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Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, temples, giant buddhas, sushi, zen gardens, karaoke and comics.

I was lucky enough to live in Japan, near Tokyo, for 3 months during University and I fell in love with this country and the kindness and smiles of its people. I also took the opportunity to visit it by traveling by train to Kyoto and Hiroshima.

Tokyo 東京

Temples, Skyscrapers, Manga, Cosplay, Shops

Tokyo is divided into 23 districts and it would take a lifetime to see it all. Under the neighborhoods and monuments not to be missed.

Getting around Tokyo is easy, don't be impressed by the Japanese and the rivers of people. With the subway, the JR Yamanote Line you can reach the main stops (Ueno, Shinjuku, Shibuya, etc.) and you can use the Japan Rail Pass; one of its characteristics is that each stop has its own jingle and if by chance the trains are 1 minute late, the conductor will come and apologize, wagon by wagon.

Imperial Palace

The seat of the Japanese imperial family.

Located on the site of the Tokugawa shogun, the Imperial Palace was built in 1888 when the country's capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo and then rebuilt after the bombings of World War II.

The building is surrounded by walls, ditches and the entrance bridges can be seen; the interior is usually closed to the public except on January 2 (New Year's greetings) and February 23 (Emperor's birthday) when you can enter the park and see members of the imperial family. There are guided tours but they are not guaranteed every day (

The palace is located in the Chiyoda district, where you can also admire the Shinto shrine of Yasukuni where the most tragic moments in the history of Japan are remembered and the dead who fell for the Empire are remembered.


In Shibuya there is the famous crossing always very crowded and the statue of the dog Hachiko, near the famous crossing always very crowded. In Shibuya in the Love Hotel Hill there are also a high concentration of love hotels, with rooms with erotic settings available by the hour.


The heart of the city and nightlife. You can visit the National Garden (formerly part of the Imperial Palace) where you can admire the cherry blossoms in spring. and the Central Park.

Here is also the Kabukichō red light district, the largest in Japan with restaurants, bars, discos, pachinko halls (a very popular gambling game where a ball is thrown), love hotels and red light structures. Two other typical areas are the Golden Gai with 200 small restaurants and Omoide Yokocho with small and typical restaurants consisting only of the counter that serve ramen, soba, udon, yakitori, etc.


It is the historic district of the city with temples and typical shops. The symbol of the neighborhood is Kaminarimon, the gateway to Sensoji Temple built more than 1000 years ago. Sensoji is a Buddhist temple, the oldest in the city. Next door is the Asakusa Jinja, an Edo period shrine, where the annual Sanja Matsuri festival can be seen in May.

In the district there are also the Tokyo Sky Tree television tower (634 meters high) and the Asahi Beer Tower, the golden building of the famous beer.


Here are Takeshita Dori, the street full of youthful fashion and Omotesando, the street with high fashion boutiques, a sort of Tokyo's Champs-Elysees.

In this area there are also the Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine and the adjacent Yoyogi Koen park; the latter is one of the largest in the city and it is a must to take a walk or a picnic to see the unique side of Japan among the big-eyed girls, cosplay (dressed up as comic characters), rockabilly bands dancing and they do shows on the notes of 50's music.


This is heaven for lovers of electronics, manga, anime, video games and so much more. It seems to be in a huge district of shops and themed malls. Among others, Mandarake describes itself as the largest manga and anime store in the world.

Akihabara also has the Tokyo Dome baseball stadium (the national sport) and an amusement park. There are also Maid Cafes, restaurants, and bars where you are served by waitresses dressed in a cosplay theme from housekeepers.


Tokyo's largest and most beautiful park district. There are also several ancient temples such as Toshogu (dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Edo shogunate), Bentendo and Kaneiji museums and the zoo where pandas can be seen. Finally, in Ameyoko there are shops of all kinds; this was the place where American products were found after the war and in fact, Ame stands for American.


The district where the most important fish market in the world was located, is called Tsukiji which today has been moved to Toyosu, but the exterior of which can still be visited.

The area is also famous for the numerous theaters such as the Kabukiza, where you can watch Kabuki performances: ka (singing), bu (dance), and ki (skill) is a traditional theatrical form of Japan performed entirely by male actors with very heavy and elaborate costumes that bring social and historical drama to the stage.

There are also department stores such as Matsuya and Hankyu.


District of another type of theatre, the comic one of Rakugo.

Here is the Edo Period Six Poem Garden - the Rikugien - considered the most beautiful Japanese landscape garden in Tokyo together with the Koishikawa Korakuen; this reproduces in miniature 88 scenes from famous poems.


Perfect neighborhood for nightlife and to experience the adrenaline of the high-altitude view that the Japanese like so much. There are several towers that you can climb to see the panorama and here is the Tokyo City View is an observation point above the roof of the skyscraper with a 360° view of the city both day and night. Not far away is also the symbol of the city and of the post-war rebirth, the 333-meter-high Tokyo Tower with the first main hall at a height of 150 meters. There are also free viewpoints scattered across various buildings in the city.

Studio Ghibli is famous all over the world for its unique anime like “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Princess Mononoke”, “Howl's Moving Castle”, “Spirited Away” and many more. The museum was born from the idea of Hayao Miyazaki and shows how an animated film is made, together with the studies and short films produced by the studio. It gathers enthusiasts from all over the world and it is better to book tickets well in advance.

Nikko e Cascate Kegon

Nikko is a magical place with Shinto and Buddhist shrines in the middle of the forest. Here is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate who ruled Japan for over 250 years until the mid-1800s.

The shrine complex is richly decorated with more than a dozen Shinto and Buddhist buildings located in a beautiful forest

Great Buddha of Kamakura

Daibutsu 鎌倉大仏

The Daibutsu - or Great Buddha - of Kamakura dates back to the 13th century and is 11.3 meters high, earning the place of Japan's second tallest bronze buddha. It is the sacred symbol of Kamakura. It was once inside a temple like the Buddha of Nara, but over the centuries the temple has been repeatedly destroyed by the weather, so as to convince the faithful of Amida in 1498 to leave it exposed outside. Here Jodo Buddhism is venerated, which believes in the liberation of all beings and for this reason the Great Buddha welcomes everyone: saints and sinners, rich and poor, young and old.

In Kamakura you can also visit other temples such as Kencho-ji.

Ryokan, Onsen e Fuji

Frozen in time in Hakone

One of the musts of Japanese culture is the Onsen. Throughout Japan there are hot springs (onsen - marked by the symbol ♨) that feed public baths and spas inside ryokan.

There are some rules to follow to enter the spa: total nudity (in mixed spas you can keep a towel in the water), wash well first and never enter with your head up because the water must remain clean, don't make a mess but use a low tone of voice to enjoy relaxation. The water temperature is very hot at about 60 degrees, at first it seems to cook like a prawn in boiling water but as you enter it it becomes easy and super pleasant. Alcohol would be discouraged, but try as the Japanese do: buy a small bottle of plum liqueur (Umeshu) and soak it to warm it up, it's delicious.

The most famous destinations are Hakone with a view of Mount Fuji one hour from Tokyo, Beppu in Kyūshū where there are also the little monkeys to keep company, Kinosaki Onsen the city with 7 Onsen near Kyoto, very suggestive Takaragawa Onsen along the river two hours from Tokyo.

Ryōkan is traditional Japanese hotels: at the entrance, you leave your shoes to put on the typical slippers, the floor is in tatami, the doors are sliding in rice paper, the beds are futons placed on the floor which are placed in the wardrobe morning. In many structures, it is also possible to eat typical Japanese food.

Garden Zen and Thè

Kenrokuen in Kanazawa

The Kanazawa City Garden is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Japan. It is called Kenrokuen and is definitive as the garden of six elements combined: immensity, solemnity, planning, venerability, freshness, and landscapes. A very suggestive place: the combed sand, the symmetrically arranged rocks and the bubbling water invite you to calm and contemplation.

At the center of the park is the House of Thè, where you can enjoy the tea ceremony. I tried the matcha tea experience: it has an intense taste and a dense consistency, but in spring and summer it immediately makes the feeling of sultry heat go away and is rich in properties.

Kyoto 京都

The ancient capital and cradle of Japanese tradition

In Kyoto you can breathe the Japan of the past, here the tea ceremony, ikebana, the kabuki theater were born, here there is still the geisha district and the famous matsuri, typical religious festivals, are celebrated.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the most famous in all of Japan and a UNESCO heritage site since 1994. The temple was founded in 778 and takes its name from the sacred waters of the Otowa waterfall which is located under the temple terrace. Here you can admire a splendid view over the city and taste the pure water, which is said to bring wisdom, health and longevity.


Ginkaku-ji or Golden Pavillion, is a towering water temple covered in gold. It was the residence of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and after his death, it became a Zen temple. It is not possible to enter inside but from the gardens, you can see the statues on the first floor, while the second was the residence of the samurai. From Ginkaku-ji you can take the philosopher's walk (Tetsugaku-no-Michi): a half-hour walk for about 2 km along the canal until you reach the Nanzen-ji Temple,

Gion and the Geisha

Gion is the district famous for Geishas, also made famous by the many novels and films on this theme. You won't find geishas on every corner, but it is possible to see them strolling around with a little luck. Here the buildings are made entirely of wood as per tradition and house restaurants and tea houses where the geisha, or geiko in Kyoto parlance, offer their entertainment shows. The main street in Gion is Hanami-kōji.

Gion originated in the Middle Ages as a resting place for pilgrims to Yasaka Shrine. This ancient Shinto shrine is one of the most important in the city. In July of each year the matsuri is celebrated and thousands of faithful flock to it. In front of the main entrance, there are hundreds of lanterns that are lit in the evening, illuminating the entrance and making the atmosphere magical.

Fushimi Inari

The most impressive and important Shinto shrine in Japan. The more than 5,000 red torii (gates) that form a 4 km tunnel of paths distinguish it; the paths intersect to reach the top of the hill at about 233 meters (it takes two hours) and are transformed into magical and protected places where you can free your mind and feel at peace.


It is dedicated to the god Inari, protector of trade, rice, and sake and therefore of abundance; the torii are added upon a donation of the faithful and their names are engraved. Everywhere also statues and wood representing the fox: the sacred animal messenger of the god Inari: you can buy a wooden form, write your prayer and hang it together with the other foxes. The human statuettes that you will see instead are prayers for the souls of aborted babies.

Fushimi Inari is located in southern Kyoto, close to both JR Inari Station (carrying the Nara line) and Fushimiinari Station (carrying the Keihan Main line).

Mount Hiei

Together with Fushimi Inari, they are the most beautiful and mystical places I have seen.

Mount Hiei is a sacred place, where Shinto deities reside and where the main monastery of the Japanese Buddhist school Tendai is located. In fact, this was a center of great power capable of influencing the decisions of the Empire and here all the founders of the main Japanese Buddhist schools were trained. Emperor Shirakawa's famous statement "there are three things beyond my control: the floods of the Kamo River, the game of dice and the monks of Mount Hiei".

Founded in 788 by Saicho on the mountain that dominated the nascent capital to protect it from evil influences, the small temple grew and became a real monastic city, until its destruction by Oda Nobunaga in the 16th century.

Enryaku-ji is the name of the main temple of the mountain, while the Komponchu-do temple is one of the most fascinating in Japan and inside which there is a fire, next to which there is always a monk who feeds it and it says it has burned for 1200 years.

You can reach it by bus or by train and funicular, as I did. About


TodaiJi, Grande Buddha and the fawns

Nara is one of the oldest cities in Japan, the first capital from 719 to 794 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Todaiji Temple is one of Japan's most famous attractions, a Buddhist place of worship built entirely of wood with the Daibutsu-Den (or Great Buddha) inside. It is the largest in the world, 15 meters high; at the back is a pillar with a hole in the center and people who manage to cross it are said to receive some kind of illumination, but being a narrow space, only children usually succeed.

Around the temple live many deer and fawns that are used by tourists and come close to being fed.


Castle ofToyotomi Hideyoshi and butaman

In Osaka, you can admire the Castle (Osakajo) of 1583 wanted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who wanted it as the center of the new unified Japan under his control. It was the largest castle at that time, but the current one is a 1931 reconstruction.

North of the city, Minoo Park, one of the best places to see Momiji, changes color of leaves in autumn. Osaka is also home to traditional and popular Japanese puppet theater which can be seen at the Bunraku Theater. Not far away, the Shinsekai (New World), a colorful district full of restaurants and Asian food (here I ate the best butaman ever, they are Chinese steamed bread filled with savoy cabbage and meat). It was created in 1913 following the 1903 National Industrial Exhibition, which had brought over 5 million people in just a few months; in the center is the Tsutenkaku Tower, a nostalgic symbol of the area.

Castello di Himeji

Samurai and cherry blossoms

Close to Kyoto and Osaka and reachable by Shinkansen, Himeji is a mandatory stop especially in spring with the cherry blossoms when the colors contrast with the pure white of the castle. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of 12 castles that has maintained its original forms for over 400 years.

In 1333 a Samurai of the Akamatsu clan built a fort on the hill and over time a castle known today as Himeji was built in its place.

The Samurai (lit. to serve) were part of the military elite and followed Bushido, a code of honor that dictated the way of the warrior between rigid discipline, self-control and Zen meditation. They always wore the wakizashi, a short sword, while the Katana, a symbol of divine strength was carried into battle.


August 6th, 1945

For me, a history lover, Hiroshima was a stage of great value and extremely touching on a sentimental level. When I was there, you could also find elderly survivors recounting the events which led me to see the shadows on walls and floors of people who died at the time of the blast. Here the trees are still only half-grown and it's strange to see branches and leaves stretching only to one side.

The Peace Memorial Park stands on what was the heart of the city before the bombing. It includes the Cenotaph which honors and preserves the names of the 292,000 victims, the Dome of the atomic bomb (the only building in the city center which was not razed to the ground) the museum to understand in detail what happened, the honorary monument to the children (girl with an origami of a crane), the Tumulus which collects the ashes of some of the unidentified victims (about 70,000) and stands near the hypocenter of the bombing.


Itsukushima Torii

Miyajima is another magical place in Japan. Literally, in Japanese it means "shrine-island" and in fact, the shrine and its red torii are built on water. At low tide it is possible to walk under the torii but as soon as the tide rises everything seems to float in the sea. The sanctuary complex consists of several buildings connected by walkways and they are all supported by pillars above the sea. The island is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the small center, there are typical shops, many deer that roam freely and culinary delicacies to try absolutely the fried oysters and the sweet Momiji manju (kind of soft biscuits in the shape of a maple leaf filled with azuki jam).

The summit of Mount Misen can also be reached by cable car or with various paths.


Kenrokuen in Kanazawa

Forget the Italian sushi and get ready for flavors that will captivate you. In Japan the food is all very good and among the experiences not to be missed:

  • a real Kaiten-zushi (where the sushi comes with ribbon) here you will discover the true size of the sushi pieces and the flavour. Try the different types of tuna (maguro), the one with omelette (tamago) and eel (unagi) and drink strictly hot tea which helps digestion a lot.

  • takoyaki: a real drug! They are balls of fried batter with an octopus inside and then covered in sauces.

  • okonomiyaki: an omelette with soba inside and many other ingredients that make them space.

  • yakitori: grilled skewers with delicious sweet and sour sauces on top.

  • yakisoba (noodles with various ingredients), udon (in broth they are excellent), ramen, miso soup.

If they offer you fish with rice and miso soup for breakfast, don't be alarmed, it's normal for them. Everywhere you will find gyoza (Chinese grilled dumplings) as cheap, fast street food; while in supermarkets there are shelves of onighiri with various flavors (be careful to follow the instructions on the package to open them). Finally, if you are a serial experimenter Natto will win over you, they are fermented soybeans with a strong taste and smell of feet.

Japan Rail Pass and Shinkansen

The Japan Rail Pass is designed for temporary tourists and allows you to move freely in Japan; it includes:

  • all the means of Japan Railways, including the shinkansen which are very convenient for getting around in all the cities I mentioned above;

  • the JR shuttle bus services to and from the airport;

  • The Tokyo and Kyoto subways but only those of the JR, such as the Yamanote Line and the Chūo-Sōbu Line;

  • the JR ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima

  • other JR buses to Hokkaido, Kyushu, etc.




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