Spring is one of the best seasons to visit Japan because it is simply beautiful every where. While many people would go for the park or castles where most of the cherry trees were, children may find it boring to just walk around parks or castles.

In the ancient time, Emperors, aristocrats and pilgrims have to ride horses or walk all the way to visit the grand shrines in Kumano. It was a tough long journey that might take a month depending on the starting point. Today, you may take JR and buses and complete the pilgrimage journey in 5 days, visiting the Ise Grand Shrine, Kumano Sanzan which include Kumano Hayatama Grand Shrine, Kumano Nachi Grand Shrine and Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine; as well as stopping over Kawayu Onsen and visiting Nitama the Stationmaster cat at Kishi Station. The 5 days Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area JR pass allows you to travel between Nagoya and Kansai, covering Ise, Kumano and Wakayama. Please note that you will have to buy the JR Pass before you arrive Japan and redeem it at Nagoya Station (not at Chubu Airport) or Kansai Airport. Activate (redeem) the pass on the day you start using it for the next 5 days.

Kumano Hongu Taisha (Grand Shrine) is one of the three main shrines of Kumano Sanzan, part of the UNESCO World Heritage “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”. All of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes lead to this Grand Shrine. The Kumano area which covers Hayatama Grand Shrine, Nachi Grand Shrine and Hongu Grand Shrine has been a holy place since the Nara Period (AD 710-794). Emperors, aristocrats and pilgrims travelled 300km from Kyoto to visit the grand shrines. The original Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine was locating on a sandbank at the confluent of Kumano and Otonashi Rivers which is about 5 minutes way from the current location. A big flood in 1889 washed away many of the shrine buildings, leading to the relocation up the hill to the current location. Address: Japan, 〒647-1731 Wakayama Prefecture, Tanabe, Hongucho Hongu, 1110 Tel: +81 735-42-0009 Transportation: The shortest route is to take Kumano Kotsu or Nara Kotsu bus in front of the JR Shingu Station and get off at Hongu which takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes.…

Nachi Taisha (Grand Shrine) is among the three most important shrines in Kumano that was listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes of the Kii Mountain Range in Japan. The other two shrines are Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine and Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine. Nachi Grand Shrine is believed to be the place where you can find and meet your destiny. Locating half way up Nachi Mountain, Kumano Nachi Grand Shrine is about 350 meters above sea level. It is a unique place where you can find both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in one location, take a hike on an ancient cobblestone path surrounded by hundreds of years old cedar trees, as well as to see the tallest waterfall in Japan. Besides, you may try out some elegant outfits back in the Heian Period (794-1185) and take photos in the area. It’s a great experience! If you drive, there are a few parking lots close to each tourist attraction. If you take JR, simply get on the regular bus that runs between JR Kii-Karuusa…

Getting a good nice sleep is a key to any nice holidays. There are times when you just want a clean room with comfortable bed. Other times you want a bit more luxury and stay longer in one location, particularly when you are travelling with your families and your loved ones. Toba Seaview Hotel in Mie Prefecture is a good choice. Locating by the coastline, the hotel offers a panoramic sea view of the Pacific Ocean and it is only 20 minutes away by car from the Ise Grand Shrine. There are two public hot baths, Japanese style guest rooms, western twin rooms, rooms with private onsen, and a massive suite with excellent sea view, living room that can accommodate the whole family staying in it. However, this special suite is not available for booking on website yet. You may have to send an inquiry to the hotel directly.

It seems like picnic under the cherry trees is not a privilege for human. Walking around the moat of Himeji Castle in leisure, I saw a group of cats gathered together for an early dinner with a beautiful spring backdrop of the Himeji Castle. All cats are in different colors yet about the same size and look healthy. Very interesting!

First built as a fort in 1933, Himeji Castle has gone through several major constructions and expansion throughout several hundred years, including surviving the Second World War in 1945. In 1581, the famous warrior Hashiba Hideyoshi built a 3-storied keep in Himeji Castle. The current 5-storied, 7-floored Main Keep was completed in 1609. In 1934, the Main Keep of Himeji Castle was designated as National Treasure. In 1993, Himeji Castle was registered as Japan’s first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. A major maintenance and repair work of the Main Keep began in 2009 and completed in 2015 which was just one year ago. In my recent visit for the cherry blossom, part of the structure is still covered with scaffolding.

Chayamachi is Osaka Kita’s most popular downtown area for young people. It’s a modernized area with trendy stores such as Loft, NU and NU+ shopping malls, HMV, coffee shops, boutiques and many eateries. There is a good mix of young culture and business people. I like this area because there is a good wide variety of things to see, places to shop and eat.

Tofu cuisine is one of the famous delicacy in Kyoto. Like many other types of food, tofu and beancurd (Yuba in Japanese) are cooked in many different ways to create a variety of food. The most common types are tofu in hotpot and beancurd meal. If you like good food, always make a reservation in the famous restaurants, particularly for dinner at the weekends or high seasons such as the cherry blossom period. It’s quite challenging to find the restaurant you like without having to stand in a queue for over an hour because every one wants to have dinner at the same time: after sightseeing and shopping. One of the best possible option is to head over to the JR station (in key cities) which always have some connecting buildings and department stores that have restaurant floors. I noticed that many of the restaurant chains have branches in key JR stations, making it easy to have decent food from well-known restaurants.

Just a little over one hour away from Osaka, Wakayama is one of the nice places to view cherry blossom with Wakayama Castle on the top of the list. There are 600 cherry trees planted in the castle park. Comparing to the very popular Nara neighboring city, Wakayama is relatively less crowded with foreign tourists yet beautiful in its own way.

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