It has been more than half a century since Japan’s world-famous ‘bullet train’ made its first journey, a little over a week before the opening ceremony of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and there is still no better way to explore this endlessly fascinating country, especially if you want to see as much of Japan as possible in a limited time. More properly known as the Shinkansen, these high-speed trains link most of Japan’s main cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, and in March of this year the line was extended, via the undersea Seikan Tunnel, to the northern island of Hokkaido. Running at speeds of up to 320km per hour, the ‘bullet trains’ are renowned for their sleek design, high levels of comfort and their punctuality; departures are timed to the second, and in the rare instance of a train being more than one minute late, it is announced as delayed. The ride is surprisingly smooth, given the speed at which you are travelling, and you can experience the thrill of speeding through the countryside on the ‘bullet train’ for yourself on our 14-day ‘Essence of Japan’ tour.
Most visitors begin their exploration of Japan in the capital, Tokyo. A city of more than 13 million people, it offers an ideal introduction to the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ and there is certainly no shortage of sights and things to do. The grand Imperial Palace makes a good starting point, while other highlights include the photogenic Meiji Shinto shrine complex and the Art Triangle Roppongi, a collection of three absorbing art museums. Reflecting the technological obsessions of modern Japan, the Miraikan National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation is definitely worth a visit, if only to see some of the world’s most advanced robots being put through their paces.
Travelling westwards you will reach Kyoto, which was, for more than a thousand years, Japan’s capital city and the residence of the imperial court. Here you’ll find the country’s most famous geisha district, Gion, where you might like to pause and experience the age-old Japanese tea ceremony. Kyoto is renowned for its wealth of historic temples, such as the splendid Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion, a lakeside temple adorned with gold leaf, and the Ryoan-ji Temple, with its Zen rock garden, while you can follow in the footsteps of the shoguns at the impressive Nijo Castle, which dates back to 1603. Kyoto’s contemporary architecture also has its admirers, and the futuristic, 15-storey Kyoto Railway Station is something of an attraction in itself. One of Japan’s largest buildings, it houses, among other things, a shopping mall, cinema and hotel, as well as being a major transport hub.
Heading north from Kyoto, the ‘bullet train’ will take you to the coastal city of Kanazawa, best known for the exquisite Kenroku-en Garden, whose landscaped grounds encompass ponds, streams, tea houses and a variety of flowers and trees. A startling contrast is provided by the nearby 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, an innovative glass-walled, circular structure displaying international artworks, while for a taste of modern Japan, take a wander through the busy Omi-cho Market, packed with stalls selling fresh local seafood, fruit and vegetables.
The Shinkansen rail line continues towards Hiroshima, a name forever linked with one of the most momentous events of the 20th century: the dropping of the first atomic bomb in 1945. Since then, Hiroshima has become a symbol of international peace and reconciliation and is home to one of the more poignant and thought-provoking monuments on UNESCO’s World Heritage list: the Genbaku Dome, or Hiroshima Peace Memorial, which was the only building left standing after the bomb was dropped.
Step aboard the ‘bullet train’ and join us for an unforgettable holiday in Japan, experiencing the big-city buzz of Tokyo and the ancient temples of Kyoto and Nara, the snow-capped majesty of Mount Fuji and the peacefulness of Hiroshima. Let your Japanese adventure with Titan begin!
Find out more about ‘Essence of Japan’.