A trip to Japan isn’t complete without at least one trip to a temple, which is ji or tera in Japanese. While you’ll likely find that temples are quite a common sight, not every temple has a Buddha statue with a hand the size of your body. These large, divine statues are known as Daibutsu, or “giant Buddha.”
Some of these Daibutsu are carved from stone, while others are forged using bronze. Whichever the case, each statue comes with its own interesting origin story— some of which are thousands of years in the making.
Here are five of some of the most iconic Daibutsu spread across Japan.
1. Todai-ji Daibutsu (Nara)
Todai-ji Daibutsu is found in Todai-ji Temple in Nara. The temple and surrounding park area are well-known for their friendly (sometimes not so friendly) deer, but the area is also steeped in history.
The statue takes a seated position and measures 15 meters in height. It represents Vairocana, the Illuminator, and has its hand out in a gesture of blessing or protection. The palm alone of this open hand measures an overwhelming 148 centimeters.
The statue, its surrounding halls and structures underwent a lot of hardships and damage over the years. Some of which were caused by fires, wars and earthquakes. But each time, the statue was dutifully repaired, allowing us to see it in all its glory to this day.
I’m drenched in sweat from riding all day. I’m pedaling as fast as I can towards the light at the end of a dark tunnel when a cool afternoon breeze hits me, and I finally see Lake Kawaguchi’s vibrant, deep blue colors. I let out a triumphant whoop as the road turns downhill.
Then, I stand up in my seat and let gravity do the rest as a sunset baths Fujisan in a red glow. “So, this is the Fujigoko (Fuji Five Lakes) cycling adventure,” I think. This is my experience cycling around the iconic Mount Fuji and how you can do it too.
Starting at Lake Kawaguchi
When I arrived in Fujikawaguchiko, I stayed at Hana Hostel and was welcomed by Hana and her family. In the morning, I ate a hearty energy-supplying breakfast, loaded up complimentary snacks, rented a bike from Hana and started down the hill towards Lake Kawaguchi.
The roads in town did give me some slight trepidation at the prospect of crashing into someone on the narrow sidewalks all day, but paths widened once I reached the lake—with enough space for cyclists and pedestrians to share.
A quick stop for art
About 30 minutes after starting my ride around Lake Kawaguchi, I arrived at the Forest Music Museum. The steep admission (¥1,800) was worth it to see this quaint, European mountain village-style gallery of acoustics, organs and opera concerts. I could easily spend hours exploring the museum, cafe or its lovely Tulip garden on the lake’s edge.
Breathtaking night sky shows the beauty of this landlocked prefecture.
It’s pretty easy for travelers to forget about Gifu. It’s one of Japan’s few landlocked prefectures, and many tourists end up drawn to the attractions of Gifu’s neighbors instead, such Nagano’s ski slopes, Mie’s Ise Shrine, Shiga’s Lake Biwa, or the big-city sights of Nagoya in Aichi.
That doesn’t mean people should forget about Gifu, though, and with a dramatic reminder of that is Japanese photographer and Twitter user @ta2funk, with one of the coolest Japanese castle photos we’ve ever seen.
That’s Gifu Castle, which stands in Gifu City, and as you can probably guess from the photo’s quality, this wasn’t the first time @ta2funk turned his lens towards the night sky. “Over seven years, I’ve taken about 400 full-moon photos,” he says, “and out of all of them, this one is the best.”
@ta2funk says several people have asked him if the photo, which he took back in August of 2018 but recently shared on Twitter, is a multi-image composite. He says it’s all single photo, though, even while he admits that he himself can barely believe how fortunate the picture’s timing and focus were.
▼ @ta2funk shows the photo’s original data and lighting correction.
Fuji-Q Highland is one of Japan’s most famous amusement parks. Located in Yamanashi, it’s a place where you can experience record-breaking rides and a great view of Mount Fuji.
The park has just announced that a new ride will be opening in July of this year, which will boast the title of the longest tube slide in the country.
The ride will start at the top of the Fujiyama Tower’s observation deck, a place where visitors can fully take in the scenery surrounding the park, including Mount Fuji of course, 55 metres above ground. With the opening of the ‘Fujiyama Slider’, once you’re done enjoying the view, you can go speeding down a 120 metre long course that winds around the tower.
Riders’ feet will go in a specially-made sliding mat and whizz along while lying down in pitch darkness. The thrilling ride lasts for 20 seconds, and is not for the faint of heart.
The Ghibli Museum is currently open, with some COVID-19 restrictions in place. All visitors aged three and over are required to wear face masks regardless of vaccination status. As of writing (June 2022), overseas ticket sales remain suspended.
Studio Ghibli was a part of my childhood in the same way that Disney and Universal were — before they started rolling out direct-to-video bastardized sing-a-longs of all my childhood memories. I have probably seen Pom Poko about as many times as I have seen Star Wars (and I have seen Star Wars a lot). If you have not seen Pom Poko, but, like me, hold a deep appreciation for heartwarming stories about raccoons waging war on humanity, you need to see it. For all the other Ghibli and Miyazaki sup
We all love dinosaurs, and dinosaur-mania is in overdrive again thanks to the release of Jurassic World Dominion (July 29, 2022, in Japan), the final chapter in the saga that began with Jurassic Park. At least until the next reboot.
But did you know Japan is also big on dino-DNA? There are even a couple named after Fukui Prefecture—fukuiraptor and fukuisaurus. So what better way to celebrate the next film than by having a Jurassic jaunt through the country?
Drop down on the floor and everybody do the dinosaur. These are the best places to see dinos in Japan.
1. Dino Adventure Nagoya (Nagoya)
For very young dinosaur fans, there are plenty of places to have some dinosaur adventures in Aichi. Near Oudaka station, there is a popular spot called Kyouryu Hiroba where children can see the twin Tyrannosauruses Dai-chan and Kou-chan. If you can handle moving closer, you’ll see that both welcome little ones as both dinosaurs have built-in slides in their tails.
Older kids will probably want to head to Dino Adventure Nagoya. Visitors walk a course of about a kilometer where they can see 19 different types of dinosaurs. The trip’s highlight is a gigantic Tyrannosaurus, which has been reconstructed in its real proportions. Dinosaur detectives can download a course map filled with hints about the lifestyles of the dinosaurs and fill in the names of the dinosaurs as they discover them
The Fujiyama Slider is a spiral tube slide that connects the 55-meter (180-foot) tall observation deck to the ground, and is sure to get your heart racing (if it doesn’t give you a heart attack). The slide, which is the longest tube-style slide in Japan, takes a winding course around the tower, and its inside is completely dark, so it takes some courage to lie down, put your feet into the sliding mat, and let them push down into the tube. Once you’re in, though, the ride lasts for a thrilling 20 seconds.
▼ The Fujiyama Tower before the slide was built
In celebration of the slide opening, Fuji-Q Highland is holding a contest on Twitter to see who can come up with the best caption for their illustration of a screaming Fujiyama Slider rider. Is he having so much fun he’s crying tears of joy? Or is he so terrified out of his mind that he’s regretting every second of the …continue reading
Kurashiki is a city in southern Okayama Prefecture, only a 20-minute local train ride from the Okayama shinkansen station. Kurashiki played an important role in the economy of the eastern Chugoku region of Japan in the Edo period (1603-1867) because of its location midway between Hiroshima and Osaka.
Kurashiki doesn’t present itself as the best of Okayama. Instead, consider it one of the jewels in the crown of Okayama’s many attractions. In particular, the historical quarter, Kurashiki Bikan Chiku, has preserved the old merchant houses and warehouses. But, unfortunately, it’s a destination not on many tourists’ radars. Especially if you’re a lover of Japanese culture and tradition, visiting Kurashiki is like visiting a theme park recreating Edo Japan.
Although there are lots to see and do, these are my picks for five fun and inspiring things to do in Kurashiki.
The Edo experience
After leaving JR Kurashiki station, you embark on a leisurely ten–minute stroll through a Showa Era-covered shopping mall. Once you’ve exited the mall, you have entered the historical quarter and will immediately see the Edo Period architecture. You can even rent a kimono or a yukata (traditional summer clothes) to wear as you stroll through the streets. Whatever you wear, you should be dazzled by the preserved white walls and lattice windows of the merchant houses and warehouses.
If you are a bit winded or just want to be pampered, you can hire a rickshaw to chauffeur you and a companion around the quarter so you can concentrate on the sights. Then, when you see the old–fashioned fire tower, you are close to the canal where you can take a …continue reading
Every year there are bear sightings in Japan, and recently, they’re becoming more frequent, both on the mainland, where the Asiatic black bear resides, and up in Hokkaido, which is home to the larger Ussuri brown bear, also known as the Ezo brown bear.
While both types of bear are dangerous, Hokkaido’s brown bears are particularly fearsome — an encounter with a brown bear is more likely to result in injury, due to their size and ferocity. In fact, the worst bear attack in Japanese history involved a brown bear, and the story of what happened is like something out of a horror film, as the bear killed seven people and seriously injured three others in a Hokkaido settlement over a five-day period.
The attack is known as the Sankebetsu brown bear incident, although it’s also referred to as the Tomamae brown bear incident or the Rokusensawa bear attack, as it took place in Rokusensawa, Sankebetsu, in the town of Tomamae in Hokkaido.
As the incident took place over a century ago, between 9-14 December 1915, younger generations may not know about the horrific attack that literally stained the town, but locals are determined to keep the story alive as a cautionary tale for others.
▼ Which is why the Sankebetsu Brown Bear Incident Reconstruction Location exists in the area.
Online reviews for the reconstructed site include comments like: “I couldn’t visit it alone“, “It’s too creepy” and “I was too scared to leave the car“. These comments aren’t exaggerating things, as the official website for the town even warns visitors that “it’s not well-lit, even in …continue reading
There is so much more to Japan than just the typical tourist hot spots. Wakayama, the mountainous prefecture on Honshu Island, epitomizes this. Located in southern Kansai, Wakayama is celebrated for its historic shrines and as the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism.
Most domestic and foreign tourists travel there to trek the famous Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route—known for its hiking trails and temples. But if you follow the unbeaten path, Wakayama can yield some truly unique and breathtaking sights that most visitors will never experience.
From hidden pirate bases to hot water rivers, here are five of the most overlooked locations in Wakayama Prefecture.
1. Sandanbeki Cliff and Dokutsu Cave
Shirahama is a well-known Japanese domestic tourism hotspot. Its beaches and restaurants attract huge crowds of locals every summer. However, for those looking for a change of pace from the beach, a quick trip up the road will reward travelers with the scenic Sandanbeki cliffs and caves.
The Sandanbeki cliffs stretch for two kilometers around the headland, providing excellent views of Osaka Bay and the Pacific Ocean. On calm days, turtles, sharks and marine animals will take a peek at the surface, making for entertaining “i-Spy” subjects for picnickers. The smooth limestone is warm but cools slowly as the day progresses. Only pleasant breezes will disturb anyone looking for a lazy afternoon away from the bustling beach, thanks to the relatively mild winds. Hidden at the bottom of these cliffs is Sandanbeki Dokutsu, a secret, Heian-era pirate hideaway.