West meets east in this fascinating country filled with diverse landscapes, massive cities, incredible traditions and thousands of years of culture waiting to be discovered.
We’re assuming the epic metropolis of Tokyo is on your list (why wouldn’t it be?!), but there’s much more to Japan than its capital. Here’s our pick of 5 other awesome highlights Japan has to offer.
Kyoto is not only a buzzing city (1.5 million people and growing) it’s also the cultural centre of Japan and a brilliant place to get to grips with the fascinating imperial history of the islands. Kyoto actually means ‘capital city’ and it served as one for over a thousand years leaving it chock full of shrines, temples, gardens, palaces and the ancient Geisha district.
If you happen to be in Kyoto in mid July you’ll have a chance to witness the Gion Matsuri parade – a large procession of traditional floats – some of which can weigh up to 12 tonnes – that makes their way through the centre of the city.
STAY IN A RYOKAN
The tradition of staying in bath houses is common all over oriental Asia – and Japan is no exception. Most Ryokan are located outside of the sprawling metropolitan areas in the beautiful Japanese countryside and are often linked to Onsen (natural springs used for bathing). Be aware though – not all the pools are steaming hot – there’s also cold plunge pools and even electrified pools if you’re feeling brave enough!
HIT THE BEACH
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this picture was taken on an isolated, tropical pacific paradise. Well you’d be right! The Yaeyama islands in southern Japan are one of travels best kept secrets – a tropical paradise over a thousand miles from Tokyo which boasts crystal clear waters, white sand beaches and mangrove forests. The islands are a diver’s dream with manta rays and hammerhead sharks a common sight along with underwater ruins and coral reefs.
RIDE THE BULLET TRAIN
It’s difficult to bend your mind to the awesomeness of the Bullet Trains. Their top speed is 200mph, the average ‘delay’ is 36 seconds and they’ve carried over 10 billion passengers since they began running in 1964! If the super-fast timings and smooth ride isn’t enough, you can save a bundle by grabbing a Japan rail pass – a 7 day ordinary pass costs the same as one return ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto.
The oldest castle remaining in Japan – Matsumoto’s black walls have earned it the nick-name the ‘crow castle’. The most beautiful time of year to visit the castle (and Japan in general for that matter) is in spring, when the cherry blossoms are blooming and the castle grounds are transformed into something from a fairy-tale.