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  • Northern Honshū Guide | Japan Travel | Rough Guides
    aristocratic tombs than great temples or religious foundations The one glorious exception is north of Sendai at the seemingly insignificant town Hiraizumi whose opulent Golden Hall Konjiki dō is a highlight of any tour of the region By way of contrast the archetypal north country town lies not far away at Tōno often referred to as the birthplace of Japanese folklore where goblin like kappa inhabit local rivers and fairy children scamper through old farmhouses Much of this is now heavily commercialized but it s still worth exploring Tōno s more secretive shrines with their references to primitive cults Darker forces are also at work much further north where souls in purgatory haunt Osore zan s volcanic wasteland on the hammer head Shimokita Hantō In summer pilgrims come here to consult blind mediums while over on the west coast the holy mountain of Dewa sanzan is home to yamabushi ascetic priests endowed with mystical powers The region is also characterized by its splendid scenery ranging from prolific rice fields and cosseted orchards to wild rugged coastlines and the pine crusted islands of Matsushima Bay The central spine of magnificent mountains provides excellent opportunities for hiking and skiing notably around Zaō Onsen in Yamagata ken and the more northerly Towada Hachimantai area Both are noted for their flora and fauna including black bears in remoter districts while Towada ko itself is a massive crater lake accessed via the picturesque Oirase valley The World Heritage listed Shirakami Sanchi mountains on the border between Aomori and Akita prefectures are equally beautiful and remote enough to remain undeveloped In Sado ga shima a large island lying off Niigata dramatic mountain and coastal scenery provides the backdrop for a surprisingly rich culture a legacy of its isolation and the infamous characters once exiled to the island JR offers a variety of special rail tickets covering the Tōhoku region Although there are good transport links between the main cities including a recently extended Shinkansen service to Aomori you ll need to allow plenty of time to explore the more remote corners of northern Honshū this is one place where car rental is definitely worth considering Public buses can be sporadic at the best of times with many services stopping completely in winter when heavy snowfalls close the mountain roads In general the best time to visit is either spring or autumn before it gets too busy and while the scenery is at its finest though the uplands also provide welcome relief from summer s sweltering heat Note however that early August sees thousands of people flocking to Tōhoku s big four festivals in Sendai Aomori Hirosaki and Akita If you re travelling at this time make sure you ve got your transport and accommodation sorted out well in advance Apart from ski resorts many tourist facilities outside the major cities shut down from early November to late April Read More More about Japan Features Where Next Check out Tokyo Book a hostel in Japan Travel Offers

    Original URL path: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/japan/northern-honsh%c5%ab/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Central Honshū Guide | Japan Travel | Rough Guides
    the Noto Hantō peninsula northeast of Kanazawa are also worth searching out Along the southern Pacific Ocean side of Chubu run the main expressways and train lines that link Tokyo with the Kansai region Ugly vistas of rampant industrialization bracket these transportation links yet even here there are places worth stopping to see including Japan s fourth main city Nagoya home to the region s main airport This enjoyable and easily negotiated metropolis can be used as a base for day trips to the attractive castle town of Inuyama where you can see summertime displays of the ancient skill of ukai cormorant fishing or to Meiji Mura an impressive outdoor museum of architecture dating from the beginning of the twentieth century A couple of train lines cut across from the southern to the northern coasts but many places in the mountains are only served by buses which can be infrequent and pricey Sometimes renting a car will be your best bet although some of the most scenic routes such as the Skyline Drive across the Alps from Gifu ken to Nagano ken are closed in winter because of deep snow The mountain resort of Kamikōchi and the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route are similarly off limits between November and April Read More More about Japan Features Where Next Check out Shikoku Book a hostel in Japan Travel Offers Travel insurance Hotels Hostels Car hire Tours Explore Nagano Karuizawa Obuse Ski resorts and onsen villages Matsumoto and around Takayama Kanazawa and around Nagoya Inuyama Gujō Hachiman Find out more Narai Kiso Fukushima Tsumago Magome Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Hiking the Kiso ji Ninja the shadow warriors Ninja the shadow warriors Long before their ancient martial art was nabbed by a bunch of cartoon turtles the Ninja were Japan s most feared warriors employed by lords as assassins and spies They practised Ninjutsu the art of stealth which emphasized non confrontational methods of combat Dressed in black Ninja moved like fleeting shadows and used a variety of weapons including shuriken projectile metal stars and kusarikama a missile with a razor sharp sickle on one end of a chain examples of which are displayed in the Togakushi Minzoku kan According to legend Ninjutsu was developed in the twelfth century when the warrior Togakure Daisuke retreated to the mountain forests of Iga near Nara and met Kain Dōshi a monk on the run from political upheaval in China Togakure studied Dōshi s fighting ways and it was his descendants who developed them into the Togakure ryū school of Ninjutsu By the fifteenth century there were some fifty family based Ninjutsu schools across Japan each jealously guarding their techniques Although the need for Ninja declined while Japan was under the peaceful rule of the Shogunate the Tokugawa had their own force of Ninjutsu trained warriors for protection One Ninja Sawamura Yasusuke even sneaked into the black ship of Commodore Perry in 1853 to spy on the foreign barbarians Today the Togakure ryu school of Ninjutsu emphasizing

    Original URL path: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/japan/central-honsh%c5%ab/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Kyoto & Nara Guide | Japan Travel | Rough Guides
    Guides Snapshot Japan View Guide Rough Guide Audio Phrasebook and Dictionary Japanese View Guide The Rough Guide to Japan View Guide Kansai Rough Guides Snapshot Japan View Guide The Rough Guide to Singapore View Guide The Rough Guide to Myanmar View Guide The former imperial capitals of KYOTO and NARA are home to a sublime collection of temples palaces shrines and gardens Both cities are deeply revered by the Japanese for their imperial history and renowned for their highly developed traditional arts and centuries old festivals Yet each has its own distinct personality Kyoto is notoriously exclusive whereas Nara has a more relaxed dignity as a result the two cities complement each other well not least because in Nara you can see the foundations of traditional Japanese culture which reached its zenith in Kyoto Until Emporer Meji decamped for the bright lights of Tokyo in 1868 Kyoto was Japan s imperial capital and despite modern trappings the city still represents a more traditional version of the country than the current capital Kyoto maintains its reputation for cultural finesse with its cuisine and traditional arts and crafts and continues to demonstrate its ability to fuse tradition with contemporary innovation It s a delight to explore the exquisite temples and gardens as well as contemporary designer shops and stylish cafés It s also rewarding to spend at least a day in the surrounding districts meander through rice fields in Ohara tea fields in Uji or view the city from atop Hiei zan where the temples of Enryaku ji are nestled in a cedar forest Before Kyoto even existed the monks of Nara were busily erecting their great Buddhist monuments under the patronage of an earlier group of princes and nobles In 2010 this relaxed appealing town celebrated the thirteen hundredth anniversary of

    Original URL path: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/japan/kyoto-nara/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Kansai Guide | Japan Travel | Rough Guides
    and tend to look down on Tokyo which they regard as an uncivilized upstart Today its diverse legacy of temples shrines and castles combined with an increasing array of exciting modern architecture makes Kansai one of Japan s top tourist destinations The former imperial capitals of Kyoto and Nara with their enduring historical and cultural importance are naturally a major part of the region s appeal and are covered in the previous chapter Although Ōsaka has been much maligned as an ugly and chaotic city it is not short of attractions and easily makes up for its aesthetic shortcomings with an excess of commercial spirit the source of its long established wealth and an enthusiastic love of eating drinking and its own style of comedy South of Ōsaka the temples of Kōya san provide a tranquil glimpse into contemporary religious practice in Japan This mountain top retreat the headquarters of the Shingon school of Buddhism has been an active centre of pilgrimage since the ninth century People of all faiths are welcome to stay in the quiet old temples and join in the morning prayer service Afterwards you can walk through the atmospheric Okunoin cemetery to visit the grave of Shingon s founder Kōbō Daishi wreathed in incense smoke under towering cryptomeria trees Shinto Japan s native religion also has deep spiritual roots in Kansai Not far from Kōya san is the Kumano Kodō an ancient pilgrimage route through the Land of the Gods where for centuries both emperors and peasants sought purification and healing at sacred sites and hot springs Over on the far eastern side of the region is Ise jingū one of the country s most important Shinto shrines dedicated to Amaterasu the Sun Goddess from whom all Japan s emperors are descended Ise itself is the

    Original URL path: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/japan/kansai/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Western Honshū Guide | Japan Travel | Rough Guides
    to tour by public transport but easily repays the effort Though western Honshū is rich in history with burial mounds on both coasts dating from the first century it s a more contemporary event that brings most visitors to the region Lying midway along the San yō coast Hiroshima site of the first atom bomb attack and the region s largest city is the one place you ll want to stop off en route to or from Kyūshū At the eastern end of the San yō coast Okayama has one of Japan s most famous gardens Kōrakuen and makes a good base for visiting the beautifully preserved Edo era town of Kurashiki or the island art project on Inujima As you head west along the coast one of the treasures of Hiroshima ken is the timeless fishing village of Tomonoura with its gorgeous views across the Inland Sea The port of Onomichi just to the north is also the jumping off point for the Shimanami Kaidō or Sea Road which connects Honshū via a series of breathtaking bridges and islands to Imabari on Shikoku taking in the laidback island of Ikuchi jima en route The one island of the Inland Sea you won t want to miss is Miyajima just west of Hiroshima and site of the ancient shrine Itsukushima jinja On the southern coast of neighbouring Yamaguchi ken pause to admire the elegant Kintai kyō bridge at Iwakuni and the spectacular view across the narrow Kanmon Straits to Kyūshū from Hino yama in the port of Shimonoseki at the tip of Honshū Inland the highlights of the prefecture s small capital Yamaguchi are an impressive pagoda and classic Zen rock and moss garden East along the frequently deserted San in coast the old castle town of Hagi boasts a lovely cluster of samurai houses and atmospheric temples Perhaps even more beautiful is Tsuwano another small castle town nestling in a tranquil valley inland further east in Shimane ken This prefecture is the heartland of Japan s eight million Shinto deities who are believed to gather each year in November at the ancient shrine Izumo Taisha near the appealing capital of Matsue Matsue has the region s only original castle tower as well as some old samurai houses and interesting museums In neighbouring Tottori ken you ll find Mount Daisen the highest peak in the Chūgoku region with great hiking in the summer and skiing in winter If you only have a few days aim to take in Kurashiki and Matsue as well as Hiroshima and Miyajima In a couple of weeks you could make a circuit of both coasts taking in most of the region s highlights Read More More about Japan Features Where Next Check out Northern Honshu Book a hostel in Japan Travel Offers Travel insurance Hotels Hostels Car hire Tours Explore Okayama and around Fukuyama and around Ikuchi jima Hiroshima and around Iwakuni Yamaguchi and around Shimonoseki and around Hagi Tsuwano Matsue Find out more The

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  • Shikoku Guide | Japan Travel | Rough Guides
    or pay a visit to the landscape gardens of Ritsurin kōen in Takamatsu before hopping on a ferry over to the idyllic contemporary art filled island of Naoshima According to legend Shikoku was the second island after Awaji shima born to Izanagi and Izanami the gods who are considered to be Japan s parents Its ancient name was Iyo no futana and it was divided into four main prefectures Awa now Tokushima ken Iyo Ehime ken Sanuki Kagawa ken and Tosa Kōchi ken These epithets are still used today when referring to the different prefectures cuisines and traditional arts Apart from being the scene of a decisive battle between the Taira and Minamoto clans in the twelfth century see The Kamakura era Shikoku has had a relatively peaceful history due in part to its isolation from the rest of Japan The physical separation ended with the opening of the Seto Ōhashi in 1989 a series of six bridges that leapfrog the islands of the Inland Sea carrying both trains and cars It has since been joined by the Akashi Kaikyō Ōhashi suspension bridge connecting Shikoku to Honshū via Awaji shima the island to the west of Tokushima and the Nishi Seto Expressway running along ten bridges spanning nine islands on Shikoku s northern coast Most of Shikoku s population of just over four million lives in one of the island s four prefectural capitals Takamatsu Tokushima Kōchi and Matsuyama The island is split by a vast mountain range that runs from Tsurugi san in the east to Ishizuchi san Shikoku s tallest peak in the west The northern coast facing the Inland Sea is heavily developed in contrast to the predominantly rural south where the unimpeded kuroshio black current of the Pacific Ocean has carved a rugged coastline of sheer cliffs and outsized boulders The climate throughout the island is generally mild although the coasts can be lashed by typhoons and the mountains see snow in the winter Apart from the highlights listed other places to consider building into a trip to this part of Japan include the lovely Inland Sea island of Shōdo shima the whirlpools at Naruto and Hiwasa where turtles come to lay their eggs each summer With more time you could hit Shikoku s southern coast for the dramatically rocky capes at Ashizuri and Muroto and explore the Shimantogawa one of Japan s most beautiful rivers In the prefectural capitals you ll find a wide range of hotels restaurants and bars as well as international centres and tourist information offices while the island s famous 88 temple pilgrimage means that even in the countryside you re unlikely to be stuck for accommodation Read More More about Japan Features Where Next Check out Northern Honshu Book a hostel in Japan Travel Offers Travel insurance Hotels Hostels Car hire Tours Explore Takamatsu and around Kotohira Tokushima Matsuyama and around Find out more The City Uwa cho Ozu Uchiko The Shikoku pilgrimage The Shikoku pilgrimage Wherever you are in

    Original URL path: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/japan/shikoku/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Kyūshū Guide | Japan Travel | Rough Guides
    like two to do the region justice allowing time for the splendid mountainous interior and a few of the more far flung islands Closer to Korea than Tokyo Kyūshū has long had close links with the Asian mainland and its chief city Fukuoka is an important regional hub An energetic city on the island s heavily developed north coast Fukuoka is worth a stop for its museums modern architecture and vibrant nightlife If you ve only got a couple of days on Kyūshū however Nagasaki represents the best all round destination Though its prime draw is the A Bomb museum and related sights the city also has a picturesque harbour setting a laidback cosmopolitan air and a spattering of temples and historical museums From here it s a short hop east to Kumamoto famous for its castle and landscaped garden and the spluttering smouldering cone of Aso san This is great hiking country while hot spring enthusiasts will also be in their element from Kurokawa Onsen s delightful rotemburo to the bawdy pleasures of Beppu on the east coast The mountain village of Takachiho requires a fair detour but it s worth it to see traditional dance performances depicting the antics of Japan s ancient gods The island s southern districts contain more on the same theme volcanoes onsen and magnificent scenery Highlights include Sakurajima one of the world s most active volcanoes which looms over the city of Kagoshima while the lush island of Yakushima roughly 100km south of Kyūshū sports towering thousand year old cedar trees Brief history The ancient chronicles state that Emperor Jimmu Japan s legendary first emperor set out from southern Kyūshū to found the Japanese nation in 660 BC Though the records are open to dispute there s evidence of human habitation on Kyūshū from before the tenth century BC and by the beginning of the Yayoi period 300 BC 300 AD the small kingdom of Na as it was then known was trading with China and Korea Local merchants brought rice farming and bronze making techniques back to Japan while in the twelfth century monks introduced Zen Buddhism to northern Kyūshū Less welcome visitors arrived in 1274 and 1281 during the Mongol invasions under Kublai Khan The first ended in a narrow escape when the Mongols withdrew and the shogun ordered a protective wall to be built around Hakata Bay By 1281 the Japanese were far better prepared but their real saviour was a typhoon subsequently dubbed kami kaze or wind of the gods which whipped up out of nowhere and scattered the Mongol fleet on the eve of their massed assault Three hundred years later in 1543 the first Europeans to reach Japan pitched up on the island of Tanegashima off southern Kyūshū Finding an eager market for their guns among the local daimyō the Portuguese sailors returned a few years later bringing with them missionaries among them the Jesuit priest Francis Xavier Within fifty years the Catholic Church now also represented

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  • Okinawa Guide | Japan Travel | Rough Guides
    of this wealth of wildlife is underwater spawned by the warm Kuroshio Current that sweeps up the east coast and allows coral reefs to flourish But there are a number of endemic species on land too including turtles a crested eagle and the noguchigera Pryer s woodpecker in addition to Iriomote s wild cat the yamaneko A less welcome local resident is the highly venomous habu snake It measures around 2m in length is dark green with a yellow head and usually lurks in dense vegetation or on roadsides though rarely ventures into urban areas As long as you re careful especially during spring and autumn you should have no problems if you are bitten make for the nearest hospital where they should have antiveni With its subtropical climate Okinawa stays warm throughout the year Average annual temperatures are around 23 C with a winter average of 17 C and a minimum of 10 C Winter lasts from December to February while the hot humid summer starts in April and continues into September Temperatures at this time hover around 34 C and the sun can be pretty intense though the sea breezes help The best time to visit is in spring or autumn roughly March to early May and late Sept to Dec The rainy season lasts from early May to early June while typhoons can be a problem in July and August and occasionally into October Brief history In the fifteenth century the islands that now make up Okinawa were united for the first time into the Ryūkyū kingdom governed from Shuri Castle in present day Naha This period is seen as the golden era of Ryūkyū culture Trade with China the rest of Japan and other Southeast Asian countries flourished while the traditionally non militarized kingdom maintained its independence by paying tribute to China But then in 1609 the Shimazu clan of Kagoshima southern Kyūshū invaded The Ryūkyū kings became vassals to the Shimazu who imposed punitive taxes and ruled with an iron hand for the next two hundred years using the islands as a gateway for trade with China when such contact was theoretically outlawed by the Togukawa Shogunate When the Japanese feudal system was abolished in the 1870s the islands were simply annexed to the mainland as Okinawa Prefecture Against much local opposition the Meiji government established a military base and tried to eradicate local culture by forcing people to speak Japanese and swear allegiance to the emperor forbidding schools to teach Ryūkyū history By the early twentieth century Okinawa had been fairly successfully absorbed into Japan and became a key pawn in Japan s last line of defence during the Pacific War Following the battle of Iwō jima in March 1945 the American fleet advanced on Okinawa and after an extensive preliminary bombardment referred to locally as a typhoon of steel the Americans invaded on April 1 1945 It took nearly three months of bitter fighting before General Ushijima the Japanese commander committed suicide and

    Original URL path: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/japan/okinawa/ (2016-02-16)
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