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Scott's Wildly Incomplete Guide to Japan
March 2005

Having been out of Japan for some 5 months now I still take every pleasure in reviewing all the wonderful things I saw in that beautiful archipelago. I have had several people ask me where to go and what to see if they happen to be in Nippon for a week with nothing to do. The tour guides of Japan are generally pretty good so I won't attempt to recreate them here. I'm just going to give you my impressions of some of the more famous places and tell you more about the not so famous ones.

To begin with I lived in Japan for a year and spent more or less every free day I had exploring it. A typical tourist can't hope to see as much as I saw without having things become extremely blurry. When it comes to traveling in general I highly recommend you figure out what is interesting beforehand and go see that. I found that I most enjoyed going to traditional places like temples and shrines and I also enjoyed wandering around the various cities of Japan. I lived in Yokohama which is an amazingly beautiful, historically relevant, and unfortunately almost completely ignored city by tourist (even Japanese ones). I was an English teacher for a company called Nova so I got quite a bit of input on the culture as well. As a tourist you will not understand the culture at all because as someone who tried desperately for a year to understand it I never could either. Still Japan is a beautiful country to visit if for no other reason than just to soak it all in. Its more interesting than Orlando or Cape Cod so I'd say to pack you bags and go.

Here are some general hints on traveling in Japan:

1) You will need a lot of money- Japan is not a cheap country to visit and with out extensive local knowledge of where to find good deals on things you are going to spend more than you thought you would. As an example I spent roughly $650 for a six day trip to Kansai pinching pennies hard. How much you spend over there depends significantly how cheap a hotel you're willing to sleep in. I highly recommend staying in a capsule hotel in Tokyo or Osaka. The price is right and its a more interesting story to tell than staying at the Marriot. Hostels are also a good option. I never stayed in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) so I can't give any opinion about it. All I can say is that you will probably be mislead into thinking the Japanese are more traditional than they really are if you stay here. Food is another big expense and I have tips below on how to save on that. Trains are the final major expense you should plan on. If you are off and on the train all day in Tokyo you can easily spend $20. Be warned - Japan is expensive but not inaccessible to the budget traveler.

2) Your tongue will be useless - Don't expect the typical pedestrian to be able to speak english at any level that will be able to help you out. Your butchered attempts at trying to pronounce Japanese probably won't help either (They aren't used to foreigners speaking Japanese to them and pronunciation is key so more often then not this will just confuse them). At tourist facilities, some hotels, and certainly at information centers they will speak English. People who work for the railways (like station attendants) typically won't. Even if they did speak very good English I heard time and again as a teacher they were too scared to attempt to talk to a foreigner. If you are lucky enough to have some attempt to speak English to you, you should a) be extremely grateful and b) be very kind, understanding, and forgiving of their mistakes in English. That being said signs are generally in English, even on the highways oddly enough. I highly recommend having a phrase book and pointing to a key word to communicate. Also pointing at things and attempting to play charades can work well or can make you look like a real ass, it all depends on how clever the person you're trying to talk to is. Finally when all hope is lost try to draw a picture or just write what you want in very clear, simple English. Their reading ability is nearly always better than their listening.

3) You will get lost - I promise you that in a country that doesn't believe in street names, or urban planning (in Tokyo I mean), you will get lost many times on your trip. This is when you will badly wish that you could just stop and ask for directions but generally you can't. If you don't have a damned good map (in english) you are taking a real chance by leaving your hotel. Even after I lived there for months I would regularly carry both a railway and a street map with me. These are absolutely crucial tools to a smooth trip to Japan. You can get maps by mail before your trip from the JNTO (Japanese National Tourist Organization) office nearest to you. Also major train stations will also have tourist information centers where you can find a map and possibly someone who speaks English.

4) You will take a train - Japan runs on trains the way America runs on the car. Their society would screech to a halt without them. A little known fact is that the first train in Japan was a gift from America to the Ambassador in Yokohama (it was a working miniature). The Ambassador said it was a nice toy but didn't think it was useful in a mountainous country like Japan. Famous last words. First I should note that trains are generally more expensive than you think they should be. Expect this to be a major part of your budget. The Japanese have taken a kind of free market view of their public transit system and because of that it is a complete mess. There are around 26 major companies in the Tokyo area alone that run private train systems. Going from point A to point B will frequently involve going between 2 or more of these systems. You will have to leave one and then buy a new ticket for the next. Fortunately they all work very similarly. You pay based on the distance you are going. At nearly every train station in the country you will see a board listing all the train stations on the line above the ticket machine (this may not be true in very rural areas). Hopefully the sign will be written in English but if it isn't try to play the match-the-kanji game with your bilingual map you didn't leave your hotel room without. After that all you have to do is figure out what station you will get off at, put that much yen into the machine, and then push the button for the right price. Typically you have to use these machines and can not buy your ticket from a person. If this all sounds complicated there is an easy (but time consuming) solution. Just buy the cheapest ticket possible and when you get to your destination put your ticket into the fare adjustment machine near the gates (if there is no machine give it to the attendant, they will understand) and put in more money. A new ticket will come out and you're all set. For train directions try www.hyperdia.com

The Shinkansen is a whole other ball of wax. These are the bullet trains that run through the whole country. They are about as fast and much more convenient than air transport but oddly they are also more expensive. Expect to pay around $120 one way from Tokyo to Kyoto, a 2 hour ride. You can buy a shinkansen ticket at a machine but you will then have to stand in line to buy an 'express ticket' and then put both tickets into the gate (this is idiotic I know, even the Japanese couldn't explain why to me). If you plan on riding the Shinkansen at all I would highly recommend getting the JR train pass which your travel guide can tell you more about.

5) You will eat in Japan - and when you do you can make it an adventure or pretty much the same stuff you get at home. Mcdonalds is everywhere as are the frequent french bakeries. Wendy's is around here and there and so is Subway. Of course I don't recommend those things. I should note that the Japanese are obsessed with food but after you spend some time there it isn't hard to see why. Their food really is pretty good if you can get used to trying new things. I ate almost exclusively the cheapest thing I could that would taste good. I don't think most people would follow my dietary habits but if you want to save money but still try some new stuff then here's how:
6) You will be confused by the Temples and Shrines  - but that is ok because so are the Japanese. The Japanese relationship with religion is very strange, even unimaginable, for a typical American. Having spent a lot of time talk to a lot of average Joe Japanese in class this is the conclusion I've come to- Japanese people just don't think about bigger things like this. Shinto is the native Japanese religion but nearly no Japanese person born since 1960 really believes in this. It is a taboo topic associated with emperor worship and WW2 and people who talk about it are considered crazy. Buddhism comes in many shapes and flavors just as christianity does. I'm no professor of theology but it seems to me Buddhism and shinto have done a lot of mixing. Shrines are for Shinto and Temples are for Buddhism. A surefire way to distinguish them is that only shrines have Tori (usually bright red) gates and only Temples have pictures of Buddha or Pagodas (they hold sacred Buddhist writings). Sometimes a shrine and temple may be on the same property which makes things confusing. This is the case at Hase Dera in Kamakura and also Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. I studied the mythology quite a bit to try to understand the symbols I kept seeing at the various temples and shrines I went to so I understand what they mean probably just as well or better than your typical Japanese person. The point I want to drive home is that religion is more or less irrelevant to your younger Japanese person. Temples and shrines are tourist facilities, out door art museums, cultural centers, and a fun place to go on new years but they are NOT there for religious purposes for the vast majority of Japanese. They may be superstitious but the Japanese are not a religious bunch.

Ok so now its time to get into the real nitty gritty. You've got a lot of money, a phrase book to point at, a good map, and a reasonable clue of how to use the train system. You are ready to see Japan but what should you see. Well generally I think people go to Japan to see either the technological side of the society (Tokyo) or the more traditional side. There is no reason one tour can't include both.

Japan is divided into two main sections Kanto, eastern Japan, and Kansai, western Japan. Exactly what those two terms refer to is quite open for debate, many students had different ideas about this. Generally Kanto is Tokyo and its surrounding area and Kansai is Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, and Kobe. These are the places that nearly all foreigners visit and also the places I spent my time. I lived in Yokohama (in Kanto) for 9 months and got bored so I moved to Kyoto (Kansai) for the remaining 3. I can give you a good perspective on both because I spent time in both places.

For the very trained eye or a true Japanese fanatic you could notice a difference between Kanto and Kansai in a lot of different ways. This is something like how Boston and Austin are both American cities but still very different. For someone who doesn't start out with the idea they need to see Kyoto I would recommend staying in Kansai. Although you can certainly take the Shinkansen between Kyoto and Tokyo its very expensive and Kyoto doesn't have anything you can't find in Kanto for the uneducated visitor.

So for someone who wants to just see Japan I would say to see Tokyo, Nikko, Kamakura, and Yokohama. For someone who has read up on Japan and really wants to see Kyoto then by all means take the Shinkansen down. I personally don't think Kyoto has much to offer you can't find in Kanto unless you're a history buff. Still, seeing it will provide a view of Japan outside of Tokyo which is good all by itself.

Tokyo - David Berry said that Tokyo looks like a parking garage without all the charm and I'd say he's pretty dead on about that. It is crowded, loud, and confusing. There isn't any must see spot in Tokyo so what I would recommend is finding some places you think are interesting and walking around that area. Visiting different parts of Tokyo is like visiting different cities so its hard to say Tokyo is this or Tokyo is that. I never really liked Tokyo that much but other people I knew loved it. Its fun and worth a look but don't spend your entire vacation there.shinjuku

Ueno - is an older part of Tokyo and it shows. Its run down by Japanese standards but by American it is still quite clean. There are many large museums in this area including the Japanese national museum. Although I wasn't impressed I think the museum is worth visiting for a tourist. They have some decent urban temples in Ueno park, along with a lot of camping homeless people and the occasional street performer. There is a lot to see in this area and I would recommend a day up here. Also close to Ueno is 'America street" where they have a lot of tacky Americanish stuff for sale. You can also find an area famous for selling motorcycle stuff.

Shibuya & Harajuku -
These are the teen culture epicenters of Japan and only a few stops apart on the Yamanote line. Shibuya is very crowded and you can find quite a few large television screens there. You could compare it to Time Square except this is much more crowded and confusing. Shibuya is focused on high school age girls where as Harajuku attracts a slightly older and goth oriented crowd. Shibuya is a major transit hub so chances are you'll pass through here any way. If you do its worth taking a look. Meiji Shrine is located adjacent to Harajuku but besides the fact that such a large forest exists in central Tokyo I'd say this is missable too. The walk from Harajuku to Aoyama is pleasant and feels very different than the rest of Tokyo.

Shinjuku - This is one of the main business districts of Tokyo, sort of the downtown. It does have some skyscrapers but if you've been to NY this won't impress you. I would recommend going up the to Tokyo government towers and taking the view. Other than that there is a lot of shopping and eating here and on the east exit side a lot of strip clubs, pachinko parlors, and love hotels. This is the busiest train station in the world (well train stations really because JR, Odakyu, Kintetsu, ect all have a Shinjuku station- its very confusing).

Odaiba - is about the only place in Tokyo I really enjoyed visiting. It is the Japanese vision of what the future would look like in the 1980's so to me it looks a lot like something out of Star Trek: The next generation. Only in Japan would they run out of space and so decide to build an island in the middle of the bay. Odaiba is wildly different than the rest of tokyo with wide, uncrowded streets, and open space available. It has a special train you can take to get over there too which is completely automated. That's fun for a one time deal. I would recommend just walking from one end to the other even though this is a long walk. There are a lot of pretty buildings on the island (and some really strange ones too). The museum of emerging science and technology is certainly worth a look if you like that type of thing. The Toyota megaweb is a glorified car showroom but fun all the same. Venus fort shopping mall is unbelievably ornate and certainly worth a walk through. The Panasonic center has some interesting new inventions to take a look at. Basically when you hear about the really quirky stuff in Tokyo you can find it here.

Roppongi - is the main entertainment district (along with Shibuya). If you go there on a Friday or Saturday night it is possibly the only place in Japan where foreigners will outnumber Japanese. During the day this also has some office towers and Roppongi hills is a new, very upscale living and shopping development (which is NOT located on a hill). The Tokyo tower (a blatant rip off of the Eiffel Tower) is also here but is somewhat expensive so I never went to the top.

Central Tokyo - This is the other main business district of Tokyo, especially for financial stuff around Tokyo Station. I didn't spend much time here myself because oddly this is on the eastern side of Tokyo and not central at all. The palace is here but you can't see anything there besides a rather boring bridge. There is a nice park in the area and the station itself has some nice architecture. The capital building (the diet) is in this area and worth a peak if you go for that type of thing.

Akiharabara - Is about the only place in Tokyo I would recommend avoiding. This is supposed to be where you can find the newest, cutting edge technology. What it really is is a lot of over priced stuff pitched mostly to tourist. Keep in mind that any computer you buy with either have a Japanese keyboard and Operating System or be a US model you could get at home. I am a computer technician by trade and after comparing prices and models both here and at home I can tell you, you aren't missing anything if you miss Akiharabara

Asakusa - There is a popular shrine here but like nearly every single urban shrine or temple in the country it is completely missable. It has a long row of shops, some nice wood carvings, and the typical Shrine stuff. Historically it is important but as you can't see history most tourist will find this boring.


Nikko3 monkeys - many people opt to take a day trip from Tokyo up to the temple town of Nikko. I went there twice but did it both times as a day trip. As this is almost 5 hours from where I lived I never got to see as much of it as I would have liked. I would say that Nikko is absolutely fantastic and a must see on your trip to Japan. To begin with the "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil" monkeys are from here. If you are very lucky you can even see a real wild monkey. There is a famous mountain and some waterfalls in a different part of town (this is missable). The real treasure of Nikko is probably the most ornate, gold covered, ridiculously beautiful shrines in the country. Combine that with secluded walks along cedar lined avenues and you've got yourself a hit. If you have to do Nikko in one day its ok but I wouldn't feel cheated if I spent two here.

Yokohama - is, in my opinion, the most beautiful but also most under appreciated city in Japan. My opinion is biased though Minato Miriabecause I lived and worked here most of my year in Japan. Yokohama is just a few miles from Tokyo (20 minutes from Shibuya to central Yokohama on the Toyoko line) but is a world apart. It was a treaty port with America and where Japan was opened up after 500 years of isolation. It is also where Macarthur (the American Shogun) had his command post after W.W.II. That is why I said its historically important but nearly no Japanese person will say the same thing. Because the city was build largely by foreigners it has a distinctly international feel to it. Its downtown is basically on a grid pattern with wide streets.

 You could spend a very pleasant day walking through Yokohama to get a different idea of urban Japan besides Tokyo. This is the tour I suggest. Start out your day by arriving at Saguragicho station and visiting the Landmark Tower - the tallest building in Japan. If you are so inclined you could walk around the very beautiful mall and do some shopping. From there take a peak at the Nippon Maru - the Ship you saw on your way into the Landmark Tower. Walk down Nihon Odori taking a look at the Jack, King, and Queen towers (from the outside only, these are functional buildings you can't really visit). The Kanagawa prefectural museum also has some beautiful architecture. Be sure to take in Yamashita park and its views of the bay and landmark tower. From their walk down to Chinatown and enjoy some overpriced food. That should take up your entire day. There are other things to do in Yokohama, like Yamate- the foreigner settlement, or Shin Yokohama's quirky Ramen "museum" but I wouldn't say these are essential things for a tourist with limited time.

If you find yourself with the misfortune to have to use Yokohama station please be warned this is one of the largest and most complex stations in the entire country. There is nothing here worth seeing other than a lot of shopping and a wild network of miles and miles of confusing, similar looking, underground mall.

I should say that I am extremely biased towards Yokohama but that is because I consider it one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. Secondly only to Boston or perhaps Sydney. If the charm of the place doesn't hit you right away it probably never will. It isn't like the rest of Japan though and maybe that is why I liked it so much.

Kamakura diabutsu- is possibly my favorite place in Japan, outside Yokohama. Kamakura is just a short train ride beyond Yokohama (just over an hour from Shibuya) and if you plan on visiting both Yokohama and Kamakura staying in either place a few nights makes a lot more sense than trying to stay somewhere in Tokyo. It is another temple town full of shrines and temples and the once capital of Japan about 900 years ago for about 200 years. You can read about this in your guide. I spent nearly every free weekend I had there for months because I thought the place was so great. Besides just having temples it was hell of a convenient place to get out into the woods to do some hiking. You could pack Kamakura into 1 full day but if you also want to visit near by Enoshima make it a two day visit.

I have a tour of Kamakura I have taken other people on and they enjoyed it. The problem with this tour is it is nearly impossible to follow without an excellent map and possibly a tour guide. For the brave though I would suggest getting off at Kita Kamakura station and visiting Engakuji for its stunning wood carvings, scenic pond, a Japanese cemetery, and even Buddah's tooth! This is high on my list of favorite temples in Japan and I've been all over Kyoto. There are some other temples in the area which you can visit if you want. After you are done cross back over the train tracks and get to the main road and walk south (the direction the train you took in traveled) down that main street perhaps half a mile. On the right hand side of the road you will come to a sign for Jochiji. This will lead you down a path  up some steps and through a gate to the entrance to the temple. Directly to the left is a small path that is the start of the trail. You can follow this trail for a long while, perhaps a mile. It will go past a minor temple and a park. You will eventually get to a paved road and a fork where you can go down the hill or continue on the path. Go down the hill and you will see a Tori gate and the entrance to a cave. This is Zeniaraibenzaite (Zen Ari Benten is what I thought it was called). This is the money washing temple but you can read all about that in your guide. Leave the temple the way you came in and walk down the hill and walk through the suburban neighborhood. You will eventually have to take a right (you're first?) but at any rate you can follow the signs to Sasukeinarijina. At this shrine you will walk through about 100 tori gates up a long path to see a shrine to the fox god inari. You will have to look around a while but if you keep climbing up you will find a path that leads back the trail you were on before. At this point the trail becomes extremely difficult and easy to become lost as there are several branches of the trail. I always looked for the daibutsu kanji (大仏) on the sign. It is tough to find but if you do you will eventually come to some steps to walk down onto a busy street that has a tunnel behind it. If you find this simply walk down this busy street (away from the tunnel) and the Daibutsu will be on your left after about a quarter mile. This is the picture above. I like the Daibutsu but always thought it was a bit too touristy for me. Your tour is not over yet! After you leave the Daibutsu walk down the street away from the temple to the touristy shops. At the light take cross the street and go down the side street to Hase Dera, my personal favorite temple in all of Japan. This temple offers sea views, a giant golden buddha, a wheel to turn, beautiful architecture, a cave with stone carvings, and the most beautiful garden I've ever seen. This is absolutely not to missed!! Finally go back to the light and continue walking down the street away from the Diabutsu and you will very shortly see a train station for the Enoden mini train. This train will take you back to Kamakura station where you can enjoy shopping and relax before heading out of Kamkura. This is a long trip and you should expect to spend most of the day walking. Also I would not attempt this without a very good map. I wish I could go to Kamakura to straighten all this out and get exact directions. Unfortunately I'm a few months out of Japan now and this is the best I can do.

An alternative to this tour is to just visit Kita Kamakura and either walk into town and see Kenochi or take the train to Kamakura station. Perhaps go to Hachi mangu (missable in my opinion) get on the enoden and see Daibutsu and Hase Dera. Even though its hard to find and a bit of a walk do try to find
Zeniaraibenzaite, its worth the effort.

In summary these are temples I highly recommend to visit:
Enoshima is an Island that is just a few minutes from Kamakura (but technically in Fujisawa city). It is a popular (but dirty) beach in the summer but a nice little island to visit all year round. You can see a wide variety of temples on the island, easily a day in itself. I would recommend visiting it if you weren't planning on going to Kyoto.

My final word on Kamakura is that I am envious of you being able to experience it for the first time. I've visited it too many times so its lost its charm for me. You get the chance to be charmed for the first time.

Hakone - Is a popular natural area even further west of Tokyo than Yokohama and Kamakura. It is often visited by foreigners because they think they can see Mt. Fuji from here. Having tried to see Mt. Fuji 5 separate times and failing each time I wouldn't go there solely for this reason. (I even climbed Mt. Fuji and I don't think I ever really saw it). If you are hell bent on seeing Fuji you had better visit Hakone early in the morning in the middle of the winter. At nearly any other time of year the mountain will be completely covered in fog and impossible to see. That doesn't mean your trip to Hakone will be a complete bust. Its a very pretty place with a couple of cute towns, a nice park, a lake high in the mountains, a sort of palace I think, and even a historical reenactment center. It forms the dividing line between eastern and western Japan and was once a stop on the Tokaido (eastern sea road) highway. Hakone is not a single location but rather a region you can visit. What most people do is take a series of transports around the area using Odakyu's Hakone free pass. This will include a mountain train ride through the woods, a type of funicular, a rope way over a volcano, a ship across a lake, and a bus ride back to the start. There are some towns and parks to see along the way. It is also famous for its onsen (hot springs) but having never taken the chance to soak naked with other Japanese I can offer no opinion on that. If the idea of getting out into the woods for a day and hoping to see Fuji is appealing to you than Hakone might be worth it. DON'T go there just to see Fuji though because chances are overwhelmingly high that you won't.

Mt FujiEntrace to Mt Fuji's Summit looking down - is one of the most recognizable symbols for Japan and a popular tourist attraction. It looks to beautiful in all the pictures of it there is no wonder why people want to see it. The trouble is it is nearly always covered with fog. If you look closely you will probably see that almost all clear pictures of Mt. Fuji are in the winter and early in the morning. If you do see it in the fog you can kind of make out its outline, which is massive, but not be really sure what you're looking at. I have seen Mt Fuji from as far away as Handeda Airport in Tokyo. At one museum I went to they suggested the streets around Tokyo Station may have been laid out to give better views of the mountain. Certainly go could get a good view of it from Landmark Tower in Yokohama early in the morning on a clear day. Don't get your hopes up too high though, its pretty elusive for such a big, nonmoving thing.

As far as climbing Mt. Fuji you can read my impressions of that from my words section. At the top is probably the closest experience you'll ever have to being on Mars. All the rocks are completely red and there is no life up there besides humans (there are lots of these). It is a bit touristy at the top and you can mail postcards if you walk around the crater to the true summit. If you regularly hike mountains and the idea of walking uphill for 8 or 9 hours sounds appealing than Mt. Fuji could be a fun time. Make no mistake though, its hard work! The thing they say about elderly people climbing the mountain is really true but they walk up it very slowly. I would recommend the same course of action. I have known people who arrived late at night and in a mad dash up the mountain gotten to the top in 6 hours. I took much longer. It is cold up there, even in the summer, so bring a winter jacket. The oxygen is quite thin as well starting at the fifth station so be sure to take time to adjust (hence my recommendation to take your time). If I were to climb it again I would start in the mid afternoon (3 or so) and take my time up the mountain. I'd go to bed early and wake up very early to get to the top before sunrise. I'd bring enough food to last my whole trip and especially water. I would anticipate a lot of pain. I'd take the bus again from Shinjuku, that was convenient and cheap. I'd be sure to go with someone.

Narita - Is most famous for being where Tokyo's main airport is. It is pretty far east of Tokyo and probably a bad choice for an airport location. If for some reason you find yourself coming in at an odd hour on your flight and would  like to spend a night recovering here there is a beautiful temple in town worth seeing. It is odd because many of the buildings are sparklingly new and the grounds are quite large and feel like visiting a very beautiful park. There isn't much else to keep you in the town besides that.

Kansai

Kyoto - Outside of Tokyo Kyoto is a must see for most visitors. I lived in Kyoto for three months and was really miserable so be warned that my opinion is biased. I don't think Kyoto is all that special. gateThere are several large temples that are famous throughout the country. For the foreign visitor they aren't anything you can't see in Nikko or Kamakura. If you have your mind made up you want to go to Kyoto here are some hints. It is a very easy city to navigate because the central area is on an almost perfect grid system unlike most other Japanese cities. The southern part of the city has the main train station. This station was controversial when they built it because it is in a modern, and I think very beautiful, design. I think it is important to remember that Kyoto is a real city with modern day people and more importantly its a city with a future. They have an economy based on education, software (Nintendo is based here), and pharmaceuticals besides tourism. The station shows that Kyoto is a real Japanese city and not a history museum and that is why I like it. Here are some random highlights that come to mind:

Kiyomizudera - has the famous stage on the side of the temple over looking the forest. Its ok and has some shopping in the area but it isn't amazing. Be warned the hill to walk up to it is a bit steep and if you have trouble walking long distances you might want to skip this.

The golden pavilion - a blatant tourist trap. It makes a nice postcard but you won't be moved by seeing this temple. This is the only temple in all of Japan that I was annoyed after I saw it. Once a monk burnt it down because he thought it was too much about money. I agree.

The silver pavilion - isn't silver at all but is very pretty with a small but well kept up garden. There is a hill side view where you can get a panoramic view of the city. This is a nice temple and I would recommend it although its a bit difficult to reach.

The stone zen garden - has a large garden and pond. The raked gravel and meditating on stones are anyone's guess. This zen stuff is irrelevant to your average Japanese person.

Nijo Castle - This is pretty decent with some nice rooms inside and a garden outback. This isn't so much a castle I think as it was a palace. It has a special floor that squeaks when you walk on it to warn about ninjas and such. I'd recommend it.

The imperial palace - the tour doesn't show you anything interesting but the park around it is nice enough to walk through on the way to somewhere else. If you really like the idea of seeing where royalty almost never visit then by all means check it out but bring your passport and go early in the day. Tours change by season and you can only see it on a tour as security is a bit tight.

Sanjusangendo - is a very long hall filled with hundreds of statutes and that's about it. The statues are interesting, particularly if you like Japanese mythology, and its close to the museum so this is one temple worth seeing in Kyoto.

Nara -pagoda  is a popular day trip from Kyoto. It is another temple town which you could spend a day or two at. The main attraction is the great Buddha of Nara which might just be the biggest Buddha in the world. It is pretty big, even bigger than Kamakura's, and pretty old but since it is indoors its pretty dark too. Around that you can also find a large, sprawling temple complex whose name I never knew but is very pretty. They have the tallest pagoda in Japan in another area and a lot of deer that are quite friendly. By the time I visited Nara I was so sick of temples and shrines I couldn't stomach seeing another one. For that reason I didn't enjoy Nara that much but I still think that it makes a nice place to visit and I would recommend it.

Osaka - is a cool city and certainly high on my list for places to live in Japan. Its pretty low on places for the average visitor to see though. Again to the very trained eye or the history buff Osaka is wildly different than Tokyo. It has a different dialect, a different culture, different food, and a very different feel. For someone in the country for a week though this will be more or less invisible. It's not that I don't like Osaka its just with limited time this shouldn't be a priority to visit.

Osaka is a beautiful city in its own way I think but it doesn't have the intensity of Tokyo or any of the famous sites. Umeda is the northern business area which has nothing for a tourist except shopping. Further south on the same street is Shinsaibashi and finally Namba, likewise these are business districts without much to offer a tourist. America town (mura) has really nothing to do with America and is basically just a copy of Shibuya for western Japan. Dontonbori, the eating street, does have good food I'm sure but I wouldn't go to Osaka for the food. Den Den town is not really about selling electric gadgets as much as it is for very poor Japanese porn. Osaka castle is nice enough and might be a good reason to visit Osaka but if you only see one castle in Japan go see Himeji. Tennoji in the south has a nice park and zoo located in it. There is also a temple there but I never saw it myself. Finally universal studios Japan was something that never interested me so I can offer no opinion on it.

Kobehill top - has a lot in common with Yokohama. They were both treaty ports more or less build by foreigners. They both have a chinatown. They both have beautiful buildings and a basically gridded street system. What Kobe has that Yokohama doesn't is the beautiful backdrop of mountains. Kobe is another city in Japan I love as a place to live but again will have only limited appeal to a tourist. The Chinatown is much smaller than Yokohama's but worth a peak if you were already in Kobe. Kitano is the foreigners settlement and is very pretty and worth walking through. There is a very nice urban temple there high on the hillside that offers a very beautiful view of the city (this is where the picture on the left was taken). Basically if you're going to go to Kobe I'd suggest just walking around and going to Kitano.

Himejicastle -  is a small city with the most famous castle in Japan located in it. The castle is very beautiful and worth walking around but when you see it you have to keep in mind this was a real castle and not a temple so it isn't very ornate. There are some interesting little historical highlights to see and all in all it could make a pleasant day trip. Himeji is located perhaps an hour west of Kobe by regular train. That makes it two hours west of Kyoto by regular train. For a tourist on limited time I would only recommend it if you had the JR unlimited Shinkansen pass and took the Shinkansen there (maybe 30 minutes from Kyoto). If you were to combine this with half a day strolling around Kobe that could make a full but rewarding day.


Other Places


Nagoya - The most I saw of Nagoya was from the window of the Shinkansen as I passed through on the way to Kyoto. It is mainly an industrial and somewhat a business center. These are good times for Nagoya and I understand the downtown is growing. Still it never seemed that interesting to me or to most of the Japanese I spoke with so this probably isn't worth a look.

Hiroshima - I tried one night to take the night bus here but it was sold out so I never got here myself. Other people I know that visited it said it was moving and could well be worth seeing if you're sick of temples.

Hokkaido - is the northern most island in Japan. Again I never got there myself but I tried. They have a very famous snow festival which is impossible to go to unless you book a hotel room well in advance. A different type of Japanese people called the Ainu live here but from what I've been told they don't affect the culture much. The relationship is much like what native americans are to americans, minus all the idealization. It is a very popular place for the Japanese to visit themselves but having never been there myself I don't know how much a foreigner would enjoy it.

Okinawa - is wildly different than the rest of Japan. It has little in common culturally with mainland Japan as their temples, castles, food, music, traditions, and history are very different. If you want to see Japan don't go to Okinawa. This would be like going to Hawaii to experience the wild west. It is very beautiful though and you can read about my trip there on my words page.

So that's it for me folks. I went to Japan without the slightest interest in it and absolutely fell in love with the place. Its a fascinating, beautiful country with a complex elusive culture. I would recommend it to almost anyone with a sense of adventure in them. If you have any more questions its best you me.
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