Japan: A guide to the land of the rising sun
A fusion of tradition and modernity
From the modern metropolitan metropolis of Tokyo to the culturally rich neighbourhoods of Kyoto, Japan has something for everyone.
Walking down the bustling streets of Akihabara, you'll find plenty of large, elaborate anime figures and the most modern televisions. But you also won't be far from one of the country’s beloved Shinto and cultural heritage shrines. Here visitors can pray and worship the 'kami' (or spirits) such as the Inari Okami or the fox spirits. Offerings are often for wishes and good luck, and during exam seasons you'll probably find young students praying in the traditional Japanese manner.
Japan’s scenic natural wonders
Japan has more to offer than its historical, cultural and modern achievements. With all its advances, this is a country with some of the greatest natural wonders on the planet. A country that takes renewable energy and recycling seriously, Japan is clean and boasts a green environment, making it one of the most eco-friendly countries. As the great Lord Byron once stated in his much-beloved poem ‘Childe Harrod’s Pilgrimage’, “there is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is a society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
To experience such heavenly experiences, venture to the prefecture of Nara and the capital city of its name’s sake, which houses one of Japan’s most dazzling parks. Full of friendly deer, Nara Park is home to the famous towering Todaiji temple, which features a 15-metre-high Buddha statue. It's a place ideal for a bit of respite, a place of meditation away from the hustle and bustle of Japan's city life.
Close by you'll find the scenic garden area of Isuien, with its lush green grass and serene still lake that reflects the golden sun's rays and lights up all the surrounding areas. And if you're up for a short hike, there is the Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest trail where you can venture out along this mighty but soothing trail and be one with nature. The reward is a truly breathtaking view of Nara city and the park from the peak of Mt. Wakakusa.
Shonan Beach park
In Kanagawa prefecture, within close proximity to the mighty Tokyo is the must-see Shonan Beach park. This beach has more recently become a hotbed for surfers, water sports players and youths out to catch the sun and play beach volleyball. Especially during the humid summer months, this is the perfect getaway for those wishing to bask in the Japanese sun that illuminates the waves and relaxes the body while lying on the soft sand beneath. And when the sun goes down, the glow coming from the nearby Mt Fuji will certainly instil a feeling of the sublime as it’s almost like Fuji is staring right back at you.
Finally, it would be a sin to what many would consider the symbol of Japan which is Mount Fuji. Located in Shizuoka, this iconic mountain is a spectacle for the eyes. Nothing feels better than managing to traverse the cold weather, the rocky terrain, the long five-to-ten-hour long trek and then reaching the top, only to look over the misty white and fantastic view of Japan, its cities and its parks all from up above in the clouds. There is no other feeling like that of conquering the legendary mountain and looking beneath at everything from the bright lights of the nearby cities such as Tokyo in the far distance and the haunting and quiet forest of Aokigahara within proximity.
Following the Gokase River will eventually lead you to discover the awe-inspiring Takachiho Gorge. Located in the Nishiusuki District of the Miyazaki Prefecture, words cannot even capture what this sight will do to the eyes and the soul of those that gaze upon its flowing waterfall that abseils down wet rocky caverns. It is a place where you can feel closest to Suijin, the Shinto water spirit. The soft crashing of the waters down onto the continuing Gokase river below can be safely observed by a bridge where many visitors come every day to just stare in lost and blissful absence at the never-ending rush of water. Here, you can enjoy the power of nature in its most primal but innocent form.
Lake Kawaguchi is another delightful place where you can enjoy the quiet and feel the soft breeze that radiates from all around this gentle lake. Mount Fuji reflects in the lake's water, and this touch of heaven is surrounded by such gorgeous green hills and beguiling green and orange trees that it feels like being immersed in a garden of Eden paradise. The experience of course would not be complete without one of Japan’s most famous sights, the cherry blossoms. When in full bloom, especially around this lake, they are a true sight to behold.
What to take
Depending on which time of the month you go will dictate what to take. For the summer months, take in mind Japan’s infamous humidity — especially in the cities. It's best to dress in light clothes for the occasion and perhaps bring a traditional or electronic fan. For those wishing to climb Mt Fuji, the weather gets very cold the further you rise above sea level so best to pack sensibly for the long hike ahead. Warm coats, a hiking backpack, a water bottle, and maybe a walking stick to help with the hard rocky terrain. Closer to the top there is a hut where you can stay for the night and continue your journey during the day. Also, don't forget your camera. Japan is a photographer’s dream.
Beauty in every corner
The stylised small rural areas of the cities are also worth visiting. Tama Tokyo, for example, in the Western part of the capital city has much to offer in its small old town feel next to the big city. It's full of old houses next to the parks with lakes and benches up on the hills where you can star gaze at the crisp and clear Japanese night sky.
After exploring Japan's natural wonders, make sure you also go and explore the best cities for theatre lovers.
Credits for the Main photo: © Su San Lee on Unsplash
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