Nikko is a small town at the entrance to Nikko National Park, most famous for Toshogu, Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Another popular attraction is the red-lacquered Shin-kyō bridge. One of the popular places to visit in Japan, the national park offers scenic mountainous landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, wild monkeys and many hiking trails. While stunning scenery is available year ‘round, fall is an especially good time to visit Nikko. That’s when leaves transform the landscape with spectacular bursts of color.
Visitors who long for peace and quiet after the hustling pace of Japan’s big cities may want to head to the tourist town of Hida-Takayama where they can experience life in a rural setting. Located near the northern Japan Alps, Takayama is well known for having one of the best-preserved old towns in Japan. The prettiest section of the old city is called Sanmachi. It consists of three narrow lanes packed with wooden buildings housing sake breweries and little boutiques.
Nara, once known as Heijo, was the first permanent capital of Japan, established in 710. The capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784 when the government was threatened by powerful Buddhist monasteries. Located less than an hour from Kyoto, seeing Japan’s oldest and largest temples is a popular tourist activity. Visitors especially like Todaiji Temple with its cantilevered buildings, manicured lawns and deer strolling the grounds.
Kyoto today is the capital only of Kyoto prefecture, but it once served as the imperial capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years. Located on central Honshu Island, this city of 1.5 million people is known as the City of 10,000 Shrines because it has thousands of Shinto shrines, including the top rated Fushimi Inari Shrine, and Buddhist temples. Kyoto also is known for its lovely gardens and the Gion Matsuri festival, a July celebration that is considered one of the best in Japan.
Travelers who like to mingle with people will love Tokyo. The Japanese capital’s metropolitan area is the most populous in the world. From viewing spring cherry blossoms in traditional gardens to the fish market at Tuskiji. Tokyo blends the ancient with the new, from shrines to karaoke bars. Just walking the streets of this hyperactive city can be an energizing experience. When Tokyo’s pace gets too frenetic, visitors recommend unwinding at the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.