Japan is the land of the Rising Sun, and arguably the technology capital of the whole world. For such a comparatively small country, it’s had an amazing influence on global culture and contains some of the best and brightest inventive minds in the world. On top of that, it’s also an incredible place to visit for a vacation, and we don’t think it gets enough love in that respect. We’re hoping to whet your appetite for a trip to Japan by giving you this article to read today!
Much of what we know – or at least, what we think we know – about Japan comes from media and entertainment products. We’ve seen Japan in American TV shows and Hollywood movie productions, and also in vaguely stereotyped online slots games like “Rising Sun,” and “Sumo Spins.” The big irony of that is even though thousands of people in the western world have played that PayPal slots, nobody in Japan has. They wouldn’t even be allowed to do so. Online slots are banned in Japan, along with almost every other form of gambling! The best way to get a feel for the real Japan is to see it with your own eyes – and so here are five places we think you should visit to get that experience.
Japan is an ancient culture, full of myths, legends, and traditions, but many of those myths and legends come from the land’s real history. You can walk among that history at Fukuoka Castle. The whole city is worth your time to go and see, but the castle is the definitive highlight. It was built during a time when the leaders of the region, known as Shoguns, lived in enormous hilltop holes far above the people they governed. Precious few of those buildings have survived to this day, but this glorious castle is still standing. The best time to pay a visit is in July when the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival is in full swing. This two-week-long city-wide festival can trace its history back an incredible seven hundred years! It’s not all about ancient history though – while you’re there, take a trip to Canal City Hakata. It’s a whole indoor town with a canal running right through the middle of it.
We promise that we’re not going to spend this entire article talking about castles, but it would be irresponsible of us to discuss the best attractions in Japan without mentioning Osaka Castle. The castle was built by warrior-turned-politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1586 and still looks largely the same today as it did when he put his finishing touches to it almost five hundred years ago. It’s not technically the same building though, sadly. Although it’s retained its original appearance, it’s been destroyed and rebuilt several times since the 16th century, with the most recent rebuild taking place in 1931. This was once the most important strategic defensive fortress in all of Japan. Head up to the top of the castle in time for sunset to get a panoramic view of Osaka that will take your breath away, and a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.
Much of mainland Japan was devastated by the Second World War, but Kyoto escaped the bombs. Because of that, it’s one of the oldest unspoiled or unreconstructed places you could visit anywhere in the country. The historic quarter of Kyoto has looked the same since the ancient Imperial family moved here one thousand years ago. Their presence established Kyoto as the cultural heart of Japan, and it retains that status and reputation today. If you want to learn about the history of the whole country, Kyoto is the place to come. It has museums, art galleries, and temples that you won’t find anywhere else. The most visited site in Kyoto is the Imperial Palace, built during the 9th century, but you’re just as likely to be impressed by the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Walking between the gigantic trees will remind you of the awesome power of nature.
To many people, Mount Fuji is the definitive symbol of Japan. It isn’t hard to see why. It’s the country’s most easily-identifiable landmark, and it dominates the landscape for miles around. The snow-topped mountain is 3800 meters tall and can be seen from as far away as Tokyo. That’s a distance of over one hundred kilometers! Over one million people climb the mountain each year. Don’t worry if you’re not a natural climber, though – the area around the mountain is outstandingly beautiful, and you can appreciate it from the bottom almost as much as you can from the top. There’s a reason that UNESCO deemed it worthy of being nominated as a World Heritage Site in 2013 – an accolade that many people thought was overdue. The mountain sits at the center of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park – an area that’s well worth spending a full day exploring.
We imagine that anyone who visits Japan will spend time in Tokyo, but don’t make the mistake of spending all of your time there in the ultra-modern center of the city. Tokyo might be a 21st-century metropolis, but it’s also a place full of wondrous ancient landmarks and buildings. The Imperial Palace is a must-see attraction, with the added bonus that Japan’s Imperial family still lives there. If you’re very lucky, they might wave at you! Even if they don’t, you’ll get the opportunity to explore the 17th-century gardens of the palace, protected by moats and ancient walls. Be sure to take in a few traditional Japanese theater performances while you’re in Tokyo, too. You’ll find Kabuki performances happening almost every day at the Kabuki-za Theater. Fortunately for bargain hunters, the theater is right in the middle of the Ginza shopping district. You can pick up a few souvenirs of your trip while you’re there!
We could go on almost endlessly about all of the attractions that Japan has to offer, but we don’t want to tell you everything. Half of the fun of going on vacation is exploring the place you’re visiting and finding things out for yourself. We know that it won’t be the cheapest trip you ever book but don’t let that put you off. You might only go to Japan once in your lifetime, but it’s a journey that everybody should consider making.
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