In Japan there are 16 UNESCO World Heritage sites, reflecting their Zen Buddhist heritage and feudal past. These are best visited with a winter backdrop of snowy vistas, in the Autumn amid forests of red and orange leaves, or in the Spring when the Cherry Blossoms delight the eyes.
1. Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage routes, Wakayama: Consists of six traditional pilgrimage trails along moss covered stone steps through Cypress forests leading to temples in Nara, the Three Grand Shrines and the religious hub of Mount Koya.
2. Horyu-ji Buddhist Monuments, Nara: A five-storey pagoda that’s one of the oldest wooden structures in the world
and a time-capsule of Buddhist art.
3. Ancient Nara: Six temples including “Todaiji”, with the world’s biggest bronze statue of Buddha.
4. Kyoto: The ancient capital with the original Zen rock garden and the Golden and Silver Pavillions.
5. Himeiji Castle, Hyogo. A spectacular feudal castle.
6. Itsukushima Shinto Shrine, Hiroshima: The famous red “Torii” gate in the sea in front of a sacred island.
7. Hiroshima Peace Park: A stark reminder of the destructive power of a nuclear weapon.
8. Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, Shimane: Once produced a third of the world’s silver.
9. Shirakawa & Kokayama Historic houses, Gifu: Traditional multi-generational cold-weather houses.
10. Nikko Temples, Tochigi: Lavishly decorated shrines.
11. Hiraizumi Temples, Iwate: “Pure Land” Buddhist temples and gardens from the eleventh century.
12. Sites in Ryukyu: Ruins blending styles from Japan, Korea and China in a once independent kingdom.
13. Shiretoko, Hokkaido: A north-west wilderness that’s a trekker’s paradise. See trout and salmon swarming upriver, ice floes in the winter, an active volcano and dramatic cliff waterfalls.
14. Shirakami-Sanchi, Aomori. A vast primeval forest with deep gorges and gushing rivers in summer.
15. Yakushima, Kagoshima. A mountainous island famous for having millennia-old cedar trees, and both coral and Alpine plants.
16. Ogasawa Islands. Remote Galapagoslike tropical islands reachable by a 25
hour ferry trip.