Tokyo

Say Konnichiwa to Japan’s Past and Present

Jodie Day
by Jodie Day

December 29, 2023

4 minute read

Japan’s culture was thousands of years in the making. Now you can get a taste of both the new and electric AND the ancient and serene when you visit this island nation on the Japan: Past and Present small group Explorations tour.

Japan’s juxtaposition is alluring for many travelers. In the one afternoon, you may zip from the neon-lit streets of Tokyo on the shinkansen bullet train (at speeds of up to 200mph) and limited express train to the peaceful Ise Shrine. Perhaps here you’ll trade hustle and bustle for time wandering among the serenity of an ancient grand shrine, looking up to thatched roofs and raw wood of buildings. This incredible spirit, so heavily influenced by past and present, can be felt throughout every avenue of Japan’s rich culture. And the best part? When you travel with a smaller tour group, you’ll get access to places not everyone gets to go.

Shirakawa go

History lovers may be drawn to Japan’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Maybe you’ll embrace the unique charms of Shirakawa-go. Hidden away in the mountain, this harmonious village is famous for its gassho-zukuri-style houses with thatched rooftops designed to resemble two hands joined in prayer. You can ferry to Miyajima Island, or “Shrine Island,” with its famous O-torii Gate. Don’t forget to see the home of the first Shogun – Nijo Castle — with its intricate woodcarvings, paintings, and gardens. Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, is a Zen temple with the top two floors completely covered in gold leaf – another UNESCO site that tops traveler to-do lists.

Fushimi Inari

Beyond UNESCO sites, there are scores of other must-sees in the Land of the Rising Sun. Explore Fusimi Inari Taisha for a tour of the most revered shrine in Inari. When you follow the rows of orange torii weaving through the forest, you may just feel as if you’ve stepped into the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. A popular stop for many travelers awaits at Nara Park and Todaiji Temple. Venture inside the massive building to take some time in this sacred place and find the huge bronze Buddha statue. Wander the grounds outside and discover the famous “bowing” deer of Nara — deer who have learned that they are more likely to be fed by passersby after offering a polite bow.

Dotonbori

Those seeking more futuristic flair may want to scope out Osaka’s famous Dotonbori district, bathed in neon glowing signs and known for eclectic dining and nightlife. Delving deeper, many rich cultural experiences await when you step beyond the architectural items on your bucket list. You can find yourself learning about the ancient craft of gold leaf making during a hands-on lesson in which you create a deeply personal souvenir. You can also learn the subtle art of preparing green tea when you prepare your own cup of the local staple using traditional methods.

Hiroshima Peace Park

Meeting local people can bring you even closer to your destination. In Japan, you may head to the Hiroshima Peace Park and Memorial Museum to meet with someone who experienced the devastating effects of the atomic bomb firsthand. They’ll talk about what it was like to live in Japan during that time, the aftermath of that terrible day, and how they keep the memories of those who were lost alive. You can also meet ama pearl divers, the skilled women who defied conventional gender roles to dive in the sea to harvest oysters and their pearls. Watch divers take the plunge and learn about the history and science of pearl diving as it still lives on for tourists today.

Whether you’re ready to sit down to a plate of freshly rolled sushi, take in the sites, or get a deep dive into the local culture with the people who know it best – there’s plenty waiting for you in Japan.

Are you ready to see all that this country has to offer?

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