Himeji Castle is the best example of an original Japanese castle. It is the grandest and most beautiful of the 12 surviving feudal castles. The castle dominates the city of Himeji and can be seen from the train as you arrive. The castle was completed in 1609 to be used as a fortress and to show the power and strength of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Himeji suffered severe damage during World War II but miraculously the castle survived. The castle's design and white plastered walls give the illusion of a large white heron ready to fly into the blue sky and thus it is known as the "White Heron Castle".
The ‘City of Peace’
The Hiroshima Peace Park and Atom Bomb Museum is a landmark in Japan. The Industrial Promotion Hall is the only ruined building still allowed to stand after the devastation in 1945, its dome the symbol of destruction. The Peace Park is built around this building. You will see the statue of ‘Sadako’ above thousands of paper cranes from all around the world. Sadako was a young girl who at age 10 developed leukaemia as a result of exposure to atomic radiation. She believed that if she could make 1000 paper cranes - a Japanese symbol of good luck, peace and happiness - her illness would be cured.
The Peace Memorial Hall shows films on the effects of the atomic explosion.
The names of those who died as a result of the war are contained in The Memorial Cenotaph. The Peace Flame behind the Cenotaph will continue to burn until the last atomic bomb on earth is destroyed. Hiroshima, a former castle town, emerged from the ashes of World War II atomic bombing to be the cultural, economic, and political centre of western Honshu.
Miyajima literally Shrine Island, a popular name for Itsukushima Shrine, has long been revered as a sacred island because of the Itsukushima Shrine founded there in 593 AD. which is dedicated to the maritime guardian goddesses. The island, about 31km in circumference is easily accessible by a 10 minute ferryboat ride from Miyajimaguchi Station. This island is ranked traditionally as one of the three most beautiful sights in Japan and is famous for its shrines, tame deer and monkeys. You certainly won’t miss the large red Torii gate, which marks the entrance to the floating ‘Itsukushima Shrine’. This is Japan’s largest Torii gate and dates from 1875. To really enjoy the beauty, take a stroll through Momijidani Koen (Red Maple Valley Park), inland from the shrine. There are also gondolas in this park, which can take you to the top of Mt. Misen to enjoy the spectacular scene.
On the northwest coast of Honshu on the Sea of Japan, Kanazawa is the second largest city (after Kyoto) to escape the bombing of World War II. Many parts of the old city have been left intact, including a few samurai houses, old geisha quarters and tiny narrow streets. Kanazawa is most famous for its Kenrokuen Garden, one of the three most celebrated gardens in all of Japan. Opposite Kenrokuen Garden is the reconstructed Kanazawa Castle. Visit the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts, Nomura Samurai House and the Shima Geisha House. Don't miss the Myoryuji Temple, popularly known as Ninja Dera (the temple of ninjas) because of its secret chambers, hidden staircases, tunnels and trick doors.
Kamakura is a historically significant city as it was where the Shogunate was situated. It was a de facto capital for the Yoritomo Minamoto government and later the centre of Nichiren buddhism. For that reason, Kamakura has many temples and shrines that can be visited. As a once-revered centre for Nichiren buddhism, Kamakura also has graves called "Yagura" which were reserved for high-ranking priests and other such people. The five great temples of Kamakura can also be visited; Kencho-ji, Engaku-ji, Jufuku-ji, Jochi-ji and Jomyo-ji which were under the supervision of Nanzen-ji in Kyoto. Kōtoku-in Temple is most famous for the 11.4 metre copper statue of the Great Buddha. Nearby is Hasedera Temple with its wooden kannon statue of the Goddess of Mercy and thousands of jizō statues.
Other significant attractions also include Wakamiya Oji; a famous street which was a sacred area in the Kamakura period as well as the nearby beach Yuigahama where the Minamoto shogun would purify his body in the water on this beach. Wakamiya Oji street leads to the beautiful Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
The city of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture is a major world port and was the busiest port in Japan at one time. Kobe experienced a major earthquake which rated 7.5 on the Richter Scale in 1995; causing major disruption and loss of life. Today there are monuments around Kobe remnant of the damage and loss suffered which can be viewed by the general public. Despite this tragedy, Kobe has recovered and is now a very cosmopolitan city. It is said in Japanese that if you cannot go to Paris, go to Kobe instead!
The city has both cultural and tourist attractions within its boundaries. Kobe has so much to offer that perhaps one night is not enough to fully experience what the area has to offer!
Arima Onsen is a Hot Springs Resort town in the Kita ward of Kobe. It is one of the oldest hot spring resort areas in Japan. The water is divided into two types; Kinsen (Gold) which is a yellow-brown coloured water from the natural iron and salt and Kinsen (Silver) which is clear but contains radium and carbonate. The relaxing bathhouses have therapeutic properties for your skin and whole body, and also have such a peaceful atmosphere that any unpleasant thoughts that you may have harboured before entering will be washed away.
Although there are various Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inns) offering various accommodation rates, the oldest of these is Tosen Goshobo which offers luxurious rooms and serves Yamaga cuisine which is said to be simple, delicious and healthy. As this establishment was built in 1191 for the Japanese nobility, it holds historical signifiance and is still a popular to this day as a place to stay.
This central part of Kobe has many different Gourmet delights to try. Besides sobamashi (rice fried to taste like yakisoba) and okonomiyaki (cabbage pancake with many toppings), this area also has Nankinmachi- Kobe's Chinatown. You will not know what to eat because you will be spoilt for choice!
The nearby Motomachi has many old buildings and shops that have a unique character to them. The shopping in this area is also excellent; with the Center Gai shopping district nearby which leads to the Motomachi Shopping Street. These areas are excellent places to take a walk and experience a variety of shops and surroundings; adding a cosmopolitan feel to your stay in Japan.
Suma is a ward in Kobe that is famous for its seaside location. The beach alone attracts domestic tourists in summer for sunbathing and swimming. With an aquarium and an amusement park nearby, this area of Kobe provides fun for groups who are seeking a fun day out in one location. Cultural attractions include Sumadera temple and Suma Rikyuu Park for those who would like to see the natural and spiritual side of the area.
Tarumi is a seaside area that is famous for the shopping opportunities that Marine Pia Kobe Mitsui Outlet Park has to offer. However, the nearby Maiko area has the Akashi Kaikyo (Pearl) Bridge that connects to Awaji Island and is considered to be the world's longest suspension bridge and an amazing feat of engineering! Under the bridge, there are some magnificent whirlpools that can be seen!These whirlpools can also be seen from Awaji Island.
The Maiko Marine Promenade near the suspension bridge shows spectacular views of the sea and the bridge itself. This part of Kobe is definitely the place to go if you wish to add some amazing photos to your collection.
The ancient city of Kyoto cries out to be explored. For 1074 years Kyoto was Japan’s capital city. From 794 to the end of the 12th century, Kyoto flourished under imperial rule. It was at this time when Japan’s culture started to become independent of Chinese influences and to develop its unique characteristics. Steeped in history and tradition, Kyoto can be described as the heart of Japanese culture. Nowadays it is not uncommon to see elderly Japanese women walking the streets dressed in traditional kimono and the world of geisha is still very much alive. In addition to the 1600 temples and 400 shrines the city has many parks and gardens. The seventh largest city in Japan with a population of 1.4 million, Kyoto can be reached in 2 hrs 50 mins by bullet train from Tokyo and 1 hr 15 mins from the Kansai International Airport. A visit to Kyoto is like a walk through 11 centuries of Japanese history.
The magnificent Golden Pavillion was constructed in 1393 as a retirement home for Shogun Ashikaga as a statement of his prestige and power. In 1950 it was burnt to the ground by a crazed student monk and re-built in 1955 based on the original design. The first floor is palace style, the second floor is the style of the samurai house and the third floor is a Zen style temple. All floors are covered with gold leaf on Japanese lacquer. The picture perfect golden image reflected in the surrounding pond on a clear day is a photographer’s dream.
Built in 1603 this castle was the official residence of the Tokugawa Shogunate. To safeguard against treachery, the interior was fitted with ‘nightingale’ floors and concealed chambers where bodyguards could keep watch and spring out at a moment’s notice. You enter the castle through the impressive Kara-mon, Chinese Gate. From the Kara-mon, the carriageway leads to the Ni-no-maru Palace (Second Inner Palace), whose five buildings are divided into many chambers. The outer rooms were kept for visitors of low rank and were adorned with garish paintings that would impress them. The inner rooms were for the important lords. After the Meiji Restoration Nijo Castle became the Kyoto Prefectural Office until 1884. Since 1934 the castle has belonged to the city of Kyoto and has been opened to the public.
The garden at Ryoanji attracts people from all around the world. This Zen rock garden consists of 15 rocks arranged in three groupings of seven, five, and three in gravel. From the temple’s veranda, only 14 rocks can be seen at one time. Move slightly and one of the original 14 disappears. In the Buddhist world the number 15 denotes completeness. The place to visit for some Zen contemplation.
Toei Movieland is an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours between visits to temples and shrines. This outdoor set of a feudal age town is still in use for period movies. Miniature castles, houses and shops used in previous films are displayed in the Film Art Hall along with a brief history of Japan’s film industry. Producers are occasionally looking out for foreign extras to play roles of early European arrivals in Japan. You can pay to dress up as a samurai warrior or a geisha for the photo opportunity.
The longest wooden structure in the world, Sanjuusangendo, houses 1001 gold statues of the Thousand-Armed Kannon (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy). At age 82, master sculptor Tankei carved the main statue - a 6 ft tall, 1000 handed Kannon. This temple was first built in 1164 and rebuilt in 1266. The rear archery field is still used for special occasions.
Founded in 798 and rebuilt in 1633 without the single use of a nail, Kiyomizu is famous for its wide wooden veranda providing the visitor with a panoramic view of the city. This is the most visited temple in all of Kyoto. Jishu Shrine is located nearby and is a dwelling place of the deity in charge of love. Visitors ensure success in love by closing their eyes and walking about 18m between a pair of stones. The Otowa-no-taki Waterfall is a place for tourists to drink or bathe in these sacred waters that are believed to have therapeutic properties. The steep approach to Kiyomizudera is known as ‘Teapot Lane’and is lined with shops selling Kyoto handicrafts, local snacks and souvenirs.
A comprehensive introduction to Japanese performing arts, Gion Corner provides the foreigner with an insight into Japanese music, dance and comic plays. Various forms of dance and plays are performed including a bunraku puppet play. This 50 minutes of entertainment also includes snippets of tea ceremony, koto music and flower arrangement. Two shows are presented daily.
The Heian Jingu Shrine was built in 1895 to mark the 1,100-year anniversary of the city of Kyoto. Even though it is a relatively modern structure, the shrine is a scaled replica of the first imperial palace built in Kyoto in 794. Heian Shrine is famous for its bright colours of green and vermilion and for its garden that has something for all seasons - weeping cherry trees in spring, iris and water lilies in summer and rich maple leaves in autumn.
Mt Fuji is the mountain for which Japan is best known. It straddles the border between Shizuoka and Yamanashi and there is great debate as to which prefecture provides the better view of Mt Fuji. The views of Mt Fuji are breathtaking to say the least, but there are many people who choose to climb Mt Fuji each year to see the sun rise and a view that is memorable to all that have climbed to its summit.
Although there are many routes to climb Mt Fuji, the most popular is the Kawaguchiko route due to the parking area available to tour groups and the many huts at which you can rest or stay overnight. Having said that, the extensive amount of time required to climb this mountain means that a climb should commence early in the morning.
Note: Climbing Mt Fuji is not recommended for school groups due to the deemed high risk of this activity. If you are going to climb the mountain, do it on a personal tour of Japan!
Don't forget that a spectacular view can be seen from the window of a Shinkansen when on a journey from Tokyo to Kyoto where you will be able to see it on your right (or left if travelling in the opposite direction).
The Hakone area is an excellent place to tour for different views of Mt Fuji. You are able to arrive at Odawara station and from there take the Hakone Tozan Train to Gora and take cable cars the rest of the way to Ubako where you will be able to catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji while in the cable car. If you wish to take the Hokone sightseeing ship, you will be able to see Mt Fuji from another angle albeit with a hill in front of it. In Hakonemachi, you are able to get another view of it in the Hakone Detached Palace Garden observatory. Of course Hakone is not just for seeing Mt Fuji from different angles; there are hot springs for you to try in Hakone Kowakien/Mori no Yu as well as in Himeshara Hot Springs.
By taking the Hoakone Tozan bus or the Numazu Tozan bus you are able to return to Odawara and complete a circuit tour of Hakone as well as enjoy the various tourist attractions that Hakone has to offer such as museums, tea houses, an aquarium and various restaurants.
From the Kawaguchi Lake side, you are able to see an uninterrupted view of Mt Fuji and is arguably the best angle from which to view this magnificent mountain! Take the Hop-on-hop-off bus to see a number of attractions around Kawaguchi Town, Kawaguchi Lake and Mt Fuji.
Thousands of pilgrims each year come to Nagano's attraction, Zenkoji Temple. Founded in the 7th century this temple is unique to Japan for two reasons; it belongs to no particular Buddhist sect, and it has never closed its doors to women. Nagano is a great place to include on your itinerary. Only 90 minutes by shinkansen from Tokyo, Nagano also boasts great ski resorts and Jigokudani Spa home to the indigenous monkeys found bathing in the open-air onsens. Groups of wild monkeys live in the Yaen-koen Park, which is located in the mountains in Nagano. In winter the monkeys warm themselves by soaking in the hot springs while the snow falls on their heads.
Hakuba is well known as a ski resort town and was the venue of the 1998 Winter Olympics. It boasts a variety of ski slopes and the Hakuba Olympic Village Memorial Hall which has Olympic memorabilia on display for visitors to see. There are also ski jumping areas and the ski jumping stadium used in the Winter Olympics is still in use today.
The town of Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture is also a noteworthy place to stay. Although well known as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life with lots of picturesque mountain scenery, it is also known amongst Japanese people as the place where John Lennon and Yoko Ono went for their honeymoon. Not to mention the good coffee at the Mikasa Hotel cafe, or the outlet shopping that is available on a visit to Karuizawa. The ham has a good reputation; the ham tastes very close to Italian prosciutto!
Nozawa Onsen is a well-known hot spring and ski resort that lies to the north of Nagano Prefecture. Besides the ski resorts and slopes that can be enjoyed there, the unique free-to-use public bathhouses called "Sotoyu" are all over the village and can be used by anyone.
In January each year, there is the Dosajin Fire Festival where you are able to see a magnificent display of fierce flames in a ritual that shows an attack on a makeshift shrine. If you choose to go there with a school group, please do not let any of your group members take the cups offered on the way out!
Yudanaka Onsen is the gateway to Yamanouchi and is situated along the way to Jigokudani Monkey Park. It has a long established history as a hot spring resort town and has a public bath in the station for you to enjoy upon arrival. Outside, there is a free footbath as well so you can experience the therapeutic hot waters of the area without delay! Although more developed than the neighbouring town Shibu Onsen, the further up the slope you travel upon leaving the station, the more traditional the atmosphere becomes. This particular town is relaxed and you may not want to leave!
Nagoya is the capital of Aichi Prefecture and Japan’s fourth largest city. Nagoya’s streets are laid out in an easy to navigate grid-like pattern designed by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu upon the construction of the iconic Nagoya Castle, constructed in 1612 during the Edo Period. Innovation has always been part of Nagoya’s culture, and this is where the Japanese art of manufacturing was perfected. The worlds’ first wooden robots, mechanized puppets known as karakuri dolls, were developed in Nagoya during the early 1600’s. Originally used atop the traditional festival floats unique to this area and as playthings for the affluent, the technology from these handcrafted wooden mechanical wonders led to automated loom manufacturing, which in turn influenced vehicle production line techniques, launching Nagoya’s powerful industries. The Nagoya region has also been a ceramics production area for over 1,000 years and is famed for its historical and modern textiles industry too.
Some of the world's biggest names Toyota, Rinnai, Brother, Noritake, NGK, Buffalo, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, DMG Mori Seiki, and so many more call Nagoya and the greater Nagoya region home. Today the Nagoya region is the nation's leader in automotive, machine tooling, robotics, fine ceramics and aerospace industry, and because of this, remains the financial powerhouse of Japan.
Nagoya has a number of famous tourists spots including the Toyota Museum, Noritake Garden, Nagoya City Science Museum, Osu Shopping District, Osu Kannon Temple, Higashiyama zoo and Botanical Gardens, Nagoya Castle, Tokugawa Art Museum, Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium and Legoland Japan Resort.
Japan’s first real capital city - Nara - is famous for Todaiji Temple the world’s largest wooden building. Todaiji Temple founded in the mid-8th century is home to the Daibutsu - Big Buddha. The Buddha stands just over 16 metres high and consists of 437 tonnes of bronze and 130 kg of gold. Behind the Daibutsu to the right, look for a large wooden pillar with a hole at its base. Superstition has it that those who pass through the opening will find their way to an afterlife paradise.
Todaiji Temple is located in Nara Koen home to about 1200 deer. They are considered to be the divine messengers of the gods and are extremely friendly when visitors feed them with the special food available for purchase at the many food stalls in and around the park.
The Kasuga Shrine is also noteworthy which has a path lined with many lanterns that lead to it. It passes through Deer Park and the shrine was high-ranking as designated by the Japanese government until 1946.
Nara's persimmons are famous throughout Japan as well as its strawberries and tea. Its cultural significance means that it is a popular tourist attraction and is also the sister city of our national capital, Canberra which is symbolised by the Nara Peace Park.
The gateway to Japan is the city of Narita, located 60km northeast of the centre of Tokyo. Narita Airport, also known as the Tokyo New International Airport, is the 5th largest in the world with over 25 million passengers. Narita has two terminals which are joined by a light rail. Taxis, limousine buses and trains are available for the journey to Tokyo. Very few visitors remain in the area to see the numerous local sights. Narita City is 15 minutes from the airport and offers a variety of accommodation from 5 star international hotels to local traditional inns.
NARITASAN SHINSHOJI TEMPLE
Follow the winding streets full of local restaurants, traditional souvenir shops and food stalls until you come to the 1000 year old Narita Temple. This temple is dedicated to the God of Fire and is one of the three most important temples in the country. The temple has attracted many worshippers and followers, having approximately twenty million visitors a year. During New Year over 4 million people visit the temple, pagoda and gardens of Naritasan. A large park and garden area is situated at the rear of the main temple buildings. Surrounding the beautiful pond are cherry trees, plum trees, maple trees and many others that create a changing scenery during the distinct four seasons of Japan. A museum dedicated to calligraphy can also be found on the temple grounds.
BOSO NO MURA
Boso no Mura is a museum that was created to preserve and develop appreciation for traditional lifestyles and local customs. Old farmhouses, shops, residences, arts and crafts of people in the Chiba Prefecture from 200 years ago have been recreated. This is an interactive museum where visitors have the opportunity to participate in a variety of demonstrations and art and craft activities.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF JAPANESE HISTORY
Standing on the site of the former Sakura Castle, this is a superb, recently built museum. It is designed for the pleasure of the public as well as for research, with many displays being interactive. Themes unique to each period of Japan's history and culture are displayed.
There is a famous phrase to express Nikko. "Never say great without seeing Nikko." There are many sight seeing spots in Nikko. Toshogu Shrine is the most famous, but the history of Nikko goes back to 766 in the Nara period, when Priest Shoto built Shihonryuji Temple. As an area that has many temples and shrines, it is known for its visiting spiritual pilgrims. Although the many shrines and temples are beautiful, we cannot do justice to all of them on this page. However, some of the more notable shrines and temples to see are Toshogu; built by the first Tokugawa Shogun (Ieyasu Tokugawa whose remains are in an urn there) and improved on by his grandson (Iemitsu Tokugawa) who was the third Shogun.
Futarasan Shrine is also noteworthy as it has a famous bridge which is World Heritage Listed that crosses the nearby river and the views are beautiful. Rinnoji contains the remains of Iemitsu Tokugawa at the Taiyuin (mausoleum) that exists there.
Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura is a Japanese cultural theme park in the Kinugawa Onsen area of Nikkō. There are a variety of activites and programs at Edo Wonderland designed to give a real Edo period experience!
Osaka City is located on the eastern extremity of the Inland Sea on the main island of Honshu. The name Osaka translates to "Big Slope" and this megalopolis is home to nearly 10 million people. Everywhere modern skyscrapers reach for the sunshine with entire areas given over to parks, recreation and shopping. Osaka’s convenient location ensures the visitor can experience the past and the future of Japan. Kyoto and Nara known as the treasury of Japanese history can be reached within an hour by local rail and in thirty minutes you can reach Kansai International Airport, gateway to the world.
Osakajo, the largest castle in Japan, has eight floors within and stands 55 metres high. The castle was built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in the late 16th century. Inside the castle tower is a historical museum containing materials and documents concerning the castle history and the Toyotomi family. Right outside the tower is the City Museum, consisting of nine rooms with different themes, all illustrating the history and culture of the city. The top floor presents a dazzling panorama of Osaka City. When the castle is illuminated at night it becomes a beautiful backdrop to the city.
This is the colourful shopping district of Osaka. This 700m long arcade is where you can find a variety of dazzling, bustling shops. The Shinsaibashi-suji Arcade leads through to the Dotombori which was once the city’s amusement quarter housing five theatres. Today, these theatres are still there though transformed into cinemas and comedy halls. This exciting amusement centre is popular at night for its restaurants, bars and entertainment areas.
Filled with trendy clothing shops, record stores, bars, cafes, and clubs this bustling district caters to teenagers and young Japanese adults. The colourful graffiti, a huge Tower Records, the futuristic Wave complex, the Disney Store are some of the shops that draw the large crowds of young Japanese to this area of Osaka. East of this area is Yoroppa Mura filled with fashionable European boutiques and cafes. You will be sure to find many of Japan’s top department stores in this area.
Japan’s newest themepark, Universal Studios was opened in Osaka on March 31, 2001. This movie-based theme park will also work as a centre for the developing of a new urban industry of the 21st century involving the latest video, audio and information technologies. There is so much to see and do at Japan's newest theme park. Don't miss the Jurassic Park, Jaws and Back to the Future rides.
This new cultural complex includes a gallery, an IMAX movie theatre, a museum shop and several restaurants.
OSAKA MARITIME MUSEUM
A seven-minute walk from Cosmo Square Station, the Osaka Maritime Museum offers a good opportunity for the visitors to learn a little about the history of Osaka as a key place for sea transportation and the relationships between human beings and the sea, vessels and ports.
OSAKA AQUARIUM - KAIYUKAN
This is the largest aquarium in the world. It exhibits the marine life of the Pacific Ocean under the theme ‘Ring of Fire’ reflecting the volcanic chain encircling the Pacific. The main tank is 9m deep and holds approximately 5,400 tons of water. Thirteen smaller tanks arranged around it display various representative marine environments in the ‘Ring of Fire’ including those of the North and South Poles, the Americas, and Australia.
NATIONAL BUNRAKU THEATRE
Osaka is home to the Bunraku Theatre. Japanese Puppet Theatre known as Bunraku originated during the Heian period (794 - 1192) and a typical play usually deals with themes of tragic love or stories based on historical events. The story is chanted in song and accompanied by ballad music played on a three-stringed shamisen. The main dolls are manipulated by three puppeteers whilst the narrator recites the story.
Tennoji used to thrive as a temple town around the nation’s oldest temple, Shitennoji Temple. Tennoji is served by many railway and bus lines, making it the southern gateway to Osaka. There are a number of sights worth visiting in and around Tennoji. Weekends have a carnival atmosphere with many stalls selling everything from fairy floss to fried squid.
The Tennoji Zoo is located in Tennoji Park with 310 animal species including koalas and pandas. Osaka Municipal Museum of Art displaying ancient and modern arts is worth a look for the art enthusiasts.
This is the ‘Electric City’ of Osaka where you can find more than 300 shops specialising in electrical goods such as discmans, watches, computer games, etc. You can play the latest computer games in the ‘Demo Play Game’ areas in many of the shops for free. Bathed in neon, this dazzling area of Osaka comes alive in the evening.
SENDAI and MATSUSHIMA
Sendai is a city in Japan’s Tohoku Region, northeast of Tokyo on Honshu island. The remains of 17th-century Sendai Castle, built for samurai lord Date Masamune on Aoba Hill, overlook the city and include a museum of historic artifacts. The Sendai City Museum focuses on the history and culture of Japan’s Edo period and displays Masamune’s samurai armour.
Located half an hour outside of Sendai, Matsushima (松島) is famous for its bay, which is dotted by many pine clad islets and has been ranked one of Japan's three most scenic views for centuries. The small town is also known for Zuiganji, one of the Tohoku Region's most important Zen temples.
Matsushima was hit by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, but escaped major damage thanks to its protected location inside the island dotted bay. Most tourist attractions, shops and hotels reopened within a few weeks or months of the earthquake.
Take the scenic train from Nagoya for the climb into the Japanese Alps. This is one of Japan's most scenic routes and Takayama is one of the most attractive towns of the Japan Alps. In the heart of the Hida Mountains, this tranquil town has retained its old fashion charm. Takayama has been known for its carpentary and some of the architecture in the old town that exists is remnant of the highly skilled craftsmen of the Edo period. Compact and easy to explore on foot, visit the quaint shops and tearooms and wander the ancient streets of Takayama.
The Morning Markets in Takayama date back to more than 300 years ago when silk farmers were selling mulberry leaves. Today, the markets are still run by farmers and they sell a wide variety of goods. There are two market areas which are both well worth visiting. The Miyagawa markets along the river sell vegetables, fruits, pickles and spices while the markets on the other side sell local sweets and craft goods.
The farmers are very friendly people who would be more than happy to talk to you about their vegetables and pickles and how to best prepare them. As the markets start early in the morning and run until noon, it is best to wake up early and watch the market stalls being set up as you will see people wearing traditional clothes.
Sanmachi is the old town that is a reminder of the Edo period from its old architecture. Amazingly, the buildings are still in use today by shop owners and sake breweries. As you walk along the narrow street, you are able to take in the old castle town atmosphere and imagine what Edo period life would have been like. This buildings in this area are listed by the Japanese government important traditional buildings and this earned Takayama a 3-star rating from Michelin.
HIDA FOLK VILLAGE
This model of a folk village (including National Cultural Treasures) has over 30 buildings, recreating Hida's historical past. In each building everyday articles (which we now regard as folk art) are displayed and showcase the life and culture of these mountain farming villages. Demonstrations of traditional crafts such as Hida lacquerwork, weaving and dyeing are held in arts and crafts centers. Plus, in folk art schools, you can make Hida folk art like straw crafts and sashiko quilting.
TAKAYAMA FESTIVAL FLOATS EXHIBITION HALL
The Float Hall is in Sakurayamahachiman, and houses 11 floats for the fall Takayama festival. They rotate the floats 3 times a year (March, July, and November) putting 4 on display each time. In a revival of the festival parade, a shrine maiden takes visitors on a tour. The beautiful floats are highly decorated. Several of the festival floats are decorated with called karakuri ningyo, sophisticated mechanical dolls that can move and dance. Karakuri doll performances are held on both days of the festival at dedicated times and places.
Japan's capital is situated on the banks of the Sumida River. It incorporates 23 wards, 26 smaller cities, seven towns and eight villages. Central Tokyo is home to over 8 million people, with the sprawling metropolitan area home to 25 million people. Every day over two million of these residents pass through Shinjuku Station, one of the major train stations in the Tokyo transportation network. For many centuries Tokyo was a small fishing village called Edo. When the civil wars of the 16th century came to an end, the new shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa made the sleepy village the seat of his shogunate government in 1603. As it grew, Edo became not one but many smaller cities and villages. In 1867 the shogunate was overthrown and the Emperor moved his capital to Edo and renamed it Tokyo, meaning Eastern Capital. Today, Tokyo is a modern, exciting city full of energy and vitality. The combination of Japanese and Western, old and new, offers an ever-unfolding treasure trove of surprises for the visitor and resident alike.
Asakusa is in the heart of the shitamachi, down town district of Tokyo. Start your exploration with a visit to Tokyo's oldest and most beloved temple, Sensoji. In the year 628, two fishermen fished a small, gold statue of the Kannon Goddess of Mercy from out of the Sumida River. Sensoji Temple was built to enshrine the Kannon and has since been rebuilt and enlarged many times over the past ten centuries. The main entrance to the temple is the Kaminarimon (Thunder God Gate) is highlighted by a huge red paper lantern hanging in its centre. After taking the obligatory photographs follow the stall-lined avenue which leads from the gate to the temple. Many of these stalls have been in the same families for hundreds of years. Tourists flock here to purchase Tokyo's most famous traditional sweets and souvenirs. The atmosphere conveys the feeling of old Tokyo. Kabuki actors come to pray before a new performance, sumo wrestlers pay their respects before a tournament and geisha still mingle with tourists as they come to purchase new fans and hair decorations.
Ueno Hill was the site of a large temple and castle during the 17th and 18th centuries. However, both were burnt to the ground during the civil uprising in 1868. The new Meiji government turned Ueno Hill into one of the nation's first public parks and established a museum and a zoo. Today it is one of the largest parks in Tokyo. The grounds continue to serve as the site for Tokyo's zoo, as well as smaller shrines and temples, art galleries, museums and concert halls. Leave the park, cross Chuo-dori and enter the heart of Ameya Yokocho Markets. A favourite with young people these large markets have stalls selling a multitude of goods ranging from chocolates, fish and vegetables to cosmetics, jeans and designer clothes.
TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
Want sushi for breakfast? This gigantic, covered market is the place to make an early morning visit to watch fish and seafood arrive from all parts of the world. Arrive before 6am and watch the tuna auctions or simply wander between aisles to watch the show of hawkers shouting, knives chopping and the fishmongers in black rubber boots darting from stall to stall with loaded wheelbarrows. In the alleys nearby are shops and stalls selling kitchen knives, crockery, Japanese teapots and cups and bamboo items.
For the greatest sound and light show on earth, make your way to the city of Akihabara, known as Electric City. Best time to visit is at dusk when the neon lights can be fully appreciated. Clustered around Akihabara Station are narrow passageways of stalls and shops. These have changed little from the post World War II black market stalls, selling an array of electrical plugs, wires, switches and tools. Turn right and enter the main avenue of Chuo-dori to purchase the latest electrical products from washing machines and televisions to video cameras, DVD players, computers, games and software.
In 1612 the Tokugawa shogunate moved the gold and silver mint to an area of reclaimed swamp land which became known as Ginza (Silver Mint). Today the name is world famous as the most chic shopping district in Japan. Stand on the most expensive piece of land in the world, the intersection called yon-chome. On opposite corners are the landmark Wako Department store and the elegant Mitsukoshi Department store. Behind the stylish shop windows are jewellers, art galleries, boutiques and stores that sell kimonos and all things exquisite from traditional paper shops to high fashion. At night the Ginza area is popular for its neon lights and exciting bars, nightclubs, restaurants and Kabuki Theatre.
Strictly for the young Harajuku caters for teenage trends in fashion, food and music. Visit on a Sunday to mingle with the crowds dressed in outrageous fashion, listen to music and be generally entertained at the passing parade. Cross the road from Harajuku Station and follow the fashionable Japanese down Omotesando, the tree lined avenue flanked by sidewalk cafes, trendy boutiques and high fashion. Then turn and back track to Takeshita Dori. This narrow street is a shopping Mecca for the teenagers who throng daily to shop and browse amongst the eclectic fashion boutiques, inexpensive accessory stores, hamburger and icecream parlours. In stark contrast is the most important Shinto shrine in Tokyo, Meiji Jingu. Built in 1912 in memory of Emperor Meiji and his wife this shrine is a green oasis in the western district of Tokyo. The two 40 feet high torii gates are each made from 1,700 year old cypress trees. Passing through the gates symbolises entering the spiritual world of the shrine.
By day Shinjuku is a cluster of department stores, skyscrapers, office blocks, office workers and salarymen. Several skyscrapers feature coffee shops, restaurants and free observation floors. These include the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building, Shinjuku Nomura Building and the spectacular Tokyo Metropolitan Building. By night it is a world of its own with some of the craziest nightlife in all of Tokyo. In the northeast district known as Kabuki-cho is a fascinating maze of over 4000 bars, discotheques, restaurants, clubs, movie houses and theatres, some of which are open 24 hours per day.
A trip to Tokyo would not be complete without a visit to Tokyo Disneyland and world famous Magic Kingdom ......... In September 2001 Disneyland opened a new resort called DisneySea. A monorail connects both theme-parks and multi-day passports can be purchased to enjoy the two Disney Parks. "I think what I want Disneyland to be most of all is a happy place." WALT DISNEY