Japan is an ancient country, built on strong traditions of beauty, formality, respect for harmony and appreciation of nature. These characteristics can be found throughout the country. If you’re lucky enough to visit Japan, consider some of these cities and sites to visit to make sure you really take in the beauty and harmony of Japan and it’s culture. You won’t regret it!
The nation’s capital and one of the world’s biggest and most important cities, Tokyo is certainly on everyone’s list of places to visit.
Senso-Ji Temple was built in 645 AD, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple and one of the oldest in Japan. The large red gates are famous, and are a must-see for visitors. The five story pagoda temple was mostly destroyed by bombing in World War II, but it was painstakingly reconstructed and is still absolutely breathtaking to visit.
Hachiko Square in the Shibuya area of Tokyo is the busiest place in the city. The square is named after a loyal dog Hachiko. Hachiko would wait for his owner every day at the nearby train station. The owner died while at work and never returned to the station. Hachiko nevertheless went to the station every day for nearly ten years, hoping each day his owner would return. His loyalty became legendary, and the vibrant square is named in his honor.
Just south of Tokyo is Kamakura, a former capital city of Japan full of ancient cultural and religious sites, including the Great Buddha, or Daibutsu, which is a bronze statue over 40 feet high that was built around 1200 AD.
A temple surrounding the Buddha was destroyed in 1498, and the Buddha has since sat in the open air, where he has found harmony in the world in spite of his surroundings.
At over 12,000 feet, Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest and most famous mountain. Visible from Tokyo on clear days, the mountain’s pristine beauty provides a stark contrast to the bustling city. It’s cone is nearly symmetrical, and is covered in snow about half the year, contributing to it’s picturesque feel.
Mount Fuji is an active volcano that last erupted in 1708, but visitors are able to hike to it’s summit, and over one million people do it annually.
The mountain has a long history in Japanese culture, in religious creation myths as well as romantic and historical poetry. Because of it’s scared nature, women were not allowed to summit the mountain until the 1800s.
Kyoto holds the essence of Japan, full of history and culture including geisha, maintained in authentic traditions.
Many cities have a “Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Alley”, but Kyoto’s is among the best. The beauty, peace and romantic feel of the trees and landscaping make this a top destination for anyone in Japan in March or April.
Kinkaku-Ji, or the Golden Pavilion Temple, is one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist destinations. Dating back to the 1300s, the pavilion burnt down in the 1950s, but has been rebuilt, paying tribute to different Japanese architectural styles.
Another one of Kyoto’s beautiful sites are the Sagano Bamboo Groves, some of the most beautiful woodlands in the world. Visitors can walk or bike around the woodlands, have tea within the forest in specially designed restaurants, and enjoy the blending of natural and man made beauty.
Most cities in Japan are especially recognized because of their ancient history, but Hiroshima is famous for more recent history. In 1945, the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an effort to end World War II. Many thousands of civilians died, and the war ended shortly thereafter, but the repercussions of the bomb continue to be felt today.
The Peace Memorial is centered around the only building left standing at the epicenter of the bomb, which has been preserved in it’s state immediately after the bomb blast to remind visitors of what happened at that site .It is an important and stark site, which leaves a strong impression on those who visit it.
Surrounding the Memorial is the Peace Memorial Park, dedicated to the legacy of the bomb blast and to the commemoration of its victims. It has several memorials and statues paying respect to the dead, including a special memorial for the children who suffered. The memorial and park focus not only on commemorating the event and aftermath, but emphasize the need for peace throughout the world.
Not all of Hiroshima and it’s surrounding area was destroyed in the blast. Much of Japan’s signature ancient architecture and landscaping are still evident in the region.
Itsukushima Shrine, built on the Itsukushima Island, is an ancient sacred place that has housed several shrines and temples over the years. The one visible today was built on piers in the bay so that it would appear to float during high tide, with a special gate famous throughout all Japan.
The gate can be visited on foot during low tide, or by boat during high tide. The shrine and gate have significant symbolism and deep meaning to Japanese and Shinto followers.
Anyone planning a trip should expect to spend much of their journey being impressed, in awe and without words at the natural beauty, stunning architecture, efforts to blend the two in harmony, and the crazy bustle of the megacities throughout Japan. It will instill a desire for more beauty, harmony and peace in your own life long after you leave the island.