Japan is a treasure-trove of traditional performing arts. You can purchase tickets or obtain details of the theater schedule at the theater box office. Reservations must be made in advance for popular performances. Tickets can be purchased at the "Play guide" ticket sales desks located in large department stores or shopping malls in the main cities.
The best known and most loved by people around the world, the traditional performing art of Kabuki is a more popular form of theater than Noh. Rhythmical lines spoken by actors, colorful make-up and a stage full of mechanical devices for special effects are essential characteristics of Kabuki, but the most important is that all the roles, including those of women, are played by male actors.
An explanation in English is available at the Kabuki-za Theater (in Tokyo), the representative theater designed exclusively for Kabuki.
The highly stylized theater of Noh exudes the world of yugen, a deeply aesthetic value based on a profound and refined beauty that goes beyond words and concrete shapes. Its origin is in religious ritual and it has a long history of 700 years. Though the actor, dressed in traditional Japanese costume, either wears a mask to hide the expression on his face or performs without expression, his dance is lyrical and graceful.
A Bunraku puppet play is a wonderful and heartfelt description of conflicts between established ethical ideas and the reality of love and life and turmoil in the emotions of the common people. It is performed along with jouri (ballad chanting) to the accompaniment of shamisen (a 3-stringed musical instrument).
Bunraku is Puppet Theater performed by three puppeteers. The movement of the lead puppet is operated by the three puppeteers working in precise cooperation. The Bunraku puppets almost become alive in the eyes of the audience, accompanied by shamisen music, the narration of dialogue and gorgeous costumes, and one can only marvel at the quality of the performance.
The National Bunraku Theatre in Osaka was designed exclusively for Bunraku.
Surrounded by sea, Japan is blessed with some magnificent coastlines. The scenery of the beautiful sea is rich in variation, from the ice floe-locked coast of the Hokkaido region to the coast of Okinawa, surrounded by coral reefs. Its islands, too, come in a wide variety, such as the tiny islets in Setonaikai (Inland Sea of Seto), or Sadogashima Island which is surrounded by rough sea, as well as the Ogasawara Islands which consist of small islands scattered over the Pacific Ocean.
Japan's 2,000 years of history have played a major role in shaping the country's unique cultural heritage. Overseas visitors can partake in such traditions as flower arranging or the tea ceremony and observe national pastimes ranging from Kabuki Theater to Sumo wrestling. Museums are also great repositories for everything Japanese, from stunning artwork to folk items used in everyday life.
Japanese flower arranging, called Ikebana or Kado, is like painting a picture with flowers, with each blossom, stem, vase and stand chosen with great care and arranged in perfect grace, harmony and beauty. Originally related to the tea ceremony as a special but simple way to decorate the tea room, Japanese flower arranging evolved into different schools of thought, each with their own methods and philosophies. Today there are more than 20 well-known schools of flower arranging, a few of which open their doors to foreigners eager for a quick lesson in English. Department stores sometimes have ikebana shows. Incidentally, Ikebana has spread throughout the world largely through the efforts of Ikebana International.
Chanoyu, the tea ceremony, is an aesthetic cult much in vogue in Japan. Introduced from China, it was formalized as a ceremony in the 16th century based on the tenets of Zen, when civil war plagued the nation and samurai sought relief in the stylized ritual as a form of disciplinary training for mental composure. Today, many Japanese still practice the tea ceremony as a spiritual balance to today's hectic world. It is also revered for its lessons in elegant manners and etiquette, with many different schools practicing their own style of ceremony. Visitors can experience the tea ceremony, which features a special type of powdered green tea, at several hotels with tea rooms (most notably in Tokyo), at many of Japan's famous landscape gardens and at tea-ceremony schools.
Cultural Places of Interest
The Japanese garden is designed to be a faithful representation of nature and to impart a sense of simple, unspoiled beauty. Its style therefore contrasts with that of a Western garden, which relies on shaping nature into a kind of geometrical beauty. There are three main styles of Japanese garden; Tsukiyama, Karesansui, and Chaniwa.
A 'Tsukiyama' - style garden is arranged to show nature in miniature, with hills, ponds and streams. The Karesansui style of garden developed in the Muromachi Era as a representation of Zen spiritualism. In this style, sand or gravel is used to represent rivers or the sea. It is characterized by its force and simplicity. The Chaniwa is the garden adjacent to a ceremonial teahouse. This style of garden avoids any suggestion of showiness and strives for the utmost simplicity and naturalness.
Castles in Japan underwent their most intensive phase of development in the Sengoku (Warring States) era from the 15th to the 16th century. Built with the object of keeping the enemy out, they are elaborate in design and strongly fortified. Their magnificent architecture also served to demonstrate the power of the joshu, or lord of the castle.
The jinja, or shrine, is where believers in Japan's indigenous religion, Shintô, go to worship. Shintô originated in ancient peoples' fears of demons and supernatural powers, and their worship of these. It has no written body of doctrine, but it is Japan's main religion and is practiced widely through ceremonies and festivals.
The main sanctuary of a shrine is called the Shinden or Honden. There are also ancillary buildings such as the Haiden, or outer hall, and the Hômotsuden, or treasury, but these are not arranged according to any particular specified layout.
There are many lucky charms and other such objects to be seen at a shrine. Some are used to determine the will of the gods and some as a way of communicating with the gods and asking for their protection.
The chief priest of a shrine is called the Kannushi. He is responsible for all the religious observances and the running of the shrine. The young girl assistants in a shrine are called Miko.
In ancient times, it was believed that people died when the soul left the body. To try and call it back, they used a form of magic called Kagura, which involved dancing and playing flutes and drums. This became formalized and developed into Noh and Kyôgen.
If you want to see the typical classical architecture of Japan, there is no better place to go than one of its many Buddhist temples. These temples, with their images of the Buddha, were established for the practice and propagation of the Buddhist religion, which originally came from India.
The layout of the temple buildings differs depending on the particular Buddhist sect and the period, and the names of the buildings themselves are also different.
The most important buildings in the temple are the main hall (Hondô, Kondô or Butsuden) and the pagoda. Worshippers stand in the outer chamber facing the inner sanctuary, with its images of the Buddha, to pray, pressing their palms together.
In India, the temple building which houses what are said to be the remains of the Buddha is called a stupa. In its passage to Japan via China and Korea, this type of building changed its shape and became the five-storied pagoda of the typical Japanese temple.
The Bonsho is the Buddhist temple bell. It is struck 108 times on New Year's Eve to ring in the New Year and drive out the 108 evil desires that man is heir to.
Japan is literally soaking in hot springs, with a tradition of bathing that stretches back 2,000 years. Called onsen in Japanese, these hot-spring resorts offer mind-boggling variations in the simple act of soaking in hot mineral waters, from simple outdoor affairs to theme-based sophisticated facilities. Even mineral content varies widely, with certain baths attributed to curing different ailments.
In any case, whether large or small, humble or grand, the procedure for bathing in a public bath is the same all over Japan. After completely disrobing and placing clothes in a locker or basket, bathers enter the bath area and head to the faucets with basins and stools, where they then soap down and wash off all traces of soap. Only when they're clean do they enter the bath, which may be so hot that it takes some time getting used to, especially for novice bathers. But with time, the hot water ebbs away all cares and tension, the perfect end to a day of travel. The second-most important rule of public bathing (after soaping down and rinsing prior to entering the water): never pull the plug, as public baths should be thought of in same vein as whirlpools. In any case, hot-spring spas are so popular, especially among groups of family, friends, and co-workers, that the Japanese are apt to visit the baths several times during a one night's stay: upon arrival at the resort, after dinner, and before departing the next day.
Japan is the land of landscape gardening and the tea ceremony, but it's also the unofficial king of pop culture. Godzilla was probably Japan's first ambassador of pop culture to the rest of the world, unleashed in a monster movie more than 50 years ago and copied many times over in subsequent films. In more recent times, Pokemon, created by Nintendo in 1996 for its handheld video game, Game Boy, spread to the rest of the world in the forms of a television series and trading cards, followed by Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh! Hello Kitty has captured hearts of girls everywhere with purses, notebooks and other accessories stamped with its trademark cat. And a global interest in anime (Japanimation) has spread ever since Astro Boy, anime's most well-known icon, was adapted for Western television in 1963. It was the beginning of a wave of anime imports, including Spirited Away which took an Oscar in 2003 and Appleseed. An interest in anime has spawned international animation fairs and shows in Japan, not to mention markets for Japanese movies and magazines.
For destinations relating to Japanese pop culture, Pokemon fans will want to visit the Pokemon Center stores in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya for their huge inventories of Pokemon-related gifts and souvenirs. Hello Kitty fans flock to Sanrio Puroland, a theme park 30 minutes by train from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station. In Mitaka (20 minutes by train from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station), there's the Ghibli Museum, with displays relating to the history of animation, mockups of an animator's studio, movies, and sets relating to films released by Studio Ghibli, including Spirited Away (tickets should be purchased in advance before arriving in Japan through a travel agency like JTB). Another must-see for anime fans is Tezuka Osamu Memorial Hall in Takarazuka, dedicated to the master of modern animation and known for his creations like Astro Boy.
Japan is filled with family-friendly adventures, activities, and learning opportunities.
This is among the largest resort and leisure facilities in Hokkaido. In addition to an amusement park with jet coasters and other attractions, the fun includes golf, canoeing, paragliding and other outdoor sports. In the winter months, visitors can enjoy skiing and other winter sports. Note that this amusement park is closed from the end of October through the end of April.
This is a theme park that appeals to children and adults alike.
This is a theme park that explores the world of the imagination through adventure and romance, discovery and pleasure.
Perfect in any weather conditions, this indoor theme park focuses on seven principal attractions. Internationally popular Sanrio characters look forward to greeting you!
Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise
This is a multi-featured seaside theme park whose attractions include a major aquarium and an amusement park.
This is an amusement park near Kawaguchi-ko, one of the lakes at the foot of Mt. Fuji. The popular attractions include Fujiyama, a jet coaster that is 79 meters tall and features one of the world's biggest descents: a drop of 70 meters!
There are daily dolphin, sea lion, and otter shows. The weekend parade of a crowd of penguins is another popular attraction. Board a miniature steam locomotive for a chance to see giraffes, tigers and cheetahs up close in Safari World.
Universal Studios Japan
Come to meet Terminator, see Jurassic Park and relive famous movies in stunning attractions. Unique to Japan is a celebration of cartoon animations hosted by Woody Woodpecker.
This is an indoor theme park where you can experience the wonder of outer space without leaving Earth.
Theme Parks Focusing on Japanese History
Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura
This is a theme park that reproduces the appearance of a town in the Sendai domain (Miyagi) 300 years ago in the days of the samurai.
This is a theme park that reproduces the appearance of a town from the early 17th to mid-18th centuries in the days of the samurai. The fun includes ninja action, re-enactments of court proceedings, and a show featuring elegant oiran, who were high-class courtesans.
Ise Azuchi Momoyama Bunka-Mura
This is a theme park that reproduces the atmosphere of the Warring States Period (Sengoku Jidai; late 16th century to the start of the 17th century). The highlights include a spectacular replica of Azuchi-jo Castle, inside which visitors can relive history through dramatic entertainment.
Toei Movie Land
A film-culture hall with a western-style, academic appearance is a genuine museum of Japanese cinema. Here you can review the careers of the great actors, actresses and directors of Japanese cinema, and trace the history of Japanese film through clips and photos.
What is now Okinawa-ken was once the kingdom of Ryukyu, a nation that was politically and culturally distinct from Japan. This theme park recreates the atmosphere of those days, and offers a glimpse of uniquely Okinawan/Ryukuan technologies including the manufacturing of sugar with the assistance of water buffalo.
A Taste of the West in Japan
Tobu World Square
Beautifully crafted miniature replicas of famous structures from all over the world are arranged in zones: Asia, Europe, Japan, and so on. Explanations are available and some models move.
Shima Parque Espana
Centering on Parque Espana, which conjures up the atmosphere of the Costa del Sol and Spain in general, Shima Parque Espana's facilities also include hotel accommodation and hot spring baths.
Huis Ten Bosch
This is a resort with hotel accommodation and the look of a 17th-century Dutch town. Set in vast grounds complete with canals, windmills and palaces, one day is simply not enough to see everything. This is a very elaborate recreation.
Traditional Dishes of Japan
Once known in the west either in the form of "sukiyaki" or the more exotic "sushi," Japanese cuisine has in recent years become much more familiar and appreciated around the world. Many visitors to Japan will have already sampled the pleasures of raw fish or batter-fried shrimp. But few first-time visitors to Japan are prepared for the variety and sumptuousness of Japanese food, as it is traditionally prepared. Eating in Japan is an experience to be enjoyed and remembered fondly for the rest of your life.
Sukiyaki is prepared right at the table by cooking thinly sliced beef together with vegetables, tofu and vermicelli.
Tempura is food deep-fried in vegetable oil after being coated with a mixture of egg, water and wheat flour. Among the ingredients used are prawns, fish in season and vegetables.
Sushi is a small piece of raw seafood placed on a ball of vinegary rice. The most common ingredients are tuna, squid and prawns.
Sashimi is sliced raw fish eaten with soy sauce.
Traditional multi-course Japanese cuisine, regarded as Japan's most exquisite culinary refinement.
Yakitori is made up of small pieces of chicken meat, and Japanese leek skewered on a bamboo stick and grilled over hot coals.
Tonkatsu is a deep-fried pork cutlet rolled in breadcrumbs.
Shabu-shabu is tender, thin slices of beef held with chopsticks and swished around in a pot of boiling water, then dipped in sauce before being eaten.
Soba and Udon
Soba and udon are two kinds of Japanese noodles. Soba is made from buckwheat flour and udon from wheat flour. They are served either in a broth or dipped in sauce and are available in hundreds of delicious variations.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Shiretoko, natural heritage site registered in July 2005, is considered to be the last pristine wilderness remaining in Japan. Shiretoko is a long narrow peninsula located in northeastern Hokkaido. The volcanic Shiretoko mountain range runs down the center of the peninsula and includes the highest peak of the range, Rausu-dake (1,661 m above sea level) and the active volcano Iouyama. The Sea of Okhotsk lies on the western side of the range and the Nemuro Straits on the eastern side. The coastline cliffs facing the Sea of Okhotsk rise up more than 100 m high, and you can glimpse waterfalls large and small cascading directly into the sea, and colonies of seabirds.
Hiraizumi in the southwestern part of Iwate Prefecture is a town extending up the Hiraizumi Hill on the west bank of the Kitakami-gawa River, that prospered for almost 100 years from the 11th to 12th centuries as the center of the Tohoku region (the northeastern region). Over 3,000 national treasures and historical sites still remain, telling of the Fujiwara Clan that reigned over the area in the zenith of its prosperity. The splendid culture that appeared during the reign of the Fujiwaras lasted for three generations and has been preserved in the area to this day.
The Ogasawara Islands is lying in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 kilometers south of the Japanese archipelago. The only way to get there is by ship as there is no airport. It really is secluded. It takes about 25 hours and a half to get to Futami Port of Chichijima Island by the ferry “Ogasawara-maru” from Takeshiba Pier in Tokyo. The ocean ferry Ogasawara-maru with gross tonnage of 6,700 tons has hotel-like cabins, a deck-snack bar where you can enjoy tea while viewing the Pacific Ocean, and a restaurant featuring dishes made with specialty products of Ogasawara. You can enjoy a comfortable voyage.
Arange of mountains reaching an altitude of around 1000 m extends east and west over an area of 130,000 ha that straddles the prefectures of Aomori and Akita. The central area (16,971 ha) in these mountains was registered as a natural heritage site in 1993. This is one of the last natural beech forests left in East Asia. One of the main features of the Shirakami-sanchi area is the rough mountainous landscape cut through with deep gorges by its numerous rivers. The area is peppered with valleys and waterfalls including the Mase Valley, Anmon Falls and Daira-kyo Gorge and attracts many anglers and trekkers. It is also home to some of the most unique plants in the world, as well as rare animals including a protected species of dormouse, the black woodpecker, Japanese serow and golden eagle.
The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
The remote mountain villages of gassho-style houses in Shirakawa-go and Gokayama on the Hida Highlands were registered as cultural heritage sites in 1995. The scenery of the mountain villages blending in with the nature of each season - fresh green leaves in spring, tinted leaves in autumn, winter snow - and the atmosphere of the villages with traditional houses standing side by side looks just like a fairy tale.
The Shrines and Temples of Nikko
Toshogu is where Ieyasu Tokugawa (ruling from 1603 to 1605) is enshrined; he was the first shogun of the Edo Shogunate, which flourished between the 17th and 19th centuries. As many as 127,000 craftsmen were involved in constructing the shrine, using the highest level of technology available at the time. The two-story "Yomei-mon Gate", decorated with brilliant colors and over 500 sculptures, is particularly famous. It is also called "Higurashi-mon (sunset gate)", because people spend all day long gazing at its beauty.
The Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara
The central monument is the Heijokyo-ato (Imperial Palace), the site of a royal palace in the present-day city of Nara. This is where the emperor resided and various government offices were located when Heijokyo of Nara was designated the capital in 710. After the capital was transferred to Heiankyo (present-day Kyoto) in 794, Heijokyo was temporarily turned over for use as farmland; after, however, influential temples and shrines including Kofukuji and Todaiji were erected and the area was again developed as "a capital of temples and shrines". The palace site was discovered in 1889. The "Sujakumon Gate" (reconstructed in 1998) and the gardens were reconstructed based on the results of excavation while preserving the spacious heath and activities are promoted to conserve the ancient image. A reference library was also established there, where you will learn about the excavations and research that are always in progress in the area.
Buddhist Monuments in Horyu-ji Area
The core temple, Horyu-ji, was built in the year 607 by Shotoku Taishi (574-622), a politician of that time. Thirty-eight national treasures and 151 important cultural assets are preserved on the temple's vast premises, and it is a treasure house of Japanese art; at the same time it is also known as the oldest wooden structure in the world. This complex is divided into the Western Precinct centering on the Kondo (main building) and Goju-no-tou (five-story pagoda) and the Eastern Precinct centering on the Yumedono (dream pavilion). The remarkable feature of this temple is you can see patterns everywhere in which the Silk Road culture and unique Japanese culture are subtly and perfectly blended.
Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto
Kiyomizu-dera Temple was built by Sakanoue Tamuramaro (758-811), a military commander and Enchin monk, and is one of the best sightseeing places in Kyoto. Among its many interesting features, the most famous is the "Kiyomizu-no-butai (main hall's wooden veranda)". It is supported by 139 pillars and built as though projected on to the mountain slope. It is said that if you jump from this veranda and survive with no injuries, your wishes will be fulfilled and if you die, you will become a peaceful saint. For a long time there seemed to be no end to the people willing to jump from there and in order to stop this phenomenon, the government enacted a law in 1872 to prohibit jumping.
Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range
This world heritage site incorporates three sacred sites across Nara, Wakayama and Mie prefectures: "Yoshino/Omine", "Kumano Sanzan", "Koya-san" and the pilgrimage routes that connect them.
Because its pure white appearance with white plaster coating looks like a dancing Shirasagi (Egret) with wings spread, this famous castle is also called the "Shirasagi-jo" or "Hakuro-jo". It was spared from damage during the war and from many other disasters and is in a remarkably preserved state compared to other castles. Seventy-four structures within the castle site including a tower and gate are designated as important cultural assets of Japan.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
The Genbaku Dome is the ruin of the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall that was destroyed when the first nuclear weapon/atomic bomb in human history was dropped by an American air force bomber on August 6, 1945. Because the atomic blast was almost directly above this spot, the walls of the building were partially spared from destruction, and the characteristic form of the building remained with the iron frame of the dome. This building representing Hiroshima, the first city to fall victim to nuclear bombing is registered as a world heritage site as a symbol of prayer for permanent world peace and the elimination of all nuclear weapons. There are only a few world heritage sites having this kind of negative side, including "Auschwitz = Birkenau Concentration Camp (Poland)" where the Nazi Germans slaughtered Jewish people, the "Island of Goree (Senegal)" that was used as a base in the slave trade and "Robben Island (Republic of South Africa)" where people opposed to apartheid were imprisoned. These sites are registered to remind us of the tragedies that occurred there and to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.
Itsukushima Shinto Shrine
It is said that Itsukushima Shinto Shrine was first constructed around 593, and the warlord Tairano Kiyomori (1118-1181) enlarged and remodeled it to create its present architectural grandeur. The most interesting feature of this shrine is the vermillion colored O-Torii (Shinto gate) and the Shaden (Shrine Pavilion) in the sea, which are both submerged at full tide, but at low tide it becomes possible to walk out to the gate.
Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine
Iwami Ginzan was one of the world's leading mines producing high-quality silver from 1526 to 1923. This mine is located over a wide area in the central region of Shimane Prefecture of the Chugoku Region. The silver excavated from this mine was exported to Europe via East Asia, and played a vital role in the East-West trade. It is said that approximately one third of the silver that was in circulation worldwide in the 16th Century was produced in this mine in Iwami. The great significance of the ancient remains of Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine lies in the fact that abundant traces of silver production from the mining sites to transportation routes have survived almost intact to this day.
Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryuku
Cultural heritage sites are scattered among the southernmost islands of Japan and on the main island of Okinawa. There are 9 ruins symbolizing the unique culture and religious beliefs of the Kingdom of Ryukyu that once flourished.
Yakushima is a round-shaped island situated approx. 60 km south from the southern end of Osumi Peninsula in the southern part of Kagoshima prefecture. One fifth of the island is registered as a natural heritage site. There are as many as 6 mountain peaks over 1,800 m high including Miyanoura-dake (1,935 m above sea level), the highest mountain in Kyushu, and this is what gives the island its other name-the 'Alps on the ocean'.
Japan has a multitude of museums and galleries showcasing the country's art, culture, history, and unique traditions, from Buddhist sculpture and Ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) to thatched-roof farmhouses and lacquerware. Many museums provide explanations and pamphlets in English, some provide audio guides, and a few even have English-speaking volunteers on hand to guide overseas visitors through the collections. Admission fees vary according to the exhibit.
Japan boasts a large number of natural parks, which can be grouped into three major categories: national parks, quasi-national parks and prefectural parks. There are 30 national parks in Japan, designated by the Environment Agency as areas of outstanding beauty.
This park consists of a marshy plain on the northern tip of Hokkaido and two islands. Rishiri Island is a round volcanic island, while Rebun Island, Japan's northernmost island, is famous for its sea kelp and wild birds. The Sarobetsu Plain is renowned for its wild flowers.
This park occupies the scenic Shiretoko Peninsula jutting off the northeast coast of Hokkaido, with the volcanic mountains of Shiretoko, Io and Rausu as its core. Caldera lakes and virgin forests are the trademarks of this park.
This park in eastern Hokkaido is noted for its grand volcanic mountains, lakes and vast stretches of dense virgin forest. O-Akan, Me-Akan and Io are volcanic mountains noted for their puffs of volcanic ash, while caldera lakes Akan, home of a hot-spring spa, and Mashu, one of Japan's most pristine lakes, are big draws for sightseers.
Encompassing Japan's largest marshland, this park of reeds and grasslands in eastern Hokkaido is famous for its Tancho-zuru, or red-crested white cranes. In addition, some 700 plant species thrive in this protected park.
This is Japan's largest national park, stretching across central Hokkaido in a vast area of volcanic mountain ranges (Daisetsu, Tokachi and Shikaribetsu), virgin forests, gorges and ravines, with many hot-spring resorts sprinkled throughout.
Located in Hokkaido, this park is known for its diverse volcanoes and caldera lakes, with hot-spring spas on lakes Shikotsu and Toya acting as good bases from which to explore the park. In addition to Mt. Yotei and Mt. Tarumae, there's newcomer Mt. Showa Shinzan, which was created by an upheaval of land in 1943.
Located in Tohoku, this park centers on Lake Towada with its Oirase Stream and popular hiking trail, the Hakkoda Mountains noted for skiing, and an extensive plateau characterized by forests and hot-spring resorts.
The beauty of an undulating coast with grottoes, inlets, high cliffs and stone columns facing the Pacific Ocean is the outstanding feature of this park in eastern Tohoku.
This park in Tohoku can be divided into four sections: the area around Lake Inawashiro, the Bandai-Azuma Mountains, Mt. Iide, and the Asahi–Gassan mountains, sometimes called the "Tohoku Alps." Skiing and visiting hot-spring resorts, including Numajiri Spa, are highlights here.
An easy side trip from Tokyo makes this national park a popular and convenient getaway. Lake Chuzenji with its hot springs, many Japanese inns and Kegon Waterfalls is a scenic attraction, as is marshy Ozegahara Plateau. But the highlight is the sumptuous Toshogu Shrine, the final resting place of Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa, nestled in a forest of majestic cedars.
Embracing the active volcanoes of Asama and Shirane, as well as Mt. Tanigawa with its unique alpine shape, this park is a skiing and hiking paradise, especially on the slopes of Shiga and Sugadaira. Mountain climbing, camping and picnicking are other popular pursuits, as is soaking at one of its many hot-spring resorts.
This park, easily accessible from Tokyo and located beside man-made Lake Okutama, is noted for its scenery, including dramatic Shosenkyo Gorge, mountains, valleys and forests.
The islands that comprise this national park lie 1,000-1,200 km (620-744 miles) from Tokyo in a tropical/subtropical zone. It's famous for its rugged coastal scenery, virgin forests and subtropical vegetation. Chichijima (Father Island) and Hahajima (Mother Island) attract vacationers interested in fishing and swimming.
This park serves as a popular playground for Tokyoites. Impressive Mt. Fuji is an obvious draw, both for those wishing to climb it and for those content to view it from the park's many vantage points, including Hakone with its many hot springs, Japanese-style inns, sightseeing attractions and Lake Ashi. Nearby Izu Peninsula is another popular getaway, with coastal scenery and gushing hot springs.
Chubu-Sangaku (Japan Alps)
This park, also called the Japan Alps National Park, attracts skiers, hikers and mountaineers with its 100 lofty peaks, half of which are higher than 2,440 m (8,000 feet). The chief peaks are Hotaka, Norikura, Ontake, Shirouma, Tateyama and Yari. Kamikochi is a popular summer resort and starting point for hiking trails.
Minami (Southern) Alps
This park boasts the magnificent mountain scenery of the Akaishi Range in the southern part of the Japan Alps. Komagatake and Shirane are the chief mountains, but many other peaks soar over 3,000 m. (9,900 feet) high.
Mt. Hakusan, a destination of religious climbers since feudal times, is the key player in this park, though three other peaks—Gozen, Onanji and Kengamine—are more than 2,600 m. (8,580 feet) high. Other scenic draws include primeval forests of Japanese beech trees and a large variety of alpine plants.
The Ise Shrines, Japan's most revered Shinto shrines, are the main attractions of this peninsular park and have been attracting devotees since feudal times. Pearl cultivation takes place in Ago Bay, with demonstrations and exhibitions related to pearls taking place on Mikimoto Pearl Island.
Ancient temples and shrines, a spectacular coastline, deep gorges and towering peaks are the trademarks of this park.
San-in Kaigan (Coast)
This park facing the Japan Sea features a coastline etched with caves, grottos and fantastic rock formations and accented with inlets, promontories and islets, all of which form a stark contrast to the park's other attraction, the Tottori Sand Dunes.
Mt. Daisen and the Oki Islands with their rugged mountains form the backbone of this park and serve as a habitat for plants, rare birds and insects.
Seto-Naikai (Inland Sea)
Japan's first national sea park, established in 1934, covers the Inland Sea between western Japan and Shikoku Island, along with sections of coastline. The sea is studded with many islands and islets, most famous of which is Miyajima Island (near Hiroshima) with its Itsukushima Shrine. The Shimanami Kaido is a series of bridges connecting Shikoku and Hiroshima Prefecture; its dedicated cycling path affords sweeping views of the Inland Sea.
Located at the southernmost edge of Shikoku Island, this park boasts rare seascapes, an undersea park and Cape Ashizuri with its magnificent views of granite cliffs facing the Pacific Ocean.
Mt. Aso, a rare, double-coned volcano, is the center attraction of this park on the island of Kyushu, with three climbing paths leading to its crater. Lots of volcanic activity account for the area's many hot springs.
This park, which includes Shimabara Peninsula and the Amakusa Islands (connected to Kyushu via bridges), is widely known as a popular spa. Though Mt. Fugen erupted in 1991, it's still a popular recreation spot, especially at nearby Unzen Spa with its hot springs and Japan's oldest public golf course.
A jagged coastline, with many islands like Hirado Island and Kujukushima Island dotting the blue sea, is the highlight of this marine park on the west edge of Kyushu.
This park on the southern tip of Kyushu stretches from the volcanic Kirishima Mountain Range to Yaku Island in the south sea. Included are parts of Kinko Bay facing the active volcano Sakurajima, nicknamed the "Naples of the Orient," and scenic mountains, craters, lakes, forests and hot springs.
Japan's southernmost national park consists of small islands in the Yaeyama Island group, located 1,200 km (744 miles) off the Kyushu coast in the East China Sea. It centers on Iriomote Island with its forests of subtropical broad-leafed trees and wildlife and offers spectacular coral reefs.
Tokyo consists of the southwestern part of the Kanto region, the Izu Islands, and the Ogasawara Islands. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, and the place where over 13 million people live, making it one of the most populous cities in the world. When the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu established a government there in the early 17th century, the area started to develop, spreading out around his residence, Edo Castle. Most of the city was devastated by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and then again by the bombing in the WWII. However, Tokyo was able to achieve a remarkably rapid recovery both times.
Tokyo is not only the political and economic center of Japan; it has also emerged as a center of the world economy and culture. There are a number of attractions in Tokyo that should not be missed. There are large-scale downtown areas, including Ginza where famous shops from around the world stand side by side, the sleepless Shinjuku that has become the "new city center of Tokyo," Asakusa which is reminiscent of the traditional Edo (the former name of Tokyo), and Shibuya that starts the trends for the young people. Other unique areas include the computer town Akihabara - a dense retail area where numerous electronic shops compete against each other, attracting many shoppers from Japan and overseas - and Tsukiji, a wholesale food market catering to shops and consumers everywhere in Japan.
Just south of Tokyo, Kanagawa Prefecture is situated in the southwest of the Kanto Plains and fronts on Tokyo Bay and Sagami Bay at the south. In addition to its celebrated standing as an animated district that has led the economy of Japan, Kanagawa boasts topographic variety created by mountains, rivers, and sea, with each locality colored by distinguishing history and climate.
Yokohama, the seat of the prefectural government, has grown as a major gateway of the sea to Japan, as well as the center of administration and economy for the whole prefecture. Yokohama City has the development of Minato Mirai District 21 under way as a near-futuristic urban complex. In addition to Yokohama, there are other well-known vital cities east of the prefecture, such as Kawasaki, one of the foremost industrial cities in Japan, and Yokosuka, an exotic fishing town.
What is more, nature abounds in Kanagawa. The Sagami-gawa River, known as "Kanagawa's mother river," runs through the middle of the prefecture. There are many tourist spots of long standing, such as Kamakura, Hakone, a mecca for hot spring lovers, and Odawara, a castle town of a feudal lord. In the south of the prefecture sits the Shonan and Miura-hanto Peninsula area, boasting a beautiful coastline, with the northern part of the Tanzawa Mountains spreading out to the west. Thus, Kanagawa is a multi-faceted prefecture, with everything from abundant nature to a near-futuristic urban complex.
Osaka prefecture is in the Kansai region on the main island of Japan. Mountains surround three sides of the prefecture and the west faces the arc-shaped Osaka Bay. Since it is close to former capitals Kyoto and Nara, it prospered as an important point for land and water transportation as well as a commercial city.
In the Osaka City is the Osaka Castle with a five-layer donjon as its core, on a lawn park that stretches for about 60,000 square meters. During the cherry blossom season in the spring, this park is especially crowded with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) crowd. Osaka's north gate, Umeda, has a gigantic stretch of underground mall that houses many restaurants, fashion and sundry goods stores.
In contrast to Kita with Umeda as its core, Minami is an area with core cities Namba, a popular business and shopping district, and Dotonbori, with many restaurants on both sides of Dotonbori-gawa River. Minami is known as a town of public entertainment and has many theaters and cinemas.
Kyoto was the capital and the center of Japanese art and culture for more than 1000 years from 794. Kyoto, in every respect, is different from Tokyo: language, food and the people’s attitude. Temple pagodas, instead of sky scrapers, are visible. It is truly unlike and any other city one will ever know.
Kyoto is a treasure house of historic relics. Besides magnificent Imperial Palaces and Villas, Koto has about 400 Shinto shrines and 1650 Buddhist temples. Some temples are admired for their architectural beauty, some are known for the art treasures and priceless statues they house, and some are famous for the beautifully landscaped gardens.
Kyoto is the center of traditional industries producing highly refined articles such as Nishijin silk weaving, Yuzen dyeing, Kiyomizu-yaki ceramic ware, Kyoto dolls and lacquerware. The craftsmen’s skills have been handed down through generations of families and are very much in evidence today. Kyoto is a city of festivals as well. Some colorful festivals and rites have been inherited for over a thousand year. Kyoto’s three grandest festivals are the Gion Festival, Aoi (Hollyhock) Festival and Jidai Festival or Pageant of the Ages.
Hokkaido is an island at Japan's northern extremity, surrounded by sea in all directions. It is an extensive land, accounting for 22% of Japan's total land area. Low humidity makes the summers pleasant, while in winter you can enjoy winter sports, including world famous powder snow skiing and snowboarding. The island is gaining popularity as a tourist destination throughout the four seasons.
In Hokkaido you can enjoy the magnificence of nature to your heart's content: Daisetsu-zan National Park, which forms the roof of Hokkaido; the secluded Shiretoko-hanto Peninsula; Kushiro Marsh, home to many precious living things such as Japanese cranes; Shikotsu-Toya National Park, which is full of volcanoes and lakes; and the ever-changing Shakotan-kaigan Coast. There are also numerous hot springs, like the Noboribetsu-onsen, Jozan-kei-onsen and Soun-kyo-onsen, where you can enjoy a leisurely bath to help you get over the fatigue of your journey.
The Sapporo Snow-matsuri Festival and Monbetsu Ice Floes-matsuri Festival are held in winter. In summer enjoy the Furano Lavender-matsuri Festival, as well as port festivals in every coastal town held to pray for a good catch and safe fishing. Hokkaido boasts of over 1,200 festivals and events held throughout the year.
Japan is a shopper’s paradise with famous brand items, high tech gadgets, traditional crafts, and more.
Department stores are fun places to shop. The food floors, usually located on the bottom floor are called “depa-chika” (underground level of a department store) and are filled with a wide variety of foods, such as most famous and popular dishes from five-star hotels and restaurants, local specialties from all over Japan, and beautifully arranged lunch boxes (bento).
100-yen shops in Japan sell a wide range of items, including foods, stationery and kitchen goods at a uniform price of 100 yen. You may find small souvenir items there such as Japanese tableware and ornaments.
Sumo is a traditional combative Japanese sport that is well known throughout the world. Most rikishi (Sumo wrestlers) are professional competitors weighing 100 to 200 kg.
Rules are simple compared to western-style wrestling: two competitors wearing mawashi (silk belts) fight in a ring 4.5m in diameter and placed on a square mound. When any part of a competitor’s body, except the sole of the feet, touches the ground or goes out of the ring, he loses the bout.
The professional sumo tournaments take place six times a year for 15 days each in January, May and September at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, March in Osaka, July in Nagoya and December in Fukuoka.
Kendo is Japanese-style fencing, which originated from kenjutsu, the most important martial art of the samurai. In the match, the competitor wears special protective gear and strikes at the opponent’s head, chest or hand with a bamboo sword.
Judo is well known throughout the world as a Japanese combative sport. The basic principle of Judo is a self-defense technique that makes use of the opponent's force. The player wears a colored obi (belt), to show his or her level of ability, with white being for beginners and black for advanced.
Karate is a combative sport that came from China through Ryukyu Kingdom (present day Okinawa). The competitors of the match do not wear any kind of protection and use only their hands and fists. Compared to other combative sports, karate is a more practical martial art.
The basic principle of Aikido is “Do not fight force with force”. It is a sport that only practice forms for the sake of forms and is therefore not so rough as Judo or Karate. Aikido is excellent as mental training or as a fitness sport, and has become especially popular with women and senior citizens.
Baseball is so popular in Japan that many fans are surprised to hear that Americans also consider it their "national sport."
Professional baseball is well developed, with twelve teams being sponsored by major corporations. In Tokyo, the most favored place to see a game is the Tokyo Dome Stadium located in the ground of Tokyo Dome City Amusement Park.
Soccer is a sport which now a focus of explosive popularity among children and young people in Japan. Japan has hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with Korea.
Japan has a great deal of prestigious formal golf courses with illustrious histories. They open their doors to visitors in addition to members, and the ever present signature of high class extends to outstanding hospitality as well. There are numerous unique courses embellishing upon scenery and geographical features unique to Japan, making it a pleasant experience to catch a break from sightseeing and enjoy some light exercise with golf as a slight change of pace.
The ocean surrounding Japan is home to unique types of fish as well as a sheer abundance of aqua-life unlike anything in the world. Japan also boasts a large amount of rivers, lakes, and marshes with excellent water quality and with ocean waters and the nature of mountain land nearby, seafood cuisine in the interior regions of Japan are also extremely popular. These geographical conditions are part of the reason the Japanese people have loved fish for centuries. Visit the ocean or rivers, or any place where water can be found, and you are bound to find people casting fishing lines. In fact, enjoying fishing in Japan is also one way to get a feel for one of the foundations of life in Japan.
Skiing is a leading winter sport also in Japan. In general, the ski season in Japan is from December through March. The Japan skiing is varied across the country depending on the terrain and the natural environment. Thanks to this, a variety of ski runs and conditions of snow can be enjoyed. Challenging bumpy slopes, thrilling runs with a great view which was made clearing woods and more variety of runs will satisfy even the advanced and expert skiers who have been to ski resorts around the world. The varied terrain in Japan has created hidden spots. A trekking tour to a hidden spot will give you real excitement in Japan's nature.
Surrounded by the sea, Japan has varied coastal features including beaches, rock reefs and estuaries. Surf spots and dive sites are found all over the nation. There is a big difference in the nature of the sea between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. They introduce you the surf spots with relatively easy access from the Tokyo Metropolitan area. Japan has the world's fifth longest coastline and the dive sites are found throughout Japan. Okinawa Islands are one of the most popular diving sites in Japan.