Ten More Great Places to Visit in Japan
Ten More Great Places to Visit in Japan
Asakusa, Tokyo. Sitting on the banks of the Sumida River, Asakusa is a neat little cho in Tokyo best known for shopping, festivals, entertainment, and its famous Kannon, also known as Sensoji, a Buddhist temple. The bright red buildings of the Kannon are framed by a long row of shops stalls that lead to the temple. Asakusa is also well known for its ryokan, or traditional Japanese inns, and its geishas. Its relaxed atmosphere and attractions make it a draw for older Japanese tourists and budget travelers.
Heian Shrine, Kyoto. This brilliantly orange Shinto shrine is best seen at sunset or sunrise when the colors are strongly accented. Constructed in 1895, the shrine is framed by one of the largest torii (gate) in Japan. The main buildings are said to be a three-quarter model of the Kyoto imperial palace and in fact the shrine was built to commemorate the 1100 year anniversary of the city’s establishment.
Iriomote. Mangrove-lined rivers, jungles, waterfalls, granite mountains, and an elusive wildcat found nowhere else in the world, have given this island its nickname as the ‘New Guinea of Japan’. With only 5000 inhabitants it contradicts Japan’s crowded image. Ferries to the island run from IshigakiCity and package tours are available. It’s probably best to take a POV or pack a bike and see it on your own terms – as there is much to see and explore and a hurried trip just doesn’t do justice.
Kamikochi. The town is mostly a bunch of pre-fab buildings but the setting makes all the difference. This little tourist village at the base of Hotaka-dake (3190 meters, 10466’), the country’s third tallest mountain, has unbelievable scenery. It’s easy to get to by POV, but if you don’t have a car, a series of train trips and bus rides will eventually land you at the spot. Perched along the flame-blue, braided Azusa River, whose rock flour gives it a beautiful light blue hue, Kamikochi is a haven for hikers in the summer. From the village, paths set out to all points of the compass and the views, weather permitting, are among the best in the Japan Alps. Serious climbers set out to tackle the Daikretto, Japan’s awesome arête which connects Hotaka-dake and the spear-like, Yarigataka, Japan’s fifth tallest (3180 meters). For those wary of heights, a walk along the Azusa River yields incredible views in any direction.
Kurashiki. Halfway between Osaka and Hiroshima is Kurashiki. This town is a faithful example of what a Japanese city looked like before the Meiji Restoration. Head to the canal, where old textile warehouses line the quiet, pedestrians-only street that line the city’s most interesting attraction: the 300-year-old rice warehouses and residences astride the canals. The city also has a strong arts community with good museums, both traditional and international in scope. The Ohara Museum should not be missed. Many of the old buildings now house traditional arts and crafts stores.
Matsuyama Castle. Overlooking Shikoku’s largest city, Matsuyama Castle, in Matsuyama, is one of the twelve castles in the country to survive bombings, earthquakes, and fires. In other words, it is a fine original.From the air, the castle grounds resemble a green square in the center of a concrete sea.The castle dates to 1603 although the current structure was built between 1820 and 1854. Some damage was sustained during World War II, but it was not flattened.Also in Matsuyama is the famous Dogo Onsen, which has the oldest hot spring bath house in the country resembling a Shinto shrine.
Okinawa castles. Five of Okinawa’s castles are nicely restored and open to visitors. There are dozens of other castle remains across the island that range from piles of rubble, to jumbled walls, to simply a monument that marks where an old gusuku stood. The ‘fab five’ are worth visits and are all unique despite sharing similar characteristics such as snaking stone walls and command of high ground. Shuri Castle in Naha, beautifully restored to its pre-war appearance, was formerly the seat of the Okinawan royalty. It is the most ornate and largest of the castles and sits atop a high hill overlooking Okinawa’s largest city. It is also the most visited attraction on the island, if not the prefecture. Nakagusuku Castle, in south central Okinawa commands a beautiful view of both the Pacific Ocean and East China Sea. It was visited by Commodore Perry during his mid-century voyage to open Japan up to trade. Zakimi Castle near Yomitan, has beautifully restored walls and great views of the East China Sea. Katsuren, similar Yomitan, can be easily spotted from the road atop its perch and is close to the Pacific side of the island. In the far north, or Yonbaru, Nakijin Castle is famous for its February cherry blossom festival and is characterized by long walls that enclose the grounds. After Shuri, it is the second largest. All five castles are UNESCO World heritage sites.
Taketomi. Ever wondered what Japan was like before modernization? This is the place to come. What makes it more interesting is it location – on a sub-tropical island in Japan’s most southern prefecture. Taketomi has the dual honors of being a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as a Japanese “Living Treasure”. Accessible by a fifteen minute ferry ride from Ishigaki City harbor, Taketomi can be explored by foot, bicycle, or buffalo cart. The traditional houses, surrounded by limestone typhoon walls, are still inhabited by the island’s residents. Other activities that make the trip worthwhile are snorkeling off the island’s various beaches
Tanigawa Onsen. Been to one hot spring you’ve been to them all I suppose? Without trying this Japanese time-honored way to relax, you missed out on something that is integral to the country. So what sets Tanigawa onsen apart from the thousands of others that dot the islands? Maybe the setting. Up in the mountains, the surroundings are beautiful and that’s why it’s best to come in the fall when the mountains and hills are ablaze in fall colors. Located north of Tokyo in Gunma prefecture, it is a long day trip from Tokyo, so plan appropriately.
Tochigi. Except for being the namesake of a prefecture north of Tokyo, the city of Tochigi is not well-advertised. It deserves a second look as an easy day trip from Tokyo. Having survived World War II intact this small city has a surprising number of historical monuments that pre-date the Meiji Restoration. A walk along the Uzuma River through the center of the city will take you past historic buildings that date from the Edo period. Tochigi played an important role because of its river port and as a stop along the highway to Nikko. Other sites worth seeing are the Tsukada warehouse, Yokoyama wholesale store, and the Okada house. Above the city is Ohira-yama, which has a well-known shrine (Ohira-san shrine) and temple (Rokkaku do). Huge cedar trees can be seen along the road leading to the summit.
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