Tag Archives: Hiraizumi

Japan’s Top World Heritage Sites

Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto

I haven’t been to all of Japan’s 21 UNESCO World Heritage sites, but they’re on my list. Kyoto, of course, is king, with an astounding 17 locations that make up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site. But Japan’s World Heritage sites are varied and vast, with a list that includes villages, islands, ancient shrines and temples, mountains, a castle, a silver mine and even a bombed-out shell of a building that serves as a somber reminder of Hiroshima’s 1945 atomic blast. What follows are my reviews of Japan’s top World Heritage sites, based on my 30-some years traveling around Japan as author of various Frommer’s guides, including Frommer’s Japan. Whereas some sites are worth seeing if you’re in the vicinity (such as Tokyo’s Museum of Western Art, designed by Le Corbusier and added to the list in 2016), most are worth going out of your way for. And some are so spectacular they’re worth the trip to Japan just to see them.

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Hiraizumi 12th-century Buddhist Utopia in Japan

The Pure Land Garden in Hiraizumi

The Pure Land Garden in Hiraizumi


Most of Japan’s history–skirmishes and wars between feudal lords, legends surrounding ancestors of the Imperial Family, even the location of its capitals–played out on the southwestern end of the main island of Honshu, so it’s not surprising that most of its historic sights and World Heritage sites are also found there. But in Tohoku, the northern region of Honshu, Hiraizumi is a town I very much would have wanted to visit if I had been alive in 12th-century Japan. It was created as a Buddhist heaven on earth, a place of sprawling temples, pagodas, sutras, gardens and quarters for hundreds of monks. It lasted only 100 years before being sacked by the man who would go on to become shogun over the land, but Hiraizumi’s influence on Japan was tremendous. This article I wrote for BBC.com/travel, A Pure Land Inspired by Treachery, tells why.


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Free flights to Japan

The Japan government came out with a new campaign to attract the international tourists it desperately needs–by offering 10,000 free flights to Japan, with the only stipulation being that those accepting the offer write about their experiences. No word yet on how to get your hands on this free offer, let alone how Japan will monitor who says what.

Still, it’s a remarkable offer, though travelers should know that it will cost them plenty once they arrive, with the US$ 40% less against the yen than it was 4 years ago, 25% less than 2 years ago.

I myself am leaving for Japan next week, way too early to take advantage of the free flight offer (and my flight cost plenty). I’ll be traveling from Osaka south to Hiroshima and onward through Kyushu. I’ll then fly to Sendai for a visit to Hiraizumi, declared a World Heritage Site right after the earthquake. It’s in Iwate Prefecture, one of the most devastated prefectures from the disaster. Stay tuned for my thoughts on Japan since my last trip in June.

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