Tokyo’s most famous landmark, the Imperial Palace with its beautiful 17th-century parks surrounded by walls and moats, is a must-see when visiting the nation’s capital. Don’t be put off by the fact that the majority of the palace is closed to the public (it’s still in use by the Imperial family), as there is still enough to see simply by strolling the grounds. In addition to the many fine views of the palace from numerous points in the surrounding parkland – including the famous Nijubashi Bridge, or “double bridge,” so named for its watery reflection – visitors are permitted into the East Higashi-Gyoen Garden and other areas that are opened to the public as part of an organized tour.
Another must-see for tourists visiting Tokyo is the famous Ginza shopping district, home to the Kabuki-za Theatre with its Kabuki performances, as well as the Shimbashi Enbujo Theatre with its traditional Azuma-odori dances and Bunraku performances.
One of Japan’s most visited cities, lovely Kyoto – one of the few cities in the country to be spared the devastation of WWII – attracts more than 10 million visitors annually to explore its fine old streets and architecture, much of it unchanged since the Imperial family took up residence here more than 1,000 years ago. Even then, the city was Japan’s most important cultural center, a legacy that continues with its many museums and art galleries, each bursting with important sculptures, paintings, and other art forms.
Just a short ferry ride from mainland Hiroshima is the island of Miyajima, famous the world over as Japan’s Shrine Island. Covering an area of 30 square kilometers in Hiroshima Bay, Miyajima is best known as the home of the Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto temple dedicated to the Princess daughters of the wind god Susanoo.
Dating from the eighth century, the majority of the shrine’s buildings rise out of the waters of a small bay supported only by piles. The effect at high tide is simply stunning, making these structures – including the famous Great Floating Gate (O-Torii) – appear as if they’re floating on water.
While little need be said here of the horrors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945, much can be said of the incredible efforts this vibrant city has made to commemorate the many victims of the world’s first nuclear attack, and perhaps even more importantly, the symbol of lasting peace Hiroshima has since become.
Visited by more than a million people each year, many from overseas, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Kōen) lies at the epicenter of the atomic blast in what was once a bustling part of the city and includes a number of important monuments, memorials, and museums relating to the events of that fateful day.
In addition to the grounds and gardens with their colorful cherry blossoms, the park’s highlights include the Peace Memorial Museum with its numerous exhibits dealing with the issue of world peace, and the Memorial Cenotaph and the Flame of Peace, as well as the Atom Bomb Dome, the ruins of an administrative building that lay at the center of the explosion.