It has been 3 years since I left Japan, yet I remember it fondly as one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived. Each season brings its own unique beauty, each as delicate as the next.
In the fall you can make the journey to Mino to see this gorgeous waterfall enshrouded in foliage. The Japanese even have a term for going to look at the leaves in fall: this is called Momiji. And not only do you get to see these fiery leaves outshine the sun, but you also get to eat them. Crispy and delicious, the Momiji Tempura is a must try at Mino.
Koya-san, the high and holy city of Japan, is also best visited in the fall. Surrounded by mountains, Koya-san has an unearthly feel about it. The air is sharper but cleaner, and from the main gate, you can see a tapestry of the rainbow folding in the valleys below you. Here, an old couple enjoys the leaves at one of the many temples in Koya-san.
There are plenty of monasteries to stay in where they will serve you a gigantic traditional vegetarian meal and wake you up before dawn for meditation. From there you can take your time exploring this holy city or just rest and take in the serene atmosphere.
The most notable place to visit is the mausoleum. To get there, pilgrims walk through an eerie cemetery filled with decorated stone dolls. You must pause at the fountain of ablution to cleanse yourself before continuing across the bridge to where Kobodaishi still sits in eternal meditation. With winter comes the snow, and the nation is covered in a blanket of powder. The delectable temples, coated with a thin layer of icing, beckon invitingly to shivering visitors.
At Ginkakuji, the silver temple of Kyoto, the Zen garden’s dusty patterns come to life with the day’s infusion of snow.
A good place to hit the slopes as well as the annual Yuki Matsuri or snow festival is in Hokkaido. To warm up from the days activities, you can hit up an onsen or public bath where you can alternate between soaking in the hot sulphuric water and rolling around naked in the surrounding snow. Sapporo teems with ice sculptures of all shapes and sizes. There are some gigantic ones of buildings and a strange mish-mash of seemingly unrelated objects.
As you meander through the rows, you will definitely spot a few popular cartoon characters and a few unexpected things.
If you’re lucky, you might catch some scantily clad teenagers dancing away on an ice stage.
In a nearby town, you can see artisans blowing glass globules. At night each globules contains a tiny candle and can be found floating over the water, like a reflection of the starry sky.
Then it’s time to whip out the sake and bentos for an afternoon picnic under the powdery pink and white sakura that line the riverbanks.
Maruyama Park is one of Kyoto’s most popular spots for a picnic.
These gorgeous blossoms represent the beautiful yet ephemeral nature of life for the Japanese and they treat this precious season accordingly, enjoying it to the full while it lasts.
As with the leaves in fall, you can view the sakura lit up in temples around the city at night. If you can get a ticket to the concert, at Heian Shrine you can combine hanami with beautiful music.
Summer brings with her sunshine, making the the leaves glimmer like emeralds. Now it is time to bike to the river and read a book under the shade. Or for the more adventurous, a trip to the country. Biking along dirt roads, you will see rice field after gleaming rice field, the world an unreal shade of green. Stop and sample some local udon or ramen.
Summer is a good time to visit Wakayama for the beaches, rocky shoreline, forests, and of course onsen where you can cook your own eggs while you bathe. It’s never too hot for a boiling dip in Japan!
Temples and Tori gates glow bright orange, like beacons seen from afar.