Kinkaku-ji – The Temple of the Golden Pavillion, Kyoto
Widely regarded as the most famous attraction in Japan, the temple was originally built in 1393 as a retirement home by Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga. When he died, it became a buddhist temple. Constructed on pillars over a lake, this was designed to convey its place between heaven and earth. In 1950, a young Zen Buddhist monk set fire to the structure who hated himself, and as a result hated anything beautiful. Rebuilt in 1955, the temple is now even more spectacular – entirely covered in gold leaf with a phoenix on top, it really is a remarkable creation and should not be missed.
Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto
In stark contrast to Kinkaku-ji, this is an authentic Zen temple, traits of which are clearly visible in its austerity and minimalism. Home to one of the most famous Zen rock gardens in the world, there is a particular task which you are supposed to try while you are there. The collection of fifteen stones is the central feature of the garden but from any point, you can usually only see fourteen of the fifteen. This number signifies completeness in Buddhism so you are supposed to study the garden and stroll along the path until you see all fifteen. An extremely spiritual place surrounded in mystery, the garden remains tranquil and quiet even when packed.
Todai-ji Temple, Nara
Home to the Daibutsu-den which is the largest wooden structure in the world as well as the world’s largest bronze sculpture of Buddha, this temple is one of the most impressive in the country. A more recent addition are the Nio guardians which date from the thirteenth century and have just been restored to their former glory. And, as if all this wasn’t enough to entice you to visit the temple consider its location. Nara served as Japan’s first capital and is currently home to eight UNESCO world heritage sites making it the second most popular tourist destination in the country, surpassed only by Kyoto.
Tokyo International Forum
Despite the fact that this building has only been around since 1996, it is already an integral part of the Japanese capital. On a par with the Empire State Building in New York or the Opera House in Sydney, the Tokyo International Forum is an excellent example of what results when the architecture of east and west is merged. Built using glass and stone, the centre plays host to numerous concerts and events as well as restaurants, shops and an art gallery and is well worth visiting if you are in the city.
While the official climbing season for Japan’s highest peak takes place between July 1st and August 31st, there is no problem with climbing it at any other time of year. In fact, it is probably a better idea to do it outside of these times to avoid the crowds. But, for those of you who would like to see it, but not necessarily to conquer the three thousand seven hundred and seventy six metres that constitute Mount Fuji, don’t worry because there’s plenty to see and do in the surrounding area. Among the most popular are Fuji Five Lakes (Fuji Go-ko), the hot springs and Open Air Art Museum at Hakone and the castle at Odawara but there are many more which are worth checking out too.