Japan is one of those countries that always calls to me. I’m not sure if it’s the country’s strong culture, iconic cities or beautiful landscapes – I just can’t fully put my finger on it. Whatever the case, our first ever visit to Japan was everything I wanted it to be… and more!
Whether you’re looking to explore the incredible cities of; Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto or travel beyond the larger cities to explore the stunning landscapes that seem to be everywhere across Japan.
Whatever your plans, make sure to see some of these amazing places on your trip. It really is an incredible country to explore.
How to travel
Getting to Japan: Okay, we all get how you’re going to get to Japan. Arrive by plane, boat, multi-coloured unicorn, whatever way you choose, just get there!
“Your eyes should be neither open nor closed,” explained the monk at the front of the room. “They should be sort of sleepy — like a Buddha.” It was my first time meditating, and I was anxious about making some sort of conspicuous misstep. I squinted, then tried to relax my eyelids, but inadvertently began to focus on the bright orange cushion of the person in front of me. I closed my eyes with an inward sigh of exasperation at having such a difficult time following instructions. The monk leading the session told us cheerfully that it might help to rest our vision on the tips of our noses.
I was sitting in the carpeted meditation hall of an 1,100-year-old Buddhist temple in Koyasan, in a mountainous region of southeastern Japan.
A letter regarding Amy Chavez’s Japan Lite column “Blame for ‘bad tourists’ to Japan lies with the advice they never receive.”
I am writing regarding Amy Chavez’s Japan Lite column published online on Aug. 27 (in print Aug. 28) entitled “Blame for ‘bad tourists‘ to Japan lies with the advice they never receive.”
I am a licensed English-speaking guide for the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes of the Kii Mountain Range UNESCO World Heritage site, including Mount Koya and various communities in Wakayama Prefecture.
Let me first say that I agree almost entirely with the article Ms. Chavez wrote.
Have you ever seen those lists that are compiled with titles like “the 10 most popular tourist attractions around the world”? They seem to do the rounds online and in travel magazines or even newspapers – and there tend to be a few places that regularly make the cut for where people want to head to.
You might be wondering what this has to do with Japan – well, no matter if you’ve always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty or Niagara Falls, or maybe Big Ben or the Great Wall of China, you’ll find some pretty incredible alternatives here in Japan. Here are 10 of the world’s most popular tourist spots – with some Japanese counterparts that you might want to pay a visit!
One of Japan’s most remote and rewarding journeys, the Kumano Kodō hiking route weaves through the mountainous Kii Peninsula, south of Osaka. Once a sacred pilgrimage reserved for emperors and samurai, the ‘Kumano Old Road’ is today open to all modern-day seekers and wanderers.
From old road to World Heritage Site
Even before organised religion existed in Japan, locals worshipped nature in the mystical landscape of the Kii Peninsula. Towering trees, the nation’s tallest waterfall, and the mountains in between were themselves considered kami (gods), and a walk among them became a sacred act. Emperors and samurai kept detailed diaries of their pilgrimages here; one of the earliest was by Fujiwara-no-Munetada (1062–1141), an aristocrat who travelled to Kumano in 1109.
The boys club is very much alive, in case there was ever any doubt. Women travel all over the globe solo, in pairs, with a significant other, or a big group – however they want. Yet, there are still places that insist on maintaining a men-only policy. Here are six gorgeous places around the world that still ban women.
Mount Athos, Greece
Mount Athos, actually a mountainous peninsula, is inhabited by an Orthodox community. The Peninsula has a total of 20 monasteries. If you are a non-Orthodox man, you are welcome to visit, but you have your work cut out for you. Mount Athos only allows 10 non-Orthodox visitors per day. These visitors need to obtain a letter of recommendation and write a personal letter outlining their desire to come to Mount Athos in order to get a permit.
“Fleas and lice did bite / And I’d hear the horse pass water / Near my bed at night.” Not the most alluring slogan for a holiday destination, perhaps, but in Japan, this famous line pulls in an estimated 10,000 visitors a year. And the numbers are still growing. Among them can now be counted our group of 12 walkers and guide, Giorgio. We sit cross-legged on traditional tatami straw mats around a crackling wood fire. In front of us hangs a metal cooking pot in which a soupy broth (dashi) bubbles and steams beguilingly.
It was in this very house – in fact, in this very same ancient beamed gallery, if the horse in the corner is anything to go by – that these lines were written by the revered 17th-century haiku master Matsuo Basho.
Japan is a wonderful country known for it’s blend of traditional culture and modern dynamic cities. And while the buzz is all about it’s pop culture, neon-lit streetscapes and architectural wonders that redefine what a city should be, there is also an incredible outdoors and nature scene.
Over two-thirds of Japan is made up of mountains, perfect for hiking, and there are majestic volcanoes, thundering waterfalls, bubbling hot springs, and vast forests inhabited by monkeys, bears, deer, cranes and other wildlife. The tropical beaches of the south are popular for sunning, snorkelling, diving and surfing, and in fact, Japan’s coastline is one of the longest and most impressive in the world.
So to inspire you to make your visit to Japan a little different from the standard Tokyo,
I’ll admit it. I usually celebrate my birthday with a boozy dinner or a long lunch followed by a loosening of the belt notch and a lazy afternoon nap. This year it’s different. I’m spending my birthday hiking the World Heritage Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail through remote mountains and tiny villages in Wakayama Prefecture in Japan.
For at least 1000 years people from all levels of Japanese society, from emperors and aristocrats through to peasants, have made the arduous pilgrimage to Kumano, one of Japan’s oldest sacred sites blessed with verdant mountains, awe-inspiring waterfalls, soothing hot springs and a rich traditional culture.
The pilgrims used a network of routes, now called the Kumano Kodo, which stretches across the mountainous Kii Peninsula and was an integral part of the pilgrimage process as trekkers undertook rigorous religious rites of worship and purification.
OSAKA, Japan — The 1,000-year-old pilgrimage to the Kumano Sanzen — the three great Shinto shrines on Japan’s Kii Peninsula south of Osaka — was once so popular that “like ants on the Kumano pilgrimage” became a popular description of crowds.
Today the swarms are in the cities, and the Kii Peninsula’s mountainous landscape is gloriously empty. Emerging from days of peaceful walking along its forested mountain trails to shrines with tour buses in their parking lots is something of a shock.
The network of Kumano routes is one of only two pilgrimages ever to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, along with the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain.