Japan – Land of the Rising Sun

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1 Cherry-Blossom-Lake-Sakura-Japan

Japan is famous for its beautiful gardens, spiritual sites, clusters of hot spring inns, stunning cherry blossoms, unique cuisine and World War II museums and places. The country is also referred to as Nippon or Nihon, meaning Land of the Rising Son. Japan is an archipelago of more than 6,850 of islands in the Pacific Ocean and situated approximately 160 kilometers east of the Asian mainland. The largest islands from south to north are Shikoku, Kyushu, Hokkaido and Honshu.

Japan is divided into the regions of the northernmost island Hokkaido, Tohoku, the coastal plain of Kato, Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu and the semi-tropical southern island Chain of Okinawa. Getting around in this country is easy. Japan is home to the world’s best transport systems. The railways are highly efficient and fast and you can go by train in Japan almost everywhere. The Shinkansen, or Bullet Train, speeds at about 300 kilometers per hour.

The Three Sacred Mountains

A popular and often visited pilgrimage site in Japan is the Dewa Sanzan in the modern-day Yamagata prefecture. Dewa Sanzan comprises of the three sacred mountains of Mount Yudono, Mount Haguro and Mount Gassan.

You can take a bus to Gassan Eighth Station and hike to Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono in one day’s time. Ensure to obtain a map of the area from a tourist office. The Gassan Shrine is on the peak of Gassan and the entry cost includes purification by the Shintō priest. From Mount Gassan you can follow the trail to the peak of Mount Yudono and visit the Mount Yudono Shrine which is the holiest shrine of the three.

Gojū-no-tō Pagoda on Mount Haguro

Gojū-no-tō Pagoda on Mount Haguro

On steep slopes and in wooded valleys and within hidden temples sit a number of dead monks. Their skeletal remains are covered in priestly robes. Some of these monks have been dead for almost three-hundred years.

Mount Haguro is easily accessible. Gojū-no-tō (wooden pagoda) is located on the way through the forest. The Pagoda is around 600 years old and a National Treasure. Not far from the pagoda, you will reach the 2,446 stone steps taking you on the way to the Sanzan Gōsaiden which was structured in respect of the spirits that reside on the three mountains.

You can take the Mount Yudono bus and also visit the Dainichibō Temple by getting off at Ōami. The Chūrenji Temple is located about twenty minutes into the forest by foot. The dead monk in the temple starved himself to death while praying.

Castles in Japan

Japan experienced heavy bombings in World War II and many fires, with the result that some of the castles were destroyed. There are still twelve castles which have donjons dating back to the times they were used. The castles include:

  • Uwajima Castle on the west coast of Shikoku;
  • Matsuyama Castle Matsuyama situated in the capital of the Ehime prefecture;
  • Kochi Castle in the eponymous capital of Kochi prefecture on the Japanese island of Shikoku;
  • Marugame Castle in Marugame City in Kagawa Prefecture;
  • Matsue Castle in the old town of Matsue at the heart of Izumo Province;
  • Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Takahashi City in Okayama Prefecture in the western Chugoku region of the island of Honshu;
  • Himeji Castle in Himeji City at the western edge of the Kansai region of Japan;
  • Hikone Castle in Hikone city at the eastern edge of Lake Biwa in Shiga prefecture;
  • Inuyama Castle in Inuyamais City near Nagoya;
  • Maruoka Castle in Sakai City is in Fukui Prefecture;
  • Matsumoto Castle in Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture at the eastern end of the Japan Alps;
  • Hirosaki Castle in Hirosaki city in Aomori prefecture in the northern Tohoku region of the main Japanese island Honshu.
Himeji Castle, Himeji, Japan

Himeji Castle, Himeji, Japan

The ruins of the Tsuyama Castle in Mimasaka Province maintain historical significance. The castle was once considered to be the best in Japan and today the walls are all that remained. The surrounding area, however, is filled with stunning cherry blossoms.

World War II Sites in Japan

Naha is the capital of Okinawa.  Some of the most brutal battles occurred in Okinawa during World War II. You can visit Okinawa Peace Park by taking bus 89 from the Naha bus station and get off at the Heiwa-kinendo-iriguchi stop. The names of the soldiers who died in the battle are engraved on walls of granite. The park also offers stunning views of the ocean.

Hiroshima is famous around the world for the first horrific atomic bomb attack on August 6, 1945. The Peace Memorial Park in Nakajima houses most of the memorials related to the atomic bomb. The most recognizable symbol of the atomic bomb is the skeletal remains of the Genbaku Dōmu or A-Bomb Dome. In 1996, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The exact spot where the bomb exploded is located one block east of the A-Bomb Dome and features a plaque. The Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the A-bomb can be seen at the Peace Park. The turtle symbolizes the journey of the victims to the afterlife. The Peace Bell symbolizes unity. The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound houses the ashes of the estimated 70,000 victims.

Battleship Island (Gunkanjima)

Battleship Island (Gunkanjima)

Gunkanjima is a ghost town located approximately fifteen kilometers from Nagasaki. The island was once a mining city and the most densely populated place on earth. Due to forced labor programs during Japan’s occupation of Korea, many Korean workers lost their lives to the mines. Gunkanjima was the island featured in Skyfall, the James Bond movie.

The Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki is a fantastic commemoration of the 1945 tragedy. Powerful arguments against nuclear weapons are exhibited. On August 9, 1945, more than 100,000 people got killed when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Exciting Things to Do in Japan

Takamatsu is situated on the island of Shikoku in Kagawa Prefecture and is also referred as the Gateway to Shikoku and Udon Kingdom. Ritsurin Park is designated as one of the top three gardens in Japan. The park consists of beautiful Japanese landscapes and is one of the country’s largest gardens. The Engetsu-kyo Bridge, the Red Wall of Rocks and the Okedoi-no-Taki Waterfall are some of the highlights in the park. Ensure to relax at one of the three tea houses or the restaurant. You can also visit the Tamamo Park, Takamatsu Symbol Tower and the Kagawa Museum while in Takamatsu.

Daigo Ji Temple, Kyoto

Daigo Ji Temple, Kyoto

Kyoto was the former capital of Japan and has the reputation as the most beautiful city in the country. UNESCO declared fourteen sites as World Heritage under the group Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. The sites include Daigo-ji in Southern Kyoto, Koke-dera and Tenryū-ji in Western Kyoto; Ginkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera in Eastern Kyoto;  Nijō Castle, Nishi Hongan-ji and Tō-ji in Central Kyoto and Ninna-ji, Kōzan-ji, Shimogamo Shrine, Ryōan-ji,Kamigamo Shrine and Kinkaku-ji in Northern Kyoto.

Public baths, or sentō, dates back to the thirteenth century in Kyoto and there are currently around 140 bath houses. Funaoka Onsen at Kita Ward, Murasakino Minamifunaokacho 82-1, Kyoto, is the oldest of these bath houses.

Yoshino is an absolute stunning place to visit with its sacred sites, cherry blossoms and Kii Mountain Range. Mount Yoshino is recognized as Japan’s most beautiful cherry blossom spots. Yoshino is also famous for its homemade sweets and sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. During the blossoming season the streets are bustling with tourists and stands selling frankfurters, takoyaki and okonomiyaki.

6 Japanese dancer

Tourist Visa for Japan

Temporary Visitor visas for tourism purposes are normally valid for a stay of up to 3 months. Tourists need a valid passport, two 45mm x 45mm passport-type photos taken within the previous six months, two official visa application forms and documents certifying the purpose of the visit. You will also need documents certifying that you can defray all expenses incurred during your stay in Japan.

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