Fushimi Inari Taisha has become one of the most visited and reviewed shrines in Japan. Situated in Kyoto, the shrine was founded in 711 during the Nara Period, being one of the oldest shinto shrines in Japan. Fushimi Inari plays a key role as the headquarter of the 40,000 Inari shrines scattered across Japan. Inari is "the god of rice" and represents "success and prosperity in business." Therefore many entrepreneurs, employers, and businessmen come here to seek blessings from Inari, especially at the beginning of the New Year. Foxes are thought to be Inari's messengers, therefore many fox statues can be seen on the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari became famous among the tourists solely for their significantly long rows of 10,000 red gates neatly lined up on the trail. The shrine gates are a form of donation made by the individuals and companies that came to pray, showing their gratitude towards Inari for their prosperity. The long red tunnel of shrine gates is one of the most iconic visions of Kyoto along with the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and Kinkakuji. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the 760 feet high sacred Mount Inari. The whole trail takes about two to three hours, and in between there are shrine buildings that you can make prayers or restaurants you can take rest at. After walking through the long path of arches, the density of arches eventually decreases, but if you continue to climb up the hiking trail, you can enjoy a scenic view of Kyoto from the sacred mountain top.
With the opening of the new bullet-train service, Kanazawa is fast becoming one of the "must visit" locations in Japan. Traveling from Tokyo to Kanazawa has become much faster and more convenient with the new bullet train route as travel time has shortened by approximately one hour and 30 minutes. Since Kanazawa flourished as the Kaga domain's castle town during the Edo Period, there are many historical sites related to this time period. Also, due to the fact that the city bypassed the damages of World War II, historic atmosphere still remains here today. At “Nagamachi,” a samurai district formed near the Kanazawa Castle, people can take a look at Samurai and their families’ former residences, stroll through water canals, and narrow alleys with earthen walls and stone pavement. At “Higashichaya-gai,” an old entertainment district, the historical rows of houses can be seen here. “Chaya” meaning “tea house” is a traditional place where “geisha,” traditional female entertainers, charm men by performing dances and playing musical instruments. Today three chaya districts exist in Kanazawa, and the Higashichaya-gai is the largest one. Many old buildings at Higashichaya-gai have been renovated into restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops, but there are few chayas that are still in business. Besides the two historical sites, there are many other tempting places to visit such as Japanese Garden Kenrokuen, fresh food market Omicho, and various museums.
Todaiji, meaning the "Great Eastern Temple," is indeed one of Japan's greatest temples in terms of size, popularity, and historical significance. The temple was constructed in Nara Period by Emperor Shomu, as the head quarter of all provincial Kegon Sect Buddhist temples throughout Japan. Around the time the temple was built, Nara was the capital of Japan, but since the temple grew into significant power, the government feared and moved the capital elsewhere to minimize the temple’s political influence. The main hall Daibutsuden is the world's largest wooden building, and inside lays the Nara Daibutsu, which is one of the largest bronze Buddha statues in Japan. Todaiji's grounds are vast and spacious and though many just come to see the Big Buddha at the main hall, other buildings are worth the walk. The Nigatsudo Hall offers a stunning view of Nara city from the temple balcony. Todaiji is situated inside the 1,630 acre Nara Park and the large wooden gate Nandaimon will first greet you. At the inner part of the gate, two fierce looking statues, Kongorikishi, who are guardians protecting the temple stand before you. In front of the Nandaimon, you may encounter lovely but a bit arrogant deer living on the park grounds. They will come near you to beg for shika senbei, which are crackers specially made for deer sold inside the park. In 1998, along with other 7 properties in Nara, Todaiji was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage.
Being an all-time favorite among tourists, a typical weekend view in Asakusa is people taking photos and smiling in front of the Kaminarimon, the famous entrance gate with a large red lantern. Sensoji is located in the heart of the traditional old town Asakusa. After walking through the Kaminarimon, an 800 feet long shopping street Nakamise Dori entertains you on your way to the temple. Established in the Edo Era, Nakamise Dori is said to be one of the oldest shopping streets in Japan. The streets are filled with stores selling traditional Japanese style products such as chopsticks, hair accessories, clogs, fans, and colorful craft papers with cranes and flowers printed, all perfect for souvenirs. Also you can enjoy various types of Japanese street snacks such as odango, ningyoyaki and kaminari-okoshi. Then finally you will meet the ancient Buddhist temple Sensoji. If Meiji Jingu is the most visited Shinto shrine, Sensoji is definitely the most visited Buddhist temple in Tokyo.
The temple was founded in 628 as an outcome of an unique event. “Kannon-zo,” a goddess statue was found floating in Sumida River by a local fisherman. Upon this unique encounter, the village headman decides to dedicate the rest of his life to that kannon-zo, turning his home into a temple and becoming a Buddhist priest. The complex grew larger over the centuries as the local governments held the temple as an important center for worship. To this day the place is loved and worshipped by many Japanese people. The special kannon-zo is rumored to be a 2 and a half inch golden figure and has been hidden in a safe place since 645, therefore no one has taken a look at it ever since. In 857, “omaedachi,” another goddess statue that people can actually take a look at and give prayers to was created by the priests. Today, we are able to take a glimpse of this “omaedachi” once a year, on December 13th 2:00pm.
Fujinomiya, Shizuoka / Narusawa-mura, Yamanashi
Mount Fuji, an active volcano with an elevation rise of 12,389 feet, is the highest mountain in Japan and 35th in the world. Its popularity drives not only from the height but also from its symmetrical beauty which is a common characteristics of stratovolcano shapes. The perfectly shaped Mt Fuji has been conceived as a spiritual sacred monument, believed to have holy powers for centuries. As an active volcano, the last eruption took place in early 1700s. Mount Fuji stands on the border between two prefectures, Yamanashi and Shizuoka and many tourists go to both destinations to enjoy different expressions of the great mountain. On a clear day, it can also be seen from Tokyo, Kanagawa and other nearby prefectures. There are several popular tourist sight for observing Mount Fuji. One being the Fujigoko, a lake resort area which is located at the northern base of Mount Fuji. “Goko” means five lakes and the lakes Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko, and Motosuko were formed due to the past volcanic activities. It is considered as one of the best places to view Mount Fuji from a close distance. People can gaze at the beautiful mountain while bathing in the hot springs or for those who love riding roller coasters might find Fuji Q Highland fascinating. With the thrill added, the mountain view from the rollercoaster is exquisite. For those who want to feel and see the mountain up close, the fifth station, which is situated at the halfway point of the mountain trail is the best place to observe. It’s the nearest and highest point of the mountain you can access by a vehicle or public transportation.
Land Only Package
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is situated in the city center of Hiroshima, and before World War II it was the busiest downtown commercial and residential district. On August 6th 1945, the world's first atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima City. The enormous heat, radiation, and shock waves instantly wiped out the city, resulting numerous deaths and injuries. The heat created by the bomb is said to have been more than 5400 degrees Fahrenheit when reaching the ground level. The precise number of civilian casualties is unknown, but it is estimated to be around 140 thousand people. Three days later, another bomb was dropped in Nagasaki, and these two consecutive events led to the end of World War II. The park was built 9 years after the war, and ever since then it has been a place to remember the atrocities of war and emphasize importance of peace. Inside the park, there are statues, monuments and facilities all symbolizing world peace. Peace Memorial Museum is one of the park’s main facilities and displays the impact of nuclear bomb. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, is the single structure that thrived in the area right below the center of nuclear bomb explosion. This ruin has been kept exactly the same as right after the explosion, here to represent the impact of the most powerful and disastrous manmade weapon, and the hope for world peace. In 1996, Hiroshima Peace Memorial was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage along with Itsukushima Shrine. Every year at 8:15 am on the day the bomb was dropped, Peace Memorial Ceremony is held at the park to remember the devastating event, pray for the lost souls, and share ultimate beliefs of world peace.
Ono District, Gifu
Shirakawa-go is a Historical Village located in a mountainous region of Gifu Prefecture. Due to its location, the river valley being surrounded by rocky high mountains, the village had been isolated from the rest of Japan for centuries. This led to their unique style of life and shape of houses. Since the region experiences heavy snow and rain, the large houses have sharp angled roofs, preventing the snow from piling up and rain from soaking in. The roof shape resembles hands folded together like when making prayers, so the architectural style was named “gassho” and is one of a kind in the world. People living in the village were either farmers or manufacturers. The farmers mainly cultivated mulberry trees, Japanese barnyard millets, and buckwheat plants. Mulberry trees were grown to raise silkworms, and then cocoons were harvested inside ofthe gassho houses. Besides cocoon harvesting, Japanese Washi paper, and gun powder ingredients were main manufactured goods.
The houses are well preserved to this day and there are about 60 of them remaining here. Some homes are running as a hotel, souvenir shops, and restaurants. The Wada house, designated by the Japanese government as the Important Cultural Property, is one of the largest gassho houses in the village. Although families still live here, part of its property is opened to the public as a museum and you can take a look inside of the gassho house and learn about the village’s history. There is a viewpoint in the north part of the village where you can enjoy the entire panoramic view of thevillage, farmhouses perfectly blending in with surrounding nature. Every year, around January and February when it heavily snows in the area, the town is lit up on weekend nights and people can enjoy the illuminated village covered in snow. In 1995, along with Gokayama, Shirakawa-go was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage.
Miyajima, a 12 square mile small island located southwest of Hiroshima city center, is designated by the Japanese in general as one of the three most scenic places to visit in Japan. The island is best known for the symbolic red giant gate floating on the ocean during the high tide. The huge red gate is owned by the Itsukushima Shrine and the shrine's main buildings are built over water. The original shrine is considered to be constructed in sixth century and then reconstructed into the present design in 12th century, with renovations made in the following centuries. Inside the shrine grounds, there is a theater stage which has been in use since 16th century. A spiritual story of Shinto Myth is performed at the noh theater for the sole purpose of showing gratitude and respect toward the gods. In 1996, the shrine was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage along with Hiroshima Peace Memorial.
The scenic Miyajima is traveled all year round, sharing different attributes for each season, most popular being the spring cherry blossom and autumn leaves season.
There is a gondola running up the mountains of the island and the ropeway itself is quite an entertaining ride, a feel of walking in air. From the mountain top, you can enjoy the 360 degrees panoramic view of the vast Seto Inland Sea and the nearby Islands.
Since Hiroshima has number one production of oysters throughout Japan, many restaurants serving gourmet oyster dishes can be found in Miyajima. Oyster harvesting begins around September every year and the best season is considered to be November to February.
Takayama, which is also frequently called Hida-Takayama, is a city situated in the mountainous regions of Central Japan. Takayama is often referred to as being “Little Kyoto” with all the antique houses from the Edo Period perfectly preserved on the streets of the old town. Among these, the most crowded and lively is the Sanmachi-dori; where centuries old merchant homes, some renovated as restaurants and cafes, sake breweries passed down through generations, and souvenir shops selling regional handcrafts, are all gathered on the narrow streets. Near the touristy streets of Sanmachi, in a calmer and quieter area, lies several antique houses which are open to the public. Here you can see the inside of the traditional “machiya” style architecture. From Takayama Station, a ten minute taxi ride to the west will take you to the Hida Folk Village where 20 of the ancient farmhouses are relocated and exhibited as a museum. Here, you can take a look inside the old farm houses that are well kept. There are also several workshops you may engage in to create your own traditional Japanese handcrafts which are suitable as souvenirs. Both being antique, you may find the contrast between the merchant town and the rural village quite entertaining.
Tsukiji Fish Market
There are currently 11 central wholesale markets in Tokyo, and among them, Tsukiji is the largest. The scale is so huge that even compared to other countries, it is said to be the world’s largest and busiest market place. The history of Tsukiji dates back to 1935 when it first opened. The original location was situated in a neighboring area but a gigantic earthquake in 1923 destroyed the market, and was later reopened in its current location. Today, Tsukiji is best known for the distribution of seafood, but the market handles a variety of other fresh goods such as meat, vegetables, and fruits. Although the central market itself is targeted solely to the merchants, it attracts many tourists from around the globe. Many are eager to see the live tuna auctions which is done in a strict and unique style. Even though it’s hard to understand what they’re saying, the tourists find the liveliness and the tensions of the bid, and the scene of frozen tunas laid neatly on the floor very exciting. There are many gourmet cuisines, most popular being sushi, inside and outside of the central market. The ones located inside the market is mainly for the workers and merchants doing business here but tourists are also invited in. Since the main customers are workers, the restaurants are basically open during the business hours of the market, which is approximately 5AM to 12PM. There are many restaurants, traditional cafes, sweets and deli shops targeted to the locals and tourists, in the surrounding area. These places are open from morning till night. Both inside and outside the central market, popular restaurants are determined to have a long queue, but it’s worth the wait. Unfortunately, due to the size and the aging of the property, Tsukiji Market has been decided by the government to close down sometime late 2016. A new central wholesale market will be situated in Toyosu, which is a manmade island in Tokyo Bay Area, close to scenic entertainment district Odaiba. So for those who don’t want to miss out the traditional bustling market atmosphere, pay a visit now before it becomes history.
The most recognized of all temples in Kyoto, Kinkakuji attracts a large number of tourists all year round. The shining golden pavilion on the far side of the pond, surrounded by Japanese pine trees is a breathtaking view. The golden temple was originally built as a resort villa belonging to the statesman Seionji. But after a gradual decline of Seionji Family's power, Shogun Yoshimitsu inherited the property, and rebuilted the villa into a retirement villa which is considered the origin of Kinkakuji. After the shogun passed away, the villa was then transformed into a Zen temple. The following centuries, this temple had been burnt several of times due to war and fire incidents. The last fire took place in 1950 and the entire building was mostly burned down, therefore was reconstructed in 1955. In 1994, along with other 16 properties in Kyoto and Shiga, Kinkakuji was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage.
There are numerous temples and shrines in Kyoto, but above all, Kiyomizudera is the most famous and visited temple in the city. This is due to the fact that the large dynamic temple ground offers various photogenic spots and Kyoto-ness atmosphere. Founded in 778, Kiyomizudera is one of the oldest existing temples in the area, and was originally home to “Hosso,” one of the oldest Buddhism sects in Japan. Most of the existing buildings today were rebuilt by Shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa during the Edo period. The complex consists of the main hall, several other halls, shrines, gates, pagoda, and waterfall. The Otowa waterfall, situated right beneath the main hall, is a place where three channels of water fall into one pond. Many visitors come here to take a sip of the water from this fall, since it is believed to have wish granting powers. The name “Kiyomizu” comes from this sacred waterfall, meaning “pure clear water.” Since the temple is situated on the mountainside, from the observation deck of the main hall, you can enjoy the contrast between the crowded buildings of the city and the green nature surrounding the temple. In spring time cherry blossoms bloom, and in autumn red maple trees glow and the scenery becomes even more amazing. This 43 feet tall observation deck is the main symbol of this temple, and along with the main hall, it is built without any use of nails, using a distinctive architectural form. Inside the main hall, the temple's primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven headed and thousand armed Kannon Bodhisattva is placed. The main street that leads to Kiyomizudera has various souvenir shops, cafes, snacks and deli shops that you can stop by on your way to the temple grounds. This place is equally popular and packed with tourists. In 1994, along with other 16 properties in Kyoto and Shiga, Kiyomizudera was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage.
This special shrine was established in 1920 to commemorate the spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken after their death. The original building was actually destroyed during World War II, and was replaced by a new one 10 years after the war. The shrine is located inside a 170 acre forest right next to the busy Harajuku Station. The forest is composed of two main complexes, Naien and Gaien. The Naien or the inner complex contains the main shrine buildings including a treasure museum that holds articles of the Emperor and Empress. The Gaien or the outer complex contains a variety of sports facilities and the Meiji Memorial Hall.
After walking past the lively crowds near the station and enter the southern gateway to the forest, you will be taken away by the peaceful mystical atmosphere. After a tranquil 10 minute walk from the forest entrance, you will be greeted by a huge torii gate of the shrine. Visitors to the shrine can experience several Shinto activities, such as making offerings at the main hall, buying charms or writing a wish on an “ema”. If you’re lucky enough, you may be able to witness a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony taken place there. In the first three days of the New Year, the shrine gets packed with people coming for “hatsumode,” the year’s first prayer, wishing for peace and prosperity throughout the year. More than three million people pay a visit during these three days which is marked the largest in Japan.
Arashiyama, situated on the west side of Kyoto City, a bit further from the city center, is famous for its cherry blossoms in spring and the orange red leaves in autumn. Due to the untouched beautiful nature surrounding, the entire area developed as a holiday home district for the aristocrats during Heian Period and over the centuries, evolved into a major tourist district. In the center of Arashiyama lays Katsura River and the Togetsukyo Bridge is considered as the central landmark. Variety of souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes are found nearby, and the famous bamboo grove is a walking distance from the bridge. Along with the grove, recently, Arashiyama Monkey Park, which is situated on a mountain near the bridge, has become increasingly popular among the tourists from abroad. Here you can meet 170 monkeys that are roaming freely, and interact with them up close by hand feeding them. Besides these two tourist attractions, various shrines and temples are scattered around Arashiyama and suitable for strolling around. By getting on the tram, you can explore further west where the beautiful green landscapes awaits you. From Hozugawa which is connected to the Katsuragawa, people can enjoy the popular 10 mile river boat ride which eventually leads to the Togetsukyo Bridge.
Nikko Toshogu Shrine
Shinto Shrine, Nikko Toshogu, is situated in a small mountain town in Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo. The shrine was built in 1617 as a final resting place for the spirit of Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founder of Edo period. Edo period was the final era where traditional Japanese governing took place and the long reign by the Tokugawa Families flourished until it was ended by the Meiji Restoration. There are many Toshogu throughout Japan, all to commemorate the great Shogun Ieyasu, and Nikko Toshogu became the head quarter of these shrines. Nikko Toshogu was first built by the second Tokugawa Shogun and then major reconstruction was done by the Third Shogun. Upon rebuilding the shrine, master artists of the Edo period were recruited and this resulted in the splendid architectural designs and sophisticated carvings engraved on the walls. These unique designs are later copied by other toshogu in Japan but the one in Nikko stands out, as the meticulous and colorful design cannot be seen elsewhere. The most famous carvings of the three monkeys “see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil” can be seen on the Sacred Stable of the Toshogu. In 1999, along with Shinto shrine Futarasan and Buddhist temple Rinnoji , Toshogu was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage, “Shrines and Temples of Nikko.”
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Jigokudani, situated in the mountainous region of Central Japan Nagano, is home to a unique species of mischievous creatures. The Japanese Macaque monkeys of Jigoku Valley are called "Snow Monkeys" and they are considered to be the only monkeys in the world that bathe in hot springs. The park’s history dates back to 1964 and has been running for over 50 years. There are about 200 of them roaming freely inside the park. Although they are called Snow Monkeys, the monkeys actually become covered in snow only during the deep winter season when snows fall down heavily. On a freezing cold day, the temperature falls as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and snow can pile up to one and a half feet. During this time of the year, you will encounter numerous monkeys all packed inside the hot springs water, bathing and relaxing while powder snow falls on their heads. Right near the area where the Snow Monkey Park is located, the popular hot springs resort Yudanaka Shibu Onsen exists. A night at the ryokan, with gourmet meal and soothing hot bath will heighten your journey to the Jigokudani as even more delightful and memorable. It is an hour train ride from the Nagano city center and you can enjoy the photogenic countryside landscapes on your way to the valley.
Himeji-jo is a castle from the early 17th Century situated in Hyogo Prefecture, the western part of Japan. There are numerous castles built throughout Japan especially during the Sengoku period, but many have been restored or rebuilt entirely as a replica in the recent centuries. This is due to damages caused by natural disasters like earthquakes and fires, as well as man made events like the Meiji Restoration and World War II. Himeji-jo is one of the very few castles to have actually survived these events. Therefore the castle is perceived to be a perfect example of Japanese castle architecture, and a masterpiece of wooden construction from the Warring States Era. Himeji-jo resembles the strong power of feudalism that greatly dominated the country for centuries. The castle consists of 83 buildings in total, and the centre of the complex is the six story main keep Dai Tenshu which is connected to three subsidiary keeps. This complex is surrounded by a system of watchtowers, gates and plastered earthen walls. The castle is situated on a hill, making it a landmark of the city, visible from all angles of the city center. In 1993, along with “Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area” of Nara Prefecture, Himeji-jo was the very first site to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage.
An isolated town situated in the western part of Japan in the Seto Inland Sea, Naoshima is widely known as an island filled with contemporary art. Numerous galleries and museums exist here on the small island. Some are large, run by companies, and some are small, created by individual artists. Art pieces and sculptures are not only situated inside the facilities but can also be found throughout the island. These pieces blend well with the surrounding nature, making the beautiful old Japanese landscape a canvas or a frame for the art work. The most distinguished piece that has become a symbol of Naoshima is the world famous pop artist Yayoi Kusama’s yellow “Pumpkin” and the “Red Pumpkin.” The island’s history as an art utopia dates back to 1989 when the largest Japanese education company Benesse Corporation began a recreation complex combining art piece, hotel, and campgrounds. Ever since then, the island has expanded into a mega art site, a place where culture and nature are in harmony, attracting tourists from all over the world.
Kurashiki is a city located in the western part of Japan, along the Seto Inland Sea. As a direct colony of the Edo government, the city flourished along the river banks playing an important role as a junction port and a trade center for the government. Today, the well preserved historical town attracts numerous tourists from around the world. The uniqueness of Kurashiki derives from the fact that the town continues to reinvent itself by importing new elements without killing the traditional divine characteristic it has. After World War II, a town called Kojima, in the southern part of Kurashiki city developed into a major denim manufacturing street. Today, the skilled artisanal piece is widely admired by the denim enthusiasts from around the world. The photogenic Bikan Historical Quarter holds many traditional merchant residences and white storehouses along the river canal, and many of them have been renovated into museums, chic shops and cafes. Among the many museums situated in the area, the most famous is the Ohara Museum. What used to be the Ohara family’s storehouse was converted into a museum in 1961, exhibiting a wide range of Western artists’ pieces collected by the Ohara Family. The collections include the world leading impressionist Claude Monet’s “Waterlilies,” and the innovative post-impressionist Paul Cezanne’s “Bathers.”
Ginza is one of the most prestigious luxury shopping districts in Tokyo. The history of Ginza dates back to the early Edo Period, when the Great Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa moved the silver coin mint establishment to the area. The naming of Ginza comes from this historical incident, “Gin” meaning silver in Japanese. Since then, government officials, merchants, artists, and civilians began gathering in the area, eventually growing into one of Japan’s leading commercial districts. After Meiji restoration took place, modernization of Japan drastically increased. It led to the launch of railways, and the train station was situated in the area. On the streets of Ginza, western influenced brick buildings were built and high-end shops and cafes were placed here. The large kabuki theater “Kabukiza,” was also constructed during this period and has become one of the main landmarks of Ginza today. The modern luxury shopping streets of Ginza has made dramatic changes over the past decade, and now, the prestigious old and the trendy new intertwine. Various generations can enjoy the excitement that this fashion district offers. When it comes to shopping, there are variety of places to stroll around: renowned department stores, the long standing luxury brands, the recent popular fast fashion brands, and a discount shop that’s open 24 hours. Besides shopping, there are many gourmet dining spots to choose from and they are not necessarily the pricey high end restaurants you imagine. There is sure to be a restaurant perfect for you, that will satisfy you, with any budget!
Harajuku is one of Japan’s leading shopping districts. In the past decade, the name Harajuku has grown world famous as a fashion keyword, and is often linked to the cute and colorful designs that have a bizzare twist. Harajuku’s main shopping streets can be roughly divided into two areas. One is Takeshita Streets where there are miscellaneous small shops that sell variety of unique fashion items mainly targeting teenagers and females in their early 20’s. The other is Omotesando, where chic high-end luxury brands fill the streets. The history of Harajuku dates back to the late 16th century, when the area was a post town, having many small inns for travellers. The character “juku” in its name refers to “accommodation” in Chinese characters. Right after World War II, the US Air Force’s residential area was placed near Harajuku. It was then that souvenir shops targeting them began on the streets of Harajuku. Famous “Kiddyland” and “Oriental Bazaar” are still in business today, and are the top two popular souvenir shops among foreigners.
Nijo-jo is a castle situated in Kyoto city center built in the early 17th Century. It was created as the residential palace of the first shogun of the Edo Period, Ieyasu Tokugawa, during his stay in Kyoto. The completion of the castle happened two decades after the initial construction when Ieyasu’s grandson Iemitsu renovated and expanded the buildings. A five story castle keep was added to the main compartment. In 1867, when the Meiji Restoration took place, Tokugawa Government fell to the ground and Nijo-jo became a palace for the Imperial family for nearly 70 years. Then it was then donated to the city and opened to the public as a historical site. Along with Himeji-jo, Nijo-jo is considered to be one of the very few castles that survived various historical events and keeps its original form, thus perceived to be one of the few examples of castle architecture of feudal Japan. Nijo-jo’s castle complex can be largely divided into three areas and the Ninomaru Goten is the building that maintains its original form, as when it was first built in the 17th century. Although Honmaru Goten means the palace in “the inner-most circle of defense” and is considered to be the main castle building, unfortunately due to fire in the late 18th century and the Meiji Restoration in 19th century, the original building has been destroyed. The one existing today is a building brought from Kyoto Imperial palace in 1893. Surrounding these two buildings, are several Japanese style gardens which illuminate the entire castle grounds. In 1994, along with other 16 properties in Kyoto and Shiga, Nijo-jo was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage.
Ryoanji, located in the west side of Kyoto City, a bit further from the city center, is a Zen temple from the 15th century. Originally built during the Heian Period as a villa for the noblemen, Ryoanji was converted into a Buddhist temple in 1450, and ever since then it has been running as a temple of the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The temple attracts many tourists from around the world due to its beautifully laid 2400 square feet garden. The garden is perceived to be one of the perfectly maintained examples of Japanese rock garden “kare-sansui” meaning “dry landscape.” In a rectangular shaped space, using rocks, pebbles, sand, and mosses, a miniature landscape of islands, mountains, water flows and ripples are formed. This was a garden design that became popular from the Muromachi Period to Edo Period. The design’s intention was to visualize the vast mother earth in a limited amount of space, since meditation and training in Zen Buddhism was considered ideal to take place in the natural environment. In 1994, along with other 16 properties in Kyoto and Shiga, Ryoanji was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage.
Hasedera is the main temple of the Buzan sect of Shingon Buddhism, built in the eighth Century. The temple consists of 30 buildings situated on the hillside of Nara Prefecture, the western part of Japan. The temple is placed inside a forest filled with beautiful trees and plants. What makes Hasedera so special is the fact that the temple harmonizes well with the graceful surrounding nature. People come here not only to pray but also to enjoy the seasonal plants and flowers that illuminate the temple grounds. In early spring, the 6,500 stunning cherry blossom trees are spread out highlighting the scene. In May, the 7,000 peony trees all bloom and the temple becomes filled with colorful flowers of pink, white, magenta, and red. In June, 20,000 hydrangea trees bloom in various colors such as pink, blue, white, and light purple. In autumn, the temple grounds explode in yellow, orange, and red as the leaves begin to wither and shed. In winter, another type of peonies that is stronger against cold weather bloom. Protected by straw tents from snow, they bloom in pink, white, magenta, and red. When it snows, the contrast between black and white scenery and the radiant flowers creates a breathtaking scene.
Kasuga Taisha, a Shinto shrine from the 8th century, is situated in Nara Prefecture, western part of Japan. Around the time the shrine was built, Nara became the capital of Japan and the city flourished both politically and religiously. There are about 1,000 Kasuga Shrines across Japan and Kasuga Taisha plays the role of the head quarter, as the Grand Shrine of Kasuga. Aside from the significance of the shrine as the central place of worship, another unique aspect that attracts tourists from around the world are the 3000 lanterns located inside and outside of the shrine grounds. Lanterns are considered to be a symbol of illumination, a guiding light which saves you from darkness. On the winding path to the shrine lies stone lanterns that are in various size and shape, and inside you will encounter even more. These lanterns are a form of donation made by the citizens that come to pray, showing their gratitude towards Kasuga Taisha for their prosperity. During a certain time of the year, when festivals are held, lanterns are given life with each of them lit up. A breathtaking scene of mystical lanterns glowing in the twilight dim forest awaits you.
In Japanese mythology, the god of thunder is believed to have ridden the white deer to this region. Therefore, deer is perceived to be the sacred symbol of the shrine, as the messenger of god. Real live deer roaming freely can be found throughout the park where the Grand Shrine is located. In 1998, along with other 7 properties in Nara, Kasuga Taisha was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage.
Daigoji, built in 874, is one of the oldest temples of the “Shingon” sect of Buddhism in Kyoto. The large temple complex is located on the mountainside of southeastern part of Kyoto city center. The main temple grounds are situated in the base of the mountain and other related facilities are scattered on the upper mountainside. Among these buildings, the most famous structure is the Sanboin, a graceful residence with a remarkable garden which was home to the past head priests. The current building of the Sanboin was renovated and expanded in 1598 by the orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the most famous Shogun in history. The purpose of the expansion was to hold extravagant cherry blossom viewing feasts during the spring time of his later years. As a result of these infamous "hanami", Daigoji still remains one of the most scenic and popular cherry blossom sites today. The well preserved building remains a great example of the unique Azuchi Momoyama Period architecture. Another landmark of Daigoji is the 124 feet tall five storied pagoda which was built in 951 and considered to be Kyoto's oldest verified building. The pagoda was the single building that survived the fires that repeatedly occurred at Daigoji. Lastly another scenic and famous structure that can’t be missed is the Bentendo Hall which is situated right next to a pond and together with the elegant arched bridge completes a perfect scene. It is especially stunning during autumn leaves season when surrounded by glowing red trees and plants. In 1994, along with other 16 properties in Kyoto and Shiga, Daigoji was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage.
The Imperial Palace, which is the main residential area for the Imperial family is yet another popular tourist spot among foreigners. It is situated in the heart of Tokyo, right next to the bustling Marunouchi business district and the vibrant Ginza shopping district. Here you can enjoy observing the remains of the Edo Era and the contrasting modern city buildings.
The current imperial palace was originally home to the longest reigning family, the Tokugawas. They were the most powerful and successful, ruling over 250 years until the Meiji Restoration took place in 1868. The Restoration led to tremendous change in Japan's political and social structure, stimulating modernization and westernization for the next 20 years. In 1868, when the Tokugawas were overthrown, the country's capital and Imperial Family’s Residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. In 1888 a new Palace was completed, however was once destroyed during World War II, and then rebuilt in the same style.
Today, the partial remainders of the Tokugawa's former Edo Castle can be seen here. A large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls, were built back then to prevent attacks from the enemies. Also, from the surrounding park, visitors can view the beautiful Nijubashi, two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds. The stone bridge in front is called Meganebashi meaning Eyeglass Bridge due to the resemblance. The bridge in the back used to be a two story wooden bridge, which the name Double Bridge= Nijubashi comes from.
The inner grounds of the palace are usually not open to the public but by applying directly to the Imperial Household Agency in advance, you can join the guided tours of the palace grounds. The tours are held only in Japanese, but an English brochure and audio guide will be provided. Also, on every New Year (Jan 2) and Emperor’s birthday (Dec 23), public visitors are invited into the palace grounds and are greeted by the Imperial Family from the palace balcony.
Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay Area, has become increasingly more popular among foreigners in the past few years. The island has grown into a huge shopping and entertainment district over the last two decades. Because of its newly developed buildings and bridges, people tend to think that the entire area is all an outcome of modern city planning, but the truth is, the island’s origins date back to Edo Era in the 1850s. At the time, Japan followed a strict closed door policy where no one from another country was allowed in to do business. US commodore Mathew Perry visited Japan in 1853, travelling by a huge black gun boat, pressuring Japan to open its gates to the rest of the world. Japan felt threatened by the attempt and decided to create a set of small manmade fort islands to protect Tokyo against possible attacks from the US.
Over a century later, when Japan was in the midst of tremendous economic growth, the governmens decided to develop the entire area of ports and warehouses along the coast into a massive residential and business area. Now, Odaiba has developed into one of Tokyo's most popular and sophisticated tourist attractions with a wide range of shopping, dining and leisure options to choose from. For example, at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation “Miraikan,” you can learn about modern Japanese science and technology, through the high tech displays and exhibitions. You’ll be fascinated by the robots and androids you meet there. At Oedo Onsen Monogatari, a casual hot spring entertainment resort, you can experience traditional Japanese culture by wearing a yukata, bathing in a hot public bath, playing Japanese festive games, and eating gourmet Japanese food.
Shibuya Scramble Crossing, often spoken in contrast to NYC Times Square, increasingly became popular among foreigners after it appeared in a couple of Hollywood films such as "Lost in Translation" and "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift." This crossing exists right in front of Shibuya Station where a huge bundle of pedestrians intersect every few minutes. There are 10 railway/subway lines running through Shibuya Station and the average number of passengers who get on and off the terminal is considered to be 2,420,000 people, 3rd largest in Tokyo. As for the “Scramble”, on a very busy evening, it is said that as many as 3000 people cross at one green light session.
Shibuya is currently undergoing huge construction to redevelop the entire area into a massive futuristic entertainment city. It will take another 10 years for the construction to finish but eventually after the new pedestrian paths are created, the Scramble you see today will definitely change. So go see it for yourself while it lasts!
Although its naming, the Silver Pavilion, Ginkakuji was never actually covered in silver and was given the nickname in contrast to the Golden Pavillion during the Edo Period. The Building was built by Shogun Yoshimasa Ashikaga , the grandson of Kinkakuji builder Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, as a retirement villa in 1482.
Since Yoshimasa had profound interest in art, Ginkakuji became a center of contemporary culture. This gave a positive impact throughout the country and resulted in development of art in Japan. This influential movement is named the Higashiyama Culture, and the specific art form developed and flourished at the time are for example, classical Japanese dance theater Nogaku, Japanese flower arrangement Ikebana, tea ceremony, Japanese poetry Renga, garden design and architecture. Like Kinkakuji, after shogun’s death, Ginkakuji was transformed into a zen temple. In 1994, along with other 16 properties in Kyoto and Shiga, Ginkakuji was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage.
Kenroku-en is well recognized as one of Japan’s “Three Most Beautiful Traditional Japanese Style Gardens,” others being Ibaraki's Kairaku-en and Okayama's Koraku-en. The 28 acre garden was constructed by Lord Maeda as the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle during the Edo Period. Back at the time, the garden was solely for the government officials and families. But then it was opened to the public in 1874, after Meiji Restoration took place and the Edo Period came to an end. As Kenroku-en means “garden that combines six characteristics,” the garden features a variety of flowers, trees, ponds, and statues that are artistically placed following the six characteristics: spaciousness & seclusion, artifice & antiquity, water-courses & panoramas. The garden provides a different look for every season, so you can encounter various scenic tranquil beauty all year round. Even with in the day, the impression of the garden changes quite dramtically. In the morning, you can have traditional Japanese style breakfast or lunch, or just stop by for tea and Japanese sweets inside the garden during day time. At night time, the garden is lit up and since there are fewer tourists than daytime, peaceful atmosphere surrounds the scene.
Matsumoto-jo is a castle from the early 16th Century situated in Nagano Prefecture of Central Japan. Among the numerous castles built throughout Japan during the long Feudalism Era, Matsumoto-jo is designated as a National Treasure. This is due to the fact that Matsumoto-Jo has one of the most complete and beautifully preserved donjons in Japan. Like other castles, Matsumoto-jo has withstood wars, earthquakes, and the Meiji Restoration, but due to two fires that occurred in the 18th century and 19th century, the castle’s two buildings “Honmaru Goten” and “Ninomaru Goten” were burned down. However, the three turreted donjon “tenshukaku” have survived and the main keep “Daitenshu” which was completed in the late 16th century, maintains its original internal wooden structure and outer stonework. With over 400 years of history, the five-story, six-floor donjon is considered to be the oldest one existing in Japan. Other remaining features are steep wooden stairs, openings to shoot arrows and to drop stones on to the enemies. Observation deck at the top of the Daitenshu offers scenic views of the surrounding city. In spring, Matsumoto Castle is a popular cherry blossom destination. Many local people and travellers come to stroll and picnic around the area to enjoy the contrast of the historical castle and the pink blooming flowers. There are hundreds of cherry blossom trees planted along the outer castle moat providing dynamic views of early spring fluorescent Japan.
Saihoji, located in the west side of Kyoto City near Arashiyama, is a temple from the eighth century.
It is one of the oldest existing temples in the area, and was originally home to Hosso, one of the oldest Buddhism sects in Japan. The place was restored and converted into a Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple in 14th century, and ever since then it has been running as a Zen temple. A century later, Saihoji was destroyed by fire during a civil war. Then during the Edo Period, two floods occurred and damaged the temple but since then has been successfully restored. The temple attracts tourists from all over the world, due to the beautiful green carpet of various kinds of moss densely growing on top of each other. Therefore the temple is given an alternate name “Kokedera,” meaning “moss temple.” The tranquil moss garden was formed as a natural outcome which occurred during the end of the Edo Period. In 1994, along with other 16 properties in Kyoto and Shiga, Saihoji was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage. Visitors must note that, unlike other temples, this temple is not open to the public. In order to enter the temple grounds one must make a prior reservation. Fees for visitation are more expensive than other temples’ admission charges but can experience unique religious rituals like no other temples.
Kamakura City is located 30 miles south of Tokyo and is a popular tourist destination especially among the Japanese. Kamakura was first established in 1192, by Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo and served as the capital of Japan for approximately 150 years. Buddhism flourished and many temples were created at the time. Even after the capital moved to Kyoto, the city remained an important political and religious center in East Japan. Today, it has become a city where history and the new are in harmony. The city offers a variety of tourist attractions: temples and shrines (including the Great Buddha statue), restaurants, cafes, clothing brand shops, and beaches. While older generations enjoy the peacefulness of the temples and shrines, the younger generations enjoy strolling around the old shopping streets near the station. Along the coast, there are many chic ocean view cafes and restaurants that are popular among couples and some ideal for wedding receptions. A 30 minute scenic train ride will take you to Enoshima, another popular site among travellers. The touristy island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, and the island offers a variety of attractions: shrine, seafood restaurants, observation tower, and a day spa resort. During summer, the beaches of mainland are packed with people. On a clear sunny day, Mount Fuji can be seen from the distance.
Inspite of the naming, Robot Restaurant is not exactly a restaurant and more like a cabaret theater with a modern Japanese twist to it. Opened in July of 2012, it has already become one of the most highly rated tourist sites in Tokyo. In the neon gleaming Shinjuku, where business and commercial districts intertwine, the restaurant is situated in the provocative entertainment area. Upon entering the premises, a bit bizzare but lavish neon sparkling lounge greets you. Have some drinks and absorb the surreal atmosphere while listening to the exotic artist singing familiar pop songs. Moving to the theater room, the 90 minute show will blow your mind away with the huge robots and extravagant female dancers dancing around the stage. With a prior reservation, "obento" type light meals are available while watching the program. Various programs such as drum performances, battle matches, and parades come one after another and never stop to amaze you. Details of the show are revised time to time which creates a new excitement every visit, and this attracts fans and repeat customers. Many who've experienced the show state that it's hard to describe the joy and fun of the show, but they all conclude that it's like no other. So come and see the captivating neo Japanese entertainment for yourself.
The 1,092 feet Tokyo Tower is the second tallest structure in Japan and is 22nd tallest self-supporting tower in the world. The classic Tokyo Tower was built right next to the Shiba-Park of Minatoku Tokyo in 1958, which is located 6 miles away from the new tallest structure, Tokyo Sky Tree. The tower was greatly influenced by the Eiffel Tower’s symmetrical design. The tower originally was the main source of providing all of Tokyo’s television stations and major FM radio stations transmission throughout the entire metropolitan area. But as Japan modernized, many tall buildings were built surrounding the Tokyo Tower, and therefore the antennas became inefficient to provide broadcasting to the entire region. Due to this fact, a new tower Tokyo Sky Tree was built and today, Tokyo Tower plays the supporting role for Tokyo Sky Tree, as a backup communication facility in case of major earthquakes or any other crisis. Although some people speak of the tower as being in the shadow of the new super star Tokyo Sky tree, in reality, the tower still remains one of the most prominent symbols of the country and attracts numerous travellers and local fans. At the foot of tower, a new theme park called “Tokyo One Piece Tower” just opened in March 2015 and has already grown into a popular attraction among “One Piece” anime fans. The tower consists of two observation decks, one 492 feet above ground level and another 820 feet above. Besides observation platforms, there is a cafe, live music hall, and souvenir shop at the observation deck. As a unique attribute, on the higher deck, there is also a small shrine which is considered to be the highest situated shrine of all shrines in Tokyo city center.
Tokyo National Museum
The Tokyo National Museum was established in 1872 and is recognized as the oldest national museum with the largest collection of national treasures and artifacts in Japan, holding over 115,000 artworks and artifacts. Among them, 7,500 items are being displayed all year round including the temporary exhibitions that are held occasionally. The large museum grounds have six main buildings and each building has distinctive themes, displaying different types of exhibitions. Hyokeikan, the oldest structure at the museum is a perfect example of Western architecture that widely spread around the Meiji Period, and the temporary exhibitions are held here. The Kuroda Memorial Hall, the second oldest structure, holds the famous modern Western style painter Kuroda's artworks. Honkan, the largest structure is considered as the main building of the museum. Here, a variety of domestic art collections and historical artifacts are kept. Toyokan holds Asian artifacts and artwork outside of Japan. Heiseikan, the second newest structure at the museum displays Japanese cultural history and from time to time temporary exhibitions are held here. Horyuji Homotsukan, the museum's newest building, exhibits religious artifacts, mainly from Horyuji Temple in Nara Prefecture. In addition, Tokyo National Museum also has a Japanese garden, teahouses, souvenir shops and cafes. For foreign tourists, English brochure and audio guides are available. Take a day at the museum and dive into the Japanese history and culture.
Tokyo Skytree is one of the newest landmarks in Japan located in the old downtown area of Tokyo near Asakusa. The tower, being 2,080 feet high, is currently the world’s tallest self-supporting tower and the second tallest structure in the world, after Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The tower was built as a new digital broadcast tower since the original “Tokyo Tower” which is over 55 years old and 1,092 feet high had become too short to adequately support broadcasting in the entire Metropolitan Area. The construction of the tower began in summer 2008 and after 3 and half years the tower was completed and opened in 2012. As soon as it opened, it became a major tourist spot attracting both foreigners and Japanese. The popularity comes from the surrounding massive shopping complex featuring retail stores, restaurants, aquarium and planetarium which was built with the tower. Forming a small town, you can practically enjoy your entire day here. Of course, the tower itself is appealing too. There are hidden Japanese technologies and Japanese traditional designs strewn all over the architecture.
The tower consists of two observation decks; the first is located 1148 feet above the ground, which features a huge glass window that you can enjoy a 360 degree panoramic view of the bustling Metropolitan Area and the tranquil Kanto Region in the back. There’s a cafe and a restaurant that you can enjoy your drinks and meals while gazing down at the extravagant urban scenery. Also you can experience the thrill of floating in the sky high above the grounds by standing on top of the transparent glasses. The second deck is a simple corridor which is located 312 feet above the first one and starting from 1,460 feet, by walking up the curved slope, you will reach the highest accessible point 1,480 feet. You'll feel just like you're strolling in mid-air!
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, located right in the heart of the city center, is considered one of the most beautiful gardens in Tokyo. The place was originally home to a “daimyo,” meaning feudal lord, in Edo Era, and then later the land was constructed into an imperial garden in the early 1900s. After World War Two, the beautiful garden became a national garden opening to the public. Ever since then, the garden is loved by the Japanese citizens and the place gets especially crowded during the early spring cherry blossom season. From late March to early April when the central lawn areas bloom in pink, a lot of groups come to picnic here, eating “obento” while gazing at the stunning flowers. The 144 acre garden consists of three themed gardens, French Formal, English Landscape, and Japanese Traditional Garden. Once you enter the garden the atmosphere changes and you’ll forget you’re in the middle of an urban city.
Shinjuku Golden Gai
You will get a nostalgic retro feel as you enter the narrow streets of Golden Gai, situated in the busy Shinjuku District. Compared to the neon hi-tech modern city atmosphere, this small jumbled neighborhood takes you back to the 1950s when Tokyo’s architectures were all constructed like Golden Gai. Originally, this area was a prostitution town, but after anti-prostitution law was enacted in 1958, the town transformed into a buoyant drinking district but the architecture remains the same.
Golden Gai consists of about 200 tiny counter bars inside two story buildings all stacked next to each other between the 6 dimly lit narrow alleys. Each bar has a seating capacity of maximum 5 to 8 people, which creates a compelling vigorous atmosphere. Here, people can naturally start conversation between strangers. The place was originally a hangout spot for the locals and due to its capacity, many bars accepted regular repeat customers only. But as it gradually became more known by the tourists, many bars now welcome first comers and foreign tourists. It is a must go for people who are adventurous and are not intimidated by mysterious and exotic new cultural experience. Don’t forget that many bars in Golden Gai have a cover charge policy though.