Time travel to a samurai village, check out Westminster Abbey, then swoon over the most opulent golden shrine in Japan

Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture Nikko not only hosts my favorite must-see World Heritage Site in all of Japan, it’s home to two eye-popping theme parks—one that lets you wander around an authentically recreated samurai village dressed as the period character of your choice, and another that seems like it would be the acme of camp,Continue reading “Time travel to a samurai village, check out Westminster Abbey, then swoon over the most opulent golden shrine in Japan”

Let’s hike through the cherry blossom forest!

Hanamiyama Park in Fukushima Let’s escape the elbowing cameramen, blossom-hogging selfie-snappers and crowded parks of Tokyo and head up to Tohoku, where kilometers upon kilometers of wild cherry blossoms line the hiking trails at Hanamiyama. “Cherry Blossom Mountain” is a vast private park planted with so many flowering trees that every vista is painted inContinue reading “Let’s hike through the cherry blossom forest!”

Let’s go to the odd theme park that’s amazing in the most unexpected way

Tobu World Square in Nikko What if I told you that I’d visited a place in Japan that surprised me in a way that I never expected to be surprised? When I finally made it to this place in October, I expected the space-time continuum to be so warped that in a single day youContinue reading “Let’s go to the odd theme park that’s amazing in the most unexpected way”

Let’s go to the Werewolf Shrine!

Mitsumiya Shrine in Saitama prefecture The Mitsumine Shrine sits high atop a snowy mountain near Chichibu, so far from any train station that you’ll be eligible for a senior citizen discount by the time you get off the bus. At first it looks like a typical Shinto shrine with fox messengers at the gate… …butContinue reading “Let’s go to the Werewolf Shrine!”

Let’s walk across red-hot burning coals!

Hiwatari Matsuri at Mt. Takao Who can resist the opportunity to do a bit of firewalking? Once a year, they actually let you join in, at the Hiwatari Matsuri, just an hour outside of Shinjuku Station at Mt. Takao. Get there early, because the festivities start with a grand parade of ascetic mountain monks from all overContinue reading “Let’s walk across red-hot burning coals!”

Thousands of candle-lit igloos turn this village into a winter fairyland

Kamakura Festival in Yokote, Akita February’s destination is the castle town of Yokote, in the northiest north of Akita prefecture. For two days every year (February 15-16), the town’s children offer toasted rice cakes and sweet sake to visitors inside tiny traditional igloos (kamakura) built all over town. Each kamakura is a shrine to the water deityContinue reading “Thousands of candle-lit igloos turn this village into a winter fairyland”

Let’s stroll through a forest of perfect miniature trees!

Bonsai Village in Ōmiya Bonsai Village is the neighborhood surrounding the Bonsai Art Museum in Ōmiya, which is home to the biggest concentration of bonsai nurseries in Japan. If you’re as much of a tiny tree fangirl as I am, ogling the pristine specimen trees at the museum followed by a stroll through nurseries packedContinue reading “Let’s stroll through a forest of perfect miniature trees!”

Let’s hike through bowers of flowers

Shiofune Kannon-ji Temple in Ome Every April, this temple’s kilometers upon kilometers of hiking trails look out on riotously blooming azaleas, as far as the eye can see. Around every bend, each view is more jaw-dropping than the last. Shiofune Kannon-ji is out in Ome, about an hour and a half train ride from Shinjuku (which makesContinue reading “Let’s hike through bowers of flowers”

Let’s visit the perfect garden for how we’re feeling right now

Kairaku-en Plum Garden in Mito prefecture Like cherry blossoms, which are beloved because their brief but glorious life is the perfect metaphor for our own lives, plum blossoms have a special meaning too. They bravely bloom when there’s still a chance of snow, when nothing else in the world is blooming or green, and nothingContinue reading “Let’s visit the perfect garden for how we’re feeling right now”

Let’s go to Fox Village…in the snow!

Fox Village in Miyagi prefecture Fox Village is a legendary fox sanctuary in the mountains of Miyagi prefecture, where you can go into the spacious hilly habitat and walk among the dozens of foxes that live there. It’s an amazing opportunity to get up close and personal with this legendary trickster, and if you’re luckyContinue reading “Let’s go to Fox Village…in the snow!”