World Tour 2005: Japan

Everywhere Else

Places to Go, Things to Do

It's got a reputation for being a nice resort area, but the areas of Hakone I saw screamed "tourist trap" to me. Yes, the mineral baths are nice and relaxing — but there are lots of places you can enjoy those in Japan. You can skip Mt. Fuji, too — unless you're going to climb it or visit any of the horribly tacky theme parks around the base, its beauty is best enjoyed from a distance.

The Nikko Toshogu, the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, is one of the most outlandishly gaudy things you'll ever see. But like a fine roccoco painting, it somehow manages to sublimate its ostentatious opulence in the service of a truly impressive and imposing structure. I'm told the nearby Kegon Falls are also beautiful — but I have no way of knowing, as they were shrouded in fog the whole time I was there.

One of the most famous sights in Japan is the gargantuan torii of the Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima. Miyajima is a bit out of the way for most travelers, but well worth the effort — the shrine and its surrounding area are truly beautiful.

Of course, no trip to Japan would be complete without a visit the Hiroshima Peace Museum. You may think you can prepare yourself for the experience, but the sheer overwhelming horror of man's inhumanity to his fellow man will reduce you to a shuddering wreck. In a good way. And if it's too depressing, a quick visit to the Yushukan Museum in Tokyo will help you shake off any guilt you're feeling.

My planned trip to Nara was cancelled due to typhoon activity, so I decided to go visit the Imperial Grand Shrine in Ise instead. I spent several semesters in college researching Japanese architecture, and visiting Ise became a dream of mine — it's the holiest shrine of the Shinto religion, the purest expression of traditional Japanese architecture, and the only shrine that's still rebuilt on a 20 year cycle. Ise was like no other shrine on my list — once you were on the grounds, there were no signs of modern life, no throngs of tourists, no gift shops. Just the quiet solitude of the mountains and the elegant simplicty of the architecture. Even though I'd never visited before, everything was familiar, like I had been there hundreds of times. And een though you can barely see the shrine through the surrounding enclosure, the brief glimpses I saw were absolutely breathtaking. I left Ise at sunset and on the train home I was treated to one of the most beautiful extended sunsets I've ever seen.

Photos

Here are some of my favorite photos, in the order in which they were taken.

Raining at the Toshogu

Kotaijingu Shogu (Naiku) at Ise

Itsukushima torii

Sake casks at Itsukushima

Next: Wrapping up!

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