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Land of the Rising Sun
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On day 2, the morning is free for you to stroll the outer grounds of the Imperial Palace, heading to the famous shopping district of Ginza. Then it's time to catch a train out of Tokyo, a chance to appreciate the countryside that makes Japan one of the world's most beautiful destinations. From Toyko we take an express train and then a local train to Nikko. Trains in Japan are clean, fast, punctual, and have plenty of recycling bins for paper, bottles and cans. There are non-smoking and smoking carriages (we use the former) and a trolley cart comes around regularly, bearing all kinds of yummy things for purchase. Be sure to buy a bento box for lunch - these are compact trays containing tempura, sushi, etc., as well as a popular Japanese drink such as cold green tea or Asahi.
Nikko has been a sacred site since the middle of the 8th century and the shrines and temples dotted throughout the area are inspiring evidence of the city's glory. We'll visit Toshu-gu Shrine, a resting place of a Tokugawa shogun. The mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the warlord who controlled all of Japan and whose shogunate lasted 250 years, the shrine contrasts with the traditional minimalist style commonly used throughout Japan. Instead, every corner of this monument is covered in intricate gold-leaf and lacquerwork, paintings and patterns. Our charming accommodation in Nikko has private facilities, a shared onsen and is located next to the river.
Leaving Nikko, we hop aboard a local train, a bullet train, another bullet train and finally a bus to reach Hakone. In the hot spring region of Hakone, we take a boat across Ashino-ko followed by a picturesque cable car journey over the surrounding mountains. On the way, we may be lucky enough to get a glimpse of Mt Fuji looming in the distance. If not, the lake and its surroundings offer plenty of stunning panoramas. For those who are adventurous, a bath in an outdoor onsen (hot spring bath) is a real highlight. There are separate baths for males and females, and no clothes are allowed in the hot springs - so it's time to shed those inhibitions! Our family run guesthouse in Hakone is located in a quiet part of town and has shared facilities and a lovely outdoor onsen.
Travelling by Shinkansen (bullet train) is an absolute buzz as we reach speeds of up to 270 km per hour! Needless to say, after we descend from the mountains of Hakone by bus and get on the bullet train, we get to Takayama very quickly. Takayama is famous for its traditional inns, sake breweries and the Hida Folk Village, an outdoor museum which aims to preserve the traditional architecture of the area. Explore its collection of farmhouses. There is free time here to explore the many folk art galleries, local markets, museums or just wander the streets of this delightful little town nestled amongst the Japanese Alps. We visit the 600-year-old morning market to try out some of the unusual local specialities that the farm women sell each morning. We stay in a stunning ryokan in Takayama.
Hiroshima is a bustling metropolis with a tragic history. We have free time here to visit the ruins of the A-Bomb Dome building, one of 11 structures left partially standing after the nuclear bomb blast on 6 August 1945, left as a horrifying reminder of the destruction of nuclear war. Around its perimeter is the peace park with monuments and a museum dedicated to Hiroshima and international peace. Alternatively, you can spend an afternoon at the nearby island of Miyajima with its famous 'floating' Torii Gate and the grand Itsukushima-jinja Shrine - be sure to watch out for inquisitive and eternally hungry deer that roam the streets of the island. Our comfortable accommodation in Hiroshima is within walking distance of the peace park and has internet access.
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