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The "Land of the Rising Sun" is a country where the past meets the future. Japan has beautiful temples and gardens which are often surrounded by garish signs and ugly buildings. In the middle of modern skyscrapers you’ll discover sliding wooden doors which lead to traditional chambers with tatami mats, shoji screens, and calligraphy, suitable for traditional tea ceremonies.

In its feudal days, you could find multiple castles in nearly every prefecture. Because of bombings in WWII, fires and edicts to tear down castles only twelve of Japan's castles are considered to be originals which have donjons that date back to the days when they were still used. Four of them are located on the island of Shikoku, two just north in the Chugoku region, two in Kansai, three in the Chubu region, and one in the northern Tohoku region. There are no original castles in Kyushu, Kanto, Hokkaido and Okinawa.

Japan has many reconstructed castles, many of which receive more visitors than the originals. A reconstructed castle means that the donjon was rebuilt in modern times, but many of these still have other original structures within the castle grounds. Kumamoto Castle is considered to be among the best reconstructions, because most of the structures have been reconstructed instead of just the donjon.

Japan is famous for its gardens, known for its unique aesthetics both in landscape gardens and Zen rock/sand gardens. The nation has designated an official "Top Three Gardens", based on their beauty, size, authenticity (gardens that have not been drastically altered), and historical significance. Those gardens are Kairakuen in Mito, Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, and Korakuen in Okayama. The largest garden, and the favorite of many travelers, is actually Ritsurin Park in Takamatsu.

Shintoism is the native religion of Japan, so those looking to experience things that are “wholly Japanese” should particularly enjoy them as they truly embody the Japanese aesthetic. The holiest Shinto Shrine is the Grand Ise Shrine, while the second holiest is Izumo Shrine, where the gods gather annually for a meeting.

The three must-visit places for World War II buffs are Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the capital of Okinawa, Naha. Okinawa is where some of the most brutal battles occurred between Japan and the United States, and the area is crawling with remnants from its dark past. The Peace Park, Prefectural Peace Museum, Himeyuri Peace Museum, and the Peace Memorial Hall are some of the best places to learn more, see artifacts, and hear accounts of the battles that took place here.

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