Castles & Castle Towns:
Azuchi Castle in Shiga. A castle which was established by Nobunaga in 1876 as his base of power and which is known for being the largest multi-storied WOODEN building in the world at the time and for its revolutionary design which was a turning point in castle architecture.It led the way for grander and larger castles of the Sengoku and Edo periods. Unfortunately, the castle was burnt to the ground but the site is visited for its historical connections, amazing stonework and well-preserved layout.
Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Takahashi, Okayama prefecture is a two level castle in its original state.
Edo Castle, Tokyo, where the imperial family reside today is much visited for the lovely the Higashi-gyoen (east gardens) and the Honmaru where the donjon once stood. A reconstructed palisade marks the location of the former donjon. The immense stone walled moats that remain from the original castle are one of the most photographed sights for postcards and calendars.
Fukuoka Castle ruins Also known as Maizuru Castle the feudal lord Kuroda Nagamasa began building it in 1601 and spent 7 years building the 47 turrents and platforms of various sizes. Not much of the castle remains today but the ruins and the Maizuru Park next to the castle are worth visiting especially in the spring when cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Access: Jyo-nai, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka. 10 min walk from Ohori-koen subway stn Phone: 092-711-4666.
Gifu Castle at the top of Kinkazan is said to have been the castle where Oda Nobunaga, a hero of the age of wars, planned to realize his ambition of unifying Japan. Precious historical materials are kept in the castle building and you can enjoy a panoramic view in all directions from the castle observatory. The castle was captured by Tokugawa who had no need of a castle so he had it abolished and the current one a reconstruction ferro–concrete model.
***Hikone Castle in Hikone-city, Shiga. An original castle (but with reconstructed lord’s residence) and original gardens. The donjon, known for the construction techniques and the many varieties of gables used to make it well fortified, has been designated a National Treasure.
***Himeji Castle in Hyogo has been dubbed the “most elegant castle in the world” by many books. Its fortress or castle architectural techniques are unique to Japan. Read why it is considered an architectural and an engineering and design marvel here. White Heron Castle (Shiragijo) castle as it is known in Japanese, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its historical associations: it has remnant stones from an earlier castle built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and it was built by Ikeda Terumasa, an ally of Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara who was given the lands for his loyalty during the war. “Himeji-jo is the most spectacular example of a Japanese castle in existence. The beauty of the donjon is unrivalled throughout Japan and the extent of surviving structures is amazing. Himeji-jo is the only castle in Japan where you can really get a feeling for what castles were like in the Sengoku period.” – Guide to Japanese Castles. Read more architectural insights and general info here.
Hachioji Castle in Hachioji, Tokyo walls, bridge and and entrance to the palace are all that remain of the former castle.
***Hirosaki Castle in Hirosaki, Aomori was built in 1627 and struck by lightning and burnt to the ground and built in 1810. The castle is in its original condition and is much visited especially in the spring because of the 5,000 cherry blossoms in the castle grounds.
Hiroshima Castle Built in 1591 by one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s 5 main generals, it was one of the few castles that lasted till 21th century but was destroyed by the atomic bomb. The current castle is a reconstruction which houses a museum. Access: 21-1 Motomachi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima 15 min walkfrom Kamiya-cho bus stop from Hiroshima stn. Phone: 082-221-7512.
***Inuyama Castle (Hakutei-jo) in Inuyama, Aichi prefecture is in its original state as when it was established in 1537 by Oda Nobuyasu, Oda Nobunaga’s grandfather. A designated National Treasure.
Iyo Matsuyama Castle in Ehime prefecture. A castle built in 1603 that was struck by lightning and burned down but its rebuilding completed in 1854, It is mostly still in its original condition except for the yagura, gates and structures that suffered during WWII air-raids and is thought to be a close second to Himeji Castle.
Izushicho castle town in Hyogo.
Kakunodate castle ruins, castle town, and samurai quarters in Kakunodate town, Sendai. The sites is visited for the beauty of the weeping cherry blossoms planted along 1.5 km stretch of the Hinokinaigawa Riverand the homes in the samurai quarter. Founded as a castle town in 1620 by the Akita clan lord Yoshikatsu Ashina, the town succumbed to fires and was relocated further south. The “new” samurai town that emerged contained like the old one, a northern samurai quarter and a southern quarter for merchants. The most impressive old wooden houses that remain today in the Buke-yashiki (not-to-be-missed samurai quarter) are the Kawarada house, Aoyagi-ke and the Haikara-kan building.
Kanazawa Castle (Oyama-jo) in Kanazawa. was built by a retainer of Oda Nobunaga in 1580, but was burnt down. The current castle contains few original buildings but has ruined stone walls and a well-preserved samurai quarter that are worth visiting.
Kawagoe Castle ruins and Castle Town in Kawagoe city, Saitama prefecture is worth paying a visit because of the extant remains of the lord’s palace – lord’s palaces are rare. Founded in 1457, the castle fell to Hideyoshi when he attached Odawara and the Hojo. The castle had an important defensive function for Edo, the power base for Tokugawa, and the city flourished as a castle town suppllying goods to Tokyo and as a transportation and service hub for Edo. Kawagoe city itself is visited for the many ancient storehouses that remain today as evidence of that function, giving a good feel of an Edo period castle town. Visit Kawagoe city itself to understand the ancient Kawagoe Castle Town’s strategic importance to the Tokugawa shoguns (for its nearness in relation to Edo) and the influence of the merchants of Edo – by viewing the preserved local merchant houses called dozosukuri that combine home and warehouse in a solid structure faced with fireproof clay. Access: Via a 60 min train journey to Hon-kawagoe (via Seibu Shinjuku Line) from Tokyo’s Seibu Shinjuku Stn.
***Kochi Castle in Kochi prefecture is a splendid castle in its original condition, not a reconstructed one.
***Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto is one of the most impregnable fortress castles ever built in Japan. It is a castle with many original structures still standing (the donjon and a few other structures are rebuilt). An excellent castle to study for fortress construction techniques and also for its example as an old large Edo-period castle. Historically, Kumamoto Castle in Kagoshima is the scene of the climax of the Seinan Rebellion of 1877 on which the film starring Tom Cruise “The Last Samurai” is based, only the samurai had not as in the movie attacked a hillside – instead the samurai had stormed the Kumamoto Castle, continued a 50 day siege which climaxed in the castle going up in flames with a small garrison of government forces inside it.
Marugame Castle (Kameyama-jo or Horai-jo) in Kagawa is a castle still in its original state from 1641’s rebuilding of the castle by Yamazaki Ieharu.
Maruoka Castle in Sakai, Fukui prefecture built in 1576. The keep was destroyed in the Fukui earthquake of 1576 but it was rebuilt using the original materials of the keep which Maruoka city claims is the oldest keep in Japan.
***Matsue Castle in Matsue, Shimane prefecture was built in1511 has a still standing donjon in its original state.
***Matsumoto Castle in Nagano prefecture is a large castle in its original state and is considered second only to Himeji Castle in terms of preservation.
Nagahama Castle Historical Museum(Japanese)
***Nagoya Castle in Nagoya is a castle built in 1612 and reconstructed after the damage from WWII bombing but it is historically important as a castle that is thought to have surpassed Himeji in splendor or grandeur. The castle is also called “Kinshachi-jo” because of the 2 golden shachihoko that decorate the top of its donjon. Kin means gold and shachi are the killer whale- (sometimes wrongly referred to in guidebooks AND museums as dolphins) mythical creatures depictions that decorate the donjon and other structures. These can be found at the Odawara castle as well.
***Nijo Castle in Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built in 1603 and includes on its grounds Ninomaru Palace, which houses a mural of hawks on a pine tree by Kano Tanyu (1602-1674), and other buildings. Falconry events and demonstrations take place on Sept 16th and Nov 12th during the autumn festival. The art of falconry, which was enjoyed by members of the Tokugawa shogunate families, including Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), will be demonstrated in autumn for the first time in Nijo Castle. See the photo gallery and study of its architectural significance is a UNESCO World Heritage site. See this website for insights about the castle architecture and this site for photos and info. Access: Nijo Castle is most easily reached from Nijojo-mae Station on the Tozai Subway Line. From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Subway Line to Karasuma Oike Station and transfer to the Tozai Line. The whole trip from Kyoto Station takes about 15-20 minutes. Admission: 600 yen.
Osaka Castle a reconstruction of one of Japan’s most famous fortresses, is said to be the most visited tourist attraction in the country. If you want to see a castle with an authentic interior, you’ll have to head to nearby Himeji, but Osaka-jo has a beautiful exterior and contains excellent displays about the castle and history of Osaka. It is also one of the few museums in Japan with comprehensive, well-written explanations in English. The castle is situated in a large park [60,000 square meters], which is famous for its cherry blossoms (late March or early April). Access: 1-1 Osaka-jo, Chuo-ku. Tenmabashi Station on the Tanimachi subway line, Tanimachi 4-chome Station on the Chuo subway line, Osakajo Koen Station on the JR Loop Line. Phone: 06-6941-3044 Open daily Entrance: 600 yen for adults, free for kids under 12.
The Yuzawa region has prospered as a “castle town” surrounding Yuzawa Castle. Sake and pickled vegetables are acknowledged local specialities, qualities of which heavily rely on the spring waters in town. Access: Furutachi Mountain, Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture Access: Transportaion: 3 minutes by car from “Yuzawa” station on JR Ou Honsen Line. Contact: Yuzawa City Office 81-183-73-2111
HISTORICAL MUSEUMS, VILLAGES, TEMPLES AND OTHER SITES
A-Bomb (Genbaku) Dome is the preserved ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exihbition Hall that was incinded by the atomic bomb. 1-10 Otemachi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima A short walk from Genbaku-dome mae bus stop from Hiroshima Stn. A UNESCO world heritage site.
Ainu Museum (Hoppo Minzoku Shiryoshitsu) displays Ainu crafts and artefacts as well as local wildlife. Shokubutsu-en Botanical Gardens, Chuo-ku. Sapporo
Archaeological Museum of Kokugakuin University 4-10-28 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-8440 The museum has a collection of over 80,000 pieces with 20,000 of them belonging to the Jomon period.
Asuka Historical Museum The earliest known palaces were said to have been constructed either from the 4th and 5th centuries according to written records, but from archaeological evidence residences of Emperors Kenzo and Senka were built during the earlier half of the 6th century. And by the end of the 6th century, Emperors Ojin and Ingyo had residences in the Asuka region. However, it was not until after the building of Empress Suiko’s Toyura-no-miya at that imperial residences came to be built in the Asuka region regularly. While these “palaces” (miya, a word also used to designate buildings or shrines of a ritual significance) were from the first built to serve chiefly as residences for one or another ruler, they also had the function of providing a place for the exercise of certain political, administrative and ceremonial activities. Palaces were moved with each change of emperor, and sometimes were moved two or three times during one and the same reign. In tandem with the early nation-state becoming more ordered, palace construction came to imitate Chinese practice, adding a large number of administrative offices. Thus grew Asuka city and there came to be built up around the palace an urbanized zone (kyo) subdivided by streets. See this page and this page for detailed descriptions about.the Asuka archaeological discoveries. The several Asuka kofun that have been excavated (these were built earlier the palaces) are also significant.
Basho Museum Koto-ku, Tokyo
Boso no mura in Chiba is an Edo-to-Meiji era village collection of old period buildings and shophouses, architectural artefacts. The museum chronicles the history of the people, their culture and lifestyle since ancient times in the Boso peninsula. he exhibits emphasize the experiential aspect so that live artefacts and real objects are featured. For eg., there is a natural garden that features native plants of Boso.
Byodoin in Kyoto is one of the rare surviving examples of Heian era buildings left in Japan. Byodoin’s Phonix Hall was built in 1053 by the Fujiwara regents. Part of the huge Buddhist temple of the Pure Land sect, it survived while all the other surrounding buildings have been destroyed. 11th century Pure Land paintings depict buildings like Byodoin’s suggesting to us that the Byodoin was literally an earthly 3D model of the Buddhist idea of “Paradise” at the time. Read more architectural insights here.
Chiba Folk Museum is housed in a reconstructed castle. On the fourth floor is a planetarium while the other floors house historical exhibits such as pottery artefacts, castle heritage items and folk art items.
Chusonji Temple in the town of Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture, in north-eastern Japan merits a visit as it was in the 12th century a cradle of a magnificent aristocratic culture. In the late 11th century, the Fujiwara family, descendants of an offshoot of the distinguished family in Kyoto, settled in Hiraizumi and became powerful rulers of northern Japan. Chusonji Temple was originally founded in 850 and rebuilt by the Fujiwara family. Rebuilding started in 1105 and lasted for 21 years during which pagodas, halls, gate, bell tower, repository, and many other buildings were built in succession. In the finished complex there were over 40 temples and shrines, as well as 300 cells for priests. The region was a leading producer of gold and there prospered three generations of the Fujiwara family until they were overthrown in 1189. A fire in 1337 destroyed all the buildings except for the Golden Hall and the buildings that surround it today date from the 17th century. Read more here.
Daigo-ji in Kyoto is visited for its five-story pagoda erected in 951 which is the oldest building in Kyoto as well as the oldest pagoda in Japan. Most of the early temple buildings were destroyed during the Onin war however, the 15th century Sanpo-in sub-temple rebuilt by Hideyoshi contains the famous Kano school paintings on the interior and the outstanidng landscape garden outside..
***Edo-Tokyo-Museum in Sumida-ku, Tokyo. This is an excellent world-class museum to get acquainted with Edo Japan and to get a 3D feel of the historical period. Splendid artefacts and models of architecture.1-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida-ku, Tokyo 130-0015
Haniwa Garden, Miyazaki prefecture is located in a corner of Heiwadai Park. It takes its name from “haniwa”, clay figures that were produced in ancient times to accompany the deceased and were placed inside burial mounds. Many ancient burial mounds have been excavated in Miyazaki, replicas of which can be seen in this garden, with moss-covered mounds and 400 haniwa warriors, animals, homes and boats scattered among the trees.
***Enryakuji is the crucible out which grew all new Kamakura sects: Honen, Shinran, Eisai, Dogen and Nichiran had all once studied on Mt. Hiei. It was a center of scholarship that produced eminent priests and thinkers, like Ennin, Enchin, Ryogen and Gensho. The temple complex was so huge that it had 3000 sub-temples that overed the entire mountain – yet Enryakuji is also the tale of a temple center of worldly power engaged in political struggles and intrigue and that had a powerful army of warrior monks which was brought to its knees by Nobunaga’s attacks in 1571. More here and at the official Enryakuji website.
Fort Goryokaku in Hakodate, Hokkaido is a star-shaped Western style fort built to resist northern threats and where the last of the shogunate forces held out till they were conquered by the imperial forces during the Bonin war 1869.
Great Buddha of Kamakura. The second largest bronze Buddha (dates back to 1252) in Japan (next to the one housed in Nara’s Todaiji) is housed in Kotokuin Temple. The building that housed it was washed away in a tsunami. For more info and access, see Japan Guide.
Hagi Castle Ruins and Samurai Quarters in Shimane was a minor fishing port until 1604 when it became the domain of the Choshu clan leader Mori Terumoto who fortified the place so that Hagi became the castle town of the feudal Mori family from the early 17th century until the Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s. Today it is renowned for its 400 year old pottery making tradition. Hagiware tea bowls are considered the finest in Japan and Hagi porcelain is admired for its fine glazes and delicate pastel colours. Only samurai were permitted to use the fine pottery so potters got around that by cutting notches in some of their work so that commonfolk could use the “spoiled” pieces. Recommended are visits to the Ishi Tea Museum or a pottery kiln. Hagi’s Choshi clansmen were known for being most instrumental in overthrowing the old samurari regime and bringin about the Meiji Resotration of 1868. In Hagi there are Edo-period merchant hoes, old samurai houses, Hanonoe Teahouse for viewing. A good time to visit would between 13th and 15th August annually when the many rows of stone lanterns that were donated by retainers to the Mori Family’s temples (Daishoin Temple and Tokoji Temple) are lit. See Reggie.net’s pages for photos on Hagi’s sights.
Hakata Machiya Folk Museum in Fukuoka showcases life in Hakata during the Meiji and Taisho eras (1868-1926), in particular, the residence of hakata-ori merchant, a desingated cultural property. Many demonstrations and exhibits on towns, folk crafts and festivals besides. Access: 6-10 Reisen-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka, a 5 min walk from Gion subway stn.
Hakone Check Point or Barrier (Hakone Sekisho), Hakone-machi . From the town’s main street follow the signs. HIstorically, this was a key check point set up in 1619 along the Tokaido Road between Kyoto and Edo for travelers who were coming into Edo and out of it. Travelers were checked for weapons and their identities. During the era, the Shogun kept the daimyo (feudal lords) docile by requiring that their wives were retained in Edo as an insurance against mutiny in the faroff lands of local influence. The check points made sure wives and families did not leave the city. There are execution grounds where mannequins re-enact some of the dramatic beheadings that were carried out in the past when such attempts to leave Edo were made. Only a small part of the old Tokaido Road at this point remains — 1.2 km (three-fourths of a mile) but it is a splendid section of road called the Sugi-namiki flanked by nearly 400 year old cryptomeria trees running to Moto Hakone. Walking on the gravelly paths makes you realise how hard arduous and tedious travel in the past must have been and looking up at the imposing trees makes you imagine that you could be ambushed by your enemy or highway bandits. Near the Check Point, the Hakone Detached Garden Palace once part of the summer villa built by the emperor in 1886 invites walks and offers good views of Mt Fuji and Lake Ashi.
Hakone in Kanagawa prefecture should be visited for the Old Tokaido Road (a special tour in autumn Oct 28 allows visitors to do the ancient highway walk carrying folding lanterns as ancient travelers would have done, booking details here – see the 420 400-year old Japanese Cryptomeria trees – they were planted along the old Tokaido Highway in 1618 when the Hakone host town was opened. The trees shaded travelers in summer and protected the road from snow in winter. Visit the Hakone checkpoint or barrier), the Shugenji Temple and Nichiren temple and Hata Teahouse. The Nichiren Sect was founded by a high priest called Nichiren in the middle of the 13th century.
Haniwa Garden (part of Heiwadai Park) in Miyazaki, Kyushu has mounds covered with moss of approximately 400 replicas of haniwa clay figures. Miyazaki Prefecture is significant in terms of archaeological discoveries and the number of ancient burial mounds and clay figures known as haniwa that have been unearthed. Open daily 8:30am-5pm, Free entry. Access: Heiwadai bus stop from Depaato-mae on Tachibana-dori. (Scroll down to Saitobaru Ancient Mounds) To see haniwa: Miyazaki. [Photograph]. Retrieved September 6, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica.
***Historical villages of Shirakawago and Gokanyama collected in what is known as the Hida Folk Village (Hida Minzoku Mura). A World Heritage site, more than 30 fine old Gassho farmhouses and country buildings from the Takayama and Hida area were dismantled and rebuilt in the current andscape that is reminscent of their original settings. The exceptional rural landscape is the subject of postcards and calendars featuring high thatched roofs and interiors with beam blackened by smoking cooking fires. A water mill, artisan workshops and local crafts are other highlights. A field trip visit presents unsurpassed opportunities for learning of almost vanished Japanese countryside lifestyle, architectural heritage, the importance of rice agriculture, silkworm farming and other folk crafts. Access: a 20 min walk southwest of Takayama stn or by bus.
Historical Museum of Hokkaido is a museum that tries to contribute to our understanding of the history of Hokkaido. Access info is available from the museum website in English.
Historical Village of Hokkaido (Hokkaido Kaitaku no Mura) is an open-air museum with about 60 buildings that were dismantled in Sapporo and brought here, including Sapporo’s main train station, homes, shops as well as farmhouses and village buildings. Transportation around the 54 ha site is by sleigh in winter and horse-drawn trolley the rest of the year. Access: Konnoporo,50-1 Atsubetsu-cho, Atsubetsu-ku, Hokkaido. Take the JR bus from Shin Sapporo subway.
Hokusai Museum in Obuse-machi, Nagano. On display are two festival floats (designated official treasure of Nagano Prefecture) with Hokusai’s paintings attached to their ceiling. Particularly famous are his the RYU (Dragon) and HO-O (Phoenix) paintings on the Higashi-machi Festival float – made at 85! and the Doto Angry Waves painting which are attached to the Kan-machi Festival float. The Kan-machi Festival float also features Hokusai-designed carvings based on the Chinese legend SUIKODEN. Other valuable exhibits include some of Hokusai’s hanging scroll, folding screens, picture albums, sketches (displayed tastefully in an authentic Japanese room); brush paintings (Kikuzu Chrysanthemums, Namakubi A Head Cut Off; and his published books from the Sunohara collection.
Horyuji in Nara, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site that faithfully preserving the atmosphere of Japan’s early Buddhism as well as having the distinction of being Japan’s oldest extant temple with the oldest (7th century) set of wooden buildings on earth, and richest treasure trove with 38 national treasures and some 150 important cultural properties. A further distinction is that it is a “prince’s temple” with its Shoryoin Hall dedicated to the memory of Prince Shotoku, one of the most revered persons in Japanese history. Much more info here.
House of the Flute, Chiiori, Iya valley. Stay at this restored farmhouse with thatched roof and berth in the remote countryside valley of Iya. Guests are requested to make a donation to cover their food costs and any other amount they would like to give. To visit Chiiori, contact Sean Ramsay or Yuki Katayama through the Chiiori website, at Aza-Tsurui, Higashi-Iya, Shikoku. or via email Access: From Tokyo, take the Nozomi or Hikari shinkansen to Okayama Station. Transfer at Okayama to the Marine Liner for Ooboke, where you can get picked up and taken to the house. Contact Sean or Yuki before you arrive to arrange for pick-up. Read about the Chiiori project here.
Ikegami Soneshiki Koen Park, Izumi-shi, Osaka Based on 1995 archaeological discoveries of Yayoi ruins, a resconstructed large scale moat colony site of the Yayoi Period as well as a huge building measuring 20 meters from east to west and 7 meters from north to south, and a well-frame of diameter 2 meters carved out of camphor wood. 213-1 Ikegami-cho, Izumi-shi, Osaka 594-0083 Phone: 0725-45-5544
Ikou Iseki Koen in Adachi ward, Tokyo is the site preserving artefacts dating to the Kofun period (1,500 years ago or so) and beyond that to the Jomon period (about 4,000 years ago) – including clay vessels and ornaments largely used in religious ceremonies. Also on display are reconstructed pit dwellings Nearby is the Shirahatazuka Shiseki Koen a historical and cultural property designated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Access: 4-9-1 Higashi ikou, Adachi-ku, Tokyo A 20 min walk from the West exit of Takenotsuka Stn on the Tobu Isesaki Line OR a 7 min wlak from Hijirichi no Hashi stop on the bus bound for Toneri Futasubashi or Ikou yoshihama stop of Iriya Junkan OR a 6 min walk from Kitateramachi stop of Nissato Junkan.
Iori Machiya Houses, Kyoto. Stay at one of these restored machiya houses in Kyoto that are open to guests as accommodations.
***Itsukushima jinja, Miyajima near Hiroshima city, Hiroshima prefecture is a National Treasure and UNESCO World Heritage site (to understand its cultural value read this webpage). The shrine built by Taira Kiyomori in the 12th century is a a large, red-lacquered complex of halls and pathways jutting out onto the sea on stilts. The shrine’s treasures can be viewed for a small fee. The best known postcard symbol of Miyajima is the Floating torii gate in front of the shrine. For access info see here.
Izumo Taisha Shrine in Izumo is Japan’s oldest and largest shrine and was mentioned in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) compiled in the 8th century, and beyond to the age of myths. For more info see this link and this link. The style of architecture is found only in Shimane prefecture. For outstanding photos see Reggie.net’s album.
Jidayubori Park’s Old Farm House Garden Access: 1 min walk from Jidayubori-koen mae bus stop fro Seijogakuen-mae Stn on the Odakyu Line.
Jingu Shrine in Ise, Mie prefecture is Japan’s most sacred and important shrine comprising the outer shrine, the inner shrine and other affiliated shrines. The inner shrine enshrines Amaterasu Omikami the sun goddess and according to mythology, the shrine goes back 2,000 years but according to JNTO was constructed in the year 2 B.C and Encyclopedia Brittanica 4 B.C. he emperor conducts rituals and rites at the shrine every year. A notable 7th century rite is that of “shikinen sengu” in which the wooden shrine buildings are razed and completely rebuilt, and rededicated to the enshrined goddesses every 20 years. The ancient custom has continued since the first rebuilding in 690. The main building is a thatched hut built in the ancient Japanese style of unpainted Japanese cypress (hinoki). A distinctive feature of Shinto architecture is the “chigi”, a scissor-shaped finial at the front and rear of the roof. Read more here and here.
Kamakura city should be paid a visit for its significance as the birthplace of Zen and stronghold of shoguns and for the ancient capital that it was for 100 years from 1192. Access: take JR Yokosuka line bound for Zushi/ Kurihama at Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shinbashi, or Yokosuka stations. It takes about one hour from the Tokyo station to the Kamakura station. Recommend that you visit the Daibutsu (Taiizan Kotokuin), Japan’s second largest bronze statute of Buddha – read about its history here; Hase Dera which houses the largest wooden statue; Engakakuji and Kenchoji as the two most important zen temples in Kamakura, the latter one of the oldest zen temples in Japan. More info here. Take a train to Hase Stn on the Enoden Line, walk the signposted 500 meter-way to the Daibutsu.
Katsura Rikkyu (Katsura Imperial Palace) The villa is one of the finest examples of what constitutes distinctive Japanese architecture, of traditional dwelling and of what constitutes the quintessential Japanese stroll garden with tea house. Read more here***Kasuga Taisha in Nara is one of the oldest and largest shrines in Japan dating to 786 and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the family shrine of the Fujiwaras, a clan that became powerful when Nara became capital of Japan. Famous for the vermilion lacquer railings and the many lanterns hanging from the eaves that are lit up twice a year in a beautiful ceremony, and also for the adjoining garden whcih collects 300 species of plants all mentioned in Manyoshu poetry. Deer that are believed to be sacred to be this shrine roam freely all over the city. Read more here. Access: 160 kasugano-cho, Nara 10 min walk from Kasuga-Taisha-omotesando bus stop from Nara stn.
Kinkuji (or the temple of the Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto was built in 1398 by the 3rd shogun Yoshimitsu, and is part of a former larger villa complex. The villa became a zen temple upon his death (and according to his will) but was burnt down in 1950 by a deranged Buddhist monk. Combine a visit with a reading of the novel “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” by Yukio Mishima. A visit to Kinkakuji is almost never by-passed by tourists partly because of its splendour and partly because it illustrates shogunate, samurai and zen influences on architecture styles all at one go. The temple was a model for the quieter Silver Pavilion built by the 8th shogun Yoshimasa. Read more here.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto is one of the region’s most visited temples because of its spectacular setting jutting out from cliff top and perched on a massive framework of 139 colossal wooden pillars. And the tourists also come because of its historical associations as Toyotomi Hideyeo (unifier of Japan) had spent much time here as well as 3rd shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu who had sponsored its restorations and renovations. Read more here.
Kofuku-ji Temple (“Temple of Ascendant Fortune”) in Nara had been removed several times before being settled in the nara location in 710. Historically one of the most powerful temples in Japan due to support from the Imperial Family and the Tokugawa Shogunate. Many of its structures are designated National Treasures and the temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site.The temple’s most important buildings are its five-story wooden pagoda that was first built in 730 (the current building dates to 1426); the Southern Octagonal Hall built in 813 and was last rebuilt in 1741; the main hall of the temple is known as the Central Gold Hall and the East Gold Hall, that contains some of Kofukuji’s most famous treasures. Read about its architectural features here and find out more about this castle’s history and how to get there.
Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) in Kyoto was first built in 794 and rebuilt in 1855 reproducing its original Heian architecture perfectly. See photos here and read more about the architectural highlights here.
Liberty Osaka (website in Japanese only) is an unusual museum that specializes on human rights in Japan. A comprehensive coverage that includes sections on the different groups who have been discriminated against in the past, including Zainichi Koreans, Ainu and physically disabled people. 3-6-36 Naniwa-nishi, Naniwa-ku. Access: 8 mins walk from Ashihara-bashi Station on the JR Loop Line Phone: 06-6561-5891 Very informative museum. More info in English at this website.
Meiji field visits by Ad G Blankestijn in Tokyo to Imperial Palace and Nijubashi; Statue of Kusunoki Masashige; Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery; Meiji Shrine and Meiji Shrine Treasure House; Meiji Jingu Gyoen. You might like to add a walk around Ginza, the history of which is tied to Meiiji government’s westernization. Read more here.
Meiji Mura, Inuyama, Aichi is an open-air musuem where more than 60 important early Western style structures have been moved here from other locations in Japan nad rebuilt. Highights include the facade and lobby of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Tokyo Imperial Hotel, Kyto’s St John’s Church and the old Sapporo telephone exchange. Ride around the village on antique streetcars and a steam locomotive railroad, you can tell already the kids will love a visit. See Reggie.net’s album of photos. Access: 1 Uchiyama Inuyama-shi Phone: 0568-67-0314.
Mimizuka Mound in Kyoto (near the Kyoto train station) is a visit that will provide a grim reminder of the atrocities committed by Hideyoshi’s generals in Korea during Japan’s 1592-98 war against Korea. The mound was established in 1597 as a burial site for thousands of ears and noses sent from Korea in barrels filled with brine. These gory shipments were proof to Hideyoshi of the troops slaughter by Hideyoshi’s generals in Korea, who were then rewarded according to the number of enemy slaughtered dead. 38,000 such items of “proof” are counted here.
Motsuji in Hiraizumi, Tohoku, was the largest temple complex in the 12th century in northern Japan. Its founding dated to mid-9th century but few buildings remain with the exception of the 17th century Jogyo do hall. Its distinction today lies however in its garden — the only complete extant example of a Heian-period Jodo (Pure Land) garden, land-scaped on a grand scale as a model Buddhist paradise. More access and other info here.
***Mt Koya Temple Complex in the Kii mountain range is a UNESCO World Heritage site (along with Yoshino-san), one of Japan’s most sacred places, the mecca of Shingon Esoteric sect of Buddhism and thousands of pilgrims including emperors, lords, samurai and commonfolk. 900 meters above sea level, Mt Koya is home to more than 115 Shingon Buddhist temples scattered through the mountain forests (some 50 of them offering accommodation) so that the mountain is a place of meditation and religious learning since 1,180 years ago when Kukai (aka Kobo Daishi) returned from studies in China to spread his teachings. Reknown for his mastery at calligraphy, his humanitarianism and teachings, Kukai is one of the most beloved figures in Japanese history. His mausoleum is on Mt Koya. Find detailed access directions and tips for getting around the mountain, see Frommers website.
Nakasendo Road along the Kiso valley. (“the old through the mountains road”) was an alternative route to the Tokaido route that led from Edo to Kyoto in feudal times. The old post towns of Narai, Tsumago, and Magome have been preserved. Visits to Narai, the most important post town on the route with many outstanding old houses along a 1.2 km main street that looks as it did 200 years ago; to Niekawa was where lacquerware industry began 600 years ago and Hirasawa was home tomany Japanese cypress wood craftsmen (it has a lacquerware store and museum); and to Kiso Fukushima which like Niekawa, has replicas of the old sekisho or barrier stations where travelers of old were checked or inspected. It is also recommended to visit the section of Nakasendo by taking a bus from Magome to Magome-toge Pass and to hike from there to the hamlets of O-daki, Kudraritani, Otsumago and finally to Tsumago which is the most important post town and crown of Kisoji with its well-restored buildings and buried communication and power cables.
***Nara should be visited for it was the cradle of the great Japanese arts and the essence of culture in the long-ago Tempyo Period. Visit some of the any old, world-famous temples and shrines and ancient burial mounds (Konabe is recommended because it contains buried artefacts) of the province of Yamato (presently Nara Prefecture) have handed down to us their precious history.
Among others, the cathedrals of Todaiji, Kofukuji, Yakushiji, Toshodaiji and the Kasuga Grand Shrine are settings where one can encounter the rich, elegant ambience of the Tempyo Culture.
Nikko Toshogu is the magnificent “Japanese baroque” 17th century mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Significant historically as the site of the 17th century shrine Tosho-gu Shrine erected in honor of Tokugawa Ieyasu by 15,000 craftsmen and covered in 2.5 million sheets of gold leaf in the ornate and oppulent style of the late 16th century Momoyama period. The piece of architecture contrasts greatly with the usual simple elegance of traditional Japanese architecture. Nearby is a five-story pagoda a 1818 replica of the 1650 original destroyed by fire. Beyond this are the Sanjinko three storehouses (for festival equipment) and families with kids will delight as everyone else usually does in the playful bas-relief containing the trio of “Hear no Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil” sculpted monkeys. Read more on its historical and architectural significance here. Access: Take the train via the Tobu Nikko line from Tobu Asakusa Stn (just under 2 hrs by express train).
Nikko Edo Village (Nikko Edo Mura) will not appeal to historical purists, but kids will have fun and learn something too in this historical theme park with reconstructed period buildings, the many samurai action and costumed attractions.
Okamoto Parks Old House Garden A mid-Edo period thatch-roofed farmhouse and plastered warehouse with white walls with the Kokubunji Cliffs overlooking the Maruko river in the background. Access: 1 min walk from Minkaen stop from Futako-Tamagawa Stn on the Tokyu Denentoshi line.
***Open-air Museum of Old Japanese Houses, Toyonaka city, Osaka has a collection of 11 old houses, brought from all over Japan and carefully reconstructed. Access: 2 mins from Ryokuchi-koen Station on the Midosuji Line. Most visited sights are the old gassho zukuri farmhouse from the Hida region with steep straw-thatched roofing. Other attractions include a wholly covered in straw house, an outdoor kabuki theatre and an elevated warehouse from Kyushu. Location: 1-2 Hattori Ryokuchi, Toyonaka City Phone: 06-6862-3137
Osaka Prefectural Museum of Yayoi Culture Access: Viia JR Hanwa Line get off at Shinodayama stn and walk for 7 mins.
Otaru Municipal Museum (Otaru-shi Hakubutsukan) that chronicles local history is established in one of the 1893s Chinese style warehouses, east of the city around the port. Otaru was once one of the most important commercial and fishing fishing ports and is much visited for its many Meiji-era buildings. Visit also the neaby Otaru Canal for a feel of the nostalgia evoked by the bygone era wharfs. Access: 40 min from Sapporo to 2-1-20 Ironai, Otaru-shi, 8 min walk NE from Otaru Stn.
Oyamachi in Utsunomiya City in Tochigi should be visited for a view of one of the best examples of magaibutsu or images carved into stone found at Oyaji temple which was founded by Kukai in 810, and also the Heiwa Kannon-zo or Kannon Peace Statue (27 m high, 20 m girth and a 5 m long head) see photos here and not to be missed in the area are the Oya Stone Museum‘s subterranean stone quarry (60 m deep and sprawled over 20,000 m) where excavated sets of Jomon bones from 7,000 years ago that include an intact skeleton in folded-arms and legs-burial position and other bones showing signs of cannibalism. Access: by rapid train on the Tohoku-housen line (1.5 hrs) or by shinkansen (50min) from Tokyo stn.
Poroto Kotan Ainu Museum in Shiraoi is a reconstructed Ainu village established by the Ainu themselves and which has a good Ainu museum as well as performances for tourists. It is based on Ainu Kotan a real Ainu village in the past where the Ainu practiced subsistence living by hunting and fishing and developed a singularly rich culture. The Ainu were the native inhabitants of Honshu, many of whom intermarried with the latecomers to the Japanese archipelago and then eventually driven to the north. Access: 2-3-4 Wakakusa-cho, Shiraoi-cho via JR train from Noboribetsu Stn to Shiraoi Stn. Read more here.
Ryoanji in Kyoto Ryoanji’s importance lies in its rock garden that stem from influences of tea ceremony ideas and principles. Click here for photos and commentary.
Saitama-ken Saki-tama Museum in Saitama holds courses where children are taught how to make Jomon and Yayoi daily implements and utensils.
*** Saitobaru Burial Mounds in Miyazaki, Kyushu contain the largest number and the best collection of ancient burial mounds in Japan. 311 mounds or tumuli of all shapes and sizes stretch over 2k by 4 km of park-like setting, mostly built between the 5th and 6th centuries. A museum displays the many artefacts excavated here, including haniwa clay figures. Read about it here. For access info, see the official Saitobaru Archaeological Prefectural Museum prefectural website.
Sakitama Kofun Park, Gyoda City, Saitama Access: 2-minute walk from Saitama Kofun-Koen-mae bus stop. Catch shinai-junkan bus at Gyoda Sta., Takasaki Line or at Gyoda-shi Stn
Sekiyado-jo Museum has as its theme, the daily lives and history of the people living in the environs of the To-ne river. It features permanent exhibits-River of Boso-and-Traditional Industries and Traffic on Waterways-and has a presentation on the-Sekiyado Clan. Info in English available at the museum website.
Shin-Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara was built in 747 and enshrines the Buddha of Medecine encircled by 12 warrior deities, these sculptures and the building housing them are designated National Treasures The temple was either built by the empress Komyo for her ailing husband or by other accounts by Emperor Shomu in thankfulness for her recovery. All the other buildings were destroyed by earthquakes or fires but were rebuilt during the Kamakura period (1192-1333).
Shimoda port and Bay in Izu’s historical significance: this was the Bay into which Commodore Perry had steamed his imposing Four Black Ships into. Access: 2-and-a-half hours from Tokyo Stn via the Odorikogo limited express train.
Shiseki Koen in Narita city, Chiba features a group of kofun, or ancient burial mounds. Haniwa (clay figures) figurines and a skeleton model of a nauman elephant excavated in Chiba are exhibited in the Chiba Prefectural Boso Fudoki-no-oka Museum. Another reason to visit is to see the 200 odd taiko drummers gathered for the Taiko-matsuri Festival, the biggest drum festival of the Kanto area in spring. Access: From Tokyo Station to Narita Station, 1 hour 10 minutes by the JR Sobu Honsen Line or JR Narita Line Rapid Train.
Shitamachi History Museum (Shitamachi Fuzoku Shiryokanwebsite in Japanese) in Ueno is a 2 story museum that houses artefacts showing how the “edokko” (the proud but often very poor commonfolk, inhabitants of “Low City” of Edo) lived. Downstairs are reconstructed shops, workshops and homes of the Edo and Meiji periods complete with wax figures to take you back in time. More info here. Location: Ueno Park, Taito-ku. 3 mins from Ueno stn.
Shishigaya Yokomizo Residence. The main house has a thatched roof built in the late Edo period. On display are various articles depicting the way of life in agricultural villages in those days. Access: Kawasaki Tsuruimi Rinko Bus no 3 fro mFR Tsurumi Stn to Shinmeisha and an 8 min walk OR Municipal bus no 104 to Omoteyato and 5 min walk.
Shofukuji Temple in Fukuoka is the oldest Zen temple in Japan, founded in 1196 by Eisai a priest who studied Buddhism in China and returned with the Rinzai sect of Zen and tea. The site is a designated National Historical Site. Read more here.
Tama River’s prehistoric settlements, ancient mounds and kofun: Areas along the middle reach of the Tama river such as Komae are known for many ancient burial mounds attesting to pre-historic settlement. Early man was attracted by its sunny southern slope with abundant water from springs and tributaries of the river. The city name, Komae, probably derived from “Koma,” a word referring to Kogyo of ancient Korea, probable origin of the immigrants. A poem in Manyo-shu, the 8th-century anthology of Japanese poetry, is fondly remembered by many for a rhythmical rendition in praise of the purling stream of the Tama river and a beautiful maiden associated with it. A monument inscribed with the poem stands on the riverside. Kamezuka Kofun, another famous burial mound can be also be seen but you’ll have to visit the Komae City Museum to see the archaeological artefacts that were unearthed here. For info on access (Komae Stn, Tokyo) and prescribed walk by the River, see here.
Farming communities were usually bound together by ancestral worship at a Shinto shrine. Izumi-jinja is a good example of such communal devotion. Adjacent to the shrine is Kabutozuka, a burial mound now empty. A short distance away another mound, Kamezuka Kofun from the early 6th century, remains, squeezed among houses. Excavated artifacts suggest the existence of a powerful tribe closely related to the emperor in Yamato (Nara).
Taito-city Shitamachi Museum, Taito city, Tokyo, is a place that showcases Meiji and Showa era shitamachi shops and houses. Address: 2-1 Ueno-koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo Phone: 03-3823-7451Takehara Burial Mound, Kurate-gun A national monument that consists of an ancient burial mound built in late 6th century (one of the many in the region). What is significant are the two rooms with primitive paintings on the wall.
***Todaiji is the temple complex that is famous for the Daibutsu Den structure that houses the giant Buddha that was ordered to be built by Emperor Shomu in 743. Japan had been suffering from smallpox and drought and the emperor hoped to settle unrest and unite the people with newly imported ideas of Buddhism. The Buddha is almost 15 meters high, cast in copper and coated with gold and ocmpleted in 752. Daibutsu Den is the largest extant wooden structure in the world despite the fact that it was rebuilt in 1790 at two thirds of its original size. The event was presided over by a visiting priest from India and many important people from overseas attended it bearing gifts which are now housed in the Shosoin treasure house. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Read more about the architectural and historical significance of Todaiji here. Access: 406-1 Zoshi-cho, Nara A 5 min walk from Daibutsu Den or Kasuga Taisha-mae bus stop from Nara stn.
Toi Gold Mines (Toi Kinzan) the place of the first gold rush in Japan (from 1577 Warring States Period). Production peaked during Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu’s time. The mine has 100 km of network shafts. See this page for info.
Tatemone-En (Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum) is a collection of heritage and historical buildings. Worth a visit to look at fast-disappearing architectural heritage of Japan. Fans of Ghibili animation will want to see the model of the Ghosts’ Bathouse & Inn featured in “Sentochihiro”. 3-7-1 Sakura-cho, Koganei City Phone: 042-388-330. The museum is reviewed here.
Tenryuji in outlying Kyoto is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered the first among the ranks of Kyoto’s five greatest zen temples. Tenryuji was formerly a villa of Emperor Go-Daigo and the site had been occupied since the 9th century by the first zen temple in Japan, Danrin-ji. Emperor Kameyama (1249-1305) built a villa on the site where his grandson Go-Daigo was raised. Following Go-Daigo’s death, Ashikaga Takauji built a temple on the site to try to appease Go-Daigo’s spirit because a Buddhist priest had dreamt of a dragon rising from the river that was thought to be Go-Daigo’s uneasy spirit. Tenryuji’s fame extends to its landscape garden dating to the 14th century that is one of the oldest in Japan. For photos see here, for access and more info see the Japan Guide website.
Tobinodai Shiseki Koen Hakubutsukan in in Funabashi, Chiba offers classes for making Jomon clothes, accessories.
Todaiji in Nara was constructed in 752. The building is the largest extant wooden building in the world and the Buddha (Daibutsu) statue it houses is the largest in Japan.
Toji in Kyoto which was established by Kukai, is well-known for its five-storied pagoda which is Japan’s tallest which was built in 794. The temple hall holds many sculptures and mandalas. Access info here.
Tokyo-do-maibun Cultural Center’s Jomon-no-mura holds courses in summer where children learn how to make Jomon-style pottery.
Tokyo National Museum (Tokyo Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan) houses the largest and best collection of Japanese art in the world (86,456 works of art). Not to be missed are the Heiseikan Gallery which is notable for its prehistori pottery, sculpture and early Buddhist art; and also the Gallery of Horyu-ji Treasures which houses 318 treasures from the 7th century Horyuji Temple near Nara. See its period collections here.
Tsuwano Castle Town and Samurai quarters in Shimane prefecture. Historic samurai residences and homes with stucco walls line the Tono-machi area of the Tsuwano castle town. Several thousand carps swim in the moat along this neighborhood. The breeding of 65,000 carps began in the feudal era (1603 – 1867) for emergency food. The Tsuwano Castle built in 1325 is in ruins.
Yakushiji in Kyoto, constructed by Emperor Temmu, is one of the oldest temples in Japan. It features the three-storied East Pagoda that dates to the 7th century. Yakushiji shows strong Chinese influences in its layout. Its Kondo Hall houses the historically important Yakushi trinity, a Japanese masterpiece of art. More about Yakushiji here and access info here.
Yamate Italian Garden Yamate 111 Ban-Kan, Yokohama. The hills of Yamate with its foreign settlement strongly connected to the historical events of the opening of the port. Many beautiful western houses on the hillside disappeared in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake – only 7 of these remain preserved by the city and are open to public viewing.
Yamato court is thought to comprise the area around ancient Nara (the center of the Yamato district) – Asuka and the Mt Koya temple complex (see earlier sections on Asuka and Mt Koya)
Yasukuni Jinja (Yasukuni Shrine) a Meiji era shrine best known for being the subject of the great tensions in foreign relations between Japan and China and Korea. The shrine has unusual features including the enshrinement of class-A war criminals including Premier Tojo military relics, the housing of military relics and a memorial dedicated to 2.5 million Japanese war dead. See Yasukuni Shrine photos here.
Yokohama City Historical Museum (Yokohama-shi Rekishi Hakubutsukan) holds seminars where children can recreate scenes of Yayoi lifestyles by dressing up, etc.
Zuiganji in Matsushima, Miyagi is one of the great Zen temples of Japan and a National Treasure. Founded in 828 by the Tendai sect, it became a Zen temple during the 13th century. It is most well known for its fusuma sliding screen doors that are lavishly carved in the Chinese style (completed in 1622) that were covered in gold leaf and decorated with exquisite paintings. The current ones are copies but the real thing beautifully restored are in the Seiryuden Treasure Museum nextdoor. The main hall is known for showcasing the architectural style shoinzuikuri – traditional study room style and typical of the Momoyama period. (And worth a visit, next door to Zuiganji is Entsuin (aka Rose Temple) set in a quiet glade of cedars but notable for a lovely garden, and usual for a temple — to the growing of roses.) Access: A few steps from the pier at Matsushima, and a 5-10 minute walk from JR Matsushima Kaigan Station. More info here and here.