Japan is a country steeped in tradition, yet equally enthralled with the ultra-modern. Whether padding through ancient temples in historic Kyoto, soaking in hot springs in Mount Fuji’s shadow or belting out tunes in a karaoke booth, you’ll find Japan’s idiosyncrasies make it one of the world’s stand out destinations.
Japan’s peerless public transit makes it a breeze to get around. The Shinkansen, or bullet train, is the best way for those short on time to see a lot of cities quickly. Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto all have well–run subway systems, while local train services are fast and efficient.
Japan’s four main islands all offer spectacular destinations, whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned traveller coming back for more.
Tokyo’s sheer scale means it’s possible to spend a week here and barely scratch the surface. The glistening new Tokyo SkyTree delivers stunning views of the city, all the way west to Mount Fuji; the fascinating Tsukiji Fish Market offers a chance to see one of traditional Japan’s greatest sights; while the relentless buzz of Shibuya and Harajuku are not to be missed.
Osaka and Kyoto may be close together, but are a world apart when it comes to culture. Kyoto’s long Shinto and Buddhist histories have blessed it with Japan’s most arresting temples, especially Kiyomizu. Osaka, meanwhile, is Japan’s most modern city, its Dotombori district a riot of brash neon set to the beat from clubs, bars and pachinko parlours.
History buffs should make for Nagoya’s impressive castle, a place where ancient and traditional Japan is brought to life. Further north in Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaido, travellers will find a city obsessed with winter sports, where the snow is relentless from December to March. The cool summers make it a great alternative to the sweltering south too.
Head off the well-trodden path from Tokyo to Kyoto and a different kind of Japan reveals itself. Hakone’s hot springs, or onsen, are just an hour from the capital but offer the chance to while away a few hours having a soak. The beautiful Ise–Shima national park, south of Osaka, is blessed with glassy waters, ideal for kayaking and wild swimming. For Tokyo fanatics who just can’t face leaving, the student area of Kichijoji, home to the ace Studio Ghibli Museum, is the perfect way to check out a new neighbourhood that most tourists simply don’t know about.
Japan is a country that loves to eat. While Tsukiji’s sushi stalls remain a world apart, try some of the less popular tempura stands in this Tokyo institution for something a little different. Osaka, arguably Japan’s foodie capital, is home to the excellent Kuromon market, where you can eat the country’s best Okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) and Takoyaki (octopus-filled dough balls). No trip to Japan is complete without sampling sake. Learn about it and then take a swig at Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum. Japan’s whisky has garnered a reputation as the world’s best, so if you’re still standing, brewer Suntory has a dedicated museum in Osaka that shouldn’t be missed.