Sakurajima (桜島) is one of Japan's most active volcanoes and the symbol of Kagoshima. The volcano smokes constantly, and minor eruptions often take place multiple times per day. Located in the middle of Kagoshima Bay, Sakurajima is the area's most prominent geographic feature, having an elevation of 1117 meters and a circumference of about 50 kilometres.
Before a powerful eruption in 1914, Sakurajima used to be an island in the bay, but the massive lava flow from that eruption created the volcano's current land connection to the Osumi Peninsula in the east. For the majority of travellers, however, the volcano is still most easily accessed by the ferries that run the 3.5 kilometres between Kagoshima Port and the Sakurajima Ferry Terminal.
Visitors to the aquarium are immediately drawn into the experience by stepping in front of the massive floor to ceiling Kuroshio Great Water Tank right after they enter. This approximately 1,360,000 liter tank focuses on the Kuroshio current; the current that runs off of Japan's eastern coast and is essential for supporting a wide variety of marine life. A large whale shark, graceful manta rays, and shiny tuna all glide right in front of your face. As you exit the large tank room, you walk right under these magnificent creatures, as the tank curves over your head.
Kagoshima City takes particular pride in its marine life and the aquarium features many species that are indigenous to the local area. Those familiar with the southern port towns such as Makurazaki will recognize the shiny tuna (katsuo) in the huge 1st-floor tank, for example. Perhaps the most intriguing residents are the taka-ashi (lit. tall leg) crabs, whose leg spans can reach nearly 4 meters! These somewhat fierce-looking, yet serene animals are prevalent in the warmer waters between Kagoshima Bay and Tokyo Bay. Jellyfish, eel and squid are other creatures you can learn about through exhibits that are translated into English.
After stumbling across the Christmas Market at Hakata Station, I discovered that Kyushu was actually holding many Christmas Markets across different JR Station locations. Kagoshima-chuo station happened to be another of those market locations, and despite being a lot smaller in size than the Hakata one, this market still had beautiful lights and some lovely stalls.
The Reimeikan Museum (黎明館) is dedicated to local history and culture. On three spacious floors, it presents a wide variety of exhibits that cover the span of Kagoshima's history from ancient to modern times. There are a few interesting models, such as a large diorama of downtown Kagoshima at the beginning of the Showa Period (1926-1989) and a small scale model of a village from the middle ages.
The museum was built on the former site of the local castle, known as Kagoshima or Tsurumaru Castle, and is surrounded by parts of the former moat and stone walls. The museum and castle ruins are located at the base of Mount Shiroyama, which literally means "castle mountain" in Japanese.
The Chiba Zoological Park, first opened in April 1985, is located about halfway between Tokyo and Narita, just outside of the city of Chiba.
The zoo is divided into seven sections: the Zoological Hall, the Small Animal Zone, the Steppe Zone, the Monkey Zone, the Avian and Aquatic Zone, the Ancestors of Domestic Animals Zone, and the Children’s Zoo. The Small Animal Zone houses Futa, the red panda who in 2005 became a television celebrity because of his ability to stand on his hind legs. His son, Kuta, now has the same ability, so you have twice the chance to see the spectacle when you stop by! The park map has pictures of the animals (at their locations), so there is no need to worry if you cannot get ahold of an English map.
If you can, it is extra special to visit the zoo between mid-March and mid-April, when the many cherry blossom trees onsite are in full bloom!
Senganen Garden (仙巌園), also known as Isoteien (磯庭園), is a Japanese style landscaped garden along the coast north of downtown Kagoshima. One of the garden's most striking features is its use of Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay as borrowed scenery. The garden also includes small ponds, streams, shrines and a bamboo grove.
Senganen was constructed in 1658 by the wealthy Shimazu Clan, one of the most powerful feudal clans during the Edo Period (1603-1867). The Shimazu ruled the Satsuma domain (present-day Kagoshima) for almost 700 years until the end of the feudal age in 1868. They continued to be influential into the modern era as some of the earliest adopters of Western science and technology.
At the centre of the garden stands the Iso Residence. The residence was originally built in 1658 along with the rest of the garden, but the current building mostly dates back to a mid-1880s reconstruction. After the end of the feudal age, the Iso Residence became the main residence of the Shimazu family, and its rooms are preserved in the way they were used in the 1890s.
Shiroyama Park (城山公園, Shiroyama Kōen) is a park in downtown Kagoshima that extends over Mount Shiroyama. With an elevation of 107 meters, the mountain formerly served as the site of a castle fortification, which led to its name. Shiroyama literally means "castle mountain" in Japanese. The castle's former grounds at the base of the mountain now serve as the site of the Reimeikan Museum.
The park is most famous for its Shiroyama Observatory with spectacular views over downtown Kagoshima, Kagoshima Bay and Sakurajima. The night view is also nice, particularly if a clear sky and bright moon allow Sakurajima to remain visible. Nice views can also be enjoyed from the Satsuma no Yu outdoor hot spring bath at the nearby Castle Park Hotel, which is also open to non-staying guests.
Mt. Takasaki Wild Monkey Park (高崎山自然動物園) is located in the west of the city, 20 min. by bus from JR Oita Sta. The area is the famous habitat of about 1,368 wild Japanese monkeys (as of January 2013) who live in a forest on the steep slope of Mt. Takasaki at a height of 628 m.
Takasakiyama Monkey Park (高崎山自然動物園, Takasakiyama Shizen Dōbutsuen) is a popular monkey reserve at the base of Mount Takasaki, a 628 meter high mountain along the coast between Beppu and Oita City. The mountain is home to some 1500 wild Japanese macaques that roam freely around its steep, forested slopes. Park visitors can get close to the monkeys as they are fed, and watch them as they run around, play or just sit in the sun and groom each other.
Mount Takasaki's monkeys are divided into two separate troops of approximately 700 to 800 individuals each, making them some of the world's largest monkey troops. The troops take turns coming down to the monkey park, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. During their stay at the park, the monkeys get fed by the wardens and spend their time playing and resting while appearing almost oblivious to the human visitors. However, although they seem tame, the monkeys should not be touched or fed, and eye contact should be avoided.
The Oita Prefectural Art Museum is located on Japan’s island of Kyushu. The modern and contemporary Japanese art collection is impressive; however, the biggest highlight of the museum is its elaborate modern architecture designed by noted architect Shigeru Ban.
Since the Edo era, Kokura has flourished as a castle town. Kokura Castle, the symbol of the town, was founded by Tadaoki Hosokawa in 1602. The only castle remaining in Fukuoka Prefecture, it attracts many tourists.
The Mazda Motor Corporation, founded in Hiroshima in 1920, still retains its corporate headquarters in the city of its origins. In addition to the headquarters, Mazda owns a large plot of coastal land which accommodates research and development laboratories, factories, and shipping facilities. The company museum and part of a factory are made available for public viewing.
Like Toyota to Nagoya, Mazda plays a large role in Hiroshima's economy. Although Mazda is not as large as Toyota, it still produces over a million cars a year and is an innovative player in the Japanese auto industry. For instance, in 1991 Mazda became the first and only Japanese company to win the Le Mans Grand Prix. Continuing efforts to create more efficient vehicles include improving its version of rotary engines.
The museum continues to spearhead the global movement towards nuclear disarmament and lasting world peace. The museum is divided into the East Building and the Main Building. In the museum, the history of Hiroshima before and after the bombing is exhibited with pictures, movies and displays. Also, there are some items that convey the devastation caused by the atomic bomb. In spring, the Peace Park is covered with cherry blossoms.
Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park (平和記念公園, Heiwa Kinen Kōen) is one of the most prominent features of the city. Even visitors not looking for it will likely stumble upon the large park of over 120,000 square meters. Its trees, lawns, and walking paths are in stark contrast to the surrounding downtown area.
Before the bomb, the area of what is now the Peace Park was the political and commercial heart of the city. For this reason, it was chosen as the pilot's target. Four years to the day after the bomb was dropped, it was decided that the area would not be redeveloped but instead devoted to peace memorial facilities.
Hiroshima Castle (広島城, Hiroshimajō), also called the Carp Castle, is a good example of a castle built on a plain in the center of a city as opposed to hilltop and mountaintop castles. Its main keep is five stories tall, and its grounds are surrounded by a moat. Also within the castle's precincts are a shrine, some ruins and a few reconstructed buildings of the Ninomaru (second circle of defence).
Hiroshima developed as a castle town, whereby the castle was both the physical and economical center of the city. Built in 1589 by the powerful feudal lord Mori Terumoto, Hiroshima Castle was an important seat of power in Western Japan. While it was spared the demolishment that many other castles met during the Meiji Restoration, like the rest of the city, Hiroshima Castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945.
Shukkeien's (縮景園) name can be translated into English as "shrunken-scenery garden", which is also a good description of the garden itself. Valleys, mountains, and forests are represented in miniature in the garden's landscapes. Through careful cultivation of the land and vegetation, the garden mimics a variety of natural formations and scenic views.
Shukkeien has a long history dating back to 1620, just after the completion of Hiroshima Castle. The garden displays many features of the traditional aesthetics of Japanese gardens. Around the garden's main pond there are a number of tea houses which offer visitors ideal views of the surrounding scenery.
The entire garden is connected by a path which winds around the pond at the center of the garden. The path passes through all of Shukkeien's various miniaturized sceneries. Following this path around the garden is the best way to enjoy Shukkeien.
Kosan Wajo of Kosanji Temple became a Buddhist priest after the death of his mother, and the temple belonging to the Honganji sect of the Jodo Shinshu sect was built as a memorial to her. Various pagodas that had been built over more than 30 years since 1936 were reproduced with representative styles and methods of Buddhist architecture from the Asuka to Edo Periods. The Koyo no Mon gate that took 10 years to build and is a reproduction of the Yomei Gate in Nikko, excellent art works exhibited in the new treasure hall, and the approximately 50,000 square meter location with its seasonal beauty reminds you of heaven. The temple is also famous for cherry blossoms and autumn leaves.
The symbol of the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, this private museum features Western works of art in an eye-catching building styled after a Greek temple. Based on Ohara Magosaburo’s collection of Western art, Ohara Museum of Art features a large collection of world-famous paintings and work such as one of El Greco’s “Annunciation” and Monet’s “Water Lilies.” The museum also features a pond with water lilies propagated from Monet’s residence.
Iyama Hofuku-ji Temple was built in 1232 as a Zen temple. The temple is famous as the childhood training grounds for the painter Sesshu—the most prominent Japanese master of ink wash painting, which employs shading from a single-color inkstick. A popular attraction at the temple is the Buddhist practice of zazen, where worshippers sit in meditation for spiritual unity. Visitors can join early morning zazen sessions on the second Sunday of every month with no reservations required, and tea and sweets provided after the meditation offer a chance to experience the hospitality of Japanese culture. The temple’s fresh green of spring and vibrant foliage in autumn also make for beautiful sights.
Built in 1240, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle is both an Important Cultural Property of Japan and is counted among Japan’s top 100 castles. The castle is located atop a mountain at an altitude of 430 m, making it the highest fortress with an existing castle tower in Japan. Visitors to the castle are treated to a spectacular sight, especially in the early mornings of fall and winter when the clouds spread out to form a “sea of clouds” around the castle. Also in fall, when the trees change color, the landscape becomes painted in a deep vermilion as if the castle walls were aflame, offering visitors a truly majestic sight.
The Kibi Plain is a charming, rural flatland just outside of central Okayama City that is covered in sprawling fields and dotted with shrines, temples and small clusters of farmhouses. The plain is best explored from an attractive cycling trail which visits several historic sights along the way.
Completed in 1597 after eight years of construction, Okayama Castle is one of Japan’s top 100 castles. After the keep was destroyed in the war, the castle was rebuilt in 1966. Also known as “U-jo (Crow Castle)” for its crow-like black outer wall, Okayama Castle is a popular counterpart to the white outer walls of Himeji Castle.
This quintessential Japanese garden was created roughly 300 years ago by the area’s daimyo (domain lord). A symbol of the power of the samurai, Okayama Korakuen Garden is considered one of the three great gardens of Japan alongside Kanazawa City’s Kenroku-en and Mito City’s Kairakuen.
The ancient temple of Saidaiji Kannon-in was built around 1,200 years ago. Walking along the approach, visitors will pass by rows of traditional shops before entering the shrine’s gate and arriving at the main hall.
Located in Osafune, a town that once flourished as a major produce of Japanese swords, the Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum is one of a limited number of sword museums and features a variety of Japanese swords on display. Visitors can learn about the history and manufacturing process for Japanese swords as well as experience the beauty and power of the swords up close. The museum features several special exhibitions throughout the year that combine animations and video games, making this a popular destination for sword fans from across the country. In the adjacent workshop, visitors can see the skill of Japanese sword artisans, including the process where tamahagane, steel made from iron sand, is heated to 1300°C and then hammered to make a plate.
Located on a gently sloping plateau, Hiruzen-kogen Heights is Japan’s leading resort area. The area is famous as the largest breeding zone for Jersey cows in Japan. Whether to take in the fresh greenery of spring or the fall foliage in autumn, the Hiruzen-kogen Heights Cycling Path is a popular cycling destination, and with hiking and camping in summer and playing in the snow in winter, the area offers visitors the chance to experience the richness of nature in any season. Visitors are also encouraged to try local gourmet offerings such as “Hiruzen Yakisoba” (noodles stir-fried in a miso-based sauce), “Genghis Khan” (a grilled mutton dish), and soft-serve ice cream and cheese made from the milk of the area’s Jersey cows.
Kakuzan Park is on the ruins of an ancient castle, Tsuyama Castle, which was built about 400 years ago. The castle’s approximately 10 m tall stone wall remains today, greeting visitors with a majestic view of overlapping stones even from a distance. The ruin has been selected as one of Japan’s top 100 castles and has earned a spot as one of Japan’s top 100 cherry blossom sites. The Tsuyama Cherry Blossom Festival held every year in early to mid April gives visitors the chance to experience the park’s 1,000 or so cherry trees. After sunset, looking down from atop the stone wall at the cherry trees illuminated below, visitors will be treated to an unimaginably beautiful view.
With its riverside rotenburo (outdoor bath), Okutsu Onsen features numerous elegant inns and accommodations. Because soaking in the hot spring’s waters is said to make one’s skin white and smooth, this onsen is famously known as “Bijin no Yu” (Onsen of Beauty). “Ashibumi Sentaku,” also known as the “Washing Dance,” is performed by women in kimonos holding pails while stamping on garments and making washing motions with their toes. This “dance,” a noted attraction at Okutsu Onsen, is performed in the rotenburo on Sundays and public holidays from late March to early December. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the “Ashibumi Sentaku” at no charge as well as the area’s beautiful seasonal landscapes including fall foliage in autumn and snowfall in winter.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is located in the Tempozan Harbor Village of Osaka's bay area and is one of Japan's most spectacular aquariums. It introduces various forms of life inhabiting the Pacific Rim in a well organized and impressive way.
Marine life is displayed in 15 tanks, each representing a specific region of the Pacific Rim. The central tank, representing the Pacific Ocean, is nine meters deep and home to a whale shark, the aquarium's main attraction.
Visitors start their tour of the aquarium on the 8th floor and slowly spiral down floor by floor around the central tank. Some of the tanks stretch over several floors, making it possible to observe the animals from different depths and perspectives.
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) was the first theme park under the Universal Studios brand to be built in Asia. Opened in March 2001 in the Osaka Bay Area, the theme park occupies an area of 39 hectares and is the most visited amusement park in Japan after Tokyo Disney Resort.
Universal Studios Japan currently has eight sections: Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Waterworld, Amity Village, Universal Wonderland and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Visitors are able to enjoy many amusement rides, ranging from child-friendly carousels to thrilling roller coasters and simulators based on popular movies such as Spiderman, Back to the Future, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park.
In Osaka, the shrine is known affectionately as "Sumiyossan." Every year, from January 1st to 3rd, the shrine welcomes more than 2 million people for Hatsumode, the traditional first shrine visit of the year. The head shrine for Japan's approximately 2,300 Sumiyoshi shrines, Sumiyoshi Taisha is the most important shrine in the Osaka area. Praying to the gods here is believed to ensure maritime safety, as well as good luck in farming, waka poetry, martial arts, and sumo wrestling, and to ward off disasters of all kinds. Built more than 1,800 years ago, the buildings are arranged to resemble a fleet of ships headed out to sea. The shrine was built in an architectural style known as Sumiyoshi-zukuri, the oldest style used in shrine construction, and is registered as a national treasure. Sumiyoshi Taisha has more than 30 auxiliary shrines, as well as a number of festivals and rituals, including Sumiyoshi Matsuri. The grounds of the shrine are carefully preserved as a national treasure and important cultural property for their architectural and cultural value.
Standing 300 meters tall, Abeno Harukas (あべのハルカス) in Osaka is the tallest skyscraper in Japan. The building stands on top of the Kintetsu Osaka Abenobashi Station and is conveniently located across from JR Tennoji Station. It houses a department store, an art museum, a hotel and an observation deck.
The observation deck is called "Harukas 300" and occupies the building's top three floors (floors 58 to 60). The observation deck is accessed by elevators from the 16th floor. With large floor-to-ceiling glass panels all around, the 60th floor offers 360-degree views of Osaka, while the 58th floor features an attractively designed inner court with a wooden deck and cafe. A souvenir shop and restrooms with views are also available.
Shitennoji (四天王寺, Shitennōji) is one of Japan's oldest temples and the first-ever to be built by the state. It was founded in 593 by Prince Shotoku, who supported the introduction of Buddhism into Japan. Although the temple's buildings burned down several times throughout the centuries, they were always carefully reconstructed to reflect the original 6th-century design.
The outer temple grounds are free to enter, but admission to the inner precinct, the Gokuraku-Jodo Garden and the treasure house is paid. In the pebble covered courtyard of the inner precinct stand a five-storied pagoda that can be entered and ascended and the Main Hall (Kondo) in which Prince Shotoku is enshrined as a statue of Kannon.
The National Museum of Art, Osaka (国立国際美術館, Kokuritsu Kokusai Bijutsukan) occupies two underground floors on Nakanoshima Island in central Osaka. The museum focuses on Japanese and foreign contemporary art, with exhibitions from the museum collection and special exhibitions.
The museum's current building was opened in 2007 and was designed to represent the growth and shape of a bamboo plant. The facility was formerly housed in the Expo Museum of Fine Arts, built for the Osaka Expo in 1970.
The Osaka Museum of History opened in 2003 in a tall building next to NHK Osaka and just across the street from Osaka Castle. The building offers excellent views of the castle from its top floors.
The museum exhibits are visually oriented with several large models. They chronicle the city's history, beginning in ancient times when Osaka served as Japan's first capital and site of the Naniwa Palace and ending with exhibits on the city's bustling shopping arcades of the early Showa Period.
The museum's collection is set up on the upper floors of the building while the lower floors are occupied by a restaurant, shop and spacious lobby. Museum visitors first take the elevator to the top floor and then follow the exhibition route down.
Osaka Castle, or “Osaka-jo” in Japanese, is certainly one of the most famous landmarks in Japan, and for good reason. This five-story castle is one of the most visually spectacular creations in the country, with a history that dates back almost 450 years!
Visitors to Osaka Castle can enter inside, which currently operates a historical museum, for a small fee (15 years and younger can enter for free), with group discounts available. On each floor inside the castle are a wide variety of artefacts detailing the extensive history of Osaka and the castle itself. While not all the artefact information is available in English, there are leaflets available that explain much of the exhibits. On the top floor visitors can catch a breathtaking view of the surrounding areas, taking in the parks and cityscapes.
Asahi is one of Japan's top four beer producers and has its roots in Osaka. Its most well-known and internationally recognized product is Asahi Super Dry, a very light, crisp lager, which was launched in 1987. The Suita Factory (アサヒビール吹田工場, Asahi Beer Suita Kōjō) in Osaka is the company's first brewery, built in 1891.
Free brewery tours are offered at the Suita Factory which lasts about 90 minutes and includes a tasting session. Most tours are conducted in Japanese, while multilingual audio guides are available for download to one's mobile device. English tours are held only on a few selected days.
A typical tour starts with a video presentation of the Asahi products and continues to galleries with displays about the history of the company and the production process of beer. It then moves on to observation decks from where the brewery's canning, bottling and packing areas can be viewed from behind windows. Along the way, there are also promotional posters from past decades and a section showcasing the factory's collection of international beers.
Minoo Park (箕面公園, Minō Kōen, also spelt Mino or Minoh) is a forested valley on the outskirts of Osaka, just north of the urban sprawl. During the fall, it is one of the best places in the Kansai Region to see the autumn colours in a natural setting, as opposed to the attractive fall foliage found at temples and gardens. The colours are usually best in the second half of November.
Similar to Tokyo's Mount Takao, Minoo Park is the closest spot to the busy metropolis of Osaka to find a spacious natural recreation area. The park can be reached in less than 30 minutes from the downtown Umeda area. Another similarity, Takao and Minoo were both given quasi-national park status in 1967 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Meiji Period (1867-1912).