HakoneHakone is a favorite weekend getaway for Tokyoites, offering everything from hot-spring resorts to magnificent views of Mount Fuji. Getting to Hakone is an experience in itself. Depart Tokyo on a high speed train, switch to a small mountain tram, and zigzag through forests and over streams. Enjoy unbelievable views as you ride a cable car and skim across Lake Ashi by boat before entering an alpine wonderland. Once in Hakone, soak up the stunning views while sitting in a small bath mixed with sake, or hike the Owakudani nature trail. For an authentic experience, stay in a ryokan; a traditional Japanese-style inn where guests can get a taste of traditional Japanese home life, experience sleeping on a futon and enjoy simple elegant rooms with tatami mats.
HiroshimaWith a population of more than one million, Hiroshima looks just like any other up-and-coming city in Japan. With modern buildings, industry, the manufacture of cars and ships, it’s a city full of vitality and purpose. Ironically, Hiroshima’s tragedy of 1945 is now the city’s largest tourist draw and visitors from around the world come to see Peace Memorial Park with its haunting museum. But Hiroshima, laced with rivers and wide, tree-lined boulevards, boasts other worthwhile attractions as well, including several excellent museums.
KyotoWith its Zen rock gardens and air of tradition, Kyoto is a city for lovers. Young couples drift down the Oi River in wooden boats glowing with red lanterns while older sweethearts stroll along the narrow streets of historic Eastern Kyoto. As home to 20% of Japan’s national treasures, Kyoto is a massive museum. The city boasts an impressive catalog of 1700 well-preserved Buddhist temples and 300 Shinto shrines. Kinkakuji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is one of Kyoto’s most famous and elaborate attractions. Featuring a three-story pavilion covered in gold-leaf and crowned by a phoenix, one has to shade their eyes from its brilliance. Join a small group and enjoy an authentic, hands-on experience such as a tea ceremony, flower arrangement class, calligraphy lesson, kimono fitting, origami design and even sushi making!
MiyajimaEasily reached in about 30 minutes from Hiroshima, Miyajima is a treasure of an island only 1.25 miles off the mainland in the Seto Inland Sea. No doubt you’ve seen pictures of its most famous landmark – a huge red torii, or shrine gate, rising out of the water. Erected in 1875 and made of camphor wood, it’s one of the largest torii in Japan and guards Miyajima’s main attraction, Itsukushima Shrine. This sacred island is covered with cherry trees that illuminate snowy petals in spring, and with maple trees that emblazon it in various shades of red and gold in autumn.
OsakaA merchant’s mecca, Osaka is Japan’s third largest city and its history is steeped in commercial pursuits. In the 16th century, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a powerful lord, built Japan’s largest castle and convinced merchants from all over Japan to travel to his port city and help it flourish. And flourish it did. Nowadays, Osaka’s waterfront is buzzing with ships and shopping centers, aquariums and adventure parks. Osaka is also rich in exciting cuisine and boasts an impressive arts community famous for its Kabuki and Bunraku Puppet Theater.
TokyoFrom its bright billboards and crowded sidewalks, one could confuse Tokyo for New York City, but hiding in the shadows of the skyscrapers, neatly clipped bonsai trees frame ancient wooden houses and kimono-clad women shuffle down narrow streets. Pass spring days under a pink cloud of fragrant cherry blossoms in Ueno Park, or awake early to witness the madness of a tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market. Sail down the Sumida River and make a grand entrance at Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, or feast your eyes on the world’s largest collection of Japanese art at the Tokyo National Museum.