Asia

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Asia.

northern-tokyo

Beautiful Places To See in Northern Tokyo

The northern districts of Ueno and Asakusa contain what remains of Tokyo’s old Shitamachi (low city). Once the heart and soul of culture in Edo, Shitamachi became the subject of countless ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Merchants and artisans thrived here, as did Kabuki theater and the Yoshiwara pleasure district near Asakusa.

One of the last great battles in Japan took place in Ueno in 1868 when the Emperor Meiji’s forces defeated the Tokugawa shogunate. Ueno and Asakusa are the best parts of Tokyo for just strolling and observing. Life in Asakusa still revolves around the bustling Senso-ji Temple, its main approach packed with shops. Ueno is dominated by its huge park containing the National and Shitamachi Museums, among others.

It is still possible to find pockets of narrow streets lined with tightly packed homes, especially in the Yanaka area, which escaped destruction by war and earthquake. Shopping is a pleasure in Northern Tokyo: as well as the traditional arts and crafts shops near Senso-ji Temple, there are specialists in plastic food in Kappabashi-dori, religious goods in neighboring Inaricho, and a wide variety of goods at Ameyoko Market.

Ueno Park

ueno-park

Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun, built the Kanei-ji Temple and subtemples here in the 1600s to negate evil spirits from the northeast. Judging by how long theTokugawas lasted, it was a wise move.

In 1873, five years after the Battle of Ueno, when the last supporters of the shogun were crushed by imperial forces, the government designated Ueno a public park. Always a popular spot, it has figured in many wood­block prints and short stories. Shinobazu Pond (actually three ponds) is an annual stop for thousands of migrating birds. Several museums and temples are here, as is Japan’s oldest zoo.

Tokyo National Museum

tokyo-national-museum

The group of buildings that makes up the Tokyo National Museum is in a compound in the northeast corner of Ueno Park; tickets to all buildings are available at the entrance gate. The Honkan is the main building. To its east is the Toyokan. The 1909 Beaux-Arts Hyokeikan is usually closed to the public and opens only for special exhibitions. Behind it is the Gallery of Horyu-ji Treasures, containing stunning objects from Horyu-ji Temple, near Nara, and the Heiseikan. More than 110,000 items make up the collection – the best assembly of Japanese art in the world – and the displays change frequently.

Tokyo National Museum: Toyokan

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Opened in 1968, the Toyokan (Asian Gallery) displays an excellent and eclectic collection of non-Japanese Eastern art that ranges from textiles to sculpture and ceramics. Many of the exhibits are from China and Korea -a consequence of these countries historic ties with Japan. The layout of the three floors is in a rough spiral, and a well-marked route guides visitor through the collection.

Tokyo National Museum: Heiseikan

tokyo-national-museum-heiseikan

Built in 1993 to commemorate the Crown Prince’s wedding, the Heiseikan houses major temporary exhibitions and a superb collection of Japanese archaeological artifacts. Its modern facilities do full justice to the fascinating displays.

The first floor houses the Japanese archaeology gallery, with items from 10,000-7,000 BC onward. The temporary exhibitions on the second floor are of mainly – but not only-Japanese art. Captions are in English and Japanese.

Shitamachi Museum

shitamachi-museum

This museum is dedicated to preserving the spirit and artifacts of Shitamachi. The 50,000 exhibits include recreations of Edo-era shops, traditional toys, tools, and photographs, all donated by Shitamachi residents.

Yanaka District

yanaka-district

This quiet area is rewarding to wander through because it survived the 1923 earthquake and bombing of World War II. It preserves something of the feel of old Shitamachi with tightly packed houses in narrow alleys, and traditional food stalls selling rice crackers and old- fashioned candy.

The large Yanaka Cemetery is a must-see in cherry-blossom season. Inside is Tenno-ji, a temple with a large bronze Buddha dating from 1690. Nearby are tea shops and florists. To the west of Tenno-ji is the Asakura Museum of Sculpture, home of sculptor Fumio Asakura (1883-1964). On the second floor is a delightful room full of his small statues of one of his favorite subjects – cats – but the garden is the real highlight with a traditional composition of water and stone. Sansaki-zaka, the area’s main street, has some traditional shops. The understated Daimyo ClockMuseum has 100 Edo-era clocks lovingly presented.

asakura-museum-of-sculpture

Ameyoko Market

ameyoko-market

One of the great bazaars in Asia, Ameyoko is a place where almost anything is available, almost always at a discount. In Edo times, this was the place to come and buy ame (candy).

After World War II black-market goods, such as liquor, cigarettes, chocolates, and nylons started appearing here, and ame acquired its second meaning as an abbreviation for American (yoko means “alley”). An area of tiny shops packed under the elevated train tracks, Ameyoko is no longer a black market, but still the place for bargain foreign brands, including Chanel and Rolex. Clothes and accessories are concentrated under the tracks, while foods, including a huge range of seafood, line the street that follows the tracks.

Inaricho District and Kappabashi-dori

Inaricho is the Tokyo head­quarters for wholesale religious goods. Small wooden boxes to hold Buddhas and family photos, paper lanterns, bouquets of brass flowers (jouka), Shinto household shrines, and even prayer beads can be found here.

Kappabashi-dori, named after the mythical water imp (kappa) who supposedly helped built a bridge (bashi) here, is Tokyo’s center for kitchenware and the source of the plastic food displayed in almost every restaurant window. Although the “food” is for sale, prices are much higher than for the real thing.

Tokyo Skytree

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At 634 m (2,080 ft), this is the tallest building In Japan. While its main function is broadcasting, it also hosts a large mall, aquarium, planetarium, and restaurants. The Tembo Deck, at 350 m (1,150 ft) above ground level, offers 360-degree views across Tokyo, and another viewing deck, Tembo Galleria, is at 450 m (1,475 ft).

The Indian Lifestyle Will Make You Feel Special

With more than half a million people of Indian origin living in London, it’s possible to taste the entire subcontinent without ever leaving the UK. On Shared City’s Tour & Thali, local guide Nidhi introduces the Gujarati community along Wembley’s Baling Road, visiting an intricately carved Hindu temple as well as sari and spice shops. Stops for street food and a thali meal are included. Get a double helping of Indian cuisine by spending the next day with home chef Monisha, who in nearby Hounslow teaches cookery classes ranging from South Indian vegetarian dishes to mastering the art of a good dosa.

Wembley Central Shopping Centre

Wembley Central Shopping Centre

  • ARRIVE – Wembley Central and Hounslow West are the nearest stations for the tour and cooking class. Both connect to London’s major stations and airports.
  • STAY – Brook Green Hotel is less than half an hour by tube from Hounslow West.

 

art-village-karjat

Be Creative in Karjat – Maharashtra

A FINE BALANCE

“It needs to be centred” Ganga Kakadia says repeatedly. Centring, in this moment, refers to keeping the clay in the middle of the potter’s wheel, without wobbling. It’s a touch-and-go technique: if you try to mould the clay too hard, it collapses, and, if you don’t put any pressure at all, nothing happens. “Don’t think about the end, because things could go wrong at any point, and you need to be okay with that,” says Ganga. It’s easy to apply everything she’s saying about pottery to life as well. And just like in life, when you get it right, an almost overwhelming sense of liberation takes over.

karjat

Art Village – Karjat

Painter, illustrator and writer Ganga, along with her husband Kunal and a motley group of theatre folk, filmmakers, sculptors, architects and other artistes, has set up the Art Village in Karjat on family-owned property.

It’s meant to be a space for artistes and art enthusiasts, but the Earth Stay programme allows non-artists to live here and reap the benefits of this place too.

You know you’ve reached the right place as you roll up on the gravelled driveway and see a cluster of well- designed thatched mud homes, which have a low carbon footprint.

It’s a lesson in sustainable architecture, ideal for the sense of slow living that permeates the property. The living area of this “village” comprises three cottages, with walls made from sun-dried bricks, and roofs thatched by a team of female artisans from Bhuj. But the room’s true beauty lies in the outdoor bathroom quadrangle. A vertical garden with overflowing spider plants is the first thing you’ll see.

art-village-cottages

The mud cottages were designed by Bhuj-based Kiran Vaghela, who specialises in sustainable architecture

The loos have their own art installations – colourful recycled Corona bottles hang from the ceiling in one, while cut-outs of graphic art advocating feminist ideas adorn another.

Don’t spend all your time in the room though, as the outdoors is just as lovely. There’s a bed full of giant, happy-making sunflowers, with a ceramic mushroom totem pole erupting from between them. Stroll to the on-site nursery that brims with 40-year-old bonsai trees, orchids and ferns of every shape and size. It’s a horticulturist’s dream one that has been tended to by Ganga’s mother over decades.

 art-installation

The property is littered with art installations, like these assemblage artworks by Kunal Naik in the recreation area

There’s also lots of scope for cosying up with a book in a corner of the recreation area. If you don’t have your own, choose one from the property’s beautifully- illustrated books, or delve into its stock of art supplies to create your own masterpiece. Or, if any of the artistes are around, ask for a lowdown on their art -you could find yourself with pottery abilities you’d never known of before.

In the evenings, the staff at the village sets up a campfire (free). Plan in advance to barbecue chicken (they’ll help), and download a stargazing app to make the most of the clear night skies away from the city.

The property is close to trekking trails, so, if you don’t want to be lethargic, ask for a guide.

Stomp on giant dried-up leaves, stay away from the thorny barks of young silk cotton trees that would fit right into a horror film, and spot orange leopard butterflies.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you’ll realise Art Village is a work in progress. “That’s one of the cons of being an artist,” says Ganga, “Work is never quite finished.” Still, with a steady stream of ideas and a go-with-the-flow approach, there’s a lot that Art Village gets right.

FACT SHEET

GETTING THERE

Closest metro: Mumbai (55km) is two-and-a-half I to three hours away by road, depending on traffic.
Closest airport: Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (64km) is well connected i to other cities. Spicejet, GoAir, IndiGo, Jet Airways, Air India and Vistara fly to Mumbai from most major Indian cities.
Closest railhead: Karjat Railway Station (8km; KJT). Take the 11007 Deccan Express (leaves CSTM 7am, arrives KJT 8.43am) and return by the 11008 Deccan Express (leaves KJT 5.30pm, arrives CSTM 7.35pm). Local trains also run between Mumbai and Karjat. Autorickshaws ply from the station to the property.

WHERE TO STAY

Art Village: This recently opened property offers an Earth Stay programme for guests. Stay options here comprise three well-designed cottages, with two rooms in every cottage. Each room can accommodate four guests. Rooms are basic and not air-conditioned. Art Village shares space with Tooth Mountain Farms and Nursery, a cosy farmstay, which has a lap pool and a manmade lake.

bedroom-art-village

Rooms are basic but comfortable

On weekdays, guests at the village are permitted to use the pool. There are plans for film screenings, a library, hammam and meditation space in the future.

WHERE TO EAT

Earth Café: This is the Art Village’s kitchen and dining area. The kitchen staff is made up of locals from the neighbouring village, so expect home­- made food. Lunch and dinner generally sees a vegetarian spread with dishes like baingan bharta or chhole, along with dal, rice, yoghurt, rods and salad. Come tea-time, a flask of hot chai and biscuits stands ready on the counter.

The kitchen is open to guests – remember to replenish what you use. The market at Chowk Village offers fresh produce, as well as chicken and fish that you can ask the kitchen to barbecue for a pre-dinner snack.

kaziranga-national-park

The Beautiful Wilderness of Kaziranga National Park, Assam

RIVERSIDE RENDEZVOUS

Lodge

noun

  • a small house at the gates of a park or in the grounds of a large house.
  • a small, makeshift or crude shelter

or habitation, as of boughs, poles, skins, earth, or rough boards; cabin or hut.

Don’t make the mistake of calling Diphlu River Lodge (DRL) a resort, especially not when Mr Roy, the General Manager, is around. You’ll be quickly reprimanded for it. It is a lodge. They’re quite particular about such things, and all the better for it. It’s not much to look at – the cabins are largely bamboo, with thatched roofs, and the gazebo overlooks quite a small pond. But don’t let that fool you. They’ve got a good thing going.

diphlu-river-lodge

The generous use of bamboo extends to the dining area as well

Spend some time here and you’ll see.

Now, Kaziranga is very popular with tourists. In fact, it would be safe to say that it’s put Northeast India on the world tourist map. So, it’s no surprise that hotels and resorts of all shapes, sizes and budgets have sprung up like mushrooms in the monsoon. And they’re pulling out all the stops to grab eyeballs. Imagine a place in the middle of all this din that decides not to put up even a basic signboard at the entrance. That’s DRL for you. Although locating it is quite easy using Google Maps, it’s pointless unless you have a reservation. You can’t just drop in for a cup of tea, and that’s something you’ll appreciate immensely when you’re a guest there, like being on an island of solitude in the middle of mayhem.

gazebo

The gazebo overlooking the lily pond is ideal for an evening cuppa

The secret is service: unobtrusive and efficient. Perhaps it’s a skill they perfected when the Duchess of Cambridge was a guest, or maybe Kate came because they’d gotten it down pat. Even regular things like the turn-down service are made a bit better because of the attention to detail. No tea bags and milk powder in the rooms, here. There’s real milk in the mini fridge, and three types of tea leaves to choose from. But perhaps the best bit is that they only have one type of tariff, and it includes everything (see Where to Stay). Although it might seem like a tad much at first glance, it includes meals, safaris, guide fees, and even camera charges, which works out to be quite reasonable.

The property is on the banks of the Diphlu River, which runs along the southern border of Kaziranga, and its residents can often be spotted from the lodge. Large flocks of bar-headed geese can be seen feeding on the grassy banks of the river; rhinos, too, are known to make an appearance.

rhino-kaziranga-national-park

Rhino sightings are practically a given a Kaziranga National Park

But that’s no surprise considering the sheer density of wildlife in Kaziranga, which is what makes it such a big draw for wildlife enthusiasts. The alluvial flood plains of the Brahmaputra River feed a thriving ecosystem, and the greater one-horned rhinoceros is an almost-guaranteed sighting on elephant or jeep safaris. Apart from these, a boat ride on the Brahmaputra for a chance sighting of the Gangetic dolphin also comes recommended.

indian-roller

Indian Rollers are particularly brave, and pose happily for photos

Despite being situated along such a vibrant national park, it’s not just about the safaris at DRL. The folks here encourage you to try non-wildlife related activities, like tea garden visits and walks through rubber plantations, or just lazing back at the resort. As the evening sun bathes the mustard patch in a golden glow, and lilies tremble in the breeze, the gazebo becomes the best seat in the house at which to nurse your cup of tea till the stars come out.

FACT SHEET

GETTING THERE

Closest metro: Kolkata (1,148km)
Closest city: Guwahati (200km)
Closest airports: Salonibari Airport, Tezpu, is 68km away. Air India flies from Kolkata, with a stopover in Guwahati. But there are limited options to choose from. For more flexibility, fly into Guwahati. IndiGo, Jet Airways, Spicejet, Vistara, GoAir and Air India have daily, non-stop flights from Kolkata.

Diphlu River Lodge is a four-hour drive away.

WHERE TO STAY

Diphlu River Lodge: The lodge offers 12 cabins, all of which are built on stilts. Of these, eight are seperate and two cabins are semi-detached cottages.

Pick one of the four cabins that overlook the river, like Kate Middleton and Prince William did. The decor is unostentatious and rooms are large and well-appointed, with each opening into a small balcony. Beware of the jet sprays in the toilets, though. The force of the water is so high that a firm squeeze can cause a recoil almost like that of a small firearm.

WHERE TO EAT

All meals are served at The Machan restaurant in the common area.

The dining area opens out into two verandahs, one of which overlooks the Diphlu River. All meals are served buffet-style, with select items like omelettes and parathas  being prepared on demand. Usually every few days, one meal is a traditional Assamese spread.

bangkok-food

A Culinary Tour through Bangkok’s Best Restaurants

IT’S THAI-M TO EAT!

There are two things you’ll notice in Bangkok – one, someone is always eating and two, the food is so delicious that pretty quickly, that someone is you. Apart from the freshest fruit ever, satay sticks on the street, that international bestseller pad Thai and wholesome beefy stews with noodles (burp!), Bangkok also has a list of must-eat dishes and must-visit joints.

Let’s start with the lazy gourmet’s shortcut – the Bangkok Food Tours. Let someone tell you to eat, repeatedly, and constantly, through the city for at least four hours. Offering over 10 tours across options like day and night, walking, floating and tuk-tuk, meals at local homes, modern and ancient cuisine and more, these tours are value for stomach.

If a tour is not for you and you’d rather soak in the city (and the flavours) on your own, start with Rosabieng, a local place blissfully devoid of the more vapid kind of tourist. Come here for a huge range of authentic cuisine, with stand-out dishes like the best fried chicken wrapped in pandan leaves, fantastic tomyum, and green curry. This rustic wooden-house-turned restaurant is famous for its fresh, coconut-based dishes and homemade custard apple ice cream.

Or you could dabble in the new wave of Thai cooking at Paste Bangkok.

Paste specialises in artisanal Thai food, with traditional, locally-sourced produce and modern presentation. Be warned: the sea bass curry and duck salad with banana flowers has reduced many a critic to happy tears – luckily, the service is excellent, so at least napkins are at hand.

blue elephant restaurant bangkok

The Blue Elephant offers great royal Thai cuisine, current faves as well as fusion dishes

During your stay, you must plan to eat at The Blue Elephant once.

Billed as a bastion of outstanding royal Thai cuisine, it offers a fine-dine experience across Thai curries, sauces, seafood, meats and more. Located in a lovely century-old heritage building, this is where your tastebuds die and go to heaven. Luckily, the Thais believe in reincarnation – and your tastebuds will come alive at your next meal, with the aroma of tomyum soup at Saw Nah Wang.

tom-yum-soup

Saw Nah Wang’s tom yum soup is the stuff of legend

Beloved Thai staple lemongrass is married with lime leaves, soy sauce and coconut milk to produce a union that every beaming mama will approve of. Frequently ordered with shrimp, Saw Nah Wang’s tomyum soup can also be spiced up or down with fresh chilli and garlic. Feel free to also slip an order of meephat krachet into your meal. These angel-hair­like rice flour noodles make for a slurpy accompaniment or even combine into a noodle-y broth, khowsuey-style – or can be dipped into your soup.

Contrast the multi-course wonders of these restaurants with the romantically- named The Never Ending Summer, another justly famous Thai restaurant, located by the Chao Phraya River.

never-ending-summer-restaurant

The Never Ending Summer Restaurant

With its rustic-industrial-chic ambience, this restaurant is a melange of traditional and modern, offering both familiar classics and reinterpreted favourites.

Meat dishes, like the grilled pork collar and seafood dishes, like the deep-fried soft shell crab spicy salad, are the most acclaimed, seen on quite a few tables.

bangkok-eat

In bangkok, people enthusiastically follow the “live to eat” mantra

And, finally, for those for whom it’s always duck season, there’s Charoeng Wiang Pochana Restaurant. Play safe with traditional, roasted lean duck on steamed rice, with cucumber and ginger on the side. Or roasted duck sticks with egg noodles. Or take home a vacation story to beat all, with juicy, flavourful fried duck feet wrapped in intestine – clear proof that, sometimes, foot in mouth can be a good thing.

FACT SHEET

GETTING THERE: Closest city: Suvarnabhumi Airport (23km) Air India, IndiGo, Jet Airways, Spicejet, Malindo, Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines fly to Bangkok from Mumbai and New Delhi.

GETTING AROUND: Private cars, taxis or tuk-tuks can be hired in Bangkok. Negotiate, negotiate and negotiate before you get into either. Radio taxis are also a convenient and affordable option to get around.

WHERE TO EAT

  • Bangkok Food Tours
  • Paste Bangkok
  • The Blue Elephant
  • Saw Nah Wang
  • The Never Ending Summer
  • Charoeng Wiang Pochana Restaurant
madhya-pradesh

Time Traveling in Madhya Pradesh

MAHESHWAR

ahilya-bai-fort

Ahilya Bai Fort

A town on the banks of the River Narmada, Maheshwar has had spiritual significance since the time of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, as it is believed to be what was then called Mahishmati. Bursting with folklore, history and culture, its myths and tales are fascinating to listen to. The streets of Maheshwar are lined with colourful wooden houses with hanging balconies, a contrast to the old temple architecture.

This town, which sometimes feels like a miniature Varanasi, attracts sadhus, pilgrims and tourists to its ghats and temples, rich in tales dating back to the holiest era of Hinduism. The Ahilya Bai Fort, inside which the Holkar queen built a palace, is popular with visitors for the archaeological museum and the life-sized statue of Rani Ahilya Bai. It is also where you can find Maheshwari saris and fabric with their unique reversible borders.

UJJAIN

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Ram Ghat

The ancient city of Ujjain is steeped in history dating back over 5,000 years, and was once the capital of a big empire. It is home to one of the WJyotirlingas, and it is believed that the city has never faced destruction because Mahakal, the God of Destruction, resides here.

Ram Ghat is the most popular of Ujjain’s riverside ghats; it is where Lord Ram is believed to have performed his father’s last rites. The ghats are ethereal at dawn and dusk, with cymbals reverberating and candles floating on the waters of the River Shipra. Also visit ved Shala, a  complex observatory which has five structures used to track and observe celestial bodies and time. According to the Puranas, of the seven cities that can provide salvation, Avantika (as Ujjain is also referred to) is considered the most beneficial to visit.

MANDU

jahaz-mahal-mandu

Jahaz Mahal

Embellished with Afghan architecture amid grounds dotted with baobab trees that boast African descent, the majestic palaces and gateways of Mandu are quite out of the fables your grandparents told you.

Twelve darwazas wall the city – take a walk and delve into the history and era of kings. A 10th-century fortress retreat, Mandu has what is considered the biggest fort in India. A memorial to the love between Rani Roopmati and Sultan Baz Bahadur, Roopmati’s Pavilion,  perched on the edge of the plateau, overlooking the plain below is the most beautiful of them all. A ship made of stone and mortar, Jahaz Mahal looks as though it is about to set sail, paying witness to the golden age of Mandu as it floats over the lake. The Jami Masjid was inspired by the Great Mosque of Damascus and Hoshang Shah’s Tomb,  which went on to inspire the Taj Mahal, and is India’s first marble monument. Take a bicycle tour and explore the history of regal invasions, with tombs, forts, palaces and monuments that stand tribute to a bygone era.

INDORE

lal-baag-palace

Lal Baag Palace

With its lively bazaars and cosmopolitan culture, Indore is a commercial dynamo.

The indo-Gothic Gandhi Hall, earlier known as the King Edward Hall, is made of Seoni stones, and its domes are impressive, it hosts several exhibitions through the year and also has a temple, library and children’s park.

One of the most stunning buildings is the three­storeyed Lai Baag Palace,  on the outskirts of the town on the banks of the River Khan, which was built by Maharaja Shivaji Rao Holkar.

The central Museum showcases the history of the Holkar Dynasty, and houses a rare and admirable collection of Parmer scriptures, coins, armours and artifacts. A fine example of the grandeur of the Holkar Dynasty’s architecture, the Holkar Palace, or Rajwada, is two centuries old, and features imperial gardens, fountains and an artificial waterfall.

BURHANPUR

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Raja ki Chhatri

The town of Burhanpur, on the north bank of the River Tapti, has many significant monuments like Biwi ki Masjid, Badshahi Qila, Khooni Bhandar,

Raja ki Chhatri and the Jami Masjid. Raja ki Chhatri was constructed under Emperor Aurangzeb in memory of Raja Jai Singh, the then- commander of the Mughal force in the Deccan.

Burhanpur has a major tribal population that includes the Gond, Pardhan and Korku peoples to name a few. It hosts several cultural festivals, of which the Gotmat Mela is an exquisite and renowned example.

tokyo-featured

Things to See in Central Tokyo

Situated to the north and west of the Sumida River, this area has been at the heart of Tokyo since the first shogun, Ieyasu, built his castle and capital where the Imperial Palace still stands today. Destroyed by a series of disasters, including the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Allied bombing in World War II, the area has reinvented itself several times over.

Ginza and Nihonbashi were commercial centers and are still thriving and prosperous, offering a mix of huge department stores and affluent side-street boutiques. For more down-to-earth shopping, there’s the Jinbocho area for books, Akihabara for discount electronics and software, and the Tsukiji Fish Market for the catch of the day.

Central Tokyo’s continuing political importance is evident in the Hibiya and Marunouchi districts, and the area is also home to two very different shrines: Kanda and Yasukuni. A selection of green spaces provides a respite from the frenetic bustle elsewhere.

  1. Ginza
  2. Kabuki-za Theater
  3. Tsukiji Fish Market
  4. Hama-rikyu Gardens
  5. Sumida River Trip
  6. Shiba Parkand Tokyo Tower
  7. Nihonbashi District
  8. Marunouchi District
  9. Tokyo International Forum
  10. The Diet Building
  11. Imperial Palace
  12. Kitanomaru Park
  13. Yasukuni Shrine
  14. Jinbocho Booksellers’ District
  15. Koishikawa Korakuen Garden
  16. Kanda Myojin Shrine
  17. Akihabara Electronics District
japan-festivals

Japan: The Country of Festivals (Matsuri)

Matsuri means both festival and worship, indicating the Shinto origins of Japanese festivals. Some are nationwide, others are local to individual temples and shrines. Matsuri are a link between the human and the divine, often marking stages in the rice-growing cycle (mainly planting and harvest) or historical events.

The aim of the matsuri is to preserve the goodwill of the deities (kami). All matsuri follow a basic form: purification (often by water or fire); then offerings; then a procession in which the kami is invoked at the shrine and escorted in a portable shrine (mikoshi) to a temporary dwelling where there is entertainment such as dancing or archery. The kami is then taken back to the shrine.

The Gion Matsuri:

gion-matsuri

Celebrated in Kyoto in July, is the city’s largest festival and dates back to the 9th century. This image shows one of the floats in procession during the festival parade.

Omizu-tori:

OMIZU-TORI

This festival has been celebrated at Todai-ji temple, Nara, since the 8th century to signal the advent of spring. Water is drawn from a sacred well and purified with fire from huge torches.

Takayama Matsuri:

TAKAYAMA MATSURI

Takayama Matsuri takes place in spring and fall. Spectacular floats are escorted from the Hie Shrine through the town by people dressed in Edo- period costumes.The aim is to placate the kami of plague.

Rice festivals:

rice-festival

Rice festivals all over Japan were central to the matsuri cycle, but have declined as agri­cultural techniques have changed. Women plant the rice in spring, symbolically passing their fertility to the crop. Fall festivals give thanks for the harvest.

Aoi Matsuri:

aoi-matsuri

Aoi Matsuri, or the Hollyhock Festival, in Kyoto, originated in the 6th century. Participants in Heian-period costume parade from the Imperial Palace to Shimogamoand Kamigamo shrines, re-creating thejourney of imperial messengers who were sent to placate the gods.

Nebuta Matsuri:

 NEBUTA-MATSURI

Nebuta Matsuri, held in Aomori in August, is one of Japan’s most spectacular festivals, featuring huge paper lanterns. At the end they are carried off to sea as a symbol of casting away anything that might interfere with the harvest.

Obon, the Buddhist Festival of the Dead:

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Bon Odori Dancers at Obon Festival

Obon, the Buddhist Festival of the Dead, takes place in mid- July or mid-August. Ancestors are welcomed back to the world of the living and then bid farewell again. Bon Odori, hypnotic outdoor dancing, takes place.

Tanabata Matsuri:

TANABATA MATSURI

Tanabata Matsuri in July is known as the Weaver, or Star, Festival. Based on a Chinese legend, it is said to be the only day when the two stars Vega (the weaver) and Altair (the herdsman) can meet as lovers across the Milky Way. People write down wishes and poems and hang them on bamboo poles.

Kanda Matsuri, Tokyo:

KANDA-MATSURI

Held in May in alternate years, this festival is one of Tokyo’s largest. Numerous floats and portable shrines are paraded through the streets of Tokyo to placate the gods of Kanda Myojin Shrine. In addition to communicating with the gods, the festival encourages a sense of community.

Jidai Matsuri, or the Festival of the Ages:

jidai-matsuri

Jidai Matsuri, or the Festival of the Ages, is a relatively new matsuri. It was initiated in 1895 to commemorate Kyoto’s long history. Dressed in historical costumes dating from the 8th century onward, people parade from the Imperial Palace to the Heian Shrine.

kyushu-japan

Best of Kyushu in 7 Days

Airports – Arrive at Fukuoka Airport and depart from Kagoshima Airport.

Transport – It’s about 2 hours by train from Fukuoka to Nagasaki. Traveling from Nagasaki to Kumamoto takes 2 hours and 40 minutes, and it’s 2 hours and 20 minutes from there to Aso. Beppu is 2.5 hours from Aso. The best way of visiting Takachiho is to hire a car in either Kumamoto or Aso.

Going from Kumamoto to Kagoshima by Shinkansen takes 1 hour and 40 minutes. If you are not flying out of Kagoshima, the return trip to Fukuoka by Shinkansen takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Day 1

fukuoka-yatai

Dining at a yatai (street food stall) in the center of Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Kyushu’s biggest city, is a fine intro­duction to the charms of Japan’s largest southern island. Meet friendly locals by pulling up a chair at one of the city’s many famous yatai (outdoor food stalls) and ordering a bowl of ramen noodles. Fukuoka’s eye-catching modern architecture is best viewed at the Canal City and Hawks Town waterside developments. The Hakata Machiya Folk Museum show­cases arts and crafts associated with local festivals and culture.

Day 2

lover-garden

Glover Garden – Nagasaki

Picturesque Nagasaki has a cosmopolitan vibe thanks to centuries of international trade. There’s plenty to see here, including Chinese temples and Catholic churches; a mansion that served as the setting for Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly in Glover Garden; Hollander Slope, the old hilltop concession where the foreign community lived in the 19th century; plus, the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park.

Day 3

kumamoto-castle

Kumamoto Castle

Its center dominated by Japan’s third-largest castle, Kumamoto is the ideal base from which to tour central Kyushu. Visit Suizen-ji Garden early in the morning to avoid the crowds; it’s a small stroll garden, taking only 30 minutes to walk around, leaving you plenty of time to tour the traditional crafts center.

Day 4

mount-aso

Mount Aso

The town of Aso is the base for sightseeing around one of the world’s biggest calderas, Mount Aso. Of the five volcanic cones within the 130-km (mile) circumference crater, Mount Nakadake is active, A cable car (ropeway) that goes up to its steaming summit is indefinitely closed due to safety concerns.

Day 5

hot-spring-inbeppu

Hot Springs at Beppu Resort

In the touristy onsen resort of Beppu drop by the Boiling Hells (Jigoku) to see bubbling pools of mud and mineral-colored waters. On the beach, experience being buried up to your neck in hot sand. Then head 25 km (miles) inland to stay at the smaller, more refined onsen town of Yufuin, set next to serene Lake Kinrin.

Day 6

takachiho-gorge

Takachiho Gorge

Takachiho is at the heart of a mountainous area rich in local mythology and natural attractions, including caves associated with Shinto deities and the spectacular Takachiho Gorge, which you can see from river level in a rowboat.

Day 7

sakurajima-volcano

Sakurajima Volcano

With the smoking bulk of Sakurajima Volcano brooding across the bay, Kagoshima has an unforgettable setting. Take a boat out to the volcanic island for a closer look and for a dip in one of its onsen, Kagoshima has several pleasant gardens, includ­ing Sengan-e, (also known as Iso-teien), a well-designed aqua­rium, and a decent art museum.

To extend your trip…

The Saga Pottery Towns Tour, around Karatsu Bay, will appeal to ceramics enthusiasts.

For a taste of tropical Japan, fly to Na ha City, the capital of the southern archipelago of Okinawa.

japanese-cuisine

A Splendid Tour of Central Japan and Its Traditional Cuisine

Airports – Arrive and depart from Narita or Haneda airports, both serving Tokyo. An alternative international access point is Chubu International Airport (Centrair), 30 km (miles) south of Nagoya.

Transport – Trains are generally the best way to get around the mountainous region, with Nagano con­nected to Tokyo by a Shinkansen line that also runs to Kanazawa. Hire a car in Kanazawa to travel around the Noto Peninsula. Bus (or hired car) is the best way to travel between Kanazawa, and Takayama. From there on, use the train to access the charming post towns of the Kiso Valley and connect with either Matsumoto or Nagoya.

The alpine regions of Central Honshu and the Japan Sea coast are the ideal places to sample a wide range of Japanese cuisines – from simple noodles to elegantly prepared banquets.

Day 1

The venerable temple of Zenko-ji is the prime attraction of Nagano, the gateway to the Japan Alps, From Nagano, you can also make a half-day trip to Jigokudani Onsen, the hot pools famous for attracting snow monkeys. Soba noodles made with buckwheat are a specialty here. If you pause in quaint Obuse on the way back from Jigokudani Onsen, you could also sample chestnut confectionery and good sake.

Day 2

Kaga ryori dishes

Kaga ryori dishes

Kanazawa, by the Japan Sea, has an illustrious heritage. Visit the impressive castle, the Nagamachi Samurai Quarter, and the Higashi (Eastern) Pleasure District of traditional teahouses. Other highlights include Kenroku-en Garden, one of Japan’s “great three” gardens, and the striking architecture and art on display at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Sample succulent sushi at Omicho Ichiba market, or seek out a restaurant serving the refined cuisine known as kaga ryori.

Day 3

noto-peninsula

Noto Peninsula

Freshly caught seafood is a must-try on a trip around the scenic Noto Peninsula. Continue to Wajima, a port at the northern end of the peninsula that hosts a daily market and is renowned for its high-quality lacquerware. On the way back to Kanazawa, take in the strange rock formations around Sosogi.

Day 4

shokawa-valley

Shokawa Valley

Three picturesque villages in the Shokawa Valley make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aim for Ogimachi, where there’s an architectural park that displays the distinctive thatched frame houses and other traditional buildings from the region. Guesthouses and restaurants here will serve sansei ryori (mountain vegetable dishes). Continue to Takayama for your overnight stop.

Day 5

Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall

Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall

Takayama is one of the most characterful towns in the Japan Alps. The Sannomachi Quarter is packed with wooden buildings housing cafes, shops, and sake breweries. Drop by the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall to see some of the elaborate floats used in the town’s twice-yearly festivals. Takayama is the place to sample mitarashi-dango – rice balls dipped in soy sauce and roasted on skewers.

Day 6

Kiso Valley

Kiso Valley

Of the 11 Edo-era post towns staged along the Kiso Valley, the most picturesque is Tsumago, where it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. Consider hiking part of the Nakasendo, the Edo-period stone-pathed post road that runs between Tsumago and Magome. Spend the night in one of the Kiso Valley’s traditional minshukus (B&B).

Day 7

matsomoto-castle

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto has a splendid 16th-century castle, the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, with its collection of woodblock prints, and the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, displaying works by local artist Yayoi Kusama, Sasamushi (eel steamed inside rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) is one of the town’s delicacies.

To extend your trip…

The lively metropolis of Nagoya offers a castle, the Tokugawa Art Museum, and several fascinating sights linked to its industrial heritage. The Fuji Five Lakes area has several lovely lakeside resorts; if the weather is favorable, you’ll be able to see and, depending on the season, climb Mount Fuji