Hi-tech yet traditional, vibrant and classic, Japan is filled with a timeless acceptance that allows uber-modern life to fuse seamlessly with its ancient traditions. In Japan, a unique world has been created, in which paddy fields and neon signs, high-end fashion boutiques and exquisite gardens reside in harmony, neither looking out of place, yet each effortlessly grabbing your attention.
Compared to many countries, Japan was a latecomer to the Industrial Revolution, but what it lacked in time, it made up for in pace. For decades, Japan was the most aggressive Asian country and after its defeat in WWII, it promptly got back to its feet to regain its power - this time in the economic world. Undeterred by a ten-year recession in the 1990s, Japan once again reinvented itself; this time as a leader in pop culture, with manga and anime taking the world by storm. Japanese fashion and culture may be quirky, to say the least, but most childhood (and some adult) crazes over the past three decades are rooted in Japan. So, take a break from reality and take a trip to Japan, where you will discover a world whose natural beauty matches its vast imagination.
If you are looking for direct flights to Japan, you have a number of international airports to choose from, including Haneda and Narita International Airports, both situated in Tokyo, Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Fukuoka Airport in Fukuoka and New Chitose Airport in Sapporo.
Japan experiences distinct seasons, each of which offers a unique experience. Snowy winters in the north of Japan are brightened by festivals and events, while the summer can be hot and humid. For those wanting to hike through the mountains and national parks, summer is an idea time to visit, with the altitude providing an escape from the humid climate. Spring sees the country unfurl from its winter slumber with an explosion of vibrant colours and autumn is equally vibrant in rich reds and oranges. If you are looking for cheap flights to Japan, book the shoulder months of May or October, when you will gain full advantage of the incredible colours and life, without the oppressive heat or extreme cold of the summer and winter months.
Japan has a fascinating history that is just waiting to be discovered. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than a thousand years; it is here that you can glimpse the country’s rich history. Visit Kinkakuji, the former retirement villa of the shogun, turned Buddhist temple. The gilded building presides serenely on the bank of a pond, casting its iconic golden reflection onto the water’s surface. Kyoto is home to around 2,000 temples and shrines, 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and numerous gardens; so, take a step back in time and enjoy the tranquil beauty of the Japan of yesteryear.
In 1868, Tokyo became the capital of Japan, and it remains so today. The economic power house is not contrived to appeal to tourists, but it does so anyway; its lack of deliberate tourist attractions somehow add to its appeal. The Sensoji temple is Tokyo’s primary tourist attraction, but as you head out of the centre, you will discover the relatively unchanged façade of Tokyo’s pre-war entertainment district. On Rokku Broadway you will find traditional theatres performing storytelling and the obligatory slapstick comedy. If you venture to the Hanayashiki Amusement Park, you will step back 70 years, with retro rides that will take you on a not-so white-knuckle ride back in time./p>
With its reputation of power and modernity, it is easy to forget that Japan boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. A slender archipelago, made up of two-thirds mountains, Japan offers the best of both worlds: fantastic skiing in the winter and swimming, surfing or diving off tropical beaches in the summer. Whether you fancy hiking through mountains or snorkelling on the south coast, Japan’s stunning scenery is a welcome relief from the crowded cities.
Bathingin hot springs has been a part of Japanese life for over 1,000 years. There are plenty of hot springs with public bathing and inns (ryokan) throughout Japan; these mini complexes are known as onsens and vary from traditional and basic, to luxurious – prices vary accordingly, but a dip in a hot spring is definitely worth putting on your itinerary.
From Kamikochi in the Northern Alps, tourists are spoilt for choice with hiking routes. If you want a brief insight into the staggering beauty of the region, you can opt for a gentle day trip, but serious hikers can choose challenging routes that can take a week or longer to complete. If you are planning a trip to Japan’s Northern Alps, try to go in autumn, when there are fewer crowds, so that you can experience the breath-taking peaks and vast forests in relatively peace. If you visit Japan in the summer, all is not lost: try to plan your hike on a weekday, as summer weekends tend to see the trails overrun with weekend hikers.
Japan’s countryside is packed with opportunities all year around: in winter you can ski, climb and snowboard, while in summer you can go mountain biking, kayaking or white-water rafting followed, of course, by a soak in a hot spring.
Japanese cuisine has so much more to offer than sushi and sake, but it’s a good start! Japanese food varies across regions, but it is always seasonal, fresh and healthy. Rice features heavily in the Japanese diet, and has been the country’s staple for more than 2,000 years. There are a few dishes which simply must be sampled on your trip to Japan and, not surprisingly, sushi is near the top. Essentially, sushi is raw, incredibly fresh fish which is served on, or in, rice seasoned with vinegar. There are plenty of varieties of sushi which are prepared with the typical Japanese precision and aesthetic awareness, making it look as good as it tastes.
Noodles may have been borrowed from China, but the Japanese have made them unmistakably their own. Ramen noodles are a favourite – egg noodles in a delicious, light broths, either miso, soy, salt or tonkotsu (pork bone) – as are soba noodles, yakitori (chargrilled chicken), and Japan’s contribution to the world of deep-fried food, tempura. Due to the seasonal nature of Japan’s cooking, what you find on the menu will vary according to the time of year, but every morsel tastes even more delicious when washed down with a sip of sake or an ice-cold Japanese beer.
Don’t dismiss Japan as yet another futuristic country with nothing but smog and cities to see. There is so much beyond the technology, bright lights and quirky cartoons. So, take a leap of faith and enjoy some of the most beautiful, unspoilt scenery in the world on your trip to Japan.
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