By Lisa Vivirito
Although Japan may seem like it's a world away (pretty much half a world) it is an unforgettable experience to take a tour and explore the culture and history of the Japanese people.
Japan is actually an archipelago, consisting of four major islands surrounded by more than 4,000 smaller islands. The main island, also the largest, Honshu, is the focus of the tour, which I am about to try to give you a taste of.
Honshu is the most populated island as well. Smaller than California, it contains more than four times as many people, three quarters of which are crowded into the narrow plain on the southeast coast of Honshu between Tokyo and Hiroshima.
This tour, which begins in Tokyo, is 11 days. Eleven days is a good amount of time not only since there is much to see, but it takes about 18 hours of flying time to get to Japan.
Once in Tokyo, you'll visit Meiji Shrine. Built in the early 1900s, the Shinto shrine is dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken.
The shrine consists of three areas surrounded by a manmade forest of 120,000 trees of 365 different species donated by people from all over Japan. The forest is visited by many people, as both a spiritual home and as a recreation and relaxation area center of Tokyo.
In Tokyo tourists can also visit the Asakusa Kannon Temple, also known as Sensoji. Legend has it that in the year 628 B.C., two brothers fished a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River. Even though they put it back, the statue always returned to them. As a result, Sensoji was built. The temple was completed in 645 B.C., making it Tokyo's oldest temple.
After passing through the outer gate of Sensoji, visitors come upon the Nakamise Shopping Arcade, a street lined with shops. Here people can buy typical Japanese souvenirs such as folding fans and yukata, inexpensive, informal leisurewear made of cotton. Traditional local snacks such as Osenbei (rice crackers) are also available.
From Tokyo, travelers visit Matsumoto, which is known as the gateway to the Japanese Alps. Here you'll visit Matsumoto Castle. The castle, which was built between 1593 and 1594, is public parkland. In the late 16th century, and for most of its history, it was surrounded by a triple moat and strong ramparts. The inner citadel and secondary citadels served as retrenchment and contained numerous storehouses for munitions, valuables and records.
The outer fortifications were the homes of the elite samurai.
Next visit Takayama, a charming rustic town where at the morning market every day fresh fruits and vegetables are brought in by local farmers. The historic San-machi Suji district, the traditional home of Takayama merchants and sake brewers, has been preserved in almost exactly the same state as 300 years ago. The inns, shops, and taverns trace their history back many generations. Within San-machi Suji and other parts of town there are many museums devoted to local crafts and traditions.
In Kyoto, the "heartland of Japan," see Nijo Castle. Nijo Castle was built in 1603 by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu as a residence for himself and his successors. It is famous for its Momoyama architecture, decorated sliding doors, and floors that squeak when someone walks on them. In Kyoto you'll also visit the Heian Shrine and Garden, and the Temple of the Gold Pavilion.
Lisa Vivirito is owner of Diamond Travel in Vero Beach. Call her at 772-567-8481 or 800-795-1986.On the web: www.