We start our first day by visiting Tsukiji Fish Market. It is known as the largest fish market in the world, as it has six-time business of NY’s Fulton Market. It deals with 2000 tons and 400 different kind of seafood every day. In the atmosphere of hustle and bustle, venders sell not only fresh fish and other marine products but also fruits and vegetables and meat. Tsukiji Fish Market consisted of two parts, inner market that is a whole seller market and outer market that is an area we can explore. In outer market, you can find many shops offering food samples. It is fun to taste different kind of snacks such as wasabi peanuts, and dried squid. You can also find unusual produce such as fresh wasabi root or white strawberry as Tsukiji not only has seafood market, but also has the third largest produce market in Tokyo. Of course, you can eat fresh sushi, sashimi and other grilled fresh seafood as well. After Tsukiji, we visit Tokyo Skytree. It was built in 2012 as a TV broadcasting tower. It is 634 meter tall (2113 feet) and the observation deck is located 350 meter (1166feet) high. You can even view Mt. Fuji in a clear day. It also houses aquarium, planetarium, and many restaurants and shops. Shopping area called Soramachi, skytown, offers lots of Tokyo souvenirs. Next, we explore nearby Asakusa Sensoji Temple and Asakusa Shrine. Sensoji Temple’s symbol is a huge red lantern which says Thunder Gate. That is hanged in a main entrance of Nakamise street which consists of 250 meter (833 feet) of Tokyo souvenir shops and local snack shops. It attracts not only foreign tourists, but also Japanese tourists so it is always busy. If you prefer quietness, you can visit a beautiful garden with Koi fish on the side of Sensoji Temple. Today’s lunch is the choice lunch. You get to choose from Ramen noodle, Curry, or Teishoku (Japanese set menu comes with rice and miso soup). We can walk around Tokyo business section where you can eat lunch with Japanese “salary man” After lunch, we have a surprise. A cosplay girl who wear traditional Hakama, two-piece kimono, is on board with us. You can take pictures and walk with her entire afternoon. We then visit Imperial Palace glass bridge area. Imperial Palace used to be Edo castle, and now home for our Emperor. The palace was destroyed during world war and rebuilt in the original style. However, stone wall is original from 400 years ago. Our current emperor is 125th emperor which marks the longest royal family in the world. Akihabara electric town is our next destination. If you are into electric goods and Anime, this is the place for you. There are also unique café such as maid café where waitress dressed up as maids and treat you as her master, and Gundam café. At the end of the day, we walk around Ueno Park which is a mecca for Hanami, cherry blossom viewing party. In Japan, we can drink alcohol in some park. So everyone bring picnic food or take out food and enjoy outside party viewing beautiful cherry blossom. There are many interesting food venders on a street. It is always fun to try local street food such as Takoyaki, (Octopus ball), Yakisoba, (fried noodle) or Yakitori (chicken sate).
Lake AshiToday, we say good bye to Tokyo and headed to see Mt. Fuji. After two hour ride by a bus, we arrive Oishi Park which is located by Lake Kawaguchi, one of the five lakes created from volcanic activity of Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is the most loved mountain by Japanese people and is standing border of Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefecture. The highest peak is 3776 meters, and still classified as an active volcano although the last eruption was 1707. It was designated as world cultural heritage site in 2013. After lunch, we visit Hakone area. First, we enjoy a boat ride on Lake Ashi. You can enjoy view of beautiful combination of surrounding mountain green and blue water. If you are very lucky, you can even see Mt. Fuji. The lake was formed in the caldera of the last eruption of the Hakone volcano about 3000 years ago. Its perimeter is 21 Km long and the deepest part of the lake is 43meter. It is located 723 meter above sea level. People enjoy boat rides and fishing rainbow trout and black seabass.. After the boat cruise, we get on 1800 meter, 7 minutes ride of Mt. Komagatake Ropeway. It can house 101 passenger at a time. On a clear day, we can view a beautiful panoramic view of Lake Ashi and Mt. Fuji from a mountain station. You can also take a short hike to Hakone shrine on the mountain top which is 1,327 meter above sea level. Finally, we check into Japanese Hot spring Inn where we spend a night. We are provided with Yukata, cotton kimono for a lounge wear. You can wear Yukata to dinner, to hot spring and to sleep. We have Kaiseki dinner together. Kaiseki dinner includes seasonal and local dishes. Since we stay by Pacific Ocean, there are wide variety of sea food. In Kaiseki dinner, you can find meals prepared in variety ways, such as grilled, steamed, raw, fried, boiled, and marinated. After dinner, some of us try to experience hot spring in a hotel. It is Japanese people’s favorite way to relax and enjoy vacation. Hot spring is believed to offer many health treatments such as for arthritis, female problem and skin problems.
KinkakujiOur first adventure today is to ride Shinkansen, known as a bullet train. First Shinkansen was operated one week before Tokyo Olympic in October in 1964. It connected between Tokyo and Osaka. Since then, there is no casualty as it is known for the safety. It has average of only 55 seconds delay. After we experience smooth ride of Shinkansen, we drive into Kyoto, Japanese former capital. Wherever Emperor lives become a capital of Japan. Since current Emperor lives in Tokyo, Tokyo is a capital of Japan. However, Emperors lived in Kyoto for long time, Kyoto was a capital of Japan. Upon arrival in Kyoto, we have delicious Kyoto local cuisine for lunch. Then off to see Kimono Show at Nishijin Textile Center. One of the famous product in Kyoto is Kimono fabric. Basically there are two ways to make Kimono fabric. One is to dye or paint and the other is weaving. Nishijin is area which has been famous for weaving kimono fabric called Nishijin Weaving. Here, we can learn about how to weave kimono fabric. If you are lucky, you can see a demonstration of Nishijin weaving. We also get to see beautiful kimono show and chance to shop variety of kimono fabric related items. Next, we are going to visit Kiyomizu Temple, which was founded in 780. Kiyomizu means pure water, as there is the Otowa waterfall in a property in Kiyomizu temple. Visitors line up to have a taste of this spring water as it is said to make you healthy and brings you a good luck. In 1994, Kiyomizu temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage site. Kiyomizu temple is best known for its wooden veranda which is 13 meter (43 feet ) high and was built without using a single nail. Currently, Kiyomizu temple is under renovation, so some of the part of the temple is covered. It is scheduled to be completed in a spring of 2020. Visit to Kiyomizu temple also offer us chance to see and buy local Kyoto souvenirs as there are many shops from sweets and green tea to Kiyomizu pottery on the way to the temple. Then we visit beautiful Kinkakuji, known as Golden Pavilion. It was built as a villa of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, 3rd shogun in 1394. He left a will to change it for Buddhist temple upon his death. However, it was burned down in 1950, and rebuilt in 1955. It is also registered as UNESCO world heritage site in 1994. We finished our Kyoto first day with a walk around Gion District. Gion area is one of five Geiko area in Kyoto where Geiko and Maiko reside. We stroll a narrow pathway lined with traditional building including tea houses. Geiko literally means an artist. They perform Japanese instruments such as shamisen, three stringed instrument, and traditional Japanese dance. They train variety of Japanese traditional arts such as tea ceremony to flower arrangement during a day, and they are called to perform the art and entertain guests in the evening. There are about 190 Geiko and 90 Maiko in Kyoto these days.
Nara Deer ParkToday, we visit Fushimi Inari Shrine first. This shrine is famouse for having more than a thousand torii gates. Actually it has much more: altogether 10,000 torii gates in the mountain. A torii gate is considered as an entrance to a Shinto shrine. Shinto is Japanese indigenous religion which has no founder, no stature, and no scripture. The reason for having so many torii gate in Fushimi Inari shrine is that these torii gates are donation from business and general public as this shrine is dedicated the god of “business prosterity” as well as “dream come true” Since Fushimi Inari shrine has been voted number 1 destination in Japan from Trip Adviser for past several years, it has been very crowded. Next, we will visit Sake Museum also located in Fushimi area. To make good sake, not only rice but also pure water is necessary. Fushimi is known for clear water so there are several sake brewery in this area. By visiting a Sake Museum, we can learn how sake is made and also have chance to taste sake as well as plum wine. Generally, sake has around 15% alcohol content, and it is drink either hot or cold. After lunch, we will travel to Nara to see Giant Buddha in Todaiji Temple. Nara is considered as an ancient capital of Japan as Emperor had lived here before they reside in Kyoto. Back in 752, Emperor Shomu built the Great Buddha in order to save the people from plague and natural disaster. Todaiji is famous for not only housing the largest Buddha, but also it is the largest wooden structure in the world, even though current one is the reconstruction of 1692 which is only two third of the original structure. The sitting height of Giant Buddha is about 15 meter (50 feet), width of an eye is 1 meter (3.3 feet), a hand is more than 2.5 meter (8.3 feet). The right hand represents “ Do not fear “ and the left hand means “grant people’s wishes” Along with the Giant Buddha, you can also enjoy meeting and feeding tame deers in Nara Deer Park. There are about 1,100 tame deer roaming about the park. Those deers are regarded as divine messengers of the Kasuga Shrine across the street from Todaiji Temple. When you feed deer rice crackers, try saying “bow” while you bow to him at the same time. Then some of the deers bow to you, too. We will finish our day by visiting Dotonbori area in Osaka. Dotonbori is one of the principal tourist destination in Osaka. It is running along the Dotonbori canal from Dotonboribashi bridge to Nihonbashi bridge in the Namba district of Osaka. Historically, it was a theater district and now is a popular nightlife and entertainment area characterized by its eccentric atmosphere and large illuminated or moving signboards. One of the area’s most prominent features, a billboard of confectionery company Gulico displaying the image of a runner crossing a finishing line, is seen as an icon of Osaka within Japan.
Himeji CastleWe say good bye to Osaka and are headed to Himeji Castle. This is one of only ten existing real castles in Japan. Himeji castle was registered as the first UNESCO world heritage site in Japan in 1993. It is also known as the White Heron Castle as it is representative of the beautiful white castle in Japan. Almost all of the castle structure still intact from its original construction in the early 1600’s. The castle has never been attacked in a history. It was even painted in black during the World War II in order to avoid to be targeted of bombing. The castle grounds are divided into inner-and-outer walled zones, with several gates built around maze-like structure to confuse and also irritate enemies, and the triple moats for extra protections. After visiting Himeji castle, we are going to have a lunch at the service area on the high way. In Japan, all the highways are toll, so there are service areas where people can take break from driving. Travelers can use bathroom, enjoy meals or snacks, and also try local souvenir shopping. The last stop for today is a beautiful Adachi Museum of Art in Shimane prefecture. Adachi museum was founded by local businessman and art collector Adachi Zenko when he was 71 years old. Adachi Museum Garden has been ranked as the number 1 garden in Japan for last 15 consecutive years. The ranking includes more than 900 places throughout Japan. Also Adachi Museum of Art is listed as a three-star site, the best rating, in the Michelin Green Guide Japan. The uniqueness of this museum is the art of the garden. Mr. Adachi created the view of the garden from inside of museum. He thought he can offer different views of beauty in 365 days of a year, so this museum is open every day of a year. Thus, the best way to enjoy this museum is to sit inside of the museum and look the perfectly clopped mounds of the Dry Landscape Garden from a large window. In every season, people can enjoy the beauty the nature offers. Spring with its blooming flowers, summer with its clear, fresh greenery, autumn with its red and yellow leaves brightening the gardens, and winter its pure white snow. After checking into our hotel, we enjoy buffet dinner at the hotel. It offers variety of local cuisine and both Japanese and Western style dishes.
Iwami Ginzan Silver mineOur first stop for today is mystical Izumo Taisha Shrine. Izumo Taisha Shrine is one of the most important shrine in Japan. It is as old as Japanese recoded in history as there are references to Izumo in the Kojiki which is the Japan’s oldest history book dated back in 712. The shrine is dedicated to Okuninushi, worshipped as a god of good fortune and the god of marriage. He is also regarded as a kind and gentle god who has saved a bullied rabbit. Thus, there is statue of Okuninushi and rabbit in the shrine. In Japanese calendar, we call month of October as “ No Gods month” as it is said all the gods in Japan come and hold meetings in Izumo Shrine in the month of October, that no Gods are around anywhere else. This shrine is also known to have the largest rope. It is 13.5 meter long (45 feet) , its diameter is 6 meter (20 feet), and weigh 5 tons. It makes a great photo spot! Next we are headed to Iwami Ginzan (Silver mine). Iwami Silver Mine was listed as UNESCO world heritage site in 2007. In the early 17th Century, the mine produced as much as 38 tons of silver annually, making it the most important mine in the country at the time when Japan was producing around a third of the world’s silver every year. The Tokugawa shobunate who reside in Tokyo had direct control over 500 or so mines in the area. First, we will visit the world heritage center, and learn about the history of the silver mine by watching short video and see the models. Then we actually hike up to the mine after taking 5 min shuttle bus ride. We have a volunteer guide with us for the hike as the hike involves uphill steps and uneven surface. Walking sticks are provided if interested. After about 45 min of hike, we change into rain boots and wear a helmet with a head light before entering a cave. Inside is dark and has several deep water puddles. After we explored the cave, we take off the boots and a helmet. Then we climb further up for another 15 min to see another historical area. The whole experience takes about 2 and a half hours of hiking but it is worth trying if you are physically comfortable hiking. During lunch break, we have an opportunity to walk around the old town which represents scenery from Edo period. You can find an old court house to a silver shop, cafés, and a German bakery along a river. After spending time in this old historical town of Iwami, we will drive to Hiroshima and have Okonomiyaki, local savory pancake with noodles, for dinner.
The Atomic Bomb DomeWe take all day to explore the city of Hiroshima and Miyajima Island. We start our day visiting The Atomic Bomb Dome. It is what remains of the former Industrial Promotion Hall in Hiroshima prefecture. After the bombing, it was one of the few buildings to remain standing and continues to remain standing today. It was designated as UNESCO world heritage site in 1996. After visiting A-Bomb Dome, we stroll around Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park which is located between the Dome and the Peace Memorial Museum. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is one of the most prominent features of the city. Before the bomb, this area was the political and commercial center of the city. In the park, there is a Children’s peace monument which represent stature of Sadako who lost life from the radiation of atomic bomb. Near the stature, there are several clear boxes which are filled with thousand origami paper cranes donated from all over the world. Each day, one of the boxes is open for collecting paper crane donation. If you are interested, a guide will show you how to fold a paper crane together so that you can donate one for yourself. Every year on the anniversary of the bomb, a ceremony is held at the park. Finally, we visit Peace Memorial Museum that reminds the world of the first atomic bombing. This museum features a variety of exhibits such as belongings left by the victims and photos that portray the horror of the nuclear devastation. Also there are many reading about the nuclear bomb to educate the public to understand and to eliminate nuclear weapons. The museum reminds us of the horrendous tragedy that humanity should never repeat. Then we will continue our day visiting Miyajima Island by taking 10 minuet ferry ride. Miyajima Island is chosen as one of the three most beautiful scenic spots in Japan. In Miyajima, we visit Itsukushima Shrine which stands in the Seto Inland Sea, where gods are believed to reside. It was built by Tairano Kiyomori, a person of power at the end of Heian era (end of 12th century) The vermilion-painted buildings connected by the corridors and its symbolic great torii gate appear as if floating on the sea at high tides. However, you can even walk up to the great torii when it is low tides. Standing in perfect harmony with its natural surroundings, this shrine was registered on the list of UNESCO world heritage in 1996. In Miyajima, there are also some famous temple such as Daishoin bult in 806 by Kukai, or Daiganji near exit of Itsukushima shrine. After a visit to Miyajima Island, we enjoy local lunch. Hiroshima produces 60% of Japanese oysters, so let’s enjoy the taste of fresh oyster. Next, we are going to leave Honshu Island, and travel to Shikoku Island connecting Okayama prefecture in Honshu and Kagawa prefecture in Shikoku. Seto Ohashi Bridge is opened in April in 1988 and used by both cars and trains. The total length is 37.3 Km long, (23 miles) and consisted with 6 bridges.
ShukuboToday, we visit Ritsurin Garden in Kagawa prefecture situated in Seto Inland Sea. This park is one of Kagawa’s most treasured sites as it attracts a great number of both domestic and foreign tourists. It offers traditionally landscaped Japanese garden especially known with delicately sculpted 1,000 pine trees. This garden used to belong to a feudal lord which was completed in 1745, and was opened as a garden in 1875. It features 6 ponds and 13 landscaped hills. It has listed as a three-star site, the best rating, in the Michelin Green Guide Japan in 2009. After spending a beautiful morning, we are headed to Tokushima ferry port to get on 2-hour ferry boat ride to Wakayama prefecture located south of Nara and Osaka. Then we are headed to sacred Mt. Koya. Mt. Koya is a center of Buddhist study and practice. Located in Wakayama prefecture at an elevation of about 900 meter (3,000 feet). Mt. Koya was founded about 1200 years ago by the great Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi ( Kukai) as a center for Shingon Buddhist training. His wish was to establish a monastery deep in the mountains. He wanted it far away from worldly distractions where Buddhist monks could practice and pray for peace and the welfare of the people. Emperor Saga granted his wish and the use of this land in 816. In July 2004, Mt. Koya was registered as a UNESCO world heritage site as a part of the ‘Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, and the Cultural Landscapes that Surround them’. Tonight, we are staying Shukubo(temple lodging). Temple that provide lodging to guests are known as Shukubo. Originally, these were simple lodging for itinerant monks. The number of these lodging expanded greatly in the Edo period along with the increase in visits by pilgrims. Now there are 117 temples in Mt. Koya, of which 52 provide lodgings. They offer Shojin Ryori, Buddhist vegetarian meals to overnight guests. In Buddhism, the taking of any sentient life is wrong, so only vegetarian meals are taken. Thus Shojin Ryori is entirely vegan, and is based on the concepts of five flavors, five cooking methods and five colors. A meal should include a grilled dish, a deep-fried dish, a pickled dish, a tofu dish and a soup dish. Tonight, we can enjoy simple and pure life away from civilization.
OkunoinIf you are interested, you can join the morning prayer by Buddhist monks in the temple. Then we have vegetarian breakfast together. After breakfast, we leave the temple lodging and headed to Okunoin. Okunoin is a cemetery and sacred area that extends about 2Km (1.25 mile) from the Ichinohashi bridge to Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. There is a belief that Kobo Daishi had not passed away, but had rather entered an eternal meditation at Okunoin for the liberation of all beings. Faith in Kobo Daishi has sustained generations of people and drawn pilgrims for over a millennium. We, then visit Kongobuji Temple. It is the administrative head temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism. Originally the entire area of Koyasan was known as Kongobuji,m and there was no specific building by that name. The building now called Kongobuji was combined in 1869 from two existing temples. The temple contains beautiful screen paintings and Japan’s largest rock garden, the Banryutei. Finally, we visit Danjo Garan Complex. Okunoin and Danjo Garan are the two important areas in Koyasan. The name Garan is derived from Sanskrit, and means a quiet and secluded place where Buddhist monks may train. Initial construction of the monastic complex at Koyasan began here in the early ninth century. One of the building here is called Konpon Daito, Great Pagoda. Kobo Daishi planned the Daito as the center of his monastic complex. It is about 49 meter high (163 feet ) and about 24 meter (80 feet) on each side. Enshrined in the center of the interior is a statue of the Buddha Mahavairochana. It is surrounded by four buddhas, with sixteen bodhisattvas painted on the surrounding pillars. The design is a three-dimensional expression of the mandalas of Shingon Buddhism. After spending morning in Koyasan, we now leave for Osaka, final destination. Upon arrival in Osaka, we have Kushiage local lunch. Kushiage is famous Osaka cuisine. Meat, seafoods, and vegetable are deep fried on skewer and eaten with special BBQ sauce. After delicious meal, we visit Osaka Castle. After unifying Japan in the late 16th century, General Toyotomi Hideyoshi built Osaka Castle. It is a symbol of Osaka, which boasts the five-layered, eight-story castle. The existing castle, restored in 1931, has an observatory that commands a breath-taking panoramic view of Osaka City. The lower floors of the castle exhibit a collection of armor and memorabilia connected with Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi’s original granite stracture was said to be impregnable, yet, it was destroyed in 1614 by armies of Tokugawa Ieyasu, then rebuilt 15 years later. Osaka castle ground offer variety of cherry blossoms, not only Someiyoshino but also late blooming Yaezakura, known as layered cherry petals.