Delights of Tokyo
Tokyo presents the mystique of traditional Japanese culture since the 17th century, when the city was born. Its designation as the capital of Japan is fitting. Not only is it the biggest and most populated city of the nation, but it also represents the finest in Japanese heritage.
Shinto is the ancient Japanese religion, and it is no surprise that an understanding of Japanese culture includes a visit to its temples. Meiji Jingu is the perfect spot to begin. Located in a man-made forest in the heart of modern Tokyo, this site is dedicated to the memory of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The Japanese people revere their imperial family, and a visit to the Imperial Palace shows how much the family is respected. Nature lovers should enjoy a trek of the 58-hectare Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It was originally intended as a garden for the imperial family when it was finished in 1906. If you want to get a bird’s eye view of the city, visit the Tokyo Tower, Japan’s own version of the Eiffel Tower. However, it is a bit taller than the famed tower in Paris, measuring 333 metres. It offers an exhilarating view of Tokyo from its observatories. One challenge for visitors to Japan is to decide where and what to eat in limited time. From fukagawameshi to dojo nabe to sushi, the local cuisine of Tokyo was shaped by the common people over 400 years in and around the flourishing Edo period. Tsukudani, tsukemono and miso are only a few of the infinite number of local specialities born in Tokyo, the Tama area, and the Izu and Ogasawara islands stretching south of the metropolis.
Gourmet capital of Japan Three hours from Tokyo by bullet train, Osaka is a turbocharged setting for a long weekend adventure. A trip to the city must include historic landmarks such as the Osaka Castle. But you can’t leave this variegated city without exploring its underground culture as well. Start your day at Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium at the Osaka Bay area, one of the largest public aquariums in the world with a unique butterfly-shaped building. It’s one of the few aquariums that house a whale shark. Next, Check out the colourful Tempozan Ferris Wheel, or grab a meal at the Tempozan Harbour Village. Catch up on shopping in the surrounding Umeda area – go to Hanshin, Hankyu, Daimaru, Isetan and Japan’s longest shopping street Tenjinbashisuji. If the weather is good, take the time to explore the Osaka Castle grounds before heading over to the castle itself where you can explore the Osaka Castle Museum. It’s said that the people of Osaka are so happy because they eat good food. Indeed, since ancient times, the best of land and sea has found its way to the city, giving birth to Osaka’s “kuidaore” culture and creating countless places to eat. Osaka’s culinary masterpieces range from “takoyaki”, “okonomiyaki” and “kitsune” udon noodles to “tecchiri” and sushi. A visit to the city isn’t complete without a sampling of these local delicacies.
Rising from the dark When travelling through Japan, Hiroshima might be on your must-visit list, and if not then maybe you might want to reconsider it. Friendly, picturesque and a paradise for foodies, Hiroshima may be the first city in history to suffer a nuclear attack, but it’s leaving the dark legacy behind and emerging as a beautiful destination. The A-Bomb Dome tells you a lot about the events surrounding the bombings of 1945, including stories of survivors. It also relates how the city rebuilt itself and how nations joined together. Your next destination should be the Peace Memorial Museum. Hiroshima offers some local delicacies too. And its most famous food is okonomiyaki. The local version of the dish is characterised by only a thin layer of batter and a generous amount of cabbage on yakisoba noodles.
An ancient capital Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, is a vibrant mash-up of the ancient and the new. Home to thousands of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, Kyoto is rooted in culture, history and tradition. It has largely escaped the modernisation of other Japanese cities, such as Tokyo. There are said to be over 1,000 Buddhist temples here. One can find true masterpieces of religious architecture, such as the splendid Kinkakuji (the famed Golden Pavilion) and the cavernous Higashi Honganji. Within the temple precincts are some of the world’s most sublime gardens, from the Zen masterpiece at Ryōanji to the riotous paradise of blossoms at Saihōji. The city is also famous for its tofu, its kaiseki cuisine and its Buddhist vegetarian fare. Must-eats include classic tofu, yuba, kaiseki ryori and kyotsukemono.
Japan’s manufacturing powerhouse Nagoya, the place of birth of Toyota and pachinko (a pinball-style game), is a manufacturing powerhouse. In contrast to its industrial core, Nagoya has cosmopolitan aspects, including fantastic museums, temples and shopping. Parks and green spaces in the inner wards prevail and are well maintained. A must- see is the Tokugawa Art Museum, which houses the personal possessions of generations of the powerful OwariTokugawa clan, whose lives were linked with Nagoya since the early 17th century. The biggest attractions here are the original 12th-century sections of the Tales of Genji, one of Japan’s most famous epic novels. If Samurai life is not your cup of tea, the Nagoya Boston Museum of Fine Arts is another good choice. Traditionally, Nagoya is known for its hatcho miso, produced here for nearly 600 years. It is made from soya beans using a special process, and is a dark brown colour with an umamirich flavour. The miso katsu and miso nikomi udon are two specialities using hatcho miso.
Cosmopolitan centre Japan’s fifth-largest city and the prefectural capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo is a dynamic urban centre. As the island’s main access point and transport hub, Sapporo serves as an excellent base for striking out into the wilds. But it is also a major tourist hub. First enjoy the nightlife of the Susukino district. And, if the month happens to be February, the Sapporo Snow Festival – a winter carnival highlighted by frozen sculptures of everything from tanuki (raccoon dog) to Doraemon. Sapporo is also known as the City of Food, where fresh produce is brought in from Hokkaido every morning. The city is famous for its ramen noodles, soup curry and “Genghis Khan” mutton.