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The Land of The Rising Sun
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From time immemorial, the shores of Japan have been the first part of Asia to be awakened by the morning sun. Each day this country, consisting of four main islands in the Pacific, would emerge again from darkness into light. 

A country I have been fortunate enough to visit, steeped in ancient history and traditions.

This is a country to tour and plan. Tokyo is a bustling vibrant city offering both aspects of the old and new.  From The Imperial Palace and Gardens, The Sensoji Temple and The shopping area of Ginza just to name a few with lots more to discover. From there I travelled out of the city to Hakone National Park and Mount Fuji. Hakone region is worth a day trip from Tokyo for cable car rides, volcanic hot springs, cruises on Lake Ashin-Ko. Owakudani is a volcanic cauldron of steam, bubbling mud and mysterious smells.  You can try the black boiled eggs which are cooked in the boiling mud and are supposedly good for you … I beg to differ!!

Japans most natural symbol is the perfectly symmetrical cone of Mount Fuji.  It is Japans highest mountain and when in Winter it is capped with snow, it is a picture post card volcanic cone.  Which was still visible when I visited at the end of March.

Another full day out of Tokyo is Nikko National Park where The Magnificent Toshugu Shrine stands.  The lavishly decorated shrine complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set in a beautiful forest. Countless wood carvings and large amounts of gold leaf were used to decorate the buildings in a way not seen elsewhere in Japan.

After leaving Tokyo we went by Bullet Train to the fascinating city of Kyoto. The bullet train, or “Shinkansen”, is a passenger train which operates on Japan’s high-speed railway network. Capable of reaching a maximum speed of 320kms per hour, the bullet train offers riders an exceptionally unique and efficient travel experience, which took under two and a half hours to cover 318 miles journey.

Kyoto has many more contrasts between the traditional and modern that can be found in any other city in Japan.  Whereas in Tokyo, traditional dress is a rare sight, in Kyoto you are not only likely to pass a geisha in full regalia, but ordinary members of the public still wearing the Kimono as everyday attire.  A city full of Temples and Shrine’s and also famed for The Kinkaku-ji, The Golden Shrine.  A fascinating sight and one of the most popular visited.

Gion district is also a must which is the home of the Geisha, locally known as a Geiko.

A day out to Nara to The Todai-ji Temple which is one of the largest wooden buildings in the world and houses the Great Budda, one of the largest  bronze images, also in the world.  Nara Park is known for its tame deer. While some caution is advised, it is possible to walk up to the deer and take a photograph with them or feed them with deer crackers on sale along the side of the road, you may also get a Japanese nod from them.

The Philosopher’s Walk is a pedestrian path that follows a cherry-tree-lined canal in Kyoto, between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji. The route is so-named because the influential 20th-century Japanese philosopher and Kyoto University professor Nishida Kitaro is thought to have used it for daily meditation. A beautiful walk in Cherry Blossom and after the Philosopher’s Path an ancient ritual of a Japanese Tea Ceremony also called the Way of Tea, is a Japanese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered green tea.  A very interesting demonstration, but not to everyones taste.

Kyoto to Hiroshima next by bullet train, which will take about one hour forty minutes.

One of the most moving experiences was to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.  It is a memorial park in the centre of Hiroshima. It is dedicated to the legacy of Hiroshima as the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack, and to the memories of the bomb’s direct and indirect victims. The sight and the silence is something that you don’t forget and certainly worth visiting.

 Easily reached from Hiroshima is Miya-Jima Island.  The ferry takes about twenty minutes passing the iconic “floating shrine gate”.

Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima, is a small island in Hiroshima Bay, western Japan. It is known for its forests and ancient temples. Just offshore, the giant, orange Great Torii Gate is partially submerged at high tide. It marks the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine

 These were just a few of my experiences on my visit to Japan.  I would recommend this to anybody and found the Japanese to be a very helpful, friendly and humorous race. Still perhaps a bit secretive in some of their rituals, but one of my favourite countries to have visited especially in March/April for The Cherry Blossom.

By Sheena Todd

sheena@eagletravel.co.uk