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No 1 Travel
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775: Setagaya Line
Take a tram through the historic backstreets of Tokyo’s most populous ward
773: Shiretoko
Take a dip in the ice-cold waters of this sleepy Hokkaido town
769: Beihai
The crumbling relics of this seaside resort reveal a secret history
767: Harbin
A guide to China’s Sapporo-shaming Snow and Ice Festival
765: Ogasawara
Escape the cold with a trip to Tokyo’s southern paradise
763: Amabiki Village
Escape the ordinary at an outdoor sculpture exhibit in Ibaraki
761: Sugamo
The “obachan” version of Takeshita Dori awaits in northern Tokyo
759: Yufuin
Hot springs and mountain climbing await in this slice of Kyushu
757: Okunoshima
From Poison Gas Island to paradise
755: Kyoto’s Hidden Palaces
Escape the tourist mobs at former imperial villas
753: Iriomote Island
Go trekking through forest primeval—without leaving Japan
751: The Old Kiso Road
Tread in the footsteps of Edo-era travelers, and sleep where they slept
749: Welcome To Japitzerland
Europe’s crossroads of cultures makes room for one more
747: Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park
Get your ornithology fix at this Shinagawa sanctuary
745: Amami Oshima
Channel Jurassic Park on this verdant Japanese Island
743: Niseko
Hokkaido’s winter wonderland turns out to be an all-seasons destination
742: Macau
Head to the “Asian Las Vegas” for an easy getaway from Tokyo
741: Qingdao
The seaside Olympic city sees the dawn of a new day in a reflection of its German past
739: Kumano
Lose yourself in the natural splendor of Japan’s spiritual center
737: Mongolia
Gallop through the countryside of Central Asia
735: Tokai
Head west for a dose of old Japan and unforgettable cultural curiosities
733: Faroe Islands
Find a sense of solitude in a dramatic North Atlantic landscape
731: Uchiurayama
The hills of Chiba make getting away from it all easier than expected
729: The Camargue
The beautiful French marshland beckons flamingos, Gypsies—and you
727: Ohara
Sip shiso tea and explore Meiji-era buildings in a valley that time forgot
725: Lake Shirakaba
Enjoy winter sports and cozy hot springs in the highlands of Nagano
723: Zao
Snow monsters (and monster runs) await visitors to Japan’s oldest ski resort
721: Kushiro
Cranes, trains and no automobiles await visitors in Hokkaido
717: Izu Ryokan
A new concierge service helps urbanites escape to luxurious inns of old
715: The Kimberley
The remote region is one of Australia’s—and the world’s—most pristine ecological areas
713: Ishigaki Island
Swim with big fishes in this little corner of paradise
711: Oman
The Sultanate comes of age as a modern gateway to Old Arabia
709: A Steep and Narrow Place
All relaxing and no throngs of tourists make this Central American island far from dull
707: Under the sun in Utila
All relaxing and no throngs of tourists make this Central American island far from dull
705: Kamikochi
Nagano’s Kamikochi region shows why the Japan Alps rival their European namesake
703: Hoofing it in Paris
Enjoy an urban trek around the City of Light
701: Kurama and Kibune
Escape the hustle and flow in the hills around Japan’s ancient capital
699: Majestic Ruins
Follow the colorful Guatemalan rainforest to a pot of Mayan architectural gold
697: Hakone
Find leisure, pirate ships and “romance” just a stone’s throw from Tokyo
695: Vientiane
The remnants of French colonial history linger in Laos’ “City of the Moon”
693: Shonan
With everything from kite surfing to beach parties, the OC of Tokyo beckons
691: Alternative Stays in New York
A new breed of accommodation offers the best of hotels and apartments
689: Little Edo
Ancient Tokyo comes alive in the Chiba village of Sawara
687: Santorini’s Other Side
The volcanic island offers an unexpected glimpse of Greek life
685: Mikurajima
Swim with dolphins in a pristine wilderness
683: Madang’s Magic
Papua New Guinea’s heavenly climate and colorful mix of cultures illuminate the senses
681: Kyoto Nightlife
After a day of temples and gardens, nothing’s better than a cold one
679: Holiday in Iraq
A journey through the Kurdish north is hardly as dangerous as it seems
677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
667: Vinales
Experience the vibrant colors of Cuba at this remote farming hamlet
665: Okayama

A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay

Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
661: Agamachi
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
659: Sulawesi

Scenic beauty and explosive rituals go hand in hand in Indonesia
657: The Okami

Twenty-five ryokan welcome international guests to Izu
655: Lijiang to Lhasa—by motorcycle
Sixteen motorcyclists cross the Roof of the World
653: Kaleidoscopic Nikko
The fabled sightseeing destination comes alive in autumn
651: Tiger’s Leap
Sipping Butter Tea with the monks of Zhongdian
649: Kawasaki Daishi
Kanto’s most impressive temple is closer than you think
647: The lawless roads of Samoa
Extreme bus driving as a way of life in the South Pacific
645: Escape to the wilderness
Return to nature on two of Japan’s most remote islands
643: Spanish Sojourn
One train pass is all you need to experience three classic cities
642: New Kyoto
Japan’s proud old capital gets a glimpse of its exciting future
639: The Watered Ruins
Soak up some royal history in Sukhothai, Thailand
637: The Washboard Coast
The faded glories of Miyazaki are ripe for rediscovery
635: Cape Tribulation
Explore Australia’s wild side on the coast north of Cairns
633: Just A Castaway
Hidden messages and burnt-out Tokyoites wash up on Okinawa’s islands
631: Big trouble in middle China
Or, how we almost froze on one of china’s sacred peaks
629: The Scalding Pools
Hell on earth can be found in Beppu, a must-visit for fans of Japanese onsen
627: Night Of The Devil Fish
The Philippine island of Malapascua is home to sand, sun—and one very strange safari
625: Storm Damage
Devastated by a volcanic eruption six years ago, the island of Miyakejima is back in business—sort of
625: Think the Ice Bar is Cool?
Try Spending a Night at the Ice Cold Ice Hotel
623: Beyond the Taj Mahal
Three cities off the beaten path reveal India’s Heart and Soul
620: Snowy Japan
Skiing and snowboarding conditions this year are close to perfection
618: Half a world away
Find out why one local expat traveled from London to Tokyo—by bicycle
617: Spectacle in the Sand
Dubai Defies Physics, Geography and Cost in Pursuit of the Cutting Edge
613: Mob Scene
At Kyoto’s Ume-yu bathhouse, the customers are young, tough... and tattooed
611: City of Sand
From crowded markets to placid mosques, Cairo’s attractions are legion
609: On the edge
Hateruma Island offers a primeval slice of sand and surf
607: Land of calm
Get a glimpse of unspoiled Asia in the lush countryside of Laos
605: Just like heaven
Nokogiri-yama in chiba is as appealing as Nikko or Kamakura, and just as accessible
602: Place your Bets
Macau pays its respects to history while keeping a keen eye on the future
598: Bring it on
Peak season can’t come soon enough for hotels in southern Thailand
596: Rhythm City Cuba
In the island nation’s largest port, the common language is music
594: City of Peace
Sixty years after the infamous attack, Hiroshima is a site of remembrance
592: Big sky country
Endless vistas and mysterious shrines await in rural Mongolia
590: Hidden pleasures
Kyoto’s little-visited gardens justify a trip all their own
588: Another Country
While maintaining its cultural distinction, the Basque homeland of Bayonne offers the best of Spain and France
586: Stepping into the past
Beaches, museums—and painted ladies—await visitors in Atami and Ito
584: Getting to the Roots of Kuala Lumpur
In quiet parks and bustling markets, Malaysia’s capital reveals its past and future
582: The great outdoors
Shinrin Koen in Saitama offers year-round fun for space-deprived Tokyoites
580: Seoul, revisited
Ancient and modern worlds collide in the Korean capital, a city of futuristic architecture, tranquil palaces and fiery cuisine
576: Ancient treasures
Explore untouched 900-year-old temples in Myanmar’s Bagan region
574: The High Life
Squeeze a last bit of fun out of winter in the mountains of Nagano
572: The Other Side of Cape Town
Township tours offer a vibrant glimpse of daily life in South Africa
570: White day
Yuzawa offers beginners a chance to ski before the snow melts
568: City of spice
Take a gastronomic tour through India’s food capital
566: Life Cyclist
An around-the-world biker makes a pit stop in Tokyo
564: Forest in the Clouds
Rainswept trails and lush beauty await in Costa Rica's Monteverde nature preserve
561-2: Geisha for a day
Kyoto's makeover studios offer visitors a new twist on tradition
559: Southern comfort
Indonesia’s most vibrant village replenishes heart, mind and soul
557: Show time
Nagoya is a city of potential heading into Expo 2005
555: Waterworld
Float across the watery heart of Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan
553: Mountain dew
A retreat restores the senses in the highlands of Fukushima
551: Turquoise baths
Warm, white sand meets an ocean of blues in a remote corner of the South Pacific
549: Sea world
A grueling 25-hour boat ride ends in the idyllic island chain of Ogasawara
547: Train spotting
The Trans-Siberian Railway is an epic journey that begins right at Japan’s doorstep
545: In praise of slowness
Yunishigawa offers a leisurely glimpse into Japan's illustrious past
543: Block party
A guide to fun on the fringe at Hong Kong’s nightlife district of Lan Kwai Fong
537: The middle way
Andrew McHugh embarks on a timeless pilgrimage in Tokyo’s tranquil backyard.
533: The simple life
City slicker Matthew Reiss takes a breather along Shikoku’s Shimanto River.
529: The lost world
In search of an ancient civilization swallowed by the sea, Carlo Niederberger plunges into the waters off Yonaguni.
525: Nature trails
Hakkakuso in Tateyama offers a jumping-off point for cycling, swimming, and the well-preserved charm of Japanese fishing villages. Steve Trautlein heads to the coast.
521: High tea
Cha and music have long been Nagasaki's two great passions. Simon Rowe hops on a tram to sample the Kyushu city's delights.
517: The hill is alive
Grab your coats and your wallets for a tour of the best of Osaka with local boy Simon Rowe.
513: A walk in the woods
Matt Button heads to Hokkaido and revels in the serenity of Daisetsuzan National Park.
507: Time and again
The history of Arima runs as deep as its hot springs. Stephen Mansfield soaks up the local ambience.
503: Riverside retreat
The rustic Okayama town of Takahashi offers the casual visitor a release from the world. Stephen Mansfield enjoys the time on his hands.
499: Tropics of interest
Urban escapees in search of a little anonymity are drawn to Ishigaki-jima. Simon Rowe finds out why.
495: City by the sea
Once a pirate haunt, the port town of Onomichi in the Inland Sea still houses an intriguing array of temples, and a surprising number of cats and cat lovers. Stephen Mansfield goes exploring.
491: Easy streets
Ocean breezes, smiling faces, exotic markets, and a laid-back pace. Catherine Pawasarat finds Japanese-style relaxation on the shores of the Noto Peninsula.
487: Into the wild
John McGee plumbs the depths and scales the heights of Tohoku's grandest national park.
483: Green Peace
Home to Kyoto-style gardens and the Peace Museum for kamikaze, Chiran offers a healthy dose of history and culture. Stephen Mansfield takes a walk.
479: Walk in the woods
Take a step back in time with a leisurely stroll through the forests and towns of the Kiso Valley. Mary King sets the pace.
475: Pilgrim’s progress
Simon Rowe braves the storms and heads down to Shikoku’s “Typhoon Ginza,” Cape Ashizuri.
471: Companions of the sea
Life in the Seto Inland Sea town of Tomo-no-Ura revolves around its fishing industry. Stephen Mansfield experiences the salty charm.
467: Monuments to history
Once a refuge from wars, Yamaguchi has survived the blight of modern urban development, Stephen Mansfield observes.
463: Land of the giants
Simon Rowe goes hiking on Yakushima Island, home to tropical beaches, granite hills, and the world's oldest-and largest-cedar trees.
459: Northern exposure
Home to king crabs, towering snow sculptures and one of the country's biggest beer companies, Sapporo is the center of life on Hokkaido. Simon Rowe hits the city streets.
456: In from the cold
Simon Rowe and Masami Hamada fight off the winter chill in the warm waters of Kinosaki
452: Keeping the peace
David Capel visits the quiet hamlet of Matsumoto, home to Japan's oldest existing castle.
448: Past into present
Stephen Mansfield takes the road less traveled and turns up in the historic samurai homestead of Obi
444: Chariots of ire
The annual Nada Fighting Festival
440: Hook, line and sinker
Summertime and the fishin' is easy-in Ichikawa village
436: Peaks and valleys
Stephen Mansfield ventures into the picturesque calderas of Kyushu's Aso-Kuju National Park
432: Water's edge
Seto Inland Sea the place for epicures and adventurers
428: Block party
Renowned for its legendary temples and manicured gardens, Kyoto is one of Japan's top tourist destinations
424: Honshu's holy hotels
Simon Rowe seeks serenity and a satisfying meal alongside the monks of Koya-san
420: High Art
Since its opening five years ago, a reclusive sect's stunning museum has attracted wide international acclaim.
416: Fire and brimstone
Hot water and Japanese hell come together in Oita Prefecture
412: Snowed in
Finding peace and a warm bath in the mountains of Gunma
408: Edo elegance
Old world artisans keep tradition alive in Honshu's Kurashiki
401: Bird's eye view
Mary King mingles with the ghosts of Himeji Castle.
397: It takes a village
Feed your spirits in Honshu's seaside town, Amanohashidate
393: Bathing Apes
For a scenic dip with rare, furry primates and ready to primp for your pictures, head to Jigokudani Onsen. Mary King gets in to hot water.
389: God speed
The mother of all Shinto temples, Ise Grand Shrine
385: Hattoji
Highland hamlet
380: Nagasaki
Remembrance of things past
378: Kawagoe
From modern Tokyo to "Little Edo"
376: Tottori
Tottori's stunning landscapes
375: Kyushu
Bed and bath under the volcano
373: Ryogoku
Land of the giants
372: Osaka
Universal Studios Japan
371: Osaka
Amerika-mura: Osaka's funky town
369: Mie
Mikimoto Pearl Island
368: Takarazuka
Hyogo-ken's all women theater group
365: Kawasaki
Kawasaki's annual fertility festival
364: Aomori
A day on Fear Mountain
362: Nagano
Chill out snowboarding
361: Asuka
One foot in the grave
356: Yamanashi
Hakushu's hidden treasures
355: Waseda Tram Trip
A streetcar named...
352/3: Aomori
Jesus in Japan
351: Kumamoto
Under the volcano in Kyushu
350: Sado Island
Explore the forgotten charms of Shukunegi


Monuments to history

Once a refuge from wars, Yamaguchi has survived the blight of modern urban development, Stephen Mansfield observes.

While Japan was being torn apart by internal warfare in the Sengoku Era (1467-1573), much of the cultural and political life of the country shifted to the relative security of Yamaguchi, Nagasaki and Sakai. With Kyoto in ruins during the Onin Wars that raged around the capital, many of the literati, noblemen and their retinues sought refuge in Yamaguchi, bringing with them the sensibilities and taste of the capital. Lord Hiroyo Ouchi, who founded Yamaguchi as a small castle town in the 14th century had, in any case, modeled the design and cultural aspirations of his new city on that of Kyoto. Located on the westernmost end of Honshu, Yamaguchi remains a monument to history. Mercifully, the bullet train does not stop there, sparing the city some of the “development” blight that has vulgarized so many Japanese cities.

Several of Yamaguchi’s temples and shrines date back to the Sengoku Era and the following century when the city flourished culturally. The Ima Hachimangu epitomizes Yamaguchi-style shrines, with a complex set of roofs fusing the main hall, gate and oratory into a single sculptural form. Commissioned by Lord Ouchi in 1520 as both branch and spiritual surrogate for the divine shrines at Imperial Ise, where the tradition of rebuilding every 20 years had been disrupted by warfare, Yamaguchi Daijingu is built of the same unfinished timber as Ise.

If the Yamaguchi post office ever needs an image to place on a commemorative stamp of its prefectural capital, the city’s magisterial five-story pagoda, built in the grounds of the Ruriko temple, would fit the bill. Made from Japanese cypress, each roof a fraction steeper than the one below it, the pagoda, typical of the Muromachi Era Zen Kyoto style, is strikingly situated beside an ornamental pond graced by bushes and topiary, the effect only slightly marred by a twittering tape recording that gives you an account of the history of the building.


On a mission
Japan’s first Christian missionary, the Basque priest Francis Xavier, stayed in Yamaguchi for two months on his way to an abortive audience with the emperor in Kyoto. Powerfully drawn to Japan, “this militant man,” as Nicolas Bouvier has written in The Japanese Chronicles, was “attracted by difficult countries, by a slightly melancholic moral rigor that he could sense without formulating...some indefinable quality, born of a tradition of which the West was ignorant.”

A statue of Francis Xavier outside the cathedral dedicated to him.

By the time Xavier arrived in Yamaguchi, it was already a prosperous and refined city. Curious to know of the priest’s doctrine, the Ouchi family, aware that Xavier’s journey to Japan had begun after the completion of his mission in India, took Catholicism for some sort of new sect of Buddhism. The tolerant but shrewd Ouchi clan, their eyes less on baptism than the Portuguese cargoes from Macao, granted the Jesuit permission to preach in the manner of the bonzes. The uncompromising Xavier took to the streets of the city denouncing, among other things, infanticide, idolatry and sodomy (the latter a widespread practice at the time among the military and Buddhist clergy). Misunderstandings and offense, both real and imagined, were inevitable. Despite the subsequent persecution of Christians in Japan, Xavier and his mission are still remembered in Yamaguchi.

The late British writer Alan Booth, arriving here on foot, observed in his book “The Roads to Sata,” “The night was cool and the twin green towers of St Xavier’s Cathedral rose above the city like the upraised arms of a surrendering foe.” The chapel, a memorial to Xavier’s mission, was destroyed in a fire in 1991 that took everything save its bell, now hanging from a frame in a copse of trees at a safe distance from the church. The building’s replacement, the gleaming St Francis Xavier Memorial Cathedral (Sabieru Kinen Kyokai), situated in Kame-yama Park, is a stridently modern structure, a pyramid of silver and egg-shell white, crowned with metallic towers, sculptures and a brace of suspended bells, and it features large stained glass plates in its cool interior and colored jars of burning candles that add to the effect of a slightly dimmed, cafe-gallery.


Garden state
A kilometer or so northeast of the chapel, the Sesshu-tei must be one of the most serene gardens in Japan, a place free of the recorded messages often deemed necessary to enjoy a historical or cultural experience. Originally a villa owned by Masahiro Ouchi, it was converted into a temple, the Joei-ji, for his mother. Returning on an Ouchi trading ship from China, where he had gone to study the arts, the master painter and priest Sesshu was asked to design a traditional Japanese garden in the temple grounds. The Zen-inspired garden, a combination of dry landscape and moss, an arrangement of stones, rocks, lawn and lily-pad pond, is best viewed in its intended entirety from the broad wooden veranda at the rear of the temple. The view remains apparently unchanged, a little more weathered and mature with each passing year. Paths run on four sides of a central arrangement: one beneath the viewing veranda, the other rising up into woodland that either masks or reveals glimpses of the garden from varied angles.
Yamaguchi’s impressive five-story pagoda, built in the grounds of the Ruriko temple.

The perfect subject for an ink wash or watercolor painting, the Sesshu-tei resembles a horizontal scroll. The garden can also be viewed from a pleasant tearoom, where maccha is served on red cloth-covered tables decorated with ornamental glass weights. There’s another Zen garden to the left of the main entrance. This is pure Zen, with gravel, rocks, and a mud wall: a subtle compression of changing light, hues, tonal composition, movement and layers of shadow, an immensely engaging scene for the discerning, patient viewer.

Despite being transected by the moderately busy Route 9, Seishu’s garden preserves its serenity by following a path along the Ichinosaka River as it makes a sinuous course back to the town center. Crossed by pedestrian bridges, the banks of the stream, a place of water-reeds and azaleas, is a popular walk in the spring when its cherry trees are in full blossom, while in the summer there are fireflies called genji and heike-botaru, named according to their respective sizes, to add to the illusion of timeless traditions and cycles.

And, in a final gesture of resisting modernity, Yamaguchi’s best-known form of transport is a 1937 locomotive, one of the few in Japan to remain in regular service. Operating on weekends and holidays, the gleaming steam engine, called the SL Yamaguchi-go, runs between the castle town of Tsuwano and Ogori.


Getting there
The JR Yamaguchi line runs between Ogori, a shinkansen station, and the city. There are also regular buses from Hagi and Tsuwano. Yamaguchi Ube Airport lies 40km south of Yamaguchi.


Where to stay
The slightly kitsch Yamaguchi Kanko Hotel on the main shopping street, Ekimae-dori, is a cheap option at ¥4,750 a night. Elegant but affordable at ¥6,000 for a single with two meals thrown in, the Taiyo-do (0839-22-0897) is a friendly ryokan with a pretty central garden. La Francesca, near the Xavier Cathedral, is an Umbrian-style hotel in the manner of a villa surrounded by luxuriant gardens with a price tag to match. Nearby Yuda Onsen, just one train stop away, also offers accommodation.


More information
Alternatively gloomy and snowbound during the winter, the city revives with spring, its best season, when its parks, gardens and river promenade come into their own. The summers are humid but then, where isn’t it? There’s an excellent tourist information center on the second floor of Yamaguchi station, with English maps and other info, and it has one English-speaking assistant. Most restaurants are clustered around the station area and along Ekimae-dori. Ikoi has a large range of dishes, including the local specialty—ayu, or sweetfish. La Francesca has a first-rate Italian restaurant serving excellent pasta. Yamabuki, a local chain serving varieties of soba and udon noodles, is the cheapest option. Shiva, also on Ekimae-dori, has good value lunch sets.

Photos by Stephen Mansfield