April is the best month to visit Japan. It is Spring time and Japan is full of color and life. Everyone is up and about, be it viewing the sakura, enjoy beers with friends or simply visiting the temples to see the many traditional dances performed by the Geisha and Maiko in Kyoto. It is a time for love and laughter!
There are different things to do in Japan in different seasons. Different kind of experiences and lifestyle. Japan is however most beautiful during Spring time, especially while the Cherry Blossoms are blooming! If you can, you'd want to visit during this period. The air is renewed with a touch of elegance with the ladies dressed in their finest kimono and the men are out and about jollying in hanami. It's party time!
See the full review, "The Promises of Spring".
The Japanese word for Cherry Blossoms. It lasts for a max of 4 weeks and normally begins in early April. But with global warming, Sakura season begins a lot earlier, at times 3rd week of March. The best place to enjoy sakura moments is Kyoto. Kyoto is blessed with picturesque and zen quality sceneries, especially at the many shrines in this ancient capital city of Japan. Heian Shrine in Kyoto is most lovely where one can enjoy different species with a touch of culture. I was lucky to go during days where the Japanese performed their traditional dances for visitors at the shrine. Hours of lovely dance performances out in the open with Maiko (Geisha's apprentices) performing the most beautiful Spring dances in their Kimonos. What a delightful and fascinating experiences! Not to mention it's all for free!
Sakura is not simply a flower, it is a season, a movement, a culture!
See the full review, "Like a butterfly!".
Geisha is an experience. Most Geisha reside in the compact city of Kyoto and can be spotted in the Gion area. Geisha is hired by businessmen to entertain their VIP guests mostly and not for sex as portrayed by the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha. Geisha are highly regarded in Japan and foreigners may mistake them for the inaccurate portrayals of Geisha in the movie. The services of Geisha don't come cheap. By that I mean a cultural experience! Geisha will entertain guests with traditional performances like singing, dancing and music. If you understand Japanese, possibly even poetry!
For those who cannot afford to hire a Geisha for the evening, you still can enjoy the experience of meeting a Geisha for the first time in your life at the Gion Kobu Kaburen-jo Theater where the Dance of the Capital (or, Cherry Blossom Dance) is traditionally performed in the month of April by maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu. (NOTE: This is the better show professionally executed. Do not go to the one at Gion Corner)
Miyako Odori is an annual event lasting the entire month of April best experienced at the Gion Kobu Kaburen-jo Theater where the show started with a tea ceremony in another hall of the Kaburen-jo. One gets to drink the green tea served with a sweet snack which you should eat first. The plate also served as a popular souvenir for guests.
After the appreciation of the tea ceremony, the performance lasting an hour or so starts in the main theater. All 4 seasons of the year would have been depicted by the end of the performance. This show is highly demanded by tourists & locals, so if you are interested, make sure you get the ticket as soon as you arrived in Kyoto. It is a must if you are indeed arriving at this time of the year. Don't miss it!!!
I love the Kimono. It is not only an art but a tradition which I feel the Japanese has preserved well. In the world of rapid changes and technological advancement, it is such a delight to find traditional art still being practiced in a country. Some of the more expensive Kimono may cost as much as an apartment! It goes to show how much this art form is being treasured and preserved in this country! In some ways, it's like the rugs in Turkey! A family heirloom!
See the full review, "Silk... sheer silk!".
Kyoto may be compact but it is certainly the most beautiful and authentic city in Japan. It is a must for all travelers to Japan to walk back in time and experience what life was before mega cities take over our world! An experience you'd always remember whenever you think of Japan.
Kyoto is most beautiful in April. The Philosopher's Path is the way to go if you want to experience tranquility, an hour walk along sakura lined stream and the fresh air of Spring.
A most marvelous experience!
Kyoto also boasts a few UNESCO World Heritage sites which I find very interesting. If you are interested in UNESCO World Heritage sites, I invite you to join my UNESCO World Heritage Fan Club community. Hope to see you there!
HIMEJI! Most foreigners have not heard of this place. So, how did I end up visiting? Hm... must be my fascination with castles! I love visiting castles, palaces & gardens. Europe, Japan, China; all has enchanting architecture. Once, I'd hope to be an architect; now, the only thing I build is web pages & travelogues! That's still some form of building, isn't it? ;-)
The unanimously acclaimed splendid castle of Japan, built in 1580 by Toyotomi Hideyohi & later enlarged by Ikeda Terumasa is to be found near Kyoto (can by Shinkansen easily). What's so unique about this castle? Firstly, its stately white form thereby giving it the name SHIRASAGI (the white egret!). Secondly, it is the most magnificent castle that still survives in its original (ie. non-concrete) form. Guess, in this age of development, most buildings just can't escape from demolitions. And, to survive that is in itself a feat!
For the daring and adventurous, this is a must! My Japanese friend Ayurin from VirtualTourist.com brought me to this life time experience while in Kyoto. I love it! You must try it at least once and the only place you can do it safely is in Japan! For those who don't know what Fugu is, it's the poisonous pufferfish! Awesome sashimi!
Tokyo is the gateway to Japan for most visitors from North America although I've also flown into Japan via Osaka, Okinawa and Sapporo. Tokyo is the best city in the world as far as I'm concerned! Wish I could live here for at least a year or two to experience lifestyle here. I've been to Tokyo for more than 20x since I was 10 and I've yet gotten tired of this vibrant, exotic and efficient city. BEST!
A major attraction for me when visiting Tokyo. Electric town whereby gadgets of all kinds for all ages can be found here. I could spend days just shopping in Akihabara. Credit cards are widely accepted, just make sure you don't break your bank!
If you ever wonder about sashimi and sushi in Japan, wonder no more. The Tsukiji Fish Market is where seafood are auctioned every morning, very early, from around 5 am to 7 pm. The amount of transaction per year is around US$6 billion. This is a place whereby tourists from across the world have come to observe the rituals of a real market. Tsukiji is the world's biggest wholesale fish and seafood market.
Tsukiji Fish Market is located near the Ginza area so it pays to stay at Ginza Washington Hotel if you should wish to wake up in the middle of the night and venture to the market. You can either take a cab or walk there. Its not too far in distance so that won't cost you a bomb!
Sushi is a most welcoming experience when in Japan. The rice is just so delicious that you'd yearn for it after you leave Japan! In addition, the choices of seafood... OMG, some of which you've never ever even heard of! I'm a sushi junkie whenever I'm in Japan. Can't resist them at all!
See the full review, "Sushi for breakfast".
The most famous shopping street in Japan if not the world. Here, you'd want to take along your credit cards and buy something Japanese for your loved ones. Do not, and I mean it, do not go and get one of those Italian branded item where you can get anywhere else in the world! Some of the best buys from Ginza are silk scarves and ties, green tea, Mikimoto pearls, or if your budget allows it, an evening dress or a wedding gown! Ginza has the most beautiful wedding gowns!
The most important mountain in Japan. Mount Fuji can be very elusive. I only managed to see it in full view twice on the plane even though I flew in & out more than 50x! To the Japanese Mount Fuji is sacred. One can hike up to Mount Fuji and I did it once very time ago. However, Mount Fuji is most beautiful from afar.
If you're like me and love to try out new things in life, the sand bath in Ibusuki, Kogoshima is a must! As Japan lies on the Ring of Fire, there are many hot springs and hot "spots" in Japan. On Kyushu island, there is more than one spot where you can enjoy a sand bath out in the open by the sea. What you'd have to do is to get there in your Yukata and simply lie there while the Japanese pour on black sands to cover you up. While you lie there, let the magic works itself. The heat from the ground is known to be therapeutic and good for those with arthritis!
Some are fascinated by the Ninja while others are the Samurai. If you're one of those who wishes to experience Edo Japan, Kakunodateis the town to head for. The Samurai homes have been preserved in this little town and it is one place away from the maddening crowd. A place to go back in time! A distinctly unique experience.
My most favorite mountain in Japan. It is in northern Honshu and is the most active volcano in Japan. However, when you are there, all feels peaceful and a great place to enjoy what a national park is like in Japan. Mount Zao has a crater lake and is the most beautiful one I've come across! It is a little more difficult to visit since it's out there in the countryside. However, if you have Japanese friends or money is of no consequence, you can hire a guide to take you there. I did get there by myself and had no problem getting back, but I do speak and read Kanji a little ;-)
If you're visiting Japan in the autumn especially, Nikko is the most beautiful place. The entire national park and UNESCO World Heritage site will be wrapped in the autumn colors of the momiji (Japanese Maple Leaf) and the place is poetic! Very romantic and a great place to be. At all other times, it's still worth a visit since it's only an hour or two away from Tokyo and you'd be transported to an entire different world!
For those who are into history, this may well be the place for you. The after-effects of World War II can still be observed at the Dome. It is a reminder to mankind that this shall not be repeated again. The horrifying acts of war is not something to be forgotten and repeated. In Hiroshima, people are reminded of that every day.
Miyajima is a sacred island near to Hiroshima and the only reason to go there is to visit Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto Shrine as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For fans of UNESCO World Heritage, this is a must. Visit the floating torii gate which you might have seen a replica of at the Epcot Center. Shinto and Buddhist are two different prominent religions in Japan.
Takayama is also on the route to Hiroshima. It is a nice walkable little town with the traditional Japanese lifestyle intact and preserved. If you have more time, you should try to go further by visiting the historic villages of Shirakawa-go where private farm houses are opened to public as museums. These farm houses were built 250 years ago! Amazing, isn't it?
Kabuki is an ancient artform practiced by the Japanese and still performed at the theater in Tokyo every night. What is interesting is that it's a man-only performance. Men who also dressed up as women in the drama. A little bizarre for most foreigners but it is a unique experience where you can buy only 1 act of the show. That is more than enough for me. It's like Peking Opera, not everyone has the flair for it! But watched it you must since you may or may not go back to this country ever again!
Sumo on the other hand is something most guys enjoy. If you are lucky, you might just find a match to go to when you're in Japan. I've never actually gone to check it out but I'm sure it's fun! The other one that many foreigners are interested in where Sports is concerned is baseball. Japanese are fanatics when it comes to baseball and Tokyo Dome often have competitions. If baseball is your thing, you'd do well to check it out in Tokyo!
After all the activities lined up above, are you now ready for a relaxing onsen amidst the natural beauty of these hot spring resorts? Onsen is a great way to relax and relieve tension in the muscle. A most intimate way to spend it with your loved one too!
So, you want to go to Okinawa? Have you had enough time? If it's your first time, I don't recommend it. I have been here but I've visited Japan more than 20x and Okinawa was not my first priority either. Okinawa is an island off the mainland of Japan and is a lot closer to Taiwan than Japan. It has its own distinctive Japanese flavor and even their traditional clothing and dances differ from the mainland. Okinawa has lots of American influence due to the military base on the island.
What better way than to go on the bullet train when in Japan? The most convenient way of traveling. It is a very expensive mode of traveling though. Remember to buy your JR (Japan Rail) pass BEFORE arriving in Japan. You cannot get it once you are in Japan. Bullet train hopping is a fun way to see Japan.
Shochu is not Sake. While Shochu is distilled spirit (think Vodka, it's similar), Sake is brewed. Shochu is produced in all parts of Japan but its main home is Kyushu Island (most southern part of Japan). The alcohol content of Shochu is usually around 25% or less (by law, it has to be 45% or less). That's great for those who are allergic to alcohol (well, not entirely allergic, like me) and when mixed with hot water with salty ume plums or oolong tea or fruit juices (peach, orange or grapefruit), it is a very mild alcoholic drink. The good news about this drink is that it is low in calories (15-20 cal. per ounce).
As with Vodka, Shochu can be distilled from ingredients that contain natural sugar (ie. rice, potato, wheat & barley). Yeast is then added to the sugary water & the mixture is converted into alcohol before the distillation process.
I love Grapeful Shochu. It's a very refreshing drink and especially great with Tempura!
Lastly but not least, a cup of aromatic green tea to sooth the senses. Green tea is said to have health benefits and if you like drinking it and believe in them, then it's best to get your fair share of tea from supermarkets in those big departmental stores. Most of the basement levels offer food with fancy packaging and souvenirs to take home. I find Green Tea to be one great souvenir! Love it! For me, the best place to buy is Matsuya or Mitsukoshi departmental store. The most expensive one may cost up to 50000 Yen!
Other than the iPad, I'd love to take home Asimo! Created by Honda, it is a humanoid robot and there are 100 of them in existence. The cost? $1 million! Oh boy, there goes my dream! But wait, didn't the Mac used to be some $10,000 two decades ago? ;-) This baby shall be mine one day in the future! :-p