6 REASONS TO VISIT JAPAN
By Ian Robert Knight
Japan has a distinctive style, cuisine, culture and identity all its own. This island nation is about the same size as California, but has about 3x the population. Yet despite it’s small physical size, its influence on the rest of the world is quite significant. It’s hard to imagine the world we know today without many of the things that originate in Japan. Apart from the many products we associate with Japan, there are also many visual things that we instantly recognize as Japanese. And with that in mind, here are 6 reasons to visit Japan from a visual viewpoint.
Castles and Temples
It’s pretty hard to miss the many castles and temples in Japan. There are literally thousands of them dotted around the country. However there are some specific ones that are particularly special and worth seeing.
Among the most beautiful, and therefore famous, are Osaka Castle, Himeji Castle, and Kinkaku-ji Temple. They are some of the most impressive structures in the world, and they are all several centuries old. The castles all started out as fortresses for protection when Japan was a collection of warring states. There are only 12 original castles left standing now, but hundreds of modernized rebuilds exist today. Himeji Castle is the most impressive original castle still around, while Osaka Castle is an outstanding replica.
Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion, was once the home of a shogun. It was converted into a Zen Temple after his death in the 1400’s. The top two floors of the temple are completely covered in gold leaf. It’s spectacular.
Japanese gardens are well-known throughout the world for their beauty and… well, precision. When strolling through a garden in Japan, take note of how everything seems to be perfectly planned out and placed in the exact location it needs to be. Gardeners in Japan use design concepts that are centuries old, and that contribute to the enjoyment of the visitor.
Pay close attention to how the designer makes use of the water, the pathways, the stones, and even the moss. It seems like every tree and shrub is chosen for its complementary nature in the surroundings. The grounds are meticulously manicured to make sure that everything looks perfect.
Even in a bustling city like Tokyo, the serenity you’ll find while walking through a garden will make you forget you’re in a massive urban jungle.
In Japan, fish is one of the most common sources of food. Almost everyone has tasted sushi, and Japan is the best place in the world to eat that type of dish. And Tokyo has the largest fish market in the world. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s very accurate. A walk through this massive marketplace will convince you.
Every morning between the hours of 5 and 6 am, they hold auctions for huge tuna fish. These fish can cost well over $100,000, and it’s not unheard of for a bluefin tuna to sell for over $1,000,000. So you can imagine the tension in these morning auctions.
The rest of the market is also impressive, and you can see ocean creatures here that you may not even know the names of. All manner of fish, shellfish, crustaceans and other sea creatures are sold here every day. Consequently, the restaurants that surround the market have some of the freshest sushi in the world.
Nothing is more storied in Japan than the seductive image of the Geisha. In Kyoto, the Geikos (as they’re called here) lead a very protected life, performing their jobs for high-paying customers. Originally, Geikos were employed by the teahouses and trained to serve tea that was special to the region. But over time, their talents were displayed by performing traditional dances or playing musical instruments. Now, young women would go through 5 years of training to become a Geiko.
The best way to experience the lifestyle of the Geiko, is to hire one for a few hours. To do this, you need to go through the girl’s Madame (the Kami-San), and book them. They are deeply private, and don’t like to be photographed by paparazzi on the streets. For a modest fee, you can book dinner with a Geiko for about 2-3 hours and come away with some amazing photos.
One of the most iconic images of Japan that people are familiar with, is the temple gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha. The name may not ring a bell, but the photograph will become instantly familiar. This hugely popular destination near Kyoto is a delight for photographers. The vermillion coloured torii (gates) are incredible to view.
This temple is one of the most important Shinto temples. While it’s actually dedicated to the god of rice, devotees more commonly worship here for business success, or for good luck in general. Each of the 10,000+ gates were donated by one business or another. You can see the business names painted on the base of the gates.
Another iconic image of Japan is the large green bamboo grove of Arashiyama, west of Kyoto. This forest of bamboo has been featured in movies like “Memoirs of a Geisha” and many others.
The bamboo grove contains thousands of trees, which can reach more than 30 meters high. As you walk the pathways and listen to the bamboo as it rustles from the breeze, it will be memorable both audibly and visually. And the photographs you take here will be cherished forever.
There are considerably more places to visit in Japan. Listing just 6 reasons to visit Japan is barely scratching the surface. We offer two adventures per year to Japan, in June and September. We will visit all of these places and more. Don’t you think it’s time you visited Japan?