Japan’s Culture Blends Ancient With the Modern
Japan’s complex culture blends ancient tradition with the modern. A concern with beauty and a disciplined focus are apparent in its art, architecture and gardens.
It’s not hard to get around in Japan. Trains are affordable, and flying is a viable option. Local buses cover areas that trains don’t reach. You can even hitchhike in the countryside – people are generally amazingly helpful!
Japan’s capital offers endless shopping, entertainment, and culture. The city also boasts many parks, historic temples, and gardens. Tokyo is home to the Tokyo National Museum, which houses one of the largest and best collections of art and artifacts in Japan.
The soaring Tokyo Tower, which offers stunning views of the city, is an absolute must-see. Nearby are the Hama Rikyu Gardens, an attractive Edo-period complex that includes a serene temple and the former residences of the Tokugawa shoguns.
The city is also the site of numerous museums, including the National Museum of Modern Art and the Meiji Shrine. In addition, several universities are located in Tokyo, with the University of Tokyo being the most renowned. The nation’s parliament, the National Diet, is located in the city. Its lower house, the Shugiin, is re-elected every four years, and its upper house, the Sangiin, serves six-year terms. Japan is a constitutional monarchy with the Emperor (Tenno) acting as ceremonial head of state.
Located in the heart of the country, Nara is home to shrines and temples that are some of the oldest in Japan. It is also a fantastic base for exploring the wider prefecture and some of the region’s most sacred mountains, inspiring natural landscapes and historical towns.
The biggest draw here though is the tame deer that roam freely around Nara Park. This peaceful expanse is dotted with groves of trees, tranquil ponds and many stalls selling shika senbei (deer crackers). Be warned – the deer are extremely pushy about their food!
As well as temples and shrines, Nara is also full of beautiful gardens. From moss gardens to pond and rock gardens, these immaculately kept spaces are the perfect place to relax.
The city’s traditional merchant neighbourhoods are lined with beautifully preserved machiya townhouses and there is a great range of boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. Be sure to try the local delicacy – somen – a simple bowl of thin noodles accompanied by cold, sweet pickles and steamed vegetables.
The former capital of Japan, Kyoto is home to more than 2,000 Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines as well as imperial palaces and gardens. Many of the city’s ancient edifices have been designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Famous attractions include Kiyomizu-dera, a wooden temple supported by pillars on the side of a mountain; Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion; and Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion.
Kyoto is also renowned for its classical Japanese culture, including the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu), flower arranging (ikebana) and the theater arts of Noh and Kabuki. It is Japan’s cultural center and houses the nation’s agency for cultural affairs. Kyoto is also a center for higher education with more than 40 two- and four-year colleges, including the prestigious state-run Kyoto University.
Osaka, Japan’s second largest city, is a bustling hub dotted with eye-popping architectural marvels. This cosmopolitan Japanese metropolis is also home to an array of historic temples, lush parks, and vibrant entertainment complexes.
The city is known for its lively nightlife and gastronomy. The food-filled streets of Dotonbori attract tourists in droves, while the gritty Namba district is a maze of cheap and cheerful local shops and restaurants offering takoyaki, okonomiyaki, ramen, and more.
The city’s many temples offer a peek into traditional culture and history. Visitors to Shitennoji Temple can even try on a helmet and surcoat for an authentic samurai experience. The Umeda Sky Building is a stunning sight to see and offers visitors an impressive view of the city from its observatory deck. The city is also home to one of the most famous and unique shrines in Japan, the unique Biilliken. This shrine is dedicated to the god of guardianship and hosts a yearly tug-of-war ritual.