Japan has two fascinating names; the Land of the Rising Sun in reference to how the sun seems to rise from Japan when you look at the country from China. The other name is Planet Japan, which refers to the east-Asian country’s scientific, cultural and educational development. Japan rose from the ashes after the Second World War and could get ahead of many developed countries with hard work, persistence and innovation, all hand in hand with reverence for tradition and the ancient spirits.
In this article, we will dive into Planet Japan’s modern and classic. We will take a tour of the country’s biggest cities and prominent landmarks, where you can stay and grab a taste of each city’s local cuisine. To give you an authentic experience of the old and new, we bring you each city’s major festivals to enjoy.
First, here’s a small snippet about Japan’s history.
A Brief History of Japan
Japan is an archipelago country that consists of more than 6,000 islands, and the population lives mainly on five islands only. Historians estimate Japan has been inhabited since 30,000 BC, except that written proof of the archipelago in the Book of Han, a Chinese chronicle, dates back to the 2nd century AD. By that time, Japan consisted of several battling kingdoms, and the country was only unified between the 4th and 9th centuries.
From the 12th century, Japan was mainly ruled by shoguns, feudal lords, and the Samurai. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 17th century that the country was unified under one shogunate, the Tokugawa shogunate, who enforced a strict isolationist policy on the land. In the mid-1800s, a US fleet forced Japan out of isolation, and the country started to reconnect with the world again.
Japan had been on the road to rapid growth since the Meiji period, but that path was cut by several failed wars and millions of casualties during the Sino-Japanese War and WWII. Then, the land of the Rising Sun was refocused on rebuilding and regrowth.
Today, Japan is a highly-developed country and an important player in global politics. In fact, it is a pioneer in the fields of robotics, electronics, and the automotive industries. Japanese art is a widespread phenomenon, specialising in anime, manga and video games. Japan’s scrumptious cuisine is another fast-spreading aspect of Japanese culture, giving us even more delicacies than Sushi.
Let’s discover Planet Japan together!
The Japanese capital, Tokyo, is one of the most populated metropolises in the world and is Japan’s largest city. It’s located on the largest Japanese island of Honshu, at the tip of Tokyo Bay. Tokyo used to be known as Edo until the imperial capital moved from Kyoto to the city; almost the mid-19th century, then its name changed and became officially known as Tokyo Metropolis.
Tokyo was a fishing village until the Japanese military government, known as the Tokugawa shogunate or the Edo shogunate, moved to the town in 1603, turning it into a major political centre. Halfway through the 18th century, Edo became one of the most populated cities in the world. The city had been devastated twice by the 1923 earthquake and bombs during WWII.
Tokyo led the Japanese economic miracle with the city’s vigorous reconstruction after the Second World War. As a result, the metropolis is now the location of world-class companies and universities. It also hosted many world-renowned events, including the Summer Olympics and political summits. Today, Tokyo is a lively cultural, economic, musical, and sports hub, with more than 4.8 million overseas tourists and 420 local tourists in 2006 alone.
Main Attractions in Tokyo
It isn’t easy to summarise what you must do in Tokyo or where you need to go. The city is full of museums, parks, and, most importantly, specialised anime centres, one of Japan’s most famous art forms. Here are the places you need to check during your visit to Tokyo:
When the Battle of Ueno destroyed the majority of land belonging to the Kan’ei-ji Temple, a Dutch doctor, Bauduin, suggested transforming the temple area into a park. In 1873, a notice was released stating the establishment of public parks. By the end of this year, Ueno Park was built. Ueno Park is most famous for being home to an umbrella of cherry blossoms during springtime, where visitors gather in groups to marvel at the blossoms’ beauty.
When you visit Ueno Park, you also get the opportunity to visit other Japanese landmarks. In the park’s vicinity you will find:
- National Museum of Western Art
- Japan Academy
- International Library of Children’s Literature
- Ueno Zoo
- Imperial Library
- Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
- National Museum of Nature and Science
The beauty of the park’s trees and flowers make it the most visited public park in Japan, with more than 10 million yearly visitors.
Meiji Jingu Shrine
Meiji Jingu Shrine was built as a dedication to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken, his wife, after their passing. Construction works began in 1915, with the participation of all societal factions from all over Japan, making the construction of the shrine a national project. The work was finished in 1926, even though it was officially dedicated in 1920.
The shrine is located in an evergreen forest, with trees from all over Japan donated by the people during construction time. Many people visit the greenery to relax, and they consider it a place of recreation. The shrine consists of two parts: the Naien refers to inside buildings, the shrine buildings, and a museum where many artefacts are displayed. The Gaien refers to the outside area with a picture gallery of events during Emperor Meiji’s life, several sports facilities, and the Meiji Memorial Hall.
It’s worth noting that Emperor Meiji isn’t buried inside the shrine; he is buried in Fushimi-momoyama, located in south Kyoto city.
Asakusa District is home to multiple colours of culture, history, and cuisine. The district began to gain a reputation as an entertainment district when rice keepers in the neighbouring Kuramae District started to spend their extra money on theatre, entertainment, and geisha houses in Asakusa, all during the Edo Era. Since then, the district has had a vivid history throughout the 20th century as a major entertainment centre, including the first theatre dedicated to film in Japan, the Denkikan.
The WWII bombing of Tokyo destroyed a significant portion of the Asakusa District, and even though the area was rebuilt, it has lost substantial old buildings. Asakusa District still houses shops, restaurants and a local market where you will find traditional Japanese food, ingredients, and, most importantly, spices. One significant area which Tokyoites usually visit is Kappabashi-dori, known as Kitchen Town, where you can find everything you need for your kitchen.
The Sensō-ji Buddhist temple is located in Asakusa District; it is where Sanja Matsuri is held every May. Additionally, there are many other temples in the district, and each has its own matsuri. You can also take a Tokyo cruise ship from the district’s harbour on the Sumida River. Besides that, a significant number of Brazilian people living in the district hold the Brazilian carnival every year, with the participation of Asakusa’s Samba Schools.
The Tokyo Skytree is the carrier of several world titles, including the third tallest building in the world, the world’s tallest tower, the tallest freestanding building in the countries of the G20, the G7 and the OECD, and of course, it is Japan’s tallest structure. The building currently serves as the primary radio and television broadcast site.
The architectural style of the building infuses neo-futurism and Japanese architecture, using seismic proofing to protect the building from frequent earthquakes in Japan. Construction began on 14 July 2008 and finished on Leap Day, 29 February 2012. Later that year, on 22 May 2012, the structure was opened to the public. From the Tokyo Skytree, you will get a jaw-dropping view of the city of Tokyo — one you can’t get anywhere in the city.
Nezu Shrine is one of the ten shrines located in Tokyo. It is also Tokyo’s oldest and most beautiful shrine. It was established in 1705 and built in the beautiful Shinto architectural style of Ishi-no-ma-zukuri. Every year, the faithful hold the Tsutsuji Matsuri, also called the Azalea Festival, from early April to early May.
The legend says that the original Nezu Shrine was established by Prince Ōsu, Emperor Keikō’s son. The shrine was dedicated to the kami—or deity—of sea and storms, known as Susanoo-no-Mikoto. In 1705, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi moved the shrine to its current location as he chose his successor. The new shogun, Tokugawa Ienobu, also chose Susanoo-no-Mikoto as his guardian deity.
Akihabara or Akiba is regarded by many as the centre of Japan’s popular culture, including cinema, anime, cuisine, manga, television programs, video games and music. The district was once located near one of Edo’s city gates and was heavily destroyed by fires in 1869. The locals decided to build a shrine in the place of damaged buildings, currently known as Akiba Shrine, but it was later moved to Taitō ward. The district got its name Akiba from the firefighting deity of the shrine to protect it from other fires.
Akihabara district began to thrive with the opening of Akihabara Station in 1890 and has continued to thrive since then, but with a different focus. The community initially became a thriving black market, then a market for household electronics such as washing machines and televisions, which earned the district the name Electric Town. Since the 1980s, shops in Akiba began to focus on home computers, which created a new type of customer called otaku.
Otaku culture significantly affected Akihabara District, shaping its businesses and shops. There are many shops that specialise in anime, with anime characters on display, manga, and manga icons. Frequent release of events in the district allows anime and manga fans to meet the creators behind the work. Walking around the neighbourhood will give you the feeling of stepping into another world.
If you’re up for a unique sporting experience, Ryogoku Kokugikan, the famous sumo hall, is your destination. Sumo gained significant popularity in the Meiji period, which led to the construction of the main Kokugikan in Ryōgoku by 1909. However, following the spark of WWII, the building was seized, and tournaments were held in separate places, but not regularly. The current hall of Ryogoku Kokugikan opened its doors in 1985.
The best way to enjoy a Sumo tournament is by booking a seat on the floor, which usually fits four people but was shrunk to two for health measures. You can see the wrestlers right before you and absorb the entire experience. If you feel uncomfortable sitting on the floor for a couple of hours, you should bring a small pillow for your comfort.
The hall also hosts several other events, such as new year celebrations in January (or the Hatsu honbasho), the Natsu honbasho in May (or summer honbasho), the Aki honbasho in September (or autumn honbasho), music concerts, boxing, and professional wrestling. Previous events at the hall include a concert by Paul McCartney and the “Beast in the East” event by the WWE.
Shinjuku Gyo-en National Garden
Shinjuku Gyo-en started as a garden, then converted into an agricultural centre for experiments and a botanical garden before settling as an imperial garden by 1879. Although air raids destroyed the majority of the garden during WWII, it was immediately restored after the war. Shinjuku Gyo-en garden became a national park and was opened to the public in 1949.
The garden is home to a wide array of flora with over 20,000 trees and about 1,500 cherry trees, which generally bloom from late March to early April, and some even bloom until late April. Opening times can change from time to time depending on the weather, but there are also free admission days throughout the year, which are May 4th and 5th, and June 4th and 5th.
Festivals in Tokyo
While there are many festivals in Japan, some are pretty specific to each region of the country. There are year-round festivals in Tokyo and other cities that are worth looking forward to or even planning your trip to coincide with some of them.
Here are the main festivals that take place in Tokyo throughout the year, both religious and celebratory, that we hope you’ll love.
Sanno Matsuri (June)
The Sanno festival is the largest religious festival of the Shinto religion in Japan. Shinto originated in Japan, and many perceive it as a religion of nature. They also perceive it as the indigenous religion in Japan, where many people have embraced it. Festivals celebrating Shinto go back to the Edo period in Japanese history. This festival, Sanno Matsuri, takes place at the Hie Shrine, one of Tokyo’s shrines.
Location: Hie Shrine, Chiyoda.
Fukagawa Matsuri (Mid-August)
Along with Sanno Matsuri and Kanda Matsuri, these three matsuris represent the largest Shinto festivals in Tokyo. The Shinto festival of Fukagawa goes back to the mid-17th century, to 1642 in particular. Fukagawa Matsuri takes place at the largest and most significant Shinto shrine in Fukagawa. Fukagawa Matsuri is also famous for the traditional music, dances, and parades that are part of the celebrations.
Location: Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, Kōtō.
Kanda Matsuri (Saturday or Sunday close to 15 May – odd years)
The third main Shinto festival in Tokyo started as a celebration marking Tokugawa Ieyasu’s victory in the battle of Sekigahara. The tradition continued in the following years to celebrate the progress and prosperity of Tokugawa. Kanda Matsuri’s current form aims to commemorate the divinities and deities in the Kanda Shrine. The celebrations include traditional music, dances, and floats carrying the portable shrines to the Kanda Myojin Shrine.
Location: Kanda Myojin Shrine, Chiyoda.
Sanja Matsuri (3rd weekend, May)
Sanja Matsuri is one of the largest Shinto festivals in Tokyo. The Sanja festival celebrates the three men who found Kannon’s statue and established the Buddhist temple, Sensō-ji, around it. The main centrepiece of the festival is carrying three portable shrines and heading to the Asakusa Shrine. Also, traditional music and dancing distinguish Sanja Matsuri; the festival attracts over 2 million people every year over three days.
Location: Asakusa Shrine, Taitō.
Japanese cherry blossom trees are famous for their beautiful flowers when they spring up after the cold winter months. All around Japan, different parks and significant parks in Tokyo, such as Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, become fully packed with visitors and picnickers who gather to watch the blossom trees. Locals call the Japanese cherry trees Sakura, hence the festival’s name, and it’s common to find these cherry trees in both China and South Korea. Still, they’re also widely abundant in Japan.
Location: all parks.
Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival (Last Saturday, July)
The origin of this fireworks festival dates back to 1732, when the people suffered from malnutrition and famine. The authorities that established the festival stated that its rituals would commemorate the dead, entertain the people, and celebrate life. In the following years, the entertaining tradition continued, and competition arose between participants. Today, the festival celebrates this rivalry between participating pyrotechnic groups.
Location: Sumida River.
Hotels in Tokyo
There are countless places to stay in Tokyo; we’ve chosen for you a variety of hotels with a price range that doesn’t exceed $150 per night. Some hotels even have an extra sale during certain times, especially if it’s not a high-peak season. Here are our suggestions:
- Sakura Hotel Ikebukuro: prices start at $59 per night.
- LANDABOUT TOKYO: prices start at $65 per night.
- Hotel Resol Ueno: prices start at $93 per night.
- Hotel Gracery Asakusa: prices start at $58 per night.
- Belken Hotel Kanda: prices start at $53 per night.
Restaurants in Tokyo
Tokyo is a city bursting not only with intellectual beauty but also with food and culture. There are all sorts of restaurants with all types of cuisine you’d wish to explore. Since you’re in the Japanese capital, we’ll start with where you can give the local cuisine a try, followed by several suggestions of other cuisines to try during your visit.
- Teppan Baby Shinjuku: price range between $17 and $35.
- Nabezo Shibuya Centre Street: price range between $11 and $37.
- Andy’s Shin Hinomoto: price range between $6 and $25.
- Sakura Cafe Jimbocho: price range between $3 and $8.
- IPPUDO Roppongi: price range between $6 and $7.
With its location by Tokyo Bay, Yokohama is Japan’s second-largest and second-most populated city. Yokohama was merely a tiny seaside village under the seclusion policy till 1859, when it was opened to be a cosmopolitan port city ever since. During the Meiji period, Yokohama was home to many first establishments, such as the first Chinatown and foreign trading port in 1859 and the first English-language newspaper in 1861.
Yokohama was heavily destroyed twice; the first time resulted from a massive earthquake in 1923 and the second was after heavy bombing during WWII. Reconstruction began after the war ended, and major projects were underway, such as the Yokohama Municipal Subway and Minato Mirai 21. Today Yokohama is home to many world-class companies such as Nissan, Isuzu and JVC Kenwood.
Many tourists take a day trip from Tokyo to visit Yokohama. We will give you the places you can’t miss in the city and where to stay and eat if you decide to spend more than one day in the city.
Main Attractions in Yokohama
Yokohama has an abundance of museums, parks, landmarks, shrines, and temples. Similar to its Japanese sisters, deciding where to go is not an easy task. We’ve tried to narrow down some interesting spots to make your visit as diverse as possible.
Yokohama Minato Mirai 21
Minato Mirai, or MM, was initially designed in the 1980s to connect the traditional commercial areas of Yokohama and Kannai with Yokohama’s railway station area. The site today is Yokohama’s centre, with many international companies, shops, restaurants, and landmarks. There’s the Landmark Tower, the third tallest skyscraper in Japan, the three Queens Square Towers, and their massive shopping mall. There are other famous hotels as well, such as the Yokohama Royal Park Hotel.
Overlooking Yokohama Port, Yamashita Park is a great public park in Yokohama where you can relax and enjoy the flow of life both on land and at sea. The story of Yamashita Park is similar to that of the Phoenix, where the mayor’s advisor, a Scotsman called Marshall Martin, suggested using the rubble resulting from the 1923 earthquake to claim the area as a public park. The park has various attractions, such as the Children’s Song Monument, the Girl Scout Statue, and a Japanese ocean liner called the Hikawa Maru.
Cup Noodles Museum Yokohama
This museum revolves around the exciting idea and the worldwide popular dish of cup noodles. It’s interesting to learn how it all started; ramen, the different processes of making cup noodles, and instant ramen. The museum consists of four floors of illustrations, attractions, and exhibitions telling the story of instant ramen. There are also exhibitions telling the story of the museum’s founder, Momofuku Ando.
Yokohama Chinatown is one of the oldest in Japan (160 years old) and the largest one, beating the Chinatowns in both Kobe and Nagasaki. Most Chinese people living in Yokohama Chinatown are Cantonese, and the number of Chinese-owned or themed shops is about 250 shops and restaurants. Today, Yokohama Chinatown is a central shopping spot with great restaurants and different shops.
Hara Model Railway Museum
Founded in 2012 by Nobutaro Hara, a Japanese railway enthusiast, the Hara Model Railway Museum displays Hara’s collection of Japanese railway models. The museum shows different forms of model railways and how this means of transportation developed over the years. There are over 6,000 items on display, all of which are from Hara’s private collection. While visiting a railway museum is unusual, it is worth learning about how the railway developed into what it is today.
Festivals in Yokohama
In addition to Matsuri, there are various festivals with different themes that are worth attending in Yokohama. Here are some of them that we think you might like:
Chinese Spring Festival (January or February – the Chinese New Year)
The time of celebrating the Spring Festival in Yokohama mainly depends on the Chinese New Year, which can be around January’s end or mid-February. On the festival’s first day, gongs ring while the locals head to the Kwan Tai Temple to light up incense and burn Joss Paper or ghost money as offerings. Afterwards, the famous dragon and lion dances begin. During the festival that lasts for several days, you can see beautiful decorations and illuminations all over the areas of celebrations.
Location: Yokohama Chinatown.
Garden Necklace Fair (from late March to early May)
When you think about blooming flowers in Japan, you must think about cherry blossoms. However, the annual Garden Necklace Fair shows you a variety of other flowers that beautifully bloom all in one place for two months. For the duration of this fair, all parks and gardens in Yokohama are free to visit, except for the English Garden. You will get to see tulips, roses, and cherry blossoms in full bloom and enjoy their company.
Location: Harbor View Park and other parks.
BeerFes Yokohama (mid-September)
There are various beer festivals in Yokohama and about three other festivals other than the BeerFes. This beer festival is three days long, and you can buy entry tickets online at a much cheaper price than tickets at the venue. For three and a half hours, you can wander around the hall sampling about 200 local and imported beer types. Other beer festivals include the Belgian Beer Weekend, held in Yamashita Park during springtime, Frühlingsfest, which takes place between April and May, and Oktoberfest, which takes place from late September to early October; both of these festivals take place at the Red Brick Warehouse.
Location: Osanbashi Hall.
Yokohama Coffee Festival (23 October)
If you’re a fan of coffee, the Yokohama Coffee Festival is for you. The festival’s second edition offers you an opportunity to sample some of the best coffee from Yokohama and other Japanese cities. Some participants include Yokohama Coffee Stand and Fine Time Coffee Roasters from Tokyo. Several tickets are available for purchase online, allowing you a specific number of sample cups to try. The opportunity to sample different blends from each vendor will enable you to compare the flavours and, possibly, choose a new favourite.
Location: Yokohama Park.
Christmas Market (From late November to 25 December)
The Christmas Market in Yokohama has a German twist, which shows on many of the festival’s sides. There’s a giant Christmas tree there with decoration lights and other glittery decorations. You will find small wooden huts dotted around the market that sell varieties of Christmas food, hot beer, and mulled wine. Some stalls sell German trinkets and traditional Christmas decorations. The ice rink close by, Art Rink, starts operating from December until February. It is where an artist displays their unique art through illuminations on the ice each year.
Location: Red Brick Warehouse.
Hotels in Yokohama
We’re bringing you hotels to stay at in different areas of Yokohama, and we’ve also chosen them not to cross the $100 limit per night:
- Shin Yokohama Prince Hotel: prices start at $72 per night.
- Yokohama Sakuragicho Washington Hotel: prices start at $45 per night.
- Hotel The Knot Yokohama: prices start at $42 per night.
- Hotel Plumm: prices start at $40 per night.
- Yokohama Royal Park Hotel: prices start at $97 per night.
Restaurants in Yokohama
Food is sacred in Yokohama; it is also considered a soul-filling ritual. There are many local dishes that you need to try, such as Edomae sushi, tofu, and vegetable chowder.
- Shatenki 2: prices range between $7 and $21.
- Gokuchaso: prices range between $6 and $7.
- Katsuretsu An Bashamichi Sohonten: prices range between $15 and $20.
- Bills Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse: prices range between $2 and $29.
- Hungry Tiger Yokohama Mores: prices range between $7 and $21.
Osaka is located on the island of Honshu and it is the central city of the Kansai Region. Since the 4th century, Osaka has been Japan’s economic hub and has dramatically developed through subsequent political eras in the country. In the Edo period, Osaka became Japan’s central cultural hub and underwent significant development after the Meiji Restoration. Today, Osaka still serves as an active multicultural and financial centre in Japan.
Main Attractions in Osaka
Osaka is a bustling cultural city with a shopping heaven; there are more than 30,000 retail shops in the city. It is packed with entertainment and performing arts venues, museums, and galleries.
Tempozan Ferris Wheel
Suppose you’re looking for a fantastic view of Osaka Bay, Kansai International Airport, the Rokko Mountains, Mount Ikoma, and the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge. In that case, the almost 20-minute Ferris wheel ride is for you. The wheel opened in 1997, and at the time, it was the tallest one in the world. One of the wheel’s interesting features is the lights that forecast the weather for the following day. Orange is sunny, green is cloudy, and blue means there will be rain.
Osaka Castle is a witness to the political conflicts in Japan from the 16th century up to the 20th century. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a great Samurai, gave the command for the castle’s construction in 1583, which was finished in 1597. The castle’s history tells of the fierce fighting over power between the Tokugawa clan and the Toyotomi clan. Throughout history, the castle was destroyed by lightning several times and rebuilt, then it was destroyed during WWII and was fully restored by 1997. Today, the castle still represents this integral part of Japanese history through its beautiful exterior and modern-style museum.
Minami Neighbourhood is like Osaka’s city centre, packed with shops, restaurants, museums, theatres, and everything you can think about that Japanese pop culture involves. Many affordable restaurants serve traditional Japanese food; there are also antique shops, shrines, and temples. You can spend an entire day exploring this place without getting bored.
National Bunraku Theatre
The Japanese version of a puppet show is called Bunraku, and this style was founded in Osaka at the beginning of the 17th century. The National Bunraku Theatre opened in 1984. It has two halls; the big one is dedicated to Bunraku, Japanese classical dancing—or Buyō—and plays, while the small hall is where other forms of art, such as rakugo, or storytelling, and Japanese music take place.
Travel back to Japan in the 19th century as you spend time at Hozenji Yokocho. This lane is cobble-paved, with small food shops, souvenir shops, and historic gift shops lining both sides. The beautiful paper lanterns donning the various shops emphasise the authentic feeling. A calm and nostalgic time awaits you here.
Festivals in Osaka
Osaka is home to one of Japan’s three largest matsuris, the Tenjin Matsuri. There are other enjoyable and exciting festivals to enjoy in the city. We’re bringing them to you here.
This good-luck festival is a dedication to Ebisu, one of the gods long worshipped in the Kansai region. In this festival, bamboo branches are decorated with various lucky charms and omens, called fukuzasa. You can choose from various charms to attract good luck in the future, so make sure to choose one that you feel is designed especially for you.
Location: Kita-ku, Osaka City.
Setsubun Festival (February)
There are several Setsubun festivals held in Japan, but the one held in Naritasan Temple in Osaka Prefecture is distinguishable by the flashy rituals of bean-throwing. In this festival, entertainers wear traditional costumes and throw beans at the audience while shouting “Fuku wa uchi,” which means “Good fortune is inside,” in the hopes of driving away evil spirits and drawing in good fortune. You can also participate as a bean thrower; you only need to wear a jinbaori.
Location: Naritasan Temple, Narita Nishimachi, Neyagawa City.
Tenjin Matsuri (July)
Tenjin Matsuri is one of the three largest matsuris in Japan, with different festivities taking place in July. The festival starts at Osaka Tenmangu Shrine with performances over the sound of drums, followed by carrying Rikutogyo—or portable shrines—through the streets. Then the Funatogyo follows, which is a ritual boat procession where the divine spirits placed on the boats cross the Okawa River. The boat procession is the festival’s highlight, with about 100 ships accompanied by beautiful fireworks.
Location: Tenjinbashi, Kita-ku.
Summer Sonic (August)
The Sama Soni is one of Japan’s leading rock music festivals; the festival’s beginning dates back to 2000, and since then, many Japanese and world-known musicians have performed at it. The festival’s unique venue has been attracting performers from different genres other than rock, which has increased the festival’s popularity and attendance over the past few years.
Midosuji Illumination (November through December)
Midosuji festival is a joyful display of colours where trees are lined with illuminations in seven zones of Midosuji Avenue. The rest of Osaka’s buildings, shrines, and landmarks are all illuminated alongside the avenue to prepare the city to welcome Christmas. This beautiful display of colour and warmth has won Osaka’s winter beauty some Guinness World Records.
Location: Midosuji Avenue, Osaka City.
Hotels in Osaka
We’re diversified our search for hotels in Osaka to bring you several suggestions of different styles, all while keeping within the budget of less than $100 per night.
- Hotel Nikko Osaka: prices start at $67 per night.
- Karaksa Hotel Grande Shin-Osaka Tower: prices start at $65 per night.
- Cross Hotel Osaka: prices start at $79 per night.
- ibis Styles Osaka Namba: prices start at $34 per night.
- HOTEL THE FLAG Shinsaibashi: prices start at $60 per night.
Restaurants in Osaka
Osaka is culinary heaven; the city has various original dishes you must try during your visit. There’s the Japanese-style pancake Okonomiyaki with a local twist, Takoyaki or grilled octopus and Kitsune Udon. We hope you try some of these in the restaurants we picked for you.
- Kuma Kafe: prices between $4 and $20.
- Gyukatsu Motomura Namba: prices between $7 and $21.
- Hokuto Gems Namba: prices between $7 and $28.
- Critters Burger: prices between $1 and $30.
- Matsusakagyu Yakiniku M, Hozenji Yokocho: prices between $38 and $45.
The pacific city of Nagoya was the capital of Owari Province during the rule of Tokugawa Ieyasu and since then, the city has continued to grow. During the Meiji Restoration, Nagoya became one of Japan’s major industrial hubs and a vital port city. The city’s industrial history is rich with manufacturing bicycles, sewing machines, special steels, ceramics and petrochemicals.
Main Attractions in Nagoya
Nagoya has a rich cultural heritage which shows throughout the city. City authorities created a Cultural Path, which includes several historical and antique buildings dating back to the Meiji and Taishō eras, and are protected by the city.
Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology
The leading automotive company Toyota originally started as a textile company and gradually evolved into car making. This museum was established in 1994 and since then it has taken place in an old red-brick textile factory. Exhibits in the museum start with Toyota’s textile-manufacturing equipment, all through to making some of the world’s favourite car models. Several high-tech robots are also on display, making Toyota Techno Museum a fun destination for adults and kids alike.
Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium
This public aquarium in Nagoya is a great way to escape the heat and humidity outside. Opened in 1992, the aquarium increased its capacity over the year by adding more facilities, such as a new show pool in 2001. Besides the magical sea creatures at the aquarium, there’s a dolphin show, a killer whale show, and several white whales live in the aquarium. Nagoya Public Aquarium is also a research facility to better care for and conserve animals.
Nagoya City Science Museum
Home to the world’s largest planetarium, Nagoya City Science Museum can be divided into three sections: general science, modern technology and life sciences, in addition to numerous interactive exhibits. The museum’s upper floor currently runs displays about future technology and space. Some shows in the museum were custom-made specifically for children, to increase their interest in science.
Built on the ruins of a previous castle, Nagoya Castle or the Golden Castle, was constructed during the Edo period in 1612. The castle suffered damage several times since it was built and had to undergo extensive restoration, such as destruction caused by WWII bombing. Nagoya Castle’s exciting construction of a connected keep is just one of its many distinctive construction features. The Nagoya Castle Summer Festival takes place at the castle, and it’s one you wouldn’t want to miss.
Atsuta Jingu Shrine
After the death of Prince Yamato Takeru, his belongings, including his legendary sword, Kusanagi no Tsurugi, were gathered and venerated by the prince’s wife in a shrine at her home. Later, the relics and the sword were moved to the current location of the Atsuta Shrine, which still houses them today. Atsuta Shrine has been a critical location in many political battles over the years because of the invaluable artefacts it houses. There are more than 4,000 relics on display in the shrine today, from swords, mirrors, Bugaku masks and documents.
Festivals in Nagoya
The lively city of Nagoya hosts numerous festivals throughout the year; some are an introduction to local history and some are fun and entertaining festivals. One thing is for sure no matter the festival, and that is you will have a great time.
Belgian Beer Weekend (Late April to early May)
With continuous success, the Belgian Beer festival in Nagoya has been running for ten years now. There are so many varieties of this tasty brew that it’s registered as one of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage items. During this eleven-day festival, you will get to sample about 100 varieties of Belgian beer and try some of the foods that pair well with a good brew, such as roast chicken, fries and perhaps a Belgian waffle as a dessert.
Location: Hisaya Odori Park.
Nagoya Castle Summer Festival (Early to mid-August)
A summer night festival with a majestic castle such as Nagoya Castle can be what you need to escape the hectic city life during the day. The path up to the castle is lined up with food stalls where you can find something delicious to eat; there are exciting festival games to watch and dancers dressed in unified yukata performing around the dancing stage. The best part about this festival, aside from the breathtaking view of the lit-up Nagoya Castle, is that the leading entertainer changes daily.
Location: Nagoya Castle.
Nagoya Festival (15th, 16 October)
During the Nagoya Festival, a live show of critical moments in Japanese history plays in front of your eyes. The three famed heroes, Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, come back to life in an epic reenactment of the battles that help unify Japan. More than 700 participants, dressed in traditional warrior and Samurai outfits, royalty and princesses participate in the commemorative festival.
Location: Nagoya City.
Legoland BricXmas (Mid-November to late December)
The much-loved Legoland will host its Christmas season festival with fun and entertaining activities. Several illumination displays will take place; there will be Christmas-styled stages to take photos, a menu with a touch of Christmas and the biggest Lego Christmas tree in the world, which will be 10-metres high and use 610,000 blocks.
Location: Legoland Japan.
Nagoya Port Sea Train Land Illumination (Late November to late February)
The annual illumination festival in Nagoya promises you some splendid views of the city around you and some enjoyable rides in the park. Every year, more than 50,000 lights are used to decorate the park in the most spectacular way, which makes the atmosphere perfect for a good night out. Please note that admission to the festival is free, but you will have to pay to use any of the available rides.
Location: Nagoya Port Sea Train Land.
Hotels in Nagoya
We’re continuing with our less than $100 per night hotel recommendations to bring you some of Nagoya’s grand hotels, without weighing too much on the budget.
- Hotel JAL City Nagoya Nishiki: prices start at $54 per night.
- Nishitetsu Hotel Croom Nagoya: prices start at $58 per night.
- The B Nagoya: prices start at $38 per night.
- Hotel Actel Nagoya Nishiki: prices start at $36 per night.
- HOTEL UNIZO Nagoya Ekimae: prices start at $63 per night.
Restaurants in Nagoya
Nagoya cuisine has very distinctive dishes you must try when in the city. Tebasaki or the local chicken wings, Kishimen, which are a flat type of udon noodles and Red Miso, of course. Here are our picks of both local and international restaurants in Nagoya.
- Atsuta Horaiken Matsuzakaya: prices between $30 and $40.
- Hokkaido Cheese Factory Wagyu & Grill: prices between $7 and $21.
- Yabaton Yabacho Honten: prices between $5 and $7.
- Komeda Coffee Esca: prices between $5 and $7.
- Midtown BBQ Nagoya: prices between $20 and $50.
Sapporo is located in Hokkaido Prefecture where it is the capital city as well as the political, economic and cultural centre. The Ainu indigenous people resided in Sapporo beginning 15,000 years ago and over time Yamato migrants also began to live in the city. The city continued to expand over the years and celebrated its 100th foundation anniversary in 1968 and Sapporo became the 4th city to have a subway system in Japan in 1971.
Main Attractions in Sapporo
From astounding mountain city views, parks, shrines and fun spaces, Sapporo offers you a journey of excitement and relaxation. It might be impossible to sum up, what you can do in Sapporo, so we tried to keep it as diverse as possible.
If you love mountain views, visiting the top of Mt. Moiwa is for you. The mountain is located to the southwest of Sapporo’s centre and you can get to the top using either the ropeway or motorway available. The view of Sapporo city from the top of the mountain is one for the memory; just make sure to bring warm clothes as it can get freezing, especially at night.
Historical Village of Hokkaido
The Historical Village of Hokkaido is a massive open-air museum which opened its doors in 1983. The 52 historical structures in the museum date back to the Meiji period through to the Shōwa period and have been divided into four sectors: town structures, fishing villages, farming villages and mountain villages. These structures have been either relocated to the museum and reconstructed or were recreated for the museum.
Kokuei Takino Suzuran Hillside National Park
Opened in 1983, Kokuei Takino is a spacious hillside national park where you can enjoy many outdoor activities. Since the park is at an altitude, the best time to enjoy your visit is during the winter season, when the snow covers the park and many snow-related activities are suitable for adults and children alike. Five of the park’s six zones are accessible to the public except for the Preservation Zone.
In 1871, the Sapporo Shrine was built to house the three Shinto deities of the Hokkaido Reclamation, which moved to Sapporo after their ceremony in Tokyo. Sapporo Shrine officially became Hokkaido Shrine or Jingu in 1946. Since Maruyama Park is adjacent to the shrine, it becomes a perfect spot to enjoy Hanami when cherry blossoms bloom, the shrine also hosts Hatsumōde, which is the first Buddhist visit in the Japanese New Year, and Sapporo Matsuri takes place from the 14th to 16th of June every year.
Sapporo Underground Pedestrian Space
If you’re looking to escape the bustling city life in an unusual way, you can head underground to the Chi-Ka-Ho underground passageway. This spacious passageway has different shops, restaurants and services that connect the underground stations of Odori, Sapporo and Susukino. The space is perfect for spending several hours during the chilly winter days without boredom.
Festivals in Sapporo
There’s at least one religious festival in each Japanese city and each festival we’ve chosen for you in Sapporo will surely uplift your spirits, while having fun.
Sapporo Snow Festival (Early to mid-February)
This snow festival is a loved event that everyone loves to attend, both locals and tourists. Ice sculptors from around the world gather to showcase their most refined skills and works, and the best teams get to compete to win at the following contest, the International Snow Sculpture Contest. Odori Park is the main venue where sculptors work, Susukino is where the game takes place, and Tsudome is an inviting playground for children and adults to play and enjoy their time. The best part is that this festival is free to attend.
Location: Sapporo Odori Park, Susukino and Tsudome.
Yosakoi Soran Festival (Mid-June)
Yosakoi Soran Festival is a lively and fun dancing festival that takes place mainly in Odori Park and on particular set stages across the city. Dancing teams from all over Hokkaido gather at this festival to compete and energise the attendance. This festival is one of wild music, lively Japanese dancing and energetic participants.
Location: Odori Street, Sapporo.
Hokkai Bon Odori (Mid-August)
The traditional Japanese dance festival of Hokkai Bon Odori has Buddhist origins, where families welcome their ancestral spirits, which visit them once a year. Dancers wear the traditional yukata, which suits the dance moves perfectly, and everyone is welcome to join in the dance. There’s even a special show for children where a parent can guide them through the easy dance moves.
Location: Odori Park, Sapporo.
Sapporo International Short Film Festival (Mid-November to early December)
If you’re a fan of short films and would like an opportunity to watch short films from Japan and around the world, this festival is for you. The festival is divided into three days of screenings at the Sapporo Cultural Arts Theatre and online screenings for the remaining days of the festival. You can purchase a ticket through the festival’s website, which will give you access to all films.
Location: Sapporo Cultural Arts Theatre.
Sapporo White Illumination Festival (22 November until 25 December)
The festival that started in 1981 with only 1,048 lights has now become a city-wide festival with more than 800,000 lights. Showpieces in the White Illumination Festival are all in different locations around Sapporo. They’re all listed on their website, so you can time your visit around the time of the exhibit you want to see. Each location has a different theme than other locations, which makes this festival entertaining.
Location: Different locations around the city.
Hotels in Sapporo
Sapporo hotels vary significantly in prices, but they all offer excellent accommodation and services. We’ve chosen these five hotels to bring you.
- Quintessa Hotel Sapporo: prices start at $40 per night.
- Karaksa Hotel Sapporo: prices start at $52 per night.
- HOTEL MYSTAYS Sapporo Aspen: prices start at $44 per night.
- Tmark City Hotel Sapporo Odori: prices start at $44 per night.
- THE KNOT SAPPORO: prices start at $30 per night.
Restaurants in Sapporo
Sapporo is the home of many mouth-watering dishes, such as miso ramen, soup curry and the interestingly named lamb dish jingisukan. Here is where we hope you’ll enjoy some of this deliciousness.
- Sapporo Ramen Haruka: prices between $5 and $10.
- JYOTI The Door to India: prices between $3 and $28.
- Daruma Honten: prices between $14 and 41.
- Picante: prices between $1 and $10.
- Hyosetsu no Mon: prices between $54 and $138.
Although history indicates the existence of the city of Kobe before 201 AD, the city’s current form was established in 1889. After the abolition of the policy of seclusion in 1853, Kobe began to develop faster and became an important port city. The 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake caused massive damage to the city and although reconstruction efforts were able to bring the city back, its importance as a port diminished. Today, Kobe is home to the headquarters of many multinational Japanese and international trademarks, such as Kobe Steel and Nestle.
Main Attractions in Kobe
Kobe is an artistic and fashionable city, which shows in the city’s landmarks. The city is also home to many shrines, museums and parks.
Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens
Built in 1991, Nunobiki Herb Gardens are home to more than 75,000 herbs of 200 varieties. You can take a gondola lift operated by the Shin-Kobe Ropeway from downtown Kobe, to take you up Mount Rokkō, where the gardens are located. In addition to the herb gardens, there are museums, greenhouses, exhibits, restaurants, café and gift shops.
Kobe Harborland reflects the beauty of the city of Kobe at night, with the various shops and restaurants available in this entertainment district. There’s a park, a great view of Kobe’s port and one of the most popular shopping malls in Kobe, Umie. This shopping mall consists of three parts: Mosaic, a series of restaurants stretching along the waterfront, with spectacular night views of the Kobe Maritime Museum and Kobe Port Tower. At the end of Mosaic, there’s the anime museum of Anpanman. The other two parts of Umie are the two enclosed shopping buildings, which host more restaurants and smaller shops.
Nunobiki Falls (Nunobiki-No-Taki)
Nunobiki Falls are one of the divine waterfalls in Japan, in addition to Nachi Falls and Kegon Falls. The Nunobiki Falls had a great impact on Japanese art and literature, one of the well-known photographs of the falls was taken by Kusakabe Kimbei. If you’re up for a small hike, getting to the waterfall at the lowest level is relatively easy, but if you like, you can continue up to the highest waterfall.
The two lions guarding the Torri gate to the Ikuta Shrine welcome visitors into this sacred place. Established at the beginning of the 3rd century AD, it is one of the oldest shrines in Japan. Empress Jingū ordered the building of the Ikuta Shrine to house the kami Wakahirume, the kami of the rising sun. A beautiful forest surrounding the shrine adds to its majestic feel.
Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum
Opened in 1984, the Takenaka Carpentry Museum is a speciality museum dedicated to the collection and preservation of carpentry tools in Japan to pass the knowledge of this craft and the tools used in it to the following generations. There are over 30,500 exhibition pieces in the museum so far, and the museum has held many exhibits, lectures and seminars about the use of these pieces and the skilled craftspeople who use them.
Festivals in Kobe
Kobe hosts an array of festivals throughout the year that brings light and hope. We chose each festival carefully to tell a piece of the city’s history while ensuring you will also have a great time.
Infiorata Kobe (Late April to early May)
For two weeks in May, artists use Kobe’s famous tourist attractions as canvases for the most expressive works of art. The artists use flowers as their tools and create beautiful showpieces that attract millions of visitors every year. Infiorata Kobe started in 1997, two years after the Great Hanshin Earthquake and was modelled after similar events in both Italy and Spain.
Location: Kobe City.
Kobe Sports Park Cosmos Festival (15 October)
The Cosmos Festival in Kobe usually runs for the rest of October. During this festival, the Kobe Sports Park transforms into a beautiful venue, with bright blooming flowers, stage performances and food trucks. From the top of the park’s hill, you can get a view of the city stretching before your eyes, and you can also see the bridge linking Honshu Island to Awaji Island, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge.
Location: Kobe Sports Park.
Umie Ice Marina (Late November to mid-February)
Umie Ice Marina is the perfect skating destination in Hyogo, with mesmerising views of the Kobe Harbour and the after-dark illumination. You can rent skates and gloves at the rink, but if you bring your own, you will get a discount on your admission ticket. Opening times are from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm on weekends and from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm on weekdays.
Location: Umie Ice Marina.
Kobe Luminarie (Early to mid-December)
When the Great Hanshin earthquake hit Japan in 1995, it killed thousands and left more without electricity or water. The Luminarie was first held that same year to bring hope and light to the people and was supposed to be a one-time-only event. Individually-painted lightbulbs are hung in Kobe’s streets and are lit for a couple of hours every evening, during which these streets are closed to allow spectators to enjoy the displays fully.
Location: Kobe Foreign Settlement.
Nankinmachi Lantern Festival (Early December to mid-January)
At the heart of Kobe Chinatown, more than 400 Chinese lanterns decorate the streets in preparation for the Nankinmachi Lantern Festival. For the festival’s duration, the lanterns are lightly lit at 4:00 pm to give the roads a warm and inviting feel until 10:00 pm. The use of lanterns and the dim light distinguish the festival from other illumination festivals across Japan.
Location: Kobe Chinatown.
Hotels in Kobe
Many hotels in Kobe charge more than $50 per night. However, we found several hotels with excellent service and prices.
- Candeo Hotels Kobe Tor Road: prices start at $73 per night.
- Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel: prices start at $93 per night.
- Brenza Hotel: prices start at $43 per night.
- Hotel Okura Kobe: prices start at $99 per night.
- Kobe Luminous Hotel Sannomiya: prices start at $41 per night.
Restaurants in Kobe
The dish you must have heard about most when reading about Kobe Cuisine is Kobe Beef, a speciality of the city’s restaurants. We’ve diversified our restaurant recommendations to bring you the best places to have Kobe Beef and enjoy other cuisines and dishes.
- Hanasato: prices between $31 and $48.
- Yun Yun: prices between $1 and $6.
- Uwo Sei Main Shop: prices between $2 and $5.
- Colore: prices between $10 and $60.
- Kobe Steak Restaurant Mouriya Sannomiya: prices between $12 and $185.
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