Ride high-speed trains to visit Zen temples and eat at historic food streets in Japan.
On a visit to Japan, you’ll find technology and tradition coexisting harmoniously. In its cities, a cultural proclivity for both guarantees their marriage a happily ever after. Start your exploration of Osaka at Shinsaibashi-suji, its oldest and busiest shopping street. Taste specialities like kushikatsu (deep-fried skewered meat) as you learn more about the area’s 400-year-old history. Then shop at Nipponbashi, also known as Den Den Town, which is renowned for its tax- or duty-free electronics. Besides the famous Osaka Castle and the Kaiyukan aquarium, considered the best in Asia, go to Umeda Sky Building’s deck for a 360° view of the city. Also visit the Takimi Koji food alley in the basement, which recreates a 1950s Osaka market street. A few minutes south is the National Bunraku Theatre, where black-robed puppeteers manipulate marionettes. Visit mah-jong and pachinko parlours in the lively Shinsekai district.
From Osaka, take a 15-minute journey to Kyoto aboard a high-speed bullet train. It may not be possible to see all its 1,600 temples, but a walk through the exceptional Zen rock garden of Ryoan-ji Temple is a must. As is tiptoeing across the Uguisu-bari corridor of Chion-in temple, which squeaks no matter how lightly you step, serving as an ancient alarm system. At Ju An, an old-world tea room, spend a wonderful hour appreciating otemae, the Japanese tea ceremony (¥2,000/₹1,045 approx. for an hour-long workshop; half-price for children).
Spend two days in the scenic countryside town of Hakone, 80 kilometres south of Tokyo, which is known for its hot-spring inns. These are constructed in traditional Japanese style, with paper screen doors, low beds, and tatami mat floors. Hike to Mt. Kanmurigatake peak, ride cable cars that offer views of Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashinoko, and soak in sake baths and green tea pools at Hakone Kowakien Yunessun resort and amusement park.
Over three days in Tokyo, visit the Imperial Palace, the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and the Meiji Shrine; shop at the high-end Ginza district or the bayside Odaiba area; and take the children to Disneyland and Ueno Zoo. Dedicate a day to living like a local: Sample yakitori kebabs at a roadside stall, chug beer at a corner izakaya pub, lose yourself in the crowds outside Shibuya station, sing at a karaoke club in Roppongi, and explore Kannonura Street in Asakusa where geisha tea rooms still exist.
NOTE Taxis are expensive, but the subway is easy to use. Always carry a business card of the hotel that spells out the address clearly.
Day 1-3 Arrive at Osaka, explore the city. Use the Osaka Kaiyu discount ticket that gives unlimited bus and train travel as well as access to certain places and rides.
Day 4-5 Travel to Kyoto and explore its shrines and gardens.
Day 6-7 Visit the countryside town of Hakone.
Day 7-10 Reach Tokyo and explore its monuments, museums, and attractions.
★ Edo-Tokyo Museum provides insights into the evolution of Japanese culture, lifestyle, and politics over 400 years.
★ Kyoto’s Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum is lots of fun for kids. It has models of old steam locomotives for children to clamber over and themed indoor play areas.
★ Fireworks are the traditional way to ward off bad spirits, and there are frequent displays in summer (May-August), during Hanabi, the Tokyo Fireworks Festival (end July-Aug).
★ Check online for intermittent offers from Central Japan Railway Co. or JR Tokai for test rides on the Maglev (a portmanteau of magnetic levitation), a wheel-less train to be launched in 2027, that has a top speed of 500 km/hr.
Appeared as “Where Tech Meets Tradition” in the March 2015 issue.