Walking North: Discovering Japan 5

The head priest walks over to the center of the main shrine room to offer the daily morning prayers. Chanting, clapping and singing follow, along with a specific protocol of procedures for passing the blessed offerings on to other members of the party. This is the daily scene at the Shinto-Buddhist shrine resting atop a long series of stone steps on Mt. Haguro-san, where you can visit while touring the northern parts of Japan. There are many ways to explore the Land of the Rising Sun, authentic among them being a journey with Walk Japan, hiking and trekking through smaller villages and towns, indulging in the beautiful and iconic scenery of the Tohoku region, wandering along the rugged Sea of Japan coast and all the while, enjoying encounters of the friendly kind. English is not very widely spoken outside of the large cities so a tour guide is highly recommended.

Much of Japan is mountainous and hilly, and most areas made accessible with an intricate web of walkways, stairs, trails and more. Coastal areas like Matsushima and the island of Sado-ga-shima are accessed through the waterways – jetfoil and ferry being common modes of transport. You will be inspired by some of the greatest scenery to be found in Japan including this, one of the classic Three Views of Japan; the pine-clad islands of Matsushima are a delight. The bustling port brings in visitors and tourists alike.

Sado-ga-shima, on the other hand, once a place of exile for enemies of the land, today gives guests the opportunity to enjoy quiet coastal life and local delicacies as well as a chance to understand its past glory when it was a booming gold mining town. Another aspect to the tourism in these areas is the historic relevance of local sites. Hiraizumi, Japan’s latest UNESCO world heritage site, featuring the Chuson-ji and Motsu-ji temples, provides an inkling of the area’s past splendor, once considered to rival that of Kyoto. Motsu-ji has been restored to its 12th century grandeur and Chuson-ji includes the Golden Hall–one of the most elaborately decorated Buddhist structures in Japan. The gardens here are simply spectacular, and the chrysanthemum festival is a must-visit.

Traditional inns, called ryokans, are a great way to experience Japanese culture. Casual robes known as yukatas are provided at most inns, especially those that offer a thermal hot spring bath or onsen, public bathhouses where the relaxing hot water baths are said to have healing powers because of their mineral-rich composition.

Although sushi, sashimi and many other Japanese dishes have become staples in America, regional Japanese cuisine is strongly influenced by seasonal ingredients including many pickled vegetables, raw and broth-cooked meats and seafood. Red bean snacks and desserts are commonly found, and are a favorite. A formal dinner spread usually consists of multiple courses, with each course offering an array of bite-sized to personal-size portions. You will love eating and walking your way through Northern Japan!