During the Edo Period, Kanazawa served as the seat of the Maeda Clan, the second most powerful feudal clan after the Tokugawa in terms of rice production and fief size. Accordingly, Kanazawa grew to become a town of great cultural achievements, rivaling Kyoto and Edo. During World War Two, Kanazawa escaped destruction by air raids and consequently, parts of the old castle town, such as the Nagamachi samurai district and chaya entertainment districts, have survived in pretty good condition.
From 1583 to the end of the Edo Period, Kanazawa Castle was the seat of the powerful Maeda Clan, lords of Kaga. The castle burnt down several times over the centuries, and the most recent fires of 1881 were survived only by two storehouses and the Ishikawa-mon Gate. The gate dates from 1788 and faces Kenrokuen.
A chaya, or teahouse, is an exclusive type of restaurant where guests are entertained by geisha who perform song and dance. During the Edo Period, chaya were found in designated entertainment districts, usually just outside the city limits. Kanazawa has three, well preserved chaya districts of which the Eastern Chaya is the largest and by far the most interesting.
This 13.7 meter-high gate near Kanazawa’s main station is supported by two thick pillars, and is designed to evoke the image of the tsuzumi, the drums played by hand in Noh theater and Kaga Hosho performances. Noh has been embedded in the fabric of Kanazawa life for generations and the city’s affection for Noh tradition continues even today.
While officially named Itsukushima, the island is more commonly referred to as Miyajima, Japanese for Shrine Island. This is due to the island being so closely related to its key shrine, Itsukushima Shrine, in the public’s mind. Like the torii gate, the shrine’s main buildings are built over water.
Itsukushima Shrine and the Floating Torii
The Floating Torii and Mount Misen
One of the most important temples of Shingon Buddhism. It is located at the base of Mount Misen, on which the sect’s founder, Kobo Daishi, first began the practice of Buddhism on the island of Miyajima. Daisho-in features a variety of buildings, statues and other religious objects for visitors to admire. These include the Kannon-do Hall, the Maniden Hall, a sand mandala made by visiting monks from Tibet, a tea room and a cave filled with 88 icons representing the temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
When the first atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the city became known worldwide for this unenviable distinction. The destructive power of the bomb was tremendous and obliterated nearly everything within a two kilometer radius. After the war, great efforts were taken to rebuild the city. Predictions that the city would be uninhabitable proved false. Destroyed monuments of Hiroshima’s historical heritage, like Hiroshima Castle and Shukkeien Garden, were reconstructed. In the center of the city a large park was built and given a name that would reflect the aspirations of the re-born city: Peace Memorial Park.
Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park
Before the bomb, the area was the political and commercial heart of the city. For this reason, it was chosen as the pilot’s target. Four years to the day after the bomb was dropped, it was decided that the area would not be redeveloped but instead devoted to peace memorial facilities. The A-Bomb Dome, also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. The building served as a location to promote Hiroshima’s industries. When the bomb exploded, it was one of the few buildings to remain standing, and remains so today. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the A-Bomb Dome is a tangible link to Hiroshima’s unique past.
Hiroshima Castle, also called the Carp Castle, is a good example of a castle built on a plain in the center of a city as opposed to hilltop and mountaintop castles. Its main keep is five stories tall, and its grounds are surrounded by a moat. Also within the castle’s precincts are a shrine, some ruins and a few reconstructed buildings of the Ninomaru. Hiroshima developed as a castle town, whereby the castle was both the physical and economical center of the city. Built in 1589 by the powerful feudal lord Mori Terumoto, Hiroshima Castle was an important seat of power in Western Japan. While it was spared the demolishment that many other castles met during the Meiji Restoration, like the rest of the city, Hiroshima Castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945. Thirteen years later, its main keep was rebuilt with an attractive, partially wooden exterior.
After a construction period of twenty years, Hikone Castle, on the shores of Lake Biwa, was completed in 1622. The hilltop castle served as the seat of the Ii daimyo until the end of the feudal age in 1868. Hikone Castle is an original castle, it survived the post feudal era without undergoing destruction and reconstruction. Hikone Castle’s three storied castle keep is relatively small but displays a unique design that combines multiple different architecture styles. This is one reason why the castle keep has been designated a national treasure, the highest designation for cultural properties in Japan, held by only four other castle keeps, namely the ones of Himejijo, Matsumotojo, Inuyamajo and Matsuejo.
A Japanese landscape garden built on the grounds of Hikone Castle in 1677 by the local lord for the entertainment of his guests and his family. It is designed after a palace garden from Tang China. There are four small islands scattered across the pond, connected by bridges. Hikone Castle’s main keep stands on the hill behind the garden, serving as borrowed scenery. A cluster of wooden buildings next to the pond served the entertainment of the lord’s guests.
Kobe has been an important port city for many centuries. Its port was among the first to be opened to foreign trade in the 19th century alongside the ports of Yokohama, Nagasaki, Hakodate and Niigata. In 1995, Kobe was hit by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which killed over 5000 people and destroyed tens of thousands of buildings. Today the city is completely rebuilt, and few signs of the terrible event remain.
A nice waterfront park in Kobe’s port area. Built on an outcropping of reclaimed land, the park is covered in grassy lawn and open courtyards dotted with a collection of modern art installations and fountains. It is home to some of the city’s more iconic contemporary architecture such as the red Kobe Port Tower and the Kobe Maritime Museum.
The park was devastated by the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, but has now become a popular spot for locals and tourists again. A small memorial in the park commemorates the many victims who were killed in the port during the earthquake. A short section of damaged waterfront has been left unrepaired as a reminder of the earthquake’s tremendous destructive power
Kobe Port Tower and Kobe Maritime Museum
Great Hanshin Earthquake Memorial
Himeji is best known for it’s castle, Himejijō, also known as White Heron Castle, or Shirasagijo, due to its elegant, white appearance, is widely considered as Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size and beauty and its well preserved, complex castle grounds. The castle is both a national treasure and a world heritage site. Unlike many other Japanese castles, it was never destroyed by war, earthquake or fire and survives to this day as one of the country’s twelve original castles. The castle recently underwent extensive renovation over several years and was fully re-opened to the public in March 2015.
Himeji Castle lies at a strategic point along the western approach to the former capital city of Kyoto. The first fortifications built on the site were completed in the 1400s, and were gradually enlarged over the centuries by the various clans who ruled over the region. The castle complex as it survives today is over 400 years old and was completed in 1609. It is made up of over eighty buildings spread across multiple baileys, which are connected by a series of gates and winding paths.