Experience the Spirit of Japan
We often call it the Land of the Rising Sun, as it is the first land at which morning arrives and heralds a new day for everyone westward. In similarly historical meaning, Japan is often referred to as a cradle of civilization. It has set a path for humanity to follow in terms of politics, military, lifestyle, culture and technology. From the glossy gadgets and skyscrapers that have come to epitomize modernity in its big cities to the traditional, delicate architecture that summon to the mind the country’s rich history, there are a spate of activities and sights you can indulge in when you go there.
Where? Japan (Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku)
Best Time to Visit? If you’d like to take part in winter activities, then the months of December-February are ideal for you. I’d recommend the season of spring (March-May), if only for the flourishing of the flowers in its exquisite gardens.
Once the capital of Japan for over thousand of years, it is abundant with ancient relics and structures. Temples such as Kinkaju-ji and Ginkaju-ji display the grace with which Japanese spirituality had been celebrated in past. For those who admire dazzling lights in the night, I’d suggest the Fushimi Inara-taisha, a shrine that sits at the base of a mountain and is lined with illuminated gates that would provide a backdrop for some brilliant nighttime photography. If you want to explore one of the many famous Imperial gardens, look no further than Eikan-do Zenrin Buddhist temple complex, where you not only see a range of temples and shrines but the brightest trees and plants, such as the ones above in the photo.
As one might expect, you could be exhausted of seeing multiple temples and gardens. In that case, you should get your fill of Japanese cuisine at restaurants such as Omen, where you can taste some yummy Udon noodles or Menbakaichidai, a food destination for someone interested in bold Japanese flavours. If you want to take your food curiosities a step further, please take your time strolling through the Nishiki market, where you’ll find your fair share of picked vegetables, sauces, fish and other Japanese specialties. For teens and adult geeks, please spare some time for an hour or two at the Kyoto International Manga Musuem. Manga has become an identifier for modern Japanese fine arts and has amassed an international following so it is worth it to see the origin and range of this fandom. Other places to relax are the Kyoto Botanical Gardens, Iwatayama Monkey Park and Kamo River.
Hokkaido, as the northernmost island of Japan, is subject to cold temperatures and yet, with its array of mountains and hills, an assortment of winter activities can be sought there. For those interested in skiing, please book your stay at the city of Furano, perhaps at the Furano Ski resort, where you’ll be able to revel among the snow, the lavender farms and wine connoisseurs. Similarly the city of Sapporo also offers a wide variety of winter activities. The highlight is certainly the Sapporo Snow Festival, where you will be amazed by the snow sculptures and ice-carved structures. It’s also celebrated for its love of beer, as is the case of the Sapporo Brewery, if you wish to learn what the drink culture of the place is.
Other landmarks of the Hokkaido include Lake Toya, where you can brush up on your nature photography with its collection of volcanoes, hot springs, rock formations and water bodies. Head to Otaru, for its adorable canal and its pristine glasswork collection, yet another milestone in Japanese art. The world loves Ramen noodles, so it is indeed imperative that you check out the city that invented it in Asahikawa and taste its authentic Ramen with some good ol sake.
Mount Fuji is perhaps the most notable natural attraction in the country of Japan and rightfully so. The Fuji Five Lakes, located at the base of the mountain, were formed as a result of successive volcanic eruptions. You will be able to do a variety of activities by and in the lake, such as cycling, hiking, boating and the such. Many of these lakes are connected by underground waterways so be sure to travel through those. With the mountain surrounded by bodies of water, it is surely a breathtaking site to be adored and remembered for the rest of your lives. While you’re circling around the Mountain, leave out a separate day to climb onto the Japanese Alps. Recommended for the physically adventurous, it can be grueling trek but the visual rewards might prove to be worth it. Similarly Mount Tate is another mountain, lush with greenery and peace, that anyone can access via mountaineering, cycling and trail-hiking.
Though the typical tourist begins with traditional locations such as the Mejji Shrine and the Tokyo Imperial Palace, who are no doubt very fascinating in what they exhibit in term of temples, gardens and classic Japanese architecture, it’s evident that Tokyo lies spaces above the history and the structures. It is renowned for its eccentric culture, from the celebration of anime and manga to the strange food preparations to the fluttering life of the people who roam through. Where to start? You can begin at Harajuku, a neighbourhood in Tokyo where you can absorb the latest fashion and food trends among the youth who have made it their home. Restaurants such as Tendon Tenya and Mominoki House have made this area as a haven for the hipsters who want to enjoy in cozy corners. If you want to take your family out for a fun day by the water, look no further than Tokyo DisneySea, which recreates ports in styles of California, Venice and other themes taken from Disney. Book a few tickets and let the amusement park take you into its wonder.
For those who are taken by gorgeous trees and parks, Ueno Park is your paradise. The cherry blossoms and other flowers are so delightful to see that the Japanese language has a separate word for its rapture: hanami. Tokyo is also an international destination in terms of the Japanese cuisine and its many variations. Please visit the Tsukiji fish market if you wish to see and learn about the fish that is cured and transformed into the delicious food we love eating. If you wish to see the vivacious, glimmering city of Tokyo from above, take a few hours to go to the Tokyo Tower and gaze down at the city from above; you will seriously be fixated! For those who wish to incorporate themselves into the Tokyo nightlife, don’t forget to visit a few bars and restaurants at the Roppongi neighborhood.