In 1964 Tokyo hosted 18th Summer Olympic Games for the first time. It was in
the era of Japan's rapid economic growth, and a variety of infrastructure such
as Shinkansen (Bullet train), Capital expressway, and Tokyo monorail was
constructed for the Olympics. National sport stadium in Yoyogi, and Nihon
Budokan in Kudanshita, and some other sport facilities were built and used for
the games. Since then, the date of the opening ceremony, October 10th, has
become one of Japan's national holidays as “Sports Day.” Furthermore, Tokyo
was again chosen to host the Summer Olympic Games in 2020. Infrastructure
upgrade is under planning for the Olympics again. For example, new facilities
including a New National sport stadium will be constructed. Flight slots of
Haneda airport will be much increased, so it will be more and more convenient
to visit Tokyo. I really hope that a lot of foreign visitors will come to Tokyo not
only to see Olympic Games but also to experience and understand Japan and
Hokkaido is the most northern island among 4 major islands of Japan, and the
Shinkansen is the super-express train nicknamed “The bullet train”. It was
launched in 1964 and now it has lines extending from Tokyo to all over Japan.
In March of this year, the line between Aomori and Hakodate, from northan
Honshu to southern Hokkaido, officially began operation, therefore now we can
go to Hokkaido directly from Tokyo by Hokkaido Shinkansen, which takes about
only 4.5 hours. The line is planned to extend to reach Sapporo in 2031.
Because one of the things that many foreign visitors want to do in Japan is to
get on the Shinkansen, and also because Hokkaido is very popular tourist site,
we can recommend they take trains to visit Hokkaido more easily than before.
Tsukiji Ichiba is a wholesale market for seafood and vegetables located in
Tsukiji, Tokyo. It is famous as the largest seafood market in the world with
more than 500 billion Yen turnover annually. Inside Tsukiji market, auction is
held among wholesalers and middle traders every day. Beside Tsukiji Ichiba,
there is a Tsukiji Jogai Ichiba, where a lot of seafood shops and restaurants are
doing business for retailers and consumers. Tsukiji Ichiba and Tsukiji Jogai
Ichiba nowadays are very popular among foreign visitors who take a tour to
see tuna auction and enjoy fresh, tasty but reasonable seafood dishes.
With more than 80 years history, Tsukiji Ichiba has come to be undersized, and
it is planned to move to new location in Toyosu this year, but because various
problems have come out such as soil contamination and slipshod work, the
relocation has been postponed. This is one of the serious political issues now.
Ise Shima is located around Shima peninsula in the southeast part of Mie
prefecture, or about 80 kilometers south from Nagoya. The area is designated
as the 1st national park after World War II, and includes two major tourist
spots, Ise Jingu and Shima peninsula.
Ise Jingu is the highest rank of jinja with two shrines, Naiku and Geku. Naiku
enshrines Amaterasu Omikami, the god of the sun, who is worshiped by
Imperial family, and Geku enshrines the god of cloth, food and shelter. Ise
Jingu attacts many tourists every year. Shima peninshula is famous as the
place where the Summit is held this year. The southern point of the peninsula
is Ago Bay, which is a very beautiful Ria coastline and the cultured pearls are
very famous. Ise Shima is a place for history and nature. Now the beauty of
this area was recognized again because of the Summit, so I hope more and
more tourists will visit this area.
With hight of 3,776 meters, Mt.Fuji is Japan's highest mountain. The name Fuji
meant fire mountain in the ancients' language, acutually, it repeatedly erupted
in history. Though classified as an active volcano, Mt.Fuji last erupted about
300 years ago. At that time, 10 centimeters of ash fell on Edo, or Tokyo, which
is located about 120 kilometers away from the mountain. Mt.Fuji is registered
as a world cultural heritage. It is because Mt.Fuji has been worshiped and
loved by the Japanese since ancient times for its noble and nearly perfect cone
shape, and also because it is artistically significant as an object depicted in
many ukiyoe woodblock prints in the Edo period. Mt.Fuji is would-famous for
its beauty and the mountain is a symbol of Japan. Of course it is one of the
most popular tourist destinations in Japan.
After Commodore Perry came to Japan in 1853 and 1854, Japan was forced to
open its door to the world after 220 years of national isolation. Japan realized
the need to establish a modern state to get along with powerful Western
countries, so the last Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu stepped down in 1867 and
Emperor Meiji came to throne. Then, the Meiji Restoration, so called Meiji
Ishin, took place in 1868, which included a series of drastic political, economic,
and social changes. The new government promoted industrialization and
modernization, through abolishing the feudal system and introducing Western
culture and political systems. The Meiji Restoration also brought about
internationalization of Japan therefore it was a starting point of many foreign
tourists visiting Japan as they are now.
Hiroshima is about 340 kilometers west of Osaka on the main island of
Honshu. Hiroshima is noted as the site where the first atomic bomb was used
in World War II. Within the Peace Memorial Park, located at the epicenter of
the explosion, you can find memorials, museums and the Atomic Bomb Dome.
The dome was just 50 meters away from the ground zero, thus it was a miracle
that the iron frame of the building could survive. It is registered as a world
cultural heritage, and it has been preserved for future generations, forever to
pass on the horror and misery caused by the weapon of mass destruction used
for the first time in human history. This year President Obama visited
Hiroshima for the first time as the U.S. president and appealed for the abolition
of nuclear weapons. Though Hiroshima was once destroyed in warfare, it has
grown into one of Japan's major cities and attracts a lot of foreign tourists now.
Kabuki is the most well-known Japanese stage art. They say it started in Kyoto
in the 17th century by Okuni, originally a maiden of Izumo Shinto Shrine, but in
more recent years it has been performed exclusively by men. Kabuki is an allround
theatrical art consisting of music, dance and acting, and it is
characterized by a combination of rhythmical words and dancing, elaborate
costumes, and exaggerated make-ups. Kabuki theaters have unique features
like revolving stages for quick scene changes, trapdoors in the floor from which
actors appear, and extended passages through the audience to make actors'
entrance and exits more impressive. In Tokyo we can see Kabuki at Kabukiza
in Ginza or at National theater in Hanzomon. Is it difficult to explain Kabuki
programs in foreign language? Don't worry, for foreign visitors electric tools
which provide English explanation about the programs are available there for
their better understanding of Kabuki.
Japanese castles are defensive foothold to fight against invaders from
surrounding fiefs in the Warring States period. At early stage, castles were
usually constructed in mountainside because they are hard to attack and easy
to defense. But at later stage as the economy became more and more
important, the castles were normally built on flat land with moat surrounding it
in order to rule the fiefs more efficiently and activate the economy of the fief.
Because many Japanese castles were destroyed in the Meiji period or burned
down in World War II, at present there exist only 4 castles designated as
national treasures, namely, Matsumoto castle, Inuyama castle, Hikone castle,
and Himeji castle. Himeji castle, which is known for its beauty and called an
egret castle, is registered as a world cultural heritage.
Vending machines are very popular in Japan and you can find them
everywhere on the streets or in the office buildings. They are very convenient
because they are running 24 hours and also because various types of things
are sold such as cigarettes, magazines, foods and drinks, and much to your
surprise, even canned Oden is available. In addition, you can choose coins,
notes, and recently various IC cards or mobile phone as a payment method,
and of course you can receive change if you pay with notes. Because vending
machines are not so popular in other countries as they are in Japan, foreign
visitors usually find the Japanese scenery with vending machines a great
curiosity, and recently it becomes one of the purposes of visiting Japan to see
the scenery. Vending machines are the symbol of Japan’s good public security.
With the height of 634 meters, Tokyo Skytree is the world highest tower
located at Sumida ward in Tokyo. It started operation in May, 2012 as a
broadcasting tower and sightseeing facilities. There are two viewing decks, at
350 meters and 450 meters respectively above the ground. If the weather is
fine, a view from the decks is outstanding because nothing obstructs the view.
The area in and around the tower is called Tokyo Skytree Town, which includes
a shopping center named Solamachi, an office building, a planetarium, and an
aquarium. In addition, Pockemon Center has moved in from Tokyo Tower as a
new entertainment this year. Now Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Skytree town have
become one of the most attractive sightseeing sites in Tokyo not only for
foreign tourists but also for Tokyo residents.
Toshogu Shrine is in Nikko, about 120 kilometers north of Tokyo. It was
dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of Tokugawa Shogunate, and it
was built after his death as a mausoleum and then renovated by the 3rd
Shogun Iemitsu, so it will be 400 years old next year. There are about 5,000
elaborate and colorful carvings on the buildings and gates of Toshogu. Three
monkeys and a sleeping cat are very famous ones, whereas many of the
carvings are in the shape of imaginary Chinese holy animals such as dragons
and kirin which, according to Chinese legends, are believed to appear only
when a fitting king governs the country. Toshogu Shrine, combined with
Futarasan shrine and Rinnouji temple, is registered as a world cultural heritage
and becomes a popular tourist site.
Matsuri, a festival in English, is a ritual to pray for gods or ancestors as a
memorial purpose. In Japan, Matsuri are held at Shinto shrines or temples. In
the Shinto shrine's Matsui, Mikoshi is usually dispatched. Mikoshi is a portable
shrine in which the spirit of a god temporarily dwells during a festival held in
god's honor. It is carried on the shoulders of local residents and marched in
their residential area. Another typical Matsuri is Bon-odori, which can be
regarded as one of the temple's festivals held in the summer. Peoples are
dancing to hold a memorial service for a departed soul. Among so many
Matsuri held all over Japan, the three most famous ones are Gion Matsui in
Kyoto, Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka, and Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo. A huge number of
tourists come to see these festivals and enjoy themselves a lot.
Both “Wabi” and “Sabi” are the highest aesthetic values of traditional Japanese
arts, particularly the tea ceremony and haiku. Wabi refers to a positive spirit
which accepts and enjoys rusticity and avoids being showy. Wabi was
considered the ultimate aesthetic value by the great tea master, Sen-no-Rikyu,
who perfected the art of tea ceremony in the 16th century. He prepared his tea
rooms with ornaments and utensils suited to his taste of Wabi. Sabi refers to
apparent elegance found in decline or in desolation. It was Matsuo Basho, one
of the best known haiku poets in the 17th century, who sought Sabi in his
haiku, which reflects simplicity and loneliness. Wabi and Sabi are inner value
and outer value respectively, thus both are often expressed together.
Tojiki means Toki and Jiki, 2 kinds of Japanese ceramic ware. Toki is glazed
pottery with an opaque body. It was introduced to Japan from China in the 8th
century of Nara period and their production flourished with chanoyu, the tea
ceremony, in the Momoyama period of the 16th century. Seto, in Aichi
prefecture, is well-known for its ceramic production and people still refers to
Tojiki as “Setomono”. Jiki is a glazed porcelain with a white translucent body. It
was also introduced from China. In Edo period Jiki made in Arita in Kyushu was
exported from Imari port to Europe, where people appreciated its artistic
qualities. Japanese Jiki gave Europe a great cultural influence and led to the
birth of porcelain manufacturers there. Even now Arita ceramic ware can be
one of the good Japanese souvenir.
There are two types of gardens in Japan. One is a Japanese-style landscape
garden composed of rocks, trees, ponds, and other natural objects. This type
of garden is designed in accordance with the appearance of nature. The three
most famous landscape gardens, Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, Korakuen in
Okayama, and Kairakuen in Mito made by Daimyo in the Edo period are all
belong to this type. The other type is a dry landscape garden mainly composed
of rock and sand. The rocks represent mountains or islands, while the sand
represents water. One of the most famous dry landscape gardens is the one at
Ryoanji temple in Kyoto. It is known as a Zen-style dry landscape garden in
Japan. Just 15 rocks are arranged in three groupings in waves of raked white
pebbles. It is hoped that many foreign tourists will visit and appreciate those
Uenokoen is a park located just in front of Ueno station in Tokyo. This place
was the territory of Kan-eiji temple, which is Tokugawa Shogun's family
temple, but it was burnt down at Boshin war at the end of the Edo period.
Then this area was owned by imperial family but later it was given to the public
as a royal gift. Now there are many cultural facilities like art museums, science
museums, Tokyo university of the arts, and the Ueno zoo. One of the museums
is the National Museum of Western Art, whose building was registered as a
world cultural heritage this year as a le corbusier's architecture works. Talking
about Uenokoen, we never forget to tell a very popular statue of Saigo
Takamori and his dog, who protected Edo town from a disaster of warfare. The
statue's area is famous for cherry blossoms and becomes very busy in the
peak season. I believe Uenokoen is worth visiting for foreign tourists, too.
The Tokyo station is Japan's central station and it is the largest train terminal
in Japan. Many Shinkansen lines start here to various destinations all over
Japan. The Tokyo station is located just in front of the Imperial Palace and
connected to the Palace by Miyuki street. The station building, which was
designed by a famous architect Tatsuno Kingo, is built of red brick and noted
for its beauty. The station started operation in 1914, and it survived the Great
Kanto Earthquake, but it was heavily damaged by the Tokyo air raids in 1945.
After the war, the station building was restored but due to safety point of view,
restored building was temporally 2 stories only though the original was 3
stories. 60 years later, at last the building was restored to the original design.
Now the Tokyo station building is designated as important tangible cultural
assets, and it has become one of the places worth visiting for tourists.
Fugaku means Mt.Fuji, so it literally means 36 scenes of Mt.Fuji, the famous
landscape woodblock prints of Ukiyoe in the Edo period. The artist is
Katsushika Hokusai, who depicted Mt.Fuji from various places applying the
rules of perspective. The number of the works appears 36, but actual number
is 46, because this Ukiyoe series was a great success, so after it had
completed with 36 works, another 10 works were additionally published.
Among 46 scenes the most famous one should be the work titled Kanagawaoki
Namiura, which depicts large waves and a boat almost caught in the waves
with small Mt.Fuji in the background. This art works gave strong influence on
Western artists like a painter Gogh or a composer Debussy.
Gokaido literally means five main roads, which originate in Nihonbashi to other
important districts in the Edo period. They are Tokaido, Nakasendo, Koshuu
Kaido, Oushuu Kaido, and Nikko Kaido. Tokaido is the most famous and busiest
among the five roads. It is about 500 kilometers long and has 53 stations
between Edo Nihonbashi and Kyoto Sanjoo Ohashi. Those stations were
depicted in landscape Ukiyoe woodblock prints by Utagawa Hiroshige. On the
Gokaido Tokugawa government set up checkpoints called Sekisho in order to
watch out inflow of weapons and outflow of women. That is because Tokugawa
government forced feudal loads' family live in Edo as a kind of hostages, so the
government were cautious about woman's going out of Edo. Now that people
are free to travel anywhere without checkpoints, we hope a lot of foreign
tourists move inside Japan and enjoy it.
Horyuji Temple is located in Ikaruga district in Nara prefecture. It was built in
the beginning of the 7th century, in the Asuka Era, by Shootoku Taishi who was
a son of the Emperor and an excellent politician at that time. It is said that he
deeply believed in Buddhism and wanted it spread throughout Japan, that is
why he founded some temples, one of which was Horyuji Temple. Its original
buildings were burnt down by fire and current buildings were re-constructed in
the 2nd half of the 7th century, but anyway they are still the oldest wooden
buildings in the world. Horyuji Temple shows the ancient times' style and
layout of Buddhist Temple, including the five-story pagoda and the main hall.
The temple owns more than 30's national treasures, and together with Hokkiji
Temple, it is registered as a world cultural heritage.
Sukiyazukuri is one of the Japanese house styles. Sukiya means a tearoom, so
Sukiyazukuri is a house with a tearoom, and this style was developed and
established in the Edo period. Because Sukiya is a tearoom and the rusticity is
the highest aesthetic value in tea ceremony, Sukiyazukuri has simple but
elegant design. It is characterized by the use of bamboo or cedar logs, a small
and modest alcove, and various kinds of sliding doors such as Fusuma or
Shooji. The most famous examples of Sukiyazukuri houses are Katsurarikyu
and Shuugakuinrikyuu in Kyoto, both of which were built for imperial family in
the Edo period. Visiting those places, foreign tourists can feel the flavor of
Washoku means Japanese traditional dishes. A basis of Washoku is Ichiju
Sansai, or one soup and three dishes. Washoku is characterized by following
factors such as healthful diet and good balance in nutrition, the use of various
fresh and seasonal materials, expression of beautiful nature and changing
seasons, and deep relation with annual events like the New Year. A typical
Washoku is Kaiseki Ryoori, which is the carefully prepared meal served prior to
a tea ceremony. Other dishes are Sushi, Tenpura, Yakitori, Soba noodles and so
on. Washoku is registered as UNESCO's world intangible cultural asset.
Besides, “the day of Washoku” is set on November 24th and many events
relating to Japanese food are held on that day so as to understand Japanese
food culture. Now one of the purposes for foreign travelers visiting Japan is to
Bushido literally means “The Way of the Bushi” and refers to the moral code of
samurai warriors which was gradually established between the Kamakura
period and the Edo period. It is based on Confucian ethics and promotes ideas
such as bravery, loyalty to one's load, senses of shame and honor. Dying an
honorable death was also of great importance to samurai who practiced
seppuku, the ritual form of suicide done by cutting ones own belly when taking
responsibility of one's own actions. Typical example is revenge of Ako Roshi, 47
loyal samurai avenged their load by killing Kira Kozukenosuke who brought
dishonor upon their load. Finally they were ordered to practice seppuku, which
was honorable death for them.
Kumano Kodo, or old routes to Kumano, are the routes leading to Kumano
Sanzan Shrines in the Medieval period. Kumano Sanzan are three shrines such
as Hongu shrine, Shingu shrine, and Nachi shrine, which all located in the Kii
peninsula. The faith in Kumano Sanzan was at a peak from ancient times to
the Medieval period, and many believers ranging from emperors and nobles to
the commoners made their pilgrimages to Kumano. Because Kumano is a
mountainous area, some routes are crossing steep mountains along remote
trails. Now Kumano Kodo is registered as a world cultural heritage. It offers all
the visitors the chance to imagine what it was like to pilgrimage to Kumano
long ago, and to understand the history of Kumano old routes and the sacred
Shimanami Kaido is a nickname for Honshu-Shikoku connection road
Onomichi-Imabari route. As the Japanese nickname means “Sea route along
many islands”, the route includes 10 bridges to cross Setonaikai, or Seto
Inland Sea via 6 major islands. The length is about 60 kilometers long. The
scenery is very beautiful and the breezing wind is cool and fresh. The road can
be used not only for automobiles but also for bicycles and pedestrians. It is
very rare for bicycles to cross over the sea, Shimanami Kaido has recently
become popular among cyclists, and the riders from all over the world want to
run on the road. For easy travelers who do not carry their own bicycles, rentalbicycles
are available at stations along the route and drop-off is possible.
Akibafukurou is a new type of cafeteria located in Akihabara, Tokyo. In the
shop a lot of Fukurou, or owls are bred and customers can touch them. The
concept of the shop is to offer extraordinary healing experience. The cafeteria
requires advance reservation and a small group can be accepted at a time. As
this place is introduced by Trip Adviser and is highly recommended, a lot of
free foreign travelers drop in there when they come to enjoy Japanese pop
culture in Akihabara.
Okuno Hosomichi is one of the most famous travelogues in Japan by Matsuo
Basho who perfected Haiku verse form as a Japanese art in the Edo period. He
and his pupil Sora left Edo in 1689 March and visited Oushuu and Hokuriku,
then final place in the travelogue is Ohgaki. The journey took about 150 days,
and Basho made a lot of excellent Haiku on the way. The haiku made at
Hiraizumi, Risshakuji temple, Mogamigawa river are famous in particular.
Okuno Hosomichi was published in 1702 after his death. Because Basho is very
famous poet also in overseas countries, the spots he visited and made Haiku
can be popular sightseeing destinations.
Meiji Jingu, or Meiji Shrine was constructed to be dedicated to the Emperor
Meiji and his wife. The location is just in front of Harajuku station on Yamanote
Line. There was a Daimyo, or a feudal load's house there in the Edo period,
and then the land ownership was transferred to Royal family in Meiji period. A
vast shrine zone is covered with the forest, a lot of rare insects and creatures
are living in the heart of one of the largest metropolitan in the world. It is also
very famous that Meiji Jingu receives the largest number of visitors in the New
Year holidays every year. The opposite side of Harajuku station is Takeshita
street which is famous for Japanese pop culture. Visitors to Meiji Jingu can take
time to go there to feel both old and new aspects of Japan at a same time.
Asakusa is a famous sightseeing spot in Tokyo and very popular among foreign
tourists. The center of the town is Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo.
Its gate hanging a big red lantern called Kaminarimon, is a symbol of Asakusa.
From Kaminarimon to Sensoji Temple is Nakamise shopping street. There are
traditional shops along the street, many of which started business in the Edo
period. Another famous street in Asakusa is Denpoin street, where visitors can
enjoy traditional Japanese culture, for example, we see many foreign tourists
wearing rental Japanese kimono are walking around the area. Behind the
Senosji temple is Hanayashiki, the oldest amusement park in Japan, which
reminds people of the good old days. On the other hand, Tokyo Skytree, which
is located within a walking distance from Asakusa, is the most advanced aspect
of Japan. In short, Asakusa has both old and new elements, thus it is the ideal
place for foreign tourists to understand Japan.
Eiheiji Temple is the head temple of Sotoshu, one of the sects of Buddhism and
characterized by Zen concept. It started in the 13th century By Dogen, a
founder of Sotoshu. Dogen first learned Tendaishu at Enryakuji Temple in
Hieizan, later he went to China to learn Zen Buddhism and brought it back to
Japan. As his new idea was severely attacked by other existing Buddist sects,
Tendaishu in particular, he escaped from Kyoto and moved to Echizen, current
Fukui, and constructed Eiheiji Temple to propagate Sotoshu. His Zen teaches
that enlightenment can be achieved through strict mental and physical
practices such as zazen. Zen is an important part of Japanese culture, and now
accepted by Western people. Eiheiji Temple offers visitors an opportunity to
experience zazen. It is now very popular even among foreign tourists, too.
Hieizan are mountains stretching over Kyoto and Shiga. They have been sacred
mountains since the old days and there are Hiyoshi Shrine and Enryakuji
Temple. Hiyoshi Shrine is a head of Hiyoshi shrines, Hie shrines, and Sanno
shrines all over Japan. Enryakuji is a head temple of Tendaishu, founded by
Saicho in the 8th century. Later Hieizan Enryakuji Temple became a center of
Japanese Buddhism and produced a lot of famous Buddhist priests such as
Honen, Shinran, Eisai, Dogen, and Nichiren. Though Enryakuji Temple was
once destroyed by Oda Nobunaga in the 16th century and declined, it was
rebuilt and recovered later. Enryakuji is registered as a world cultural heritage.