(東京) Tokyo is the capital of Japan and the largest international city in the world in terms of population and economics. Cutting-edge technologies, highly-developed subway system, pop-culture, delicious food are there, and almost anything you can eat and buy in Tokyo.
Since more than four hundreds years ago, Tokyo has been the center of Japan. Despite the severe damages of war and earthquakes, Tokyo revived repeatedly and currently exists as the mixture of modern and traditional cultures. Major ‘Must-See’ spots are located close, connected conveniently via the train system and accessible in 30 min from Tokyo station. Many spots to visit, a lot of restaurants, a number of hotels and other cultural funs are available here.
(草津温泉) Kusatsu is one of Japan’s best onsen spots, which is proud of the most significant volume of onsen sources in Japan and several “free” public onsen where you can feel a traditional atmosphere of historical onsen town. As source of onsen is known for the high benefit for health because of the strong acid and bactericidal effect, Kusatsu Onsen is told to be “effective to any sicks except for love”. In a small onsen town, there are various onsen ryokans, souvenir shops, and free onsen facilities. From Tokyo, accessible in 2.5 hours and one-night stay is recommended. Also reachable from Karuizawa in 1 hour so a day-trip even possible as a part of your Karuizawa trip.
1. Nara Park 奈良公園
Dating from 1880, Nara park is the top highlight in Nara and even in Japan for foreign travelers. Including world heritage sites such as Tōdai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, and Kasuga-Taisha, this vast park has many places to see and famous for scenery with cherry blossom and autumn leaves. It’s also a unique view that 1,300 deer are walking around in the park freely. It’s opened in 24h 365days for free.
2. Tōdai-ji Temple 東大寺
Registered with the world heritage ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara’, this historical temple houses the large Daibutsu, the statue of Great Buddha, and the multiple historic buildings in the temple ground. Though the original Daibutsu was built in 800’s by Shomu emperor, due to repeated wars and fires, Daibutsu and buildings have been rebuilt in multiple times. The current Great Buddha was rebuilt at the end of the 1600s, and the splendid wooden gate, Nandaimon, was constructed in 1199, which also shouldn’t be missed.
3. Kōfuku-ji temple 興福寺
Counted as one of the eight world heritage assets in Nara, Kōfukuji Temple is proud of multiple splendid historical architectures, many of which are national treasures and important cultural assets. Dating from 730, Kōfukuji had strong power which even central government couldn’t control. However, it gradually lost its power, and after the Meiji period when Shinto and Buddhism separated, this temple was almost abandoned, and the five-story pagoda was sold at a cheap price. Around one hundred years ago, this temple started to revive again and nowadays still many of historical buildings can be seen: the five-story pagoda rebuilt in 1426, Tokon-dō in 1415, and Chukon-dō has been rebuilt in 2018.
4. Sarusawa pond 猿沢池
This pond was created in 749, which is famous for the beautiful scenery of Japanese garden. The five-story pagoda of Kōfukuji Temple and weeping trees are reflected on a surface of the pond, that is photogenic.
5. Kasuga Taisha 春日大社
Dating from 768, this is the head shrine of all the Kasuga shrine all over Japan and the world heritage component asset. Kasuga Taisha is well-reputed for 27 of vermilion-colored shrine buildings which have been repaired or rebuilt every 20 years. There are many national treasures and important cultural properties stored such as swords, armors, art craft works, and others.
7. Shōsōin 正倉院
Listed on the world heritage and the national treasure, Shōsōin houses around 9,000 “treasures” which are super valuable. Many Buddhism assets, old Japanese artworks, historical assets, and treasures, including the ones imported from Roma, Persia, and China long ago. Usually, it’s closed, and no one can enter. But, only in the Shōsōin Exhibition at Nara National Museum, you can see just only 70 items of them.
8. Isuien Garden依水園
Isuien garden is the tranquil and beautiful Japanese garden surrounding a pond which reflects seasonal landscape on it. Also, in the museum adjacent to the garden, you can see old artworks from east Asia.
9. Gangōji Temple元興寺
One of the world heritage assets, this ancient temple derived from Japan’s first temple, Hōkōji temple founded in 593 (already gone). Currently, the old temple buildings rebuilt in around 1200s create the solemn atmosphere. Roof tiles on them have been dating since its origin, about 1,400 years ago.
10. Yakushiji Temple 薬師寺
One of the world heritage assets, Yakushiji temple, was founded in 680 by Shōmu Emperor for wishing his wife’s recovery from the illness. Most of the original buildings were gone due to repeated wars and fires except for Tōtō tower which dates back to 1,300 years ago (under repair until Apr of 2020). Decades ago, other buildings were reconstructed and have beautiful vermilion-colored buildings. Also, statues of Buddha in temple buildings are historically valuable, that exist since the foundation of this temple.
11. Heijō Palace 平城京跡
Heijō palace was founded in 710 and lasted until 784. Original buildings were already gone long ago, and only structural remnants were found. The main building and gate were rebuilt, and other buildings are under reconstruction. Those are magnificent architectures worth seeing. Also, you can see the entire small model of Heijō Palace, related documents, and exhibitions at a museum. One of the world heritage assets.
12. Hōryū-ji Temple 法隆寺
Hōryūji Temple is the group of work heritage assets “Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area” and well-known for magnificent wooden architectures, which are the oldest in the world. Shōtoku-Taishi and Suiko Emperor founded it in 607, but original buildings were gone due to the fire, and the current buildings were rebuilt in the early of eight century. After that, fortunately, it could avoid any natural disasters and war fires, due to the Japanese people’s intense worship of Shōtoku-Taishi, who is one of the greatest people for Japanese. It was the first world heritage assets in Japan, and many architectures are registered with national treasure and important cultural asset (55 buildings). Plenty of historically-valuable Buddhism artworks are stored here. It’s a bit distant from the center of Nara, but its beautiful temple architecture which cannot be seen anywhere else should be the must-see if you visit Nara.
13. Tōshōdaiji Temple唐招提寺
One of the world heritage assets, the ancient temple founded in 759 boasts of beautiful temple architectures, some of which have existed for around 1,300 years, in serene temple ground. Besides buildings, there are many historically-valuable Buddhism sculptures stored. Ganjin statue, who founded this temple, is the oldest human statue in Japan and registered with the national treasure.