Senior editor David Cogswell traveled to Japan on a study tour
sponsored by the Japan National Tourist Organization. His report
NEW YORK -- American tour programs to Japan are limited
primarily to the major cities: Tokyo, Kyoto,Osaka and Nara.
Most of the available tour programs combine Japan with other
Asian countries, leaving only a few days to explore Japan --
precious little time to explore an area the size of California that
is rich in history, culture and natural beauty.
To help expand packaged travel beyond present limits, the Japan
National Tourist Organization here organized a study tour for
operators and agents who book groups.
The tour explored the Seto Inland Sea area, including three
Japanese districts (prefectures), two in the western part of
Japan's main island of Honshu and a third on Shikoku, a smaller
island to the south.
The area is virtually untouched by American packages.
It offers travelers a more concentrated and, in some ways, more
authentic experience of Japanese culture than they find in the
major cities alone.
The experience shatters typical American preconceptions of Japan
as a small, crowded island.
Once you leave the cities behind, the most striking impressions are
of Japan's lush natural landscapes, its forests and mountains and
its picturesque seasides.
The villages, gardens and architecture blend organically into
the countryside, reflecting the affinity with nature that is
fundamental to Japanese culture.
That quality makes it hard to separate the beauty of the
landscape from the charm and hospitality of the people.
From New York, it was a 13-hour nonstop flight to Tokyo on Japan
Airlines, followed by another short flight to Osaka, where we were
met by a representative of JNTO who became our tour guide for the
rest of the trip.
Seen from the air, Osaka is a glittering coastal metropolis,
with clusters of skyscrapers and streets teeming with night life.
But it was only a connecting point. We rode a minibus to Kyoto and
stayed Saturday night at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto in the city
Sunday morning we took a sightseeing tour of Kyoto, enough to
provide a snapshot view of the city known for its rich culture.
From Kyoto we flew to Yamaguchi prefecture and transferred by
chartered bus to Hagi City, a town on the Japan Sea. We stayed at
the Kitamonyashiki Ryokan
The tour exposed us to a large inventory of experiences from which
the operators could later choose to build new itineraries.
In each city, we inspected hotels and ryokan and visited
temples, shrines, museums, castles and neighborhoods. Some
In Hagi, the focus was the Yoshiga Taibi Museum. The group
walked among historic Samurai homes and through the Akiyoshi Cave,
the third-largest stalactite cave in the world according to our
guide. The next stops were a spa in Yamaguchi City called Yuda
Onsen and two temples: Rurikoki and Joeiji.
Tuesday, the group took a bus to Iwakuni City to visit the
Kintai Bridge, an ancient construction of five wooden arches, and
traveled by ski lift to Iwakuni Castle on a mountainside
overlooking the city.
After lunch the group visited Hiroshima, the first target of a
nuclear bomb, and walked through an artistically detailed Japanese
garden before visiting the Peace Memorial Park & Museum, which
memorializes the bombing of Aug. 6, 1945. It was an experience not
The museum's exhibits included detailed before-and-after models
of the city, photographs, artifacts and film footage that
dramatically brought to life the world of the 1940s, the nuclear
destruction and the inhabitants' struggle for survival.
A stone structure from the front of a bank building showed the
shadow where a man was instantly vaporized as he sat on the
Clay tiles and metal furnishings showed signs of melting from
the 300,000-degree temperatures.
Large mounted photographs showed the tower of smoke that boiled
up into the stratosphere, then spread sideways.
After absorbing the stunning museum exhibits, we walked through
the park and into the streets of the modern city, passing the Peace
Memorial Dome, which had been an exposition center 178 yards from
the hypocenter of the bomb.
Because it received the pressure in a downward direction, it was
one of the few buildings that remained partly standing after the
Situated on a delta with seven rivers, today's Hiroshima is
fully rebuilt and marvelously green and vibrant, with sculptured
gardens, sparkling skyscrapers and a hopping night life. As we
walked through the city at dusk, a full moon shown over the
skyline, creating an unforgettable image.
Other highlights of the trip included the blazing red-orange
Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island; the Dogo Hot Spring Spa, the
oldest hot spring spa in Japan; the 17th century Matsuyama Castle,
and the Hirayama Art Museum, which houses the works of master
painter Ikuo Hirayama.
The tour concluded with an exploration of the Seto Inland Sea
Area before returning by air to Tokyo.