Every year we flip on the calendar means just that much closer to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. While the games have had some notable hiccups in these early planning stages (still no stadium OR logo …), the steps the country is taking to spruce itself up for the massive international event will benefit tourists but in the short and long run.
I try to post updates and changes to the Uncover Japan facebook page but I thought I’d gather some of the most noteworthy tidbits here for those of you who may have missed them.
1. The Hokkaido shinkansen opens in March
No longer do those seeking a bit of northern exposure need to rely on airline schedules. As of March 2016, the shinkansen (bullet train) extends to Hakodate in southern Hokkaido. You still can’t get all the way to Sapporo at a rapid clip, but there are plenty of reasons to stop off in Hokkaido’s second-biggest city – great seafood, craft beer, unique ramen, and cherry blossoms surrounding the moat of the star-shaped Goryokaku Fortress.
2. Kamakura’s Daibutsu (Big Buddha) is under reconstruction
One of Kamakura’s most beloved sights is undergoing a bit of spring cleaning this year From January 13th to March 10th, the Daibutsu will be covered by scaffolding and inaccessible to tourists. The equipment should be off just in time for the spring blooms.
3. Tsukiji Market will finally move!
We’ve been holding our breath for years but it finally seems that November 2016 will see the venerable fish market close its doors in the Tsukiji neighborhood to make room for more modern Olympic development. The outer market will remain and the new market will NOT take the name Tsukiji with it – that designation belongs to the parcel of land it currently sits on. The new market will be located in Toyosu and will have a dedicated observation platform for visitors.
4. Kyushu’s Christian sites may make the UNESCO list
Not many people realize that Japan has some fascinating and bloody ties to Christianity, stemming from the arrival of the prostelytizing Portuguese in the 1400s and leading up to the shogun’s heavy-handed suppression of the religion in the first few decades of the Edo era. Some of the more notable sites – and the legacy of those who went underground to continue the religion in secret for centuries – is being considered for full inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Among the locations to be included are the churches of Amakusa, the old ruins of Hara castle in Shimabara and various sites in Nagasaki, including Oura Cathedral.
5. The Setouchi Art Triennale is on
In recent years, the islands of the Seto Inland Sea have rebranded themselves as magnets for modern art lovers with both permanent installations and alternating festivals. The year 2016 marks the third triennale and over 100 new artworks will be displayed across 12 islands, not just the main islands of Naoshima and Teshima, where the main installations are located. The festival takes place in three sessions – March 20th to April 17th, July 18th to September 4th, and October 8th to November 6th.
6. The calendar adds a new holiday – Mountain Day!
As if there weren’t already enough publicly-observed holidays in Japan (not that I’m complaining, mind you), the year 2016 sees the advent of Mountain Day, a day created to pay tribute to – wait for it – Japan’s mountainous topography. There is already a Marine Day and a Greenery Day, so it just made sense to keep with the “natural world” theme. The day will be observed on August 11th which mostly falls around the same time as the Obon holiday. Basically, this will serve to make Mt Fuji even MORE crowded to climb that particular week. For those not scaling Japan’s highest peak, the day will be a welcome break in an otherwise long month.
I”m sure there is much I am missing here so keep checking the Uncover Japan facebook page for more information. Happy traveling!