There are a few places in every country which although, sound very interesting, they do not get an influx of tourists but instead, are visited by adventure-seekers or deep travelers. When many people hear Japan, major cities like Tokyo or Kyoto typically spring to mind. Japan has a lot of lesser-known and unfamiliar places that can fulfill anyone’s ‘dream adventure’. So, let’s take a look at some of Japan’s best-kept secrets.
G-Cans is the world’s largest drain that is present underneath Saitama city, Japan. The G-Cans project, the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel (Shutoken Gaikaku Housui Ro) is a large waterway built by the government to prevent Tokyo from flooding. This 2 billion dollar project began in 1992 and took more than ten years to complete. The length of the tunnel is 6.3 km and has a huge water storage structure often nicknamed, ‘Underground Temple’, which is 18 meters high and 177 meters long. This humongous drainage system can pump 200 cubic meters of water per second and is the largest in the world. Free tours are offered but sometimes during monsoon season, it is closed for public viewing for safety reasons.
Fukusai Temple is one of the oldest temples in Japan located in Nagasaki dating back to the 1600s. The building was completely destroyed during the second world war as a result of the atomic bomb in 1945. However, it was rebuilt magnificently in 1979. The temple is shaped like a turtle with a 60-foot statue of Kannon, the Buddhist god of compassion, standing tall above the temple. It is also a memorial to thousands of World War II casualties.
The specialty of this temple is the giant Foucault’s pendulum hanging down from the interior of the Kannon figure and spinning its weighted end. It is the third-largest Foucault pendulum in the entire world.
In the early 90s, the Japanese government built a Russian themed town to attract visitors and to strengthen ties between Russia and Japan. It was closed for renovation and then re-opened in 2002. After that, it has been operational for only six months before permanently closing due to the lack of tourist popularity. Now, the themed Russian village looks like a ghost town with empty theaters, tombs, restaurants, hotels, cathedral and a golf course. It also has a giant fake mammoth skeleton that was left behind. This Russian village is located in Agano in Niigata. If you get a chance to visit this place, you may be left wondering why such huge structures were left behind with no visitors.
If you visit Northern Japan, you will find many self-mummified monks known as ‘Sokushinbutsu’. They are the followers of Shugendo, an ancient sect of Buddhism in which monks die with self-denial. The process of self-mummification is very severe as you can imagine. The monks go on a strict diet of only nuts, seeds and roots, completely stripping their bodies of fat. Then they drink a poisonous tea made from the sap of Urushi tree which causes severe vomiting and loss of bodily fluids. They then go into a preserving tomb in that state and they eventually die leaving their bodies intact in a lotus position. This self-mummification was seen as deserving the highest form of respect and was worshiped by everyone. The Japanese government banned this practice in the late 19th century and from then on, self-mummification ended.
The most famous among sokushinbutsu is the Shinnyokai Shonin of the Dainichi-Boo temple on Mount Yudano. The cold temperatures and the high amount of arsenic in the area are the reasons behind the mummies being preserved for a long time. These mummies are usually present in remote locations such as the Nangakuji temple in Tsuruoka and Kaikouji Temple in Sakata City.
We have lots of stories about beautiful mermaids and how they often appear to sailors. However, in reality, there has been no evidence of a real mermaid. The ones that come close to real mermaids are the Fiji Mermaids. A great researcher named P.T. Barnum in the mid 19th century bought a mermaid mummy that looks like half monkey and half fish, from a Japanese sailor. Now it is on display in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Many people thought it was real. However, it is later found that it was a part of an ancient Japanese craftsmanship of a gaff. It is made by combining a dead monkey and a long fish.
There is a 1400-year-old Fiji Mermaid mummy at the Tenshou-Kyousha shrine in Fujinomiya, Japan near Mt. Fuji. It is, in fact, the first Fiji Mermaid ever found. In Japanese mythology, a mermaid is a male demon with horns and claws and looks like half man and half fish. It is called ‘ningyo’ in Japanese folklore. This mummified Fiji Mermaid at the shrine will give anyone chills.
The Marathon Monks live on Mount Hiei in Otsu, Japan. They are called ‘Gyoja’ and they belong to a Buddhist sect called ‘Tendai’. They go for a seven-year long pilgrimage including a 1000-day marathon and 7 days of sleepless fasting. For the first 300 days of the pilgrimage, the monks run a marathon of 40 km a day and slowly they increase the distance and reduce the time of the marathon. In the fourth and fifth year, they run 40 km a day for 200 days continuously. In the sixth year, they run 60 km a day for 100 consecutive days. They just walk on remaining days. Following the 700th day, they engage in a 7-day fast known as ‘diori’ in which they refrain from food, water and sleep.
There have only been around twelve or thirteen monks who completed this epic pilgrimage since World War II. In total, each travel at least 25000 miles on foot roughly equaling the distance of the earth’s equator. This whole tradition is called ‘Sennichi-Kaiho-Gyo’ and is said to be one of the oldest traditions in Japan. It is also often referred to as the toughest athletic challenge in the world. The headquarters of the Tendai sect is located in Enryakuji Temple on the top of Mt. Hiei.
Naraijuku is a small and quiet town west of Tokyo in Nagano prefecture. This city was a part of the Kiso-ji or Kiso Road, an important trade route between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) in the past. The buildings in Naraijuku are antique and one cannot find such preserved structures perhaps anywhere else in Japan. The buildings are more than 300 years old and are in good condition without any renovations despite the region being affected by earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters before. This is about as close as one can get to walking along a pre-modern era street. You can imagine how Japanese people used to live hundreds of years before.
Naraijuku was an accommodation town called ‘Shakuba-machi’ where travelers and merchants used to stop by during their travel between Kyoto and Edo. There are many such shukuba-machi on the Kiso Road. Naraijuku is now a part of Shiojiri city in Nagano prefecture and can be reached easily from Matsumoto. Since Naraijuku is situated at a high altitude, it is relatively cool in the summer. The surrounding areas of it offer tourists very beautiful scenery alongside the rich history.
The Kiso Road area was less known not only outside of Japan but also outside of the Nagano region. However, many enthusiastic tourists have started popularizing them by visiting frequently these days. Not much information is available on these ancient trade routes as most of them have vanished as cities like Tokyo and Kyoto became larger and modern transportation facilities have reshaped the trade links. Do not forget to visit Naraijuku and see the region’s antiquities.
Many people flock to just the surrounding areas of cities and less so to the rural areas to see nature. In urban areas, the best scenery you can find may be a park with blossoms. But the rural part of Japan has a lot to offer such as the rice terraces. The terraced land of rice fields offers a spectacular view like no other. Japan may not be a tropical country like the Philippines but crop paddies are more common in the country than we think.
The rice terraces are found in mountainous regions of the countryside where agriculture has been practiced for a long time. These are built in step-like tiers along the slope of the mountains or valleys and are often called ‘Senmaida (a thousand rice fields)’. They are separated section-wise by mud or stone to prevent the water from leaking into one another. This is considered the best way to grow more rice in a small area as sun exposure and water supply proved to be effective. The shining paddy fields along the slopes of valleys will steal anyone’s heart. These rice terraces are usually covered with grass or snow in ‘non-seasons’.
The closest rice terrace from Tokyo is the Kamogawa Oyama Senmaida near Kamogawa city in Chiba prefecture. It is the only rice terrace that grows rice with rainwater in Japan. Not many people know about this unique rice terrace. It is usually lit up along its curved ridges from mid-October to early January. Do pay a visit to this astonishing place and capture the abundant views the rice terrace offers.
Japan is one among a few elite nations that has an advanced space program. Many people do not hear much about Japanese space missions nowadays. This is because of some of the setbacks it has received recently or due to the secretiveness of some of the missions. Not many tourists even know where the Japanese Space Center is located.
Tanegashima is the second largest of the Osumi islands in the Kagoshima prefecture. It has an area of 445 sq.km and has been a pivotal place for some of the most advanced research activities. The space center is in the southeastern end of the island and the area looks like something straight out of a Bond movie. During any rocket launch, the Yoshinobu Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center will give anyone chills as the rocket springs up into the skies with oozing fire. Every March, a ‘Rocket Marathon’ is also conducted at the space center to create awareness about astronomy for the general public.
Have your ever seen fish that were bred in space outside earth? If you travel to Roppongi hills, there is a small garden that separates the TV studio from the main office and cinema complex. Here lies a pond dating back to 18th century with tiny silvery fish that look like they are out of this world. The pond’s ‘medaka’, a freshwater fish that once flooded Japanese rice fields- are the descendants of those bred in space inside the 1994 Columbia space shuttle. They were bred as a part of a science experiment and brought to earth to continue the studies. These fish are highly susceptible to any chemicals or predators and they are protected under comfortable conditions. These fish are categorized as space-fish as they have shown unique characteristics compared to their relatives on earth. Do pay a visit to this amazing garden and get to see the rare creature.
In Japan, there is a myth that Jesus Christ escaped his crucifixion and moved to Japan in the apocryphal religious writings, namely ‘Takenouchi Documents’. These documents are believed to be a hoax by most people. However, many people in the village which houses the grave claim themselves to be the descendants of Jesus Christ. It is said that Jesus married a Japanese woman from Shingo, had three children and died at the age of 106. The villagers also believe that the man who died on the cross at the hands of the Romans was Jesus’ younger brother Isukiri.
The small village of Shingo in Japan’s Aomori prefecture is the home of the Tomb Of Jesus Christ. The tomb sits on a hill and is actually a burial mound with a large cross on the top. There is another similar mound next to the tomb of Jesus which is said to have Isukiri’s ears and a lock of Mary’s hair. The claims may seem outlandish but there have been secret genetic studies that have taken place on the villagers including those claimed to have descended from the holy blood. The results show that the descendants share a different DNA and have a connection to the Middle East unlike other Japanese from the same village. Whatever the reasons may be, this place has been kept a secret for many years and is still relatively unknown.
These places are getting popular these days with an increasing number of tourists seeking adventure by visiting many interesting places in Japan. One can call anything a secret when very few people knew about it but in this context, these are some interesting places which have a lot to offer to tourists but somehow are less popular. By making these places known to the outside world, they may not remain best-kept secrets anymore!
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