Japan is a world away from anywhere else you will ever visit – when it comes to the contrast between traditional and modern, nowhere else comes close to this eccentric, fascinating nation.
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Japan offers so much to explore, from the ancient shrines and temples of Kyoto to the noise, bustle and mouth-watering cuisine of the world’s biggest city, Tokyo. Away from the cities, Japan’s landscape is breathtaking, whether you’re hiking in stunning mountains and forests or exploring beautiful coral reefs; it’s a country that captures your imagination and where anything seems possible.
Whilst Japanese culture can seem beautiful, baffling and at times downright odd, the locals have a fierce sense of national identity and tradition, and will always offer visitors a warm and friendly welcome.
Food and drink
Japanese cuisine is a perfectly good reason to visit on its own – the quality is fabulous everywhere, from the fanciest restaurant in Tokyo to a noodle bar at a rural railway station.
Ingredients and presentation are paramount – there are no short cuts to great flavour, and pleasing the eye with artful arrangements is very much the Japanese way. There’s plenty more to Japan than sushi and teppanyaki, however, with regional specialities to explore all over the country.
It’s very likely that you won’t know what you’re eating a lot of the time, but get stuck in with chopsticks and vigour anyway – eating out in Japan is the ultimate culinary adventure.
Shopping is an integral part of Japanese culture, whether it’s exploring the huge department stores, fashion stores or flea markets in Tokyo, buying electronic gadgets in Osaka or browsing for handmade Japanese crafts in Kyoto.
No country offers a more wonderful range of souvenirs to take home, from beautiful lacquered bowls and chopsticks to the latest Hello Kitty merchandise.
Everything you buy will be beautifully wrapped and presented to you like you’re the only customer of the day, which makes for an absorbing shopping experience.
Make sure you have plenty of cash, however – many stores don’t take credit cards, particularly if they’re issued abroad.
Japanese culture is so delightfully different from anywhere else, with a world of rituals that may seem odd to visitors, but should definitely be experienced. Even the simplest traditions like sitting on a tatami mat to eat takes a little getting used to, let alone the Japanese enthusiasm for communal bathing.
But it’s all part of what makes Japan wonderful – the people are meticulous and careful, which is reflected in everything from the nation’s beautiful art, architecture and ritual tea ceremonies, to their super-efficient train network.
Japan’s modern passion for music, design and fashion has created a vibrant and quirky youth culture that strives for individualism, creating a fascinating blend of old and new that’s in evidence all over Japan.
It would be a shame to visit Japan without using its public transport – it’s the best in the world, offering comfort, speed and meticulous timing.
A ride on the famous Shinkansen bullet train is an experience in itself, and a great way to travel between Japan’s major cities. Buses will take you wherever trains won’t, particularly to the mountainous areas or more remote regions.
If you’d rather travel on your own steam, you can easily hire a car and drive yourself, or you can take to two wheels - cycling is a wonderful way to explore Japan, particularly on the rural back roads away from the big cities.
Things to watch out for
Drug laws in Japan are much stricter than many Western countries – the Japanese make no distinction between hard and soft drugs, so possession of any kind can land you in prison for several years. Even if you have a prescription from your home country it doesn’t mean can take it to Japan, so check before you travel.