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Three is a Magic Number – The Very Best Views in Japan

Of the many, many beautiful places to visit in Japan, there are, in fact, three that have been officially designated to be the most celebrated.

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 and it is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is located on the island of Itsukushima, more commonly known as Miyajima.

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

Miyajima torii

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

The torii, in common with Shinto temples, is actually the gateway to the shrine and it is also possible to visit the shrine itself. There are a number of temples and corridors to visit. It 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.

There are also some friendly-ish deer which aren’t as bold as the ones at Nara.

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 protecting the islands.

It is possible to visit some of the islands nearest 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 get to get close to some of the more remote islands. Beware, though, bird food is available to buy prior to boarding the ship and the seagulls very much knew this, so we were followed by flocks of gulls eager to feast upon a tasty snack.

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 beach, it’s a walk across the railway tracks and up a hill to a park. The weather wasn’t really on our side 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.

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.

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 across the spit, about three and a half kilometres, which 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.

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.

Actually it looks like this.

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. As with all 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, of course, 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.

More posts from Japan


  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…

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