Just about every visitor to Japan searches for that stereotypical traditional atmosphere where they can sit and breath in the “real” Japan. The truth is that this “real” Japan is fading fast, and has been relegated to the shadows and corners of mainstream Japan. One place that still pulses with the traditional back alley street culture can be founded tucked into a corner of Shinjuku Tokyo’s red light district, Kabuki-cho.

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Drinking in Golden Gai

Golden Gai in Shijuku TokyoGolden Gai is a small city block east of Shinjuku station made up of over 200 shacks, formerly brothels. The area consists of just 6 narrow alleys with even smaller passageways connecting everything. This atmospheric drinking area is renowned for the artists, actors and directors that frequent each nomiya (bar). Each small bar is big enough to fit a counter, stools and between six and fifteen patrons. The seedy image of Kabukicho, with its strip clubs, massage parlors, and breast bars (yes, you can suck on the breasts of waitresses and try not to think about the last guy doing the same) keeps all but the most knowledgeable/adventurous visitor from discovering this oasis of small town Japan in the heart of one of the world’s largest metropolises. Each bar typically has a theme and caters to a slightly different crowd with the dimly lit streets and shanty-like building preserving one of the last areas of Tokyo not to be redeveloped.

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In fact, despite a career of living in and passing through many of the seedier places on earth, I had yet to fully explore Golden Gai, assuming it was dangerous and controlled by the Yakuza. It turns out it’s anything but dangerous, but still has a grit to it that ensures you’ll walk away with a memorable night.

Finding the Right Fit in Golden Gai

Finding the right bar can be challenging in the labyrinth like streets but is also part of the fun as you try to find the right atmosphere for you. My friends and I found our way to a typical bar with a Portuguese theme. Each time a patron made a move towards the restroom everyone had to stand and press against the bar counter. Portuguese Port (where else could it be from) was the house specialty, along with three cute bartenders who just managed to fit behind the bar together, ready to keep the conversations going and the single customers engaged and feeling welcome.

Small bar in Shinjuku's Golden GaiThe bartender closest to me started working in the area a few months ago, moonlighting after her regular job as a theater actress for historical dramas ended. She figured she got around 3 hours of sleep a night and saw her French boyfriend even less. Next to me sat an architect who taught at a famous University nearby, next to him a women half his age hung on his elbow. Down the bar one man was too drunk to engage in conversation and the next was a political correspondent for Japan’s national news service NHK.

As three young Australian’s entered the bartender leaned close and said more and more tourists were stopping by as the area became fashionable in guidebooks and as the area cleaned up its seedy image. I guess I wasn’t a tourist as we were speaking Japanese ;)

Golden Gai Etiquette

Most bars are welcoming to visitors and happy for you to share their night. However, remember that many of these bars are filled every night with regular customers and taking their seats can cause a bit of an issue. Bartenders are generally good about letting you know if you are welcome or not. Just ask if it’s OK to sit down when you first enter. If they say no, don’t take offense or think it’s because your a foreigner. Most likely the seats left are for regulars. Say thank you and move on down the street, with 200 holes in the wall you’ll find someplace to call home for the evening.

The Curse of a Popular Traditional Area

It’s difficult to know exactly what Golden Gai is any longer. It is a remnant of a bygone era, the playground of the rich and famous, a bohemian wonderland in a stifling city, or a tourist cliche recommended by every guidebook and their grandmother. Yes, I realize the irony of posting this article!

The truth is bound to be different for everyone, on a different night in the Gai, and upon stumbling into different bars. Golden Gai sums up the Japanese experience better than just about anywhere else. It is a place with enough personalities to be different for each visitor, allowing you to interact superficially or to find a home amongst those of similar hearts. If you want to get pissed and walk away with a story, that’s fine too, the bars are happy to take your seating charge (usually between 800-1,000 yen).

Whatever Golden Gai is or isn’t, it is definitely unique. It’s a place that you should walk into with an open mind and not in search of the exact atmosphere, story, or experience related in a guidebook or travel blog. It’s one of those amazing places where the story writes itself and all you need to do is keep flipping the pages (buy more drinks).

Map How to Get To Golden Gai:

The entire Golden Gai is situated on one block just 5 minutes walk from Shinjuku East Exit-  1-1-8 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku

View Shinjuku’s Golden Gai Drinking Area in a larger map

Do you have a favorite place to drink in Tokyo? Share it with us in the comments below.

This post is by Kay, who writes the K’s Kitchen section of Todd’s Wanderings. She also happens to be Todd’s lovely wife!

How to make Japanese Hambagu Paddies

Only the Japanese can turn a meat loaf into a gourmet dish!

First of all, I have to apologize for my looong absence from K’s Kitchen. Here is my excuse…I was on bed rest from February to June due to some complications for my pregnancy and I couldn’t use use the computer much. The good news is that (A) our son was born in good health 4 weeks ago; and (B) K’s kitchen is back now :)

Today, I would like to introduce you to a ‘Japanese Western Food’ called ‘Hambagu’. Basically this is a dish made from ground beef and is similar to a rounded meatloaf or a salisbury streak. This dish originates from ‘Tartar Steak’ in Germany. It is not known exactly when this dish arrived at Japan but it’s sometime during Meiji Era (1868-1912) that similar dishes started to appear. In fact, beef was not common prior to this period in Japan. Since the 1950s, Hambagu (yes this is a very Japanese way to pronounce Hamburg) has become really popular as a home dish and its popularity continues today.

According to my husband (who is American and is familiar with the Japanese culture), the uniqueness of Hambagu in Japan as a foreigner is that this dish can be an expensive and posh dish and an economical dish at the same time. (Todd here: I mean seriously, who would serve a meatloaf at a five star restaurant!)

The recipe that I am introducing to you today is my mom’s special recipe (again!). The particular point for this recipe is that you bake the dish in an oven, while we normally only use a frying pan to cook it in Japan. This way, the juicy taste of the meat will remain. Enjoy this Japanese Western Food!!

Hambagu Ingredients (for 4 people)

Ground Beef: 240g

Ground Pork: 160g

Bread Crumbs: 60g

Milk: 100cc

Egg: 1

Salt: 1/2 teaspoon

Pepper, Nutmeg: a pinch or two each


Sherry (alcohol) 3 Tablespoons (if not available, you can also substitute with whisky or brandy)

Ketchup: 3 Tablespoons

Worcestershire Sauce: 1.5 Tablespoons

Chicken broth: 3 Tablespoons

Mustard: 1 Tablespoon

Mushrooms- sliced finely (as much as your like to cover each patty)

How to cook Japanese Hambagu (cooking/preparation time: 45-50 mins)

(1)   Chop onions finely, sauté, and cool them down.

(2)   Soak the bread crumbs in milk

How to Make Japanese Hambagu Mix

The Pate, trust me it gets better looking as the cooking continues

(3)   Put onions, bread crumbs in milk, salt, pepper, eggs, and nutmeg in a bowl and mix them.

(4)   Add ground beef and pork into the bowl and mix well with the ingredients in (3). Divide the pate into four.

(5)   Throw each piece from right to left hand to get rid of air in the pate and make a rectangular shape with 2 cm thickness. Push the middle part to make a dent.

(6)   Put 1.5 tablespoons of vegetable oil into the frying pan, heat it up, and fry the outside of the pate for 2-3 minutes to brown them.

(7)   Put vegetable oil onto the oven pan, put the hamburg pate, and bake them for about 13 min with 220 C.

(8)   Take out the hambagu patties from the pan, remove grease from the pan, and collect the remaining meat essence into a small pot.

(9)   Sauté mushrooms and put into (8), add the ingredients for sauce, and heat up until it boils. Serve the hamburg with the sauce on top.

You can also serve a side vegetable dish such as carrots grasse or sautéd beans, as you like.

What do you think? Have the Japanese perfected the meatloaf?

Todd's Wanderings Logo

Same Logo, More of it

Well, OK, maybe that title is a tad bit dramatic, but it is true nonetheless. Here at Todd’s Wanderings I am always trying to make the website more user friendly and to enhance your experience. I like it when you are happy, I’m also a bit anal and I need everything to look fresh and cutting edge, and of course I want my site to be more popular than twitter, I’m almost there…15 million more readers to go!

Over the past few months I have been working with a designer to give my website a facelift. I have been trying to make the design and the brand as appealing as possible before I engage a coder. What I have realized is that I forgot to ask YOU what you think.

Yes, I get carried away sometimes.

So, I’m here to not only give you a sneak peak at what the next version of Todd’s Wanderings will look like, but to also get your feedback.

I’d love to know what you think of the proposed new design.

1) What do you like, what do you hate?

2)What else would you like to see?

3) What do you like better or worse compared to the current design?

The internet and blogging is such a wonderful thing. When I’m wondering what my audience thinks, I can take the unusual step of Just Asking You. We often forget it’s that simple.

So here I am asking you what you think. I’ll take your suggestions on the design, add in my own concerns and then we will finalize and roll out a brand spanking new Todd’s Wanderings in the near future.

Todd’s Wanderings New Homepage

Todd's Wanderings Home Page

Oh, and don't worry about hurting my feels :)

Please leave your comments below, and thanks again for being one of the most attractive, well read and intelligent audiences around! I couldn’t be this egotistical without you :)

Recently we were nominated by Cam and Nicole over at Traveling Canucks to take part in the 7 Links Project started by Trip Base. First off I like the Traveling Canucks because they only use one “L” when they spell “traveling.” Yes, I can be that superficial! Oh, they are also a fun couple to follow around the world.

The Goal of the 7 Links Project

Todd's Wanderings little wanderer

Even I can tell that Daddy is full of s#@&, just like my diaper!

What you are about to read is lifted directly from Trip Base (yes, I steal sometimes too):

To unite bloggers in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.

My son is only 2 weeks old and he is already questioning whether ANY of my posts should have been allowed to see the light of day, let alone subject the world to another round.

But since he can’t speak, or type, to warn you to avert your eyes and do something more useful with your time, I’m going to rush on ahead.

The Process (yeah, they are actually Rules, but I’m feeling rebellious today)

1)    Sexy Blogger is nominated to take part
2)    Successful Blogger publishes his/her 7 links on his/her blog – 1 link for each category
3)    Funny Blogger Nominates 5 More Sexy, Successful, Funny Bloggers

4) Reader loves every word and relishes the visual porn (not in a creepy way please) that Todd puts out and spreads the word through social media voodoo, or what the old folks use to call “talking” (whatever that is!)…OK, this one is not part of the rules. But since you are participating you might as well indulge my whims.

My 7 Links

1. Most Beautiful Post-Petra, Jordan: A Walk Through History

Donkey Negotiataions Petra Jordan

Trust me, there are more beautiful pictures in this post than me on a Donkey

Visiting the ancient ruins of Petra was a dream come true and unbelievably it lived up to all the hype I had built up in my head. This photo tour should be viewed with the Indiana Jones theme song playing in your head.

2. Most Popular Post- First Time I Almost Died in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay Vietnam

Death and Adventure in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

I think that any post that begins with the words “By the end of this story a number of people will be dead.” is destined to get a little bit of traction. I was surprised that so many people are interested in narrative travel writing as opposed to bland, worn out top 7 lists about the BEST beaches in the world the writer had actually never been to.

3. Most Controversial Post- When to Bribe, How to Bribe, Do you Bribe

Should I pay bribes when I travel

Are bribes necessary sometimes?

Is this my most controversial post? I’m not sure if this one beats out the large dicks on Japanese statues at Buddhist temples, but as I wasn’t responsible for building the statues, just pointing them out I guess we go with Bribes. The fact that the world is dirtier than most people would like to admit hits all travelers at some point in their journey. This post explores what to do about it.

4. Most Helpful Post- 10 Free Things to Do in Tokyo

Sensoji Temple Tokyo

Sensoji Temple with its vibrant gate and pagoda

Tokyo can be a very expensive destination and in this post I lay out my 10 favorite things to do in Tokyo that cost no money at all. I was taken aback as to how popular this post ended up becoming and it even made it into a recent book by a writer for The Japan Times newspaper. Yeah, that’s right, someone else is profiting off of my work…yes, I took free in Tokyo to a whole new level.

5. Post whose Success Surprised Me- “Real” Life, Travel and Work: Lessons from 10 Years on the Road

Todd in Shikoku

Don't believe anyone who says this can't be your office

This was one of those posts that I wrote on a whim, didn’t edit, and felt very uncomfortable with. I have since learned that my lifestyle, and the things I often take for granted are exactly what interests readers. This was also a general rant against everyone in my life that kept telling me I needed to be normal, and who now are so proud to talk about me since I have apparently succeeded. Apparently, like this post, things are never a success until someone else says so…wait, that’s exactly what I’m arguing against in the is post :)

6. Post I Feel Didn’t Get the Attention it Deserved- The Hermit in Seclusion

Nice man I met on the Shikoku Pilgrimage

This may be the happiest, nicest man on the Planet.

One reason this might have not been very successful is that it was posted before I had all of you lovely readers. Just look at the watermark, yes, I used to be on Blogger! This is the story of a vengeful Buddhist Monk, yes I was shocked to learn I could inspire hate in a man of the robe, and a simple grounds keeper who smiles like a turtle.

7. Post I’m Most Proud Of- Should you Give Money to Beggars When you Travel

Children begging in KosovoThis is one of those uncomfortable honest posts about my own shortcomings, and the challenges we face as travelers when poverty comes knocking on our door. It is also one of the posts that sort of launched Todd’s Wanderings into the range of W List blogging celebrity. If I can only get a few more loyal stalkers I might be able to qualify for the V List. That’s right, I’m living the dream!

Great, so now you are able to judge if I was right or wrong to subject you all to my Shameless Self Promotion. My son just pooped his pants, so I guess we have his answer :)

Now, to give you some other Attractive Bloggers to share their own 7 Great Links.

1. Exotic Visitors

2. Top Backpacking Destinations

3. Ogijima

4. LoneLee Planet

5. World Travel for Couples

In Japan, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are extremely popular and there is even a weekly travel show dedicated to showcasing sites from all over the world. The United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) aims (among an incredibly long list of other duties) to designate and help to protect cultural or natural sites that show “outstanding universal value.” “Sekai isan” or World Heritage Sites, are so popular that Japanese tour companies do a steady business developing mass tours all around the world as well as within Japan itself.

While many people of heard about World Heritage Sites, I was shocked to discover while researching for this article that despite the large sums of money invested to win World Heritage status, and then the vasts amounts of sums needed to protect and maintain those sites (with of course some funds made available from UNESCO) that there is very little interest on the internet for Heritage Sites in Japan.

As little as 170 people per month, GLOBALLY,  actively search for information in English on Japan’s World Heritage Sites. While the marketing value of making the list seems to be quite high, there does not seem to be a subsequent push by the ordinary tourist to find information on them over the internet. Compare this low search level with “Japan Sex” which comes in at 201,000/month and you see what the heritage of the world is up against. Yes, I somehow was able to weave “sex” into a World Heritage post ;)

Despite the lack of knowledge on World Heritage Sites, Japan is filled with them (relative to other countries) and boasts some impressive and incredibly preserved sites.

Travel to Japan’s World Heritage Sites

If you are planning a visit to Japan, you can hardly go wrong by including a few of Japan’s 16 World Heritage Sites in your itinerary. To help you out, and because I know you are not going to search for them on your own, here they are. I have been to over half of these and can’t wait to visit the rest. They are grouped by region starting north to south and include the 2 new additions that were just added in June 2011!

Cultural UNESCO Sites

Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land

Winter at Chuson-ji Temple JapanNew to the list in 2011, Hiraizumi, in Iwate Prefecture boasts a long history of beautiful temples that rivaled the size of Kyoto back in the 12th Century. The area comprises five sites, including the sacred Mount Kinkeisan. The sites boast the remnants of  government offices dating from the 11th and 12th centuries when Hiraizumi was the administrative center of the northern realm of Japan. The realm was based on the cosmology of Pure Land Buddhism, which spread to Japan in the 8th century. It represented the pure land of Buddha that people aspire to after death, a type of enlightened realm. The highlights of the area include Chuson-ji Temple, with its spectacular Konjikido golden hall, Motsu-ji Temple, and the former garden of Kanjizaio-in Temple which is representative of a combination of indigenous Japanese nature worship and Shintoism and Pure Land Buddhism that developed a type of garden design unique to Japan.

Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Changing leaves in Nikko JapanThe shrines and temples of Nikko have long been associated with the wealth and power of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and together with the beautiful surrounding nature illustrate the architectural style of the Edo period. The mountains of Nikko were first worshiped as a sacred Shinto area and in the 8th century the first Buddhist building was built. The area highlights the unique nature of Japanese religious centers blending nature worship with adapted Buddhist principles. One of the main highlights is Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu’s grand, elaborately (gaudy?) decorated mausoleum – the Toshogu – that was built in the mid 17th century. Watch out for the monkeys that are known to terrorize the town and the visitors alike.

Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

Autumn colors at Shirakawa-go in JapanLocated in a mountainous regions in Gifu Prefecture (Shirakawa-go) and Toyama Prefecture (Gokayama) are cut off from the rest of Japan. These villages have Gassho-style houses with their steeply pitched thatched roofs that were designed to protect from the massive amounts of snow dumped on the area each winter by moisture extending from the Sea of Japan and are the only examples of their kind in Japan. The resident lived off of the cultivation of mulberry trees and the rearing of silkworms. It is difficult to find a more rural traditional lifestyle in Japan.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)

Yes, this is three cities in one and the monuments are shared between Kyoto Prefecture and my former home Shiga Prefecture. With so many amazing historical temples and shrines in the area it would have been impossible to grant them all UNESCO status individually. If you manage to hit all of these temples and shrines then you are way ahead of the most tourists who spend a few days seeing just a few of these sites. The full list includes:

  • Kinkakuji Golden Temple in winterKamigamo Shrine (Kamowakeikazuchi-jinja)
  • Shimogamo Shrine (Kamomioya-jinja)
  • To-ji Temple (Kyouougokoku-ji), Minami-ku Kyoto-city
  • Kiyomizu Temple (Kiyomizu-dera)
  • Enryaku-ji Temple, Otsu-city
  • Daigo-ji Temple, Fushimi-ku Kyoto-city
  • Ninna-ji Temple, Ukyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Byodoin Temple, Uji-city
  • Ujigami-jinja Shrine, Uji-city
  • Kozan-ji Temple, Ukyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Saiho-ji Temple, Sakyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Tenryu-ji Temple, Ukyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple (Rokuon-ji), Kita-ku Kyoto-city
  • Ginkaku-ji Temple (Jisho-ji), Sakyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Ryouan-ji Temple, Ukyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Hongan-ji Temple, Shimogyo-ku Kyoto-city
  • Nijojo Castle, Kyoto-city

And yes, I have been to them all!!!

Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area, Nara Prefecture

Horyu-ji Temple in NaraWith around 48 Buddhist monuments in the Horyu-ji area, in Nara Prefecture, you could spend a whole day taking photographs. A number of them date from the late 7th or early 8th century, including the Hyoru-ji gate, main hall and pagoda, making them the oldest surviving wooden buildings in the world. These masterpieces of wooden architecture illustrate the adaptation of Chinese Buddhist architecture and layout to Japanese culture, as well as the with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan from China through the Korean peninsula.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

todaiji great BuddhaLike Kyoto, there are so many sites in Ancient Nara that one can spend a few days trying to discover all of the UNESCO sites. Japan’s capital from 710-784, it is a classic site that every visitor should see. Stop to pet the free roaming deer located throughout the city and the park, visit Todai-ji the world’s largest wooden building housing Japan’s largest statue of the Buddha, or marvel at Kofuku-ji’s 5 story pagoda. Don’t forget to walk along the paths in the surrounding hills and discover centuries of stone statues and Buddhist symbols.

Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range

Set in the remote and dense forests of the Kii Mountains three ancient sacred sites- Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, and Koyasan, reflect the inter-linkages between the native nature based worship of Shinto, and Buddhism which arrived from China and Korea. The sites are linked to the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto along pilgrimage routes that are still used today for hiking and ascetic disciple. The natural landscapes and the sites themselves have a long and well documented tradition of use and pilgrimage for over 1,200 years. The rugged mountains raising from 1,000-2,000 meters and the natural beauty of the area, which was once thought to have been the origin of the Japanese Shinto Gods, are still visited by millions of people each year. Each of the sites are worth a visit but are spread out quite a bit. Koyasan is the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism, a form of esoteric Buddhism and its founder Kobodaishi is one of the great Japanese historical figures. He is also the founder of the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

Kumano Sanzan on Kii Peninsula in Japan

Approaching a small Shinto Shrine in the Kii Mountains

Yoshino and Omine is the northern-most site near to Nara. The Yoshino or northern part of the site was the most important sacred mountain in Japan by the 10th century and was the object of mountain worship, Shinto, in the 7th and 8th centuries. Later in the 8th century it became one of the prime sacred places for the Shugen sect of ascetic Buddhism, and the Omine in the southern part of the site was also known for its harsh mountain ascetic rituals and particular fusion of Shinto and Buddhism.

Kumano Sanzan is the furthest south and has three main shrines, and two temples, connected by a pilgrims’ route. The site also reflects the Shinto and Shugen sect of Shinto-Buddhism and the wooden architecture is considered some of the best in Japan.


Himeji Castle JapanThis is possibly Japan’s best preserved and most beautiful castle. The castle site includes 83 buildings with highly developed systems of defense and and creative means of protection dating from the beginning of the Shogun period. The original castle was built in the 14th century and the existing castle was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1580. It was further enlarged 30 years later by Ikeda Terumasa. This is one of those sites that is a must see for any visitor to Japan.

Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape

Inside Iwami Ginzan Silver MineThe Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine in Shimane Prefecture in the south east of Japan’s main island, Honshu, is a mountainous area reaching 600 meters cut through by deep river valleys featuring the archaeological remains of large-scale mines, smelting and refining sites and mining settlements worked between the 16th and 20th centuries. The mines produced most of silver and gold in south-east Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries with shipping routes to China and the Korean peninsula. The site includes fortresses, a number of temples that catered to the short life expectancy of silver miners of the time, and three port towns Tomogaura, Okidomari and Yunotsu, from where the ore was shipped.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

Hiroshima Genbaku DomeThis used to be the Industrial Promotion Hall, but after being at the hypocenter of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 the partially standing remains are now a reminder of the world’s first atomic attack. It was the only building in the area to survive the blast and has been kept in its original state by the city of Hiroshima. Each year on August 6th, services are held at the dome in remembrance and a moment of silence is observed. The Dome stands opposite of the Peace Memorial Park.

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

Miyajima and Itsukushima ShrineThe island of Itsukushima, in the Seto inland sea, has been a sacred place for Shintoism since the earliest times. The shrines main torii gates, better know as the “floating shrine,” rises out of the the ocean during high tide and is one of the enduring images of Japan. The first shrine buildings were around the 6th century with the present shrine being erected in the 12th century. The shrine plays on the contrasts in color and form between mountains and sea and is a remarkable illustration of Japan’s sense of beauty which highlights the balance between nature and humans.

Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, Okinawa Prefecture

View from the walls of Shuri Castle OkinawaThe Ryukyu Kingdom in Okinawa served as the economic and cultural hub between Japan, China, Korea and the rest of south-east Asia for several centuries. The area is dotted with fortresses and castles with the main attraction being Shuri-jo a castle with a particularly Chinese flavor to it. The castle was the seat of power in the area from the 15th century to 1879 when Okinawa was taken under full control by the Japanese government. Unfortunately the castle was almost fully destroyed during WWII and the current building is a reconstruction.

Natural UNESCO Sites


Shiretoko Hokkaido's Oshinkoshin WaterfallIf Hokkaido is often refereed to as the most American area in Japan with it’s wide open spaces then Shiretoko must be the Alaska of Japan.The Shiretoko Peninsula in north eastern Hokkaido is a remote, untouched wilderness accessible only by boat or a long trekking expedition. The Peninsula is 65 km long and 25 km wide, houses a number of rare plant and animal life and is home to the world’s highest number of brown bears. The site is globally important for threatened seabirds and migratory birds and for marine mammals including Steller’s sea lion. Good luck getting there!


Lake in Shirakami Beech ForestLocated in Akita Prefecture in northern Honshu the area consists mainly of virgin Siebold’s beech forests that once spread all over Northern Japan. Black bears inhabit the area and a traditional faith ceremony and traditional bear hunting still takes place from time to time. The beech forest is almost entirely undisturbed with few access trails or man-made facilities. There is occasional use by bear hunters but in general the area is protected and has a buffer zone around it.

Ogasawara Islands

Ogasawara Isands JapanOne of two new Heritage sites listed in 2011 the beautiful topical islands of Ogasawara are technically a part of Tokyo but are located over 1,000 km to the south and consist of over 30 islands. Often call the Galapagos of Asia the islands have never physically been attached to any other part of Japan leaving the flora and fauna millions of the years to evolve into distinct species, including the Bonin Flying Fox. About 2,500 residents live on the islands which can only be reach by a 25 1/2 hour ferry ride from Tokyo. The surrounding ocean is home to an abundance of sea life and is an ideal place to watch Humpback and Sperm whales.


Yakushima Island JapanThis island located just to the South of Kyushu, Japan’s southern most main island, is a wonderland of ancient cedar trees and an abundance of plant species with over 1,900 recorded. The massive Yaku-sugi, are endemic to the island transforming the island into enchanting land. Combined with the monkeys, and sparking blue waters around the island it is impossible not feel in awe of the natural wonders.

If you want to find out more detailed information on any of the above sites you can visit the UNESCO page for Japan.

What do you think? Are World Heritage Sites a must when you visit Japan, or are there better ways to spend your time?

This post is a part of the J-Festa July blog carnival. To join in check out the guidelines.

Photo Credits 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

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