If You Like
Cocktails with pizzazz or chicken on a stick, dreamy jazz or thumping techno beats—you'll find it all under urban Japan's neon-soaked night sky. Walking the bar-and-club crazy streets at night is a great way to discover a city's character. Tipping is not customary, but upscale establishments may have extra service charges ranging from a few hundred yen to a few thousand. Karaoke clubs and izakaya, traditional watering holes, are ubiquitous and a great way to mix with locals. All-night revelers might want to consider the likes of Roppongi in Tokyo or Dotombori in Osaka, while the more culturally inclined will find theaters and cinemas in every major city.
Susukino, Sapporo. Wander this northern city's entertainment district for a taste of how many Japanese wind down after work. Bars, clubs, restaurants, and karaoke joints abound.
Suntory Hall, Akasaka, Tokyo. There's no better place to catch a classical music performance than at this theater, home to perhaps the best acoustics in the country.
Sweet Basil 139, Roppongi, Tokyo. Come for dinner or just a drink at this upscale club featuring a variety of musical performances.
Metro, Kyoto. A wide range of events and guest DJs make this one of Kansai's top clubs.
Bears, Osaka. This live venue features the best of Japan's underground music.
Gardens are an obsession in Japan. Many urban homes have a couple of topiary trees, and Buddhist temples nationwide have immaculately maintained grounds. The best Japanese gardens are like the canvasses of master painters, in which nature is ingeniously manipulated and represented in subtly rearranged forms. Some re-create entire landscapes in miniature, and are designed for viewing from one optimal position. Others skillfully integrate immense backdrops of mountains or forest, always managing to add to the innate beauty of the natural environment. Kyoto is home to Zen gardens, minimalist affairs of raked sand, moss, and meaningfully arranged rocks.
Imperial Palace East Garden, Tokyo. An oasis of tree-lined paths, rhododendrons, and water features that provides great views of the Imperial Palace buildings.
Kenrokuen, Kanazawa. Originally landscaped in 1676, 25-acre Kenrokuen looks good all year round thanks to a wide variety of seasonal plants and trees.
Koinzan Saiho-ji, Kyoto. The so-called "Moss Temple" has an extraordinary Zen garden, though entry is extremely pricey and requires advance permission.
Suizen-ji Koen, Kumamoto. Part of this garden re-creates the 53 stations of the old Tokaido post road that was immortalized by Hiroshiga Ando in a series of woodblock prints.
For many people modern Japan conjures images of the concrete, neon-lighted urban jungles of Kanto and Kansai. The country's wealth of natural attractions is easily overlooked, but outdoor enthusiasts will find their every whim catered to. In winter generous snowfall makes Hokkaido and Nagano ideal destinations for skiers and snowboarders. The Japan Alps mountain range that stretches along the north side of Honshu offers excellent hiking trails, and Shikoku is well suited to cyclists. To the south, Okinawa boasts tropical temperatures for much of the year, and its clear waters are excellent for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Niseko, Hokkaido. Australians in the know head here by the tens of thousands each winter for arguably the best skiing in Japan.
Kamikochi, Nagano. En route to this small mountain village you pass though some stunning scenery, and upon arrival a series of trails provides access to the upper reaches of the surrounding peaks.
Shikoku. The best way to enjoy this picturesque island in the Inland Sea is from the seat of a bicycle. Slow down to the local pace and spend time exploring unexpected diversions.
Manta Scramble, Okinawa. From April to June divers can observe rarely seen manta feeding on plankton in this strait between Iriomote and Kohama islands.
Most modern Japanese would not express an affiliation with one religion, and both Shintoism and Buddhism play important roles in many people's lives. Shinto architecture, with the exception of Nikko's colorful shrines, tends to be plain and simple, like the style of the nation's most sacred site at Ise, emphasizing natural materials such as wood and thatch. Temples run the gamut from austere to gaudy, both in color and design. Kyoto boasts many of the finest examples of religious architecture, while in mountain areas the act of pilgrimage and supplication to the elements is almost as important as the shrines and temples themselves.
Senso-ji, Asakusa, Tokyo. Proof positive that even Japan's largest metropolis can preserve tradition. Senso-ji has a tangible Old Tokyo atmosphere from the first entrance gate, with its immense red lantern, through the narrow pedestrian streets to the huge incense burners of the temple.
Ise Jingu, Mie Prefecture. Home of Shintoism, the national religion, the Grand Shrines of Ise are majestic thatched wooden buildings concealed in expansive forested grounds.
Todai-ji, Nara. This temple's Daibutsu-den (Hall of the Great Buddha) is the largest wooden building in the world, and houses Japan's biggest Buddha figure, cast in bronze.
Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto. The Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji may feature on more postcards, but this temple's large-scale wood construction is stunning. The steep approach to Kiyomizu-dera is lined with hundreds of craft, souvenir, and food shops.
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