Japan

Mt. Fuji

Japan is a fascinating land of towering mountains, volcanos, valleys, coastlines and an even more fascinating history and culture.

Evidence suggests that Japan was inhabited as long as 30,000 years ago. The influence of China in the country was determined early on when in 607 AD Prince Shotoku sent a mission to China with the purpose of importing to Japan aspects of Chinese culture such as Chinese literacy, Buddhism, art, and principles of Chinese rule. Prince Shotoku also drafted Japan’s first government constitution, the 17 Article Constitution. This set the foundation for a Japan ruled in Chinese style and created an elite culture unrivaled in Japanese History that lasted until the 12th century. The next two eras, the Nara and Heian, are known as the “classical age” of Japan. The Nara period was characterized by continued importation of Chinese culture and the spread of Zen Buddhism which was introduced (along with the tea ritual) by a monk named Eisai. The Heian became the height of classical culture in ancient Japan. The samurais later would look back to Heian as a source of elite culture.

Japan is a country with an extraordinary history, cultural charm, and amazing achievements. Its unparalleled cultivation of the aesthetics became an important dimension of its culture and resulted in the castles, shrines, temples and gardens that have attracted the interest of visitors for many decades.

TOKYO

Aman Tokyo swimming pool

Tokyo is the capital of Japan and the place where over 13 million people live, making it one of the most populous cities in the world. When the Shogun Tokugawa Leyasu established a government there in the early 17th century, the area started to develop, spreading out around his residence, Edo Castle. Most of the city was devastated by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and then again by the bombing in WWII, however, Tokyo was able to achieve a remarkably rapid recovery both times.

Tokyo is not only the political and economic center of Japan, it has also emerged as a center of the world economy and culture. There are a number of attractions in Tokyo that should not be missed. Many downtown areas, including Ginza where famous shops from around the world stand side by side, the sleepless Shinjuku that has become the “new city center of Tokyo,” Asakusa which is reminiscent of the traditional Edo (the former name of Tokyo), and Shibuya that starts the trends for the young people. Other unique areas include the computer town Akihabara, where numerous electronic shops compete against each other, attracting shoppers, and Tsukiji, an open-air wholesale fish market catering to shops and consumers everywhere in Japan.

NARA AND KYOTO

Red Tori Gate at Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Modeled on the capital of Tang China, Chang’an (Xi’an today), Nara was established as the first capital of Japan in 710AD. The city became famous for its architecture and Buddhist art. Although the structures remaining in Nara today were built in later centuries, many were constructed on sites dating to earlier years. While enjoying peaceful Nara Park you can see deer grazing on grass. One of the most beautiful spots is Sarusawa Pond, with its reflection of the Goju-no-to Pagoda offering a great opportunity to capture a memory of your trip.

Kyoto became the capital of Japan in the 8th century. It flourished as the center for Japanese politics, economy and culture for some 1,100 years, until the capital’s functions were transferred to Tokyo in the mid-19th century. There remain many temples and shrines in Kyoto that were built during this long period. Seventeen historic sites including Kiyomizo Temple and Nijo Castle, are inscribed as World Cultural Heritage Sites.

You may meet some ‘maiko’, young dancing entertainers, who walk in long hanging-sleeved kimonos in the Gion district, see the townscape characterized by popular 19th century style latticework, and visit the Nishijin weaving district, where they weave traditional ‘Nishijin-ori’ textiles with vividly colored threads. The festivals in Kyoto are also many and famous worldwide.