In the same way that we hardly miss an opportunity to remind foreigners that France is not just Paris, it would be unwise to believe that Tokyo alone embodies all of Japan. The rest of the country offers a completely different face, always surprising and deeply authentic
Chichibu, a change of scenery very close to Tokyo
Forget for a moment the turmoil of Tokyo.... There is another Japan. A wild and spiritual Japan, still unaltered, with a beauty as immutable as it is amazing. And you don't have to go very far. Beyond the green tops of the mountains bordering the western edge of the megalopolis, lies the Chichibu district. It is here that we touch the beating heart of the country: the Japanese Alps. The Tokyotes were right about that. More and more of them are climbing on Seibu's Red Arrow trains to make the short journey from this Garden of Eden, encircling the municipalities of Chichibu (63,000 inhabitants) and Nagatoro (7,000 inhabitants).
How can we prove them wrong? With landscapes worthy of a Hayao Miyazaki film, this region is the kingdom of the shibazakura: pink, white and purple flowers that spread as far as the eye can see. In Hitsujiyama's park, they paint a 17,600 m2 painting. It is between April and May that they deliver their most beautiful face. But this is not the only attraction of Chichibu and Nagatoro. Thanks to a thousand-year-old history marked by rich architecture, it is a must for all heritage lovers wishing to follow in the footsteps of the emperors of yesteryear, samurai and Shinto priests.
Shiga, the beautiful life by the water
Bathed by Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan and 10 minutes from Kyōto, Shiga Prefecture cultivates a unique cultural landscape. The omnipresent nature in the daily life of its inhabitants, its rich heritage, its nourishing culinary specialities and its varied leisure activities are all assets that would allow Japan's "water capital" to become the destination of choice for people seeking a change of scenery. In spring, the hatching of the pink and white buds of its cherry trees marks the reunion with a fauna and flora asleep by the severity of the Japanese winter. In summer, the gentle cool breeze from the lake will allow you to enjoy the festivities of the "O-Bon" or the feast of spirits in the company of the souls of the deceased, back on Earth for the occasion. In the fall, the mountains surrounding the lake offer hikers the opportunity to observe the bright colours of its "Momiji" maples. Finally, in winter, thermal spas and hot springs will warm your body and mind. Splendid fireworks are also held throughout Shiga Prefecture, with the surface of the lake sumptuously reflecting their dazzling lights.
Shinagawa, the spiritual heart of Tokyo
No one will doubt that Tokyo is one of the best shopping destinations in the world. After all, it is the largest metropolis in the world and millions of tourists come to enjoy its heritage and exotic atmosphere every year. But for many, a visit to the Japanese capital is limited to the great monuments of the hyper-centre, its skyscrapers and its imperial palace, ignoring the thousand facets of its periphery. However, each neighbourhood has its own original and particular identity. This is particularly the case in Shinagawa, spared by mass tourism, although very easy to access. Bordered by Tokyo Bay and its ballet of ships, it is the headquarters of major companies and embassies, but not only. There is also the longest shopping street in the city, impregnated with an intact authentic charm and a privileged destination for gourmets and gourmands....
Niigata and Tsuruoka, a spiritual marriage of terroir and traditions
In the northeast of Honshu Island, nestled at the foot of the emerald mountains and facing the immensity of the Japanese Sea, are Niigata and Tsuruoka, two cities with a terroir and heritage as rich as their landscapes. With snow-covered hills that dominate the horizon and gently undulate to the coast, the region is irrigated all year round and its fertile soil produces a legendary rice, with a smooth and assertive taste. Its quality remains the cornerstone of an ancestral know-how: sake, which, even more than elsewhere in the country, is the national drink here. A real agricultural granary, this part of the archipelago is also known for its edamame, soya beans, two varieties of which are endemic to local cultures: the kurosakichamame in Niigata and the dadachamame in Tsuruoka. This municipality has been recognized as the first and only creative city of gastronomy in Japan, for its considerable contribution to the Japanese culinary tradition, Washoku, classified by UNESCO since 2014. Location is important, fishermen also provide flavours for local tables and fresh, fleshy fish have contributed greatly to the popularity of sushi, sashimi and soups, such as kandarajiru (codfish) in Tsuruoka, or noppe-jiru (crab or white fish) in Niigata. If these two destinations are small paradises for gourmets, Niigata stands out for its mixture of audacity and renewal, while Tsuruoka, strongly marked by its spiritual attachment, has jealously guarded its traditions for centuries.
Sapporo, Matsumoto, Kagoshima, to discover three essential cities
Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaidō, is the northernmost of the regional capitals. It was in 1972 that the city was truly unveiled to the world, during the celebration of the XI Olympic Winter Games. In the centre of the metropolis is Mount Moiwa, a sacred place for the Ainu, a people native to northern Japan and Siberia. The observatory perched on the mountain allows you to admire the city and the landscapes that surround it, including Ishikari Bay or Shokanbetsu Peak, located in the Mashike area. Sapporo does not have any castles or even grandiose temples. The symbols of the city are quite different. First, the pioneer of Japanese beers, Sapporo Beer, created in 1876. The other great symbol is the Clock Tower. Built in 1878, its main architectural feature is its wooden balloon structure. The other buildings that we have enjoyed immortalizing since 1950 are ephemeral. Every year during the first week of February, Sapporo organizes the snow festival. More than two million tourists come to contemplate the immense ice and snow sculptures. At night, the show is even more magical because the buildings are lit by a thousand lights
Then, direction Matsumoto, in the Nagano prefecture. It is in the middle of a breathtaking landscape, located on the Utsukushigahara plateau in the heart of the Japanese Alps of Honshu Island, that the city of Matsumoto is located. Surrounded by mountains, the pretty city boasts one of the most majestic, but also one of the oldest castles in Japan, built more than 400 years ago by the Ogasawara clan, classified as a national treasure. From the top of its main keep, the panoramic view of nine peaks, all over 3,000 m high, and the Kamikochi Valley is breathtaking. Matsumoto is also an ideal base for exploring the Japanese Alps. From summer to autumn, hiking trails, on foot or by mountain bike, are literally taken over by thousands of athletes. In winter, lovers of skiing and thrills can meet on the slopes of the ski resorts. And in all seasons, you can enjoy the 16 hot springs that are abundant in the region
After relaxing in a good alpine onsen, a new jump takes us this time to meet another giant, the Sakurajima. The city of Kagoshima, located in the extreme south of the main islands, in Kinko Bay and with many active volcanoes, is known as the Naples of the East. To approach Sakurajima, part of Kirishima-Yaku Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you may take the road, the lava spilled since time immemorial has created a real bridge to the peninsula, or the sea by ferry, the crossing takes only 15 minutes. But the discovery of Kagoshima would not be complete without a visit to the Shimadzu family's Iso seigneurial residence, and the Sengan-en garden facing the volcano. This Japanese garden, in addition to being particularly remarkable, arranged according to the aesthetics of the shakkei, is very important in Japanese culture, because it is here that the import of Western industrial technologies began
When? When? Japan is vast and each season has its own charm. We can therefore go there all year round.
Getting there. Seibu trains are the best way to get to Chichibu and Kawagoe from Tokyo. To reach Shiga, it takes 1 hour and 50 minutes by bus from Kansai Airport. In Tokyo, for Shinagawa, the Togoshi Ginza Shopping District is accessible through Togoshi Ginza and Togoshi stations. Niigata and Tsuruoka each have a station. Niigata also has an airport. For Sapporo, Matsumoto, Kagoshima, ANA offers domestic flights.
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Useful. To prepare your trip as well as possible.
Shiga Tourist Office Official Guide of the City of Otsu
Shinagawa The Shinagawa district will promote itself at the World Tourism Fair in Paris (15-18 March 2018) and offers an online discovery video
Togoshi ginza Shopping District
Tokyo city Keiba
Niigata Tourist Office
Tsuruoka Tourist Office
Sapporo Tourist Office
Matsumoto Tourist Office
Kagoshima Tourist Office
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