Escape to Japan, an extraordinary destination where you’ll become a part of its admirable culture and realize the most treasured legacies that are still alive in today’s modern world. Absorb the peaceful surroundings and remnants of its heritage built on the canons of humanity and spirituality in many of the ancient streets, shrines and temples, stroll gardens, mountainsides and hot springs. During your journey, you’ll encounter the country’s strong Zen Buddhism and Shinto influences that have permeated the daily lives of the Japanese, passing valuable teachings through the generations.
Become a part of their proud traditions that have significantly impacted the rest of the world. Savor the unique smells and tastes of authentic sushi, sashimi, soba noodles, tempura and Gyoza. Learn about definitive cultural activities such as sumo wrestling, annual festivals, traditional tea ceremonies and martial arts. Cross paths with a real Geisha, a delicate female entertainer commonly dressed in expensive silks and white make-up. As soon as you arrive, you’ll find that the colorful sights and sounds, vibrant celebrations and magical stories will immediately captivate your mind and heart. For the complete experience of Japan’s intriguing history, visit the spectacular places in Kyoto and Tokyo, two very different cities that will take you through Japan’s celebrated past and flourishing future.
If you seek an intimate exploration of the destination, there are a variety of specialty tours that enable you to immerse into Japanese customs. You could stay in a traditional village inn, ride in a rickshaw (man-pulled carriage), take part in a ritual tea ceremony, see the cherry blossoms in early bloom around popular viewing areas and much more. Check with an ASTA travel agent to personalize your vacation with all of the special arrangements that will help you make the most of your time in Japan.
Kyoto: The Heart of Traditional Japan
The original capital and very heart of historic Japan, Kyoto displays incredible sights that are remnant of Japanese power, culture and religion as they have persisted over time. Dare to be inspired on the grounds of more than 200 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines that have survived over the centuries. All of these sites were designed to offer tranquility and deep meaning to those who lay their eyes upon them. Thousands of people are drawn to Ryoanji Temple, the “Temple of the Peaceful Dragon,” seeking a spiritual message in its mysterious rock garden. The garden consists of raked gravel and 15 moss-covered boulders, and every element was designed to obtain optical illusions that offer a spiritual connection for many observers. The magical, seemingly unending path of over 5,000 vibrant orange torii gates that winds through the hills and towards the Fushimi Inari Shrine will immediately catch your eye. A widespread symbol of prosperity and good fortune all over Japan, the torii is a traditional gate at the entry of a shrine, which, according to custom, allows visitors to purify themselves before walking into a sacred place for prayer.
For the true culinary treat, stop by the delectable Nishiki Food Market, a narrow shopping street lined by more than 100 shops known as the “kitchen of Kyoto.” You’ll come across neighborhood noodle shops, Franco-Japanese fusion cuisine and Kaiseki-ryori, an artistic seasonal dish often declared the ultimate food experience in Japan. Wander through other local food markets and specialty shops and find a variety of Japanese hand-painted ceramics, tofu, miso, noodles, tea, sweets and sake. You may also decide to try your hand in the kitchen with the assistance of a local chef, which is commonly offered with Kyoto restaurants and cooking schools.
If you’re visiting in late March or April, you’ll have the pleasure of seeing the cherry blossoms in full bloom, one of the most celebrated events of the year in Japan. As you make your way around Kyoto, you’ll notice large gatherings of people in parks commemorating the occasion with good food, sake, beer and music. Some of the best spots for viewing the cherry blossoms are along the banks of the Kamogawa River, near the Heianjingu Shrine and on the hanmoku path between Kitayama and Kitaoji. Walk along the Path of Philosophy, where rows of cherry trees line the small canal, forming a tunnel of cherry blossoms overhead. During your time here, you will easily be seized by the serene atmosphere.
Tokyo: A Modern City on the Rise
Once a small castle town in the 16th century, Tokyo has grown into one of the world’s most populous regions. The capital of Japan and bustling metropolis of more than 12 million people, it embraces the time-honored traditions of Japan’s past with the energetic wave of the future. Spend some quality time at the sacred Imperial Palace, the current residence of Japan’s Imperial Family. Surrounded by deep moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, the palace and inner gardens are open to the public for New Year’s Day (January 2) and the Emperor’s birthday (December 23). Walking along the palace grounds, you’ll see the remaining buildings and guardhouses, Imperial Palace East Gardens and Water Fountain Park. The paths leading through the gardens wind past formal shrubberies and wild plantings, which are older and more natural than those found in formal Japanese gardens.
Ueno Park, a local favorite spot located in Tokyo’s merchant district, is rich in historical, cultural and religious sites of interest. With over 1,000 cherry blossom trees blooming in the spring and lotuses flowering in the summer, the park offers a leisurely afternoon of enjoyment for all travelers. Indulge the poet inside of you at Rikugien, the “six poems garden.” Spend an hour weaving up and down the garden’s pathways and admire the pond, islands, forested areas, hills and teahouses that combine to create 88 miniature scenes from famous poems. Near Tokyo Bay, you’ll find Hama Rikyu, a beautiful garden surrounded by the Sumida River. The 300-year old oasis is the perfect retreat with seawater ponds, forests, a traditional teahouse as well as a spectacular view of the progressive business district, Shiodome, and its skyscrapers.
For a taste of Tokyo’s cutting edge, tour the Shinjuku district by foot. With streams of neon colors and soaring skyscrapers, this industrious business area is packed with millions of people from day until night. On the east side, you’ll discover its devotion to shopping and nightlife, which includes the city’s largest red-light district, Kabukicho. Make your next stop Daiba, an extravagant locality that has developed into a dynamic shopping and entertainment area filled with futuristic architecture and a variety of stores, theme parks and museums. Go on a culinary adventure through food theme parks, each allowing tourists to taste various versions of a single dish, scattered all over Tokyo. Some of the parks include the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, Ikebukaro Gyoza Stadium, Ice Cream City, Jiyugaoka Sweets Forest, Yokohama Daisekai and Daiba Little Hong Kong.