On the surface, Japan appears exceedingly modern, but travelling around it offers numerous opportunities to connect with the country’s traditional culture.The neon-lit streetscapes of Japan’s cities look like sci-fi film sets, even though many of them are decades old. On the contrary, Japan is a long and slender, highly volcanic archipelago. It’s over two-thirds mountains, with bubbling hot springs at every turn. In the warmer months there is excellent hiking, through cedar groves and fields of wildflowers, up to soaring peaks and ancient shrines. For most of us, Japan is truly timeless, a place where ancient traditions are fused with modern life as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Places to visit:
The Imperial Palace
Seated in the heart of Tokyo this immense moated castle is the home of the rarely seen Royal Family. The massive castle walls and the water filled moats are as impressive as they were in the days of the Shogun. The Imperial Palace East Garden is immaculately kept and is open to the public.
Asakusa Kannon Temple
One of the oldest temples in Tokyo famed as the home of its rarely seen Golden Goddess to whom millions of Japanese come to pray. The long street of shops leading to the Temple is the Nakamise Dori where an incredible range of tourist souvenirs and Japanese arts and crafts can be found.
The fashion district for young Japanese. It is best visited on a Sunday afternoon when the nearby Yoyogi Koen Park is closed to traffic. Young Japanese display their subcultures here. To see the often weird costumes worn by youth in revolt against their ordered society is reason enough for the visit. Nearby is the Meiji Shrine to the Emperor who led Japan into the modern world.
The playground of the rich. By night it becomes the glittering disco capital of Tokyo with many noisy bars and restaurants. Tokyo Tower is nearby but is a much overrated tourist trap.
The area with the designer label shops and designer label prices. It is the most expensive shopping area in Tokyo. It is worth a visit to stroll past the shop windows and gasp at the prices.
The famed “Electric City” where every imaginable electrical device is on display. Multi-storied department stores sell only electrical goods which get cheaper as the distance from the railway station increases. Many new electrical products not released overseas can be found here.
Tsukiji Fish Market
The largest fish market in the world. Fish from every ocean in the world are sold here including some varieties not sold in other countries. It is worth a visit to see the distribution system which delivers fresh fish every day to thousands of restaurants not only in Tokyo but all over Japan.
If you have never been to a Disneyland this one is the most popular in the world and worth a visit. It is a near perfect replica of the Anaheim California original’s rides, slides and shows.
The commercial centre of Tokyo with skyscrapers competing for space as they dominate the skyline. Many major international companies have their headquarters here. Among the highest buildings is the Metropolitan Government Office Building. From the 45th floor there is one of the best (and free) views of the City of Tokyo. On a clear day Mount Fuji can be seen.
(The Golden Temple) Completely covered with gold leaf and situated on the edge of a garden enclosed lake, this temple is so beautiful it is one of the most visited and photographed of all the Kyoto temples.
Known as The Silver Temple, even though it was never covered with silver as originally planned, it is famed for its manicured gardens and walkways.
First built in 789 has a huge verandah supported on hundreds of pillars from where there is a splendid view over magnificent gardens to Kyoto. Visitors can drink from the sacred waters from the temple waterfall.
The Philosopher’s Walk
Follows a traffic free path along a canal past many traditional houses and gardens. While beautiful in any season it is most spectacular in April when the cherry trees which line the walk are in full bloom.
The Peace Park
A visit to this park is a must for every visitor to Japan. The A Bomb Dome is left as it was immediately after the atom blast. Its twisted ruins will be left for all time as a reminder of the explosion. The A Bomb Museum contains graphic exhibits showing Hiroshima before and after the blast. A filmed presentation on giant screens shows the attack from cameras on the American planes. Hiroshima is dedicated to preventing the use of atomic weapons for all time.
Originally built in 1589 and rebuilt after being destroyed by the A Bomb. It is not one of the notable Japanese castles but it has many interesting displays using 3D laser techniques.
Short train and ferry ride from Hiroshima. It is one of the three most beautiful islands of Japan. From the top of Mount Misen, the highest point of the island , there is a breathtaking view over the Inland Sea of Japan to the Japanese mainland. In Autumn and Spring the island is famous for the colours of the maple and cherry trees which grow wild on the island. Tame deer wander all year among the visitors.
3 minute walk from JR Kamakura Station, is one of the city’s most celebrated Zen Temples. Its various buildings are arranged in a straight line, and the precinct shaded by old Japanese cedars. Stone-paved steps, worn down under the tread of visitors, recall the temple’s long history.
10 minute walk from Engakuji, is a Zen temple founded in 1285. It was called a “divorce temple” in feudal days, as the only place of refuge for wives mistreated by their husbands. Nowadays it is popular as a temple of flowers.
15 minute walk from Tokeiji, is foremost among the Five Great Zen Temples, and is situated in a grove of magnificent Japanese cedar trees. A bronze bell cast in 1255 is designated a national treasure. On view in the main hall is considered one of the finest examples of art in the Kamajura Period.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
10 minute walk from the station, ranks with the “Daibutsu” (Great Buddha) as one of Kamakura’s foremost tourist attractions.
Kamakura Museum of National Treasure
Exhibits some 100 items of fine art, sculpture, arts and crafts, and historical documents. Built in 1928, the museum was constructed on the model of the Shosoin in Nara, resembling a large log house on stilts. Open daily from 9:00am to 4:30pm. Admission is charged.
Scenic islet about 4 km in circumference. Enoshima Shrine is one of the main draws. In older times, fishermen prayed here for a good catch and sailors for a safe voyage. The island is connected to the mainland by the Benten Bridge.
The 400,000 year-old volcanic crater lake that never freezes! Ashiko is a popular place for fishing, boating and water sports. Use your “Hakone Free Pass” to cruise the lake by pirate ship. On a clear day you will be able to take pleasure in Mt. Fuji’s inverted reflection.
Owakudani (Greater Boiling Valley)
Accessible by ropeway this entire gorge reeks of sulphurous fumes, spewing clouds of steam from crevasses among bubbling hot springs.
Ancient Cedar Avenue
Enjoy a leisurely stroll along this superb 2km flora-lined winding passage; once the pathway to Edo (Tokyo).
At 97 metres in height, is one of Japan’s finest waterfalls (originating from Lake Chuzenji). Descend 100 metres by elevator through the bedrock to the lookout point at the base of the gorge to see the falls plummeting downward.
Especially beautiful in early May for its cherry blossoms and in October for its brilliant crimson foliage. The water is a beautiful indigo blue. To enjoy more of the lake’s scenery a 50 minute sightseeing cruise is highly recommended. Regular boat service on the lake connects Fune-No-Eki with Shobugahama in 20 minutes. The service is suspended from December through March.
On the north-eastern shore of the lake, is the centre of the Lake Chuzenji area. There are many souvenir shops, restaurants and Japanese-style inn with hot spring baths.
The world’s largest wooden architecture, houses the “Giant Buddha” that soars 16 metres in height.
An old precinct full of traditional houses, shops and tearooms in calm and pleasant surroundings, giving a good contrast to the great temples and old burial mounds.
Hida / Takayama
A traditional medieval town located in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture. It is possible to walk across the centre of Hida Takayama in about 20 minutes, and most of the attractions are concentrated in the old part of town, within minutes of each other. Enjoy a stroll around this museum-like town, dotted with attraction after attraction, including a variety of small museums devoted to traditional crafts embodying the town’s long standing tradition of the fine craftsmanship.
Visit the Old private houses that lie in the area between Miyagawa River and the famously lush and picturesque Shiroyama Park. This quiet residential area is replete with shops selling traditional wares, antique shops Japanese-style inns, sake breweries and restaurants serving local specialities. Located on the banks of the Miyagawa River, Takayama Jinya Market and the Miyagawa Market are open daily from 7am to noon. Here you will find people from nearby farms selling fresh produce and flowers.