Have you ever wondered what the most spectacular views in Japan are? Allow us to enlighten you!

Recently, we told you about Japan’s top three night views according to the Night View Summit 2015. You may have also heard about Japan’s Three Scenic Spots, one of the many lists of the top three this or that in Japan. So, what’s the deal with all these lists? And who designates them? Find out while checking out some of the best scenery Japan has to offer.

The Japanese government designates Places of Scenic Beauty (meisho) and Special Places of Scenic Beauty (tokubetsu meisho). The Three Scenic Spots (Nihon Sankei), perhaps the oldest of the lists and probably the most popular still used today, is attributed to the scholar Hayashi Gaho in 1643. These big three also landed on the government designated list of Places of Scenic Beauty.

The Nihon Sankei are:

  1. Matsushima 松島 (Miyagi Prefecture)

MatsushimaWikimedia (Chensiyuan-Chensiyuan)

This view of Matsushima is idyllic, with boats floating on the calm waters of the bay. This body of water is also famous for its oysters.

Be sure to check out Matsushima on the night of a full moon, too. For about two hours you can see a glittering road, a reflection of the moon, on the sea. Once the moon has risen, it casts shadows of the islands and trees on the water.

2. Amanohashidate 天橋立 (Kyoto Prefecture)

AmanohashidateWikimedia (663highland)

Amanohashidate (“The Bridge to Heaven”) is in northern Kyoto. From the top of the mountain at Kasamatsu Park, you look over a sandbar lined with pine trees that reaches out across the sea and connects to another land mass on the other side.

The optimal view is actually not the one above, however

 ▼ Believe it or not, this is said to be the optimal view of Amanohashidate!


To achieve this view, you’ll have to do what the Japanese do: matanozoki. To experience it, stand on the designated matanozoki platform with your back to the sea. Make sure you have a wide stance. Place your hands on your thighs and bend over, butt in the air, until you can see through your legs! This grandiose pose makes the sand bar look like “a land bridge to heaven.” Or so they say. I suspect it may have something to do with all the blood rushing to your head.

See the “Amanohashidate Bridge of Fire” on Marine Day (the third Monday in July) when 300 torches are lit in the evenings making a “fire bridge” that joins the two landmasses.

3. Itsukushima Torii Gate 厳島神社の鳥居 (Hiroshima Prefecture)

ToriiWikimedia (Rdsmith4)

Itsukushima shrine is one of Japan’s 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. When the tide comes in, the water surrounds the shrine as well as the torii gate making it look like the giant vermilion gate is floating. The view is equally beautiful at night when the structure is bathed in artificial light, creating a completely different photo opportunity. For even more amazing views of the otorii (big gate), be sure to attend the fireworks festival at the beginning of the Obon holiday in August.

New Three Views of Japan

The next three views (numbers 4-6) are from a different list. In 1915, a publishing company called Jisugyo no Nishonsha decided to hold a contest to determine the New Three Views of Japan (Shin Nihon Sankei). Their results were as follows:

4. Onuma 大沼 (Hokkaido)

Komagatake_duskWikimedia (jonny-mt)

Onuma is the name of the large pond in the Onuma Quasi-National Park in southwest Hokkaido. The outline of the oddly shaped Kamogatake active volcano can be seen in the reflection of the pond.

5. Miho no Matsubara 三保の松原 (Shizuoka Prefecture)

Mt_Fuji_at_Mihonomatsubara-1Wikipedia (masabb)

From Miho no Matsubara you can see across Suruga Bay to Mount Fuji and the Izu Peninsula. This 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) pine tree-studded beach also lands on another of Japan’s lists: the top 100 white sand beaches and green pine groves. The scene was favored by ukiyoe woodblock print artist Hiroshige Utagawa (1797–1858).

▼ You were probably hoping for a better view, so here is Hiroshige’s decidedly more beautiful one.


The white sand has mostly disappeared these days, but before we tell you why, we should tell you the legend called “Hagoromo” (“The Feathered Robe”). The story goes that a celestial maiden was flying over Miho no Matsubara and, enticed by the beauty of the beach, she alighted on this bewitching land. She hung her feathered robe on a pine tree, as celestial maidens tend to do, and dipped into the water. While the lovely woman was bathing, a rather perverse man came along, seized her robe and wouldn’t give it back, demanding that she perform a heavenly dance for him.

What’s a celestial maiden to do? She wanted her cloak back! So she “danced in the spring twilight,” and then flew away under a full moon in her feathered robe, leaving the salacious man looking on longingly. What a creep!

The revered pine tree, named Hagoromo no Matsu, is at least 650 years old and is a local tourist attraction. But the story gets even more sordid because our own greedy selves are responsible for the disappearance of the white sand beach. It is said that when Japan built the first Shinkansen, back in the early 1960s, so much white sand was used to make the concrete that it all but disappeared. Perhaps that’s why there have been no celestial maidens in feathered robes gracing the shores since.

6. Yabakei 耶馬渓 (Oita Prefecture, Kyushu)

KyoshuhoWikipedia (UE-PON2600)

Let’s not pick on this gorge just because it doesn’t have a lake, sea, or mountain around it to enhance its view. This lonely chunk of rock on the Yamakuni River in Oita Prefecture’s  Yaba-Hita-Hikosan Quasi-National Park probably would have gone completely unnoticed had it not been designated a Shin Nihon Sankei (later to become an official government meisho). It’s not often gorges make it into our Top 12 lists, so we should encourage it. Let’s hear a round of applause! It does have its charms. Or maybe you just had to be there.

Three Major Night Views of Japan (Nihon Sandai Yakei)

Then there’s the Three Major Night Views of Japan, which will be touted on any of these city’s websites. These are all called “Ten Million Dollar Views,” although I’d think one million would have done the trick.

7. Hakodate 函館 (Hokkaido)

Play_of_fireworks_and_night_scenes_in_HakodateWikimedia Commons (mosiase)

This night view, as seen from Mt. Hakodate, reportedly earned three out of three stars in the Michelin Green Guide. Fireworks and a cruise ship are surefire props to enhance any night-time scene.

8. Kobe 神戸 (Hyogo Prefecture)

Wikimedia (663highland)

Kobe’s famed night view also takes in Osaka Bay.

9. Nagasaki 長崎 (Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu)

Wikimedia (663highland)

You can take a cable car to the top of Mount Inasa where there is an observation platform.

The New Three Major Night Views of Japan

Of course there had to be a New Three Major Night Views of Japan! In April 2003, a nonprofit organization called, get this, “New Three Major Night Views of Japan and the 100 Night Views of Japan Club” selected the New Three Major Night Views of Japan (Shin Nihon Sandai Yakei). The more the merrier, right?

10. Mount Sarakura 皿倉山 (Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture)

▼ We trust the view is great, but show us where we can sit and enjoy it for a while!

Sarakurayama04Wikimedia Commons

After you take the Hobashira Cable Car or the Sarakurayama Slope Car, you’ll want to enjoy a room with a view. And you don’t have to wait until night time either.

11. Kofu Basin 甲府 (Yamanashi Prefecture)

Any famous view in Yamanashi Prefecture is bound to feature Mount Fuji in it somewhere! So while the night view may be fantastic, it breaks our heart to think you won’t be able to see Mount Fuji, so we’ve given you the daytime view instead. You’re welcome.

▼ Until they put lights on Mt. Fuji (and don’t put it past them) the daytime view may be better than a night view.

kofuFujiWikimedia (名古屋太郎)–modified

Okay, okay, if you really want to see the night view of Kofu Basin, and you have some patience, here’s a three-minute time-lapse video that shows the view below a waning and waxing moon. It’s quite soothing actually, if you have the patience. If not, then move on to our super-wow last view…

12. Mount Wakakusa 若草山 (Nara Prefecture)

120128_WAKAKUSAYAMA_yamayaki-1Wikimedia (名古屋太郎)

A pyrotechnic dream night view, this scene is enhanced by the burning off of the dead grass on Mount Wakakusa with a simultaneous fireworks performance that takes place annually on the fourth Saturday in January. A part of Heijo Imperial Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is in the foreground. Wow–just wow! Now that just might be worth 10 million dollars.

Top image: Wikimedia/名古屋太郎