Japan is a fascinating country, with a diverse landscape, both in nature and culture. The large cities can be very different to more rural areas and the country offers up something for everyone. People tend to think of different things when they think of Japan. For some people, the first thing that comes to mind is the food, for others, it’s manga, anime and other popular culture.
Japan is also often regarded as Weird Central, the type of place where bizarre happenings are everyday occurrences, where strange customs and innovations roam free, lying in wait to ensnare and intimidate the nearest unsuspecting tourist. However, a closer look will reveal that most of Japan’s supposedly eccentric innovations are actually pretty smart. Like their toilets; practically robotic in their operation but so much more convenient and not to mention hygienic, than their Western equivalents. Or how about cat cafés. They might seem bizarre from the outside, but I challenge you to find a more zen-like atmosphere this side of the Pacific. Or their strict no-shoes-indoors rule. Or sleeping on the floor. Or their alarmingly fast and punctual trains. Or paying for buses when you get off, not on. All these things may seem strange at first, but, when considered, actually make quite a lot of sense.
If you are someone who prefers to be active when you’re travelling, you might prefer to venture out of the cities as Japan has some incredible landscapes which make for excellent physical challenges. It’s an amazing place to go hiking, cycling, white water rafting or even climbing. In winter Japan is also a popular destination for skiing, snowboarding, and other snow sports, with a choice of resorts that feature fantastic dry powder snow.
Many people forget that Japan is a country of islands. There’s the mainland, but it is joined by 6,582 islands and therefore one of the best ways to experience Japan in all its glory is to go island hopping. You can take a cruise around the islands on a cruise ship or smaller boat. You can even explore the islands by kayak if you’re feeling really energetic and adventurous, either with a guide or on a self-guided tour allowing you to stop off and explore the islands as you please.
The City of Hachioji and Mt. Takao
The city of Hachioji can be found in the western part of the Greater Tokyo Area, officially known as the Tokyo Metropolis, in the central Kanto region of Japan. If you are flying into Narita Airport, by far the easiest way to get to Hachioji is by taking the Narita Express, which runs directly from the airport to Hachioji. If you are planning to do a lot of travelling whilst you are in Japan, then I’d recommend getting a Japan Rail Pass, as their trains are just so efficient and clean!
So, what is there to see and do in Hachioji? Well a visit to Mt. Takao must be at the top of your list. Depending on how you are with heights (I’m not good), the two best ways to get up to the top of Mt. Takao and really enjoy the views is by the Mt. Takao Chairlift if it’s a nice day or the Mt. Takao Cable Car or for those of you who ski, it’s more like one of those funicular railways that take you up to the top of the mountains.
If you like to hike, then skip the chairlift and cable car and take the Mt. Takaosan Hiking Course instead. It’s a fun thing to do on a fine day and the view from the top is well worth the challenge and of course you get that real sense of achievement having done it. But be warned, it is very steep in places so it’s not for the fainthearted.
Temples and museums
Japan is well-known for its beautiful temples and so make sure you stop off at Yuki-ji Temple, which is the Buddhist temple right on the trail to the top of Mt. Takao and easy to reach if you take the cable car. Other places worth a visit include Koyasu Shrine which is in the city itself and Hachiman Yakumo Shrine.
For those of you who like a bit of retail therapy whilst on holiday, then you might like to visit the Mitsui Outlet Park Tamaminamiosawa. Although it is quite small when compared with other shopping malls, for some, that is one of its attractions.
If you are a bit of an Art buff and like visiting museums, then the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum is one to put on your list whilst you are in Hachioji. It has one of the largest collection of Western art and is nicely laid out, clean and comfortable. You may also like to visit the Takaosan Tric Art Museum, which is a great place to go if you have a young family as it’s family and kid-friendly. The Takao 599 Museum is at the foot of Mt. Takao and is a great educational museum about the mountain itself and what you can expect to see. It’s also a great place to keep the kids amused as they have a little play area for children.
Tokyo and the surrounding region has an abundance of beautiful parks, Komiya Park being one of them, but perhaps a better one to visit is Fujimori Park if you want to enjoy the pretty cherry blossom in the spring.
If you’re into weird and wonderful adventures, then Tokyo is the epicentre of the madness. The key to experiencing Tokyo properly is simple; you have to look up. The Japanese use their city and its parameters wisely. When they ran out of linear space, they went up, and up and up. The result is a variety of different enterprises, stacked on top of each other. It’s not unusual to find a highly-regarded sushi restaurant eight floors above a department store, or to suddenly emerge onto a floor of neon-coloured Gundam model kits when you’d previously been perusing cooking appliances. You’ve got to adjust your mindset; stop thinking in terms of buildings and start thinking in terms of floors.
Once you do, there are many glorious secrets to uncover. Take the Western-themed bar I happened into at about 2am on a rainy Kyoto night. The Best of Garth Brooks blared from the sound system and continued to blare all night. The barman, Tony, sported a Stetson, a gun-belt, and a lighter disguised as a Colt .45 revolver and played a mean game of ConnectFour (seriously, he was really something else). The only other customer was an enigmatic woman in a fancy red cocktail dress, who materialised out of thin air at around 4:30am. These are the crazy kind of experiences that you can’t plan. I observed a kind of domino effect in Japan; once one bizarre event occurs, you can bet that another’s on its way.
So wherever you decide to go and whatever you decide to do, you’re sure to have a great time in Japan with it’s wonderful culture and tremendous diversity.