|Exploring this nation of islands is definitely an experience everyone should have at least once in a lifetime. Considered one of the world’s most scenic locations with its snow-capped mountains, its 16,800 miles of indented coastline, and its naturally-occurring hot springs, Japan is famous for much more than beautiful scenery. It’s distinct culture dating from as early as 10,000 BC has produced ever-popular Japanese animation, sumo wrestling, the martial art forms of karate, judo, and aikido, mouth-watering and aesthetically-pleasing cuisine such as sushi, tempura, udon, and other sought-for dishes, and much, much more. With its speedy modernization in keeping with the West, its continual redevelopment, and its inward dedication, Japan has the world’s second strongest economy after the United States. (Take a look at Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen’s Books section. Our books cover Japanese cuisine, sushi, sake, and garden design.)
The geography of Japan consists of four main islands located just off of Asia’s eastern coast. They are Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Travel between the islands is simple thanks to Japan’s world-famous train system. Japan’s trains literally take passengers anywhere they want to go on the islands, whether it is to a large or small city, or even to a remote village. The trains’ efficiency is also due to their groundbreaking speed and consistent, across-the-board punctuality.
The remainder of Japan consists of approximately 3,900 smaller islands. With all the islands in consideration, Japan’s land mass stretches across a 2,400-mile distance. In this newsletter, our exploration of Japan will lead you through a tour of the four main islands and some of their worldly attractions.
Most of Japan’s 120 million residents reside in Honshu, the archipelago’s largest island. Because Honshu is the largest island in size and population, the bulk of this newsletter will focus on Honshu.
One of the world’s largest cities, and by the far the largest city in Japan, is located in Honshu. This is Tokyo, home to 30 million people. The following are just a few of the abounding attractions and characteristics that can be found in Tokyo:
The Imperial Palace – The emperor and his family live in the Imperial Palace. The Palace design still holds traces of the Edo Period, including the landmark’s basic layout. Expansive gardens, stone walls, moats, and small ponds are some of the characteristics of the mostly private Palace. Some areas are open to the public on specific days, such as the Emperor’s birthday. This includes the Niju-Bashi, a widely-recognized bridge that spans a small moat entering the Palace grounds. Open on a regular basis are the East Imperial Garden of the Palace and the National Museum of Modern Art.
The Yamanote Line – This circular rail line forms an oval loop around Tokyo, crossing most of the city’s small towns/villages. An easy way to navigate the city is by way of the Yamanote Line, which takes an hour to complete its route. Of the 29 stations that make up the line, Tokyo, Ueno, Shinjuku, and Shibuya are the main stops.
Ginza – This famous Tokyo district is full of every form of Japanese entertainment, including clubs and nightlife, fashion boutiques, galleries, department stores filled with the latest in computer electronics, and restaurants. It is divided into eight districts. The popular Sony Building is located in Ginza. (Ever tried a mochi maker? This breakthrough in electronics can make this Japanese dessert with ease. Look for it in the Electronics section of Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen!)
Only 30 minutes away from Tokyo by train is Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city. Unlike Tokyo, this international seaport is much slower in pace, its streets less crowded than its bustling neighbor. Attractions here include the Landmark Tower, the tallest building in the country; the Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, considered one of the country’s best aquariums; the Yokohama Museum of Art; Chukagai, the largest Chinatown in Japan; Motomachi, a popular street for shopping; and the Silk Centre, filled with the wonders of the smooth fabric.
In the southern area of Honshu, many famous cities reside within the Kansai Region. A discussion of Japan wouldn’t be complete without the mention of two such cities—Osaka and Kyoto. While Tokyo is Japan’s economic and political engine, Osaka is recognized as an entrepreneurial giant, where goods flow in and out of a network of waterways. For hundreds of years, Osaka provided goods to Kyoto and Edo (present-day Tokyo) and was the seat of government.
Today, Tokyo is the capital and commercial center of the country, but Osaka continues to earn a gross national product greater than that of Canada. “Osakans” are known to speak in a straightforward manner and to possess a strong business sense. Some sites to see in Osaka are the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, the Osaka Castle (the city’s most visited site), the Cherry Garden, and Dotonbori, an amusement quarter.
Kyoto has a special place in Japanese history. It’s meaning is “capital.” Indeed, Kyoto was home to the emperor for over 1,000 years. Kyoto holds much of traditional Japan as the nation’s artistic and cultural depository. It is also the region’s educational center, housing 40 universities. The Kyoto National Museum; Gion, a famous geisha district; Okazaki-koen Park, with museums, a library, and a zoo; the Philosopher’s Walk, a beautiful path; and Kawaramachi, a busy shopping center, are just a few places of interest within Kyoto. (At Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen, our teaware, gifts, and tableware products include several beautiful geisha designs.)
Honshu also has much to offer outside of city life. Mt. Fuji is found here, hovering 12,388 feet above sea level. The volcanic mountain last erupted in 1707 and is considered one of the most beautiful sites in the world. Other places of interest in Honshu include the wooded Kamakura, the city of Nikko with its famous Buddhist temples, and the mountain town of Takayama, a vacation spot filled with hotsprings and hiking areas.
Hokkaido is distinct from the rest of Japan for its atmosphere of mountains, forests, and farms. Some of the most underdeveloped areas of Japan are on this cold island. However, it is also a busy land of fishing, farming, and city life. It’s capital is Sapporo, which has a population of 1.7 million people.
In the historic city of Hakodate, at Hokkaido’s southern tip, a cable car climbs to the top of the Hakodate-yama, where visitors flock for a gorgeous view. The Hakodate City Museum of Northern Peoples has a collection of Ainu artifacts; the Ainu are Japan’s last surviving indigenous culture. Their population of 20,000 lives in Hokkaido, often posing, singing, and dancing to entertain tourists.
Many visitors to Hokkaido go to Akan National Park for its caldera lakes, volcanoes, and pristine forests. Other national parks in Hokkaido include the Daisetsuzan National Park, the Shiretoko National Park, the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, and the Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park.
The fourth-largest island of Japan is also the least developed. Of the four main islands, Shikoku is the smallest. Because the people in Shikoku are less exposed to modern culture, travelers can get a distinct view of Japanese culture here. Those who enjoy less condensed areas of travel will appreciate the distance between places of interest and the infrequent occurrence of train stations, automobiles, and traffic here. One attraction in Shikoku is a circuit of 88 holy Buddhist temples and shrines. Pilgrims have come to Shikoku to complete a tour of this circuit for hundreds of years.
In Shikoku Village, one can enjoy the architecture of traditional buildings, expansive views, and local arts and crafts. Many of the sites in Shikoku consist of the gifts of nature: Tsurugi-san is one of its main mountain peaks, Konose is a magnificent gorge deep in the mountains, Oboke is another gorge noted for giant cliffs, rocks, and cascading waterfalls, and the valley of Yoshino-gawa is full of shrines, museums, and cultural sites. (Products from Japan available at Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen include chopsticks, sakeware, grocery, gift baskets, cookware, and much more!)
This southern island is where Japan first took route. It is also the place where Chinese and Korean culture first entered Japanese culture. A Korean potter discovered kaolin clay in the city of Arita in Kyushu. This product would become the essential ingredient to produce fine porcelain. The delicate porcelain made from kaolin clay would make Arita and its neighbors the center of the pottery industry in Japan for years to come. (Visit MrsLinsKitchen to view our high-quality collection of stunning products from Arita, Japan.) Saga is another pottery town in Kyushu.
Aside from its famous ceramic cities, Kyushu has another city that is well-recognized for a totally different reason. Nagasaki, associated with the atomic bomb that dropped there during World War II, is located here. With a population of 500,000, Nagasaki is compared to San Francisco because of its deep-water harbor. Nagasaki is considered one of the most interesting cities in Japan for its history and spirit.
In Fukuoka, Buddhism and tea were said to have entered Japan for the first time. Tourists can enjoy the shopping and hotel accommodations available here, as well as the many stalls offering food and drink. Other popular tourist destinations in Kyushu include the Mongol Invasion Memorial Hall, Ohori Park, Shofuku-ji (the oldest Zen temple in Japan), and Fukuoka Tower (a high observation tower providing excellent views).
|| OUR 2004 NEWSLETTERS
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Flowers in the Sky – Cherry and Plum Blossoms in Asian Culture
Travel to Asia: Southeast Asia II
Travel to Asia: Southeast Asia I
Travel to Asia: Korea
Travel to Asia: Taiwan
Travel to Asia: Japan
Travel to Asia: China, Part II
Travel to Asia: China
1,000 Cranes in Asian Culture and Art
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