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The Very Best Views in Scenic Japan

Three is a Magic Number

Of the many, many beautiful places to visit in scenic Japan, there are three that have been officially designated to be the most celebrated. Hayashi Gahō, a philosopher and Confucian scholar, declared the Nihon Sankeiin, or Three Views of Japan, in 1643. These places were considered to be both beautiful and representative of Japan’s cultural heritage. The views are located in very different regions of the country and, as Japan is an island nation, they all have a setting by the sea. It is possible to visit them using public transport and they are emphatically worth travelling to see.

Scenic Japan View Number One: The Itsukushima Shrine

The Itsukushima Shrine is probably the best known of these views. Japanese tourist literature and guides often show a picture of the iconic red torii ‘floating’ in the Seto inland sea. It is located on the delightful island of Itsukushima, more commonly known as Miyajima, which means ‘shrine island’ and it is a UNESCO world heritage site.

It is a beautiful sight, especially when the sunlight catches the sparkling sea.

Scenic Japan

It’s less beautiful when the tide is out so it’s worth planning a visit for when the tide is high if you want to take that perfect Instagram snap.

The torii, in common with all Shinto temples, is actually the gateway to the shrine and it is possible to visit the shrine complex itself. These include Toyokuni Shrine, with its five-story pagoda, as well as the Daiganji Temple. The compound even has a noh stage – for traditional Japanese theatre.

The island is really easy to reach from Hiroshima. You can catch a train and then a ferry to the island on a journey that takes about an hour.

Miyajima is a lovely island, perfect to walk around, especially if you’ve arrived at low tide and need to wait in order to capture that perfect shot of the torii. There are forested walkways to explore and it’s possible to climb up to the island’s highest peak, Mount Misen. If you’re feeling less energetic, there’s a ropeway to take you up to the top.

Scenic Japan

There are also some friendly-ish deer who live on the island. They aren’t as bold as the ones at Nara and, unlike at Nara, you are not allowed to feed them.

Scenic Japan View Number Two: Matsushima

The next view is that of Matsushima on Japan’s north east coast, which is a short rail journey from the northern city of Sendai, easily accessible from Tokyo via the shinkansen (bullet train).

Matsushima comprises a series of hundreds of forested islands dotted through a bay. It was lucky not to have been too badly impacted by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, the geography of the bay having some part in protecting the islands.

It is possible to visit some of the islands closest to the mainland by crossing traditional vermillion bridges from the shore.

But taking a boat trip across the bay is highly recommended as you will be able to see some of the more remote islands. Beware, though, bird food is available to buy prior to boarding the ship and the seagulls very much know this, so we were followed by flocks of gulls eager to feast upon a tasty snack.

Scenic Japan

It is reputed that Japan’s most famous poet, Basho, best known in western countries for his haiku, was reportedly so struck by the awesome beauty of Matsushima, that he was lost for words and could only utter, ‘Matsushima, Ah Matsushima, Matsushima,’ to describe his feelings about viewing the area. The story is likely to be apocryphal but the sentiments are appropriate.

The viewing point isn’t near the shore, it’s a walk across the railway tracks and up a hill to a park. The weather wasn’t really on our side on the day of our visit but we had come all this way to see one of Japan’s greatest views, so a rainy trudge wasn’t going to stop us.

In fact, a very kind lady was driving past in her car and stopped to offer us a lift, which we were happy to accept. She knew exactly where we were heading and we exchanged pleasantries about the weather. ‘O-ame,’ (big rain) we declared. She agreed. After she’d dropped us off in the car park we thanked her profusely and wandered through the park to look at the view. This probably isn’t the same view that Basho enjoyed but it was wonderful nevertheless, despite the rain.

Scenic Japan

The town is lovely to wander around and there are also some interesting temples to visit.

The local foodie specialty is gyu tan – beef tongue. It might not sound very appealing but in fact it’s delicious – it has a very soft texture and is packed full of beef flavour. It’s in the top right of the picture below which shows a set meal that also offered some sushi, miso soup and pickles.

Scenic Japan View Number Three: Amanohashidate

The third view of Japan is a little trickier to reach but it is definitely worth making the journey. You can reach Amanohashidate via a direct train from Kyoto but the journey may be a bit complicated – our train was scheduled to split at a station part way through the journey – fortunately we learned about this prior to the carriages parting and found our way to the right section of the train. The excellent and indispensable hyperdia site will help with journey planning.

Amanohashidate is a sand spit that spans the mouth of the delightful Miyazu bay. The name is a bit of a tongue twister but it translates to something akin to ‘bridge over heaven.’ It is a very pleasant walk from the railway station across the spit to the other side of the bay, a distance of about three and a half kilometres. The sand bar is covered with pine trees that provide shade in the heat of the sun.

Then you can then wander through the small town of Miyazu to catch a cable car to the viewing point. (This photo shows the downhill run, which obviously has a better view.)

The scenery is wonderful, especially if you are lucky enough to see it on a sunny day.

Scenic Japan

But it’s very important to know that there is a specific technique to maximise your viewing experience. You should bend over and look at the sand spit through your legs – there are special observation points to allow you to do this. The reason for this amusing way of viewing is that an upside-down perspective gives the impression of the bridge floating to heaven.

Scenic Japan

Actually it looks like this.

Scenic Japan

It’s great fun to watch other visitors enjoying themselves – everyone has a good laugh as they bend over to view.

There is a restaurant at the top of the viewing point area. As with most restaurants in Japan, the food is tasty and wholesome. We had chirashi sushi (a rice bowl with prawn, squid, salmon roe and shredded omelette) and udon noodles, accompanied with tempura and washed down with a nice cold beer. All enjoyed with the most delightful backdrop.

Three amazing places, three spectacular views. But these are the daytime views. Japan also has three night-time views. Actually, there are top three gardens, castles, mountains, sacred sites, hot springs, festivals and many, many more.

But that’s for another time.

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  1. The pic of the view over Amanohashidate from the restaurant at the top of the hill is stupendous. Bending over to get an aternative view sounds fun!
    I was in Hiroshima bur never knew the Itsukushima Shrine that I had seen pics of before was on a nearby island – I definitely missed that info and now could kick myself for not going there
    The beef tongue dish in Matsushima sounds interesting but I doubt I could be brave enough to eat it!
    Japan for sure has some incredible sights and is one country I yearn to return to.

    • Thank you. Yes, they really are wonderful views. What a shame about not getting out to the Itsukushima Shrine – maybe an excuse to return? We love travelling all over the world but Japan is the place we return to.

    • Thank you – the gulls were kind of encouraged by the boat owners who sold bird-food. And the gulls knew it! Yes, the Torii at low tide doesn’t have the marvellous effect of the shimmering sea but you really can appreciate its scale.

  2. Not only is 3 my favorite number, but Japan is my favorite country to visit! I’ve been fortunate enough to have been to Japan 5 times since 2017, on tour as a drummer, and I’m sure the annual tours will resume again once it’s fully safe. I’ve been to many different areas & cities throughout much of Japan, and while I haven’t been to Itsukushima (yet), I have been to Hiroshima. I wasn’t aware of the Itsukushima Shrine at the time, but also tour scheduling didn’t allow for enough time to venture outside of Hiroshima. If and when I’m in Hiroshima again, I will do my best to get to the island, as this looks AMAZING! The same for Amanohashidate, as I play Kyoto on every tour, and Matsushima, the next time I get to Sendai.

    I can’t express enough how much I’ve enjoyed this post. Japan is such an enriching country, isn’t it? 😀

    • Thank you so much! Japan is our favourite country to visit as well, and you are very right – it really is enriching in so many ways. We very much hope you get to see these views when you are able to travel again!

  3. I got to say, I can’t argue with you here. These areas are so so beautiful and are must sees when visiting Japan. I will definitely make these 3 places a must when I get the chance to visit Japan.

    • We do hope you get a chance to visit. These views are located quite far apart on the largest island of Honshu but bullet trains are very fast and efficient…

  4. I ad never heard of these three official views but I have to agree that they are fantastic vistas.
    I’ve never seen any of them, despite travelling around japan quite a bit.
    I have seen photos of the Tori in the water, so knew of its importance. The tips on seeing it at full tide to get the best aspect never occurred to me, but I see its relevance.
    Your photos are superb and do justice to these beautiful sights – love the one of you capturing the upside down scene through your legs – so funny, but a must do!
    Good tips on food places too.

    • Thank you for your kind words. We absolutely adored these views. They are a little bit off the beaten track but definitely worth visiting. Yes – the upside down viewing is really funny!

  5. Absolutely stunning views! (even if you do have to do yoga to appreciate the one at Amanohashidate!)

    I think I would enjoy Itsukushima the most. It looks so serene and beautiful.

    Thanks for such an informative post, I will make a point of seeing the 3 iconic views when I visit Japan.

    -Lyn | http://www.ramblynjazz.com

    • Thank you! Yes, you can see why Itsukushima appears on all the travel brochures. It is wonderful to be able to see it up close. Hope you get to visit Japan, we are sure you will love it!

  6. I must admit, my wanderlust for Japan has intensified after reading about these magical views. The beauty and diversity of the landscapes have left an indelible mark on my heart, and I can’t wait to witness them in person someday. This blog post has not only sparked my curiosity but also reinforced Japan’s position as a dream destination that simply cannot be missed. I truly appreciated the insightful information provided about each location.
    Your words have transported me and countless others into a world of breathtaking beauty and unforgettable experiences. Keep inspiring us with your travel tales!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. Japan is a country we are absolutely in love with. It is so very beautiful and we absolutely recommend seeing these views if you possibly can. We hope that you do get to visit Japan one day – it is the most wonderful and beguiling place. We are absolutely hooked!

  7. Hahah I love the third one! Someone who is really creative must have figured that out and now it’s a fun story! We were supposed to see the floating shrine, but when we got to Hiroshima we checked and it was being worked on and covered in scaffolding. The city was still awesome though, but so glad we checked before heading to Miyajima

    • I think you did the right thing not going to Miyajima if the torii was covered in scaffolding – good call on checking it out before visiting! But sorry you missed the view. Maybe there’ll be a next time? Yes, the Amanohashidate viewing is so funny – it really breaks the ice chatting to people as you bend over and have a giggle… and then admire that view!

  8. Three official views? That sounds really difficult to narrow down but also incredibly efficient. Although seems like Japan is all about the 3s as the end of your post alludes to. All 3 of these look spectacular but I’m going to say the second one, Matsushima would be the one for me. A little less touristy than Amanohashidate perhaps. And even on a cloudy rainy day it looks pretty

    • Thank you! I’m really pleased you chose Matsushima as we didn’t really have great weather for seeing it. But we just adored the islands, the bay is so very beautiful. You’re absolutely right all three are spectacular – and it is great that so many things come in threes in Japan!

  9. From your selection the first one, the shrine, would engage me the most. I’ve never hard of the bridge to heaven and take it this is more of a locally known activity? It’s fun to see a different perspective with the view points motivating you to bend over and the cable car ride provides profound views over the whole area. The shape of the beach sandwiched in between the water reminds me a bit of Palm Beach in Sydney.

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

    • These are the views of scenic Japan as chosen by a 17th century scholar. The bridge to heaven is probably the least well known, certainly by tourists, and the most difficult to get to visit. The upside-down viewing is great fun – everybody had a laugh as we bent over! Although I’m not sure whether Hayashi Gahō discovered this unusual viewing position! The shrine is really beautiful as well as being culturally important.

  10. The Itsukushima Shrine really is iconic, isn’t it? Love the bridges at both Matsushima and Miyajima. Getting chased by a flock of gulls sounds terrible but the views might make it worth it haha. The upside-down-between-the-legs post is hilarious, love it

    • Thank you! Yes, upside down viewing is clearly under-rated. Perhaps we should try it in other places as well! The views really are wonderful and you’re right, the Itsukushima Shrine is truly iconic.

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