Japan: From Kyoto to Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Kyushu Island, Korea

Japan: From Kyoto to Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Kyushu Island, Korea

From Kyoto

Thanks to its perch in the relatively high latitudes, northeast Asia is the only part of the region that enjoys four distinct seasons-a climatic oddity that makes it curiously familiar for Westerners traveling in Japan, Korea, and parts of northern China. Cherry-blossom time is perhaps the best season to visit Japan (though beware of the crowds), and fall the best for Korea (where the colors easily rival those of New England). In China’s north and Russia’s far east, high summer or midwinter are best-warm sunlit evenings in July or magnificent snowy vistas in December.

Forget Tokyo as a base: Its monstrous international airport, Narita, happens to be so inconveniently sited-at the very least, two and a half hours from the average Tokyo hotel room-that it is actually the very last place to choose. By contrast, Osaka’s handsome new airport proves a very good jumping-off point and is well connected to its neighbor cities, and not least to the exquisite old Japanese capital of Kyoto-which means that you can spend a meditative morning communing with the stones in Ryoan-ji Temple or strolling the Philosopher’s Walk from Eikan-do to Ginkaku-ji before setting out, via what is called the new Kansai airport, on your adventure.

There ate–two further practical advantages to Osaka. First, flights from the Kansai field to Tokyo land not at the far away Narita but at the much handier Haneda Airport, only minutes from Tokyo’s city center; and second, Osaka-where there is a brand-new Imperial Hotel that is well worth seeing-is nearer to the major centers of South Korea, essential destinations for anyone wanting to have the full picture of what northeast Asia is all about.

To Tokyo

This, of course, has to be the prime destination, but it is invidious to offer specific sites of pilgrimage-the Imperial Palace, the Ginza, the 5 A.M. auctions at the Tsukiji fish market. Better to suggest things to do, such as Kabuki theater (marathan sessions are held at the Kabuki-za Theater in Ginza), or No drama (at the nearby Ginza No-Gakudo), or simply the amazing nightlife in such areas as Shinjuku or Roppongi. Whereas in smaller Japanese cities and towns it’s a good idea to have the (incredibly expensive) experience of staying in a local inn, a ryokan, in Tokyo you are better advised to stay at a Western-style hotel, of which the Seiyo Ginza and the Imperial remain among the best.

To Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji and the nearby hot spring region of Hakone are well within the two-hour range for train journeys from Kyoto. You climb the mountain (in Japan they say the wise man climbs it but only the fool climbs it twice), taking about four hours up, two down; warm clothing is essential if you climb at night-as you should, in order to witness goraiko, the sunrise, from the summit.In Hakone, where you can stay at astonishingly costly hotels like the Fujiya, one ofthe oldest Western-style hotels in the country, the attractions are legion-lakes, mountains, mud baths, ancient forests, and, if you’re lucky, morning views of Fuji-san looming over all.

To Kyushu Island

Here is where you come to know Japan best of all, however, by experiencing her traditions and her curiosities rather than by seeing her cities and her sights. But doing this demands same valor on the part of the casual visitor-nowhere more so than in the sampling of the onsen, the open-air bath. Try Beppu, where you can either bathe in a variety of types and temperatures of water or be buried up to the neck in hat sand on a volcanic beach. In Yufu-in, inland and near-by, the scene is more genteel and more beautifully and classically Japanese, and there are plenty of smaIl hotels with adjoining baths.

Also on Kyushu is the reborn town of Nagasaki-famous for its role as the first open city in pre-Meiji Japan and as the second city to be devastated by the American nuclear attacks in 1945. Hiroshima, two hours by train southwest of Osaka and still on the main island of Honshu, is equally well worth visiting.The two other main islands of Japan-the small and temple-filled Shikoku and the large and largely agricultural Hokkaido-are less frequently visited. For those with time (six weeks if on foot, a day if by bus), there is a memorable pilgrimage route that takes in all 88 temple site s on Shikoku; and for those with wintertime energy, the skiing around Sapporo is excellent. The Shikotsuko Hokkai Hotel here offers one of the few affordable Japanese ryokan experiences in the country.

To Korea

From Osaka Airport, it is quick and easy to reach Seoul, Pusan, and, with a little more effort, the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. While the sight of the Cold War, still very much alive and well at the armistice village of Panmunjom, may enthrall some, the little-known countryside of South Korea remains spectacularly beautiful: The unforgettable temple of Haein-sa near the city of Taegu is among the most notable places.Within locked rooms and guarded by monks lies one of the original Buddhist woodenblock libraries, the Tripitaka Koreana, carved in the thirteenth century; and the temple itself sits in a dreamlike panorama of misty mountains of unparalleled beauty-the perfect spiritual link to the fragile loveliness of the Kyoto temples.

Days of Edo in Japan

Days of Edo in Japan

As Tokyo is situated on the Sumida River which pours into Tokyo Bay to swell the mighty Pacific, its former name, Edo (estuary-door), sounds more poetical and appropriate. But the political conquerors from the south, who destroyed the Shōgunate in 1868, could not tolerate anything reminiscent of the old régime.

They therefore displaced Edo in favor of Tokyo (eastern capital) as distinct from Kyoto (western capital). The amazing strides made by Tokyo, or rather by Japan, are identified with the august rule of the Emperor Meiji ( 1868-1912) which future historians will probably call the most glorious in the annals of the Empire.

But it is impossible to forget the founding of the city, as laid in Edo days, or the 260 years of the Tokugawa régime. Over sixty years have passed since Edo was changed to Tokyo, but the study of Edo is constantly made with ever-increasing zeal, each year adding new discoveries to the great legacy. Many of Japan’s most celebrated names in art, the crafts and literature, which are beginning to attract the admiring attention of the world, belong to Edo. Many of the picturesque national observances–manners, customs, festivals and superstitions — had also their origin in Edo days.

It is curious to reflect that Edo, too, was once threatened with a grave crisis. With the fall of the Shōgunate, many of the 300 resident daimyō, liberated from the feudal obligation to keep expensive estates in Edo, began to go home bag and baggage, thereby throwing the shadow of the fear over Edo that the city might relapse into the trackless reed moor that it once was. This fearful possibility, how ever, was gloriously averted when the Emperor made the momentous declaration that he would appoint Edo (then changed to Tokyo) the capital of the Empire, and would remove from his old home, Kyoto, to the new capital, Tokyo.

Edo days lasted, to be precise, 277 years and eight months, i.e. from August of 1590, when Ieyasu was appointed by Hideyoshi to be lord of Kwantō district and took formal possession of Edo, until April 11th, 1868, when the 15th Shōgun, Yoshinobu, then 31 years old, restored the castle as well as the government of Japan to Meiji Tenno, then a young man 16 years old. Kwantō, it may be added, is a large tract of land comprising the eight provinces and the seven islets of Izu, or, to use the present administrative divisions, seven prefectures, including Tokyo prefecture of which Tokyo city is a part.

How Ieyasu, the master of Kwantō, succeeded in ousting his former chief, Hideyoshi, and made himself the overlord of all Japan, is part of the absorbing history over which space forbids us to linger. Suffice it to say that it was the determined policy of Ieyasu and his successors to make Edo the greatest city in Japan, even to outshine Kyoto and Osaka, not only as the political center, but as the center of Japan’s artistic and cultural life — an ambition which was realized to a marvelous degree. No wonder we now see each year adding more and more to “Edo literature,” as if Edo had been the golden age of Japanese civilization.

For one thing, we have still living among us a large number of influential persons whose minds are richly stored with memories of Edo days. The last baby born in Edo is now ( 1934) only a young person of 67 years. Indeed, so much is said and written about Edo that we are apt to forget that Edo is very much older than the so-called Edo days.

Daisen Mountain in Japan

Daisen Mountain Japan

Daisen literally means “great mountain.” Though its height is only 5,653 feet, it is the highest mountain in Chugoku district, on the shore of the Japan Sea. It is the Fuji of Japan’s “back.” The people of provinces round about Daisen look upon it, talk about it, ascend it, and worship it as much as the people on the “front” of Japan do Mount Fuji.

It lies somewhat away from the beaten track of the tourist, 216 miles north-west of Osaka by rail. It is none the less popular with the inhabitants of Hoki and Izumo, or prefectures of Shimane and Tottori, and their vicinity. The proposed National Park with Daisen as its center of attraction has been chosen, doubtless with an eye to the fact that it symbolizes the sea and mountain scenery on the Japan Seaboard.

Unlike Mount Fuji, Daisen has two faces, one, as viewed from the west, or Izumo, beautifully resembling the Suruga cone; the other, seen from the northern or southern side, is full of rugged, steep, rocky crags, which are grand, even majestic, but not symmetrical. Like Mount Fuji, it commands the veneration of people, far and wide. Daisenji Temple, half-way up the mountain (2,300 ft. from sea level), founded in 718, was a center of strong Buddhist influence of the Tendai Sect, once commanding more than two hundred temples and monasteries of this sacred mountain.

At one time, notably during the 14th century, Daisen was called the Hieisan of the Chūgoku district. Its turbulent and warlike monks instilled fear into the surrounding feudatories. It is said that the notorious priests of Daisen kept the doors of their monasteries hospitably open to outlaws, from whatever feudal territory, who sought shelter and protection under them, and these added greatly to the physical prowess and the political power of Daisen. The whole of Mount Daisen belonged to the Daisenji Temple, of course. A part of this temple, more than ten centuries old, is under Government protection, and the eleven-faced bronze Kwannon and 4 other Buddhist images kept there, are “national treasures.”

Judged for its beauty, its admirers acclaim Daisen to be the best in Japan. A writer describing the surpassing views, as seen from the top of Daisen, says: “To the north the vast expanse of the Sea of Japan embracing the Oki islands in its bosom lies before one; to the west, the province of Izumo with Lake Shinji and Shimane Peninsula as its scenic center; to the east the provinces of Hōki and Mimasaka, and Shikoku across the Chūgoku mountains and the Inland Sea. In summer the mountain attracts crowds of pilgrims and student mountaineers, and in the cold season the slopes afford good skiing.”

The proposed Daisen Park, 44,835 acres, includes, with Mt. Daisen as center, a host of surrounding mountains with their wide skirts, on the north, sloping to the water’s edge. It is the smallest after Unzen as a National Park, but the vastness of its wooded slopes is unique. The panorama of the surrounding landscape with the Oki-no-shima–“islands in the offing”–is enchanting beyond words.

These isles of Oki — inhabited by 35,000 people -mostly fishermen — are famous for their legendary and historical associations. Thither more than one hapless Emperor was exiled by disloyal military regents, and one of them–Godaigo Tenno–effected his escape in 1332 to Hōki, the land opposite, by concealing himself underneath the planks of a fisherman’s junk. He was hospitably treated by Nawa Nagatoshi at Senjōsen (2,230 feet), a spot commemorated for that reason.

Despite the vast number of pilgrims yearly attracted to the mountain, Daisen has somehow managed to keep itself undefiled from the threatened spoliation of vandals, and from garish attempts at artificial adornment. From the foot of the mountain to the Daisenji Temple is an easy climb, done by vehicular traffic, but from there to the top is hard work, and it takes nearly 3 hours to do the distance of a mile and a half only, but through a remarkable forest of beeches and “kyaraboku” — a species of yew trees. The top is crowned with one of the most marvelous panoramas the eye could ever hope to see. But you will see no crater, as Daisen is an extinct volcano, though its vicinity is not lacking in good hot springs.

Another feature of Daisen is that, unlike Fuji, which stands isolated, it forms a link in the long chain of mountains. This chain reminds one of the Swiss Alps. The whole chain is rich in alpine plants, which has earned for it the popular nickname of “Chūgoku Alps” — an increasingly popular skiing resort in winter.

Japan: Kobe is famous is its Nada sake

Nada Sake

Among the famous things which Kobe is noted for must be mentioned the so-called Kobe beef, which is, in fact, sent from the neighboring province of Tajima. How good beef has come to be associated with Kobe I cannot tell, for one may get beef just as good anywhere else, unless it is accounted for by the fact that the presence of many beef-eating foreign residents has tended to make the local butchers select the best stock. This, and its nearness to Tajima may explain Kobe’s reputation in this respect.

Another good thing for which Kobe is famous is its Nada sake, produced at a place of the same name. Indeed, for one visiting Kobe from the Kwanto district a sukiyaki dinner served in a smart “beef restaurant,” from the windows of which the views of the sea and mountain may be enjoyed, to the added delight of drinking Nada’s delicious sake, poured into your cup by witty and seductive geisha of Nakaken or Fukuhara, is considered the best treat one’s Kobe friend can offer. Kobe is probably one of the few big cities where the local geisha are allowed to ply their profession in “beef restaurants.”

The inhabitants of Kobe are thrice blessed, for they have not only good air, good beef and good scenery, but they have also an infinite variety of adjacent holiday resorts.

he neighborhoods of Osaka and Kyoto, which are within easy reach of the port, have already been dwelt on. We now have to mention the long stretch of coastal districts almost down to Himeji, dotted with such exquisite seabathing resorts as Suma, Maiko and Akashi, which are so crowded in summer. Time was, long ago, when Kobe and Osaka stood in a position of semi-rivalry to each other, but the two have been fairly wedded now through perfect transportation facilities. Of these the best is the “Hanshin” motor road, the finest anywhere, over which 50 minutes is enough for a taxi to take you from Kobe to Osaka. No wonder so many foreigners having business offices in Osaka prefer to live in Kobe.