Journey Through Japan
As a traveler, you can’t go wrong with a storied, historically-vibrant country that also packs in its share of modern marvels.
While parts of Japan were seriously affected by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the Kyoto region was largely unaffected, since it was more than 325 miles from the epicenter. As such, travel is still safe there and Kyoto is anxiously awaiting conference attendees to their lovely part of the world and there should be no additional health issues for those with hemophilia.
Following are a few can’t-miss highlights of this East Asian island nation:
Traditional Japan: Kyoto
If there’s one city that best sums up Japan, it’s quite likely Kyoto, where all the cultural attractions you’d expect — temples, shrines, tea ceremonies, kimonos — coexist peacefully with upscale shopping and cutting-edge technology.
Untouched by bombs and air raids during World War II, Kyoto is full of hidden gems seemingly waiting around every corner, including more than 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400-plus Shinto shrines. Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), arguably the most famous of Japan’s temples, is located in the northern part of Kyoto and features two top floors finished in stunning gold leaf. To see others, stroll down Philosopher’s Path, a stone walkway lined with cherry trees, cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and, of course, plenty of temples and shrines.
In the eastern part of the city, you’ll find Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. Here, geisha are called geiko, and their apprentices are known as maiko. The restaurants and ochaya (teahouses) in this area are some of the most upscale in Kyoto, and there are a number of traditional wooden machiya merchant houses worth seeing. The nearby Higashiyama district is a stunning example of preservation that retains the feel it had hundreds of years ago with its narrow streets, traditional wooden structures, and shops selling local specialties.
Modern Japan: Tokyo
The bustling metropolis of Tokyo cements Japan as a nation of innovation. Filled with boundless energy, the sprawling city boasts all the latest technologies and is a constant trendsetter in fashion and pop culture.
To start your day right, stop by the Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the world’s largest fish markets, for a sushi breakfast. Get there early enough, and you can secure a spot watching one of the famed tuna auctions.
Electronics buffs will want to visit the Akihabara neighborhood, a mecca for computers, cell phones, cameras, appliances, and every other technological gadget you can imagine (and plenty that you can’t). The area is also a good place for comic book fans, with many stores specializing in manga and anime. Don’t miss the manga kissaten (comics cafes), where visitors can access the Internet, read comics, and watch DVDs.
For an up-close look at modern life in Tokyo, the iconic Shibuya district is a maze of neon, billboards, fashion-forward culture, and huge department stores. Center Gai is where it all intersects, making it a prime place for a photo op, especially at night.
Foodie Japan: Osaka
In Osaka, kuidaore is the word, which loosely means “eat until you drop.” With a motto like that, it’s no wonder Japan’s third-largest city is known for its culinary treats. For an array of restaurants to choose from, drop by the Dotonbori area, where you can get your fill of sushi and other regional cuisine at every price point.
Try the takoyaki, a Japanese dumpling with roots in Osaka, which is prepared with flour batter and filled with octopus. It often includes tenkasu (tempura scraps), pickled ginger, and green onions, and is usually topped with a sauce. Or go for okonomiyaki, named for the word okonomi (“what you like”), a Japanese grilled pancake prepared — you guessed it — how you like it. Popular ingredients include seafood, pork, cabbage, and squid.
Whatever you consume in this gastronomically minded city, you’re likely to leave every meal feeling full and happy.
Outdoor Adventure Japan: Okinawa
If you don’t think sun, surf, and sand when dreaming about Japan, you’re not thinking of Okinawa. At the very southern tip of the country lies the Okinawa Prefecture, a collection of small islands with a subtropical climate that beckons outdoor enthusiasts year-round.
To see what it’s like to swing through the treetops, head to Forest Adventure Park. There, you can make like Tarzan, zip-lining, climbing cargo net ladders, and navigating your way through an obstacle course high above land. If you’d rather be below sea level than above it, the snorkeling and diving here are superb, offering glimpses of sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, coral, and tons of other tropical sea life. And with all that water, the offshore fishing is some of the best you’ll find in the world.
For more-relaxing outdoor pursuits, lounge on one of Miyako Island’s white-sand beaches, take a river cruise through the jungle-covered Iriomote Island, or rent a bike and ride around the quaint Taketomi Island.