Tokyo, sprawling capital of modern Japan; part Bladerunner city of the future, part historical trove; part economic boiler house, part hedonistic paradise; it is a bewilderingly intense mass of people, concrete and glass that seems to go on forever and extend as far underground as it does into the sky.
The Thousand Year Capital is the jewel in Japan’s crown. It sits magisterially atop the Kansai region, the very crucible of Japan’s identity and history.
Just an hour or so from Tokyo by train and within sight of Mt Fuji, Hakone is also very easy to get to, making an escape without drama or trauma.
Hiroshima is not all about terrible events, it has risen Phoenix-like from the ashes to become an attractive, modern, buzzing city with a happening nightlife. It is also a short distance from there to cultural and historical sites like Miyajima.
Arashiyama sitting just to the west of Kyoto City is an ideal place for a day trip known for its historical sights, scenery and of course its famous bamboo grove.
A city nested between the peaks of mountains, a city whose life and culture is shaped by those mountains; a mountain idyll.
In a country that is very keen on rebuilding, Shirakawa and its neigbour Gokayama are unusual in being almost entirely preserved as the towns were in Japan’s more picturesque past. Some of the houses are 250 years old, and the town is a UNESCO world heritage site.
A long, long time ago, a peasant named Imahori Togoro was digging for sweet potatoes in soggy earth when instead of edible tubers he uncovered flakes of gold, and thus founded the city of Kanazawa.
This beautiful alpine city is dominated by its distinctive black citadel, known evocatively as Crow Castle. The city, which in his remote location has remained largely untouched by the country’s trials in nature and history retains an old quarter full of wooden buildings that take you back to Japan’s Edo heyday.
Mount Fuji: the eternal symbol of Japan; and at its foot, five magnificent lakes. The largest of these lakes is Kawaguchi. If you catch it at just the right time, Kawaguchi is a shimmering mirror for its mountain neighbour.
A thousand years ago, Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo looked on this narrow strip of coast, bounded on three sides by near impassable mountains and on the fourth by the sea, saw that it was a formidable natural fortress and adopted it as his power base. Thus Minamoto no Yoritomo became the first of the Kamakura shogun and very quickly a man so powerful he changed the nation.
Less than two hours from Tokyo and high above the summer heat, Nikko is a favorite place to flee in the burning summer — and a glorious winter wonderland in the colder months.
Himeji, home of the most impressive castle in the country and only an hour west from Kyoto on the bullet train makes it a great option for a day trip.
Just an hour north of Kyoto by bus, Ohara is an ideal spot to escape the city on a daytrip.
A charming preserved Edo era (1603-1867) quarter in Kurashiki; near to Okayama complete with canals, museums, cafes and boutique shops - a great place to wander around, eat and explore. We visit here on the Heartland Tour.
Koyasan, nestled up in the mountains in Wakayama Prefecture is a couple of hours south of Osaka on the Nankai line. It’s a scenic train ride as you leave the city, out of the suburbs and into the country - be sure to be sitting on the right-side of the train after you pass Hashimoto as you start to wind up the mountain! The region is the heartland of the Shingon sect of Buddhism and visited on our Heartland Tour. It was founded in 826 by the legendary Kobo Baishi (Kukai) and a great place to experience staying in a monastery and eating the local vegetarian cuisine known as shojin ryori.
Nara was capital of Japan even before Kyoto was. It was, in fact, the first permanent capital and built specifically for that purpose. Alas, the ancient city fell victim to its own success, and less than a hundred years after its founding when a priest seduced the empress and everyone decided the place had simply got too big for its boots, power was shifted to Kyoto where it stayed.
Traveling out west from Osaka and Kyoto in the direction of Hiroshima we find Okayama. The city is known chiefly for its elegant black castle which dominates the town, and for the Korakuen landscaped garden.
A thriving mountain post town reduced to ghost town after being bypassed by the newly invented railway — no this is not a tale from the wild west, this is Magome-juku, Japan.