Kamakura is considered the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan. This landmark was built in 1252 and was originally located near the main temple hall.
The Buddha statue is actually completely hollow, and tourists can go inside the structure to view its interior. According to Wikipedia, the notice at the entrance to the grounds reads, “Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Bhudda and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.”
7. Yakushi-ji Temple
Yakushi-ji is one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples. It was built by Emperor Tenmu in the late 7th century as a monument to his late wife. If you take a look at the main building of Genjo-sanzoin Garan located slightly north of the main temple complex, you’ll notice that the structure’s shape is a completely symmetrical octagon. Built in 1981, the complex is a memorial to the Chinese monk Genjo-sanzo, who lived in the 7th century and was famous for his extensive study in Buddhism and travels to India and Central Asia.
Behind this structure you’ll find a building displaying some of the most famous works of artist Hirayama Ikuo, one of Japan’s most celebrated painters who recently passed away in 2009. Google Street View goes into detail here. I can’t imagine how many hours of walking that poor Google mapper had to put in to accomplish this, so definitely take a look at this one.
8. Ogasawara Islands
The Ogasawara Islands are a chain of volcanic islands that run 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, Japan. Also known as the Bonin Islands, the chain attracts thousands of tourists each year for its warm subtropical climates, crystal clear beaches, and local resorts. The islands were discovered by Ogasawara Sadayori in 1593, who claimed them in the name of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The islands were officially recognized as Japanese territory in 1875. After WWII, the Ogasawara islands were occupied by the United States until 1968 when they were finally returned to the Japanese government. Currently, the only way for regular visitors to reach the islands is by boat. A ferry runs from Tokyo to the Ogasawara Islands regularly, taking around 25 hours to reach the islands. Because the trip to the islands takes so long by boat, whenever tourists or inhabitants have a medical emergency, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force sends a helicopter to retrieve them.
Hashima is known by the Japanese as Gunkanjima, meaning “Battleship island.” You might also recognize this island as one of the locations from the very popular 2012 film, Skyfall, where Agent 007 was held captive by the evil Raoul Silva in his secret hideout. The scene was actually filmed on a small island off the coast of Macau, and the production crew ended up using 3D models of Gunkanjima to recreate the look of the island using special effects and elaborate set pieces.
Located off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan, Gunkanjima served as a coal mine and a home to more than 5,000 people. With the island measuring only 480 meters by 150 meters wide, Gunkanjima became the most densely populated area in history. To help accommodate so many people in such a small area, the city constructed tall buildings that took up most of the land, making the island look a lot like a battleship.
The mine closed in 1974, and residents were forced to move back to Nagasaki, leaving the island with all its building and equipment behind. Over the next few decades, typhoons and natural weather erosion has caused the remaining structures to look rundown and desolated, giving the island a very spooky atmosphere. Due to the danger of collapsing buildings, Gunkanjima was closed to the public, until 2009, when small guided tour boats allow participants to view the island from selected observation decks.
Google Street View offers a rare opportunity to explore one of the most deserted locations in the world, seeing just how time and weather have affected the surrounding structures. Here’s a cool video of the “making of” of the Street View photos:
Certainly a remarkable looking place, and now you can visit it too! Well, kind of, at least.
Google Street View offers everyday people the opportunity to visit some of the world’s most fascinating places. Japan is something that has always interested me, so I can’t tell you how glad I am to have this feature as a resource for my own studies and research. One of the biggest setbacks from traditional media like video and photography is that it only offers you a set rectangular view of things. With a 360 panoramic view, you can see what you want when you want and travel along as if you were really there. There’s nothing better than actually getting to see a place first hand, but this is definitely the closest thing to it.
So what did you think? Were you surprised with how some of these places look in real life? Did you discover anything cool from surfing through Google Street View in Japan? Share screenshots in the comments below if you see any people in horse masks walking around.
Hector is a copywriter and blogger for usb memory direct. In his spare time he runs a Japanese reference site called Japan Finds where he discusses regional, cultural, and historical facts about Japan. Hector is particularly interested in the Edo period, a time where honorable samurai, beautiful geisha, and powerful shoguns roamed the islands of Japan.