14 Nov 2018 in In immersion
Immerse yourself in the history of Japan with a tour of its ancient places.
It goes without saying that Japan is a country of ultra-modernity, of heated toilet seats, high-speed bullet trains and robot restaurants. But it’s also a land of deeply-ingrained tradition, of ancient Shinto shrines, samurai villages and feudal castles.
Head off in search of Japan’s past and you’re in for a treat. Immerse yourself in the architectural grandeur of shrines and temples. Follow in the footsteps of samurai. And wander the remains of a stone-age village in the hinterland of Northern Honshu.
Take a week to explore three iconic destinations.
Day 1-2: Tokyo
With a history of around 400 years, Tokyo is relatively young. But beyond its high-rise towers and high-tech culture, it boasts some of Japan’s most intriguing historical sites.
Sensoji temple is a good place to start, not least because it is older than Tokyo itself! A temple is said to have stood here since the 7th century. According to legend, two brothers netted a statue of Kannon, goddess of mercy, while fishing. Despite their efforts to get rid of it, the statue kept coming back – which they saw as a sign to build a temple honouring the goddess.
Today, the colourful, sprawling Sensoji complex mainly dates back to after World War II, when it was heavily rebuilt. But its colourful pagoda, monumental gate and the continual waft of incense will transport you back to another era.
Tokyo’s other must-see historical site is the more recent Meiji Jingu shrine.
Built in 1920 to honour Emperor Meiji and his wife, it is best-known for its expansive grounds, a haven of peace containing a treasure house with items belonging to the Emperor (closed until 2019).
Finally, how about visiting the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum?
A great way to walk through Japan’s architectural past before some well-earned relaxation at HOSHINOYA Tokyo.
Day 3: Kamakura
No need to change hotels. Coastal Kamakura is an easy day trip from Tokyo. Once the political powerhouse of Japan, this small city is a treasure trove of Japanese history.
Its peak influence was during the suitably-named Kamakura Period (1185–1333), when samurai and feudal lords rose to prominence. This was also when Japan embraced Buddhism – and, today, the chief reason to visit the city is for its awe-inspiring Buddhist monuments.
The must-see temple is Hasedera, where the goddess Kannon again takes centre stage. The 11-headed deity is personified by a 30ft-tall gilded statue, reputedly the biggest wooden sculpture in Japan.
If sizeable statues are your thing, then the Great Buddha of Kamakura is sure to please.
Measuring 44ft in height, this bronze effigy was cast in 1252 for the hall of the Kotokuin temple. The statue was moved just outside the building over 500 years ago and has been sitting there ever since.
Pay a small fee to step inside the Buddha and see how it was cast!
Day 4-6: Matsumoto
About 3 hours by train from Tokyo, Matsumoto offers up another insight into Japan’s history. Book yourself into Hoshino Resorts KAI Matsumoto, where nightly concerts pay tribute to the city’s rich music scene.
The iconic 16th-century Matsumoto Castle is the place to start. Set against the towering peaks of the Japanese Alps, this unmissable slice of history is often dubbed “Crow Castle” because of its distinctive black walls and roofs.
Climb its six stories and you’ll pass openings for arrows, guns and heavy stones – plus a display of the weapons themselves. From the top, the view of the city and surrounding mountains is unbeatable.
After visiting the castle, head to the former merchant district of Nakamachi-dori, where traditional storage houses (kura) line the streets as a reminder of the city’s prominent past.
Matsumoto is also a great base for exploring historical sites in Nagano Prefecture, including the Kiso Valley, an ancient trade route dotted with rural post towns that have barely changed since the Edo Period.
Or how about heading to Nagano city to visit Zenkoji, a monumental Buddhist temple where you can find the “key to paradise” by feeling your way through a pitch-black underground chamber?
Day 7 and beyond
Got a thirst for Japanese history?
Then why not book into HOSHINOYA Kyoto for 24 hours discovering the ancient capital’s rich past?
Or head to Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru, where the nearby Sannai-Maruyama site offers extraordinary archaeological insights into Japan during the Jōmon Period (c.10,500-300 BC)!