Japan’s finest castle, Himeji-jo in cherry blossom season around early April. Photo by 663highland
Why Travel to Japan?
This is a superb, confusing, fascinating, crammed and amusing country, full of contradictions – not least of which is the mix of ultra high technology with revered ancient traditions.
There are few ‘big’ sights other than religious structures, but plenty of absorbing little sights, from the ubiquitous white gloves of service personnel to fantasy dining spots in Tokyo, musicians in Yoyogi park, funky old Akachochin restaurants, weird otaku (geek) habits. . .
And as far as crime is concerned Japan is one of the safest destinations in the world.
Tokyo Tower, one of the most recognised landmarks of Tokyo, a view from the World Trade Centre in Hamamatsu-cho in dusk. Photo by Kakidai
A monstrous ants nest of a city scattered with neon-rampant action centres, impressive shrines and temples, stunning shopping and eating and quite a lot of oddities. Our top four must-see areas are Harajuku+Shibuya+Meiji-Jingu Shrine; Yasukuni Shrine+ Imperial Palace; Asakusa; Roppongi.
Shinjuku for wild night lights, bars/restaurants and action. Yakuza are visible but don’t trouble tourists.
Akihabara is the absurd geek zone.
Ginza/Nihonbashi. An old-fashioned upmarket shopping and traditional theatre zone.
Shibuya, within walking distance of Harajuku – which is unusual in Tokes – offers great shopping and is VERY colourful and busy at night.
Imperial Palace is the big sight but doesn’t need much time; you can walk to Yasukuni Shrine and Ginza from there.
Asakusa is the spot for old buildings, a grand temple and traditions.
Tsukiji Fish Market. The world’s biggest wholesale fish and seafood market and one of major and the best sushi dining places, tho’ to do it properly you need to be there really early, like 6am.
Roppongi, newish, upmarket with great bars, nightlife, museums and odd buildings, but rather too many gaijin (foreigners).
Odaiba, the new entertainment island in Tokyo Bay.
Harajuku/Omotesando, a young, uber-trendy shopping area 2 minutes walk from wacky Yoyogi Park scenes at weekends or magnificent Meiji-Jingu Shrine anytime. Shibuya is just 15 minutes walk down interesting Cat Street.
Worthwhile Places Near Tokyo
Known as ‘Little Kyoto’, due to its scenery and ancient structures it specialises in pottery, lacquer-ware and dyed silks, with one superb garden attraction (photo above) and several more modest assets easily accessible via a hop-on hop-off tourist bus running from the central station.
The Kenroku-en gardens (one of Japan’s top three gardens, along with those of Mito and Okayama) are opposite Kanazawa Castle and previously the castle’s private park. This is an absolute must for garden-control freaks. A kind of grown-up bonsai arrangement of dramatically shaped and supported trees, moss-cloaked ground latticed with streams and rocks and strategically placed stone lanterns. This is a magical place, especially if the sun’s shining, the cherry trees are blossoming and there’s a small glass of saké in your hand.
Otherwise, the Castle Park is worth a walk. The Higashi Geisha district is quaint (but don’t expect to see geishas there) with a particularly attractive gold leaf shop/factory; the Nagamachi Samurai district’s mud walls and canals are calm and evocative and make a great stroll; the narrow streets of Teramachi is home to the tour-only Ninja hideout Myoryu-ji.
The town also has a couple of excellent museums, especially the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.
A huge welcome gate to Miyajima, one of Japan’s three most celebrated scenic sights. Photo by Bernard Gagnon
**Hiroshima and Miyajima
**Hiroshima was ground zero for the first atomic bomb. The most important feature of the city is the Peace Memorial Park, one of Japan’s top 10 destinations for foreign visitors today.
Off the coast of Hiroshima in Seto Inland Sea the island of Itsukushima known as Miyajima (Shrine Island) with its iconic watery tori gate, has been one of Japan’s three most celebrated sights for centuries.
A museum and park dedicated to the Atomic bomb, a fine recreation of old European homes in the south and a full-scale, lived in Dutch town in the north.
Yokohama, Osaka, Kyushu, Hokkaido, Okinawa. It’s hardly worth going there unless it’s for a festival or some special interest or you have lots of time.
Pristine Yonaha Maehama beach in Miyakojima, Okinawa, which is considered to be the most beautiful beach in Japan. Photo by 663highland
A series of subtropical islands (49 inhabited and 111 uninhabited) between Kyushu, southern main island of Japan and Taiwan, with splendid beaches and unspoiled coral reefs. This southernmost prefecture is not just a great beach destination but also offers a fascinating native culture of Ryukyu Kingdom from the architecture to the food.