The Most Overrated Tourist Places in Japan: What and Why Are They?

by Azra Syakirah
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No matter how many times you visit a country, there are always going to be places that you go to multiple times during each visit. On the other hand, there are also places where it’s a one-time deal, arguably not worth any time at all.

Don’t get me wrong — Japan is gorgeous in every way at every corner. There are some areas that are more satisfying than others to visit. Likewise, the other way around is true as well. There are hyped up areas that aren’t as you expect it to be, but these not-up-to-standard spots are apparently getting way more attention than they deserve. Most of the time, these overrated places in Japan are crawling with tourists with their camera phones or high-tech cameras trying to get the perfect picture. And sometimes, that’s all there is to these overblown tourist places — they’re just a picture spot, looking good in photos but not as substantial in real life. 

For those who are only going to be in Japan for a limited period of time, it’s difficult to fit everything they want to see and do in their schedule. A cutback of some sightseeing spots here and a few leisurely activities there is necessary. Don’t make the mistake of cutting out the interesting ones by being in-the-know of these overrated tourist ones. Let’s take a look at the top 5 most overrated tourist places in Japan!

5 Overrated Tourist Destinations in Japan

1. Takeshita Dori in Tokyo

Everyone knows about this famous street in Tokyo — more specifically the fashion neighborhood of the city, Harajuku. Takeshita Dori was once a haven for tons of Japanese fashion subcultures that were mostly made up of rebellious teenagers. These fashion subcultures are nothing like you’ve ever seen before — the Lolitas were a bunch of overwhelming cuteness and the goths’ personalities were not as depressing as how they dressed.

These people of the various subcultures roamed this street up and down, marking their spot. Different parts of the street “belonged” to different subcultures, and you’ll be able to guess which ones were based on the existing shops that line Takeshita Dori.

Not only rebellious teenagers take up the space of this street. Tons of artists and musicians including cosplayers can be found here as well. Takeshita Dori used to beam livelihood and creativity, high spirit, and innovation. Now, this street is nothing more than just a tourist attraction — all of the original essences disappeared, along with the people who used to hang out there.

Why is it overrated?

Takeshita Dori has been marketed and publicised as a spot to experience the true fashion Tokyo. To be fair, it used to be — the entire Harajuku neighbourhood was overloaded with such an atmosphere. However, due to various reasons and happenings over the past few years, this street lost its original essence.

While there are still subcultural shops that sell clothes, accessories, and other related products of their specific subculture type, that is as Tokyo fashion as you can get at Takeshita Dori. There are more foreigners trying to spot these creatively dressed people than there are them themselves. 

In fact, the most common sight you’ll see if you get to Takeshita Dori is a street full of sardine-packed tourists where you can barely walk and absolutely no personal space all around you. Souvenir shops selling at bargain prices have set down roots, attracting more and more tourists that have come to the city.

Where can you go instead?

Skip the trip to Takeshita Dori if your main aim to visit the place is for a fashion cultural experience because it’s highly doubtful that you’ll find any there. Instead, head to the neighborhoods where these creative minds ran off to, including Nakano, Koenji, and Shimokitazawa.

The free-spirited atmosphere is still alive in these areas. Artists and musicians, as well as tons of other carefree people who are expressive in their dressing, are scattered throughout these neighborhoods. 

Not only will you be able to immerse yourself in the lively ambiance but you’ll find yourself endlessly shopping in local second-hand clothing shops and chilling in a vintage cafe with a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

2. Sensoji Temple in Tokyo

Japan is known for its rich culture and history. Temples and shrines are all over the country — every one of them, from significantly large ones to just a conveniently located neighbourhood ones, are full of ancient stories that make them brimming with a unique glow.

The Sensoji Temple in Tokyo seems to be one of the most noteworthy and visited temples in the city as well as all of Japan. This ancient Buddhist temple located in the Asakusa neighbourhood is the oldest one in Tokyo. One might think that even the air surrounding the temple is heavy with Japanese culture and full of peace, but it really isn’t. It once was, but it has since been replaced by the chatters of foreign shoppers and camera snapping noises.

The space between the entrance of the temple to the actual temple itself is filled with rows and rows of traditional Japanese shops that sell everything from typical Japanese souvenirs to authentic and exquisite Japanese cultural items. While you’ll be able to conveniently purchase a genuine kimono set from an English-speaking Japanese shopowner, the Sensoji Temple isn’t anything more than just a tourist spot rather than a historical site.

Why is it overrated?

One would expect the oldest temple in Tokyo to be well preserved in every aspect. Even though it is still stunningly gorgeous at every corner and there are still some traditional temple activities to partake in like paying respects in terms of prayers and drawing a fortune slip, the spiritual essence isn’t there.

You can’t even walk down the street from the entrance to the temple in peace — there’s a high chance you’ll get shoved at least once because of the huge crowd that never seems to die down day in and night out.

A temple visit should be calming and peaceful, but when it’s at Sensoji Temple, don’t bother expecting that — groups of tourists huddle around the fortune slip boxes, shaking the wooden box to get their wooden stick number, not to mention the continuous picture-taking sessions of people posing in front of the temple that disrupt a normal temple-visiting routine.

The shopping street itself is wonderful, though. If you’re in need of a one-stop for all your Japanese souvenir shopping with a balance of cheap buys and luxurious local goods, the street stalls in front of the Sensoji Temple is the perfect place for that.

Where can you go instead?

If you’re in Japan on a holiday and are going to visit other cities apart from Tokyo, give the Sensoji Temple a miss. There are hundreds of other temples in the whole of Japan that are far more worth the time and without the frustration of the constant crowd. Kyoto’s temples are as culturally rich as they can get in Japan, so opting for those ones are way better.

If you’re set on visiting a temple in Tokyo itself, trust that the neighborhood temples in Tokyo are just as beautiful. They might not be as significantly huge in size, but rest assured that they will at least bear the peaceful and spiritual essence in the air and area.

3. Umeda Sky Building in Osaka

Any tall skyscrapers are big signs in the sky for being the perfect spot for a view of the city. Some of us aren’t from areas where there are high-rise buildings that line up perfectly to create a beautiful skyline. Buildings with viewing decks like Umeda Sky Building in Osaka, with an impressive number of 40 floors and bridges that connect at their highest floor, appeal to loads of foreigners visiting.

There’s no doubt that the Umeda Sky Building has a unique architecture that can be both appreciated from below and above. What’s more, when you’re at the top, a stunning 360º view of the Osaka cityscape awaits you. 

Not only are these kinds of viewing experiences a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some, but the Umeda Sky Building is also so aesthetically pleasing that every corner is perfect for the gram. Because of such appeals, the waiting time to get into the building can get more than twice as long as the time spent viewing the cityscape. 

Why is it overrated?

The Umeda Sky Building has been included in numerous travel guides, Osaka itineraries and tourist attractions list that thousands of people gather there every single day. Not only do you have to pay to get up to the viewing deck, but you also have to wait for quite a substantial amount of time before it’s your turn.

After the viewing experience of the city, there’s basically nothing else to do at the building. From all the waiting and anticipation, the takeaway is just a view of the city which you can get from any other tall buildings in Osaka.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go to the Umeda Sky Building. Its appeal in terms of architecture is reason enough to make your way down there. However, the architectural beauty of the building can also be appreciated from below, without going up to the top floor.

Where can you go instead?

If you’re looking for a good view of the city of Osaka, don’t even think about going to Umeda Sky Building for that. Why settle for second best when you can go to the top first option of the tallest building in the city, Abeno Harukas.

This building stands at 300m tall, and you’re even allowed to enter for free till the 16th floor, unlike the Umeda Sky Building. If you’d like a higher view, fork out a bit of money to get to the top floor. 

What’s more, since Abeno Harukas is a multi-purpose building, it’s not being promoted as just a viewing deck. There are tons of shops and restaurants for you to leisurely stroll around and peek into, making a bit more of your day than just a view of the cityscape at a building that offers only that.

4.  Chureito Pagoda in Fuji

What’s a visit to Japan without a trip to Mt. Fuji? Every traveler that has Japan on their bucket list also has “view Mt. Fuji” on that — it’s like a mandatory sight to see before leaving this great land. Fair enough though, the country’s tallest peak has built quite a reputation for itself over the past few decades.

Mt. Fuji is also surrounded by the Fuji Five Lakes, consisting of Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko, and Totosuko. Most travel around these regions when they find themselves scheduling on a Fuji day trip from Tokyo.

Best believe that tourists would never miss out on the Chureito Pagoda, where it’s said to have one of the best views of Mt. Fuji, alongside the iconic pagoda on a hilltop with an amazing sunset. To be perfectly honest, while the Chureito Pagoda is beautiful and having it next to Mt. Fuji in a scenic shot is lovely, there’s nothing much to it than what you actually see in the photos online.

Why is it overrated?

The heavily enhanced colored photos of the Chureito Pagoda in front of Mt. Fuji that you see online must have reeled in thousands of travelers into scheduling this spot into their Japan trips. When you reach the spot, best believe you’ll feel a bit disappointed at how unassumingly small the pagoda is — I certainly was.

After a train journey to somewhere quite distant from the main stations and almost 400 steps up to get there, one expects the shrine this pagoda is in to be elaborately decorated and preserved, especially with the number of visitors they get each day. Don’t expect any of that — it’s as plain as it gets, with just the medium-sized pagoda in the middle. 

There’s also the chance of not even seeing Mt. Fuji when you’re up there. Depending on the day, it can get quite cloudy and you probably won’t see this shy mountain the whole time. Don’t even waste your day waiting for the sky to clear up — even though some do set up their cameras and sit on mats the whole day just for that one second of the perfect moment for a picture. Is it all really worth it though, especially if every other shot is just the same? 

Where can you go instead?

The climb, slight inconvenience, and consumption of time just to see the pagoda isn’t all that worth it. Go to a Buddhist temple closer to town to see a pagoda that’s just as beautiful, if not better. 

When it comes to seeing Mt. Fuji, this mountain is pretty huge. The top of the hill where Chureito Pagoda is at isn’t the only spot to see this active volcano. Instead of planning a day trip all the way to the Fuji area and not even see the mountain, set aside at least two days and spend a night at a hotel that offers a perfect view of Mt. Fuji from your window.

Not only will you be able to wake up to the sight of the lovely Mt. Fuji in the morning, but you’ll also be able to spend a leisurely time going around the area without rushing back before the last train.

5. Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto

The sound of a golden temple is extremely attractive on its own. This Zen temple in northern Kyoto has its two top floors completely covered in gold leaf. The Kinkaku-ji temple was built to echo the extravagant culture of Kitayama in the wealthy circles of Kyoto during the Yoshimitsu days, and each floor of the temple is made to represent a different style of architecture.

Standing since 1397, it is an impressive structure to be standing to this day. The temple is surrounded by full trees that reflect the seasons in their leaves, as well as a clear pond right underneath the temple.

While a visit to the Kinkaku-ji temple can be an educational experience for those interested, it might not be as up to your expectations as you might think. Other than the temple itself and nature’s beauty, there isn’t anything much.

Why is it overrated?

The appeal of the temple is that it’s golden — while the top two floors are, some have the impression that it’s the whole temple. It’s even being promoted like that. Crowds come all day every day just for the perfect picture of this golden temple, only to get disappointed afterward at how it’s not fully golden.

After the aesthetic photos for Instagram, there isn’t anything else to see or do. It even takes quite a long bus ride to get there and getting back into town, so it brings up the question of whether the visit is really worth all the time spent out of your limited time in Japan (if you’re just visiting).

Kyoto is a city filled with thousands of temples just waiting to be discovered. This ancient capital city is oozing culture and history — why travel so far for such an overhyped temple when there could be one just down the street from your accommodation and it is just as breathtakingly beautiful, only with a more intimate experience?

Where can you go instead?

Rather than traveling for a substantial amount of time solely for a temple — which is evidently everywhere in Kyoto City — why not head over to the Silver Temple called Ginkaku-ji? Even though it’s not actually made of silver, this elegant temple can be found at the foot of the mountains in eastern Kyoto. 

The Ginkaku-ji temple is one of the best examples of the Japanese landscape architecture, complete with one of the most gorgeous Japanese gardens surrounding it. Depending on the time of the year you visit, the entire landscape of Ginkaku-ji changes accordingly, making it a whole new experience each time.

The area where this temple is located is pretty convenient as well. It’s well connected to areas with food and souvenir stalls — so there’s more to do, making the trip to the area worthwhile and more enjoyable.

Overrated but…

While these tourist places are considered overrated, that doesn’t mean it’s not highly regarded enough. All of these locations are flooded with tourists day in and day out, proving that they are still extremely popular tourist attractions. However, when you only have a limited time in Japan — whether it is because you’re merely traveling to the country or because your weekdays are filled with work — you can scratch these overrated tourist places off your to-visit list and opt for the recommended alternatives instead to save some precious time.

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