Our Top Places in Japan

WomanGoingPlaces has chosen some of the places we saw as first-time visitors to Japan that became our Top Places in Japan.

Tokyo the capital, of course has many attractions and must be visited, but we would like to present some places outside Tokyo, some lesser known, that made a special impression.

These are to be found on 4 different islands of Japan – Honshu, Miyajima, Hokkaido and Shikoku. The choices are arranged according to islands and not in order of favourites.

We would also like to recommend the following local guides whom we found to be excellent – knowledgable, pleasant and reliable:

Ms. Atsuko Inuzuka   Areas guided include Tokyo area, Yokohama, Hakone, Nikko, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Himeji, and Kobe.

Ms.Chiwako Mukai   Areas guided principally Hokkaido, but also from Tokyo to Kyoto including Takayama, Kanazawa, Hiroshima and Miyajima.

Mr Masaaki Hirayama  Area guided – Hiroshima



Don’t rush through Kyoto. You need to spend time in this city that has more World Heritage Sites than Rome. Plan time to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of the temples and shrines. Allow time to wander through its distinctive districts, extensive gardens and wide boulevards. Eat Shabu Shabu sitting on tatami mats and other traditional food in its excellent restaurants.

Kyoto’s historical importance as Japan’s capital and the Emperor’s residence from 794 to 1868 spared it from air raids in WW2 and the mass, unattractive post-war development of many Japanese cities.

Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)

Golden Pavilion Kyoto

The glittering gold Kinkaku-ji Temple and its reflection in the pond is stunning and yet serene. The two top floors of the temple are covered in gold leaf.  Built initially by a shogun as his personal villa, it became a temple in 1408. The original building has been burnt down several times, most recently by a fanatic monk in 1950, but each time, like a gold-plated phoenix, it has arisen splendid from the ashes.

You cannot go inside, but must admire it from the outside only. On rare occasions, heads of state and royalty are permitted to enter and see the beautiful interior. Perhaps the luckiest are the cleaning ladies who get regular access to every part.


 Fushimi Inari Shrine


This is the head Shinto shrine of 30,000 shrines in Japan dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Since 711 A.D., people wishing to give thanks have each donated a torii gate and now there are over 10,000 of these dazzlingly beautiful gates. You walk inside vermillion avenues formed by these torii, each with different inscriptions in bold black.

It is the most popular site in Kyoto and extremely crowded, so try to get there as early as possible in the morning.




UNESCO describes Himeji Castle as “ a masterpiece of construction in wood”.  Sitting on top of a hill, it is a luminous white, particularly brilliant after its recent restoration, and appears to float on its fortified foundations. It is considered Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size and beauty and its well-preserved complex of 83 buildings. Begun as a fort in the 14th Century, it was remodelled and expanded in the 16th Century. Despite war, earthquakes and fires, it remained intact, making it one of Japan’s twelve remaining ‘original castles’. It is also one of only four castles in Japan that has been designated as a National Treasure and has also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A superb example of typical Japanese castle architecture, the intricate detail of every feature from the immense trees used as pillars to the feudal family crests in the tiling reflects extraordinary craftsmanship and ingenuity. Himeji Castle combines the strength of an immense fortification with the lightness and beauty of traditional Japanese aesthetic.


KOYASAN, Mount Koya

    If you would like to stay in a Buddhist monastery and practise meditation, Koyasan, is a beautiful, if  remote place to do it – in thickly forested mountains at an elevation of 900 metres. Considered one of Japan’s most sacred sites, it is the world headquarters of the Shingon School of Esoteric Buddhism and was established in the year 816 by Kobo Daishi. He is considered by many to be the most influential religious person in Japanese history and his mausoleum is there in the sprawling Okunoin cemetery.

    Koyasan has 117 temples. The Garan Temple complex in particular has very intricately designed, remarkable temples set in extensive gardens. Koyasan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For over a thousand years, pilgrims have made the lengthy journey here. You see them still, wearing white cotton jackets, with conical hats on their heads and wooden staffs in their hands. Like every place in Japan that attracts many visitors, there are shops, restaurants and even cafes to cater to guests. More than 50 of the temples and monasteries also offer lodgings, known as shukubo. See our post about Ryokans in Japan for more about shukubo and how to contact them.



      The destructive power of the the first atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 obliterated nearly everything within a two kilometer radius. It was decided not to rebuild the blast area, but to turn it into Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park. You may be disinclined to visit a place of such harrowing memories but it is very worthwhile to do so. Hiroshima itself has been rebuilt into a thriving attractive city.  The memorials to the terrible events of the war are thoughtfully and sparely presented. Through personal belongings, clothes and stories they evoke the impact and consequences of that fatal day.

      The Museum on the site focuses on August 6 – the day the bomb was dropped and its outcome in human suffering. Scorched items of clothing, personal effects and buildings that survived the 3000 degree heat generated by the bomb make for a devastating display.

      The Children’s Peace Monument was built to commemorate the death of children in the atomic blast, and in particular the death of 12 year-old Sadako Sasaki. She was 2 years-old when exposed to the radiation of the blast, but grew up healthy until 10 years later when she was diagnosed with leukaemia. There is a Japanese legend that if you fold 1000 paper cranes, your wish will come true. So Sadako began to fold paper cranes hoping to become well. Some of these cranes can be seen in the Museum. The Children’s Peace Monument  has a bell you can ring in commemoration and it is ornamented with colourful paper cranes sent from all over the world.

      The A-Bomb Dome, also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. When the bomb exploded, it was one of the few buildings to remain standing, and remains so today designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

      Between the Museum and the A-Bomb Dome is the Cenotaph. This is an arched tomb for those who died as a result of the bomb, either because of the initial blast or exposure to radiation. Below the arch is a stone chest holding a register of these names, of which there are over 220,000. The grandfather of our guide when we visited Hiroshima, was one of them.



        The lavish beauty of the buildings, temples, shrines, gates and bridges in Nikko is extraordinary. This area enshrines the power and wealth of the first Shogun of the Edo Shogunate – Tokugawa Ieyasu. As such, it is a UNESCO World Heritage centre. Pathways through giant trees lead to very long and steep flights of steps into most buildings. There is a feeling of having to ascend into the presence of the all-powerful Shogun. Nikko is 2 hours from Tokyo by train, so a day-trip is possible but would greatly limit what you could see. The area is also a mountain resort.


          Miyajima Island is considered one of the top three scenic sights in Japan. This island sits in the western part of the Inland Sea of Japan, in the northwest of Hiroshima Bay. It is popularly known as Miyajima, which in Japanese means Shrine Island. There are shrines, temples and historical monuments such as the famous vermillion torii gate that appears to float in the water. Most visitors make a day trip by ferry from Hiroshima. Don’t. It’s worth a longer visit because even if your interest in visiting shrines has waned, it is one of the prettiest and most peaceful places in Japan. Miyajima has retained its traditional character and avoided the high-rise development of most Japanese cities.

          Walking through its charming streets you are often accompanied by wild deer, who either ignore you or try to nibble any paper you have in your pockets. There is a challenging but beautiful walk through primeval forest up (and/or down) Mt. Misen. Spectacular panoramic views over the sea await you. You can take the cable car up as well. The specialties of Miyajima are the oysters and the freshly baked, custard-filled sponge cookies. Excellent accommodation is available at all levels of comfort. See our Ryokans in Japan post for more about the Miyarikyu Ryokan.




            Noboribetsu is famous for its hot springs and volcanoes. A small town in the south of Hokkaido, it is easily reached by train from Sapporo. Set in volcanic mountains, it attracts those who seek the healing and relaxing waters of some of the best onsen in Japan. Noboribetsu Onsen is one of the most popular and famous hot spring resorts. See our Hokkaido post for more about Noboribetsu.

            The stark yellow, pink and green-clad landscape is beautiful. Taking a walk along the many pathways through the Shikotsu-Tōya National Park, including the one to Jigoku-Dani (Hell Valley) a huge geothermal crater, is exhilarating. There are cauldrons of bubbling, sulphurous liquid. Geysers periodically erupt in a shower of boiling water.


            Goryokaku Fort Hakodate

            Its chief attraction is the five-pointed star shaped Goryokaku Fort modelled on 16th Century European citadel towns and completed in 1864. Its thick stone walls are surrounded by a moat and the 1,600 cherry trees planted in its grounds make it an extraordinary sight in spring. It’s an impressive sight in any season and can be best appreciated from the observatory in the Goryokaku Tower nearby.

            The new Goryokaku Tower was built in 2006 as an observatory in order to give visitors excellent perspectives onto the Fort from a height of almost 100 metres.

            Hakodate is famed for excellent seafood. This bounty can be seen in over 300 stalls in the morning market (Asaichi).

            See our Hokkaido post for more about Hakodate.


            Sapporo Beer Museum

            Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, is probably best known around the world as the original home of its eponymous brand of beer. It is a thriving pleasant city of almost 2 million people set on a grid pattern that is easy to navigate. Below the city centre, there is a network of underground shopping malls, plazas and public transport that make it possible to live and go about business in the city without suffering the extremely cold winter.

            Winter is still an important season in Sapporo because of the annual Sapporo Snow Festival held in February and its astonishing mammoth ice sculptures.  Skiing is also an attraction because of the availability of ski jumps in the city and its proximity to the Niseko ski resort. For more about Sapporo see our Hokkaido post.




              The city of Takamatsu is located on the northern shore of Shikoku, the smallest, least populated and least visited of the four major islands of Japan. Ritsurin Garden is thought by many to be one of best gardens in Japan. It was designed by generations of the local feudal lord and took over 100 years to be completed in 1745. The more than 1,400 twisted and contorted pines set this garden apart from other gardens. Every single day, gardeners hand-prune each of the pines in turn until they complete the 1,400 trees and then start again, removing withered needles and shaping the growth according to a well-defined aesthetic.

              The teahouse in the gardens is exquisite with magnificent views over the lake and mountain. Dating back over three centuries, Ritsurin Garden earned the highest rating of 3 stars from the Michelin Green Guide Japan.


              Matsuyama Castle

              Matsuyama Castle on the island of Shikoku is another of Japan’s twelve ‘original castles’ which have survived the post-feudal era since 1868 intact. It is located on Mt. Katsu, a steep hill in the city centre providing visitors to the castle with a bird’s eye view of Matsuyama and the Seto Inland Sea. The castle was constructed between 1602 and 1628. The current three storied castle tower was re-constructed in 1820 after the original one was destroyed by lightening.

              Related posts:

              Onsen in Japan

              Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

              Autumn in Japan

              Notes on Japan

              Ryokans in Japan

              Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan

              Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

              The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet


              塔斯马尼亚塔斯曼岛游船 – Tasman Island Cruise, Tasmania





              媛梦之旅就搭乘了由Pennicott Wilderness Journeys公司承办的塔斯曼岛游船。





              当他们的船驶出迷雾时,映入眼帘的便是高达300米的巨大高墙,这些高墙是南半球最高的。灰色、荒芜,辉绿的岩石历经超过2.9亿年的时间,已经演变成为狭窄的垂直褶 。这些景象对于我们的视觉来说是令人害怕的,但这些景象对于我们来说也是地质奇观。





              我们是从霍巴特乘坐公交开始我们的旅程的。当我们穿过鹰颈峡(Eaglehawk Neck)到达亚瑟港(Port Arthur),司机给我们介绍了臭名昭著的景点“恶狗之路”(Dog-line)。在19世纪,从亚瑟港到塔斯马尼亚大陆这一片狭长的土地上,饥饿的恶狗等在路边袭击附近流放地试图逃走的囚犯。




              当我们出海的时候,信天翁在我们的头顶盘旋。塘鹅,海鸥,燕鸥和仙锯鹱扫过浪花。海鹰和鹰隼守望在悬崖的上方。海豚陪伴船只左右,但现在不是观看鲸鱼迁徙的季节。这里的海岸线、多种多样的海洋生物以及海鸟都是塔斯曼国家公园(Tasman National Park)的一部分。



              这条线路,以及Pennicott Wilderness Jouneys公司运营的到布鲁尼岛(Bruny Island),已经多次赢得了旅游业的奖项。


              照片: Rosalie Zycher 和 Augustine Zycher

              视频编辑:Augustine Zycher

              音乐:Albare演唱《No Love Lost 》选自专辑《The Road Ahead》


              澳大利亚的内陆地区:昆士兰卡穆威尔 派特•麦克弗森







                       我的朋友,现年82岁的卢克•麦考尔(Luke McCall)就是那些为数不多的传奇的牧牛人之一。在半个多世纪里,他和成千上万头牛马一齐穿越澳大利亚广袤的大地。他热爱这样的生活,也深爱着他的这些伙伴们。他从未把这样的生活视为流离失所、危险重重或者与世隔绝。


                       但那些已经是过去的事情了,而现在卢克也是澳大利亚仅剩的不足80位牧牛人之一。每年,这些剩下的牧牛人都会前往昆士兰的卡穆威尔(Camooweal)参加一年一度的“牧牛人扎营节(Drover’s Camp Festival)”。每年八月的第四个星期的周末,他们都会千里迢迢赶来参加这个活动。



                       “牧牛人扎营节”纪念的是卡穆威尔作为全世界规模最大的牧牛群中心所流传下来的传统。当时这里的牧牛人会把1000至1500头牛从大型的牛场(驿站)一路驱赶到澳大利亚西北部的金伯利地区、北领地以及昆士兰。 牛群们走过2000公里,穿越最恶劣、最炎热、最干旱但同时也是澳大利亚最美丽的地区,从西澳到昆士兰州及南部地区,最后到达铁路和肥沃的土地。


                       这样的牧牛方式持续了一百年。但是在20世纪60年代的时候,这种方式骤然发生了改变。在短短的几年中,牲口的铃铛声就被摩托车的响声所替代了。叫做公路火车的长卡车被引进,从而取代牲口成为拉货进出市场的工具。那些由牧牛人带领牲口驮东西的日子已经变成了历史…… 但是,他们并没有被人们所遗忘。




                派特•麦克弗森(Pat McPherson)是维多利亚州一名退休的护士。20世纪60年代,她是西澳金伯利地区Fitzroy 红十字会“澳大利亚内陆任务(Australian Inland Mission)”的一名护士。她定期会前往被她视为“内心故乡”的内陆地区。








                Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan


                Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands gives you a sense of space, of wilderness and of untamed nature, thanks largely to its many national parks and large stretches of uninhabited spaces.

                In winter, it becomes a wonderland of ice and snow and people flock to its ski resorts or to see the extraordinarily creative snow and ice sculptures of the Sapporo Snow Festival that takes place in Hokkaido’s capital every February.

                Autumn arrives earlier in Hokkaido than in the rest of Japan, so you are more likely to see the turning of the leaves here first. But it is also colder than the rest of Japan and can snow in autumn. Don’t be deterred, it’s a wonderful season to visit.

                While most visitors arrive in Hokkaido by air, there is a land link to its near southern neighbour Honshu – the Seikan Tunnel which was dug under the Tsugaru Strait. A new Shinkansen or bullet train inaugurated in 2016, passes through this tunnel to link Hokkaido with Tokyo and significantly reduces the travel times.

                Unlike the other densely settled parts of Japan, full control of the island by the Japanese central government was only completed after the Meiji Restoration in the mid-19th Century and in 1869 it was given the new name Hokkaido. This control was extended in order to meet a perceived threat of Russian expansion from mainland Vladivostok.

                Known for many years by the name Ezo, Hokkaido is home to the indigenous Ainu people and many names on the island have their origins in indigenous languages including that of the capital Sapporo. We visited the Poroto Kotan Ainu village where tourists are given explanations of Ainu culture and can wander through the houses and structures. Less appealing are the few brown bears, significant in Ainu life and ceremonies, that are kept in the village in tiny cages.  A visit to the very informative and well laid out museum that presents the history of the Ainu people is worthwhile.

                Of all the wonderful sights and attractions of Hokkaido, its volcanoes and natural hot springs, are the most impressive.




                  Noboribetsu is famous for its hot springs. A small town in the south of Hokkaido, it is easily reached by train from Sapporo. Set in mountains that are volcanoes, it attracts those who seek the healing and relaxing waters of some of the best onsen in Japan.

                  When you arrive in Noboribetsu you see a huge statue of a blue demon bearing a black club, like a vision from hell. And indeed when you begin to walk around you seem to enter the underworld. Active ochre-mantled volcanoes spewing plumes of steam surround you. Nearby in craters there are cauldrons of bubbling, sulphurous liquid. Geysers periodically erupt in a shower of boiling water.

                  The association of this area with hell is understandable but inaccurate. Its stark yellow, pink and green-clad landscape is beautiful. You marvel at the remarkable volatility of the earth beneath your feet. Taking a walk in the light snow of late autumn along the many pathways through the Shikotsu-Tōya National Park, including the one to Jigoku-Dani (Hell Valley) a huge geothermal crater, is exhilarating. There are boardwalks to the geysers and at the Oyunuma Brook, a place where hikers can sit and bathe weary feet in a naturally hot stream.

                  Afterwards, you can relax in the luxurious onsens of the nearby hotels. Noboribetsu offers a wide variety of natural hot spring waters in which to bathe. The different minerals in the various onsen are said to relieve and cure health problems. The Dai-Ichi Takimotokan Hotel is enormous and may get no prizes for beautiful architecture, but it provides spacious and attractive rooms (especially the Japanese-style rooms), excellent and abundant choices of food, and a multitude of health spas – 35 large and small pools with 7 types of hot springs. There is also a 25 metre swimming pool and waterslide. Our favourite was the women’s open air spa – chill air meets hot bath, a match made in heaven.


                  The port city of Hakodate, the third largest city in Hokkaido, has attractions that reflect its colourful and turbulent past. It was the first city in Japan whose port was opened to foreign trade as a result of U.S. Commodore Mathew Perry’s expedition in 1854. The Tokugawa Shoguns who ruled Japan, had for two centuries pursued an isolationist policy that prevented foreign countries access to Japan. When Perry sailed into the Japanese harbour with five ships to force the re-opening of Japan, he overturned this policy. Surrender to Perry’s demands dealt a great blow to the authority of an already weakened Shogunate. One consequence was a war in 1869 when Hakodate became the site of the last stand of supporters of the Shogunate against the restoration of the new Meiji imperial authority. The focal point of this stand was the Goryokaku Fort.

                  Goryokaku Fort and Tower


                  Goryokaku Fort Hakodate

                  Don’t miss touring this area. Its chief attraction is the five-pointed star shaped Goryokaku Fort modelled on 16th Century European citadel towns and completed in 1864. Its thick stone walls are surrounded by a moat and the 1,600 cherry trees planted in its grounds make it an extraordinary sight in spring. It’s an impressive sight in any season and can be best appreciated from the observatory in the Goryokaku Tower nearby.

                  The new Goryokaku Tower was built in 2006 as an observatory in order to give visitors excellent perspectives onto the Fort from a height of almost 100 metres. It also has a very well-presented graphic exhibition of the dramatic events that shaped the history of Goryokaku from the arrival of the American fleet until the surrender of rebels to the forces of new Meiji central government in 1869. This narrative has all the excitement and adventure of hopeless causes with its larger-than-life characters and doomed heroes. Indeed a bronze statue commemorates the handsome and dashing young rebel leader who was shot and killed in a final assault by rebel forces.  The Tower also has a cafe and Observatory shop.

                  Well worth a visit is the reconstructed Hakodate Magistrate’s Office (Hakodate Bugyosho) in the Fort’s grounds.  The original office was the Edo Shogunate’s administrative centre for the Ezo (Hokkaido) region and was dismantled after its collapse. In 2010 after a four year effort, it was reconstructed just as it had been using the exact same materials and traditional Japanese techniques that had been employed in the original structure. Craftsmen skilled in traditional Japanese carpentry, plastering and roof tiling were brought in from all around Japan. You cannot help but admire the superb craftsmanship and attention to every tiny detail of this beautiful building. A fascinating video of the rebuilding process is part of the exhibition.

                  Foreign Quarter


                  View From Motomachi, Hakodate

                  Walk up the hillside from the port and you are in the Motomachi neighbourhood. The area provides a wonderful view over the port and bay, and is a snapshot of times past. Impressive Western-style houses set in beautiful gardens, churches – the Russian Orthodox Church and other historical missionary churches, including Anglican and Catholic – as well as public buildings such as the Old British Consulate were built here at the foot of Mount Hakodate by the foreigners from Russia, China, the UK and other Western countries who came to seek their fortune in the newly-opened Japan of the mid-19th Century. At night, the churches and buildings are illuminated. Of particular note is the Old Hakodate Public Hall. It’s worth going for a wander at dusk and then walking to the near-by Mount Hakodate Ropeway station to take the cable car up the mountain to see the spectacular night view of the city and peninsula.

                  Old Hakodate Public Hall


                  Night View from Top of Mt. Hakodate Ropeway


                  Morning Market

                  Hakodate is famed for excellent seafood. This bounty can be seen at the morning market (Asaichi) which is very near the JR Hakodate railway station. Some 300 stalls are spread across four city blocs selling the freshest and most abundant variety of seafood and other produce. Restaurants in the market tempt visitors to taste their specialties. The market is held daily from 5am to 2 pm.

                  Another interesting area where you can wander and dine in the evening is around the red brick warehouses next to the port. They have been re-developed into an attractive area of restaurants and shops.



                  Sapporo Beer Museum

                  Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, is a thriving pleasant city of almost 2 million people set on a grid pattern that is easy to navigate. Below the city centre, there is a network of underground shopping malls, plazas and public transport that make it possible to live and go about business in the city without suffering the extremely cold winter. For this reason it has attracted many retirees from other parts of Japan despite the colder climate.

                  Sapporo is probably best known around the world as the original home of its eponymous brand of beer. Indeed, you can order a variety of beer available only in Sapporo at the Sapporo Beer Gardens, which is part of the Sapporo Garden Park where you can also visit the Sapporo Beer Museum.  All these refurbished red brick buildings are part of the former brewery.

                  Sapporo gained worldwide attention for hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 1972, the first in Asia. Winter is still an important season in Sapporo because of the annual Sapporo Snow Festival held in February and its astonishing mammoth ice sculptures.  Skiing is also an attraction because of the availability of ski jumps in the city and its proximity to the Niseko ski resort.

                  There are plans to extend the bullet train service from Tokyo that presently stops at Hakodate to Sapporo in the next few years. At present, most people arrive in Sapporo by air.

                  Related posts:

                  Onsen in Japan

                  Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

                  Autumn in Japan

                  Notes on Japan

                  Ryokans in Japan

                  Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train


                  Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

                  TRANSPORT IN JAPAN

                  If you decide to travel in Japan using public transport you will be pleasantly surprised. It’s efficient, punctual, comfortable and clean. The train system, that includes Japan’s brilliant bullet train as well as its  regular  trains, is excellent. The subway is fast, frequent and user-friendly. Over short distances, taxis are reasonably priced and very clean. It’s worthwhile to have your destination written in Japanese to show the driver since many do not speak English.


                  Remarkably, Japanese trains have an annual average late arrival time of only 38 seconds! They reach most places you are likely to tour in Japan and can be supplemented by buses or taxis.

                  The bullet train or Shinkansen that connects major centres, is a marvel. Travelling at up to 300km per hour, this sleek, white, green or red serpent of a train is whisper quiet and provides a smooth ride when you are inside. Outside, it appears as a rush of wind if you’re lucky enough to catch it passing at full speed.

                  Reserve seats and use it as much as you can. Like most trains, platforms are marked to show where you are to wait to alight your reserved carriage. You will have 30 seconds to get on or off. Don’t worry, you can actually do it in time.

                  We travelled on the newest Shinkansen line, inaugurated as recently as March 2016.

                  This sleek, green bullet train travels from the port city of Hakodate in the northern island of Hokkaido to Tokyo, with stops on the way that include the city of Sendai on the main island of Honshu. More than 50km of the journey is in a tunnel at a depth of 100 metres under the ocean between the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. Our shiny new green train was connected at the rear to an equally shiny red bullet train, so it was actually 2 trains that together were hurtling above ground and under sea.

                  It’s worthwhile and saves money to buy a Japan Rail Pass (JR Rail Pass) if you intend to use the trains. This pass allows you to go on most trains and Shinkansen (but not trains privately operated) and other transport such as the JR Miyajima Ferry. For more information about obtaining the pass and a user guide see JR Pass.



                  Tokyo and Kyoto, the two cities in which you are most likely to use them, have excellent subway systems. On first descent into the stations, they may seem daunting with their myriad of lines and destinations and their banks of ticket machines, but help is at hand. Signs appear in English as well as in Japanese. There is often an information booth. A subway map in English is available at these booths. There are usually attendants on hand at all stations who will help you get your ticket at the machine and direct you to your train. They won’t necessarily speak English, but if you know your destination, they are remarkably helpful despite the language barrier. Again, if you plan to use the subways more than a very few times, it’s worthwhile getting an IC card for unlimited travel. See www.japan-guide.com for more information.



                  Of all the options – trains, taxis, buses and shuttles – the fastest and most economical to and from the airport is the train. Narita Airport (see http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2027.html for all transport options) is 60 kilometres from Tokyo and a taxi to central Tokyo is very, very expensive. You are much better off getting a train to central Tokyo and then if necessary, a taxi to your hotel.

                  The same is true of Haneda Airport. Although nearer central Tokyo, a taxi ride there from Haneda can cost over AUD$100. For your transport options from and to Haneda see http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2430.html.


                  It would be remiss to talk about transport, especially trains in Japan, without mentioning that every train station or subway offers a choice of take-away food and drink. The larger stations have cafes, eat-in or take-away restaurants, bakeries and shops. Some even have department stores attached. They are in essence shopping arcades. Many of the restaurants are excellent and of good value. Even the most remote station will have a vending machine that offers hot and cold drinks.

                  Or if you rushed to hop on the Shinkansen without having time to buy a little something for the road, fear not. A hostess will appear in your carriage with a food and drink trolley from which you can make a purchase. You are never very far from food when travelling in Japan.

                  Related posts:

                  Onsen in Japan

                  Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

                  Autumn in Japan

                  Notes on Japan

                  Ryokans in Japan

                  Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan


                  一年中的哪个时间去日本旅行最好呢?When Is The Best Time To Visit Japan?







                  因为能欣赏到樱花的美,所以春天的日本非常受游客欢迎。在春季,无数日本人及游客都会蜂拥至各个公园及花园 ,就是为了欣赏小路两旁的花海,淡粉、玫瑰红、以及白色的花朵交错陈列、美轮美奂。不过,真正的花季却会受天气的影响,所以与预期相比,开花时间可早可晚、很难预测。同时,花期也很短,所以很难说在你的路途中一定能够看到樱花绽放。




                  日本的各个滑雪圣地纷纷会在冬季出现在人们的视野中。对于那些想要在冬天来日本的人来说,这些地方日益受到他们的青睐。每年二月份在北海道的首府都会举行札幌滑雪节(Sapporo Snow Festival)。有了积雪和冰雕的助阵,这里俨然已经成为吸引游客的又一胜地。





                  The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet


                  The pleasures of the Japanese toilet are gaining worldwide attention. The BBC in its news today, made an announcement about toilets in Japan. And recently the New York Times ran a feature story on Japanese toilets. Why toilets would qualify as news might puzzle many – but it would not surprise those who have been to Japan.

                  Japanese toilets are quite ingenious.

                  When you arrive in Japan and head for the first toilet you can find in the airport you find that it is impeccably clean, as are all toilets in Japan almost without exception. But you are stopped in your tracks by an electronic panel next to the loo with a dazzling array of symbols. There is so much to read! Do I need a user manual to go to the loo in Japan? Not really, but often you are stuck in the toilet because it’s hard to find the flush button in the dense display of options. Especially since often they are only in Japanese. Welcome to the Toto!

                  It is claimed that once you experience the Toto commode/washlet, you will never again be satisfied with a regular toilet. First, the seat is heated, a surprising comfort that never wanes. Then you have a varying number of functions depending on the model. The Japanese have combined in one what the French made separate – a toilet that is also a bidet with special features. You can choose a front or rear spray, the temperature of the water and length of cleanse. You can vary the water pressure. Some have an air-purifying system that deodorises during use. Many have air dryers to finish. While others also provide music or a sound button that plays warbling birdsong or gushing waterfalls to discretely cover your sound.

                  Panel of Japanese toilet


                  These toilets are ubiquitous throughout Japan, especially in hotels, restaurants and airports as well as private homes. They often exist in public conveniences as a Western-style choice alongside the traditional, squat toilets seen elsewhere in Asia.

                  It seems that the manufacturers of these hi-tech toilets have finally realised the difficulty the dizzying array of options presents to foreign tourists. So they have now jointly agreed to standardise and simplify the symbols on the toilet panels and reduce them to only eight new pictograms.

                  Press Conference of Manufacturers of Japanese toilets announcing new
                  toilet symbols- January 18th 2017

                  New symbols on Japanese toilets

                  Travellers to Japan, seduced by the temptations of the Toto, have been known to return home determined to find and install this triumph of toilet technology in their own homes. None of them seems to have regretted it.

                  Related posts:

                  Our Top Places in Japan

                  Ryokans in Japan

                  Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

                  Onsen in Japan

                  Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

                  Autumn in Japan

                  Notes on Japan

                  The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet

                  Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan



                  Ryokans in Japan


                  Western-style hotels or  Ryokans – traditional Japanese inns?

                  Ryokans in Japan have been described as national treasures. These traditional inns for travellers are located throughout the country. You can stay in Western-style hotels throughout Japan, but you would be missing out on very memorable and pleasurable experiences by not staying in a ryokan. Many hotels also offer you a choice of Western or Japanese-style rooms. The latter are similar to a room in a ryokan. These rooms tend to be larger than Western-style rooms which are often tiny.

                  What to expect in a Ryokan

                  When you enter the rooms in these ryokans, you remove your shoes in a small ante-room and put on the slippers provided. Tatami or densely woven straw mats cover the floors. The sliding doors (shoji screens) and windows are made of wood and paper.

                  The rooms are usually spacious and light with minimal furnishings. An atmosphere of serenity seems to emanate from them.

                  There is always a low wooden table with legless seats and cushions or just the  cushions for seating. Often rooms have an alcove attached in which stand comfortable low armchairs. When you first enter the room, there will be no bed or mattresses on the floor. It is only while you are having dinner in the dining room of the ryokan that staff come, move the table aside and set up futons with quilts on the floor. You can always ask for an extra futon if you want more cushioning between you and the floor. Pillows often have something in them that feels like small beans which adjust to the shape of your head, but are not particularly comfortable. All rooms have kettles or thermoses with hot water, a teapot and cups and supplies of Japanese green tea. Every implement is beautifully presented.

                  Most ryokans have en suite toilets and showers but it’s worthwhile to check before you book.

                  Kaiseki-style dinners

                  One of the most comfortable ryokan we stayed in was on Miyajima island, just across the strait from Hiroshima. The best rooms in the Miyarikyu Ryokan have views looking out to the sea and the sunset. You can watch the wild deer of the island wandering undisturbed on the street below. While the rooms in the ryokans are very clean and simple, the food can vary from quite basic to outstanding. The better ryokans provide breakfast buffets with a wide array of both Japanese and Western food. It’s worth trying the Kaiseki-style dinners at least once in the best ryokans. These are banquet-like meals in which a seemingly endless series of courses arrive of local delicacies and the best the chef can offer.


                  When staying in ryokans or hotels in Japan, you do not need to bring pyjamas. Sleepwear, usually a yukata – a unisex cotton kimono – is provided, as are toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoos and generally razors and hairbrushes too.

                  It is particularly pleasant to put on a yukata which often has attractive patterns and colours. A traditional jacket is also provided to wear over the yukata. The yukatas serve both as pyjamas and leisure wear. It is perfectly acceptable to wear the yukata to breakfast and dinner in the dining room, where everyone else will also be wearing the same yukata.

                  There is a very strict rule governing how you put on the yukata. You must always fold the right half against your body and then fold the left side over it so that it is on top and then tie it with an obi – a beautiful wide band. Folding the opposite way with the right on top is frowned upon as it is the way Japanese dress the dead.

                  Shukubo – Buddhist temple guest lodgings

                  Even less sophisticated ryokans provide a very good level of comfort. We spent one night in a shukubo, the guest lodging of Shojoshin-in, a Buddhist temple monastery in Koya-san. Koya-San is situated in forested mountains south of Kyoto. It is the world headquarters of the Shingon School of Buddhism whose founder in 816 was Kobo Daishi, one of the most important religious figures in Japan, who is said to be buried in Koya-san. The town has 110 temples and is a magnet for pilgrims. Which is probably why when we arrived at this remote spot after taking several trains and a funicular up the 650 metres to get there, we were stuck in a traffic jam in the town centre. There are many shukubo of varying degrees of comfort available in Koya-San for pilgrims and visitors. Many are listed on the Koyasan Shukubo Association website.

                  Shukubo lodging of a Buddhist temple monastery in Koya-san Japan – womangoingplaces.com.au

                  We assumed that the monastery would be quite austere, but were surprised to find the traditional style rooms comfortable, with heating, facilities for tea, wifi and a TV. Dinner was a strictly vegetarian meal with no meat, fish, garlic or onions according with their strictures – but sake was served with dinner on request. Although Western toilets were available, all toilet and bathroom facilities are shared and not en suite.

                  Most ryokans in Japan have onsen, varying from small and basic, as in the above shukubo, to elaborate and luxurious with a large choice of pools and optional features such as massage and treatments.

                  We highly recommend staying at least once in a ryokan as part of a memorable Japanese experience.

                  Related posts:

                  Our Top Places in Japan

                  Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

                  Onsen in Japan

                  Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

                  Autumn in Japan

                  Notes on Japan

                  The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet

                  Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan

                  Onsen in Japan

                  Japan’s ubiquitous volcanoes frequently cause land and sea to shudder. But they are also the source of the healing waters of the Onsen in Japan. These are the public bath houses all over Japan that are often supplied with mineral water drawn from hot springs in volcanic craters.

                  Onsen have been part of Japanese life for millennia.

                  One of the great delights of visiting Japan is staying in ryokans – traditional inns – with Onsen. Although most ryokans have public bathing areas, not all are built around hot springs.

                  The most memorable hot spring Onsen we visited was in Noboribetsu on the northern island of Hokkaido. It is an area called Hell Valley because it brings to mind a picture of the underworld. Rumbling, sulphurous clouds of smoke and vapour spew from numerous volcanic craters and caves. Pools of bubbling mud, geysers and streams of burning hot water cover the landscape. We stayed in the ryokan,  Dai-Ichi Takimotokan, on the site of the original Onsen set up here 150 years ago. The thermal waters here are said to have special healing properties. For this reason it is an area popular with not only Japanese, but also with South Korean and Chinese visitors. There are many ryokan and Onsen in the area.

                  After a walk in the surrounding National Park through the unearthly landscape, it is a treat to then step into an Onsen and sink into the mineral rich sulphur baths for as long as you can stand the temperature of  38-40 degrees celsius. You can also relax in the steaming outdoor bath, surrounded in autumn by snow-covered trees.


                  Hell Valley Noboribetsu Hokkaido Japan – womangoingplaces.com.au


                  Even in a smaller and simpler ryokan in Hakone, south-west of Tokyo on Honshu, the Onsen was the highlight of our stay at the Yajikitano Yu Ryokan.

                  If your hotel or ryokan does not have an Onsen, there may be Onsen available at a general public facility, for example, in Matsuyama on Shikoku, the famous Dogo Onsen, thought to be the first Onsen in Japan. Or you can go to a neighbouring hotel wherever you are staying and use the Onsen there for a fee.

                  Onsen vary from luxurious to basic, but they are well worth the experience.


                  Etiquette in an Onsen

                  There is a particular procedure that governs correct behaviour in the Onsen.

                  Some Onsen are mixed, but we were only in those in which men and women are divided into separate areas. You take off all your clothes and place them in a basket or locker, and enter a large room with rows of stools, individual shower hoses, mirrors, soaps and shampoos. You are given a small white towel/washcloth with which you scrub yourself and rinse off until you are thoroughly clean.


                  Noboribetsu-Onsen Dai-ichi Takimotokan, Hokkaido Japan


                  Then you walk naked into the adjoining area where there are pools of different sizes and temperatures. These pools are strictly for relaxation, not for washing. In the beginning you may feel awkward without clothes or a swimsuit, but you quickly get over it. You take with you the small towel which you used to wash yourself. It is considered unhygienic and therefore offensive to allow this washcloth to touch the water of the relaxation pools. So some fold it and balance it on their heads, while others tie it stylishly into a kerchief around their heads.

                  Many Onsen have saunas and also provide hair dryers, skin lotions and other beauty products. If the Onsen has an outside pool, try it, possibly after you have sampled the inside pools. They are usually set in a secluded area made to appear as natural as possible with rocks and greenery.

                  Even though rooms in most ryokans have an ensuite toilet and shower, bathing in the Onsen is quite a different and more blissful experience. It is certainly an essential experience of Japan.


                  Related posts:

                  Our Top Places in Japan

                  Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

                  Autumn in Japan

                  Notes on Japan

                  Ryokans in Japan

                  Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

                  Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan

                  The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet


                  和媛梦之旅一起游览威尼斯大运河 (Grand Canal of Venice)




                  我们的船沿运河S形曲线朝着军械库(Arsenale)和圣马克盆地(St. Mark’s Basin)方向驶去。



                  正如大家所看到的,大运河上交通繁忙。客运船、小型船外机、时尚快艇、木质出租车、豪华游轮、驳船,当然了,还有贡多拉 ,这些形状及大小各异的船只以不同的速度朝着不同的方向,鸣着喇叭在水中拍浪前行。这里没有红绿灯,也没有秩序,可能有一些航行规则,但这里却有一个和谐的节奏,仿佛所有的船只都在精心编排着一部气势磅礴的水上芭蕾。










                  我们经过了横跨大运河的四个著名桥梁中的两座大桥。建造于十六世纪的里亚尔托桥是这些桥梁中最古老的。由瑞士工程师安东尼奥•蓬蒂(Antonio de Ponte)设计的这座拱形石桥可以让较高的船只通过。这就是为什么里亚尔托鱼市场能够在大桥旁蓬勃发展1000年之久的原因。

                  学院桥是运河进入圣马克盆地前的最后一弯。它毗邻阿卡德米亚美术馆(Gallerie dell’Accademia), 这里拥有着世界上最棒的威尼斯艺术收藏。









                  视频摄影和编辑– Augustine Zycher