japan

Eclectic and eccentric

A land of immense beauty where yesterday and tomorrow collide, Japan offers tourists a getaway like no other.

Author

Kate Veteri

Destination: Japan

Like Croatia in Europe, you might say Japan has become Asia’s newest hot-spot destination. It seems that no matter what time of year, someone – be it friends, family or work colleagues – has just come back from an oriental jaunt with tales of bustling streets, weird and wacky finds, cherry blossoms or the ski slopes. 

When visiting Japan there’s no getting away from the shrines and temples, so you may as well start your journey deep within the history books by visiting the famous Kyoto temple Kiyomizudera. Made up of a collection of different shrines, Kiyomizudera sits on the site of the Otowa Waterfall. Perched 13 metres above the hillside below, and surrounded by ornamental cherry trees, the ‘wooden shrine’ can either be a sea of blush blossoms in spring or snow white in mid-winter. Behind this main hall stands the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to matchmaking. If you close your eyes and successfully walk between the two stones it’s said that you’ll be ‘lucky’ in love.

While in Kyoto continue your ‘temple and shrine crawl’ by hunting out the hidden treasure of Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion. Covered entirely in gold leaf and seated on the ‘mirror pond’, the Buddhist temple features different design techniques on each of the three floors. The first floor is built in the Shinden style featuring natural wood and white plaster; the second floor is built in the Bukke style largely used in samurai residences; and the third floor is built in the style of the Chinese Zen Hall. The whole temple is then completed with a golden phoenix perched on top. 

If you’re a lover of animals and nature rather than history, then Japan also has you covered. Just past the bustling city of Kyoto is Arashiyama, home to a monkey park and sprawling bamboo grove. 

Iwatayama Monkey Park is the place to experience these wild Japanese macaque monkeys up close and personal. Also known as snow monkeys, they’re most commonly pictured bathing in the hot springs during winter. These playful creatures are all hand fed, but, it’s important to remember that while they are friendly enough to approach you, they’re still wild. 

Close by is the popular Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Almost forest-like, the grove consists of several walkways underneath the towering bamboo growth, providing visitors with a quiet and immersive experience.

 

It’s easy enough to jump on a bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo, but it’s worth stopping off at the world-famous volcano Mount Fuji along the way. Summer provides the perfect season for non-experienced hikers to climb 3776 metres to the summit (though part of this is by bus) to take in the spectacular views. For those who reach the top in the early hours of the morning may be lucky enough to see the crest free of clouds. You may also be surprised to discover the locals have established a lucrative trade with climbers, offering warm beverages and food at the summit – though expect to pay through the nose. Despite summer temperatures reaching into the 30s on ground level, the peak of the mountain can drop below 5°C, and a hot can of coffee makes for a welcome hand-warmer no matter the price. 

Mount Fuji is officially open for climbing during July to mid-September when the mountain is free of snow. During this time the ascent to the summit does not pose any major difficulties, however, it’s important to note that some points along the journey are steep and rocky. 

From nature to man’s creations, the next stop is Tokyo where you’ll find leading advancements in technology, robotics and AI. From Mount Fuji the Shinkansen bullet train takes only half an hour – and is guaranteed to arrive exactly on time. 

Once in Tokyo the sights are diverse but if you’re looking for dinner with a twist why not try Robot Restaurant. Located in the Kabukicho red-light district, you can sit and enjoy a cabaret performance featuring flashing lights, techno music and dancing robots. Both quirky and confusing, the night will certainly be one to remember. 

Rather than walking or using public transport to see the city of Tokyo let your imagination take hold in a real life Mario Kart race. Mari Mobility lets you drive around the streets of Tokyo in a GPS-enabled custom-built go-kart, wearing the costume of your favourite Mario character (costumes provided by the company). Being led through three designated courses, the go-karts can reach speeds of 60km/h. Since you’ll be driving on the road you’ll need to bring an international driver’s licence along with your Nintendo skills. 

After an activity-heavy holiday why not relax and take the time to enjoy other Japanese creations – such as beer. The city of Sapporo has been producing beer since 1877. Over a century later – and now an official heritage site – the Sapporo Beer Museum opened its doors to promote the craft of beer-making. From the building to the produced goods, the museum allows for an immersive experience. 

So, for the ultimate getaway that appeals to everyone’s tastes, visit Japan and all its wonders. 

Off the beaten path 

Here is a little bento box of curiosities you may not know about Japan.

  1. Upgrade your communal bath menu at the Yunessun Spa Resort. You can soak in green tea, coffee or ramen noodles.
  2. At the base of Mount Fuji you will find the Narusawa Ice Caves. Much like Willie Wonka’s never-melting ice cream, the ice crystals stay frozen all year-round – even in the summer heat. 
  3. If that isn’t enough to get you to the base of Mount Fuji, then there is also the Wind Cave and the Bat Cave, to live out your dreams as the caped crusader. 
  4. The Golden Pavilion is more modern than you think. The temple was originally built in 1408 but was burned down in 1950 when it was set alight by a ‘fanatic monk’. 
  5. From soup and ice cream to t-shirts, everything in Japan comes out of a vending machine.

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