If you are a bit of a Japanese history fan there are a LOT of places in Japan you should go visit. Some of these might be obvious ones, and others probably not so much.
The following list is based on the most popular tourist destinations: Tokyo and Kyoto. I wish I could list all the amazing places in Japan based on historic events and people but I don’t know them all. These are just the locations myself and friends visited on our last trip. If you know of any others please leave a comment so that other people might learn from your wisdom.
Sengakuji (Temple) – This is a small temple right next to Sengakuji Station. This is where the 47 Ronin were buried.
Zojoji (Temple) – Just down the road from Sengakuji and near Tokyo Tower, Zojoji is where 6 out of the 15 Tokugawa shoguns were buried. It’s also famous for its large amount of Jizo statues, which people go to to pray for the souls of dead children.
Yasakuni Shrine – Famous for being controversial, this shrine is a really interesting to see because of it’s history enshrining the souls of people who have died in battle. Some of these souls may have been convicted of war crimes (hence the controversy), but most people go to pray for their own ancestors who died in battle. It also has a war museum.
Meiji Jingu – This is a really interesting shrine, not only because of it’s giant tori, interesting architecture, and giant sacred trees, but because it’s the shrine of Emporer Meiji and Empress Shoken. They were enshrined here before WWII when, in Japan, the emperors of were still considered to be descendants of the goddess Amaterasu. After WWII the royal family denounced their god-hood and no more shrines were erected to worship them.
Edo Tokyo Museum – Great for a general history of Japan and Japanese life in the Edo period (1603-1868) and after into the Meiji and Showa (modern day) times.
Honno-ji – Honnō-ji is most famous for the Honno-ji Incident. Oda Nobunaga lodged there before his invasion of the west, but on the morning of June 21, 1582, Akechi Mitsuhide betrayed him, surrounded the temple and set it on fire. Knowing there was no way out for him, Nobunaga committed seppuku along with his attendant Mori Ranmaru.
Nijo Castle – A 20min walk from Honno-ji, Nijo Castle is the palace the Tokugawa shoguns lived in during their rule when Kyoto was the capital. It’s the most beautiful castle I’ve seen in Japan with wonderful wall art and a nightingale floor that dates back to 1601 when Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered it be built.
Mibu-dera – Just south of Nijo Castle (another 20-30min walk) is Mibudera where some of the Shinsengumi are buried.