The island nation, home to one of the world’s most technologically advanced societies, where centuries of fascinating culture and traditions still form a part of contemporary everyday life, will delight even the most well-travelled of visitors.
Japan belongs at the top of every travel wish list.
Tokyo and his dizzying contradictions
Japan’s capital is a world of contrasts: gleaming buildings and forests of neon lights, futuristic bullet trains and conveyor belt sushi restaurants, multi-story karaoke complexes and museums of talking robots are side by side with lush parks, incense-filled shrines, old temples, bonsai gardens, and art museums with the quiet hush of Zen monasteries. It’s the kind of city you could never finish exploring.
Its food, glorious food
Japanese cuisine is one of the world’s most sophisticated and delicious . It’s so much more than sushi: each region has its own specialities, from ishikari nabe (salmon stew) from Hokkaido, yudofo (a tofu hot pot dish) from Kyoto and takoyaki (octopus dumplings) from Osaka. Whether you eat exquisitely presented haute cuisine in one of Tokyo’s hundreds of Michelin-starred restaurants or slurp a bowl of umami-rich ramen noodles in a tiny, cramped eatery, your dining experiences will be sublime.
Kyoto’s temples and shrines
Kyoto, Japan’s old imperial capital, is home to more than 2000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, some of which are hundreds of years old. Each one is unique, whether it’s Kiyomizu-dera Temple, where you can experience a rebirth in the dark “womb” cave of a Bodhisattva, or Ryōan-ji, where you can contemplate eternity at the 15th century rock garden.
The Japanese Alps
This series of three mountain ranges on Honshu, Japan’s main island, are just as beautiful as their European counterparts: think rugged snowy peaks, thick forested slopes and gushing ice-blue rivers. A welcome contrast to Japan’s densely populated cities, the Japanese Alps offer a wealth of things to do, from hiking, exploring small mountain villages and relaxing in the many onsen (hot spring baths).
The art of Naoshima
A former sleepy fishing island of just eight square kilometres in Japan’s Inland Sea, Naoshima has been transformed into an international art centre over the past few decades. It’s now home to cutting-edge galleries (some of which are designed by Japan’s top architects) exhibiting works by world’s best modern and contemporary artists. Spread across the island are outdoor art installations to discover, like treasures on an art hunt, such as a yellow spotty pumpkin by avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama on the end of a pier.
The hospitality of ryokans
Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns and totally unlike any hotel you’ve stayed in before. There’s no bathroom in, your room (you bath in private huge bathtubs fed by hot springs instead), spend your time there dressed in a yukata (casual cotton kimono) and slippers, and sleep on futon mats on the floor, which are rolled out each night on tatami mats and rolled away each morning.