5 Overrated Japanese destinations & where to go instead!

Published December 10th, 2021

When you plan to travel to a country, you’re definitely going to search up the best places to visit when you’re there. These hyped up areas are usually not as worth it as you might think. This includes Japan, too. Coming from one who has lived in the island nation for over three years, there are better places to explore, trust me.

So for those of you who are travelling to Japan for a limited period of time, you’d want to squeeze in all the ‘top 10 spots’ and ‘best attractions’ in your itinerary. This article will highlight five overrated Japan destinations with their replacements, so as to save yourselves some time.

Let’s take a look at these five places!

1. Sensoji Temple in Tokyo

One of the most visited Japan destinations is Tokyo. And in Tokyo, one of the top places to visit is the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. This is an ancient Buddhist temple and is the oldest one in the whole city. Those looking for a cultural experience would go here.

In between the entrance of the temple and the actual grounds itself are rows and rows of traditional Japanese shops. These shops sell all kinds of souvenirs including authentic and exquisite cultural items. You could get a kimono set conveniently from an English-speaking Japanese owner, along with all your other omiyage needs.

So in that sense, Sensoji Temple is more a touristic spot than a historical sight now.

Why is it overrated?

You’d expect for the city’s oldest temple to have the surrounding air filled with culture and peace. It once was. It was once a historical sight, expected to be preserved and active with temple rituals.

While there are still traditional temple activities taking place, the spiritual essence isn’t like what it was. You can’t walk down the street, from the entrance to the temple grounds, at your own pace and in peace. You’re going to get shoved around in the huge crowd that never seems to die down, regardless of day or night.

Sure, you can get your fortune slips and pay your respects, but about a few hundreds of others are doing the exact same thing as you at the same time. Groups of tourists would juggle around the fortune slip boxes, continuous snapshots of cameras and phones, and generally just very hectic.

Where can you go instead?

There are so many other temples in Tokyo that you should visit instead. Heck, even the neighborhood ones are just as beautiful, only without the crowd and noise. One iconic neighborhood temple is the Cat Temple in Gotokuji. It’s called so because of its hundreds of waving cat figurines all around the temple!

And if you’re going to other parts of Japan, there are plenty more temples there, too! Stop by Kyoto, as the temples there are extremely culturally rich. The spiritual essence and peace that you expect are present there.

2. Takeshita Dori in Tokyo

One of the most famous streets in Tokyo is Takeshita Dori. Everyone knows this street. It’s the fashion street in the fashion neighbourhood, Harajuku. This specific street was once the haven of dozens of fashion subcultures in Japan. So this used to be a famous hangout spot for rebellious teenagers. Some say it still is.

Different parts of the street “belonged” to different subcultures. And today, you could see it quite clearly based on the various types of stores that are set up in various areas. Artists and musicians also called this street home at one point. But now, Takeshita Dori is more of a tourist attraction than a creative hot spot. While there are still hints of creativity, the original essence has disappeared, along with most of the people who used to hang out there.

Why is it overrated?

It’s unfortunate but Takeshita Dori has been put on the spotlight by the media as the place to be to experience the Tokyo fashion scene. Fair enough, it is the heart of Harajuku, which was once loaded with fashion creatives. And while the fashion is pretty prominent there still, this specific street has lost its original vibe and is now a souvenir shopping street.

You can still buy Japanese subculture clothes and accessories. However the prices have been made “tourist prices” and some can even say these items are tacky (because they probably aren’t originally made in Japan, as how they should be).

Be prepared for streets full of sardine-packed tourists where you can barely walk. Say goodbye to personal space.

Where can you go instead?

If your intention for going to Takeshita Dori is for the fashion scene, skip it. There are so many other neighbourhoods that are fashion-centric and still maintain its vibe. Some of the neighbourhoods where the creative minds ran off to include Nakano, Koenji and Shimokitazawa. These various areas have their own unique vibe.

Fashion enthusiasts aren’t the only people you see in these neighbourhoods. You get artists and musicians too, as well as tons of other carefree people who express themselves through their dressing. Opt for these neighbourhoods for a slower, more hipster vibe than Takeshita Dori.

3. Chureito Pagoda near Fuji-san

A trip to Mt. Fuji is on every Japan traveller’s checklist. Never mind climbing it, just a clear view of the mountain is good enough. The best place for this is the Chureito Pagoda. Or so the numerous websites say.

Chureito Pagoda is said to have the best view of Mt. Fuji in the whole country, alongside a lovely pagoda on a hilltop. To top it all off, you can even get an amazing sunset. To be fair, you can get that amazing one shot of Mt. Fuji, but other than that, there’s nothing much around the area.

Why is it overrated?

All those photos that you see in pictures, that’s about it that you see. These heavily enhanced coloured photos that you see on social media have pulled in millions of travellers into scheduling this spot into their Japan trips. When you reach the spot, you might feel a bit disappointed at how unassumingly small the pagoda is. I certainly was.

After an extremely long train journey to a place quite distant from the main stations, and almost 400 steps up to get there, I expected the shrine to be magnificent. Don’t bring your hopes up. It’s pretty plain and pretty middle-sized.

There’s also the chance of not even seeing Mt. Fuji when you’re up there. Depending on the day, it can become cloudy and there’s a chance you won’t see the mountain the whole time. Some people wait for the sky to clear up, but it might not. Is it all really worth it, noting that every other shot is going to be the exact same?

Where can you go instead?

There are undoubtedly better places to view Mt. Fuji. I made my trip to the area for Fuji Q Highland, the amusement park, and booked a hotel with a view of Mt. Fuji. So my advice is to set aside at least two days and spend a night at a hotel that offers a perfect view of Mt. Fuji from your window.

Early mornings is the best time to see a clear Mt. Fuji. You will not only be able to wake up to the sight of the lovely Mt. Fuji, but you’ll also be able to spend a chill time going around the area without rushing.

4. Umeda Sky Building in Osaka

One of the highlights of Osaka is the Umeda Sky Building. Tall skyscrapers are huge signs in the sky for being the perfect spot for a view of the city. Buildings with viewing decks like Umeda Sky Building have viewing decks that give you a 360 view of the city.

And there’s no doubt that the Umeda Sky Building has a unique architecture. There are aesthetically pleasing spots to take your Instagram pictures. But let me warn you: the waiting time can be agonising. You might waste most of your day just in line to get up! Is it then worth it?

Why is it overrated?

In a lot of travel guides, you’ll find Umeda Sky Building as one of the main attractions of Osaka. Because of this attention, everyone makes it a point to put it in their Kansai itinerary. Not only do you have to pay to get up, but you’re also going to have to wait in line for an extremely long time.

What’s more, the only takeaway you get is the view, which you can also get from a few other tall buildings in Osaka. I do recommend you to visit the building, though. The architecture definitely deserves appreciation. You just don’t have to go up. You can appreciate it from below.

Where can you go instead?

If you’re looking for a good view of the city, go to the tallest building in Osaka: Abeno Harukas. This building stands at 300m tall, and you’re even allowed to enter for free till the 16th floor! To go up higher, you have to fork out a few hundred yens, I’m afraid.

On top of that, Abeno Harukas is a multi-purpose building. It’s not only a viewing deck. There are tons of shops and restaurants for you to leisurely browse and dine in. This makes your trip down more worthwhile!

5. Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto

Kyoto’s golden temple, Kinkaku-ji, is one of the most famous spots in the city. The sound of a golden temple is extremely attractive on its own, don’t you think. This Zen temple can be found in the northern part of Kyoto. The Kinkaku-ji temple was built to echo the extravagant culture of Kitayama in the wealthy social circles of Kyoto during the Yoshimitsu days. Each floor of the temple was made to represent a different style of architecture. The top two floors of the temple itself is covered in gold leaf.

The temple has been standing since 1397. The grounds itself is full of vibrant trees and well maintained gardens. While a visit to the Kinkaku-ji temple can be a wonderful experience, it can disappoint for some.

Why is it overrated?

Some might assume that the whole temple is golden. However, it’s only the top two floors. This can be a huge letdown, especially when some promote Kinkaku-ji as being fully golden.

Kinkaku-ji is also quite a distance from central Kyoto. You might need to take a long bus ride or cycle up that way only for it. If you only have a short period of time in the city, this might be one to cross out.

Kyoto is a city filled with hundreds and thousands of temples and shrines, just waiting to be explored. This ancient capital city oozes culture and history just on the streets. You don’t have to travel so far to this overhyped temple for that zen, intimate experience.

Where can you go instead?

Instead of travelling a chunk of time solely for a temple, why not head over to the Silver Temple instead, called Ginkaku-ji? The temple isn’t made of silver, despite the name, but you can easily find it at the foot of the mountains in eastern Kyoto.

This temple is one of the best examples of Japanese landscape architecture. It’s completed with one of the most gorgeous Japanese gardens surrounding it. Regardless of the time of the year you visit, you get to witness the entire landscape of Ginkaku-ji changing accordingly. It’s a whole new experience each time.

The area where this temple is located is pretty convenient as well. You’re near areas with food and souvenir stalls. So you’re not travelling solely for the temple.

Overrated but...

While these tourist places can be overrated, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a chance at all. All of the five locations are flooded with tourists day in and day out, proving that they are still extremely popular among tourists and locals alike.

However, when you only have a limited time, these are the places that you can scratch off your to-visit list. Go for the recommended alternatives instead to save some precious time!