First time visitors to Japan like to explore what is known as “The Golden Route of Japan”. This renowned route follows the old Tokaido Road from Tokyo to Kyoto and is a great choice for people who have never visited Japan before. It takes in some of Japan’s most famous spots and destinations such as Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Hakone, Osaka, Nara and Kyoto.
For those of us who are looking for something a little bit different and off the beaten track, I recommend “The Dragon Route of Central Japan”. This new route offers visitors beautiful natural landscapes as well as a taste of traditional Japanese culture and history in a way that lets you explore the heart of Japan and its culture. It was named the Dragon Route as the shape of the area it covers looks like a mystical rising dragon.
Photo: Stephen Staley on Flickr
The route consists of historical locations in central Japan made up of Mie, Aichi, Gifu, Toyama and Ishikawa Prefectures. Let’s explore some of these must see destinations in Japan.
Ise (Mie Prefecture)
Ise City located on the eastern tip of the Kii Peninsula in Mie Prefecture in the Kansai region of Japan is a place rich in nature, history and culture. The area is surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes with pristine mountains, blue sea, crystal clear rivers and an abundance of delicious seafood. Ise is home to Ise Grand Shrine, the most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan, which dates back to the 3rd Century. The shrine consists of two main shrines, Geku and Naiku, as well as over 100 small shrines spread across the city, and is considered to be the spiritual home of the Japanese and its national religion Shinto. Ise Grand Shrine is also believed to be the home of the sacred mirror, one of the three sacred treasures of Japan. Ise City known as “The Holy City” offers historic sites, beautiful landscapes and amazing food to satisfy any keen traveller to Japan.
Photo: Banzai Hiroaki on Flickr
Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture)
Nagoya is Japan’s fourth largest city and the gateway for travel in central Japan. It is an interesting, modern, cosmopolitan city with a lot to offer travellers. Unfortunately, the city is often overlooked as just a stop on the Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto. Nagoya has many famous attractions to entice the keen traveller. The must see sights and attractions include Nagoya Castle, Atsuta Jingu (one of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines), Osu Kannon Temple (Buddhist temple in the heart of the city) and the Tokugawa Art Museum. The most popular tourist attraction and icon of the city has to be Nagoya Castle, one of Japan’s “Three Famous Castles”. This historic castle was for over 350 years, the biggest, best designed and most gorgeous castle in all of Japan. Nagoya, a modern city full of ancient history and culture with some of Japan’s best food and shopping.
Photo: anjo on Flickr
Hida Takayama (Gifu Prefecture)
Hida Takayama or just Takayama to the locals is a beautifully preserved Edo Period (1603-1868) castle town situated in the stunning Hida Mountains of Gifu Prefecture. Hida Takayama’s remote location has helped it retain its wonderful traditional atmosphere and charm, and a visit here is literally like taking a step back in time to the age of samurai. Some of the main attractions in Takayama include the historic district (former merchant town with Edo period streets and architecture), morning markets (selling fresh local produce), Hida Folk Village (open-air museum recreating a traditional mountain village) and historic temples. Takayama is an ancient old town full of warmth where you can still feel and touch the atmosphere and spirit of old Japan.
Photo: Japan Australia on Flickr
Shirakawa-go and Gokayama (Gifu/Toyama Prefecture)
The historic villages of Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture and Gokayama in Toyama are a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for their gassho-zukuri houses. Hidden away deep in the remote rugged mountains of central Japan, the traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses are built with steep thatched roofs to withstand the harsh winter conditions and heavy snow fall of the region. The houses are amazing with the roofs resembling two hands together in prayer. Gokayama in neighbouring Toyama Prefecture is just as picturesque and features two settlements where you can admire these beautiful houses up close and personal. Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are two awe-inspiring places that should be at the top of everyone’s must see list for Japan.
Photo: Shin K on Flickr
Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture)
Kanazwa the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture is a hidden gem of a tourist destination famous for its rich culture and history. Kanazawa can boost historic sites such as Kanazawa Castle and Kenroku-en Garden, as well as one of the best-preserved Edo Period (1603-1868) samurai and geisha districts in all of Japan. It is also home to many modern art museums and galleries giving you a taste of both old and new Japan. Kanazawa's biggest claim to fame has to be Kenroku-en Garden, which is one of the three most beautiful traditional Japanese landscape gardens in Japan. Kanazawa, a place where traditional Japanese culture and beauty still remain, is Japan’s best kept secret that is slowly getting discovered by the rest of the world.
Photo: bryan... on Flickr