by Sam, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2016/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2016
Below are my highlights of visiting 19 of Japan's 47 prefectures in 2016:
Number 10: Hasedera
The first of a few religious sites to make my top ten this year was Hasedera in Nara. What I really enjoyed about this temple, apart from the wonderful views of the surrounding mountains from its famous stage, was its ethereal, slightly stoic atmosphere; which was accentuated by the rain on our visit.
Number 9: Yudono-san
From a temple to a shrine, a highlight of 2016 was my visit to Yudono-san in Dewa Sanzan, Yamagata Prefecture. The autumn foliage was particularly breathtaking when I went, and the experience at the shrine itself was unique and not to be forgotten in a hurry. The shrine is so sacred however, that to reveal the details of what happens inside would be unthinkable!
Number 8: Great Buddha of Kamakura
A recent trip to Kamakura allowed me to see the famed Great Buddha of Kamakura. The statue is the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan and is considered one of the three great Buddha statues along with those at Todaiji and Takaoka. Seeing the Great Buddha in Kamakura completed the trilogy for me and was a memorable experience.
Number 7: Eikando's shimmering gardens
One of the most memorable moments for me this year was my trip to Eikando Temple in Kyoto to report on the autumn colors. The colors here were particularly breathtaking through the gardens and around the temple's pond. I hope to return during the autumn in future years.
Number 6: The Yamanobe-no-mich hiking trail
Back in September, I had the pleasure of hiking what is considered Japan's oldest industrial road, the Yamanobe-no-michi. Today the route winds through the Nara countryside, passing quaint hamlets and holy sites along the way.
Number 5: Taraibune ride on Sadogashima
I wasn't sure what to expect when I first arrived at the Yajima-Kojima inlet on Sado Island and looked at the half-barrel tub I'd be floating in. The ride itself was a nice experience though and I even got the chance to row myself. These curious sea crafts came into use during the Edo Period as a way for fishermen to fish whilst avoiding paying a boat tax.
Number 4: Snorkelling at Tomori Beach
The highlight of my trip to Amami Oshima earlier this year was having a swim and a snorkel in the pristine waters of Tomori Beach. Every beach lover's dream, this beach has it all, from soft, white sand to gentle blue waters with a good amount of life-bearing coral to explore!
Number 3: Staying overnight at the Mukaitaki
I had a great ryokan experience earlier this year when I got to spend the night at the Mukaitaki in Higashiyama Onsen in Aizu Wakamatsu. Dating back to 1873, this beautiful complex sprawls up a hillside and has a pristine Japanese garden and baths with decor reminiscent of past eras. Truly a treat for the senses.
Number 2: Travelling along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Traversing the Tateyma Kurobe Alpine Route was one of the most wonderful experiences I've had on my travels this year. The route dissects the Northern Japan Alps by ropeway, cable car and tunnel trolley bus, and provides some stunning views along the way. I was immediately taken by the beautiful scenes along the route and would recommend this to be on any traveler's itinerary.
Number 1: Catching the sunrise from atop Mount Fuji
The ultimate highlight of 2016 for me was my experience atop Mount Fuji. The climb itself isn't to be underestimated, and my ascent was made thoroughly more enjoyable by staying at a mountain hut along the way, but the pinnacle of the trip was getting to see the sunrise from the summit. There was a sea of clouds when I went, which doesn't make for the most interesting of vistas, but the scene was magical all the same.