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7 Places you must visit in Japan

Photo credit - John Camilleri

Many describe Japan as the window into the future, achieving a coveted, unique balance between technology and nature. The skyscrapers, bright neon lights, and advanced lifestyle so keenly associated with cities like Tokyo can be easily juxtaposed with the dream-like beauty of places like Mount Fuji, the idyllic bamboo forest, and the multitude of temples and gardens sprinkled over cities like Nara and Kyoto. It is the country where bus drivers wear white gloves, and old cities still look new. Above all, it is a culture that demands perfection.

Nara

Nara is home to no less than a whopping 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is Japan’s first capital. Established in the year 710 (at which point it was known as Heijo), the ancient city is bursting at its seems with historic treasures, including some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples.

Todaiji is one of Japan’s most famous, ancient, and opulent temples in Nara. Constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan, its main hall, the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) is the world’s largest wooden building. The massive building houses one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha (Daibutsu). The 15 meters tall, seated Buddha represents Vairocana and is flanked by two Bodhisattvas.

A number of events are hosted at Todaiji Temple, the most esteemed one being Otalmatsu. After sunset on every night from 1st till 14th March, giant torches are carried up to Nigatsudo’s balcony and held over the crowd. The visual beauty of the temple, the spectacle of burning red embers, and the ambiance created by the locals who attend this ritual creates an unforgettable evening where you truly get to feel one with Japanese culture.

Aside from the Todaiji temple, a vacation to Nara must include a visit to Horyuji Temple, founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku, a world heritage site and host to some of the oldest statues of Buddha, and the Nara park.

Mount Fuji

One of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains” along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku, Fuji is the highest mountain peak in Japan, and it lies just about 100 kilometers south-west of Tokyo, from where it can be seen.  Mount Fuji’s sacred beauty has inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries. Seven shrines, lakes, hot springs, lava molds, the Shiraito Falls, Miho no Matsubara pine tree grove, and the remains of the ancient Fuji-kō cult in the Hitoana Cave are all recognized as sites of cultural interest by Unesco, who added Mount Fuji as a World Heritage Site in 2013.

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji

Tokyo

In the 12th century, it was a small fishing village named Edo; by the 18th century, this small town became one of the largest cities in the world and was renamed Tokyo. Now, it ranks first in the world in nightlife, helpfulness of locals, cleanliness, transportation, and shopping. Despite being the most technologically advanced and one of the most luxurious cities in the world, 36% of its area is covered by forest.

Although there is no way one can explore all Tokyo has to offer in one visit, we recommend visiting Ginza – a popular upscale shopping area of Tokyo and one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world. It is home to leading fashion houses’ flagship stores such as Chanel, Carolina Herrera, Dior, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton and massive retail stores like the Sony showroom and the Apple store. Its main street is closed off to road traffic, allowing people to walk freely.

GInza Shopping District - Tokyo

GInza Shopping District – Tokyo

Located in central Tokyo, between the Ginza shopping district and the iconic Sumida River is the Tsukiji fish market, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest of any kind. One can find more than 400 types of seafood, from cheap seaweed to the most expensive and exclusive caviar.

Tsukiji Fish Market Photo credit: John Camilleri

Tsukiji Fish Market Photo credit: John Camilleri

Tsukiji Fish Market
Photo credits: John Camilleri

Kamakura

Take the bullet-train and visit the coastal city of Kamakura – host to a large number of seasonal festivals and also home to ancient Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples. It is less than an hour south of Tokyo, and its sand beaches make it a popular tourist destination during the summer months; moreover, its wooded hills make it the perfect place to go hiking.

Nagano

Another must visit are Japan’s most photogenic residents, the snow monkeys. Visitors get to observe the bathing primates spend their day soaking in the natural hot springs of the snowy Japanese Alps. Afterwards, one can enjoy their own soak in a traditional onsen in one of the country’s most famous hotspring, the Yudunaka Onsen. Albeit being a whopping 240 kilometers away from Tokyo, a trip to Nagano only takes 90 minutes by bullet train.

Kyoto

Formerly the Imperial capital of Japan for more than one thousand years, it was saved from the destruction brought about World War II because the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, wanted to save the city that is home to 2000 religious places – 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto temples along with a number palaces, gardens, and architectural masterpieces.

We suggest visiting Kiyomizu-dera, a magnificent wooden temple supported by pillars off the slope of a mountain; Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden and Silver Pavilions respectively; and Ryōan-ji, famous for its rock garden. Furthermore, the Katsura Imperial Villa, one of the nation’s finest architectural treasures; and Shugakuin Imperial Villa, one of its best Japanese gardens, are a must see.

 

Kinkaku-Ji

Kinkaku-Ji

Hanami

Not technically a place, because Hanami is celebrated everywhere in Japan, but it must be included nonetheless. Hanami, meaning “flower viewing” is a centuries-old Japanese traditional custom of paying homage to the transient beauty of flowers. From the end of March to early May, Sakura bloom all over Japan. Paper lanterns are hung at the Ueno park, and on the island of Okinawa, decorative electric lanterns are hung on the trees. Celebrations include local culinary delights such as dango and bento, the popular drink, sake, and the playing of music.

Sakura

Sakura

Intrigued? Take a step into one of the most unique cultures in the world with Bianchi Travel – Lufthansa City Centre, who will make sure to coordinate a perfect trip to the country of everything that is perfect, gentle, and cute.

Photo credit: John Camilleri

Photo credit: John Camilleri

 


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