Fuji-Hakone-Izu and the Japanese Alps
Fuji-san ( Fudjijama ), the highest mountain in Japan, is a special attraction. Fuji Five Lakes and Hakone, a hot spring resort, are worth visiting. The Izu Peninsula is known for its warm, subtropical climate. In recent years there have been more and more earthquakes in Izu, which indicate increased volcanic activity in the region.
The Japanese Alps in the center of the island of Honshu are very popular with mountaineers. Nagano, in the Northern Alps, was the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Nagoya, an important industrial city, is also the center of traditional handicrafts. It is close to Ise Shima National Park.
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Built in 794 AD in classical Chinese style, Kyoto was the religious, political and cultural center of Japan for centuries. The best way to explore the old imperial city is on foot. Dedicated to the first and last emperors in Kyoto, the Heian Shrine is impressive in its spaciousness and brilliant colors: its wooden beams and walls are crimson red, its painted roof tiles a bright green. A stroll along the Philosopher’s Walk ( Tetsugaku no michi ), along the eastern slopes of the city, is a good way to see some of Kyoto’s most important temples. Here lie the Nanzen-ji, an important Zen temple with a famous tofu restaurant, the Eikan-do, whose pagoda offers a good view of Kyoto, and the Ginkaku-ji, the silver temple, whose Zen rock garden is one of the most important in the country. In northern Kyoto lies the Kinkaku-ji, a gilded pavilion. Not far away is Ryoan-ji, also with an impressive Zen garden. In the many small “sub-temples” of the Daitoku-jione finds a welcome rest. One should definitely pay a visit to one of the beautiful gardens of Kyoto. Excursions from Kyoto are available, including to Himeji, where there is an ancient castle to visit, and up into the mountains to Uji, one of the settings of what is probably the oldest novel in human history, Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji the Prince), written around the year 1000 by Lady Murazaki, an imperial lady-in-waiting.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Hiroshima, on the west of the island of Honshu, was the target of the first US atomic bombing at the end of World War II. The Peace Memorial Park and the Atomic Bomb Dome, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996, commemorate this tragedy. Annually in May, Hiroshima hosts the Flower Festival, an event that attracts thousands of visitors. On the southern island of Kyushu is Nagasaki, the second target of the nuclear attacks on Japan. The city also has a Peace Park and an Atomic Bomb Museum. Glover Mansion (scene of »Madame Butterfly« and the oldest wooden house in Japan), the Chinese temple and Suwa Shrine are worth visiting. Kyushu is famous for its scenic beauty. Beppu Onsen hot springs and Mount Aso, the world’s largest active volcano, are worth seeing. The area around Unzen volcano has remained closed since the 1991 eruption.
Okinawa, an archipelago south of Kyushu, offers tropical beaches. Japanese and Southeast Asian cultural influences mix on these islands, which have belonged back to Japan since 1972.
Japan’s northernmost island, was only settled by Japanese during the last century. The indigenous people, the Ainu, are ethnically unrelated to the rest of the Japanese. They seek recognition of their cultural autonomy. Hokkaido’s greatest attraction is its pristine nature. Five national parks invite you to go hiking, cycling and skiing.
Nara is one of Japan’s oldest cities and is often referred to as the cradle of Japanese culture. One million visitors come every year to see the historic five-story Kofuku-ji Pagoda, ancient statues, shrines and temples. The famous Todai-ji Temple with the world’s largest wooden building and the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue impresses every visitor. In Nara Park, where most of the temples stand, there are hundreds of semi-tame deer that want to be fed. Outside of Nara there are several archaeological sites that boast some temples.
Tokyo and environs
There is a lot to see in the capital Tokyo : the Imperial Palace, which is situated in a park, the district of Asakusa (lively shopping and entertainment district) with one of the oldest temples in the country ( Asakusa Kannon ) and last but not least numerous temples, shrines and beautiful landscaped gardens. In Shibuya, to the west of the city, lies the national park with the Meiji Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji (1852-1912), who opened the country to the West. In this part of the city, you can get an eagle’s-eye view of the mega-metropolis of Tokyo from the Shibuya Sky viewing platform.
The historic town of Nikko
Nikko is two hours north of Tokyo in a national park. The city of Nikko is a popular tourist destination because of its magnificent temples and mausoleums. The style of the temples differs from that of the rest of the country: a strong Chinese influence is evident in the varied and colorful decorations. The carving depicting the three monkeys (Toshogu Shrine), the first covering his eyes, the second covering his ears and the third covering his mouth, is the most famous of this temple district. A few kilometers above Nikko is Lake Chuzenji, which is very scenic. The region around Nikko is famous for the autumn colors of its trees: if you want to spend a few days here in September or October you have to book well in advance.
The Bōsō Peninsula can only be reached relatively quickly from Tokyo by car. The attractions of the city of Kamogawa, as well as the hot springs and beaches at Kamogawa are popular destinations for visitors. The seaside quasi-national park of Minami-Bōsō attracts hikers, nature lovers, campers and water sports enthusiasts.
Music on the island of Sado
Off the west coast of Honshu, not far from Niigata, lies the island of Sado, scenically attractive and the site of an interesting music festival every August, which is put on by a traditional drumming group (kodo) and attracts musicians from all over the world. Another attraction on the remote island of Sado is the Toki Forest Park and Museum.