Today’s Travel Tuesday destination is Japan, courtesy of the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Page-A-Day calendar.
1. Niseko: Three major bodies of water surround Japan’s main northern island of Hokkadio—the sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Pacific Ocean—and when the freezing winter winds blow in from Siberia, they dump as much as 40 feet of dry powder snow (with a downy 4 percent moisture content). Niseko, a resort area that sits at the same latitude as Portland, Oregon, gets more of this perfect snow than Whistler or Vail could ever dream of, creating some of the world’s greatest ski runs.
- Where: 160 miles/257 km southwest of Sapporo.
- Best Times: December-March for skiing; May-October for fireworks at Lake Toya.
2. Hiroshima and Miyajima: It’s hard to imagine that the Hiroshima so devastated on August 6, 1945, is now a vibrant forward-looking city visited by millions every year who came from all over the world to pay their respects. The most prominent reminder of that fateful day is the twisted and charred shell of the old Industrial Promotion Hall, now known as the A-Bomb Dome (Genkaku Domu), left it its distressed state as a symbol of humankind’s self-destructiveness. Across the Motoyasu River is the Peace Memorial Park (Heiwa Kinen Koen), dotted with monuments to the victims of the world’s fist atomic-bomb attack, and a sobering museum with displays that relive one of the worst days in history, beginning with a watch forever stopped at 8:15 a.m.
- Where: 537 miles/864 km southwest of Tokyo on the Seto Inland Sea.
- Best Times: August 6 for bombing anniversary, when white doves are released; late March-April for cherry blossoms; October-early November for autumn foliage on Miyajima island.
3. Kyoto: To stroll through Kyoto is to travel through 11 centuries of Japan’s history. Once the home of the imperial court, the city as also a center of Japanese religion, aesthetics, music, theater, and dance, reaching its height as a center for crafts during the Muromachi Period (1334-1568). Spared by Allied bombing during World War II, the city is said to hold 20 percent of all Japan’s national treasures, including more than 1,700 Buddhist temples and 300 Shinto shrines, all dispersed (often hidden) amid its modern cityscape.
4. Tokyo: Japan’s frenetic capital is a trip in more ways than one. By turns reassuringly familiar and unsettlingly strange, Tokyo offers up neon-bright canyons of consumerism, contemporary pop culture escapades, outstanding dining, and blissful, Zen-calm gardens and shrines. The effects of the catastrophic 2011 earthquake and its aftermath will be felt for years to come. But to the unsuspecting eye, life in Tokyo continues without a blip at high speed and around the clock. An astonishing architectural mishmash, its densely packed neighborhoods include everything from the remnants of a 17th-century castle to high-tech towers wrapped in giant LED displays. With perpetual change hardwired into its DNA, it is the ultimate urban adventure.
5. Walking the Nakasendo: In the 17th century the 330-mile Nakasendo—literally “the road through the central mountains”—was the principal inland route between the Imperial capital, Kyoto, and Edo, the Shogun’s seat of power (better known these days as Tokyo). The 74-mile-long Kiso-ji section of the Nakasendo, winding its way through the Kiso Valley, is one of the most scenic and best-preserved parts of the route. Three of the 11 post towns (places where travelers would rest and take refreshments) that originally lined the Kiso-ji are particularly worth visiting for their efforts to preserve the look and feel of feudal Japan.
- Where: Tsumago is 50 miles/80 km south of Matsumoto.
- How: Walk Japan organizes 12-day tours of the region. Tel: 81/90-5026-3638; www.walkjapan.com.
- Best Times: April for cherry blossoms; May for azaleas; late October-November for fall foliage.
Read more on 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and the calendar line here.