By Valentina Rizo, Marketing Intern
Hey Morikami Fans!
My name is Valentina Rizo, and I’ve been volunteering at Morikami for two years, and have recently joined the Marketing Department as their intern. I was first drawn to Morikami because of the way that the park transports you away from Florida and instantly immerses you in a beautiful Japanese landscape. I’ve always been a nature lover, and I feel at home in the garden. Over the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the gardens, architecture, and collection at Morikami, and it has sparked an interest in Japanese culture that now makes me excited to see Japan with my own eyes!
For today’s blog, I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 Japanese Travel Destinations:
5. Todaiji Temple
One of the most famous temples in Japan, Todai-ji (meaning “Great Eastern Temple” in Japanese) is located in Japan’s first permanent capital, Nara, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple’s main hall was the world’s largest wooden building until 1998, and it houses an enormous (15 meters tall) bronze statue of Buddha, also the world’s largest Buddha statue at one time.
Todaiji Temple is perhaps best known for its deer, which live on the grounds and pester tourists for shika senbei, deer crackers sold at nearby
Nara Park for 150 yen, or about a dollar and fifty cents. In Shinto religion, deer are believed to be messengers of the gods. The deer can be aggressive if not fed—so stock up on shika senbei and be careful!
As a garden lover, I have to mention Isui-en, the garden just in view of the temple’s South Gate. The surrounding gardens have become an essential part of the Todaiji temple complex, which reminds me of the way that you can’t have Morikami without Roji-en.
4. Mori Art Museum & Tokyo City View
The Mori Art Museum is located in Roppongi Hills, Tokyo and is notable for its lack of a permanent collection. Instead, prominent contemporary artists (such as controversial artist and activist Ai Weiwei) exhibit year-round in its galleries. The art on display at Mori is usually avant garde and is sure to take you out of your comfort zone—this is no ordinary museum! Depending on the time of year, you’ll find different shows on display, but no matter when you go, make sure you check out the Tokyo City View observation deck.
Admission to the observation deck is not included in your museum admission, but it is well worth it. Located on the 52th floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower (with an open air deck on the 54th floor), the Tokyo City View gives you a nearly 360 degree view of the city. There’s no faster way to see all of Tokyo!
3. The Hot Springs in Nagano
Because Japan is one of the most volcanically active countries in the world, the landscape is dotted with many mineral hot springs, known as onsen in Japanese. The hot springs I’m most excited to visit are those in the Shibu Onsen area in Nagano, because not only can you soak in the toasty hot springs, the area is also home to ski resorts, the world-famous Snow Monkey Park (where the monkeys themselves bathe in the onsen), and many hotels and restaurants.
Consider this the ultimate day trip: an exhilarating ski session in the morning, followed by a relaxing soak in the onsen, after which point you’ll want to visit the adorable macaque monkeys in Snow Monkey Park, and finally, you’ll chow down on a delicious and well-deserved meal at one of the area’s stunning ryokan, or traditional Japanese hotels.
2. The Blue Pond
It’s not just any blue pond! The gorgeous Blue Pond, or Aoiike in Japanese, is located just outside of the town of Biei, at the base of a volcanic mountain range. The jewel-like lake gets its beautiful color from mineral runoff from the surrounding volcanic rock that has dissolved in the water over time. The area is this animal and nature lover’s dream: it is inhabited by deer, bear, squirrels, and foxes and is nestled in a quiet forest. I think The Blue Pond’s turquoise beauty can speak for itself:
1. Hirosaki Castle
We’re reached the end of the countdown, and without further ado, I give you my top Japanese travel destination: Hirosaki Castle, located in Aomori Prefecture! Built in the early 1600s, destroyed once, and then rebuilt 200 years later—this castle is a historical treasure. Not only is it one of the top cherry blossom-viewing spots in the country (boasting 2,600 cherry blossom trees), it is also the site of the Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival, which draws thousands of visitors every year. This festival, which takes place in early February, is an experience you’ll never forget (much like Morikami’s Lantern Festival). The festival is meant to add a bit of light and cheer to the cold, dark, Aomori winters—the night’s main event is the lighting of 200 snow lanterns and 300 miniature igloos hand-crafted by local residents. I hope to visit it very soon!
Let us know what YOUR top 5 Japanese travel destinations are!