Kanto—Tokyo and Vicinity
KANTO—TOKYO AND VICINITY
Along with Osaka, Tokyo serves as Japan's major gateway for overseas visitors. It also serves as the nation's transportation hub, with easy connections via plane, train and bus to the rest of the country. As the nation's capital and center for administration, education and finance, Tokyo is a highly developed metropolis, with modern highrises and an extensive network of urban trains and subways crisscrossing the city. Some 12 million residents live within the city's 2,102 sq. km. (840 sq. miles), with the fertile Kanto Plain spreading on Tokyo's north and Tokyo Bay opening on to the Pacific Ocean to the East.
Yet despite the city's modern appearance, vestiges of its colorful history remain. From 1603 to 1867, Edo (present-day Tokyo) was the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate government and was a town teeming with samurai, merchants and craftsmen. The Tokugawa shogun built Japan's most magnificent castle, foundations of which still exist amidst the greenery of a public park, surrounded by a swirl of moats which to this day give central Tokyo its present structure. Museums in Tokyo number among the nation's best, housing a treasure trove of decorative arts, antiques and artwork, while shrines and temples remain some of the city's most popular attractions. Clients who wish to explore Japan's traditional cultural pursuits can do so in Tokyo as well, whether it's participating in a tea ceremony, learning the ins and outs of Japanese flower arranging, or Zazen meditation in a Buddhist temple [More info: www.jnto.go.jp]. WAK Japan (www.wakjapan.com) can arrange private instruction in flower arranging, the tea ceremony, Japanese calligraphy, and other cultural pursuits for group tours.
It's this juxtaposition of the old and new, the East and West, that gives Tokyo its slightly exotic, slightly familiar atmosphere. It's a city of skyscrapers and narrow neighborhood streets lined with flowerpots, a city of Kabuki and nightclubs, sumo and baseball, flea markets and designer boutiques, kitsch and the aesthetic. Best of all, it's safe, night and day, inviting limitless exploration. Advise your clients to pick up JNTO's Tokyo & Vicinity Walking Guide from the Tourist Information Center, with self-guided tours of Asakusa, Shinjuku and other fascinating areas of the capital.
Marunouchi and Hibiya
Tokyo Station, served by everything from the Shinkansen bullet
train to commuter trains and subways, is a convenient starting point for sightseeing.
Part of the original, handsome brick station, completed in 1914, still stands
facing the Marunouchi side. Otherwise,
the station is mammoth, housing department stores and souvenir shops. The gigantic
Yaesu Underground Shopping Arcade, together with Chuo-dori street, present endless
possibilities for shopping.
Marunouchi is Tokyo's business district with the headquarters of leading companies. Here, old buildings are being replaced by attractive new buildings with offices, shops and restaurants, which attract many visitors as well.
Just beyond Marunouchi's office buildings is the Imperial Palace, home of the Imperial family and considered the heart of the city. It occupies the site where Edo Castle once stood, and although the present main building dates from only 1968, its architecture is reminiscent of traditional Japanese building techniques. Palace grounds are open to the general public only twice a year (on Dec. 23, the Emperor's birthday, and on January 2), as well as for guided tours conducted weekdays.
Adjacent to the Imperial Palace are the Palace Plaza, a spacious oasis for office workers and young couples during lunch and in the evening, and the East Garden, which is open free to the public every day except Mondays and Fridays and boasts the central keep of old Edo Castle, a Japanese landscape garden and a grassy park. Also nearby is Kitanomaru Park, which contains the National Museum of Modern Art with the world's largest collection of modern Japanese art; the Nippon Budokan Hall, which was built for the 1964 Olympics to showcase Japanese martial arts and can seat 12,000 people; and the delightful Crafts Gallery, with changing exhibitions of glassware, lacquer ware, ceramics and other crafts. Nearby are Yasukuni Shrine, commemorating Japan's war dead, and Chidorigafuchi Park, alongside the palace moat and famous for its cherry trees. The nearby National Theater stages Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku puppetry performances.
Hibiya Park, adjacent to the Palace Plaza, is a peaceful respite for area office workers, with finely laid-out Japanese and Western gardens. It's known for its blooming plants, especially wisteria in May and chrysanthemum in November. Sandwiched in between the park and Yurakucho Station is Hibiya, so packed with cinemas and theaters—including the Tokyo Takarazuka Gekijo with its all-female troupe—that it's known as the "Broadway of Tokyo."
Also of importance in this area is Japan's home of parliament, the National Diet Building, divided into the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors. Neighboring Kasumigaseki is the political and administrative center of Japan.
Ginza is Japan's most fashionable shopping address, with high-end shops, boutiques, art galleries and department stores like Hankyu, Matsuya, Matsuzakaya, Mitsukoshi, Printemps, Seibu, Marui, and Wako lining both sides of Ginza's main thoroughfare, Chuo-dori street, as well as side streets. On Sundays and national holidays, Chuo-dori is closed to vehicular traffic, transforming it into a wide pedestrian zone filled with families and couples. Every night, Ginza undergoes another transformation, with neon lights showing the way to the district's many bars, restaurants, cozy pubs and coffee shops.
Less than a 10-min. walk from Ginza is the impressive Kabukiza Theater, modeled after 16th-century castle architecture and serving as the nation's main venue for Kabuki productions, staged throughout most of the year.
To the south of Kabukiza Theater is Tsukiji Honganji Temple, a branch of Nishi Honganji Temple in Kyoto, unique for its distinct Hindu architecture and the only East Indian-style Buddhist temple in Japan. Nearby is the Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the largest in the world and the major supplier of Japan's countless restaurants and fish shops. Auctions of tuna begin before the crack of dawn, followed by an indoor market of vendors selling just about every sea creature the Japanese consume. It's open every day until 11:00am except Sundays, holidays, and some Wednesdays.
Also in the vicinity is Hama Rikyu Garden, one of Tokyo's best gardens. It was first laid out some 300 years ago by a feudal lord and passed to the Imperial family in 1871, later opening as a public park. Across the street from the garden is a new commercial area called "Sio-site" which houses offices, high-class hotels, chic restaurants and more.
Park, next to Ueno Station, occupies what was once a massive temple complex,
most of it destroyed in a battle between shogun loyalists and imperial forces
in 1868 in the waning years of the shogunate government. Today it constitutes
Tokyo's most important museum district and is very popular with families, school
outings and, during cherry blossom season, office workers from throughout the
city. The most important museum is the Tokyo National Museum,
which houses the world's largest collection of Japanese art, including lacquer
ware, ceramics, woodblock prints, samurai gear, ancient archaeological relics
and precious Buddhist treasures.
Also in the park are the National Museum of Western Art with its outstanding Rodin collection among other works, the National Science Museum with plenty of hands-on exhibits that appeal to children, the Tokyo Metropolitan Festival Hall for concerts, and the Ueno Zoological Gardens, founded in 1882 as Japan's oldest zoo. Also worth noting are Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate and completed in 1651, and Kiyomizu Temple, modeled after Kyoto's famous Kiyomizu Temple and housing the protectoress of childbirth and child-rearing. Down a hill lies Shinobazu Pond, part of which serves as a bird sanctuary, and the Shitamachi Museum, a local museum dedicated to preserving Tokyo's old neighborhoods and a way of life that has all but disappeared in today's modern Japan. Back at Ueno Station, the Ameyoko is a must for those who like markets, as it's filled with vendors selling produce, fish, clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, sporting goods, and a wide range of goods from tiny stalls located underneath the train track.
Northwest of Ueno Park is Yanaka, a delightful residential area of narrow streets, old homes, specialty shops and the largest concentration of Buddhist temples in Tokyo, most from the Edo Period. A restful stroll through Yanaka, which seems a world removed from bustling Tokyo, brings visitors to various temples of historic interest, a large cemetery where many of the district's writers and artists are interred, and the Asakura Choso Museum, home and studio of sculptor Fumio Asakura (1888-1964) and worth visiting for its unique blend of Western and Japanese architecture.
the third stop from Ueno by subway, is one of the largest downtown amusement centers
in Tokyo and a must for visitors to Japan. It boasts a number of traditional craft
stores, some passed down from generation to generation, as well as many popular
Japanese restaurants and narrow streets reminiscent of Tokyo's bygone days. But
the main draw for the huge crowds that flock here is Asakusa Kannon Temple
(also called Sensoji Temple), dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess
of mercy. The approach to the temple is a long, narrow pedestrian pathway called
Nakamise Dori, lined with souvenir shops and imparting a festive air. Indeed,
several festivals take place on the temple's grounds, including the Sanja Festival
on the third Sunday in May with a parade of portable shrines and the Hagoita-Ichi
(Battledore Fair), held in mid-December and featuring stalls selling colorfully
decorated battledores and New Year's ornaments.
Ryogoku, east of downtown Tokyo across the Sumida River, has served as Tokyo's sumo
town since the 17th century, with numerous sumo stable located here,
as well as the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall, where sumo tournaments are held three times a year, in January, May and September.
A stone's throw away is the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which does an excellent job conveying the history, lifestyle and culture of
Tokyo from the Edo Period to 1964, when Tokyo hosted the Olympics. English-speaking
volunteers are on hand to provide free tours of the museum daily until 3pm.
Along with the Tokyo National Museum, this is a museum your clients shouldn't miss.
Located on the Western edge of the JR Yamanote Line which loops around central Tokyo, Shinjuku originated as a post town in 1698 to serve the lodging needs of feudal lords traveling between their fiefdoms and Edo (present-day Tokyo) and blossomed into a business district after the Great Kanto Earthquake reduced much of central Tokyo to ruins in 1923. Today it contains most of Tokyo's skyscrapers, housing office buildings, city administrative buildings and hotels, as well as one of Japan's most well-known nightlife districts, called Kabukicho. Shinjuku Station, which splits the district into two distinct east and west sides, is one of the nation's busiest.
The west side of Shinjuku Station is where most of the skyscrapers are located, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) Buildings. On the 45th floor of TMG 2's North and South Towers are two observation floors, offering one of the city's best bird's-eye-views as far away as Mt. Fuji on clear days free of charge. Takashimaya Times Square, just south of Shinjuku Station, is one of the city's most popular shopping destinations, with the Takashimaya department store, Tokyu Hands do-it-yourself home improvement store, Kinokuniya bookstore with its tomes in English on the sixth floor, and restaurants offering cuisines from around the world. Many electronic stores just west of Shinjuku Station, including Yodobashi, cater to those in search of cameras and other digital gadgetry.
On the east side of Shinjuku Station is Shinjuku Dori street, lined with department stores like Mitsukoshi and Isetan, fashion boutiques and specialty stores. Here, too, is Kabukicho, where narrow streets and a blaze of neon beckon those in search of live music and dance clubs, drinking establishments and restaurants. Tokyo's gay-bar district lies farther east, in Shinjuku 2-chome. Southwest of Shinjuku Station, near Shinjuku-Gyoen-mae Metro Station, is Shinjuku Gyoen Park, once the private estate of a feudal lord and then the Imperial family before opening to the public after World War II. One of the city's largest parks, it contains wide grassy areas popular for picnics, a French formal garden, an English countryside landscape garden, a Japanese garden and a greenhouse.
Shibuya, Harajuku and Aoyama
Shibuya is a vibrant shopping and amusement district, catering to office workers and students who pass through this commuter hub to and from their homes in the suburbs. Many department stores (Seibu and Tokyu among them), fashion boutiques, restaurants and bars are clustered around the station.
Adjacent to Shibuya, Harajuku is Tokyo's trendiest address for the very young, with countless clothing and accessory shops catering to those in search of the latest digs, especially along the narrow pedestrian lane called Takeshita Dori. The Oriental Bazaar on Omotesando-dori is Tokyo's best emporium for one-stop shopping of Japanese goods and souvenirs, including antique kimono, porcelain, fans, woodblock prints, pearls, paper products and antiques. Those in search of culture can find it at the delightful Ota Memorial Museum of Art with its changing exhibitions of famous woodblock prints, but the biggest cultural draw is the venerable Meiji Shrine in front of Harajuku Station, dedicated to Emperor and Empress Meiji, credited with opening Japan to the rest of the world in the late 1800s. A footpath that leads through a dense forest and past one of Tokyo's best iris gardens brings devotees to the simple yet refined Shinto shrine, where court music and dance is presented at the shrine's annual festival. Nearby is Yoyogi Park, popular with families and couples for its huge expanse of green and cycling and walking paths, and two sports arenas constructed for the 1964 Olympics.
To the east of Harajuku is Aoyama, where Tokyo's upwardly mobile dine on international cuisine and shop for expensive fashions by international designers.
Akasaka and Roppongi
Akasaka is a business district catering to both local businessmen and to overseas business travelers staying in one of the district's many hotels. A plethora of restaurants, bars and lounges, most located on narrow streets between Akasaka and Akasaka-mitsuke Metro stations, offer a wide variety of diversions to fit every expense account.
Roppongi, centered on Roppongi Crossing (the intersection of Roppongi Dori and Gaien-Higashi Dori), is Tokyo's most cosmopolitan nightlife district, with restaurants serving cuisines from around the world, both Western- and Japanese-style pubs, and discos and dance clubs drawing an international clientele until the wee hours of the night. Roppongi Hills, Tokyo's largest urban development project to date, is a virtual city-within-a-city, with tree-lined streets and boasting a first-class hotel, restaurants, sophisticated shopping, a cinema complex, and the Mori Art Museum.
It is also pleasant to visit Tokyo Midtown, which is a composite urban district with various facilities such as stores, restaurants and the Suntory Museum of Art.
Tokyo Waterfront (Odaiba)
was just a vacant stretch of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay in the 1980s, but a developer's
dream has turned it into Tokyo's hottest leisure destination with hotels, Tokyo
Big Sight (Japan's largest exhibition center), shopping complexes, museums and
other attractions. Foremost for shoppers is Palette Town, an
amusement/shopping complex that contains Venus Fort, an upscale
shopping mall designed to resemble an Italian town complete with fountains and
plazas to offset its Italian and international name-brand boutiques, massive Ferris wheel, which at 115m (380 ft) is one of Japan's largest, Mega Web, an enormous Toyota showcase with virtual thrill rides. Although, these facilities plant to be closed on May, 2010 due to city planning by Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Not to be
outdone is Decks Tokyo Beach , which carries international goods and
has themed floors. One floor evokes old Hong Kong, with stores, restaurants and
signs designed to capture street scenes of the former British colony, while another
floor re-creates Japan of the 1930s. Aqua City also
has shops and restaurants.
Oedo-Onsen Monogatari, a re-created Edo-themed bathhouse utilizing hot springs tapped 1,400 m (4,600 ft) from below the earth's surface and complete with indoor/outdoor baths, massage and restaurants.
Museums at Odaiba worth checking out include the Museum of Maritime Science, which covers everything from Edo-era wooden boats to super-sophisticated container ships, and the excellent Miraikan, National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, which explores the latest developments in technology and science.
Other Spots and Attractions of Special Interest
Tokyo Tower, a 7-min. walk from two Metro stations, is Tokyo's most famous landmark, modeled after the Eiffel Tower. It has two observation platforms commanding grand views of the city, while its base contains souvenir stands and off-beat museums, including a wax museum and a small aquarium.
Akihabara, second stop from Tokyo Station on JR trains, is the nation's showcase for electrical and electronic goods, at reduced prices. Hundreds of open-fronted shops with a mind-boggling array of goods make this a unique experience, even just for browsers. Akihabara is now also famous as a mecca for 'otaku' or fanatics of cartoons.
Boat Cruises offer a different perspective of Tokyo. A 40-minute cruise on the Sumida River from Hinode Pier or Hama Rikyu Garden to Asakusa is a pleasant way to travel between these sections of the city. Night dinner cruises of Tokyo Bay are popular for their views of the Tokyo skyline and the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba, which changes colors at night.
SIDE TRIPS FROM TOKYO
Clients with a day or two to spare should consider an excursion to the surrounding countryside. Nikko, Kamakura, Hakone, Mt. Fuji and Yokohama are all easily reached within a two-hour train or bus ride.
National Park is an easy day's side trip or overnight stay from Tokyo,
yet it's worlds away in terms of scenic beauty and historic architectural gems.
Nestled in a forest of cedars is the village of Nikko, world
famous for its sumptuous Toshogu Shrine, final resting place of a powerful shogun
and one of Japan's most-visited shrines. Together with nearby Futarasan Shrine
and Rinnoji Temple, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also
worth seeing are the Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa, Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji.
Toshogu Shrine and Vicinity
Toshogu Shrine is reached by a shady footpath, lined with 13,000 massive Japanese cedars planted four centuries ago. They're silent testimony to the importance of the shogun enshrined here, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. The shrine was constructed in 1636 by his grandson, Iemitsu, who spared no expense in its lavish decorations of gold and wood carvings. The shrine displays a fine mix of Buddhist and Shinto architecture, making it one of Japan's most unusual structures. A five-storied pagoda, a belfry and a drum tower are associated with Buddhism, while Shintoism is reflected in the torii gate, sacred cistern and an oratory. Two Deva Kings, considered Buddhist guardians of the temple, stand at the main entrance. Nearby is the Sacred Stable, a common fixture at Shinto shrines, bearing on its eaves the celebrated carving of three monkeys in the poses of "Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil and See no Evil."
But the gem of Toshogu Shrine is the stunning Yomeimon Gate, with a riot of carvings painted in bright colors of blue, green and red. There's so much detail that the gate is also known as "Higurashi-no-mon," or Twilight Gate, implying that a person could gaze upon the gate until twilight since there's so much to see. Ieyasu's mausoleum, in contrast, is quite austere and simple.
Rinnoji Temple, founded in the 8th century, is noted for Sanbutsudo Hall, sheltering three gigantic images: the Thousand-armed Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) on the right, Amida in the center, and the Bato Kannon (Horse-capped Kannon) on the left. Today, people come to Rinnoji to pray for world peace. On the northwest side of Sanbutsudo Hall stands Sorinto, a bronze pillar housing ten thousand volumes of holy sutras. Also nearby is Shoyo-en Garden, a small strolling garden completed in 1815.
Futarasan Shrine is dedicated to Shinto gods of the surrounding mountains, while nearby Taiyuin Mausoleum is the final resting place of Tokugawa Iemitsu.
Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa, about a 20-min. walk from the shrine, is an imperial villa built in 1899. Thirty-seven of its 106 rooms are open to the public, providing insight into traditional architecture and lifestyles of the upper class.
Lake Chuzenji and Vicinity
Irohazaka Drive, from Umagaeshi to Lake Chuzenji, is a 4-km. (2.5-mile.) spiraling mountain road with numerous hairpin curves, making this a thrilling drive and one of breathtaking natural beauty.
Akechidaira, 20 min. by bus from Umagaeshi followed by a cable-car ride, commands a bird's-eye-view of Nikko National Park, with views of Mt. Nantai, Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls in the distance.
Kegon Falls, a 97-m. (320-ft.) waterfall, is considered one of Japan's most spectacular falls. With origins in Lake Chuzenji, it consists of a main fall and 12 minor ones, with an elevator providing close-up views of its base. In winter the falls freeze, transforming it into a photographic winter wonderland.
Lake Chuzenji, at the foot of Mt. Nantai, was formed by a lava eruption that blocked the Daiya River. The lake, with waters of indigo blue and a circumference of 25 km. (15.5 miles), is a popular year-round holiday resort, due to its high altitude and pleasant weather in summer, its tinted maples in autumn and its opportunities for skiing in winter.
Mashiko, 1 hr. by bus from Utsunomiya Station, can be combined with Nikko on an overnight trip. It's a small pottery village known throughout Japan for its Mashiko-yaki, a type of folk pottery admired for its simplicity and practicality. Mashiko ware became famous after the late Shoji Hamada (1894-1978) built a kiln here in 1924 and introduced the town's pottery throughout Japan. Today, Mashiko is home to some 50 pottery shops and 300 kilns. Hamada's former workshop, home and kiln, the Mashiko Sankokan, is open to the public with displays of the master potter's works.
Kamakura once served as the seat of Japan's first shogunate government, established in 1192. Today, Kamakura is a town flanked on three sides by wooded mountains and on the fourth by Sagami Bay. Within its confines are a great number of temples and shrines, some with dramatic backdrops of forests or the sea, others in rustic settings. Its main attraction is the Great Buddha, Japan's second largest.
Kita-Kamakura Station Area
Engakuji Temple, a 1-min. walk from Kita-Kamakura Station, is considered the best remaining example of Zen architecture in Kamakura, even though only a fraction remains of what was once Kamakura's most imposing and important temple. Ancient Japanese cedars shade the well-worn stone steps leading to the temple's most noteworthy structure, the Shariden, or Hall of the Holy Relics of Buddha, built in 1285. A National Treasure, it's the oldest Chinese-style structure in Japan, with a gracefully curved shingle roof. Nearby, on a hilltop, is one of Kamakura's most celebrated belfries.
Kenchoji Temple is the most significant of Kamakura's Five Great Zen Temples, even though fires and civil wars have ravaged most of its original buildings since the temple's founding in 1253. Nestled in a grove of magnificent Japanese cedars, it still boasts several important structures and properties, including a bronze bell cast in 1255, Kamakura's second oldest and designated a National Treasure.
Kamakura Station Area
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine counts as one of Kamakura's major attractions, easily accessible from Kamakura Station on foot. The approach to the shrine is along Wakamiya Oji Street, a grand boulevard lined with souvenir shops and marked in its middle by a raised pathway lined with cherry trees and azaleas. The shrine itself, painted a brilliant vermilion and boasting an exalted location on the top of a hill with panoramic views toward the sea, was first built in 1191 by the Genji family (founders of the Kamakura shogunate), with existing structures dating from 1828. During New Year's celebrations, hundreds of thousands of visitors crowd the temple's precincts to usher in the coming year. In April and September, the shrine witnesses the unique mastery of horseback archery, reminiscent of the days of the samurai. On the shrine's precincts are two museums worth visiting, the Kamakura Museum of National Treasures housing objects from Kamakura's many temples and shrines, and the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Modern Art with its collections of Japanese oil and water-color paintings, woodblock prints and sculpture.
Hase Station Area
Hase Kannon Temple, on a hill with sweeping views of the town and sea, is noted for its eleven-headed gilt statue of Kannon, Goddess of Mercy. Measuring 9.3 m. (30 ft.) high and carved in 721 from a single piece of wood, it's the tallest wood image in Japan. The temple also boasts a gigantic bell cast in 1264, the oldest of Kamakura's temple bells and designated an Important Cultural Property.
The Great Buddha, a 10-min. walk from Hase Kannon Temple, is Kamakura's major attraction. The second-largest bronze image in Japan (the largest is in Nara), the seated Daibutsu measures 11.4 m. (38 ft.) high, exudes an air of peaceful serenity, and is set in the open against a scenic backdrop of wooded hills. The statue is hollow and can be entered by a door in the back.
Hakone rates as one of the most popular inland tourist resorts in Japan, and
with good reason. Wedged between Mt. Fuji and Izu Peninsula, it boasts forested
mountains, deep glens, ravines, lakes, spas, fantastic scenery and historic
relics of the past. In feudal times, Hakone lay in the path of the old Tokaido
Highway, which connected Edo (present-day Tokyo) with Kyoto. Remnants of those
days are still visible today, including an original stretch of the old Tokaido
Highway and traditional inns that served the needs of traveling feudal lords
and their retainers. Although traveling in Hakone is no longer on foot, charming
modes of transportation rank high on a trip to Hakone, as visitors complete
a circular tour of the area by two-car tram, cable car, ropeway and boat. Advise
your clients to purchase the Hakone Free Pass as the most economical and convenient
way to travel through Hakone. [More info: www.odakyu.jp/english]
Stops along the Hakone Tozan Railway
Hakone-Yumoto is the major gateway to Hakone and its many spas. Yumoto Spa, the oldest in the district, has well-appointed inns in quiet settings along a river gorge. Travelers can board the Hakone Tozan Railway, a charming two-car electric tram, here or in Odawara.
Miyanoshita, a stop on the Hakone Tozan Railways, is the most thriving spa town in Hakone, with many excellent hotels and inns in addition to souvenir shops. It makes a good base from which to explore Hakone's many sights.
Kowakudani, or Valley of Lesser Boiling, is another popular spa town served by the two-car electric mountain tram, featuring sulfurous and bubbling hot springs. In April, the entire spa is awash in cherry blossoms and azalea blooms. Clients who are not spending the night in Hakone but wish to enjoy the benefits of hot springs might want to visit Yunessun, a 15-min. taxi ride from Kowakudani Station. It's a hot springs theme park with indoor and outdoor family baths, where visitors wear their bathing suits, as well as traditional baths separated for males and females.
Chokoku-no-Mori museum is an open-air sculpture museum and rates as one of Hakone's major attractions. It boasts a fantastic garden setting with scenic views of Hakone and showcases 700 sculptures, including more than 20 pieces by Henry Moore. The museum also contains the Picasso Pavilion, with more than 200 works by Picasso.
Gora—Mt. Sounzan—Owakudani Area
Gora, 10 min. by Hakone Tozan Railways from Miyanoshita, is where visitors transfer to cable car for Mt. Sounzan. Gora spa spreads along the slope of Mt. Sounzan, nucleus of volcanic activity in the area. Nearby Mt. Myojo is noted for its Daimonjiyaki Festival, in which a huge bonfire in the shape of a Chinese character is lit on the mountainside.
Gora Park is Asia's largest rock park, with a gigantic pond and various sections, from an alpine garden to a garden of tropical herbs.
Hakone Art Museum is a small museum dedicated to Japanese pottery and ceramics from more than 4,000 years ago to the Edo Period, including burial figures and Imari ware. The museum also boasts a small bamboo grove, moss garden, and teahouse.
Owakudani, or Valley of Greater Boiling, is the old crater of Mt. Kamiyama and marks the highest stop on the cable car. A nature trail leads through the otherworldly landscape, which smells of sulfur and is marked by steam rising from some crevasses and hot springs boiling in others.
Sengokubara—Lake Ashi Area
Sengokubara is known as the museum district, with Lalique Museum Hakone which displays art works of René Lalique, the Museum of Saint-Exupery and the Little Prince, the Pola Museum, art houses with extensive collections of art works from Western art to Japanese. The Venetian Glass Museum and Meissen Museum are also located in this area. Nearby is the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, where high- and low-land marshy plants have been gathered from all over the country.
Ashi, 723 m. (2,386 ft.) above sea level and with a circumference of
19 km. (12 miles), is considered the shining jewel of Hakone. On clear days the
inverted reflection of Mt. Fuji is reflected in its waters, which harbor black
bass and trout, making fishing as well as boating and swimming the primary leisure
pursuits here. Most visitors continue their travels through Hakone here aboard
a pleasure boat, which sails from Togendai or Kojiri in the north to Moto-Hakone
or Hakkone-Machi in the south.
Moto-Hakone and Hakone-Machi are two towns located side by side on Lake Ashi. Both are served by pleasure boats, as well as by buses to and from Odawara. Just a 5-min. walk from the Moto-Hakone boat pier is the Hakone Check Point, a reconstructed guardhouse similar to ones that once served as a checkpoint for travelers on the old Tokaido Highway. Nearby is the Hakone Detached Palace Garden. An earthquake destroyed the 1886 summer villa, but the gardens offer great views of the lake and Mt. Fuji. In Moto-Hakone, the Narukawa Art Museum displays modern art in the Nihonga style of painting, developed during the Heian period and noted for its sparse details.
Hakone Shrine, said to have been founded in the 8th century, is famous for its red torii gate standing close to the shore. The shrine is also famous for its ceremonial rites observed every year on the evening of July 31, when thousands of lit lanterns are set afloat on the lake.
Mt. Fuji and Five Lakes
Mt. Fuji, which soars to an altitude of 3,776 m. (12,400 ft.), is Japan's tallest mountain and is famous the world over for its beautiful, perfectly symmetrical cone shape. Its extensive base is strewn with lakes, waterfalls, virgin forests and various alpine plants, not to mention many hotels and inns. Visitors come for camping, hiking, fishing and swimming in summer, while in winter they come for skating and skiing. Of course, many come also for Mt. Fuji itself—and to climb to its very peak.
Mt. Fuji occupies a special place in the hearts of the Japanese, not only for its exceptional beauty but also for its spiritual significance. Throughout the ages, poets, artists and others have attempted to capture Mt. Fuji's essence in literature, paintings, and songs. It is the wish of many Japanese to watch the sun rise from its peak, with the first documented climb dating from the early 8th century.
Climbing Mt. Fuji
Because of weather and accessibility, Mt. Fuji has a narrow official climbing season, from July through August. There are five climbing trails (the most popular trail from Tokyo is the Kawaguchiko Trail), each divided into ten stages of unequal distances, with trail lengths ranging from 15 km. (9.4 miles) to 25 km. (15.6 miles). However, most climbers begin their ascent at the 5th stage, which is served by bus and from which it's a 6-hour climb to the top followed by a 3-hour descent. There are stone huts on each stage for lodging and for rest, but some climbers forgo sleeping by setting out in the evening with a flashlight, watching the sun rise at the peak, and then returning to the 5th stage by early morning. Average temperature at the summit is 4.9 C (40.82 F) in July and 5.9 C (42.62 F) in August. Although the climb is strenuous, everyone from children to grandmothers hike the trails. Climbers should be advised to take a sweater or woolen shirt, as well as a raincoat, sturdy walking shoes and water.
Yokohama was just a small fishing village in 1859 when it was chosen as one of several Japanese ports open to international trade. Today it's Japan's largest international port and with 3.6 million residents is the nation's second-largest city. Its many attractions and quick access from several stations in Tokyo make it a perfect destination for day-trippers.
Minato-Mirai is one of Japan's largest urban development projects, with shopping complexes, office buildings, museums, restaurants, a small amusement park, and PacificoYokohama, one of the world's largest convention centers. The Yokohama Museum of Art displays works by Western and Japanese artists since 1859, while the Yokohama Maritime Museum chronicles Yokohama's history as a port. The Landmark Tower, with Japan's highest observation deck on the 69th floor, offers panoramic views of the container port, the city, and, on clear days, Mt. Fuji.
Park, laid out after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed much of
the city, has the historic NYK Hikawa-Maru passenger ship
at its dock, open to the public. Nearby are the Silk Museum,
which describes how silk is made and documents silk's role in Yokohama's development
as a port town, and the Yokohama Doll Museum with its 9,000 dolls
from around the world. Not far from Yamashita Park is Japan's largest Chinatown,
legendary for its many restaurants.
Sankei-en Garden, a bus ride south of Yamashita Park, is not to be missed. Although laid out only in 1906 by a local silk trader, it contains many traditional buildings set beside ponds or in picturesque garden settings, including a villa that once belonged to a shogun and a 250-year-old thatched farmhouse. The garden is also known for its flowering plants in season.
Chiba Prefecture is home to Narita International Airport, gateway to Japan. Located next to Tokyo and surrounded on three sides by the ocean, Chiba Prefecture boasts scenic coastlines, pleasant weather and a rich history and culture. As a popular recreational and sightseeing destination, it boasts many attractions, including Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea and Kamogawa Sea World with its shows and aquarium.
For transit passengers with a few hours to spare between flights, or for travelers wishing to delve more deeply into Tokyo's surroundings, there are two recommended destinations near Narita International Airport. In the quaint town of Narita, easily reached in about 10 minutes by train from the airport, a winding street lined with shops, restaurants, and inns leads to imposing Narita-san Temple, a huge complex consisting of several worship halls, a pagoda, and an expansive park with ponds and waterfalls. Sawara, a 25-minute train ride from Narita, preserves its history as a brewery town and a rice distribution center with preserved merchant townhouses and white-washed storehouses. Sawara is also known as the home of Ino Tadataka, who spent 16 years surveying all of Japan in the 18th century to produce an astonishingly accurate map; both his former house and a memorial museum are open to the public.