10 Movies That Will Get You Excited for Your Next Trip to Japan
Need more itinerary inspo? These flicks will help you sort it out.
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures
Japan is such a picturesque country, so it’s no wonder that a lot of movies had it in mind for their location shoots. After all, it offers the best of both worlds: from the neon-lit streets of urban Tokyo to the jaw-dropping nature views from the countryside. Need a better picture of what Japan has to offer? Let these flicks play as your virtual tour guide -- and hype you up for your upcoming trip.
2013’s action-packed installment to the Wolverine franchise finds itself in the land of the rising sun, as it shot several sequences in the country. Spot the Zojo-ji Temple in Minato next to Tokyo Tower, which is a sight to behold. The film contrasts the high-speed action scenes (one was literally shot on top of a speeding train) in Tokyo with the quiet beauty of Japan’s rural areas such as Omishima Island in Ehime Prefecture and Tomo-no-ura in Hiroshima Prefecture.
Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola’s atmospheric 2003 film takes us to the busy streets of Tokyo, featuring spots such as the New York Bar in Shinjuku Park Tower, the luxurious Hyatt Park Hotel (and the equally glitzy Peak Bar and Lounge located on top of the hotel, which offers amazing skyline views of the city), the bright lights of Shinjuku’s Kabukicho, and the famous scramble crossing at Shibuya, among others.
Memoirs of a Geisha
This 2005 flick takes us back to Japan’s pre-modern era, and what better way to see it than taking a stroll on the streets of Kyoto? Several scenes for the movie were shot on location, such as the insta-famous red gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, the Yoshimine-dera temple, the bamboo grove at Arashiyama, and the Heian Shrine to name a few.
My Neighbor Totoro
This Studio Ghibli classic takes us to the verdant countryside of Sayama Hills, which is located in Saitama Prefecture. The animation is just breathtaking, and its real-life inspiration is even more so. It’s actually known as “Totoro Forest” thanks to the film’s popularity. The nature reserve offers a great view of Sayama Lake, and Mt. Fuji is also known to have made an appearance on especially clear days.
This animated film features two characters who find themselves switching bodies at random hours. While this might sound like a confusing plot, it plays out beautifully thanks to the script and endearing characters. Of course, the animation is wonderfully rendered, and it pays homage to real-life locations in Japan such as Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture and Hida-sannogu Hie Shrine in Gifu Prefecture. It also features tons of everyday spots in Tokyo (such as the underpass in Nishi-Shinjuku and a pedestrian bridge at Shinanomachi Station) as well as the Suga Shrine and the National Art Center, which features lots of interesting exhibits all year-round.
The Garden of Words
Makoto Shinkai may be famous for works such as Your Name and 5 Centimeters per Second, but that doesn’t mean his less popular films are not as good as the highest-grossing ones. Case in point: his 2013 sleeper hit, The Garden of Words. The vast Shinjuku Garden plays a central role in this love story, which looks especially lush during the rainy season.
Chalk it up to this adorable rom-com for the recent surge in Pinoy tourists at the Hokkaido region. Japan’s northernmost region figures prominently in the film, as it features plenty of must-visit places such as the Sapporo TV Tower, the Sapporo Clock Tower, Zerubu Hill, Odori Park, and Mt. Moiwa, among others.
This 2004 film features an unlikely friendship between a girly girl who’s obsessed with all things related to the Rococo Period and a tough biker chick who always seems to be looking for trouble. Both live in the quiet prefecture of Ibaraki, a vast countryside that’s a few hours away from Tokyo. Ibaraki is famous for the Hitachi Seaside Park, which features lush flora all year-round. Drop by during spring for its sky-blue nemophila fields or during fall to take a look at the unbelievable bright-red kochia bushes.
Who can ever forget the iconic sequence where The Bride faces off against Gogo Hibari and the Crazy 88s? If you haven’t seen this 2003 film yet, we won’t spoil the ending for you. It does feature, however, a real restaurant where the abovementioned sequence was shot. Called Gonpachi Nishiazabu, it also goes by “The Kill Bill Restaurant” as it gained popularity among foreign fans of the movie. It’s located in the glitzy Roppongi District in Tokyo, which is known for its high-end fashion boutiques, art museums, and vibrant night life.
Set against the lush backdrop of Yamagata Prefecture, the film revolves around a young cellist who goes back to his hometown and finds a job as a mortician. And while it sounds dreary, it's anything but. This touching drama tackles themes about family, life, and death, and it made waves both in the Japanese and international film circuits, as it won the grand prize at the Montreal World Film Festival in 2008. A particular scene where the protagonist plays the cello is located at the very instagrammable Gekkogawa River Park in Yuza. In fact, watching the movie might inspire you to visit Yamagata altogether, which is famous for its mountains, breathtaking scenery, and hot springs. Mount Zao is a mountain range that houses lots of resorts. It's perfect for skiing, but you can drop by the whole year round as it is breathtaking for nature hikes. Yamadera Temple is also a famous tourist spot, as it is a scenic temple located on a mountaintop.