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Article by Sophia Conforti Photography by Trey Ratcliff

Japan is a country of balances. Modern landscape intertwines with ancient roots; skyscrapers mingle with historical temples; and patches of green flourish in some of the busiest city centers in the world.

The result: A country high on culture and intrigue for foreign guests. Here, seasoned Japan visitor and photographer Trey Ratcliff highlights some of his favorite Japanese cities to stop in on your next trip to Japan.


At the crux of modern skyscrapers and ancient temples is the world’s most populous city: Tokyo.

“I think a lot of people think Tokyo is one city, which it kind of is, but it’s also 12 cities crammed together,” Ratcliff says. The city is made up of 23 distinct city wards, in addition to various towns and villages west of the city center, each with its own personality and culture. Visit contemporary districts such as Shinjuku, a commercial center flooded with neon lights, or Ratcliff’s favorite, Harajuku, known for its vibrant art and fashion scenes, or appreciate Tokyo’s temples and gardens in historic districts such as Asakusa.


Once Japan’s capital and an emperor’s residence, Kyoto’s magic is centered around its history. “It’s one of my favorite places in the world,” Ratcliff says.

Known for its many temples, Kyoto is home to some of Japan’s most well-known shrines. Kinkaku-ji, or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is covered in a reflective gold-leaf coating that beautifully mirrors in the waters around it. Walk through the thousands of torii gates inside the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine, or alongside geishas in Gion, the entertainment quarter of Kyoto.


Osaka was the country’s first capital city before its move to Edo, (now Tokyo). Guests can visit a re-creation of the Osaka Castle, which started building in 1583 as an ode to a unified Japan.

Visitors can also explore some of the city’s more modern districts including Minami, one of two city centers and one of the most famed entertainment districts, where Ratcliff says shopping and dining options never run low.


If you’re looking to get away from the hustle of sites such as Tokyo and Osaka, leave the mainland for an island getaway in Okinawa. Just east of Taiwan, the Okinawan archipelago, made up of a few dozen small islands, spans about 435 miles of ocean. Ratcliff recommends heading to the island’s famed beaches to get a glimpse at some of the stunning natural sights — including those underwater. The waters around Okinawa boast some of the best reefs and marine wildlife in the world.

See more of Trey's photography from "80 Stays Around the World" on his Instagram profile, or follow the hashtags #80Stays and #RCMemories.