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.

Tokyo is unique–the result of its peculiar evolution

Tokyo is unique–the result of its peculiar evolution

To describe a great city like London or Paris to an American, or a mighty American city such as New York or Chicago to a European, is a comparatively easy matter. They are kith and kin, so to speak, sprung from the same civilization. Tokyo is different. It would be as misleading to treat it as an Eastern city as not to treat it as such. Tokyo has none of the characteristic, often sordid, aspects of a so-called Eastern city. The keen observer will not be slow to gain glimpses, through the crevices of its modern exterior, of that inner life which distinguishes it from any other great city in the world.

Tokyo had grown to be a very complex and indeed highly civilized city during its three centuries of national seclusion. To this civilization has been added in the past hundred years the modern superstructure of the West. To the newcomer the city may seem a heterogeneous medley, at once ultramodern, quaint, colorful, even bizarre–a “cocktail” sort of a city. He may think that Tokyo is passing through a violently transitional stage, or that it is perhaps only half Western. The true explanation is that Tokyo is unique–the result of its peculiar evolution, and must therefore be judged or appreciated by its unique standard. The same applies to the old cities of Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya and other big cities.

It would be simple to describe Tokyo in yearbook style as the capital of the Japan, one of the half-dozen World Powers, with an extensive area of 213 square miles, a little more than Chicago, inhabited by 12,790,000 people, a city with all the latest improvements in the accommodation and administration which go to make a great metropolis. Such a description, however, will give no picture of what Tokyo is really like. To frame an adequate picture one must dip a little into its historical background.

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.