The Land of the Rising Sun, a stratovolcanic archipelago of 6,852 islands in the Pacific Ocean, defies the imagination. Few places on the planet provide such an intricate blend of east and west, and fewer blend the past, present and future so seamlessly. From Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, tea ceremonies, sumo tournaments, and beautifully-clad geisha to sleek shopping malls, high-tech gadgetry, delectable cuisine and awe-inspiring scenic wonders, Japan will forever be an enigma.
Offering a unique blend of age-old customs and cutting-edge modernism, this island nation along the Pacific coast of East Asia is as intoxicating as its national drink, sake.
Head to neon-lit capital Tokyo for skyscrapers, state-of-the-art shopping malls, luxury hotels, trendy restaurants, and much more. Savour sashimi and sushi from Tsukiji fish market, see sporting giants complete at a sumo tournament, experience kabuki at the National Theatre, and don’t miss the Imperial Palace and the Sensoji Temple.
For some 2,000 shines and temples that are a legacy of Japan’s imperial past, visit Kyoto. Here you can dine with a geiko (geisha) and maiko (apprentice geisha) in the Gion district, marvel at thousands of orange torii gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, see cherry blossoms at Maruyama Park, and visit both the Golden Pavilion and the Shogun’s residence, Nijo Castle.
To reconnect further with Japan’s past, pay your respects to WWII victims at the Peace Memorial Park and Museum at Hiroshima, explore Osaka Castle in Osaka, relax in the Kenrokuen Garden at Kanazawa, and visit the sacred island of Miyajima to see its giant red ‘floating’ Otorii gate.
Beyond the urban centres, there is much to discover; from Hakone, crowned by the 12,388-foot-high Mount Fuji, to Nikko - a pilgrim town that is home to the sumptuous Tosho-gu shrine. Also impressive is Takayama, where April’s annual Sanno Matsuri is the beloved festival to celebrate the return of spring to a snow-covered town.
Other highlights include taking the bullet train from Tokyo to the ski resort of Hakuba in the Japanese Alps, spotting snow monkeys at Yudanaka, basking in the springtime beauty of cherry blossoms, and experiencing hospitality known as omotenashi at a ryokan - a Japanese-style inn. For beach thrills, hit the southernmost islands of Okinawa for white sands and turquoise waters.
Japan is abundant in unique experiences. From learning the art of the samurai sword, sushi or sumo, to dressing up as a geisha, discovering the world of anime, visiting a sake brewery or trying your hand at calligraphy, there are so many activities to squeeze into your Japan itinerary.