Situated off the east coast of the Asian mainland, Japan is a master of modernity and a steward of tradition. Its densely-populated cities ooze culture, creativity and neon-coloured lights, while sacred wildernesses and soaring mountains are flecked with ancient temples. Over the centuries, Japan has marched to its own beat, often isolating itself from western ways. Modern-day Japan, however, has come to reveal its unique character to the world as a global leader in technological, architectural and culinary innovation.
From laid-back Osaka with its eclectic food scene to traditional Kyoto with its lantern-lit cafes and captivating geisha district, this is a country that has something to thrill even the most seasoned traveller. When it comes to the finer things in life, Japan serves up slick design, bullet trains, Michelin-starred restaurants and five-star hotels. Considering its size, this archipelago nation lays claim to an impressive list of accolades. An exceptionally high standard of living means that the Japanese enjoy an advanced educational system and the planet’s highest life expectancy.
A master of modernity and steward of tradition, Japan delights and surprises with neon-lit highstreets, ancient temples and boundless natural beauty.
A surprising 73% of Japan is forested and mountainous, making it unsuitable for agriculture, industry and residential use. As a result, its cities are densely populated. Centrally-located Osaka, known as the ‘kitchen of Japan’, is best explored from the Yodo River, which meanders past the national library and 16th Century Osaka Castle. Nearby Kyoto is a treasure-trove of tradition with UNESCO- listed temples and its charming geisha district, while Tokyo dazzles with trendy high streets, ancient temples and traditional teahouses. Hiroshima, famous for being the first city where the 1945 atomic bomb was dropped during WW2, offers a glimpse into one of history’s darkest chapters, while lesser-known Sendai in the north is the perfect place to learn about Samurai traditions.
Local Food & Culture
The Japanese have seamlessly adapted to globalisation, while maintaining a firm hold on their spirituality and traditions. Intricate tea ceremonies are celebrated throughout the land, some lasting up to four hours, while sushi-making is a celebrated art passed on over many generations. Religion in Japan is dominated by Shinto and Buddhism, both strongly grounded in ritual and tradition and practiced at temples, shrines and spiritual sanctuaries found throughout the country. The intriguing tradition of Geisha dates back to the 7th Century and is today a living heritage. Visitors delight at the sight of these high-society female entertainers dressed in silk garments and revealing perfectly painted faces. Japanese food too is closely linked to its traditions and offers reason enough to visit. From delicious ramen to green-tea ice cream, local cuisine is centred on seasonal and regional produce. Of course every trip to Japan should be accompanied by a glass or two of sake (rice wine).
Unlike many tourist-trodden destinations, large parts of Japan remain undiscovered by the western traveller. Beyond Japan’s densely-packed cities, Mother Nature showcases her best colours. Two thirds of land in Japan is covered by mountains, hills and forests, while its vast coastline boasts hidden coves, dramatic cliffs and snorkelling-friendly reefs. Home to dozens of volcanoes, Japan’s interior is also where the Japanese have mastered the art of spa thanks to an abundance of mineral-rich water springs bubbling up to the earth’s surface. Situated east of Tokyo, iconic Mt. Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain, a must-see attraction and a perfect choice for hiking. National parks and world heritage sites are plentiful in Japan and home to bears, deer, monkeys, cranes and a variety of other wildlife. Perhaps Japan’s most famous natural phenomenon is the spectacular cherry blossom season, which takes place every year between April and May when thousands of cherry blossom trees show off their finest pinks.