While you can get a great night’s sleep at a chainstore economy hotel, there is so much you would be missing. Expand your horizons and…
Nagasaki is a Japanese city on the northwest coast of the island of Kyushu. It’s set on a large natural harbor, with buildings on the terraces of surrounding hills. It is synonymous with a key moment during World War II, after suffering an Allied nuclear attack in August 1945. The event is memorialized at the city’s Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park.
Nagasaki was an important trade center from the 16th to 19th centuries. The Museum of History and Culture explores its foreign relationships at a time when the rest of Japan was isolated. Around the harbor, the Dutch Slope area has European-style wooden homes on cobblestone streets, and the Glover Garden park is home to the 19th-century, western-style mansion, the Glover Residence. The reflected arches of the 17th-century Megane Bridge over the Nakashima River gave it the nickname Spectacles Bridge. To the north, steps climb a forested hill to 17th-century, Shinto Suwa Shrine.
Naha is the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, the tropical island group south of mainland Japan. It’s known for Shuri Castle, the restored royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which flourished from the 1400s–1800s and invented the martial art karate. Tsuboya district is assocated with traditional ceramics like shiisa (lion-dog figures). Lined with shops, bars and restaurants, Kokusaidori is Naha’s main street.
Matsuyama is the capital city of Ehime Prefecture on Japan’s Shikoku Island. It’s known for its central Dōgo Onsen Honkan bathhouse, dating from the Meiji Period, with ornate, tiered wooden buildings. Nearby is Shiki Memorial Museum, dedicated to Masaoka Shiki’s haiku poetry. To the west is the restored, feudal-era Matsuyama Castle, with its hilltop gardens and seasonal cherry blossoms.
Part of the island-wide Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail skirts the city, connecting historic Buddhist temples and religious sites. Notable temples on the trail include the 6th-century Taisan-ji as well as Jōdo-ji and Ishite-ji, known for their statues and gardens. Dogo Park features the ruins of medieval Yuzuki Castle, plus a museum and recreated samurai compound. The central Saka no Ue no Kumo Museum offers regional exhibits focusing on city life during the Meiji period. Bansuiso Villa, a French-style mansion, has Gothic architecture and exhibitions of Nihonga (“Japanese style”) painting.
Nagoya, capital of Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, is a manufacturing and shipping hub in central Honshu. The city’s Naka ward is home to museums and pachinko (gambling machine) parlors. Naka also includes the Sakae entertainment district, with attractions like the Sky-Boat Ferris wheel, which is attached to a mall. In northern Naka is Nagoya Castle, a partly reconstructed 1612 royal home displaying Edo-era artifacts.
Nara is the capital of Japan’s Nara Prefecture, in south-central Honshu. The city has significant temples and artwork dating to the 8th century, when it was Japan’s capital. Deer roam in Nara Park, site of Tōdai-ji temple. Daibutsu, Tōdai-ji’s 15m-high bronze Buddha, is displayed in a large wooden hall. On the park’s east side is the Shinto shrine Kasuga Taisha, which dates to 768 A.D. and more than 3,000 lanterns.
Nara Park also contains 6th-century Kōfuku-ji temple (relocated here in 710 A.D.), featuring a 50m pagoda. The Nara National Museum displays archaeological objects and Buddhist art. Beyond Nara Park is Naramachi, a historic district of shops and machiya (traditional wooden buildings). Nearby Yakushi-ji Temple dates to the 7th century and houses statues like the famed cast-bronze Yakushi Triad. Outdoor areas include Isuien, a Meiji-period garden, and Kasugayama Primeval Forest, offering trails and city views.
Hiroshima, a modern city on Japan’s Honshu Island, was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during World War II. Today, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates the 1945 event. In the park are the ruins of Genbaku Dome, one of the few buildings that was left standing near ground zero. Other prominent sites include Shukkei-en, a formal Japanese garden, and Hiroshima Castle, a fortress surrounded by a moat and a park.
Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is a city on the island of Honshu. It’s famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. It’s also known for formal traditions such as kaiseki dining, consisting of multiple courses of precise dishes, and geisha, female entertainers often found in the Gion district.
Tokyo, Japan’s busy capital, mixes the ultramodern and the traditional, from neon-lit skyscrapers to historic temples. The opulent Meiji Shinto Shrine is known for its towering gate and surrounding woods. The Imperial Palace sits amid large public gardens. The city’s many museums offer exhibits ranging from classical art (in the Tokyo National Museum) to a reconstructed kabuki theater (in the Edo-Tokyo Museum).