A photo album of… Japan
Cox & Kings’ Far East expert Phil Hammond travelled to Japan and took some beautiful photos of a number of the country’s famous sights.
One of my highlights in Kyoto is the beautiful Bamboo Forest at Arashiyama. It is just a 20-minute train journey from Kyoto station in the north west of the city. There are a couple of paths that take you through the forest with bamboo towering either side of you. The bamboo can grow up to 30 metres high and obscures the sun. It truly is one of the most photogenic places to visit in Japan, so make sure you take a good camera! Whether you’re travelling with a guide or visiting the forest independently, I recommend arriving early to avoid the crowds and be able to enjoy the sound of the bamboo swaying in the breeze.
A well-known sight in Hiroshima is the rather sobering A-Bomb Dome. Originally built as the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, it was the only building left standing at the epicentre of the atomic bomb in 1945. The ruins stand almost exactly as it did the day the bomb was dropped. As the city was rebuilt but during the 1950’s, many locals wanted the dome destroyed as it was a constant reminder of the attack. Today it forms part of the wider Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and can be viewed through the cenotaph and from the main museum. I was stopped by a local Japanese school group who asked me about my time in Japan and gave me a present with a peace message. While the A-Bomb Dome is a stark reminder of the power of nuclear weapons, Hiroshima’s real message is one of peace.
Renowned for its numerous temples and shrines, Kyoto’s most iconic is the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Set on a hill in the west of the city, the Shinto shrine is famous for its traditional red torrii gates that span round the shrine. The shrine has thousands of these gates of various sizes and there are several different paths that you can walk through. If you’d like to go through them all, the full walkway takes two hours. I stuck to the lower path and managed to get away from the crowds and took this photo of two of the locals wearing kimonos walking through the gates.
Himeji Castle is the finest example of medieval architecture in Japan. It towers over the town of Himeji and is easy to spot from the bullet train to and from Osaka. When I visited, I went without a guide, which was remarkably easy. I was able to store my bag in a luggage locker at the train station and took the short walk from the station to the castle. There are two ticket options here; just the castle or the castle and its gardens. If you’re travelling in spring or autumn, the gardens are an absolute must. Once inside, follow the one-way path through the castle, reading about the history. At the very top of the castle there are great views of the city and the gardens. It takes a couple of hours to make your way around and it’s well worth the stop to break up the journey between Hiroshima and Osaka, or vice versa.
On a free day, I decided to make use of my rail pass and took the train from Kyoto to Nara Park. Just a 35-minute train, Nara is one of the oldest parks in Japan. Famous for its deer, Nara is home to the world’s biggest wooden building, the Todai-ji Buddhist temple. This impressive building dominates the north-eastern corner of the park and here you will find the world’s largest bronze Buddha. Nara Park is a great day trip from either Kyoto or Osaka, and is particularly beautiful in spring and autumn.
Opposite the imposing Kanazawa Castle, the Kenroku-en Gardens are one of the top three gardens in Japan. These landscaped gardens are set over a spacious area and feature a variety of flowering trees, which make it a beautiful place to visit all year round. It goes without saying that these gardens are a must if you are travelling in cherry blossom season and compliment a visit to Kanazawa Castle and the Samurai district, which are within walking distance of the gardens.
The most iconic view in Miyajima is the Torrii gate, which appear to float on the water at high tide. Once on the island, for 1,000 yen you can take one of the small boats out and float through the gate. This makes for great photo opportunities of the imposing structure. If you look closely, you can see the profile of the Buddha in the mountains. If you stay till late on the island, the tide goes out so far that you are able to walk under the gate. The sunset provides an amazing backdrop to one of Japan’s most famous views.
A 2-hour train journey north of Tokyo, Nikko is home to a mixture of Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples. This mix of philosophies give the architecture a unique feel and are unlike any other Buddhist temples you will see throughout Asia. Arguably the most impressive of these is the Tosho-gu Shrine which dates back to the early 1600’s. The Yomeimon Gate here is one of the extravagantly decorated in Japan, with over 500 carvings of dragons and mystical beasts.
Cox & Kings arranges escorted group tours and tailor-made private travel throughout Japan. To visit many of the stunning sights described in this article, options include our Japan’s Cultural Treasures group tour, or the Japan Self-Guided Adventure. Alternatively, find out more about all our holidays to Japan here.