Great Places – Japan

     Japan is a thoroughly modern country which is extremely proud of its history and culture. As a result, a great effort is made to preserve and protect its heritage. Some of the countries best travel sites are highlighted below. Look for a photo album showcasing these sights soon.
     1. Kyoto
            Kyoto, Japan’s capital city for over 1,000 years, is truly rich in history and tradition, and, notwithstanding Tokyo’s importance today, should be the major destination for travelers to Japan. The city boasts over 1,000 temples, 3 imperial palaces, 9 major museums, several notable gardens, and more World Heritage Sites than any other city except Rome, making Kyoto somewhat daunting, but a three-day visit should be able to accommodate most of these very special sights.
            In the eastern part of the city, tourists should not miss Ginkaku-ji, a villa-turned-temple, with its traditional gardens, a pond garden and a dry garden. Chion-in is one of Japan’s largest temples. Kiyomizudera is cut into a mountainside and provides a glorious view of the city. Nanzen-ji, and its neighbor, Konchi-in, also merit a visit.
           In the western part of the city, notable sights include Ryoanji Temple, which is world-famous for its dry garden, Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and Koryugi, with its 1,500 year old wooden statue of Miroku Bosatsu, an extremely serene Buddha. Also to the west is the suburb of Arashiyama, which has two important sights, Katsura Rikyu, with its serene setting and tranquil gardens, and, the very special Koinzan Saiho-ji, known as the Moss Temple, because of its internationally renowned moss garden. Both of these latter sights require special permission to visit and reservations must be requested in advance.
           Central Kyoto has two must-sees: Nijo Castle with its incredible, ornate opulence, and the Byodo-in Temple, which dates to the 11th century.
           Stroll the Gion district, in the eastern part of the city, in the evening, to get a glimpse of Geisha girls, with their white, porcelain faces, on their way to their appointments.
     2. Tokyo
           Tokyo, Japan, is a true mega-city, with over 23 million people in its metropolitan area, and an economy which is larger than Canada’s. Navigating the streets is extremely difficult, even for locals, because of the unusual address system, but public transport is fast and efficient, plus there are many signs in English. The city is much more about goods and services, and less about tourist attractions. As a matter of fact, much of Tokyo’s tourism revolves around products.
           One must-see attraction is Tokyo’s wholesale fish market, in Tsukiji, the largest in the world, which offers just about everything that swims in the ocean. Another interesting commercial sight is Akihabara, Electronic City, which boasts all the high-tech gadgets anyone could imagine.
           More traditional tourist attractions include Kokyo, the Imperial Palace, although access to the actual palace is only available on two days a year. However, some of the grounds may be open, either by reservation, or, in the case of the East Garden, accessible anytime.
           In the Asakusa area, visitors should check out the Sensoji Complex, with its temples, shrines, and gardens. In the Aoyama area, the Meiji Shrine, with its beautiful Inner and Outer Gardens, merits some time. Also there are many quality museums for those so-inclined.
           The best excursion from Tokyo is to Kamakura, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of the city. Here, visitors can see the Great Buddha, long a symbol of Japan, over 12 meters (37 feet) tall, made of bronze, and dating to1292 AD. The curious can actually walk inside his stomach (for a fee, of course). Also in Hase, the actual location of the Buddha, is Hasedera, with several notable sculptures and views of the bay.
           Another popular excursion is to Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, southwest of Tokyo, to get up close and personal with another symbol of Japan, Mount Fuji, the snow-covered volcanic peak, over 4,000 meters (12,000 feet) high. The Five Lakes region of the park has the best views of the mountain.
     3. Nara
          Nara, Japan, is another ancient capital, founded in 710 A.D. Nara Park (Nara Koen) contains many of the city’s most significant sights. Among them are the Todaiji Temple Complex, with its Daibutsu-den (Hall of the Great Buddha), the largest wooden building in the world, that houses the Daibutsu, a huge (18 meter/53 feet tall) bronze statue of the Buddha, Kasuga Taisha, with several thousand stone lanterns leading to it, and Kofukuji, with its five-story pagoda.
          In the western part of the city, be sure to check out Horyuji, which dates to 607 A.D. and Yakushiji, whose asymmetry has become noteworthy.


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