Sanmachi Suji in Hida Takayama

Sanmachi Suji in Hida Takayama

Hida Takayama Sanmachi Street

Sanmachi Suji is a collection of three streets that make up Hida Takayama’s famous historic district. The area located in the center of Hida Takayama served as a bustling merchant town in the past. Today it is easily recognized with its distinctive old architecture and charm.

Hida Takayama is a beautiful part of Japan set amid the northern Alps in central Japan. The area itself is famous for its majestic natural scenery and hot springs. Sanmachi Suji is one of the best preserved Edo period districts in Japan. The natural beauty and charm of these streets, along with Hida Takayama’s many temples have earned the town the nickname “Little Kyoto”.

The narrow streets of Sanmachi Suji are lined with traditional merchant houses, shops selling traditional crafts, restaurants serving local specialties, and sake breweries, with many of the buildings over 400 years old. You can also find a good selection of small museums and galleries as well.

Hida Takayama Sanmachi Sake Brewery

The historic district has been designated an area of important traditional buildings by the Japanese government.

Walking along the beautiful old streets takes you back in time. This is a piece of history that you can actually feel and touch. You can enjoy exploring all the little craft shops, restaurants and sake breweries which use the original historic buildings.
The ambiance is magical when the sun starts to fade and the crowds thin.

The traditional sake breweries are easy to recognize with their sake barrels called sakadaru, outside the shop, or sugidama, special balls made of cedar branches which hang over the entrance.

Keep an eye out for the tall storehouses which house the famous festival floats used during the Spring and Autumn Takayama Festival.

Hida Takayama Official Website

Opening Hours

Sanmachi Suji is always open, but most of the shops will start closing between 4:30 and 5:00 pm.

Entry Fee

Admission is FREE

How to Get There

You can walk to Sanmachi Suji from JR Takayama Station in around 12 minutes.

Address: Kamiichino-machi, Takayama-shi, Gifu-ken

Best Time to Go

The best time to visit Sanmachi Suji is first thing in the morning or late afternoon to beat the crowds of tourists.

Tip: Combine a visit to Sanmachi with a visit to the Hida Folk Village (Hida no Sato), an open air museum located just out of town.

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Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower Travel Guide

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower is a symbol of Tokyo and one of its most famous sightseeing attractions. It is located in the Shiba-koen district of Minato, Tokyo. Tokyo tower was built in 1958 as both a communications and broadcasting tower and stands at 333 meters in height, which makes it the second tallest structure in Japan. It is the world’s tallest self-supporting steel tower.

Tokyo Tower was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris in its design and stands out like a beacon in the ever growing megalopolis that is Tokyo with its bright orange and white colours.

Tokyo Tower is spectacular at night when illuminated. From dusk to midnight, floodlights illuminate the entire tower. In the cooler months orange lighting is used to create a warm feeling, while in the warmer months white lighting is used to create a cool feeling.

What to See and Do at Tokyo Tower

Foot Town

Foot Town is a four story building located directly under Tokyo Tower. It houses a museum, shops and restaurants. The first floor includes the Aquarium Gallery, Tower Restaurant, a Family Mart convenience store and a souvenir shop. The second floor is primary a food and shopping area with five restaurants and a food court. The third and fourth floor house several tourist attractions including the Guinness World Records Museum Tokyo, the Tokyo Tower Wax Museum, and Tower Tower’s Trick Art Gallery. The roof of the Foot Town building contains a small amusement park.

Amazing Views of Tokyo from the Observation Decks

There are two observation decks at Tokyo Tower that can be reached via elevator from the first floor of Foot Town. The two storey Main Observation Deck is located at 150 meters, while the smaller Special Observation Deck is at 250 meters. The observation decks offer bird’s eye 360 degree panoramic views of Tokyo. Weather permitting on a clear day you can even see Mount Fuji in the distance.

History of Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower was built in 1958 as a communications and broadcasting tower and opened to the public on December 23. A large broadcasting tower was needed in the Kanto region after NHK (Japan’s public broadcasting station), began television broadcasting in 1953. The country’s post-war boom also lead to the search for a monument to symbolize its rebirth and ascendancy as a modern global economic power.

The original plan was for the tower to be taller than the Empire State Building, which was at the time the highest structure in the world. The renowned designer, Tachu Naito was chosen to design the tower and looked to the Western world for inspiration. He based his design on that of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France with Tokyo Tower coming in 13 meters taller than its model.

Tokyo tower is now used to broadcast signals for Japanese media outlets such as NHK, TBS and Fuji TV.

Tokyo Tower Minato Ward

Opening Hours

The Main Observation Deck is open from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm
The Special Observation Deck is open from 9:00 am to 9:30 pm
No closing days (Open 365 days a year)

Entry Fee

Admission to the Main Observation Deck is 900 yen
Admission including the Special Observation Deck is 1600 yen

How to Get There

You can walk to Tokyo Tower from Hamamatsucho Station on the JR Yamanote line in about 15 minutes. Alternatively, the closest subway stations are Onarimon Station on the Mita Subway Line, and Akabanebashi Station on the Oedo Subway Line.
Address: 4-2-8 Shiba Koen, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Best Time to Go

The best time to visit Tokyo Tower is about an hour before sunset to see it in the golden late afternoon sunlight. First check out the views from the observation decks before spending time exploring Foot Town. By the time you are done, it should be dark outside, so you can see the tower beautifully illuminated against the night sky.

Tip: Combine a visit to Tokyo Tower with a visit to nearby Zojoji Temple, which is one of Tokyo’s best known temples.

Tokyo Tower Official Website

Zojoji Temple with Tokyo Tower

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Zojoji Temple

Zojoji Temple

Zojoji Temple

Zojoji Temple is a Buddhist temple located in the Minato area of Tokyo. The original temple was built in 1393 and was relocated to its present location by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1598. Zojoji Temple has a strong association with the Tokugawa family, who ruled Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1868), and was the family temple. It is home to the mausoleum of six Tokugawa Shoguns. The temple complex once contained 48 subsidiary temples, over 3000 priests and 150 temple schools.

What to See at Zojoji Temple

The Daimon Great Gate

The Daimon Gate was the original main gate of Zojoji and is located about 200 meters from the famous Sangedatsumon Gate, which served as the inner gate. The original gate was destroyed during World War II with the present gate a concrete reconstruction. It is the first indication that you have reached Zojoji Temple and is now located on a street that has cars passing under the gate.

The Daimon Great Gate

The Sangedatsumon Main Gate

The Sangedatsumon Main Gate is the front face of Zojoji Temple. It was built in 1622, and is the only remaining original structure at Zojoji. It is the oldest wooden structure in Tokyo and offers an architectural reminder of the original Zojoji during the early Edo Period. It is designated as an important cultural property. The gate has an interesting name, “Sangedatsumon”. “San” means “three”, “Gedatsu” means “Moksha” or liberation/freedom, and “Mon” means gate. The gate was designed in three sections to symbolize the three stages that one must pass through to achieve nirvana. If you pass through the gate, it is believed that you can free yourself from the three passions of greed, hatred and foolishness. The gate catches your attention as soon as you see it and is both majestic and magnificent in its appearance. Constructed with wood, the two-story vermilion lacquered gate measures 21 meters in height and is 28.7 meters wide.

The Sangedatsumon Main Gate

The Daibonsho (Big Bell)

The Daibonsho bell was completed in 1673 and was renowned as one of the “Three Great Bells of the Edo Period”. The bell weighs 15 tonnes and is rung twice a day (early morning and evening) and serves to purify the one hundred and eighty earthly passions.

The Daibonsho (Big Bell)

The Kyozo

The Kyozo was built in 1613 with financial aid from Tokugawa Ieyasu. It served as a storehouse to keep important cultural documents and contains octagonal-shaped revolving bookshelves at its center. It has been designated as an important cultural property by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

The Daiden Great Hall

The Daiden or Hondo (Main Hall) forms the core of the temple structures at Zojoji Temple. It was rebuilt in 1974 by combining a blend of traditional Buddhist temple architecture with modern architecture. Enshrined in the hall is the Amida Buddha, which was made during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573).

The Daiden Great Hall

The Ankokuden Hall

The Ankokuden is located to the right of the Main Hall of Zojoji Temple. Enshrined in the hall is the Black Image of Amida Buddha, which was deeply worshiped by Tokugawa Ieyasu. During the Edo Period, it was widely revered as a Buddhist image which brings victory and wards off evil. For this reason, the hall is also used as a prayer hall. The Black Image of Amida Buddha is shown to the public 3 times a year on January 15th, May 15th, and September 15th.

Ankokuden Hall

The Tokugawa Graves

Zojoji Temple was the family temple of the Tokugawa’s and you can find six of the fifteen Tokugawa shoguns buried there. The Mausoleum of the Tokugawa Shoguns is located at the rear of the temple. The graves of Hidetada, Ienobu, and Ietsugu have been designated National Treasures of Japan. You can find additional graves located in a cemetery behind the Great Hall.

The Unborn Children Garden

To the right of the Great Hall you will find a garden at the cemetery lined with Jizo statues, which are the guardian of unborn children. These rows of Jizo statues represent the unborn children of Japan. Parents can choose a statue in the garden and decorate it with small clothing and toys. The statues usually have a small gift to ensure that the children are brought to the afterlife.

Rows of Jizo Statues

History of Zojoji Temple

The forerunner of Zojoji Temple is believed to be Komyo-ji, which was founded in the 9th century. Zojoji Temple itself was built in 1393 by the Jodo shu school of Buddhism as its central monastery in the Kanto region. The temple was relocated to its present site in 1598 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, when he entered Edo to establish his provincial government. At the start of the Edo Period when the Tokugawa shogunate ruled Japan, Zojoji Temple became the family temple of the Tokugawa’s. During the Edo Period the temple served as an administrative center to govern the religious studies and activities of Jodo shu. The temple complex once contained 48 subsidiary temples, over 3000 priests and 150 temple schools.

The temple and most of the associated temple buildings were destroyed during air raids in World War II. Today, however, its main hall and other structures have been rebuilt, and Zojoji continues to serve as the main temple of the Jodo shu.

A close up of the Main Hall

Opening Hours

The Temple is open from 6:00 am to 5:30 pm
The Temple Grounds are always open

Entry Fee

Admission to the Temple is free

How to Get There

The temple is a short 10 minute walk from Hamamatsucho Station which is on the JR Yamanote Line. You can also get there from Onarimon or Shibakoen Station on the Mita Subway Line, or Daimon Station on the Oedo Subway Line.

Address: 4-7-35 Shiba Koen, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Best Time to Go

The best time to visit Zojoji Temple is either in late March or early April for the beautiful cherry blossoms, or Autumn for the colourful leaves. I also recommend a visit in the evening, where you can admire the temple with an illuminated Tokyo Tower in the background.

Tip: Zojoji Temple is located next to Tokyo Tower, so I would also recommend a trip to Tokyo Tower after your visit. You can also get some cool pictures with both the temple and Tokyo Tower in the same shot. It is a great contrast of the modern and old, which is what Tokyo is all about.

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Takashima Castle

The Main Castle Keep at Takashima Castle

Takashima Castle in Suwa, Nagano Prefecture

Takashima Castle on the shores of Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture is one of the most beautiful castles in Japan. The original castle was built in 1598 on a small island on Lake Suwa (Suwa-ko). The castle was known as “The Floating Castle of Suwa” as it appeared to be floating on top of the lake. It was considered an impregnable water fortress. The castle is famous for being the highest elevated flatland castle ever constructed in Japan.

Most of the original structures were torn down during the Meiji Restoration with the stone walls the only original part remaining. A large restoration process took place in 1970 with the castle keep, kabuki gate and sumi yagura (corner turret) all being fully restored. The area that was the main bailey (honmaru) has been turned into a beautiful public park.

An Overview of Takashima Castle

The main enclosures of the honmaru, ninomaru and sannomaru were arranged in a direct line, which was typical of hilltop castles of the era. The entire fortress was a water castle being surrounded by Lake Suwa and several rivers.

The Honmaru was the main bailey and contained the three-story castle keep. The daimyo (feudal lord) residence and administrative offices were also contained within the honmaru.

The Ninomaru or second bailey contained a residence for the chief retainer as well as staff workroom, rice storeroom, treasury and stables.

The Sannomaru or third bailey contained more residences and offices for staff members.

What to See at Takashima Castle

The Main Castle Keep ~ Donjon

The three-story castle keep (donjon) is located within the honmaru and is approximately 20 meters high. The modern structure is a concrete reconstruction that was built in 1970. I quite like its interesting light-brown colour which is very different from most other castles in Japan. The view from the top of the main keep is spectacular, and on a clear day you can see the iconic Mount Fuji.

Stone Walls and Main Castle Keep

The Kabuki-mon Gate

The Kabuki-mon Gate guarded the main entrance to the honmaru and is reached by crossing the main bridge over the moat. The gate is very beautiful in its simplicity and basically consists of two front vertical pillars with one horizontal cross beam.

The Kabuki-mon Gate at Takashima Castle

The Corner Turret ~ Sumi Yagura

The Corner Turret or Sumi Yagura is located at a strategic point of the castle’s defenses. The turret provided a wide field of view as well as being used as a storehouse for weapons, food and supplies.

The Sumi Yagura Corner Turret

The Kameishi Stone

The Kameishi Stone is located in the garden of Takashima Park. The stone has a legend attached to it that says if you put water on the stone your wish will come true. Apparently when you put water on the stone it has the appearance of a turtle (kame in Japanese). This turtle will grant your wish.

The Kameishi Stone

The Honmaru ~ Takashima Park

The area that was the former honmaru of the castle has been turned into a beautiful park. The park first opened to the public in 1876. It is a great spot to see the cherry blossoms in spring as well as the wisteria in May. The cherry blossoms usually reach full bloom in mid-April.

Takashima Park

History of Takashima Castle

Construction of Takashima Castle began in 1592 by Hineno Takayoshi, a samurai warrior, and member of the clan of Japan’s then ruling lord, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Takayoshi was appointed the daimyo (feudal lord) of the Suwa Domain, which was also called the Takashima Domain. Takayoshi was an expert castle builder and within a year of his transfer to the area he had surveyed the land and completed his designs for a castle. Takashima Castle was completed in 1598 and served as the center of the Suwa Domain. At that time the waters of Lake Suwa reached the edges of the castle, making it seem like it was floating on top of the lake. For this reason, the castle was known as “The Floating Castle of Suwa”. The other sides of the castle were protected by several rivers which formed a natural moat and the castle was regarded as being an impregnable water citadel.

After the victory of Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, the Suwa Domain was returned to its former ruler the Suwa Clan and Suwa Yorimizu in 1601. The Suwa Clan ruled over the Suwa Domain and Takashima Castle for the next 270 years until the Meiji Restoration.

In 1871, a decision was made to dismantle the castle (a symbol of the old feudal system) by the Meiji Government. The castle keep was torn down in 1875 and the main bailey (honmaru) was turned into Takashima Park and opened to the public. In 1970 many parts of the castle were restored including the castle keep, the kabuki gate, and the corner turret (sumi-yagura). Some of the original stone walls remain.

The Bridge and Main Keep of Takashima Castle

Opening Hours

Takashima Castle is open from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm (to 4:30 pm from Oct 1 to March 31)
Closed the 2nd Thursday in November and from December 26-31

Entry Fee

Admission to the castle is 300 yen for adults and 150 yen for children

How to Get There

Take the JR Chuo line to Kamisuwa Station. The castle is a short walk of about 10 minutes from the Suwa-ko Exit of the station.
Parking is also available if you come via car. The castle is approximately 15 minutes from the Suwa Exit on the Chuo Expressway.

Address: 1-20-1 Takashima, Suwa-shi, Nagano-ken 392-0022


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Best Time to Go

The best time to visit Takashima Castle is in spring for the beautiful cherry blossoms, which surround Takashima Park and the castle. Winter is also spectacular with the frozen moat.

Tip: Make sure you also visit nearby Matsumoto Castle, which is one of the few remaining original castles in Japan, and truly magnificent. .

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Meiji Jingu Shrine

Meiji Jingu Torii Shrine Gate

Meiji Jingu Shrine

Meiji Jingu Shrine is a Shinto shrine located in Shibuya, Tokyo. The shrine is dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji was instrumental in opening Japan to the outside world after a long period of self-imposed isolation. The shrine is also sometimes called just Meiji Jingu or Meiji Shrine and is Tokyo’s largest and most famous Shinto shrine. Meiji Jingu Shrine is built in the traditional nagare-zukuri style with Japanese cypress and copper. It is located in a beautiful part of Tokyo in a forest that covers an area of about 175 acres. The evergreen forest consists of around 120,000 trees of 365 different species, donated by people from all regions of Japan. The forest is an oasis in the middle of Tokyo, and is a popular recreation and relaxation spot. The busy sights and sounds of Tokyo are quickly replaced by the tranquil forest upon entry to the shrine grounds.

The shrine itself is composed of two major areas:

Naien – the inner shrine precinct with the main shrine buildings and garden

Gaien – the outer shrine precinct

Meiji Jingu Shrine Naien

What to See at Meiji Jingu Shrine

The Giant Torii Shrine Gate

Entry to the shrine grounds is marked by a huge torii shrine gate. The gate is constructed from Japanese cypress and is one of the largest in Japan. The tree used to create the torii gate was more than 1,500 years old and it is an impressive entry point to this magnificent shrine.

Meiji Jingu Torii Shrine Gate

The Minami-shin Mon

The Minami-shin Mon is the main shrine gate to the inner sanctuary of Meiji Jingu Shrine. It is quite beautiful and you reach it upon passing the final myojin torii gate. It was built in 1921 and is simple and classic in its design.

Meiji Jingu Shrine Minami-shin Mon

The Main Shrine Buildings

Located in the middle of a beautiful forest, the present shrine buildings date from 1958. The buildings consist of the honden (The Main Hall), noritoden (The Prayer Recital Hall), naihaiden (The Inner Shrine Hall), gehaiden (The Outer Shrine Hall), and shinko (The Treasure House). The buildings are made from Japanese cypress wood from the Kiso region of Nagano (regarded as the best in Japan) with green cooper plates used for the roofs. The buildings are a great example of Japanese Shinto architecture.

Meiji Jingu Shrine Gehaiden

Meiji Jingu Shrine Shinko Treasure House

The Shinko Treasure House was constructed a year after the shrine opened, it displays personal items belonging to the Emperor and Empress. One of the most interesting is the carriage used by the Emperor for the formal declaration of the Meiji Constitution in 1889.

Meiji Jingu Shrine Inner Garden

The Inner Garden (Meiji-jingu Gyoen) is located in the southern section of the shrine grounds, an entrance fee of 500 yen is required to enter the garden. The garden is very popular during the middle of June when the beautiful irises are in bloom. It is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Meiji Jingu Shrine Sake Barrels

An interesting thing you will spot at Meiji Jingu Shrine is this huge collection of sake barrels. They are called kazaridaru in Japanese and are a decorative display. Sake traditionally has been a connection between the gods and people in Japan. These sake barrels are offered every year to the enshrined deities at Meiji Jingu Shrine. They have been donated by sake brewers from around Japan to the shrine with the sake being used for shrine ceremonies and festivals.

Meiji Jingu Decorative Sake Barrels

History of Meiji Jingu Shrine

After Emperor Meiji’s death in 1912, the Japanese Diet (Parliament) decided to commemorate his major role in the Meiji Restoration. The area chosen as the spot for this was an iris garden in an area of Tokyo, where the Emperor and Empress had been known to visit. This spot was chosen as the shrine’s location and construction began in 1915. The shrine was established on November 1, 1920, completed in 1921 and its grounds officially finished by 1926. Most of the shrine buildings were destroyed during World War 2 with the present buildings a 1958 reconstruction.

Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan. He was born in 1852 and ascended to the throne in 1867 at the age of 14. This was the end of Japan’s feudal era and the peak of the Meiji Restoration. The emperor was restored to power in place of the existing shogunate, and Japan rapidly westernized and modernized to catch up with the west. By the time of the emperor’s death in 1912, Japan was one of the world’s major powers.

Meiji Jingu Shrine Main Buildings

Opening Hours

Meiji Jingu Shrine is open from sunrise to sunset
There are no closing days

Entry Fee

Admission to the shrine precinct is free
The Inner Garden requires an entrance fee of 500 yen

How to Get There

From JR Tokyo Station get on the Yamanote Line and get off at Harajuku Station. It is about a 25 minute train ride. Meiji Jingu Shrine is a short 10 minute walk from Harajuku Station.
Address: 1-1 Kamizono-cho, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

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Best Time to Go

The best time to visit Meiji Jingu Shrine is Late May to Late June for the spectacular iris garden.

Tip: Also check out nearby Harajuku, a popular and fashionable part of Tokyo famous for its street fashion and cosplay.

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Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

The Musaibashi Bridge and Kannon-do at Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

Kokeizan Eihoji Temple located in Tajimi City, Gifu Prefecture was established by the Nanzen-ji branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The temple was founded in 1313 and contains two buildings that are listed as National Treasures. These are the Kannon-do and Kaisan-do. The temple grounds and gardens are breathtakingly beautiful and have been designated as a place of National Scenic Beauty. They include a stunning Zen garden with pond, bridge, and waterfall. Kokeizan Eihoji Temple in my opinion is a hidden gem, and can match the scenic beauty of famous temple complexes such as Ginkakuji Temple in Kyoto and Byodo-in in Uji.

The buildings within the Kokeizan Eihoji Temple complex are very interesting and combine both Chinese and Japanese architectural styles. Kokeizan Eihoji Temple is also ranked one of the best spots in Gifu Prefecture for momiji or autumn leave viewing.

What to See at Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

Eihoji Temple Hondo (Main Hall)

The first building you see upon entering the temple complex is the large Eihoji Temple Hondo (Main Hall). The original building was destroyed by fire during the Sengoku Period, but the current building is still beautiful, especially with the stone lanterns out front.

The Hondo Main Hall at Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

Kannon-do Hall

The Kannon-do is a National Treasure famed for its Zen architecture, and the building is where a statue of Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) is enshrined. It was built the year after Muso Kokushi visited Kokeizan in 1314. Muso Kokushi was a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, calligraphist, poet and garden designer, who was the most famous monk of his time. He is credited with creating the amazing Zen garden at Kokeizan Eihoji Temple as well as those in Koke-dera and Tenryuji Temple in Kyoto.

The Kannon-do at Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

Musaibashi Bridge

This Musaibashi or Endless Bridge is the main attraction at Kokeizan Eihoji Temple and it is very picturesque. Crossing the famous Musaibashi Bridge leads you to the Kannon-do. It is a magnificent looking arched bridge and the journey over it is very spiritual. It is said that crossing the bridge to the Kannon-do symbolizes travelling to a place of enlightenment. Once you have crossed over the bridge to the Kannon-do, you should not cross back over, but walk around it in order to exit.

A Close-up of the Musaibashi Bridge at Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

Kaisan-do Hall

The Kaisan-do of Kokeizan Eihoji Temple is a National Treasure and valuable Japanese cultural property. It houses the Kenpon Choshoku Senju Kannonzo, which is a National Cultural Asset designated silk fabric rendering of the Thousand Armed Kannon (Goddess of Mercy), as well as calligraphy by the founding priests of Kokeizan Eihoji Temple. It is believed that Ashikaga Takauji built this building in 1352 during the Muromachi Period. This style of building with Chinese influences was popular during the Muromachi Period of Japanese history. Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358) was the founder and first shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate. There is a statue of Muso Kokushi sitting at the rear of the Kaisan-do.

The Kaisan-do at Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

The Famous Gingko Tree

Kokeizan Eihoji Temple has a large Gingko tree that is close to 700 years old. The tree is said to have been planted by the founder of the temple, Buttoku Zenji. The tree is 25.3 meters high with a 4.33 meter girth. It is a popular spot for photos during the autumn in Japan.

The Famous Gingko Tree at Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

Hojuin Temple

Located on top of a small hill, the Hojuin Temple immediately grabs you with its striking red coloured gate that is very impressive. It is a subsidiary temple of the main Kokeizan Eihoji Temple.

Hojuin Temple at Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

The Temple Grounds and Gardens

The temple grounds and gardens were designed by Muso Soseki, also known as Muso Kokushi (National Zen Teacher), who was the most famous monk of his time. The grounds and Zen garden include the carp filled pond with the Musaibashi Bridge as well as a spectacular waterfall cascading over rocks. They have been designated as a place of National Scenic Beauty. The picturesque gardens are stunning all year round with beauty in spring with the cherry blossoms, early summer with the wisteria, autumn with the fall colours, and winter with white snow landscapes.

The Pond and Waterfall at Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

History of Kokeizan Eihoji Temple

The historic Zen temple was founded in 1313 during the period of Emperor Komyo. By the Emperor’s decree the temple played an important role of offering prayers for the safety and prosperity of the nation, as well as the Imperial Household. The temple was at its peak during the 14th and 15th centuries, and contained around 30 buildings at the time. Unfortunately, most of these were destroyed by fire during the Sengoku (Warring States) Period. The Kannon-do and Kaisan-do did survive intact and each has been designated as National Treasures.

The Kokeizan Eihoji Temple Complex

Opening Hours

Kokeizan Eihoji Temple is open from 5:00 am to 5:00 pm

Entry Fee

Admission to the Temple Complex is free
Free parking is also available near the temple

How to Get There

It is a 45 minute train ride from Nagoya on the Chuo Line to Tajimi Station. Take the Totetsu Bus from JR Tajimi Station (12 minute bus ride) and get off at the Kokeizan bus stop. It’s about a 7 minute walk from the bus stop to Kokeizan Eihoji Temple. If you come by car, free parking is available near the train line just before the temple.

Address: 1-40 Kokeizancho, Tajimi-shi, Gifu-ken 507-0014

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Best Time to Go

Kokeizan Eihoji Temple is especially beautiful during the autumn with the beautiful changing of the colours. It is also a popular spot for the cherry blossoms in spring.

Tip: The view of the temple complex from the top of the hill near the Hojuin Temple is breathtaking and definitely worth the short climb up to the top.

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Sensoji Temple

Goju-no-To Five Storey Pagoda at Sensoji Temple

Sensoji Temple

Sensoji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest and most famous temple and its religious heart. The temple was founded around 645 AD and enshrines a golden image of kannon (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy). Sensoji Temple, is also sometimes referred to as Asakusa Kannon Temple.

What to See at Sensoji Temple

The Kaminarimon Gate

The Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate serves as the entrance to the Sensoji Temple precinct and is the outer gate of the temple. It was originally built in 942 by military commander Taira no Kinmasa. The gate has two protector deities, Fujin, the god of wind is on the right, and Raijin, the god of thunder is on the left. The structure features a massive red and black paper lantern, dramatically painted to suggest thunderclouds and lightening and hence the name. The traditional lantern called chochin in Japanese is 3.9 meters high, 3.3 meters in diameter and 700 kg in weight. The original lantern burned down along with the Kaminarimon in the late Edo Period. It was rebuilt in 1960 and is renewed every decade with the current lantern dating from November 2013.

Kaminarimon Gate at Sensoji Temple

Nakamise-dori

Nakamise-dori is the temple precincts famous shopping street and is lined with small shops selling souvenirs. It is located straight ahead from the Kaminarimon, and has over 80 stalls, is about 200 meters long, and sells just about everything. It is said to have been established in the early 18th Century. A must try here are the famous sembei (rice crackers). It is a good place to pick up a traditional Edo style Japanese souvenir such as a folding fan or yukata.

Nakamise-dori Shopping Street at Sensoji Temple

The Hozomon Gate

The Hozomon Gate is the gateway to the inner complex of Sensoji Temple and the temple’s inner gate. The second floor of the Hozomon Gate houses many of Sensoji’s treasures, including a copy of the Lotus Sutra, and the Issai-kyo scriptures. The first floor has two identical statues located on either side of the gate’s south face. They are Nio Guardians, the guardian deity of Buddha, and the gate was originally known as the Niomon. The first floor also features three large lanterns, and two large straw sandals called waraji. They were crafted by villagers in northern Yamagata Prefecture, and are meant to symbolize the Buddha’s power. It is believed that evil spirits will be scared off by the giant sandals. The Hozomon Gate was originally built in 942 AD with the present structure a 1964 reconstruction.

Hozomon Gate at Sensoji Temple

Five Storey Pagoda

Immediately to the left of the Hozomon gate is the Five Story Pagoda (Guju-no-To), which is said to contain some of the ashes of Buddha. The Pagoda is approximately 53 meters high and is especially picturesque at night when all lit up. The original was built in 942 with the current structure is a 1973 reconstruction. It is a national treasure and the second highest pagoda in Japan.

Goju-no-To Five Storey Pagoda at Sensoji Temple

The Main Temple Compound

Nakamise-dori leads to the main temple compound. In front of the main temple is a large incense cauldron. It is custom for visitors to rub the smoke into their bodies through their clothes to bring good health.

The Sensoji Temple Complex

The Hondo (Main Hall)

The Hondo Main Hall houses the Kannon image, which is away from view deep inside the hall. It is a national treasure and was originally built in 942, but later rebuilt by the third Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu. The current building dates from 1958. A key feature of the Main Hall is its distinctive sloping roof that is quite tall, allowing it to be seen from a great distance.

Before entering the hall you can buy omikuji (paper fortune) that cost 100 yen. It is a lot of fun, simply drop 100 yen into the slots by the wooden drawers at either side of the approach to the hall. Pick up a silver canister, give it a shake, and take out a stick, which has a number in kanji on it. Replace the stick and find the corresponding drawer with your number on it. You can take your paper fortune out of the drawer and celebrate if you have found a lucky one. No matter if you haven’t, just tie the paper on the nearby rack, which is set up for accepting bad luck omikuji.

The Hondo Main Hall at Sensoji Temple

The Nitenmon Gate

The Nitenmon Gate is located on the East side of the Main Hall. It is named for the two protective Buddhist deities (known as ten) that can be seen on its left and right side. They are called Zochoten and Jikokuten respectively. Hence Nitenmon in Japanese means “the gate of two ten”. It was originally built in 1618 and has been named an Important Cultural Property.

History of Sensoji Temple

According to legend, Sensoji Temple was said to have been created when a statue of Kannon was miraculously pulled out of the nearby Sumida River by two local fishermen in the year 628 AD. The brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Takenari along with their village chief enshrined the Kannon and it has remained on the same spot ever since. Sensoji Temple was built to house and honour the statue. The first temple was built on the site in 645 AD and the present structure was rebuilt after the war in 1950.

Sensoji Temple at Night

Opening Hours

The Main Hall is open from
6:00 am to 5:00 pm (April – September)
6:30 am to 5:00 pm (October – March)

The Temple Grounds are always open

Entry Fee

Admission to the Temple is free

How to Get There

Take the Ginza Line to Asakusa and leave the station via exit 1. The temple is located very close to the station.

Address: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo

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Best Time to Go

The best time to visit Sensoji Temple is either dawn or dusk, to beat the crowds and see the temple at the best light. Each May the Sanja Matsuri is held at the nearby Asakusa Shrine to honour the two brothers who found the Kannon. The three day festival is arguably Tokyo’s best.

Tip: The main hall and its gates are illuminated every day from sunset until 11pm. The temple lights are amazing at sunset, and make for some great pictures.

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Gujo Hachiman Castle

Gujo Hachiman Castle in Gifu Prefecture

Gujo Hachiman Castle in Gifu Prefecture

Gujo Hachiman Castle is a mountain castle located on top of Mount Hachiman in Gujo Hachiman, Gifu Prefecture. The original castle was built in 1559 by Endo Morikazu, but torn down during the Meiji Restoration in 1870. The current castle was reconstructed in 1933 and this year celebrates its 80th anniversary. The main keep and castle was modelled on that of nearby Ogaki Castle. The reconstruction was done with wood rather than concrete as seen in most modern day reconstructions. Gujo Hachiman Castle is in fact the oldest reconstructed wooden castle in Japan. The castle offers amazing views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and the view from the top of the castle is breathtaking.

The location of the castle on top of Mount Hachiman was important as it offered protection and security. The rivers surrounding the town formed a natural moat for both the castle and castle town below.

View over Gujo Hachiman Castle

What to see at Gujo Hachiman Castle

The Main Keep

The main keep is very impressive and modelled on that of Ogaki Castle in Gifu Prefecture. The main keep has 4 levels and 5 stories.

The Main Keep at Gujo Hachiman Castle

The Original Stone Walls

The stone walls date from the Sengoku Period or Warring States Period (1478 – 1605). The style is called Nozura-zumi and dates from the late 16th century.

Stone Walls and Yagura at Gujo Hachiman Castle

Inside the Castle

The inside of the castle while not original has been done well and has an old look and feel to it. It contains a museum with lots of information about the castle and its history.

Inside Gujo Hachiman Castle

View of the Surrounding Area

The castle provides a lovely view of the castle town below and the surrounding mountains and valleys. The outline of the residential area below resembles a fish.

View from the top of the Main Keep at Gujo Hachiman Castle

Kazutoyo and Chiyo Statue

At the park below Mount Hachiman and Gujo Hachiman Castle is a bronze statue of Kazutoyo Yamanouchi and Chiyo. Chiyo (1556 – 1617) was a daughter of the first lord of Gujo domain Endo Morikazu. She married Kazutoyo and was known as the “wise wife”. She used her considerable abilities to further her husband’s career. Kazutoyo was a lower-class samurai who went on to have a brilliant career and become the first lord of Kochi Castle.

Kazutoyo and Chiyo Bronze Statue

History of Gujo Hachiman Castle

The original castle was first built in 1559, when Endo Morikazu, a feudal lord, brought the Gujo district under his control after the battle of Mt. Todo. He built the stone walls and foundations. The castle was incomplete when Morikazu died, leaving it to his son and heir Endo Yoshitaka. Yoshitaka became a retainer to the warlord Oda Nobunaga and went off to war, after which the control of the castle fell into the hands of Inaba Sadamichi. He was responsible for much of the renovation of the original castle. He built up the main castle keep and most of the supporting structures of the castle. Following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Yoshitaka returned to rule the castle. The Tokugawa Shogunate officially recognised Gujo Hachiman Castle as a castle when the sixth lord Endo Tsunetomo refurbished and expanded it in 1667. Tsunetomo was responsible for fortifying the castle town below. The Gujo-ikki (The Gujo Rebellion), the most notable and historical uprising in the Edo Period occurred here in 1754 under the Kanamori clan. After its conclusion the Aoyama clan was posted here as the lord of the Gujo district. The castle and supporting structures were torn down in 1870 like many others during the Meiji Restoration. The castle was rebuilt out of wood in 1933 and modelled after Ogaki Castle in Gifu Prefecture.

The Main Gate at Gujo Hachiman Castle

Opening Hours

Gujo Hachiman Castle is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
(June to August – 8:00 am to 6:00 pm)
(November to February – 9:00 am to 4:30 pm)
Note: The castle is closed between Dec 20th – Jan 10th

Entry Fee

Admission to the castle is 300 yen

How to Get There

The castle is accessible via car or on foot and it is only a short hike of around 15 minutes from the base to the top of Mount Hachiman. Parking is free. By train you can take the Nagaragawa line to Gujo Hachiman Station.

Address: 659 Ichinohira, Yanagi-machi, Hachiman, Gujo City, Gifu Prefecture

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Best Time to Go

The best time to visit Gujo Hachiman is during early to late November when the maple trees surrounding the castle at their peak. The colourful Autumn leaves contrast brilliantly against the white structure of the castle. There is also a night time illumination at this time where the trees and castle are lit from sunset until 9 pm, as well as a Momiji (Autumn Leaves) festival.

Autumn Leaves at Gujo Hachiman Castle

Tip: Make sure to check out the town below as Gujo Hachiman is often called “Little Kyoto”.

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Gujo Hachiman

Gujo Hachiman ~ A little taste of Kyoto in Gifu

Gujo Hachiman

Gujo Hachiman is a riverside town in Gifu Prefecture set amongst the beautiful mountains and Nagara River. It is famous for its pure, natural water and summer obon dance called the Gujo Odori, which has been held for over 400 years. The town was first founded in the middle of the 16th century by Endo Morikazu, a feudal lord who brought the Gujo district under his control. He built a castle on top of Mt Hachiman and the rivers running through the town acted as natural moats to protect the castle town. Today Gujo Hachiman keeps it links to the pristine water which are a symbol of the town and have been designated “the most excellent natural water in Japan”. You can experience the waterways by walking through the town and visiting the many canals and springs that are still in use today. The waterways are used for everyday life including washing rice, vegetables and clothing. The town can easily be explored on foot and most of the main sights are within close distance of each other.

The Must See Places in Gujo Hachiman

Sogisui Spring

Sogisui Spring is a famous spring near the center of the town and is a symbol of Gujo Hachiman. At the spring, pools of water are divided into four different sections. Each section has a distinct purpose. The first section is for drinking, the second for washing rice, the third for washing vegetables, and the fourth for cleaning tools.

Sogisui Spring Gujo Hachiman

Igawa Lane

There are many small canals lining the roads through-out Gujo Hachiman. The canals represent the strong bond that exists between the town and its clear water. They were originally constructed for fire-prevention purposes, but today are used by the locals in their daily lives. Igawa Lane is one such area, where a 200 meter lane runs along a small water canal in downtown Gujo Hachiman. Here you can see Japanese koi (carp) swim against the current and you can enjoy feeding them along the way.

Igawa Lane Gujo Hachiman

Jionzenji Temple

Jionzenji Temple is a Zen temple founded in the 16th century by feudal lord, Endo Yoshitaka. Jionzenji Temple is famous for its Zen Garden which can be seen from the temple’s main hall. You can sit on the tatami in the hall and view this peaceful and serene garden, which is beautiful throughout the four distinct seasons in Japan. The garden features a pond, waterfall and maple trees. The beauty of the garden and Gujo Hachiman has earned it the nickname of “Little Kyoto”.

Jionzenji Temple Gujo Hachiman

Gujo Hachiman Castle

Gujo Hachiman Castle was first built on Mt Hachiman in 1559, when Endo Morikazu ruled the Gujo district. The stone walls were built during the civil war period and the present castle was rebuilt in 1933. The castle is a decent reconstruction as it was re-built with wood rather than concrete as seen in most modern reconstructions. It is one of the oldest wooden reconstructed castles in all of Japan. This year the castle celebrates its 80th anniversary. The views from the top of Mt Hachiman are spectacular and you can see the surrounding mountains and valleys as well as the town. The maple trees surrounding the castle are stunning in Autumn.

Gujo Hachiman Castle

Food Samples

Gujo Hachiman is the manufacturing heartland for the plastic food samples that are so common in Japan. Many of the food samples used by Japanese restaurants in their windows are produced here. You can view the samples at several places and even have a go yourself at making them in some of the workshops. There are four workshops including Sample Village Iwasaki and Sample Kobo.

Sample Village Iwasaki Gujo Hachiman

Sample Kobo Gujo Hachiman

Must Try Food in GujoHachiman

• Kei-chan a local speciality where chicken is marinated in a sauce consisting of miso, soy sauce and garlic and then stir-fried with cabbage and onions
• Ayu (sweetfish) are found in the pristine waters of Gujo Hachiman and are some of the best in Japan. They are grilled with salt on a skewer and can be found through-out the town
• Gujo Hachiman Miso Soft Cream is excellent and has a savoury taste just like caramel

Ayu Sweetfish in Gujo Hachiman

Gujo Hachiman Souvenirs

When in Gujo Hachiman you must pick up one of the famous realistic food samples. You can purchase them as key-rings, phone straps or magnets.

Food Sample at Gujo Hachiman

Gujo Odori Dance

Bon-Odori is a traditional Japanese dance held during the summer Obon period. Gujo Odori is considered to be one of Japan’s Three Great Bon-Odori Dance Festivals. It is held over a period of 31 nights from mid-July until the first week of September. The peak is four nights in the middle of August, where the locals dance through the night.

How to Get There

You can take the Shinkansen bullet train to Nagoya and from there either a bus or train to Gujo Hachiman. A bus from Nagoya Meitetsu Bus Centre is the easiest way to reach Gujo Hachiman. The journey takes about 2 hours. You can also take a train from Nagoya JR Station. Get on the Takayama line to Mino Ota and then transfer to the Nagaragawa Railway to Gujo Hachiman. The whole journey from Nagoya takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Street in Gujo Hachiman

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Best Time to Go

The summer for the famous Gujo Odori which is held from mid-July to early September, or Autumn for the spectacular Fall colours and Momiji Festival and illumination in early to mid-November.

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Hida Takayama

Hida Takayama

Hida Takayama

Hida Takayama is a former castle town and one of Japan’s best preserved old towns. It is beautifully set amid the northern Japan Alps in Gifu Prefecture an area known as the roof of Japan. The Hida region of Gifu Prefecture is characterised by majestic natural scenery and hot springs. Takayama is often called “little Kyoto” and is just as beautiful and spectacular as its bigger brother.

Takayama is famous for its Edo period merchant houses, temples, traditional sake breweries and crafts. I would recommend a stay overnight in a ryokan (traditional style inn) and at least two full days to explore this amazing place. Takayama can be tackled on foot or bicycle and is very easy get around and navigate. Most of the main sights are located around the center of the town and are within easy walking distance from the station.

Takayama was established in the 16th century as a castle town, and has a unique culture that takes influences from both Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) along with its own unique customs and traditions. The Hida Takayama area has long been a center of carpentry and it is believed that carpenters from Hida Takayama worked on the famous palaces, gates and temples in Kyoto and Nara.

The Must See Places in Takayama

Sanmachi

Sanmachi is the old part of town and is lined with traditional shops, restaurants and museums. Many of the buildings and houses date from the Edo Period (1600-1868) and are beautifully preserved. There are several sake breweries here where you can sample the famous sake of the region.

Sanmachi Takayama

Takayama Jinya

Takayama Jinya was originally built in 1615 as the administration center for the Hida area. It contains the remains of several government offices from the Edo Period as well as the only remaining office building of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Takayama Jinya

Takayama Yatai Kaikan

The Takayama Yatai Kaikan houses some of the yatai (floats) which are used in the famous Takayama Matsuri. The floats are spectacular with elaborate carvings, metalwork and lacquerwork. Some of the floats date from the 17th century.

Takayama Yatai Kaikan

Takayama Morning Markets

Takayama is famous for its two morning markets selling all sorts of local farm vegetables, snacks, wood crafts and local souvenirs. The Jinya-mae Morning Market is in front of Takayama Jinya, while the Miya-gawa Morning Market, the larger of the two is in the old part of town. The markets are open all year round and from 6:00am to 12:00pm April – October and 7:00am to 12:00pm November to March.

Takayama Morning Market

Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village)

Hida no Sato is an open air museum with more than 30 traditional houses from the Hida region of Japan. The houses have been dismantled at their original sites and rebuilt here. I would allow 2-3 hours to fully enjoy this place.

Hida no Sato Folk Village Takayama

Takayama Matsuri

Takayama Matsuri is one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan. The first part of the festival called Sanno Matsuri, is held in spring on April 14-15. The second part called Hachiman Matsuri, is held in autumn on October 9-10. Gorgeous floats are a highlight of both events. The 12 floats for the spring festival and the 11 for the autumn festival are all carefully preserved with some dating from the 17th century.

Must Try Food in Takayama

• Hida-gyu a local beef is a must and is considered to be the best wagyu beef in Japan
• Hoba-miso is sweet miso paste mixed with vegetables and roasted on a magnolia leaf
• Takayama Ramen is thin ramen noodles in a miso stock

Takayama Ramen

Takayama Souvenirs

Popular Souvenirs include “sarubobo”, a red hooded baby monkey, which is considered to bring good luck, and the traditional wooden crafts which can be found around the town such as Hida Shunkei Lacquerware.

Sarubobo Ema Hida Takayama

How to Get There

You can easily get to Takayama from Nagoya on the JR Hida Limited Express. The journey takes around 140 minutes and costs 5870 yen (the trip is covered by the Japan Rail Pass).

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