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Japan

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Table of contents

Things to do and see in Japan

Tokyo


Tokyo was formerly known as Edo and was founded in 1590 and capital when the Shoguns were in power. Following the fall of the shoguns in 1867, the city was renamed Tokyo and the new capital of the country. After the catastrophic 1923 earthquake and near obliteration during World War II, Tokyo today has a population of over 13 million and its one of the biggest and craziest cities the world. It’s a city that has flashing neon lights everywhere and chaos of the city adds to its excitement. There isn’t many places in the world you can see temples and traditional life next to skyscrapers and neon lights.  

The best way to get around this huge city and its tourist sites is by its suburb metro, which is cheap and reliable. The one problem for foreigners is that all the writing is in Japanese, so it’s best to brush up your Japanese before you go.

 


Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace is home to Japan’s emperor and the countries imperial family. The palace itself is closed to the public for all but two days of the year, January 2nd and the emperors birthday, which is December 23rd. The one area of the palace you can see is the Imperial Palaces East Garden, which is free and open to the public year round. You can enter the beautiful East Garden from the Otemon Gate.

 

 

Meiji Shrine

This is considered one of the holiest shrines in the country, as it’s built in memory of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It was under there rule that Japan ended its long isolation to the world. Unfortunately, During World War II most of the shrine was destroyed, but it was re-built in 1958. This is one of the most visited shrines in the country, as Japanese still come here on a regular basis. For more information on admission fees go to www.meijijingu.or.jp

 

 

Senso-ji Temple

This temple was founded in 628 AD to enshrine a gold statuette of the Kannon Bodhisattva (the Goddess of Mercy) which, according to legend, was found by two local fishermen. It has been a pilgrimage for thousands people yearly for over a thousand years. Also known as Asakusa Kannon in Japan, the temple and its five-storey pagoda are concrete reconstructions but the temple precincts are nevertheless always bustling with worshippers. Smoke from the huge incense burner in front of the temple is said to have healing powers. The impressive Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) is famous for its enormous red paper lantern and fearsome guardian statues, while the temple approach is lined with shops selling traditional sweets and souvenirs. This area was the centre of Shitamachi (downtown) during the Edo period and the streets, shops and restaurants surrounding the temple still preserve something of the flavour of old Edo. The great Sanja festival takes place annually in Asakusa on the third weekend in May. Over one hundred mikoshi (portable shrines) are paraded through the streets, accompanied by great celebration and huge crowds. Admission to the temple is free and definitely worth a visit.

 

 

Ueno Park

This is the location of the last stand in 1868 where 2000 of the Tokugawa shogunate or Samurais fought the new imperial army. This is where many people believe Japan officially became westernized and today you can visit the Nikko Toshogu Shrine. This area also has the highest concentration of museums in the city and it’s a great place to spend the day and see some art museums and the the city zoo. For more information on Ueno Park go to www.nmwa.go.jp, www.tnm.jp  or www.tokyo-zoo.net

 

 

Omotesando

This wide avenie street is often called Tokyo’s Champs – Élysées for its abundance of shops and the more than 100,000 cars that drive down the street every day. Here you will find all the big designer shops and also the local toy store of Kiddyland (www.kiddyland.co.jp), which is a local favourite. 

 


Ginza

This is huge shopping area of the city, where you will find every designer label you are trying to look for. It was home to Tokyo’s first department store and the first area to modernize when Japan opened its ports to trade in 1870s.

 


Tsukiji Fish Market

This huge fish market caters for the cities 70,000 restaurants, as this is where all the seafood in the city comes in from. It opens at 10am and it’s a good place to get some cheap food.


 

Odaiba

Also known as Rainbow Town, this is a group of artificial islands in Tokyo Bay, is billed as Tokyo’s ‘Waterfront Town for the 21st Century’. The focus of much futuristic development, the area incorporates prestigious business premises, parks, tourist attractions and spectacular modern architecture. The Fuji Television Center, the Decks Tokyo Beach shopping and restaurant complex and the Tokyo International Exhibition Centre are fast becoming Tokyo’s new landmarks, while the ship-shaped Museum of Maritime Science has excellent displays and hands-on exhibits. For more information on admission prices please go to www.funenokagakukan.or.jp

 


Mt Fuji / Hakune

Mt Fuji is located 100km west of Tokyo and is the countries most familiar symbol. It’s Japan’s highest mountain at over 3775m and the volcanic cone is one of the most famous volcanoes in the world. On a clear day you can see its snow mountain top from Tokyo. Mt Fuji has erupted 16 times and the last was in 1707 when the streets of Tokyo were filled with volcanic ash. The Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, which Mt Fuji is located in, has an entrance fee to get in, but the park offers hot spring resorts, golf courses and facilities for fishing, camping, hiking, swimming and boating. If want to do an organized tour of the park that can be organised locally when you are in Tokyo. For more information go to www.mt-fuji.com

 

 

 

 

Hiroshima


Unfortunately, Hiroshima is known around the world as the city which was destroyed by the world’s first atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. Every year, millions of visitors come to the city to pay their respects in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum. The park, which was reconstructed in 1949, is home to many famous monuments and buildings, including the Children’s Peace Monument and the A-Bomb Dome, which was built in 1915. It’s a beautiful city and everyone should come and see these graphic museums, so this unfortunate event never takes place again. For more information go to www.tourism.city.hiroshima.jp or www.hiroshima-navi.or.jp 

 

Hiroshima Genbaku Dome

Hiroshima’s Genbaku Dome is the only structure remaining in the city centre that predates the 1945 atom bomb drop that put an end to World War II. The rest of the city has been rebuilt around this structure; it stands as Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial. The ruins of the dome are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

 

 

 


Kyoto


Located in the Kansai area of the country, this is arguably the most visited area of the country. The Kyoto environmental agreement and Geisha culture are probably two of the things most people associate with Kyoto. This former Imperial capital and the neighbouring cities of Uji and Otsu are abundant with hundreds of beautiful sites, as it has been the centre of Japanese culture for more than 1,000 years. The things you should definitely check out are the amazing temples and beautiful castles, which are all within a short drive of one another. Thirteen of Kyoto’s Buddhist temples, three Shinto shrines and one castle are designated World Heritage sites.

 

Nijo Castle

This Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa shogun. The castle has many chambers with several different rooms. There is an admission price and it’s well worth a visit to see a bit into the local shogun history.

 

Sanjusangendo Temple

This temple was built in 1164, but was burnt down in 1249 and only to be rebuilt again in 1266. The temple refers to the 33 sanjusan (bays) between the pillars of this narrow building that houses over a 1000 statues of the 1000-armed Kannon (the Buddhist goddess of mercy). There is an admission price to get in, but it is well worth the price.

 

Horyu-ji Temples

In the heart of the Nara, which is 1 hour south of Kyoto, lays the 48 Buddhist monuments of Horyu-ji. The monuments are thought to be one of the oldest surviving wooden buildings in the world, as they date back to the 7th century. The temples were built around the same time Buddhism was introduced to the country by China, so it gives some insight to some of Japan’s religious history.  Nara itself is worth a visit as it has eight World Heritage Sights

 

 

 


Osaka


This is one of the countries most beautiful and largest countries and unfortunately was almost completely flattened during World War II. The Osaka Castle and the Osaka Museum of History are the two biggest attractions in the city, as they both give great insight into the history of the city. Another big attraction, which recently opened is Universal Studios Japan, which has recently opened. It’s a 140-acre theme park that has become extremely popular between locals and visitors to the city.

 

 

 

 

The Rest of Japan


Nagano

This beautiful Japanese city and is located in an area that has loads of skiing and hot spring resorts. This is Japan’s fourth largest city and it hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics and the whole world saw just how beautiful it really is. Two other attractions are the Nagoya Castle, which is amazing and the Atsuta Jingu, one of Japan’s most important shrines.

 

Himeji Castle

Fans of the James Bond films (or Bondo-san as he’s known here) will recognise Himeji immediately. This castle was used as Tiger Tanaka’s secret Ninja training school in You Only Live Twice. In recent years Unesco has added it to its list, as it’s the best surviving example of a Japanese feudal castle. The castle its self was built in the 17th century during the Shogun period and it has 82 buildings that are definitely worth a visit.

 

Shirakami – Sanchi

This huge preserved park is the last remaining virgin forest of Siebold’s beech trees left in Japan. The forest is also home to the black bear, the serow goat and over 80 species of different types of birds.

 

Nijo Castle

This castle was built in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was one of Japan’s most powerful shoguns and founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The shoguns ruled Japan for a total of 700 years between the 13th and 19th centuries, with Tokugawa Ieyasu founding his dynasty in 1600. It was built as a symbol of his power; the castle is filled with many fine works of art, including beautiful paintings of trees and animals by some of Japan’s most famous artists of the period. There is an admission price of ¥600, which is subject to change, but its well worth a look.

 

Shirakawa – go and Gokayama

This area is in a remote area of the country in central Honshu. It was cut off from the rest of the world for centuries and its like going back in time. The locals live in Gassho-style houses, which add to the beauty of seeing this ancient area of the country. It can be a mission to get there, but if you do make it you will be glad you did make it to get a chance to see how the Japanese once lived.

 

Okinawa

There are 161 islands that make up Okinawa and they lie 1000km from the southern tip of Kyushu and only 100km from Taiwan. It’s always been symbolic to the Japanese and during World War II it was the site of some of the most furious fighting during the whole of the war. Today, the subtropical climate, clear turquoise seas and many fine beaches mean that the islands are a holiday favourite among the Japanese. If you are into diving then this is an excellent area of Japan to go to. The island also was war memorials, which must be visited if you come to the island, so you can pay your respects to those who lost their lives during the war.

 

 



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