Japan consists of 6,800 islands and they are mostly mountainous. Every city, every village, has temples and/or shrines that pay homage to both Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto is a Japanese religion going back to the early 8th century. It involves the worship of ancestors and spirits found in nature. The belief is there is sacred power in both living and inanimate things. It was the state religion until 1945.
Japan has remarkably clean cities and charmingly ornate traditions such as tea ceremonies and kabuki performances. It is fabulous to visit in the spring when the country explodes with vibrant color from the cherry blossoms. Less known, but just as colorful, is the profusion of maple trees that show their colors in the fall. If you want to visit the “land of the rising sun” your travel advisor at GetAway Travel will work with you to plan the perfect vacation.
Enchanting, eclectic Tokyo
Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is a fascinating mix of tech, zen, tradition and trendy fashion. Firmly rooted in tradition and spiritual mysticism, it nonetheless embraces all things modern and futuristic.
An aside and a quick vocabulary lesson. Shrines are built per Shinto tradition and they have a torii gate (two uprights and a cross bar) at the entrance. Temples serve the Buddhist tradition and they have a sanmon (a regular gate usually with an ornate top over the uprights) at the front.
A shogun was the top person in the ruling set-up. In many instances, the shogun had more power than the emperor. Samurai served the shogun and ninjas functioned as hired mercenaries.
Shrines and temples dot the city providing quiet spots for reflection and rest. Most have gardens, even small ones, around them with spots to sit. You will likely need a little respite after trying out the numerous themed cafes, visiting the museums, taking in a kabuki performance, having a multi-course kaiseki (many small, intricately prepared items) meal and getting totally “teched out” in the Akihabara district.
If you are interested in tech gear, toy models, digital devices, gadgets as well as boutique fashions and vintage shops, then head into the Akihabara district. Shop for anime and manga items and anything related to video games. In the evenings the Akihabara district goes into sensory overload with an abundance of electric and LED lights in all colors. If you need more to feed your animation interest, take in the Studio Ghibli Museum which focuses on the work of director Miyazaki Hayao.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum has more than 116,000 pieces of art and artifacts in its collections that cover the recorded history of Japan. There’s samurai swords and armor, pottery, kimonos, calligraphy, paintings and so, so much more. There’s items deemed national treasures by the Japanese government. The items on display have written descriptions in English.
The Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine, is an oasis of green in a sea of concrete. Dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, the buildings are lovely. The emperor is credited with bringing the idea of Western principles to Japanese society. The grateful people of Japan donated 100,000 trees to create an eternal forest around the shrine. Sensoji Temple is the oldest religious site in Tokyo. It is dedicated to Asakusa Kannon, the Buddhist god of mercy and happiness.
Odaiba is a floating island close to the city center. In addition to gorgeous examples of architecture, there are numerous restaurants and entertainment venues as well as the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation which has a variety of interactive displays including a model of the International Space Station. Odaiba Seaside Park has Tokyo’s version of the Statue of Liberty and several amusement parks with one of the world’s largest ferris wheels.
The Tokyo Tower’s observation decks offer breathtaking views of the city and if you’ve got time, check out the penguins and puffins at Tokyo Sea Life Park.
Kyoto exudes charm and tradition
Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the city where the emperor lived from 794 until 1868. One of the country’s 10 largest cities, it has more than 1,600 historic Buddhist temples with some of the oldest and most famous in the Higashiyama temple district. There are more than 400 Shinto shrines and one of the largest collections of World Heritage Unesco sites in the world.
When visiting the temples and shrines, enjoy the carefully curated gardens around the sites. They were especially set up for enjoyment by feudal lords and samurai.
It is the birthplace of geisha culture so there are plenty of tea houses where visitors can enjoy a traditional tea ceremony. If you are a green tea lover, indulge you will find matcha magic in the shops. Enjoy ice cream, chocolate and matcha cookies, cream puffs, and cakes.
The city is home to a number of famous sake breweries which offer tastings.
The Nijo Castle is a UNESCO site. It is the former residence of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Shoguns ruled Japan for more than 700 years and the Nijo Castle was designed to show off the prestige and wealth of Ieyasu. It is ninja-proofed with nightingale floors. They are named for a bird because the way the nails are placed on the floor they rub on the flooring clamps creating a chirping sound guaranteeing no one can creep into the castle.
The Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is located at the end of a walkway of thousands of traditional torii gates. They are painted red so it appears visitors are walking through flames. The shrine honors the Shinto god of rice, Inari. Visit the Kinkakuji Temple in the morning for the maximum effect. The retirement home of a shogun, he wanted the residence to become a temple after he died. The top two floors are covered in gold leaf inside and out so it glows in the sun.
Kyoto Tower is the tallest building in the city. You get panoramic views of the city and beyond — on clear days all the way to Osaka. The viewing platforms have telescopes and LED touch screens highlight landmarks around the city as you take in the views from different angles.
Cherry blossoms, ramen, sushi, shrines, temples, geisha and tea, you can have it all with a getaway to Tokyo and Kyoto. We can be reached at: (262) 538-2140, e-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org