Missing Japan? With the current ongoing situation in mind, it might be taking a while before we will be able to visit the Land of Cherry Blossoms (again). But there is a solution, although it might become a source to strengthen the feeling of wanting to go to Japan.
The existence of the Internet has broadened our view of the world, making it possible to travel the world digitally from the comfort of your own home. It is a wonderful thing to do, because it makes us better informed about the countries that we eventually want to visit. And with the growth of technology, it is at this moment even more interesting to surf around the Internet and pretends that we are really travelling around the world. A couple of virtual tours of different locations in Japan will be listed below. Get something to drink, a snack, sit down on a comfortable chair or bank, relax and let’s go on a virtual exploration of Japan. And the good thing is that these options are free!
Enjoy the view from Tokyo Tower
While still being the second tallest steel structure in Japan with almost 333 metres, Tokyo Tower, inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, is most likely high on the lists of those visiting Tokyo. The iconic tower is a communications and observation tower can be found in the Shiba-koen district of Minato in Tokyo and is the second-tallest structure in Japan.
It seems that you don’t have to fly to Japan to visit Tokyo Tower. Google Arts & Culture has made it possible to let you digitally walk around on one of the floors of the tower and makes it possible to enjoy the view of the skyline of Tokyo. It is not the whole tower, but that can be saved for when you are able to visit Japan again! Want to learn more about Tokyo Tower, the official website of the tower made a Towerpedia with answers on several interesting questions. If you want to see more of the view, then you are in luck since the YouTube channel of Tokyo Tower will also offer you a livestream from the tower itself. Because the camera will be moved around from time to time, you will not see just one part of the view.
Climb Mount Fuji from your seat
The highest mountain of Japan with 3778 metres and still an active volcano, Mount Fuji, or called Fuji-san by the people in Japan itself, is a well-known location for hiking and is a sacred place for many as well. Mount Fuji has been an inspiration for many and can be found back in many artworks, such as the prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige, among many others. It is internationally seen as an icon of Japan and is since 2013 registered as a World Heritage site of UNESCO.
Many more can be said about Mount Fuji. A special website makes it possible to let you look at Mount Fuji from all sides, by checking out the live feed from Fujisan Watcher. Choose from where you want to watch the live feed and hopefully you will be able to see the mountain in full view. If you have visited Japan before and have, for example, visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building on a clear day, you were able to see Mount Fuji. And this is the best tip that can be given for Fujisan Watcher as well. It is a website that should be visited at different times of the days. You can also hop on Google Maps to climb Mount Fuji virtually.
Guess the city in Japan
If you are more of a gaming type and like guessing games, it might be a nice idea to play the games City Guesser and City Guessin. Both have the same concept, after choosing Japan as the country, you will become part of a walk through a city or village and will be able to guess the location you are in. While you can guess on a map with City Guesser and you will see how far you are off with your guess, you have to be more specific with the actual name of the city and prefecture with City Guessin. And with the latter game, you will also see how long you needed to guess and keep track of your prefecture and city streak. This makes it more challenging and competitive, while City Guesser will give you a more relaxing option.
Both games are heavily inspired on the game GeoGuessr where you have to guess the location on a map while you are on StreetView and can look for clues. The two video guessing games are more immersive since you are able to watch through the lens of the camera and can look around and also hear the (binaural) sounds of the city or villages. It really gives you a feeling that you are walking around yourself, especially since some of the videos have a duration of hours. So it gives you really a chance to sit back and relax while enjoying the surroundings. If you have been to Japan before, you might be able to recognise some places which make it more fun. The backside is that they are not guided tours, since you have to do some guesswork. But the challenge to find out where you are will be hopefully inviting enough to find out more of the location after piecing together the clues and guessing the right location. And if you are bored, you can also choose other locations and go worldwide. Fun games to spend hours with. Both are browser games and are free to use. Start the games up and you will get a full-screen (sometimes in 4K) video of a location in Japan.
Reconstructing Shurijo Castle
In collaboration with Okinawa Prefecture, Google published a special project on its online platform Arts & Culture in regards to Shurijo Castle. On 31 October 2019, Shurijo Castle, a World Heritage Site, got damaged by a fire which damaged a part of Japanese history, especially since it is a representation of Ryukyu culture. While the site will be rebuilt – there are plans to get it to rebuild by 2026 – a digital project has been started that shows photos, (360 º) videos and 3D reconstructed models of the main temple of Shurijo Castle, Seiden Temple.
After collecting 80,000 photos a group of engineers, students and computer vision and VR researchers created a digital reconstruction of Shurijo Castle. Furthermore, you can explore the main hall of the castle and get informed about the situation after the fire of 2019. It is also possible to learn more about the history of Shurijo Castle which is just perfect for history lovers. And if that is not enough for you, you can also click through an exhibition about 9 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Okinawa. Shurijo Castle (also known as Shuri Castle) is a reconstructed former Ryukyu royal palace in Shuri, now a district in Naha, the current capital of Okinawa. In the past Shuri was the capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Originally built in the late 1300s, Shurijo Castle played a very big role in the process of the island’s political unification. In 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, Shurijo Castle was almost completely destroyed.
There are many more virtual tours to enjoy Japan, more will be shared in part 2, 3 and 4 of this virtual travel article series.