07:50

Adventure of Fuji

The most popular period for people to hike up Mt. Fuji is from 1 July to 27 August, while huts and other facilities are operating. Buses to the fifth station start running on 1 July. Some climb the mountain at night in order to be in a position at or near the summit when the sun rises.


There are four major routes from the fifth station to the summit with an additional four routes from the foot of the mountain. The major routes from the fifth station are (clockwise) the Kawaguchiko, Subashiri, Gotemba, and Fujinomiya routes. The routes from the foot of the mountain are the Shojiko, Yoshida, Suyama, and Murayama routes. The stations on different routes are at different elevations. The highest fifth station is located at Fujinomiya, followed by Kawaguchi, Subashiri, and Gotemba.

Even though it is only the second highest fifth station, the Kawaguchiko route is the most popular route because of its large parking area and many and large mountain huts where a climber can rest or stay. During the summer season, most Mount Fuji climbing tour buses arrive there. The next popular is the Fujinomiya route which has the highest fifth station, followed by Subashiri and Gotemba.

Even though most climbers do not climb the Subashiri and Gotemba routes, many descend these because of their ash-covered paths. From the seventh station to near the fifth station, one could run down these ash-covered paths in approximately 30 minutes. Besides these routes, there are tractor routes along the climbing routes. These tractor routes are used to bring food and other materials to huts on the mountain. Because the tractors usually take up most of the width of these path and they tend to push large rocks from the side of the path, the tractor paths are off-limits to the climbers on sections that are not merged with the climbing or descending paths. Nevertheless, one can sometimes see people riding mountain bikes along the tractor routes down from the summit. This is particularly risky, as it becomes difficult to control speed and may send some rocks rolling along the side of the path, which may hit other people.

The four routes from the foot of the mountain offer historical sites. The Murayama is the oldest Mount Fuji route and the Yoshida route still has many old shrines, teahouses, and huts along its path. These routes are gaining popularity recently and are being restored, but climbing from the foot of the mountain is still relatively uncommon. Also, bears have been sighted along the Yoshida route.

An estimated 200,000 people climb Mount Fuji every year, 30% of whom are foreigners. The ascent from the new fifth station can take anywhere between three and eight hours while the descent can take from two to five hours. The hike from the foot of the mountain is divided into 10 stations, and there are paved roads up to the fifth station, which is about 2,300 meters above sea level. Huts at and above the fifth stations are usually manned during the climbing season, but huts below fifth stations are not usually manned for climbers. The number of open huts on routes are proportional to the number of climbers - Kawaguchiko has the most while Gotemba has the least. The huts along the Gotemba route also tend to start later and close earlier than those at the Kawaguchiko route. Also, because Mount Fuji is designated as a national park, it is illegal to tent above the fifth station.

There are eight peaks around the crater at the summit. The highest point in Japan is where the Mount Fuji Radar System used to be. Climbers are able to visit each of these peaks.

Official Climbing Season


July and August are the official climbing season. During the two months, the mountain is usually free of snow, the weather is relatively mild, access by public transportation is easy and the mountain huts are open. Everybody without much hiking experience is strongly advised to tackle the mountain during the official climbing season.

The Crowds

Climbing Mount Fuji is very popular not only among the Japanese, but also among foreign tourists, who seem to make up more than a third of all hikers. The peak season for climbing Mount Fuji is during the school vacations which last from around July 20 to the end of August. The peak of the peak is reached during the Obon Week in mid August, when climbers literally have to stand in queues at some passages.

While you may want to avoid the Obon Week, we believe that by avoiding the crowds in general, you will miss out one of the most interesting aspects of climbing Mount Fuji, which is the camaraderie and unique experience of ascending the mountain among hundreds of equally minded people from across the world.

In order to encounter neither too large nor too small crowds, we recommend to climb Mount Fuji on a weekday in the first half of July before the start of the school vacations. The downside of a climb in early July is the weather, which tends to be somewhat more unstable than later in the season.

Off Season


Some mountain huts open a few days before the start of the official climbing season and/or remain opened until around mid September. While there is usually no or only little snow on Mount Fuji until October, temperatures at the summit can drop to far below zero in the shoulder seasons. Only experienced hikers with a strong urge to avoid the crowds, should consider the ascent in late June or September.

From October to around mid June, climbing to the summit is highly perilous due to extreme wind and weather conditions, snow, ice and a high risk of avalanches.

Timing

Most people try to time their ascent in order to witness the sunrise from the summit. Also, the chances of the mounatin being free of clouds, are highest during the early morning hours.

The recommended way of doing this, is to climb to a mountain hut around the 7th or 8th station on the first day, spend some hours sleeping there, before continuing to the summit early on the second day. Note that the sunrise takes place as early as 4:30am to 5:00am in summer.

Another popular way is to start climbing the mountain around 10pm from the 5th Station and hike through the night to reach the summit around sunrise. Obviously, this is a more tiring way of climbing the mountain and brings an increased risk of falling victim to altitude sickness.

A walk around the crater takes about one hour. The mountain's and Japan's highest point is located immediately next to the weather station on the opposite side from where the Yoshidaguchi Trail reaches the summit.

Mountain Huts


The Kawaguchiko Trail is lined by more than a dozen mountain huts between the 7th and 8th station. Other trails have much fewer mountain huts. An overnight stay typically costs around 5000 Yen per person without and around 7000 Yen per person with two meals. During the peak, expect the huts to be extremely crowded. The Fuji-Yoshida City website (see below) lists phone numbers for reservations.

The trails

The ascent to the summit does not pose any major difficulties regarding climbing skills. Only at some points, the terrain is rather steep and rocky. Abundant signs along the trail warn the hikers of other minor problems such as sudden wind gusts and falling rocks. However, the main challenge of the climb is the fact that it is very strenuous and the air gets notably thinner as you gain altitude.

Climbing Equipment

In order to enjoy a safe hike to the summit of Mount Fuji, it is crucial to bring the proper equipment. Some of the most important things to bring are listed below:

Proper Shoes
The rocky, steep terrain in some sections and the potential of sudden, strong wind gusts are reasons to bring proper hiking shoes which protect your ankles.

Proper Clothes
Bring proper protection against low temperatures and strong winds. It can be below zero at the summit, and strong winds often make it seem even colder. Bring rain gear, as weather conditions can change very quickly in the mountains. Gloves are recommended both against the coldness and for hiking the steep, rocky passages.

Flashlight
If you hike during nighttime, a flash light is highly recommended in any season and essential outside of the peak season, when the trail is not illuminated by other hikers. Most people choose head lamps, as they leave both of your hands free.

Food
Particularly on the trails where there are few mountain huts, it is important to bring enough water and food. Mountain huts offer various meals and drinks. Note, however, that prices increase with the altitude. Also, be prepared to carry home all your garbage as there are no garbage bins on Mount Fuji.

Altitude Sickness

The human body requires some time to adjust to a sudden increase of altitude, otherwise there is a risk of headache, dizziness and nausea. Quite a few people, who climb Mount Fuji, fall victim to altitude sickness.


To avoid altitude sickness, you are advised to tackle the mountain at a slow pace and make frequent breaks. An overnight stay at a hut around the 7th or 8th station is recommended as opposed to a straight climb to the top. Small bottles of oxygen, available at the 5th stations and mountain huts, can be an effective tool in preventing and fighting altitude sickness.
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07:44

Mount Fuji : the New 7 Wonders of Nature


Mount Fuji also called, as Fujiyama is the most poplar and undisputedly the number one landmark of Japan. It is located on the Southern Honshu Island and is the highest mountain in Japan, rising to 12,388 feet (3,776 m) near the Pacific coast in Yamanashi and Shizuoka ken, 100 km west of Tokyo, with the apex broken by a cone-shaped crater 610 m (2000 ft) in diameter.

Mount Fuji is relatively a young volcano and has attained its present shape about 5000 years ago and was a result of a series of volcanic activities by the Ashitakayama/Ko-Mitake (Small Mitake), Ko-Fuji (Old Fuji) and Shin-Fuji (New Fuji) volcanoes. The Ko-Mitake volcano is dormant since 100 thousand years ago. The Ko-Fuji volcano, which formed the base of the current, Mount Fuji was active between 100 thousand and 10 thousand years ago. Shin-Fuji volcano which is responsible for the mountain’s current shape started to erupt about 10 thousand years ago and erupted repeatedly for over 100 times during a period of about 10 thousand years. Mount Fuji last erupted on November 24, 1707 and has been sleeping since then, but still the geologists regard it as an active volcano.

‘The Holy Mountain’, is what Mount Fuji is called as and its name of Ainu origin implies “everlasting life.” Thousands of pilgrims visit the mountain from all parts of Japan and there are a number of shrines and temples are on its slopes.


The major attraction of the mountain is certainly the various views it provides that change along with seasons and even as the time flows during a day. During winter, it is a flawless volcanic cone with its snow-capped tops, so winters and early spring are the best seasons to to catch the best view of this picture-perfect mountain. Five lakes surround the northern side of Mount Fuji, namely: Lake Motosuko, Lake Shojinko, Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Yamanako, and Lake Subarshiri, which are frequently visited by tourists. These lakes provide a good view of Mount Fuji alongside different water sports.

The official and the best climbing season of Mount Fuji is from 1st July to 31st August every year as the weather is very nice and pleasant. Conquering this sacred mountain by both young and old at their own caliber with a proper plan and equipments is a great achievement in itself. As we go above from the base of the mountain to its apex there are 10 posts in between.

You need not start your climb from the base itself as you can reach the 4th or the 5th post by road and from here it takes about 4-5 hours to reach the peak and about 2-3 hours to descend. Huts and lodges are situated all over the mountainside and are quite affordable and provide meals to the climbers and the tourists. But Camping is not allowed on the mountain. There are various routes on offer for climbing Mount Fuji, including: Fujinomiya trail, Gotenba trail, and Subashiri trail.


The splendor of Mount Fuji has been viewed by millions and has been praised and written about by numerous travel writers, poets and presented in different art forms by painters all over the world.


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22:54

Heritage


Shiretoko
Places:Shari-cho, Shari-gun/Rausu-cho, Menashi-gun, Hokkaido


Shiretoko, a new natural heritage site registered only in July 2005, is considered to be the last pristine wilderness remaining in Japan. Shiretoko is a long narrow peninsula located in northeastern Hokkaido. The volcanic Shiretoko mountain range runs down the center of the peninsula and includes the highest peak of the range, Rausu-dake (1,661 m above sea level) and the active volcano Iouyama. The Sea of Okhotsk lies on the western side of the range and the Nemuro Straits on the eastern side. The coastline cliffs facing the Sea of Okhotsk rise up more than 100 m high, and you can glimpse waterfalls large and small cascading directly into the sea, and colonies of seabirds.

The salmon and trout that breed in the sea off Shiretoko are an important food resource supporting the terrestrial ecosystem with rare birds such as Blakiston's fish owl, Steller's sea eagle and the white-tailed sea eagle, as well as brown bears. The Shiretoko ecosystem is a dramatically clear example of the linkage between marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and it is considered an important wildlife reserve, with unique features unlike any other in the world.


Shiretoko, blessed with mountains, lakes and an abundance of plants and animals, offers many places of interest throughout the seasons. A good example is the Shiretoko Goko or Shiretoko Five Lakes, situated on a lava plateau surrounded by old-growth forest. The five lakes don't have individual names; they are referred to by number from Lake No. 1 to Lake No. 5. If you take a stroll along the walking trail (takes approximately 1 hour), you may see wild animals and will certainly enjoy the beauty of the changing seasons.

In the fall, when the mountains are adorned in red and yellow, the hoards of salmon and trout swarming up river to spawn are an incredible sight. In winter, there is also beautiful scenery as the drifting ice changes the Sea of Okhotsk into a white snowfield. There are various nature experience programs available at the site such as night tours for animal watching under wonderful starlit skies, daytime treks for alpine plant spotting while surrounded by birds singing, or nature watching enjoying waterfalls and wild animals while walking along the trail. It is highly recommended to contact Shiretoko Nature Center before departing.


Himeji-jo Castle, Himeji City

Hyogo prefecture



Because its pure white appearance with white plaster coating looks like a dancing Shirasagi (Egret) with wings spread, this famous castle is also called the "Shirasagi-jo" or "Hakuro-jo". It was spared from damage during the war and from many other disasters and is in a remarkably preserved state compared to other castles. Seventy-four structures within the castle site including a tower and gate are designated as important cultural assets of Japan.

The year of establishment was 1346. Later, the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1589), who ruled over most of Japan, built a full-scale castle wall, which became the base for present-day Himeji-jo. At the start of the Edo period, the castle underwent considerable renovation over a 9-year period to create the magnificent appearance we see today.

If you are confident in the strength of your legs and back to climb up and down, you should take a look around the inside of the castle. Clearly, beauty was not the only priority of those in power throughout the ages. Its complicated structure, particularly the three tall watchtowers connected by columns and winding maze-like passages, functions well as a war fort and conceals a mechanism to halt the invasion of enemies and throw them into confusion. The design is intended to prevent access to the tallest watchtower and castle keep, situated at the heart of the castle, which functions as a center, so beware if you go there without a map, you may get lost!

Among the many gates are the remains of gate mechanisms for dropping stones on the enemy if they manage to enter, or gates with an extremely narrow passageway so that not many people could pass at once. Numerous holes to shoot from are made in the castle wall and there are windows from which to drop gigantic stones on the enemy, too. It is very interesting that there is a kitchen in the inner court in case the castle falls under siege or an attempt is made to starve out the occupants. By the way, the thick coating of white plaster on the outer surface is not just there for aesthetic purposes but also for defense, because of its excellent resistance to fire and bullets.

The castle keep rising from the peak of Mt. Hime-yama is built with a total height of 32 m on a stone wall approx. 15 m high, and the view from the top of the keep is spectacular. On a fine day, you can imagine the emotions of a feudal warlord with his ambitions to dominate the whole country. At night, the entire castle is lit up, so a visit after sunset is highly recommended as well.


Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu


Okinawa prefecture

Cultural heritage sites are scattered among the southernmost islands of Japan and on the main island of Okinawa. There are 9 ruins symbolizing the unique culture and religious beliefs of the Kingdom of Ryukyu that once flourished here.

In Okinawa, dictatorships began to arise in various areas from around the twelfth century, and castle-like buildings called "Gusuku" were constructed. However, these buildings were not like Himeji-jo Castle, which is registered as a world heritage site as well, but more like a fort. Gusuku were also treated as sacred sites under local religious belief. When the 14th century came along, each area was unified into three counties and the unified Kingdom of Ryukyu was finally established in 1429. In line with this, the symbol of the Kingdom "Shuri-jo Castle" became the sole Gusuku.

Shuri-jo is built on upland 120 m above sea level overlooking Naha City. The castle area surrounded by stone walls approx. 10 m high is 400 m east to west and 270 m north to south. Inside the castle, there is an open space and facilities for political, cultural and diplomatic activities and festivals, and the largest wooden structure in Okinawa "Shoden (central building)" was built on the castle premises. This building shows a strong influence from various cultures including from Japan and China, which proves that trade with Asian countries was very active at the time. The pattern of dragons or vermilion lacquer coating shows the influence of China, and the structural form of the roof shows the influence of Japan. Shurijo was completely destroyed in World War II and most of the present buildings are reproductions built up until 1992. Because this place is used as a location for TV dramas, it attracts many tourists.


On the west side of Shurijo is a massive stone structure, "Tamaudun", created using a natural rocky outcrop. This is the tomb of the successive royal families of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, and the inside of the tomb is paved with coral reef fragments, and at the center of the structure and in the east and west towers stand lion statues called Shisa, which are a symbol of Okinawa and a charm against evil.

Naha city, Chinen village, Nakagusuku village, Kitanakagusuku village, Katsuren town, Yomitan village, Nakijin village, all on the Okinawa Main Island in Okinawa prefecture.


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22:52

Akihabara - Tokyo's Hobby Heaven


From its post-war life as the place to buy electric goods, Akihabara (often abbreviated to its pet name, Akiba) has constantly moved with the times. It became Tokyo's commercial center for consumer electronics in the '80s, and through the following decade it morphed into an area specializing in computers and software. From the late '90s to the present day, it has become the world capital of otaku culture—the realm of obsessive fans immersed in some aspect of Japanese pop culture.

Last year brought more significant change. The opening of the Tsukuba Express("TX") rail line connected Akihabara with the city of Tsukuba, a major research hub and a fast-developing bedroom community. Business complexes with striking contemporary architecture have sprung up around the station. As these towers cast long shadows over the otaku town of small shops stacked in old multi-tenant buildings, one cannot help sensing the beckoning of a new era.

Anime, comics, games, "maids," and more...this is a place without peer around the world. It is the world of the otaku actualized. We invite you to visit the Capital of Hobbies.



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22:45

Grand Shrine at Ise

The buildings of Ise Jingu are constructed in a style called yui-itsu shinmei zukuri with a central pillar, thatched roof, and plain cedar walls. It developed about 1,300 years ago during the reign of Emperor Temmu and Empress Jito. Since then, with the exception of the Warring States period in the 15th and 16th centuries, the shrine has been rebuilt every 20 years in the ceremony of shikinen sengu. Shikinen means "a set number of years" and sengu means "transferring the shrine."

The shrine is built in exactly the same design and proportions on a plot next to the old one, and the yatakagami (eight sided) mirror of Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess, is transferred from the old shrine to the new. The shrine moves alternately to the east and back to the west.

The first sengu took place in 690 AD. The shrine forest, known as misomayama, was established as the source of lumber for the rebuilding. Until the end of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) these woods provided all the cedar needed for the shrine transference ceremony. After that, the source of lumber changed to another area famous for its cedar: Kiso in Gifu and Aichi prefectures.

"One sengu cycle requires a massive amount of cedar, from 8,500 to 10,000 cubic meters about 10,000 logs. Moreover, 90 percent of these need to be more than 200 years old and at least 60 centimeters in diameter. The columns on either side of the shrine, known as munemochi-bashira, are cut from trees roughly 400 years old. Lumber for the doors must be 1.2 meters wide unblemished, with no joints. Builders cannot reuse old wood; they must cut all new timber and prepare it within the shrine precincts," says Masayuki Murase. For the past 26 years Murase, a forestry engineer, has devoted his life to Ise's trees.

The forest around the Inner and Outer Shrines has an area of about 5,500 hectares. This is divided into 'divine precincts' and 'shrine precincts.' Divine precincts are devoted to the integrity of the shrine woods and it is forbidden to cut trees there, except if needed for the health of other trees. Shrine precincts are divided into two categories. The first is basically the same as the divine precincts the purpose of the trees is to improve the scenery, so nothing is cut.


The intent of the second category of shrine precinct is to protect the headwaters of the Isuzu River as well as the scenery. In this area there are man-made plantations of cedar to be used for shrine building. This is because in 1923 the Shrine Precincts Preservation Committee did a study on the condition of the forests and noticed a striking decline. As a result, they started planting cedars around the headwaters and set up a 200 years plan so cedar can once again be obtained from the shrine's own forests. Those trees are now 80 years old.

The last time any lumber was taken from the shine precincts was in 1391. It is the dream of those looking after the forest that once again it will be the source of lumber for rebuilding the shrine. Foresters have laid the groundwork for an environment conducive to cedar, a sensitive species. Their efforts are paying off: in 2014 about 20 percent of the lumber for the 62nd sengu will come from these woods. That will be the first time in 700 years, and the thought makes Murase's eyes sparkle.

"Inside the shrine precincts," he says, "there are cedars marked 'candidates for great trees.' They've been set aside for lumber to be used 200 years from now. We will nurture them to grow until they reach a diameter of more than 1 meter."

In rebuilding the shrine there's a ceremony called misoma-hajimesai for cutting the most auspicious tree the wood that will enshrine the goshintai (object of worship where the deity's spirit dwells). The 1,300 years old tradition requires that three persons wield their axes from three different directions. Murase says, "This is the quintessential way to cut a tree. Unless it is done right, the tree will not be cut properly even if we use a chain saw."

Young forestry staff train for the ceremony, practicing proper axe handling and traditional wood cutting methods. Before they begin, they must obtain permission to fell the trees from the gods of the forest. We observed a practice session. Removing their helmets, the young men politely bowed to the trees, deliberately lifted their axes, and started cutting. Shouting words of encouragement, they finally felled one tree after about an hour. Then they placed the treetop in the center of the stump and performed kabu-matsuri (tree-felling ceremony).

"In this way," Murase explains, "we present the gods of the forest with the root and top of the tree. It expresses our intention of taking only the middle and returning the rest to the gods."

In accordance, Murase and his young staff inserted the treetop into the stump. It would take less than 5 minutes to cut a 200 or 300 years old tree with a chain saw. However, a reverent mindset and proper etiquette are necessary to cut a tree that has been living for so long.

This mindset and the accompanying skills have been handed down at Ise Shrine through the shikinen sengu ceremony. By rebuilding once every 20 years and transferring the deity to a new dwelling, the deity gains renewed power and spirit, rejuvenating the strength of the nation. The grand ceremony, unparalleled anywhere in the world, has extended respect and skills across generations, preserving the cycle of nature and nurturing both the forest and the hearts of the Japanese people.


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22:43

Forbidden Forest, The Primeval Woodsof Miyazaki's Animation

In the opening scene of Miyazaki's 1997 Princess Mononoke, set in medieval Japan, range after range of mountains appears. Below them are the following words: "In ancient times the land lay covered in forests where from ages long past dwelt the spirits of the gods."

In the sacred woods that are threatened by encroaching development in Miyazaki's film, there dwells not only the many-horned Shishigami (Deer God), but also the spirits of trees, and animals that understand human speech. The feeling of this mysterious forest is expressed simply in the words of 20th-century writer Georges Bataille, describing France's prehistoric cave paintings: "The animals of Lascaux are at the level of gods or kings." Indeed, in the forest of the Shishigami, animals discover their divinity.

In Miyazaki's 1988 My Neighbor Totoro the hills, where the young girl Mei and the forest spirit Totoro meet, are called Tsukamori (Tumulus Woods). The kanji for tumulus can mean an ancient tomb or grave, so the name suggests a quiet, sacred place. It's not difficult for our imaginations to leap from this name to the idea of forbidden woods. Even today throughout Japan there are shrines with forbidden woods within their grounds. The woods came first, followed by the building of a shrine. That is, our sense of awe came first, and afterwards we developed techniques and trappings of religion to appease the gods. We put up a torii gate and hang sacred ropes in the forbidden forest, but in the end this is nothing but the cleverness of adults. In proof of this, the young heroine Mei, ignorant of the meaning of an entrance path, manages to find her way through a brambly maze to discover the inner mystery of the forest, namely Totoro.

In Princess Mononoke the forests are similarly forbidden territory. The deep woods are a maze that keeps people away. The feeling that something lurks in the deep, dark recesses of the forest stops people from wanting to walk inside. Places that were once divine or sacred are uncomfortable for adult human beings, and only shamans or those who have not learned fear, like children, dare enter. Thus only the young hero Ashitaka, descendant of the Emishi people "with unclouded eyes," or the wolf-girl San are able to see the Shishigami.

When we think about it, the forest of the Sea of Corruption in Miyazaki's 1984 Nausica of the Valley of the Wind, is a kind of forbidden wood filled with savage insects and poisonous spores. What is hidden in the heart of this forest is neither god nor ghost, but truth. It is young Princess Nausica egoless and without fear of the forest, who is able to penetrate to the truth: that the Sea of Corruption is simply a means of purifying the polluted world.

For us, lost in our modern lives, no longer remembering the childhood belief that "something" lurks in the deepest woods, the forests in Miyazaki's animations are nostalgic and terrifying at the same time. Indeed, a ticket to a Miyazaki anime is the passport to enter a forbidden forest.


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22:39

Forest of Japan's Holy Heartland

Two-thirds of Japan is forested, but throughout the archipelago, from the subarctic to the subtropical zones, virgin forest accounts for only 1 percent of the trees. One could say that the basis of Japan's culture and spirituality lies in these forests. The deep woods—sacred places into which men did not lightly tread—evoked reverence and stirred the imagination. As if it were embedded in our DNA, awe of sacred trees still dwells in the hearts of modern Japanese.

Kumano


Many forests are rich in natural beauty, but if one is seeking supernatural spirit, Kumano tops the list. Stretching across the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama prefecture, it has peaks and valleys lined up one after another like waves billowing across the sea. This area of remote mountains was a pilgrimage route from the Heian period (794-1192) through the Edo period (1603-1867). Commoners and emperors alike came to its three great shrines. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is still used by ascetics for spiritual practice. In the Heian period, these mountains and forests were considered the Pure Land of Buddhism, therefore sacred. Today the hills are largely covered with Japanese cedar plantations, but in antiquity the glossy-leafed temperate forest was dark and deep and full of spiritual feeling. Even now mossy stone walls and ancient Jizo carvings line the old winding path. There is a feeling of awe toward something invisible, and at the same time the simple thought of one's tiny existence within it all. One could say Japan's sense of nature is completely summed up by this feeling. These forests gave birth to writers Kumagusu Minakata, Haruo Sato, and Kenji Nakagami. These are forests that stir the imagination.

100,000 Sacred Woods remain in Japan

For the Japanese, living in one of the world's most densely forested countries, the forests that always meant the most were the "sacred woods." These were revered as the dwelling places of gods and seen as bringing blessings to human beings. At the same time, the woods were feared as awesome places, which led our ancestors instinctively to worship them.

Masaaki Ueda, professor emeritus at Kyoto University, is chairman of the Shaso Gakkai, a society established for the study, protection, and development of these sacred sites. He says sacred woods were the focal point of interaction between men and gods as far back as Jomon times (10,000 to 300 BC), thus making them the primal place in Japanese culture.

Ueda says, "The Japanese viewed giant trees and pillars as yorishiro—meaning 'a place where the gods draw near.' Even as they cut down the forests to develop rice paddies or towns, there was a sense of taboo, that if you felled a tree in a sacred forest, you would be cursed. As a result they preserved woods with original flora.

Although established as forbidden forests that people were not supposed to enter, the sacred woods became the center of the village community because people could gather around them and offer performances of dance and music to the gods." Sacred woods, which preserved the original trees of the area, are biological treasure houses. And in modern times they have played an important role in environmental preservation. Akira Miyawaki, professor emeritus at Yokohama University and director of the International Ecological Research Institute, has carried out 1,500 forestation programs since 1970. He is promoting the creation of sacred forests for the 21st century under the slogan "hometown forests with hometown trees." Stressing the strength and benefits found only in woods filled with original trees, he says, "Trees that have developed in a local climate not only grow well by themselves without much tending, but also are durable and resistant to severe occurrences such as earthquakes, typhoons, and fires. The few remaining forests with native trees are the sacred forests of the nation of Japan." Sacred woods, at the root of Japanese culture, are being rediscovered in the 21st century in light of increased environmental awareness. They reflect a Japanese view of nature based on the pantheistic belief that spirits reside in stones, plants, and trees. The belief has as its premise harmony and co-existence with nature.

The Grove of Sacred Forest

The illustration is the symbol of the Shaso Gakkai, the society dedicated to sacred sites. The torii gate stands at the beginning of the entry path, which leads man into the gods' dwelling place. As you pass under the torii, you enter the precincts of the sacred wood within which stand the shrine buildings. Spreading out around you is the "forbidden forest," preserved as the realm of gods where human feet should never tread. On the mountain rising behind the forbidden forest, Japanese people felt the divine spirit and it became the object of worship.


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22:30

Matsuri, the Japanese Festivals

Matsuri - Ekibyobarai
Kyoto Gion Matsuri



Kyoto's most elaborate festival ensued from appeals to banish a devastating plague in the summer of 869. When it duly abated, a great festival of thanksgiving to the illustrious kami of Yasaka Shrine was held at the emperor's behest. A century later the festival was instituted as an annual event, in praise and continuing petition for ever-renewed blessings upon the city. Through the centuries the event has gained in splendor, reaching today's grand proportions as a nearly month-long series of rites and festivities.


Chichibu Kawase Matsuri


For more than 300 years, the townfolk of Chichibu, in the mountains of Saitama, have celebrated Kawase Matsuri. Inspired by the famous festival of Kyoto, it is also known as Chichibu's O-Gion. In fact, in the precincts of Chichibu Shrine is a small Yasaka Shrine associated with the main one in Kyoto, and the kami of both shrines are honored at this festival. Rites include an evening children's parade, a midnight drawing of sacred water from the river, and the next-day procession of magnificent floats bedecked with umbrellas of paper flowers.


Matsuri - Shinwa
Nachi-no Hi Matsuri



The deified waterfall at Kumano Nachi Taisha is the site of an annual fire festival which honors Emperor Jimmu who, according to legend, stopped here to pray before going on to conquer ancient Yamato. The twelve unique ogi mikoshi, each a tall fan-decorated standard in which a deity temporarily resides during the celebration, represent the sacred waterfall, which at 130 meters is the highest in Japan. Shrine priests convey offerings to an altar set among them near the foot of the falls.



Saikusa Matsuri


Wild lilies, yuri, once grew in abundance on sacred Mt. Miwa. There among them lived and played Princess Isuzu, and it is said that Japan's legendary first emperor Jimmu, great-great grandson of the sun goddess, once visited her on the mountainside in lily season. When she died, her spirit was there enshrined, and during Saikusa-no Matsuri, often simply called Yuri Matsuri, offerings of lilies are presented to her spirit, both in dance and as adornment for the cask of sacred sake.

Ko-no-mono Sai


Long ago, in gratitude for nature's bounty, villagers here placed vegetables and sea salt together in offering to the field god. It was discovered, after a time, that they had been transformed, and people gathered around to taste these strange "fragrant things" this gift from the gods. This is the origin of Japan's tsukemono, pickled vegetables. When Yamato Takeru, a legendary hero credited with extending the frontiers of Yamato, stopped here to rest and pray, villagers gave him some as a charm against all illnesses.

Torigoe Yo Matsuri


Warrior Yamato Takeru, enshrined and worshiped at Torigoe Shrine, is honored with an authentic "downtown" festival which draws huge crowds. The so-called obake (monster) mikoshi, said to be the heaviest in Tokyo at four tons, is paraded through parish streets by hundreds of happi-clad bearers to entertain and honor the deity within and ask for his favor. The parade carries on throughout the day, and then in the evening returns to the shrine by atmospheric lanternlight.


Matsuri - Hosaku
Sumiyoshi-no O-Taue Sai



During Sumiyoshi Shrine's Rice Planting Festival, eight ceremonial maidens called ue-me, wearing hana-gasa hats decorated with paper representations of cotton flowers, legendary dispellers of thunder, carry sanctified rice seedlings in procession to the shrine rice paddy. Shimo ue-me, planting girls dressed in white, red, and indigo field clothes and wearing straw hats, plant the seedlings to the accompaniment of traditional rice-planting songs and dances performed on a nearby stage and around the field to entertain both gods and onlookers.

Suneori Amagoi


In supplication for sufficient rain for the continuing growth of the rice crop, Tsurugashima-machi honors the legendary water-loving serpent said to have once lived in Kandachi Pond. Townfolk construct a giant bamboo-and-straw snake, parading it into the water, symbolically taking it back to its original dwelling place. Inside its great mouth are an ofuda charm from Kandachi Shrine and the Shinto zig-zag-folded paper shide and sprig of evergreen sakaki which mark the creature as sacred.



Yata-no Mushi Okuri


Insects, mushi, are the bane of rice fields in summer, and the village of Sobue-cho still preserves an eight-century-old mushi okuri ritual to banish them. A rice-straw effigy of a mounted horseman is dubbed Sanemori-san for the ancient warrior Heike Sanemori who was captured by Genji because he stumbled on rice stubble, and whose spirit in grudge tranformed itself into an insect. Paraded by torchlight through the fields, the effigy is finally burned, along with the insects drawn to the flames.

Mizudome-no Mai


Gonsho-ji's Stop-the-Rain Festival has been passed down from the 15th century when it was first held in supplication to the dragon god to bring torrential rains to an end. Here the role-playing "dragon god" blowing a conch shell hora-gai, is wrapped in a straw snake, for its traditional association with water. As he is rolled and dragged around the grounds, onlookers splash him with more and more water to pay their respects, until finally they symbolically decide, "No more!"



Matsuri - Nagoshi
Chinowa Kuguri



A procession of priests pass through a ring of chigaya, a river grass whose vivid green color and fragrance act as purifiers. On this day, or another in latter June, many parishioners will also make this ritual summer passage.

Minazuki-no Ooharai


Shinto purification by hito-gata utilizes a human-shaped paper doll which a worshiper rubs over the body and blows breath upon to transfer to it any illness or impurity. It is then inscribed with name and age and returned to the shrine with a small money offering. At Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine, priests bundle these dolls together and place them in small rush boats to be set adrift in the river, thereby symbolically casting away any negative influences.

Yatori-no Shinji


On the last night of summer, in early August by traditional reckoning, Shimogamo Shrine celebrates the community's safe passage through that perilous hot season with Nagoshi Shinji rites. Fifty sacred arrow-like talismans, yatori-no ikushi, are set in the middle of Mitarashi Pond on shrine grounds. As the priests cast away parishioners' purifying hito-gata, young men dressed in loincloths rush into the water to claim one of the talismans, and with it the promise of good fortune, health and longevity.


Matsuri - Seirei
Chankoko Odori



On Japan's southern islands O-Bon retains an exotic flavor, almost unchanged for centuries. In Tamanoura in the Goto Islands, grass-skirted musicians parade through the village, pausing to dance at the grave of the local medieval lord, as well as at the homes of those who have lost a family member during the past year. The ancient rite adopted from China is named for the chan sound of finger cymbals and the ko-ko of drumming with which the spirits of ancestors are welcomed.

Shaara-bune


The people of Nishinoshima construct great straw "spirit ships" with a coiled prow ornament representing an elephant trunk, one of Buddhism's symbols. Kids prepare thousands of little paper prayer flags which they carry around from house to house to be inscribed to Buddha. In return for their efforts, they are given sweet treats, particularly at the homes memorializing the first Bon after a death. These so-called tsuzuki-bata are strung together and suspended to simulate sails.


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09:57

Art & Culture


All over Japan summer sets the stage for annual traditions of spectacle and ceremony. This season's matsuri (festivals) beseech the gods to stave off illness and insect scourges, ensure a bountiful harvest, and provide safe passage for spirits of ancestors returning home.

The Japanese celebrate this joyous supplication with dazzling decorations, float-filled processions, glowing paper lanterns, bursts of fireworks, music and drumbeat, costumes and sometimes carnival atmosphere. Join Kateigaho International on a pictorial tour of 15 summer spectaculars.

From one end of the archipelago to the other, festivals fill the calendar of summer-time Japan. Originally observances of the indigenous Shinto faith, matsuri evolved through the ages to include certain seasonal rites of Chinese Buddhist origin as well. These ancient celebrations continue to hold an honored and beloved place in contemporary Japanese life.

The Shinto deities are called kami, divine forces of the unseen world. In a mutually beneficial relationship, gods serve the people and the people serve the gods, giving them their due at the proper time and place and in ancient, prescribed ways. Matsuri are the culmination of this worship, providing people opportunities to offer the gods their prayers, gifts, reverence, and joy.

When Slovenian photographer Gorazd Vilhar first arrived in Japan in 1985, he was immediately attracted to the visual power of matsuri. Having grown up in a family of artists and steeped himself academically in art history, Vilhar is passionate about color, form, and detail. In fact, it is his boundless fascination with the aesthetic richness and iconic symbolism in traditional Japanese culture that has compelled him to remain here through the years.

Vilhar was delighted to discover that the genial atmosphere of festivals offers a welcome opportunity for closer contact with the customarily reserved Japanese. Perhaps emboldened by the celebratory spirit, communal goodwill, and some sanctified sake too, people suddenly become more sociable, less restrained. Matsuri are not secret rites for true believers or initiates only, but celebrations for all who care to attend.

Foreign visitors are unquestionably welcome, and their sincere interest in the proceedings is appreciated and enjoyed.

Though many countries have festival customs, Vilhar believes Japan's exceed them all. Not only are they far more numerous and varied here, but the ancient practices are also extremely well preserved. Considerable attention is devoted to the ritual attire and accouterments. The finest materials and workmanship are essential. Details receive painstaking care and enormous investments of money and time, clearly reflecting Japan's affluence and renowned dedication to quality.

The matsuri is many things to the Japanese people: an opportunity for communion with their gods and ancestral spirits; an avowal of their common past reaching far back into mythical times; a celebration of nature and renewal with the cycle of the seasons; and, not least of all, an excuse for exuberant merrymaking with family and neighbors, thereby reaffirming communal bonds and providing welcome relief from the work and routine of daily life. In the past, when life was difficult for most, well-being seemed wholly at the mercy of the kami. Yet even today, the sense of protection and security they offer helps explain their appeal.

For visitors to Japan, festivals can offer a window into traditional culture, providing unforgettable moments and memories. With their roots in the distant past, matsuri embody the continuum of form and heritage upon which Japan was built and provide considerable insight into a society striving to hold on to its identity in a fast-changing world.


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09:39

The Varied Festivals of Japan

If you're looking to take a holiday in Asia, Japan is an excellent choice. It's a land of many contrasts with ultra modern lifestyles juxtaposed against ancient traditions, and rural communities set against sprawling metropolises. A single holiday in Japan can take in many conflicting aspects of life in the country.

If you're looking to absorb the culture, or simply to find some outstanding entertainment for your stay, you could do a lot worse than timing your visit to coincide with one of the many popular festivals that the country is host to. Here are some of the more memorable ones :

Sapporo Snow Festival

The Sapporo Snow Festival will be entering its 60th year in February 2009, and you can expect the event to have an extra special feel to go along with its landmark year. The festival, based in Sapporo the capital of Hokkaido takes place over a week and includes the construction of hundreds of snow statues and ice sculptures throughout the town. Each year you can expect around 400 immaculately sculpted ice structures displaying everything from instantly recognisable landmarks to famous celebrities. If you're planning a winter holiday in Japan, then it's well worth joining the 2,000,000 people expected to attend this legendary festival.

Nagasaki Kunchi Festival

If you're taking your holiday in Japan in Autumn, the Nagasaki Kunchi festival is a must. Started in the 16th century to celebrate the harvests, the festival has now grown to become one of the most popular in Japan. Visitors to the country will be able to see traditional dancing, huge floats decorated like river barges or Chinese boats and the legendary 'dragon dance'. To give you an idea over how well planned the whole thing is, preparations for the annual festival begin as early as June 1st.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri Festival

The Gion Festival is another famous one, this time held annually in Kyoto. Unlike the previous entries, this one is on for the entire month of July, but the legendary parade (Yamaboko Junko) is worth being there for on the 17th. Those wanting to get an insight into how Kyoto residents live will also want to visit at this time, as the customary Byobo Matsuri (folding screen festival) means that many residents will open their homes for others to visit. An unparalleled opportunity to get off the tourist trail and see how people live on your holiday in Asia.

Nebuta Matsuri Festival

The largest festival in the Tohoku region is the most popular 'nebuta' event in the country with tourists, and that should be enough to convince you to visit on your holiday in Asia. Nebuta festivals involve the float of brave warrior figures carried around the city, accompanied by dancers moving in time to the famous Rassera chant. It has an atmosphere like no other, and is definitely worth seeing.

Sanja Matsuri Festival

Although Sanja Matsuri is celebrated nationwide, Tokyo is without doubt the place to be for it. The main festivities take place at the Sensoji Shrine on the third weekend of May and some 2 million people come to enjoy the huge parades, traditional music and dancing. Those who dislike crowds need not apply, but it is an unusual experience that everyone with an interest in Japanese culture should try.

Takayama Matsuri Festival

One of Japan's most popular festivals, the Takayma Matsuri festivities take place both in Spring and Autumn. Both festivals welcome the changing seasons and involve colourful floats moving through the Takayama streets and huge crowds. The Autumn version is on the 9th and 10th October, while the Spring version is held on April 14th-15th. Accommodation can be hard to come by, but tourists looking to see it should be able to find something in the neighbouring towns of Furukawa and Gero Onsen.

Fuji Rock Festival

It may not be a traditional cultural experience like the others, but if your idea of a good music festival is a muddy field in England, Fuji Rock may just change your expectations completely. Hosted at the Naeba Ski Resort (it was moved from Fuji in 1997, but retained the name), it is the cleanest mainstream music festival you'll likely ever see. Alongside quality food and drink, the acts are impressive too past years have attracted the like of The Cure, The Chemical Brothers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck and The Foo Fighters.

Whether you're interested in music, arts or just absorbing the country's history and culture, there is a Japanese festival for you. By timing your luxury holiday in Japan to coincide with one of these festivals, you're guaranteeing yourself memories that will last a lifetime.


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09:28

Things to do and Food to Eat in Fukuoka

Fukuoka isn't that small of a place. Actual numbers bring the population to about the 5 million mark, with the city having roughly 1.3 million people. With that amount of people around, you know there has got to be something to do. On any day of the week if you look you will be able to find something that interests you. There are often festivals in one area or another in Fukuoka city. With a little help from a friend or the domestic foreigner magazines and information centers you will be able to find out where the festivals are being held.

The center of Fukuoka city will have to be Tenjin (though others may argue it to be Hakata). It is the shoppers' haven of the prefecture. Feel you need to do a little shopping for some nice named brands from Italy or France? head on over to Tenjin. Want to blow off some steam and hit a bar (including foreigner bars)? Tenjin is the place to be. Want to meet some new friends? Rainbow Plaza in... you guessed it, Tenjin, is the place to do just that.

Right next door to Tenjin is Nakasu. Nakasu hosts nightlife entertainment but tends to cater to the more affluent individual. However, Nakasu also has a huge shopping complex named Canal City which has so many shops that you wouldn't be able to count them all. The complex holds many restaurants, two hotels, a large cinema and in the center of Canal City is an area called Sun Plaza where it is common to find street performers doing their acts.

Of course Tenjin and Nakasu aren't the only place you can have fun. I live about 10 minutes away from Tenjin by subway in a town called Nishijin and I can do nearly as many things here as I can in Tenjin. Bowling, swimming, soccer, billiards, game centers, and even a movie theater are just a few of the things Nishijin and the nearby areas have to offer.

Yahoo Dome (formerly Fukuoka Dome) is located in Momochi which boarders the sea. Yahoo Dome is home to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. The Hawks are a strong baseball team, beloved by the city and its residents. In fact, there are only two teams in Japan's professional baseball league who attract more than one million fans to their home games per year, and the Hawks are one of them. When the Hawks don't have a home game you can sometimes find other activities occurring in the Dome. Yahoo Dome hosts various flea markets and concerts throughout the year.

Food, food, food!

As far as I'm concerned, Fukuoka has the best food to offer in all of Japan (though I hear food in Sapporo is quite good). Fukuoka has its own well known dishes and of course the chefs here are well capable of recreating dishes found throughout the world.

Yatai When night begins to fall on Fukuoka city you may suddenly notice many little street vendors (usually operating out of their vans) popping up all over the sidewalks. These vendors serve a variety of foods ranging from ramen to yakiniku to tempura. Yatais themselves are really a site to see.

Hard Rock Cafe Fukuoka On the occasions when I miss American and Mexican food, I always have the option to head on over to Hard Rock Cafe right next door to Fukuoka dome in Momochi. Momochi is adjacent to Nishijin so indeed I am in luck. Hard Rock Cafe Fukuoka boasts the largest restaurant of its kind in Japan. The food is fantastic and of course the atmosphere is like all other Hard Rock Cafes out there. The staff is very friendly and since I frequent their establishment often I am treated extremely well with occasional benefits.

Izakaya Though not only found in Fukuoka, Izakaya restaurants deserve a notable mention. Izakayas offer a wide variety of food and more importantly drinks at a low price. University students as well as business men can often be found in these restaurants chatting with colleagues and drinking up a storm. All Izakayas offer a different ambiance, and with some searching you will be able to find one that suits you.

Famous Fukuoka food

Fukuoka ramen Have you ever had that cup O ramen or that freeze dried packaged ramen? bah! throw that out and try some "Tonkatsu ramen" (pork ramen) famous in Fukuoka and well know throughout all of Japan. First time I tried it I was instantly hooked and to this day try and eat it once every week or so.

Mentaiko Another famous food which Fukuoka is renowned for is mentaiko (very tiny fish eggs). To some people mentaiko may not seem very appetizing but please don't knock it till you try it. Mentaiko spaghetti, as an example, is a delicious treat around these parts. And there are of course many other recipes which have use for mentaiko.

Transportation

Unlike the nickname given to New York, Fukuoka does tend to get a little tired at night but usually not until quite late especially on weekends. One of the reasons for this in my humble opinion is the transportation shutdown at around midnight. That's right, the subway, train, and bus system all but stops once you hit the AM. Which leaves the weary and, more often than not, drunk to either take a taxi home, walk, or I have even heard the "I will just stay up until the subway starts again at 6:00 before I go home" line used by those who just aren't finished partying when its time for the transportation system's last call. This isn't just a Fukuoka special, for the shutdown happens throughout the whole of Japan.

Though the transportation system does shutdown at perhaps inconvenient times, it is a wonderful system. Perfectly clean trains, buses and subways (which are amazingly quiet) are the consequence of the shutdown for they are all cleaned during the wee hours of the morning.

Location

Fukuoka is found on the southernmost island of the four main islands in Japan. The name of the island is Kyushu. Fukuoka happens to be closer to Seoul, South Korea than it is to Tokyo. Fukuoka prefecture is located on the northern tip of Kyushu.


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09:17

Shopaholics

Japan is one of the most treasured places for the visitors. It consists of four main islands and several small ones, which in combination make the image of the sea horse. The country is also known as land of rising sun. Most of the islands of Japan are mountainous and some are volcanic. However, it offers a mild and soothing predominantly moderate temperature. Any visitor can enjoy the place with all pleasures and adventures. The experience of shopping in the markets of Japan is also pleasant.

The shopper can choose the products of his choice at the competitive rates. And if you want to do the shopping at the cheap rates then prefer to visit the near by market. It offers the used products like clothes, electrical appliances, books, toys, accessories, potteries and many more. The Japanese shopping service has a complete schedule to have these types of markets organized. There are some associations made by the people who take control of each schedule of the flea market in Japan. You can get the products of great use and quality in these markets at the cheap prices. These flea markets are usually arranged in parks, department stores, shrines, parking lots and temples etc. Flea markets are very popular among the young people who do not have good source of income.

The Japanese shopping services offers a wide range of products of good quality at discounted rates. Apart from these flea markets, Japan has great shopping malls which attract the shoppers from all over the world. Japan is well known in the world for its electronic gadgets and technology. These malls have the collection of all types of products under a single roof. You can shop for Japanese clothing, electric gadgets, appliances, shoes, books, accessories and many more at the discounted prices from one stop shop. These malls give you the luxurious experience of shopping with complete convenience. If you get tired while shopping, they also have the facility of restaurants and eating corners. The malls provide you the one stop shop for all the well known brands of the industry and products of all categories. All these things in combination give the shopper a relaxed and comfortable shopping facility.

Apart from cheap flea market and classy branded shopping from malls, the Japanese markets also have department stores for all the products. There are some specific local markets which are popular for selling a category of products such as Akihabara has a rich market for electrical items; It is also known as the Japan’s electric town. Aoyama is the center for traditional crafts of Japan, and eatables like fish, vegetables, fruits etc can be purchased at cheap cost from the Ueno Ameyoko markets. The Japanese shopping service gives you the worthwhile experience of shopping in Japan.


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08:47

How to Behave Respectfully in Japan

In my capacity as the UK Director of Operations for One World Tours Limited, I am often asked all kinds of travel questions. I personally believe that when visiting a different country that you should be respectful of your hosts beliefs and customs. So with that in mind I have put together some useful tips and basic rules that should be observed when visiting Japan.

By far the best and most efficient way to travel is by train using the Japan Rail Travel Pass for foreigners. You will need to buy an exchange order before entering Japan as you can not buy it when you are there and travel agencies in your area will be able to tell you where you can get hold of one. You have to be eligible for the pass so if you are visiting Japan for temporary sightseeing or are a Japanese national who lives permanently in a foreign country. On arrival in Japan go to a Japan Rail Pass exchange office or a Travel Service Center which are located in major JR stations or airports. You will need to show your passport and the exchange order and tell them the day you want to start your travels. This pass will enable to use Japan Rail Travel, JR ferries, and JR buses. By purchasing a green type Japanese Rail Pass it will enable you to use the green cars (first class) without additional charges.

The Japanese are very precise when it comes to common manners and I personally believe that as a foreigner it is important to be familiar with some of the basic rules.

When visiting a shrine or temple it is common sense that you should behave respectfully. This can be observed by making a short prayer in front a sacred object. You can also show respect by so by throwing a coin into the offering box, followed by a short prayer. In some temples you can purchase a bundle of incense which you can burn. If you have an injury or medical problem it is believed that if you fan the smoke towards the injury that there is great healing properties in this. Some temples may expect you to remove your shoes which you can leave at the entrance on the shelves provided or take them with you. When visiting a shrine you are expected to be in good health to avoid bringing in any impurities. So before entering a shrine you are expected to cleanse both hands with the fresh water provided at the purification fountain. People will also rinse out their mouths with the fresh water, spitting it out by the fountain. This is not compulsory however.
You will be permitted to take photographs in the temple grounds but forbidden indoors there will be signs to let you know what is permitted.

Make sure that you have tissues when visiting a public toilet as there is not always toilet roll or hand drying facilities. There are western toilets and Japanese toilets in most places and wheelchair toilets were always in stations and temple areas.

The Japanese greet each other by bowing but since they do not expect foreigners to know proper Japanese bowing rules so a nod of the head is usually enough.

Older men sometimes use it on their face in working class establishments, but they are considered rude for doing so. Also, refrain from wiping your nose on it. Here are a few table rules for you to be aware of when dining out. You will receive a hot towel at the start of a meal which can only be used for your hands as it is considered bad manners to use it on your face. Blowing your nose in public is also considered bad manners especially if at the dining table. The Japanese will consider an empty plate good manners but burping is not. When you have finished your meal try to remember to place all your dishes as they were at the start of the meal. Remembering to replace the lid of dishes and replacing your chopsticks on the chopstick holder. Speaking of chopsticks there are a whole lot of rules on how to use the effectively. I have narrowed them down to the basics here. Do not stick chopsticks into your food, especially rice nor pass food with them directly to somebody else's chopsticks. Do not use the chopsticks to spear food with. Spoons are sometimes used to eat Japanese dishes that are difficult to eat with chopsticks and knives and forks are only used for Western food.

5 What to take finally, here are a few things you may or nay not have thought of. Electric. If you need to bring any appliances from your country, make sure to bring a converter or plug. American appliances can be used in Japan without a converter although they will have less power. You will need a two-pronged plug and you will be able to buy converters and plugs in the airports. Better still buy one before you travel.

It is advisable to look for Citibank ATM's when attempting to obtain money as most ATM's in Japan do not accept international visa cards, etc. in their machines due to the fact that the magnetic strip on the back is much thinner than ours. The yen is the Japanese currency unit. A MasterCard or VISA card can be used in department stores, hotels, and restaurants in major cities. If, however you are traveling the countryside of Japan, you might find that credit cards/traveler's checks may not be accepted. While it is a good idea to carry Japanese currency with you, make sure that you remain alert in areas where pick-pockets may be rife such as crowded trains etc.

Last but by no means least to avoid any embarrassing moments when following the Japanese tradition of removing your shoes, make sure that your socks or tights have not got holes in them!

Have great holiday or vacation in Japan


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08:34

Top Ten things to do in Japan

Japan is one of the countries that have the best of both worlds. It's advanced in terms of technology, and yet, it has been able to retain its greatest heritage its culture. Indeed, Japan has done an amazing feat as it can manage to stay as one of the world's leading economic powers while still being able to hold on to the roots of its past. And, as such, it has become one of the most interesting places to visit a rich blend of history and technology.

1. Watch the cherry blossoms fall

There's no symbol of Japan more famous than the beautiful Cherry Blossoms. Indeed, the cherry blossom, with beauty so intense but so fleeting, is something that you have got to see if you ever visit Japan. They bloom during the months of April and May, and by the end of these months, they fall to the ground like a dreamy curtain of pink and white. There's no other sight quite like it.

2. Release your inner child

Japan is one of the few countries in the world with its own Disney Land. And, of course, because the Japanese are sticklers for culture, their Disney Land is built with a distinctly Japanese influence. It sets it apart from all other such theme parks in the world.

3. Indulge the shopaholic in you

Tokoyo is one of the world's biggest shopping capitals. Ginza is a huge market where you can find anything you need, from the latest gadgets and gizmos to the latest manga release of your favorite anime series. In the morning, you can even see it transformed into the world's largest fish market. Indeed, Ginza is one place that you'd be sorry to miss.

4. Sip some tea

Essentially, the Japanese are people who prefer everything to be clean and serene, that's why they love such peaceful activities as drinking, or rather, sipping tea. While you're in Japan, you should at least experience authentic Japanese tea. Or better yet, you can participate in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, a festival held both in Kyoto and Tokyo.

5. Play in the snow

In some parts of the year, particularly in winter, Japan gets coated in a blanket of pristine white snow. During this time of the year, it would do you well to have some fun in Japan's steep ski slopes. You can even partake in the Snow Festival where ice parties take place for a whole seven days and where you can see beautiful ice sculptures.

6. Relax in the hot springs

And, if your muscles need to loosen up a bit, why don't you give yourself a treat by visiting one of the many hot springs. These can be found in most parts of Japan, especially in Okinawa. The relaxing steam is sure to make you feel like you've shed a very heavy load.

7. Become a samurai

Japan is quite famous for its noble Samurai who follow the Bushido code, and the swords or their 'katana,' though light and flexible, are sharp and deadly. You can buy your own katana for your collection's sake, but mind you, a lot of effort and time are put into these swords, so they won't be cheap. Some sellers are even picky as to who they're going to sell their swords to - that's how special these deadly weapons are.

8. Watch giants clash

A sport like no other, sumo wrestling is one of the most interesting things that you will see in Japan. Sumo Wrestling is Japan's national sport, and it draws large crowds from all over. You can even place your bets to make watching it more exciting.

9. Do some sightseeing

There are tons of things to see in Japan. It is, after all, rich in architecture and landscapes. You can take pictures of the famous Imperial Palace if you're into architecture or the famous Mt. Fuji if you're into nature.

10. Bask in the Nightlife

And, of course, what better way to end the day than to experience Tokyo's nightlife. There's no other place in the world where 'glow-in-the-dark' is a fashion statement. Indeed, a great place to let loose and just be yourself.



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08:04

Plan Your Visit According to Weather in Japan

Due to different geographical conditions and topographical position, the climate of one country varies from the other. Similarly, climate and weather in Japan is entirely different from that of other countries. It enjoys mild and temperate climate except subtropical areas of Okinawa and Hokkaido to the north. Japan has four distinct seasons- winter, summer, spring and autumn. Annually these seasons can be divided as follows :

Spring, experienced during the month of March, April and May
Summers, in the month of June, July and August
Autumn, in the month of September, October and November
Winters, in the month of December, January and February

Lot of snow can easily be seen on the side of Sea of Japan in winters, with dryness on Pacific Ocean side whereas summers are hot and humid. Though rainy season in Japan last for about 40 days, during the month of June and July, but Japan Information network.

Suggest that Japan usually have high amount of rainfall and typhoon season is experienced during the months of August to October. The condition generally become humid and rainy in rainy season, so it is always advisable to enquire about the climate in Japan, before actually visiting a place.

People traveling to Japan in summer should visit Hokkaido in the North, as it is too hot on Honshu and other islands. These places welcomes rainy season, as it bring relief to them. The mountain of Tohoku or Chubu is generally seen filled by the people of Tokyo on weekends, as it bring relief from relentless heat. During typhoon
season in the month of august and early September, high pressure system is formed in the tropical areas of the western Pacific Ocean, thus, striking southern region of Japan and bringing strong winds and torrential rains.

A sort of storm in Japan’s climate is relieved by the arrival of autumn that brings a drop in temperature and drier conditions. Thus, this time of October and November in addition to spring is considered a good time to travel Japan to celebrate clearer and warmer days.

A cold temperature of winters is considered a pleasant time, as days are clear with occasional rains or snow. One can find numerous of tourists during this season enjoying famous hot bath of the country. Hot bath amid the snow covered hills and gently falling snow is an exciting experience.

Winter sports such as snow boarding and skiing can be best enjoyed in the northern areas of Honshu Island such as Hakuba and Nagano. So, plan and have a trip to Japan as per your interest. Enjoy wonderful cherry blossoms and colorful autumn foliage on your visit to Japan.



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07:56

Taking a Tour at Central Japan

Japan is a wonderful country where tourists and travelers do not hesitate to visit. Central Japan has majestic northern ranges and because of the expanded expressway system, the Nagoya residents do not have worries on traveling. Central Japan has indeed transformed into a more accessible place and it has turned into a haven of all sorts. The huge mountains and hot springs in central Japan are worth visiting. Attractive lakes such as Taneike is near the main road and just ahead of it, the Ohashi trailhead can be seen.

If you wish to hike the mountain ranges of central Japan, you should be ready and take on the adventure with enough determination. The Mie prefecture in central Japan is a wonderful place to be. This is where the Iseya Inn is located. It was originally built for the Emperor of central Japan and it is a wooden building consisting of three-stories. It can shelter seven hundred people and it has large entrances on the left and right wing. If you want to get to central Japan in less than an hour, you should be familiar with the routes.

If you are looking for a place to hike, then you can go to Hachijo-jima, which is located in the southern part in the Izu Island. It is three hundred kilometers away from Tokyo. Many tourists, who want to have a stress-free travel, visit it. There are places in central Japan, which is a good place for diving. The waters near Hachijo-jima are crystal-clear and the boats are few enough so you could enjoy the diving experience. Look for an English-speaking diving master in central Japan to make sure that you would be safe. As a tourist, you are not familiar with all the diving routes and spots in central Japan that is why you should get a diving expert to guide you. The amazing rock formations underneath central Japan will surely be a good diving spot, so why not try it? You will surely enjoy the sight of sea turtles, hammerhead sharks and the variety of marine life out there. There are also many tourist spots in the parts of Nagoya, Aichi and Mei.

Nazumado is one of the most famous scuba spots in central Japan. Sokodo is a black sand beach, which is a good place to dive, or snorkel in. If you have not seen a pufferfish before, this is the place to see those spiky black urchins. Central Japan also has soothing onsens if you are yearning for those hot springs.

After all the hiking and diving, it is time that you rest your muscles for a while. You can choose from a variety of onsen shops to go and check out the Uramigataki, which has a rushing waterfall and a safari-like atmosphere in it. Central Japan is also full of fantastic restaurants to satisfy your appetite. Central Japan also has a wide variety of hotels and accommodations for tourists and travelers. There is the famous Tokyo Hotel but if you are on a tight budget, you can choose to stay at other hotels. For those who are going to stay for months, an apartment would be more economical.


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07:47

Experience the Far East

If you're determined to explore Asia but unsure which country to visit, you might want to set your sites on Far East Asia and travel to Japan. Here is some general but useful information that is good to know when you travel Japan. It will help you get a better understanding of Japan before your trip and allow you to experience Japan more comfortably.

About the Country

Japan consists of four main islands and several smaller ones. Together the islands take the shape of a sea horse and occupy an area of 377,435 square kms. Tokyo, the capital city, is very modern and bustling with activity, so when you travel to Japan, be ready for a few crowds. The landscape of Japan, away from the big cities, is mountainous with spectacular scenery; some of the mountains are volcanic. Mt. Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, and is known for its symmetrical slopes.

About the Climate

When you travel to Japan, it's important to know the country's seasons and when they occur during the year. The islands of Japan lie in the temperate and at the northeastern end of the monsoon area. The climate is generally mild, although it varies considerably from place to place when you travel Japan. Summer, which is warm and mild, begins around the middle of July following a rainy season that usually lasts for a month. Except in northern Japan the winter is mild with many sunny days. Spring and autumn are the best seasons of the year with balmy days and bright sunshine.

About the People

Before you depart to travel Japan, it's a good idea to get a sense of the people and their culture. Japan is one of the most densely populated nations in the world, with some 330 persons per square kilometer (almost 860 persons per sq. mi.). The Japanese are a Mongoloid people, closely related to the major groups of East Asia. However,
some evidence also exists of a mixture with Malayan and Caucasoid strains. About 750,000 Koreans and much smaller groups of Chinese and Caucasians reside in Japan.

Religious Beliefs

When you travel Japan, you will be exposed to a new world of religious and personal beliefs. Buddhism is important in Japan's religious life and has strongly influenced fine arts, social institutions, and philosophy. Most Japanese consider themselves members of one of the major Buddhist sects.

Shintoism is an indigenous religion founded on myths, legends, and ritual practices of the early Japanese. Neither

Buddhism nor Shintoism is an exclusive religion. Most Japanese observe both Buddhist and Shinto rituals: the former for funerals and the latter for births, marriages, and other occasions. Confucianism, primarily an ethical system, profoundly influences Japanese thought as well.

About 1.3 million people in Japan are Christians, of whom 60% are Protestant and 40% Roman Catholic.

Japan is an exotic and beautiful travel destination that is worth traveling to. Now you can travel to Japan for less with the lowest discount airfare on cFares. The number one wholesale travel site for the shrewd international traveler.


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07:33

Travel Japan and Enjoy it

Looking for a place to go to? Why not travel Japan and explore this amazing country? Tourists have frequented this country because it is a place full of beautiful sceneries and tourist spots. Moreover, travel Japan is a great adventure where you get to meet the nice and wonderful people there. If you decide to travel Japan, you are sure to have an experience you will never forget. Before anything else, you should know that travel Japan might be quite expensive but there are tourist packages that are really affordable.

Although the cost of living in Japan is quite pricey, it is really worth it. If you like to travel Japan in an economical way, you can use the Japan Rail Pass to save on transportation costs. One of the most remarkable things in Japan is food and travel. As you observe, Japan is an island that is why it is abundant in seafood. Most of the time, when you hear the word travel Japan, the thing that comes into your mind is sushi and Mt. Fuji. Sushi is raw fish and Mt. Fuji is one of the beautiful sceneries to watch for in Japan. Aside from that, your travel Japan would not be complete if you do not try the hot bath. However, it is not the ordinary bath that you see in other countries. The “onsen” or Japanese hot bath is a refreshing and relaxing way of bathing. There are many hot springs in Nagano and Mei so you are sure to have a wonderful experience.

When you decide to travel Japan, you will think about the place to stay. Houses in Japan are quite expensive so it is best for tourists to stay at a camp site or a fancy hotel. If you are about to travel Japan and plan to stay for months, then you can choose to stay at an apartment that is accessible to the city or the capital. In that way, you would not worry about getting lost when you are to travel Japan.

For any traveler there is so much to see and experience in Japan. In Kyoto and Nara, the temples and shrines are abundant. The place has that traditional appeal and atmosphere to it. But if you want to travel Japan for its modern appeal, then Tokyo and Osaka is the place to be. You will sure to have a pleasurable sightseeing. So when is the best time to travel Japan? Most people go there on spring and autumn because in the months from June to August, the rains are heavy and the temperature is quite high. However, if you are a ski buff, then travel Japan on winter. Thinking about how to get to Japan? The Tokyo Narita airport is the center for travelers who just got to Japan. Going around the place requires a map, if you are not familiar with the places. The railway stations are safe and accessible to travelers. In addition, watch out for the bullet train when you decide to travel Japan.

You can travel Japan at very high speeds with the help of the bullet trains which has speeds up to 300 km/h. if you are going to stay at Japan for many months, it is best if you get a Japan Rail Pass for that unlimited travels while in the country. If you are to travel Japan, you should not miss seeing the Tokyo National Museum. You can see the sculptures and the rich history of the country.


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