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Japan is a land of startling contrasts, a country where ancient customs meld seamlessly with cities so cutting-edge they look like a portal to the future. Known as the “Land of the Rising Sun,” Japan exists in a state of constant transition, reinventing its culture in new ways while still maintaining a solid core of tradition that carries through the generations. Go clubbing in Tokyo or take a quiet stroll through the Kyoto Gardens … wherever you go in Japan, magic awaits.Help Me Plan My Trip
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While Japan is one country, in a sense it is many worlds, each microcosm intersecting to form a bustling, vibrant, and breathtaking whole.
For those in love with nightlife and fashion, a trip to the modern cities of Tokyo and Osaka is a must. Here you can behold spectacular architecture that defies all conventions and fashion which sets new trends. The neon glow which lines the city streets infuses them with every color of the rainbow, adding to the futuristic vibe.
Also not to be missed are Japan’s extraordinary gardens. The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto is one of the most atmospheric places you will ever walk, and Maruyama-kōen Park in Southern Higashiyama is a spectacular place to take in the beauty of the cherry blossoms. Be sure to bring your camera!
On a spiritual journey? Be sure to visit one of Kyoto’s most popular temples, Kiyomizu-dera, also in Southern Higashiyama. Its construction dates back to 798, and today it is still one of the country’s most important religious sites. It also offers an amazing view of the surrounding countryside.
Be sure to visit Japan’s extraordinary castles too, like the dramatic Himeji-jō in Himeji. Surrounded by cherry blossoms, this soaring structure is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is one of the best preserved castles of its type.
You Can’t See It All In Just One Trip
It would be easy to spend a month or even a year in Japan without managing to see everything that excites you. Once you journey to the Land of the Rising Sun, you will be eager to return to see all that you missed on your first trip. And since Japan is evolving and changing so rapidly, you will always have something new to see, even in locations you have already explored.
The source of Japan’s striking contrasts is of course its people. You will find many seeming contradictions interlaced within Japan’s rich culture. This is a society which is very homogenous and which places a higher value on the collective than the individual—yet it is also a land where counterculture thrives, sparking global trends.
Most of Japan’s population is focused in its dense urban areas. According to data from the 1995 census, an astonishing 65% of the country’s population inhabits just 3% of the total land area.
Japan suffered staggering losses during World War II, but received western aid with reconstruction during the subsequent years. Capitalizing on those resources, the country strode boldly into the future, and now is positioned at the cutting edge when it comes to both business and technology. Many families living in Japan’s urban centers have a high amount of disposable income—one of the reasons why youth culture and fashion thrive even in a homogenous society.
In terms of the arts, Japan actually boasts the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji. Today, Japan’s literary scene continues to thrive, as do visual arts like manga and anime. Japan is also famous for traditional arts such as ikebana (flower arranging) and music played on instruments such as the koto.
When to Go on a Japan Vacation
When is the perfect time to visit Japan? Anytime! No matter what season you choose for your visit, you will have an amazing experience. In springtime of course there are the cherry blossoms, while in summer you can enjoy festivals and outdoor activities. Fall foliage is incredible, and winter is the ideal time to pamper yourself in the onsen (hot springs).
What to Do
Tōdai-ji – This Buddhist temple in Nara contains the Daibutsu (Great Bhuddha) statue. First cast clear back in 746, it is among the largest bronze statues in existence. The modern statue was recast during the Edo period. 130 kg of gold and 437 tons of bronze went into its construction. The temple itself features gorgeous architecture and lovely grounds.
Kiyomizu-dera – This Buddhist temple in the hills over the Kyoto basin is an ancient and celebrated spiritual destination. Drink from the blessed Otowa-no-taki waterfall, or simply pray or meditate. Also be sure to shop for souvenirs in the shops which line Chawan-zaka, the avenue leading up to the temple.
Himeji-jō – Known as the “White Egret Castle,” Himeji-jō looks stately and elegant—but don’t let that fool you into thinking there is anything delicate about this beautiful structure. It was built for defense and is fortified by moats and notched windows for archers and marksmen.
Tokyo – An experience in itself, this bustling city features an ever-changing landscape of markets, restaurants, rooftop bars, clubs, and shopping districts, all well worth exploring.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – This dense bamboo forest is an extraordinary place to visit. The stalks grow so close together that they filter the light, giving it an otherworldly green hue. Try as you might though, this is a magical spot you’ll have a hard time capturing with any camera other than the one in your memory.
There isn’t enough that can be said about Japan’s amazing shopping districts. If you’re a fashion aficionado, head to Harajuku or Shibuya for youth fashion, or hit Ginza for affluent designer brands. You’ll also find two huge underground malls to explore in Shinjuku, and you can visit the man-made island of Odaiba for even more incredible shopping opportunities.
Accommodations in Japan are on the whole expensive wherever you go. That said, it is well worth it to budget some extra money for top-notch accommodations, especially if you can manage to sleep in an inn which features traditional décor and furnishings. Feeling adventurous? Stay in a tiny capsule hotel room in Tokyo.
Japan is famous for its traditional cuisine, collectively known as Washoku and recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. While Japanese food is now popular around the globe, you haven’t really had the authentic experience until you’ve eaten it in Japan.
Sushi – Japan’s most famous food is sushi, which is raw fish served on sticky rice with seaweed.
Onigiri – These rice balls contain a tasty filling like smoked tuna, salmon, kelp, or roe.
Noodles – Many delicious varieties of noodles are served in Japan, including soba, udon, and ramen.
Yakitori – This is a form of skewered meat served as a street food.
Katsudon – This is a rice bowl dish with egg, veggies and deep-fried pork.
Sukiyaki – You get to cook this dish at the table yourself. You’ll not soon forget the delicious taste of thin slices of beef served with veggies and raw egg.
Rice snacks – These also can be purchased internationally, but are often westernized for sale around the world. Now is your chance to try the real thing.