3 Cultural Gems You Need to Visit in Japan
Surely one of the world’s most consistently bucket-listed destinations, Japan’s rich culture has exerted a hold on tourists for hundreds of years. And, while today its global image is summarised most neatly by the high-tech metropolis of Tokyo, move beyond the capital and you will find a world of wonder between its shores. What’s more, with no visa required to make a visit, there’s no better time to see it.
Although the Japanese people have fully embraced the technological revolution, with a reported 59% of travellers from the country using their smartphones, traditions dating back hundreds of years still remain an important part of their lives – and this is especially evident
in the city of Kyoto. While Tokyo represents the future of Japan, those wishing to witness first-hand where the country came from should head to its former capital.
Those looking to arrive in style might choose to take the bullet train from Tokyo – with the famed route zipping from urban sprawl into the romantic countryside of Kansai Prefecture, home to four of the country’s National Parks. Be aware that you may have to book in advance if you’re arriving in either cherry-blossom season (March – April) or autumn-foliage season (October – November).
Once there, though – it’s all about tradition, kept alive by national pride rather than repackaging it for tourists. As such, much that you’ll see has remained pointedly unchanged for hundreds of years. The incredible wooden architecture of palaces and shopping districts, demonstrations of ancient crafts and ornate temples, zen gardens and geisha dances –they’re all here.
The island of Naoshima, found in Japan’s Inland Sea, is one of the country’s fastest-rising attractions –and it’s all due to the world-class collection of art that’s taking shape there. Indeed, until recently, it was best known as a quiet community specialising in fishing, rather than contemporary culture. But over the last twenty years, everything has changed.
Today you can attend museums and galleries, but also explore how all this creativity has spilled outdoors as well.
On ‘Art Island’, as it’s now fondly known by natives, visitors will find playgrounds designed by artists, erotic imagery submerged at the bottom of public baths and even innovations in gardening. Big and small sculptures can also be found hidden around the landscape.
One of the most famous cities in Japan is remembered for the worst of reasons. But Hiroshima – which, along with Nagasaki, saw horrific devastation at the end of World War II – should not be remembered as a ruin. How the community has rebuilt and turned its face to a better future makes it a sobering, but ultimately inspiring, place to honour the country’s darkest hour – and salute its spirit in rising again.
In terms of historical sites, the Atomic Bomb Dome (consisting of the nearest surviving shell of a building to the blast’s epicentre) is a modern monument unlike any in the world. It’s floodlit at night, a haunting image of war gone too far. Nearby, the Memorial Hall invites visitors to step inside a panorama of that morning’s unearthly destruction while also displaying photos of those killed and sharing testimony from survivors. Meanwhile – and movingly – Peace Memorial Park offers waterside walks to contemplate the names of the lost, while the ceremonial Flame of Peace will burn until nuclear weapons are outlawed.