Mt. Fuji: the country’s tallest mountain and iconic symbol of Japan. The magnificent 3,776-meter-high mountain was formed by frequent and violent eruptions since ancient times, creating the beautiful conical silhouette it has today. In 2013, Mt. Fuji was registered as a World Heritage site as an “object of faith and source of art.” Scenic spots to see Mt. Fuji include Miho no Matsubara in Shizuoka City, with its beautiful view over the sea and pine forests, and Mishima Skywalk, the longest pedestrian-only suspension bridge in Japan at 400 meters long, which offers a panoramic view of the mountain.
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in Toyama Prefecture is one of the world’s most famous mountain tourism routes, taking a picturesque trek through the Northern Alps with its 3000-meter-high peaks. Visitors can enjoy the extravagant nature of the Northern Alps in various vehicles such as cable cars, buses, and ropeways. There are many attractions such as Midagahara Wetlands, the expanse of Murodo-daira, Daikanbou Peak, and Kurobe Dam; but the one not to be missed is Yuki-no-Otani, a huge wall of snow 20 meters high that appears every year from April to June. The 500-meter-long “Snow Wall Walk” is a special experience that can only be had at this time of year and at this location.
Ogimachi Village in Shirakawa-go, Gifu Prefecture, and Aikura and Suganuma Villages in Gokayama, Nanto City, Toyama Prefecture, were registered as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1995. Houses there feature triangular thatched roofs, known as gassho-zukuri, a most distinctive feature, steeply sloped at 60 degrees to facilitate the removal of snow. The word “gassho” comes from the fact that the shape of the roof resembles the arms of a person who puts their left and right palms together in prayer when worshipping the Buddha. People still live in the village, and you can see scenes of life as in the past. The contrast between the blooming flowers in spring, the verdant rice paddies and mountains in summer, the red and yellow trees in autumn, and the 2-meter-high snowfall and gassho-style houses in winter, make for a picturesque Japanese landscape no matter when you visit.
There are two national treasures in the Chubu region: Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture and Inuyama Castle in Aichi Prefecture. Of the many castles that once existed, only 12 built before the Edo period (1603-1867) still retain their iconic castle towers. Matsumoto Castle has a majestic five-story, six-floor castle tower, and Inuyama Castle has the oldest existing tower in the Japanese style. The castle tower, the iconic image of the castle, is the main attraction. As the castle keep was built as a military facility, a fortress, the final defensive facility, it was almost never used on a daily basis but stood as a symbol to show the authority of the lord of the castle. The view of the town from the top of the castle tower is spectacular.
The central city area of Takayama City in Gifu Prefecture has preserved the castle town and merchant town ambiance with restaurants and souvenir stores that have been established in renovated old townhouses, and is a beautiful area with an Edo-period atmosphere. There are many attractions where you can feel the history, such as the “Takayama Jinya” collection of government buildings, where the district magistrate and county commissioners held office during the Edo period; the “Kusakabe Folk Museum” housed in a massive wooden structure built in 1879; the precise and beautiful wooden “Yoshijima Heritage House,” built in 1907; and “Hida Folk Village,” where you can enjoy typical Hida agricultural and mountain village scenery.
6. Three of Japan’s most famous gardens are located here
Kenrokuen Garden in Ishikawa Prefecture is one of the three most famous gardens in Japan, and was created over many years by successive generations of Kaga feudal lords. Kenrokuen Garden is a recreational garden for daimyo constructed in the Kaiyu-style, in which visitors can promenade in the garden while stopping by ponds, artificial mountains, pavilions, and teahouses scattered throughout, taking advantage of its gorgeous expanse. There are many sights to see in the park, but the “Yukitsuri,” in which ropes are hung radially from posts erected through the center of trees to protect them from the weight of the snow, is not to be missed.
Hakuba Happo-One Ski Resort is one of the best ski resorts in Japan and the site of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Known for its fine powder snow, the view from the 1,830-meter-high summit is truly spectacular. Located about 1 hour and 15 minutes by express bus from JR Nagano Station, it is a perfect ski resort for families with 16 courses for beginners to advanced skiers, a snow play area, a kids’ ski school, and a kids’ space.
The Chubu region, which has prospered as a transportation hub since ancient times, is also known as a place where manufacturing has flourished. There are fascinating crafts rooted in Japanese culture and lifestyle, with traditions and techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation. For ceramics, there is Aichi Prefecture’s Seto Ware, from which the generic name Setomono is derived; Ishikawa Prefecture’s Kutani Ware, with its colorful and elegant patterns; and Gifu Prefecture’s Mino Ware, which boasts the largest production volume of ceramics in Japan. Lacquerware includes Wajima-nuri from Ishikawa Prefecture, which combines beauty and robustness with gorgeous gold-inlay chinkin and maki-e, decorations created by using gold or silver dust, lacquerware, and Kiso lacquerware from Gifu Prefecture, which takes advantage of the beauty of natural wood grain. In addition, there are numerous other masterpieces such as woolen and silk fabrics, furniture, and Buddhist utensils.
The Chubu region has many excellent and renowned hot springs. Shizuoka features Atami Onsen, which is listed as one of the three major hot springs in Japan and is said to have been visited by Tokugawa Ieyasu; Ito Hot Springs, which has been a favorite of many cultural figures and artists since ancient times; Jigokudani Hot Springs in Nagano Prefecture, which is famous for monkeys bathing in its waters; Gero Hot Springs in Gifu Prefecture, which is known as a beauty spot for its smooth spring water; and Mikurigaike Onsen in Toyama Prefecture, the highest hot spring in Japan, are just a few examples.
Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture, known simply as Jingu, includes Inner and Outer Shrines as well as 125 others. The Naiku (Kotaijingu) enshrines Amaterasu Omikami, said to be the ancestor of the Imperial Family, and revered as the general deity of all Japanese people. The Geku (Toyo’ukedaijingu) enshrines Toyo’uke-no-Omikami, the deity responsible for the meals for Amaterasu Omikami, the deity of the Inner Shrine, and is revered as the guardian deity of food, clothing, shelter, and industry. Although the Outer and Inner Shrines are located far apart, it has long been customary to visit the Outer Shrine first and then the Inner Shrine. The admiration and reverence for the shrine has not dimmed over time, and even today, some 8 million people from Japan and abroad visit the shrine to pay their respects.