Japan is a diverse land of contrasts; a culinary and visual tapestry; but those who have spent any length of time in Japan can agree that one common thread from north to south is a remarkable and sincere enthusiasm and appreciation for details. Here are DINE’s recommendations of where to go based on our recent visits:
Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capital, is home to over 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. The Gion section of the city is where we can see geisha and maiko. Here we can walk through beautiful gardens and ancient temples, stroll along the Philosopher’s Walk, or visit the monkeys of Mt. Arashiyama. Kyoto is also one of the only major cities in Asia where you can count the ambient sounds on one hand. Check out DINE’s Kyoto: A Yen for Zen for what’s new in Kyoto. Just south of Kyoto is Nara, Japan’s first capital city, with thousand-year old temples and a proliferation of deer.
Osaka, once a major industrial hub, is now one of the most fashion-forward cities in Asia, and a gastronomy paradise replete with Michelin-starred restaurants. The newly renovated Ritz Carlton, Osaka hotel is, itself, a gastronomy destination. In Osaka we can’t walk ten feet without wanting to try a different tantalizing delicacy. Here we indulge in fugu (blowfish) and compare a range of wagyu from Kobe beef to Matsuzaka beef.
Wakayama, located south of Osaka, is known as the “Land of the Gods” where the royal family, spirit seekers, nature lovers and avid hikers have been making pilgrimage for over a millennia. The Kumano Kodo is more than a nice walk in the woods; it is a gateway into 3,600 mountains of shinboku “divine trees.” There are quantifiable human effects from “forest bathing” in this region of highly concentrated phytoncides. Breathing in this air results in a relaxed heart rate, increased mental acuity, decreased levels of cortisol, and increased “immunoglobulin A” antibodies that enhance human immune functions. Check out DINE’s Spiritual Japan for more detail on this rejuvenating destination.
Mie, adjacent to Wakayama, is one of the most fascinating destinations in Japan. (watch for our Mie feature in DINE 2013). Taste the luxurious prized Matsuzaka Beef. Visit the Ninja museum where the art of ninjitsu began. Stop at Mikimoto island to learn about cultured pearls…and then buy some. Follow the spiritual walk of the Kumano Kodo, and en route, visit the oldest shrine in Japan, Ise Grande Shrine, where Shinto, the indigenous faith of Japan, originated.
Tokyo, Japan’s modern capital, is electric. One of the most exciting cities in the world is also one of the cleanest. From the electronics mecca of Akihabara to the Buddhist temple area of Asakusa, Tokyo has everything. The largest fish market in the world, Tsukuji, is also where we can sample the freshest sushi in the world. Tokyo is a fashionista’s dream come true, and people-watching here is unparalleled. Day trips can include a visit to the revitalizing hot springs at Hakone below the iconic Mt. Fuji.
Okinawa is a tropical paradise of snow white beaches, juicy fruits and teaming fish in the south of Japan. Renown for world class diving through exquisite coral reefs, and as the birthplace of karate; it is also the inspiration for “The Okinawa Diet” that conveys the healthy longevity of the traditional Okinawan women. Okinawans have the longest life expectancy and health expectancy in the world. (watch for our Okinawa feature in DINE 2013)
For more information go to: ilovejapan.ca