So everyone knows that when you go to Japan you always start in Tokyo. There is everything and being one of the biggest cities in the world, it can get easy to get lost and wander for days. However, to really dive into it all and want to find out what the country and people are about, you should really venture west and take in two cities, Kyoto and Hiroshma.
Kyoto, situated between the major cities of Nagoya and Osaka, used to be the capitol of the country for over a thousand years until around 1868 when it was moved to Tokyo. There are so many monuments to see and places to meander you are definitely going to need a few days to fit it all in.
To the east of the main train station and not even that far of a walk is my favorite area, Kiyomizu-dera, which means temple of pure water. There are a few temples within the whole complex that is built under a small waterfall, thus the name, and at one point it pours out for people to drink. On a hot Japanese day, the water is cool, fresh, and also said to have wish granting powers.
There are a few more shrines you absolutely have to check off your list. First, start with Kinkaku-ji, known as the Golden Pavilion. Situated in the northwest pocket of the city, it is easily reachable from a few of the local buses that leave from the main train station. It is the center of a park and is an old Buddhist temple completely plated in solid gold.
To really end your day, I suggest heading to the west end of the city to the bamboo park, Arashiyama. There is a local train that takes you to the station of the same name. At the end of a day of site seeing this park is just great for a slow stroll among the tall bamboo trees that canopy the paths.
Don’t forget to head to the south of the city for its famous Fushimi Inari-taisha. This shrine was made famous from the popular movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’ It is a path that climbs up a small mountain to a shrine at the top. The entire path is covered with approximately 32,000 red tori shrines. The climb itself take about 2 hours but is fun to get lost in and recreate some of the scenes from the movie or just for your own unique photo ops.
- Side trip
From Kyoto, the tiny town of Nara is very accessible. It is a cozy little town with a few monuments and temples to visit that is definitely worth your time. Don’t be surprised if you get followed or perhaps nibbled on by the local deer, which graze around looking for tourists to feed them. They are usually friendly, but can be a bit snappy if they want to eat something out of your hands.
Once you have had your take here, head a few hours southwest on the train to beautiful Hiroshima. Although the center of one of the worst disasters in history, this city is rebuilt, thriving and an absolute gem to walk around. Don’t let its moment in time make you think there is nothing here. From shopping, to monuments, to one of the symbols of Japan, it has everything you need for an amazing trip.
At the heart of the city lies the ‘T’ bridge that was the target of the atomic bomb which was dropped in 1945. It is now one of the entrances to the lovely peace park and memorial that you can walk around with numerous monuments and leftovers from that day. On the east side of the park across the canal stands the ‘A’ bomb dome, one of the few building left standing from that day. At the center of the park sits an peace flame that will not be distinguished until all nuclear weapons in the world have been destroyed. At the south of the park is the museum itself that details the city before and after the bomb drop. It is not for the faint of heart and can get you quiet emotional as you walk thru as they attempt to show you what all those people went thru during this time.
A short train south of the city lies the park of Miyajima. It is actually a small island that is reached by a short ferry. It is a tiny mountain of an island that again inhabits many deer grazing around and trying to nibble on your backpack for food. If you hike or take the cable car to the top of the mountain for great views around, there are numerous monkeys that will make you welcome and look for some treats from you also. Back down the mountain and a short walk from where the ferry lets you off is the reason why you came here. The famous floating tori stands just off shore and depending the time of day due to tides, it is sometimes reachable by just a small walk, and other times of the day surrounded by a few feet of water. Either way it makes for stunning photos.
On a side note, the Hiroshima area is known for a dish called okonomiyaki. The name is quiet a tongue twister but worth the mouth full. It is essentially an omelet pancake make of eggs, cabbage, bean sprouts, some diced pork, and I would suggest getting some squid chopped into that. Yum…
Whatever you do, if you get a chance to go to Japan, check out these cities. These, and the amazingly friendly Japanese people will make your trip immensely memorable. Sayōnara!