What 10 things to do in Japan

10 things to do in Japan


As the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868, Kyoto is full of evidence of its rich history. The most symbolic monument of the city's lordly past is the Kinkaku-ji, which is lavishly decorated with gold, once the old seat of a Shogun and today a Zen Buddhist temple. The Kinkaku-ji protrudes from a clear pond and is reflected in the water with a shimmering gold. The not-so-ostentatious sights of Kyoto are by no means less fascinating. The minimalist and enigmatic dry landscape garden of the Ryōan-ji, for example, is impressive. There are a total of 17 World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (including Kinkaku-ji and Ryōan-ji), but these only make up part of the charming historical witnesses of Kyoto. There are 2,000 temples and shrines and countless gardens spread across the city.


Kōya-san has been a destination for pilgrims since the monk Kōbō Daishi established Shingon Buddhism here in the ninth century between the old cedars on the mountain slopes. One of the highlights of a visit is the opportunity to spend a night with the monks in one of the Kōya-san temples on the mountain. Another must-see is a hike through the eerie, almost primeval Okunoin cemetery and the many small temples that were built in honor of Daishi. Ekō-in is one of almost 50 places that are open to guests and offers the typical Kōya-san environment - a spartan, quiet room with tatami mats, a vegetarian multi-course menu that is exquisitely served on lacquered dishes, and the option to attend the prayers of the monks and pilgrims in the early morning.


With three large galleries and many smaller art venues, picturesque Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea is an outstanding location for contemporary Japanese art. The best gallery is the Benesse House designed by Tadao Andō, an elegant hotel with exhibition spaces that houses work by artists such as David Hockney, Bruce Nauman, and Frank Stella. In Naoshima, however, art is not limited to conventional locations. Nineteen flashy outdoor installations are spread over the Benesse beach promenade. In the laid-back fishing village of Honmura, several old wooden houses have been turned into permanent art installations. Even the island's public baths under the “I Love Yu” brand have been redesigned in Pop Art style. Naoshima is called an “art island” for a reason.


The small ski resort Niseko in Hokkaidō impresses with the finest powder snow in the country and three large ski areas: Niseko Higashiyama, Niseko Annupuri and Niseko Grand Hirafu / Hanazono. Beyond the ski areas, the best deep snow and many opportunities for ice climbing, telemark skiing and boarding through pristine snow beckon. The area is also attractive in summer when, instead of winter activities, summer pleasures such as white water rafting, mountain biking and kayaking are all the rage. Niseko also has a year-round attraction: mineral-rich hot springs that soothingly relieve all the pains and aches and pains of a long day on the slopes.


The gentle scent of tatami mats, the restrained elegance of the interior design, the impeccable service, the outdoor baths with hot spring water, the multi-course menu with local seasonal ingredients, the calming silence - all these peculiarities make an overnight stay in a traditional Japanese hotel, a ryokan, closed an unforgettable experience. Unforgettable, but not exactly cheap. Room and meal prices can go up to 100,000 yen per night. Fortunately, there is accommodation for every budget in Japan. The smaller and less formal Minshuku (family guest houses) offer similarly traditional but less luxurious experiences, and their prices are typically less than 10,000 yen per night.


It is thoroughly Japanese to sit naked in the water of a hot spring with strangers. The Japanese have used communal onsen, natural hot springs, for relaxation and healing for centuries - the earliest mention of bathers in Dogo, Shikoku, dates back 1,300 years. Dogo is still one of the most famous onsen areas in the country to this day. The large, three-story Dogo Onsen Honkan in the center of the area is an architectural gem from the 19th century with a separate bathroom for the imperial family that is no longer in use today. But tourists don't have to travel to Dogo to have a good bath in a spring. There are thousands of public baths and ryokans with onsen throughout the country where you can indulge in this traditional tradition.


Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple in Asakusa, is now a tourist site in Tokyo. However, if you walk a few blocks in any direction and leave the crowds of tourists behind you, you come to a part of the metropolis that has largely retained its pre-war status as the city's leading entertainment district to this day. The small amusement park Hanayashiki is particularly typical. There are many historical rides here, including the country's first (and arguably most leisurely) roller coaster. Nearby is Rokku Broadway, where traditional theaters like Engei Hall offer programs full of slapstick and traditional comedic storytelling. As you would expect, there are also plenty of bars in this area. We recommend the Kamiya Bar, whose local special drink, a playful mixture of brandy, gin and curacao, is appropriately named Denki Bran (electric fire). It was first mixed here in the 1880s.


The breathtaking peaks of the Japanese Northern Alps are considered the most popular hiking area in the country. From the small town of Kamikōchi, which is considered the gateway to the area, visitors can choose between simple day trips and multi-day adventures that challenge even trained hikers. In midsummer, the most popular trails are sometimes overrun with weekend hikers. However, if you arrive on a weekday or wait for autumn, you will experience the 3,000-meter-high, rugged peaks and pristine forests of the Northern Alps in all their naturalness and without the annoying crowds.


The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is dedicated to the victims of the atomic bombing of August 6, 1945. It is a poignant and moving monument to the horror of nuclear weapons. The “atomic bomb dome” in the Hiroshima Peace Park is one of the few buildings in the center of Hiroshima that was left over from the explosion. The dome skeleton vividly symbolizes the destructive force that has fallen upon this city. Other parts of the park also conjure up bad memories - especially the Children's Peace Memorial. It was erected in memory of the many children who became ill with leukemia as a result of radioactive fallout and is always adorned with origami cranes sent in by children from all over Japan.


Japan is known for its fine cuisine with sushi, tempura and kaiseki. But also the less culinary dishes (“B-class cuisine”, as the Japanese themselves call it) make your mouth water. The B-Class has its own champion: the ramen noodles. Available virtually anywhere, anytime, extremely filling and a kind of national obsession - some venues are so revered that people queue up for hours to enjoy a few minutes of ecstatic sip. Of course there are exceptions to the generally good quality in Japan too. Some offers such as hot dogs from the machine or sandwiches with fried noodles in supermarkets should perhaps be given the "Z-Class" label.

Article published in English on September 20, 2011