Saturday, December 14, 2013

Top Ten Countries Number Six - Japan [PART TWO]

Japan is not a huge country, but it is a pretty big island. And there is so much to see and do. After enjoying the sights of Kansai, I headed to Tokyo. Tokyo in many ways is the ultimate in cities. It’s huge, with a highly efficient metro system to rival that of Moscow or St Petersburg, with more sky-scrapers than you can poke a stick at. Never the less, you can still find some amazing parks and temples there too to keep you occupied. Not satisfied? Well, fear ye not, there are museums a-plenty as well. Still not satisfied? Well, head up a tower to see the city from above. Tokyo tower is great, but there’s also the skytree as well.
If you still aren’t impressed, not so far away in Chiba is Tokyo Disneyland. I visited in August 2012, which wasn’t the best time to visit. It’s was absolutely packed in there, everyone was going. Well what could I do, my holidays are when the school is on holiday, which is basically every school in the country is on holiday. I spent much of the day waiting in queues sadly, however, it still was a lot of fun! The rides are enjoyable, you get a parade in the evening, and for those who felt it still wasn’t quite like theme parks elsewhere, the food they sell is fried, unhealthy and very expensive! It’s hard to go past Splash Mountain as the best ride, but there are of course many rides. I didn’t have time to go on Space Mountain…
Tokyo’s museums are very good. Head to Ueno, also home to the zoo, and you’ll find the National Museum, and the fun Science Museum, both worthwhile, but you may find the Shitimachi Museum more interesting. It is in an old house that has survived wars and quakes, and recreates Japanese life from around 100 years ago inside.
Temples? Well Senso-ji(Asakusa) and Meiji-jingu are perhaps the best two shrines to visit, the latter in the middle of a huge park near Shinjuku. Get off at the Harajuku station, the area there is also a popular spot
Postered wall in Akihabara.
and very interesting. You may meet people cos-playing too. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, there’s the Imperial Palace not so far from Tokyo station in beautiful gardens, and then there’s Akihabara. This famous district of Tokyo is not only the place to buy your cameras and electronic stuff, but it’s full of the strange Maid Cafes, is steeped in ‘geek culture’, and is where the group AKB48 is purported to come from!
And yet there is more and more in Tokyo. It’s an amazing place. However, Japan offers more and more. Check out the beautiful castle in Nagoya, a very pleasant city (as long as you’re not there in August where the heat and humidity is unbearable). If it is the height of summer and you want to escape the blinding heat, why not head to Nagano-ken? Former winter Olympic Games site, I visited Hakuba last year where it was pleasantly cool in August, not to mention very beautiful. Great opportunity to relax, enjoy the cooler weather, and go hiking.
The down the road you have Yokohama, a wonderful bay-city with a beautiful bay, skycrapers and a ramen-museum (a museum for noodles!). What more do you want?
Further north Sendai is the main city of note. A really nice city with an interesting museum and a great citadel watching the place a-high. Not far from Sendai is Ishinomaki, now my favourite place to go when I want to see a movie. It’s an interesting town, devastated by the 2011 tsunami. However, it is well back on its feet today, and has a couple of things of interest. It’s quite the centre for Manga, and one of the best places in the country is the Ishinomaki Mangatten Museum. Devoted primarily to a famous Manga artist from Ishinomaki, Shotaro Ishinomori. There’s also the replica of the galleon, San Juan Baptista, worth seeing on the bay.
Closer to home, Iwate Prefecture has a bit to see and do as well. Not too far from Ichinoseki are two gorges with annoyingly similar names. ‘Geibi Gorge’ and ‘Genbi Gorge’. Both are very pretty places indeed, but the first is slightly more famous because you can take a special boat trip where the punter will sing for you. It’s a very special place.
Golden Hall, Chuson-ji
The crowning glory of this region though is the town Hiraizumi – only 7km from Ichinoseki. There’s more than one temple of interest in this town, but Chuson-ji, perched atop a hill, is really spectacular. Part of this hilltop complex is Konjiki-do, a gold-leafed hall, not quite as spectacular as Kinkanhu-ji in Kyoto, but nevertheless an impressive sight.
Japan has much more than I can cover reasonably in two blogs. I enjoyed hiking in Yamagata-ken over the peaks known as ‘Dewa Sanzan’, staying in the eastern town of Tsuruoka. In town Zenpo-ji is a very interesting temple complex too. Then there’s Kyushu in the south of the country, and Hokkaido in the north. Both with great beauty and interest, but of the three main islands of Japan, Honshu remains the only one I have visited thus far. Japan is an amazing place, with so much packed into three main islands (and indeed others).
What will be number five on my list? Well, again you’ll have to wait for that one!

10 – Slovakia
9 – Romania
8 – Mali
7 – The United Kingdom
6 – Japan

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