Built in 1240, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle is both an Important Cultural Property of Japan and is counted among Japan’s top 100 castles. The castle is located atop a mountain at an altitude of 430 m, making it the highest fortress with an existing castle tower in Japan. Visitors to the castle are treated to a spectacular sight, especially in the early mornings of fall and winter when the clouds spread out to form a “sea of clouds” around the castle. Also in fall, when the trees change color, the landscape becomes painted in a deep vermilion as if the castle walls were aflame, offering visitors a truly majestic sight.
Kakuzan Park is on the ruins of an ancient castle, Tsuyama Castle, which was built about 400 years ago. The castle’s approximately 10 m tall stone wall remains today, greeting visitors with a majestic view of overlapping stones even from a distance. The ruin has been selected as one of Japan’s top 100 castles and has earned a spot as one of Japan’s top 100 cherry blossom sites. The Tsuyama Cherry Blossom Festival held every year in early to mid April gives visitors the chance to experience the park’s 1,000 or so cherry trees. After sunset, looking down from atop the stone wall at the cherry trees illuminated below, visitors will be treated to an unimaginably beautiful view.
Iyama Hofuku-ji Temple was built in 1232 as a Zen temple. The temple is famous as the childhood training grounds for the painter Sesshu—the most prominent Japanese master of ink wash painting, which employs shading from a single-color inkstick. A popular attraction at the temple is the Buddhist practice of zazen, where worshippers sit in meditation for spiritual unity. Visitors can join early morning zazen sessions on the second Sunday of every month with no reservations required, and tea and sweets provided after the meditation offer a chance to experience the hospitality of Japanese culture. The temple’s fresh green of spring and vibrant foliage in autumn also make for beautiful sights.
Completed in 1597 after eight years of construction, Okayama Castle is one of Japan’s top 100 castles. After the keep was destroyed in the war, the castle was rebuilt in 1966. Also known as “U-jo (Crow Castle)” for its crow-like black outer wall, Okayama Castle is a popular counterpart to the white outer walls of Himeji Castle.
The ancient temple of Saidaiji Kannon-in was built around 1,200 years ago. Walking along the approach, visitors will pass by rows of traditional shops before entering the shrine’s gate and arriving at the main hall.
Kosan Wajo of Kosanji Temple became a Buddhist priest after the death of his mother, and the temple belonging to the Honganji sect of the Jodo Shinshu sect was built as a memorial to her. Various pagodas that had been built over more than 30 years since 1936 were reproduced with representative styles and methods of Buddhist architecture from the Asuka to Edo Periods. The Koyo no Mon gate that took 10 years to build and is a reproduction of the Yomei Gate in Nikko, excellent art works exhibited in the new treasure hall, and the approximately 50,000 square meter location with its seasonal beauty reminds you of heaven. The temple is also famous for cherry blossoms and autumn leaves.
Hiroshima Castle (広島城, Hiroshimajō), also called the Carp Castle, is a good example of a castle built on a plain in the center of a city as opposed to hilltop and mountaintop castles. Its main keep is five stories tall, and its grounds are surrounded by a moat. Also within the castle's precincts are a shrine, some ruins and a few reconstructed buildings of the Ninomaru (second circle of defence).
Hiroshima developed as a castle town, whereby the castle was both the physical and economical center of the city. Built in 1589 by the powerful feudal lord Mori Terumoto, Hiroshima Castle was an important seat of power in Western Japan. While it was spared the demolishment that many other castles met during the Meiji Restoration, like the rest of the city, Hiroshima Castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945.
The National Museum of Art, Osaka (国立国際美術館, Kokuritsu Kokusai Bijutsukan) occupies two underground floors on Nakanoshima Island in central Osaka. The museum focuses on Japanese and foreign contemporary art, with exhibitions from the museum collection and special exhibitions.
The museum's current building was opened in 2007 and was designed to represent the growth and shape of a bamboo plant. The facility was formerly housed in the Expo Museum of Fine Arts, built for the Osaka Expo in 1970.
In Osaka, the shrine is known affectionately as "Sumiyossan." Every year, from January 1st to 3rd, the shrine welcomes more than 2 million people for Hatsumode, the traditional first shrine visit of the year. The head shrine for Japan's approximately 2,300 Sumiyoshi shrines, Sumiyoshi Taisha is the most important shrine in the Osaka area. Praying to the gods here is believed to ensure maritime safety, as well as good luck in farming, waka poetry, martial arts, and sumo wrestling, and to ward off disasters of all kinds. Built more than 1,800 years ago, the buildings are arranged to resemble a fleet of ships headed out to sea. The shrine was built in an architectural style known as Sumiyoshi-zukuri, the oldest style used in shrine construction, and is registered as a national treasure. Sumiyoshi Taisha has more than 30 auxiliary shrines, as well as a number of festivals and rituals, including Sumiyoshi Matsuri. The grounds of the shrine are carefully preserved as a national treasure and important cultural property for their architectural and cultural value.
Standing 300 meters tall, Abeno Harukas (あべのハルカス) in Osaka is the tallest skyscraper in Japan. The building stands on top of the Kintetsu Osaka Abenobashi Station and is conveniently located across from JR Tennoji Station. It houses a department store, an art museum, a hotel and an observation deck.
The observation deck is called "Harukas 300" and occupies the building's top three floors (floors 58 to 60). The observation deck is accessed by elevators from the 16th floor. With large floor-to-ceiling glass panels all around, the 60th floor offers 360-degree views of Osaka, while the 58th floor features an attractively designed inner court with a wooden deck and cafe. A souvenir shop and restrooms with views are also available.
Shitennoji (四天王寺, Shitennōji) is one of Japan's oldest temples and the first-ever to be built by the state. It was founded in 593 by Prince Shotoku, who supported the introduction of Buddhism into Japan. Although the temple's buildings burned down several times throughout the centuries, they were always carefully reconstructed to reflect the original 6th-century design.
The outer temple grounds are free to enter, but admission to the inner precinct, the Gokuraku-Jodo Garden and the treasure house is paid. In the pebble covered courtyard of the inner precinct stand a five-storied pagoda that can be entered and ascended and the Main Hall (Kondo) in which Prince Shotoku is enshrined as a statue of Kannon.
The Osaka Museum of History opened in 2003 in a tall building next to NHK Osaka and just across the street from Osaka Castle. The building offers excellent views of the castle from its top floors.
The museum exhibits are visually oriented with several large models. They chronicle the city's history, beginning in ancient times when Osaka served as Japan's first capital and site of the Naniwa Palace and ending with exhibits on the city's bustling shopping arcades of the early Showa Period.
The museum's collection is set up on the upper floors of the building while the lower floors are occupied by a restaurant, shop and spacious lobby. Museum visitors first take the elevator to the top floor and then follow the exhibition route down.
Osaka Castle, or “Osaka-jo” in Japanese, is certainly one of the most famous landmarks in Japan, and for good reason. This five-story castle is one of the most visually spectacular creations in the country, with a history that dates back almost 450 years!
Visitors to Osaka Castle can enter inside, which currently operates a historical museum, for a small fee (15 years and younger can enter for free), with group discounts available. On each floor inside the castle are a wide variety of artefacts detailing the extensive history of Osaka and the castle itself. While not all the artefact information is available in English, there are leaflets available that explain much of the exhibits. On the top floor visitors can catch a breathtaking view of the surrounding areas, taking in the parks and cityscapes.
Tenryuji (天龍寺, Tenryūji) is the most important temple in Kyoto's Arashiyama district. It was ranked first among the city's five great Zen temples, and is now registered as a world heritage site. Tenryuji is the head temple of its own school within the Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism.
Tenryuji was built in 1339 by the ruling shogun Ashikaga Takauji. Takauji dedicated the temple to Emperor Go-Daigo, who had just passed away. The two important historical figures used to be allies until Takauji turned against the emperor in a struggle for supremacy over Japan. By building the temple, Takauji intended to appease the former emperor's spirits.
Ine (伊根) is a town located around the Ine Bay in northern Kyoto Prefecture, about 15 kilometers north of Amanohashidate. This working town has a long and rich history as a fishing village and is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in Japan.
The unique aspect of Ine are its funaya. Literally meaning "boat houses", these traditional waterfront buildings contain garages for boats on their first floors and residential space on the upper floors. Today there over 200 funaya remaining along the bay. Some of them now serve as guest houses where visitors can stay the night and experience the funaya first-hand.
The town itself is a normal town inhabited by working people, and most houses are personal residences. There are only a small number of shops and restaurants, meaning that there is not an incredible amount to do here. The largest concentration of amenities are found at Funaya no Sato Park, a roadside station on a hill above the town with large parking lots, a tourist information office, an observation deck, restaurants and shops.
Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺, Ryōanji) is the site of Japan's most famous rock garden, which attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Originally an aristocrat's villa during the Heian Period, the site was converted into a Zen temple in 1450 and belongs to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, whose head temple stands just a kilometer to the south.
As for the history of Ryoanji's famous rock garden, the facts are less certain. The garden's date of construction is unknown and there are a number of speculations regarding its designer. The garden consists of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. An interesting feature of the garden's design is that from any vantage point at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer.
The image of the temple richly adorned in gold leaf reflects beautifully in the water of Kyokochi, the mirror pond.
It is perhaps the most widely-recognized image of Kyoto. Seen reflected in the adjoining "mirror pond" with its small islands of rock and pine, Kinkaku-ji Temple, "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion," is a breathtaking must-see.
The building's first purpose was to serve the retiring Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1409) as a residence. The gold-leaf-adorned building was converted into a Zen temple shortly after his death. In an event that was later fictionalized by the renowned author Yukio Mishima, a 21-year-old monk burned Kinkakuji down in 1950. The temple was rebuilt in 1955 and continues to function as a storehouse of sacred relics.
The temple's garden is also a scenic delight and contains in its grounds a charming teahouse.
Nijo Castle (二条城, Nijōjō) was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle's palace buildings 23 years later and further expanded the castle by adding a five story castle keep.
Nijo Castle can be divided into three areas: the Honmaru (main circle of defense), the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense) and some gardens that encircle the Honmaru and Ninomaru. The entire castle grounds and the Honmaru are surrounded by stone walls and moats.
Visitors to Nijo Castle enter the castle grounds through a large gate in the east. English audio guides are available for rent at a kiosk just inside the gate. Venturing further into the castle will bring you to the Chinese style Karamon Gate, the entrance to the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense), where the castle's main attraction, the Ninomaru Palace is located.
Standing 131 meters tall just across from Kyoto Station, Kyoto Tower (京都タワー) is Kyoto's tallest structure and a rare modern iconic landmark in the city famous for its ancient temples and shrines. The tower was completed in 1964, the same year as the opening of the shinkansen and the Tokyo Olympics.
A viewing platform is located 100 meters above ground and affords a 360 degree view of Kyoto and as far as Osaka on clear days. Kyoto Tower stands on top of a typical commercial building, which contains souvenir shops, restaurants and a hotel, as well as a public bath in the basement.
Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari's messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital's move to Kyoto in 794.
While the primary reason most foreign visitors come to Fushimi Inari Shrine is to explore the mountain trails, the shrine buildings themselves are also attractive. At the shrine's entrance stands the Romon Gate, which was donated in 1589 by the famous leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Behind stands the shrine's main hall (honden) where visitors should pay respect to the resident deity by making a small offering.
The Higashiyama District (東山) along the lower slopes of Kyoto's eastern mountains is one of the city's best preserved historic districts. It is a great place to experience traditional old Kyoto, especially between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine, where the narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional merchant shops invoke a feeling of the old capital city. Recent renovations to remove telephone poles and repave the streets have further improved the traditional feel of the district.
The streets in Higashiyama are lined by small shops, cafes and restaurants which have been catering to tourists and pilgrims for centuries. These businesses retain their traditional design, although many have been renovated through the years, and they continue to serve customers today, selling local specialties such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets, pickles, crafts and other souvenirs.
The shops and restaurants in the area typically open around nine or ten in the morning and close relatively early around five or six in the evening, except during the ten day long Hanatoro in March when the streets of Higashiyama are lined by thousands of lanterns and many of the area's temples, shrines and businesses have extended hours and special illuminations.
Kiyomizudera ("Pure Water Temple") is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall's pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.
Part of the fun of visiting Kiyomizudera is the approach to the temple along the steep and busy lanes of the atmospheric Higashiyama District. The many shops and restaurants in the area have been catering to tourists and pilgrims for centuries, and products on sale range from local specialties such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets and pickles to the standard set of souvenirs.
The Higashiyama district together with Kiyomizudera, Yasaka Shrine and other temples in the area, have special evening illuminations during the annual Hanatoro event held in mid March. Kiyomizudera also has special illuminations during the autumn leaf season in the second half of November.
Kibune (貴船) is a small town in a forested valley in the northern mountains of Kyoto City, which developed around Kifune Shrine. According to legend, a goddess traveled in a boat from Osaka all the way up the river into the mountains north of Kyoto, and Kifune Shrine was built at the site where her boat journey had come to an end.
Kifune Shrine is dedicated to the god of water and rain and believed to be the protector of those at sea. Here you can obtain a unique type of fortune written on paper slips (omikuji) that reveal their messages when dipped into water. Okunomiya, the inner sanctum and original site of Kifune Shrine, lies about one kilometer further up the valley. It has a large rock, known as the boat stone, which is said to be where the goddess' yellow boat is buried.
The rest of the town is made up by traditional styled ryokan and restaurants that line the narrow road for a few hundred meters parallel to Kibune River. It is a popular retreat from Kyoto's famed summer heat, but is also well visited in autumn when the leaves change.
The Oita Prefectural Art Museum is located on Japan’s island of Kyushu. The modern and contemporary Japanese art collection is impressive; however, the biggest highlight of the museum is its elaborate modern architecture designed by noted architect Shigeru Ban.
Standing atop Mt. Kinka, Gifu Castle was the home base of one of Japan's great military commanders, Nobunaga Oda, and was said to be unassailable. The Japanese armor and swords exhibited in the castle are very impressive as well.
A new building housing "Brother Earth", a 35-meter-diameter dome planetarium, was opened in March 2011. The planetarium is the largest in the world. Also, be sure to check out our four large-scale exhibitions featuring an aurora film shown in a -30°C and a 9-meter tall manmade tornado! These attractions are highly entertaining and allow museum visitors to experience the power of nature. Additionally, the building itself acts as an exhibit through the use of solar power, green walls, visible earthquake-resistant structures and elevator mechanisms.
In 1610, Ieyasu Tokugawa began construction of Nagoya Castle as a castle residence for his son Yoshinao. It was lost to flames during WWII, but the large donjon (approx. 48 m) with golden "shachi" ornaments adorning its roof and the small donjon (approx. 24 m) was rebuilt in 1959. In the large, five-story donjon, sliding door murals which are an important cultural property and historical information are displayed; and on the third to fifth floors, you can see a full-scale replica of a golden shachi ornament, experience the pulling of stones used in the castle's construction as well as riding in a palanquin, and come to know the sights and sounds of life within the castle and the castle town. Anyone can enjoy themselves as they learn the history of Nagoya Castle and the city it resides in.
Since the Edo era, Kokura has flourished as a castle town. Kokura Castle, the symbol of the town, was founded by Tadaoki Hosokawa in 1602. The only castle remaining in Fukuoka Prefecture, it attracts many tourists.
Located at the center of the castle town, the three main streets that make up the most popular part of Takayama's Historic District served as a bustling merchant town in times past. This area is referred to as "Sanmachi-dori," and it is distinguishable by the distinctive, old architecture and shops that remain to this day.
Hamamatsu Castle (Hamamatsu-jo) was where the founding shogun of the Edo period (1603-1868), Tokugawa Ieyasu, lived for 17 years before he became ruler of Japan. As he lived in the castle during the time when he began a war for the purpose of uniting the whole country, it was also named the Castle of Advancement.
Saifukuji has 500 years of history. Many visit the temple because of Ishikawa Uncho's artwork -- sculpture, paintings, and lacquer craftworks. All of his works are wonderful, especially the colourful sculpture on the ceiling. Please come and see them with your own eyes!
The Tokyo State Guest House (迎賓館, Geihinkan) is one of two state guest houses of the Japanese government alongside another one in Kyoto. Contained within the Akasaka Imperial Estate in central Tokyo, the Tokyo State Guest House serves to accommodate world leaders, diplomats and other guests of honor during their visits to Japan. When not in use, sections of the grand estate are open to the public, with visitors able to explore some of the opulent rooms, picturesque gardens and the Japanese-style annex.
The current Imperial Palace (皇居, Kōkyo) is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo Station. It is the residence of Japan's Imperial Family.
Edo Castle used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 until 1867. In 1868, the shogunate was overthrown, and the country's capital and Imperial Residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. In 1888 construction of a new Imperial Palace was completed. The palace was once destroyed during World War Two, and rebuilt in the same style, afterwards.
From Kokyo Gaien, the large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace, visitors can view the Nijubashi, two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds. The stone bridge in front is called Meganebashi (Eyeglass Bridge) for its looks. The bridge in the back was formerly a wooden bridge with two levels, from which the name Nijubashi (Double Bridge) is derived.
Odaiba is a popular shopping and entertainment district on a man made island in Tokyo Bay. It originated as a set of small man made fort islands (daiba literally means "fort"), which were built towards the end of the Edo Period (1603-1868) to protect Tokyo against possible attacks from the sea and specifically in response to the gunboat diplomacy of Commodore Perry. More than a century later, the small islands were joined into larger islands by massive landfills, and Tokyo began a spectacular development project aimed to turn the islands into a futuristic residential and business district during the extravagant 1980s. But development was critically slowed after the burst of the "bubble economy" in the early 1990s, leaving Odaiba nearly vacant. It was not until the second half of the 1990s, when several hotels, shopping malls and the Yurikamome elevated train line were opened, that Odaiba developed into one of Tokyo's most popular tourist attractions and date spots with a wide selection of shopping, dining and leisure options.
Despite the initial setbacks, several lavish development projects did materialize, including some of Tokyo's boldest architectural creations, such as the Fuji TV Building, Telecom Center and Tokyo Big Sight. Modern city planning furthermore provides Odaiba with plenty of green space and a pleasant division of motorized and pedestrian traffic using elevated walkways and the like.
Sensoji (浅草寺, Sensōji, also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple) is a Buddhist temple located in Asakusa. It is one of Tokyo's most colorful and popular temples. The legend says that in the year 628, two brothers fished a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Consequently, Sensoji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, making it Tokyo's oldest temple.
When approaching the temple, visitors first enter through the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), the outer gate of Sensoji Temple and the symbol of Asakusa and the entire city of Tokyo.
Various events are held throughout the year in the Sensoji Temple area. The biggest of them is the Sanja Matsuri, the annual festival of the Asakusa Shrine, held in May. Other events are the Asakusa Samba Carnival in August and the Hagoita-ichi (Hagoita Market) at which decorated wooden paddles used in the traditional game of hanetsuki are sold.
The Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー) is a television broadcasting tower and landmark of Tokyo. It is the centerpiece of the Tokyo Skytree Town in the Sumida City Ward, not far away from Asakusa. With a height of 634 meters (634 can be read as "Musashi", a historic name of the Tokyo Region), it is the tallest structure in Japan and the second tallest in the world at the time of its completion. A large shopping complex with aquarium is located at its base.
The highlight of the Tokyo Skytree is its two observation decks which offer spectacular views out over Tokyo. The two enclosed decks are located at heights of 350 and 450 meters respectively, making them the highest observation decks in Japan and some of the highest in the world.