The breathtaking peaks of Japan’s Northern Alps are considered the country’s premier hiking grounds. And for good reason—from the small town of Kamikochi, the gateway to the area, visitors have a choice of easy day hikes or week-long adventures that would challenge the fittest of hikers.
In the peak of summer, the most popular routes can crawl with weekend hikers, but come on a weekday or wait for autumn and visitors get to experience the Northern Alps jagged, nearly 10,000-foot peaks and virgin forests as nature intended—unspoiled by crowds.
Sensoji, a Buddhist temple in Asakusa, is about as touristy as it gets in Tokyo. Head a few blocks in any direction, however, and the tourists soon give way to a part of the capital that has never strayed far from its pre-war status as the city’s premier entertainment district.
Most representative of that is the tiny Hanayashiki Amusement Park, home to retro rides that include the country’s first (and possibly most sedate) rollercoaster. Nearby is Rokku Broadway, where historic theaters like Engei Hall put on a bill packed with slapstick comedy and traditional comic storytelling. Not surprisingly, the area also teems with good watering holes—like Kamiya Bar, where the local tipple is a legendary concoction of brandy, gin, and curaçao aptly named Denki Bran (Electric Bran[dy]), first mixed here in the 1880s.
There is something quintessentially Japanese about getting naked for a soak with strangers. In fact, the Japanese have been using communal onsen, or natural hot spring waters, to relax and heal for centuries—the earliest mention dating back 1,300 years to bathers in Dogo, Shikoku.
Dogo is still one of the country’s most renowned onsen resorts. The grand, three-storey Dogo Onsen Honkan at the center of the resort is a 19th-century architectural gem complete with a bathing room (albeit unused nowadays) set aside for the imperial family.
Not that you need venture to Dogo for a good soak—there are thousands of public baths and ryokan with onsen across the country, all worth stripping off for.
Dedicated to victims of the atomic bombing of August 6, 1945, the Peace Memorial Park and Museum are poignant and moving monuments to the horrors of nuclear weapons.
The disfigured frame of the park’s A-Bomb Dome, one of the few buildings in central Hiroshima to survive the blast, serves as a vivid reminder of the destruction that befell the city. Other parts of the park are equally evocative—none more so than the Children’s Peace Monument. Built in memory of one of the many children who died from leukemia as a result of the fallout, it’s always decorated with origami cranes of hope sent from children across Japan.
Japan is known for fine cuisine like sushi, tempura, and kaiseki, but its low-cost culinary underbelly (“B-grade gourmet,” as the Japanese call it) is just as mouth watering. The king of the B, ramen noodles, are ubiquitous, filling, and something of a national obsession—some shops are revered enough to have people waiting in line for hours just for a few minutes of ecstatic slurping.
Not that it’s all good. Some, like the vending machine hotdog or convenience store fried noodle sandwich, should probably be labeled "Z-grade".