Driving in Japan
We went to Japan by rental car, we rented the car starting from the day we left Tokyo, because in Tokyo it is much easier to use the metro instead. In Kyoto we used trains and the metro as well, but not every day.
Driving in Japan is not more difficult then in Europe. The roads are good and Japanese usually don’t drive very fast. Finding the right way though, can be a bit more challenging, because signs are not alway in English, but many are. We discovered that our navigation was most precise when we used telephone numbers as input. Although our navigation spoke English and showed English texts, typing addresses was only possible in Japanese characters, so that was not an option. The only times a telephone number was not available, was to the Chureito Pagoda in Fujikawaguchiko and to the phlox festival near Lake Motosuko.
Sensoji (浅草寺, Sensōji, also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple) is a Buddhist temple located in Asakusa. It is one of Tokyo‘s most colorful and popular temples.
The legend says that in the year 628, two brothers fished a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Consequently, Sensoji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, making it Tokyo‘s oldest temple.
When approaching the temple, visitors first enter through the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), the outer gate of Sensoji Temple and the symbol of Asakusa and the city of Tokyo.
Nakamise dori, a shopping street of over 200 meters, leads from the outer gate to the temple’s second gate, the Hozomon. Alongside typical Japanese souvenirs such as yukata and folding fans, various traditional local snacks from the Asakusa area are sold along the Nakamise. The shopping street has a history of several centuries.
Beyond the Hozomon Gate stands the temple‘s main hall and a five storied pagoda. Destroyed in the war, the buildings are relatively recent reconstructions. The Asakusa Shrine, built in the year 1649 by Tokugawa Iemitsu, stands only a few dozen meters to the left of the temple’s main building.
Various events are held throughout the year in the Sensoji Temple area. The biggest of them is the Sanja Matsuri, the annual festival of the Asakusa Shrine, held in May. Other events are the Asakusa Samba Carnival in August and the Hagoita-ichi (Hagoita Market) at which decorated wooden paddles used in the traditional game of hanetsuki are sold.
Tokyo Sky Tree
Shibuya crossing is said to be the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world, but what really makes it different from other crossings is that pedestrians cross diagonally as well. Because of this, people are crossing in all directions, which makes it seem like there are people everywhere.
Dedicated to the late 19th-century emperor who opened Japan to the West, Tokyo’s most famous Shinto shrine is wonderfully serene and austere, not colorful or flashy like other Asian places of worship, and is less of a tourist trap than Senso-ji, the big Buddhist temple across town in Asakusa. The 12 m high torii gate at the entrance
The Imperial Palace East Gardens
Fujikawaguchiko is situated at the shores of lake Kawaguchi with the famous mount Fuji at the background. It is a pleasant and relaxing area and a welcome intermezzo when visiting the big cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto.
Fuji Shibazakura Festival (富士芝桜まつり, Fuji Shibazakura Matsuri)
Nara was the capital of Japan before Kyoto
Kyoto is the main tourist destination of Japan. With 17 World Heratige Sites, there are many places worth a visit. We just visited a few of them
Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Golden Pavilion) is one of the most beautiful temples in Kyoto. It is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. Kinkakuji was the inspiration for the similarly named Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), built by Yoshimitsu’s grandson, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, on the other side of the city a few decades later.
Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond, and is the only building left of Yoshimitsu’s former retirement complex. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto; and once again more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.
Kinkaku-Ji can be reached by train, but there is a small parking space as well. We went there by car and there was enough space, but during high season it might be full.
Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.
Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion (orange) torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is well worth a visit, because it is totally different from most other temples in Kyoto. The orange gates stand out and give lots of opportunities to make photos. The temple can be reached by train, but you have to walk a little.