1. Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima island, Kagawa Prefecture
Nestled deep underground on the island of Naoshima, Chichu Art Museum was masterminded by Tadao Ando who wanted to showcase the way in which light can change art. Despite being largely subterranean, natural light floods the different galleries and depending on the time of day and the season, it can alter the appearance of the work on display. There are three permanent exhibitions here showing work by Monet, including examples of his Water Lilies series, interactive pieces by James Turrell and sculptures by Walter De Maria. The artworks are bold, large and emotive in a setting like no other.
2. Himeji Castle, Himeji, Hyōgo Prefecture
This early 17th
-century Japanese feudal castle is so impressive it’s been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status, and it isn’t hard to see why. Regionally known as Himeji-jō, the site includes 83 buildings, connected by a series of gates and winding paths, dating from 1333. Largely constructed of wood, the castle sits majestically on a hill and, unlike many of Japan’s other castles, it remains entirely intact, miraculously having survived the heavy bombing of Himeji during the Second World War. Its distinctive pale plastered walls have earned it the nickname White Heron Castle (Shirasagi-jō) and a recent restoration in 2015 left it gleaming once again.
Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima Island
3. Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima island, Hiroshima Prefecture
Another UNSECO World Heritage Site, Itsukushima Shrine is one of Japan’s most iconic and recognisable structures. Known for its orange torii gate, which appears to be floating on water, the area has been considered a holy place since the sixth century.
The current shrine was built in the 13th century during the time of military leader Taira no Kiyomori who founded the first samurai-dominated government in Japan.
Although there are Shinto monuments dotted all across Japan, this one with its peaceful backdrop of the mountains and sea perfectly encapsulates the importance of nature worship.
4. Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture
This solemn reminder of the horrors of war — also known as Genbaku Dome — was the only building left standing in central Hiroshima after the devastating atomic explosion of 1945. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was originally built in 1915 as the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall. It’s been deliberately preserved as a ruin to be a memorial, representing both the repercussions of man’s destructive forces and the hope for global peace in the future. Visitors can also take time to reflect this powerful message in the surrounding Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
5. Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution, Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture
Setouchi is home to some excellent examples of Japan’s industrial heritage. Part of a wider UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning the whole country, visitors to the region can visit a reverberatory furnace, dock remains and iron manufacturing ruins that provide an insight into the nation’s iron, steel, shipbuilding and coal mining industries. They stand as testament to the end of the Edo period — between 1603 and 1868 — and Japan’s efforts to modernise its armed forces and manufacturing industries, during a time in which the country was desperate to prove itself an independent, industrialised nation. Shokason-juku School, where pioneers of the time were taught, and the city’s former castle district also fall under the UNESCO World Heritage Site umbrella.
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