Japan is a land of contrast from the
elegant formality of the Japanese tea ceremony to
Karaoke bars, from the tranquility of perfectly racked
gravel in a Japanese garden to the thrill of deep
powder skiing. Japan offers so many unique experiences.
Located in the Pacific Ocean, the Sea
of Japan separates the archipelago from the east
coast of Asia.
Japan has four main islands which
are surrounded by more than 4,000 smaller islands.
The main four islands are:
Hokkaido (northern island)
83,000 square kilometres
Honshu (main island)
231,000 square kilometres
19,000 square kilometres
Kyushu (southern island)
42,000 square kilometres
Japan has 47 prefectures and the country
can be divided into 9 tourist areas:
Places to See
Hokkaido is blessed with a rich variety of natural landscapes, from forests
inhabited by wild animals to wetlands, steep mountains and much more.
It is becoming well known internationally
with skiers and snow boarders for its perfect powder
snow. A wide range of other activities are also on
offer including relaxing in hot springs, mountain
biking on the mountains in summer, hiking, fishing,
white water rafting and enjoying wonderful fresh
local cuisine. Read
Tokyo is a high energy city. The capital of Japan it is a splendid place to
experience traditional culture mixed with the vibes of modern day Japan.
Shopping is a unique experience from the multi story electronics shops in
the Shinjuku district to the pet clothing stores where you can buy your best
friend (the 4 legged ones that is) a super hero outfit or a something for
every day strolling out on a walk. Museums, a terrific sub way system and
historical architecture make this city a must see.
Kyoto, has hundreds of temples and traditional gardens. It was the capital
between 794 and 1868, and remains the cultural hub of Japan.
On a very clear day Mt Fuji, Japan's highest mountain (3776m/12,385ft) can
be viewed from Tokyo 100 kms away. Mt Fuji is a perfectly symmetrical volcanic
cone which last blew its top in 1707. The climbing season is in July and
August, and is very popular with the Japanese.
Food and Wine
Eating in Japan is an experience!
Japanese cuisine is one of simplicity.
It has evolved from a singular ideology and has borrowed
little from the outside world. It epitomizes perfection
in its preparation, cooking and presentation.
The pure natural taste of the freshest
ingredients is paramount to the Japanese.
Once only known in western countries
for its sushi, tempura or sukiyaki it is so much
more. The traditional regional dishes vary widely
across the country and although some may be a little
bizarre to western tastes others are extraordinarily
Throughout Japan there are many small
specialist restaurants serving just a few dishes
such as sushi, sashimi or tempura.
Among the types of dishes found in
Japan are :
It's possible to eat relatively cheaply especially
outside of the major cities. If you are on a budget
stick to the shokudo eateries, or eat bentos (boxed
lunches) or teishoku (set meals) from cheaper restaurants
or cafeteria-style places.
- Sukiyaki is prepared right at the
table by cooking thinly sliced beef together with
a variety vegetables, tofu and vermicelli.
- Tempura is food that is coated
in an air-light batter quickly deep-fried. It is
served with a dipping sauce of soy flavoured with
ginger and white radish. Among the ingredients
used are prawns, fish and vegetables.
- Sushi is small pieces of raw seafood
placed on vinegared rice. The most common ingredients
are tuna, squid and prawn. Cucumber, pickled radish
and sweet egg omelet are also served.
- Sashimi is sliced raw fish eaten
with soy sauce.
- Yakitori is made up of small pieces
of chicken meat, liver and vegetables skewered
on a bamboo stick and grilled over hot coals. These
are often sold by street vendors and are a traditional
Japanese "fast food".
- Shabu-shabu is tender, thin slices
of beef held by chopsticks and swished in a pot
of boiling water, then dipped in a sauce before
- Soba and Udon noodles are
two varieties of Japanese noodle. Soba is made
from buckwheat flour and Udon from wheat flour.
They are served either in a broth or dipped in
a sauce, and are available in numerous variations.
Drinking is very popular in Japan.
Beer is the favourite drink of the Japanese and it's
dispensed everywhere including from street vending
machines. Sake (rice wine) is served hot or cold.
Japanese green tea is also readily available at restaurants
and it is very popular.
Japan is the land of festivals. They
seem to be able to find any excuse for a festival.
Every city, town and village in Japan has at least
one matsuri (festival) a year. Snow festivals, fire
festivals, fertility festivals - you name it, they
Matsuri have their origins in ancient
Shinto rituals and beliefs. Important elements include
purification, offerings to the gods - such as rice,
sake or fruit - and contests or games held on the
day. Most community matsuri have omikoshi, or portable
shrines which are carried from house to house or
shop to shop to bestow good fortune on all.
Some of the more famous festivals include:
Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri)
- early February. The festival is a major international
tourist attractions. The highlight of the festival
is the giant and elaborate snow and ice sculptures.
Kamakura Festival - February 15-16th.
In Yokote City, Akita Prefecture, children build
kamakura - small igloos with an altar to the Shinto
Sanja Festival - May. About 100 omikoshi
are paraded through the streets around Asakusa
Shrine in Tokyo. There are also many other costumed
Gion Festival - July. This is the
most significant festival in Japan. The most famous
Gion Matsuri is the one sponsored by the Yasaka
Shrine in Kyoto. There is a parade of giant wheeled
floats called hoko or spears. These represent 66
tall spears erected in 869 in Kyoto as part of
a ritual to protect the city from an epidemic.
Aomori Nebuta Festival - August.
Giant floats are paraded through the city of Aomori
in the evening with musical accompaniment. On top
of the floats are colourful, illuminated papier-mache
nebuta, figures of warriors, kabuki actors or other
famous people. On the last night, the nebuta are
cast out to sea.
Awa Dance (Awa Odori) - August. In
the city of Tokushima, groups of dancers follow
a route along the main streets doing a variation
on the Bon Odori.
Art and Culture
If traditional culture is your style,
then visits to cities like Kyoto and Nara are a must.
Filled with temples and shrines and the perfect palace
to experience kabuki, and a tea ceremony. There are
museums across the country with artifacts from across
Until the 19th century, the main influences
on Japanese art came from China and Korea. The Edo
period is probably one of the most famous in Japanese
art recognized for the stylised wood block prints.
The two famous traditional Japanese
performances are kabuki (melodramatic theatre) and
no (formal, masked theatre), both can be experienced
in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Cartoons and comics are extremely popular
with Japanese youth. Numerous cartoons are shown
every day on TV along with bizarre game shows which
often involve various tortures inflicted on the contestants.
Japan features coastlines with varied
scenery, towering mountains, and steep valleys. Many
of the mountains are volcanic, blessing the islands
with numerous hot springs and spectacular scenery.
Japan also has the distinction of
being one of the most seismically active regions
of the world. Japan gets around 1000 earthquakes
a year, most of them too small for the locals to
notice without seismic equipment. This activity brings
the danger of earthquakes and tsunami.
About 73% of the country is mountainous,
with a chain running through each of the main islands:
the highest mountain is Mount Fuji at a height of
3,776 m (12,388 feet). Flat land is limited in Japan
and consequently many of the mountain sides have
been cultivates all the way to the summits.
Mt Fuji straddles Shizuoka and Yamanashi
prefectures in central Japan just west of Tokyo.
A sacred mountain since ancient times, Mt. Fuji's
summit was forbidden to women until the Meiji Era.
Now it is a popular tourist destination and common
destination for mountain-climbing.
Mt. Fuji is frequent subject of Japanese
art. The most renowned work is Ukiyo-e painter Hokusai's
masterpiece 36 views of Mt. Fuji.
Much of the flora and fauna found in
Japan is imported, however, the inaccessibility of
much of Japan's mountainous areas has preserved areas
of great natural beauty especially the alpine regions
of Honshu and Hokkaido. Japan's largest mammal is
a brown bear (found in Hokkaido) they mainly eat
grass and nuts. Their diet also includes fish and
ants, making them omnivorous rather than carnivorous.
Other animals unique to Japan include the giant salamander,
the Iriomote wildcat, found in the Okinawa island
group, and it is classified as a 'living fossil'.
Japan is a temperate region with four
distinct seasons. Due to its length from north to
south the climate varies greatly from region to region:
the far north is very cold in the winter, while the
far south is subtropical. The climate is also affected
by the seasonal winds blown from the continent to
the ocean in winters and vice versa in summers.
Japan can be broken into 6 different
Hokkaido: has a temperate climate
with long, cold winters and cool summers. Precipitation
is not heavy, but the islands develop deep snowbanks
in the winter.
Sea of Japan: The northwest wind
in the wintertime brings heavy snowfall. In summers,
the region is cooler than the Pacific area, but
it can experience extremely hot temperatures due
to the Foehn wind phenomenon.
Central Highlands: A typical inland
climate, with large temperature differences between
summers and winters and between days and nights.
Precipitation is light.
Seto Inland Sea: The mountains of
the Chugoku and Shikoku regions block the seasonal
winds, bringing mild weather throughout the year.
Pacific Ocean: Experiences cold
winters with little snowfall and hot, humid summers
due to the southeast wind.
Southwest Islands: Has a subtropical
climate with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation
is very heavy, especially during the rainy season.
Typhoons are common.
Winter (December - February)
The temperature rarely drops below 0°C in the plains along the Pacific
coast during wintertime. It is also quite dry and very often sunny. Central
Japan and Northern Japan are well known for their winter sports whilst southern
Japan is comparatively mild and pleasant in winter.
Spring (March - May)
Spring is probably the most celebrated seasons with numerous festivals celebrating
the cherry blossoms. It is the holiday season for the Japanese so many popular
tourist destinations are very busy with domestic tourists. Splendid views
of mountains, fields and gardens all blanketed in gentle pink abound in this
Summer (June - August)
The Japanese summer begins in June with a three to four week rainy season in
most parts except Hokkaido. It becomes hot and humid from July onward and
many Japanese enjoy bathing in the sea and relaxing at cool resorts in mountainous
Autumn (September - November)
Autumn brings freshness with a light breeze and cool temperature after the
hot and humid summer. Autumn leaves provide brilliant colour across the country.
It is a great time to travel the temperatures are pleasant, and the autumn
colours in the countryside are fantastic.
Average temperatures in major cities:
Japan offers both western-style and
Japanese accommodation to the traveler. The types
of accommodation vary widely in terms of style and
price. You can choose to stay in the familiar comforts
of a western-style hotel, or enjoy the comfort and
personal attention of a traditional Japanese inn
Tipping is not customary except at
top luxury ryokan, where a guest will tip a maid
when she first serves tea in the room.
Getting to Japan
The majority of people arriving in
Japan fly via Tokyo, there are several other ways
of getting to and from Japan. There are numerous
other international airports in Japan, and depending
on where you are planning to go one of these may
be a better option. As well as Tokyo's Narita airport
there is Kansai in Osaka and Chitose in Hokkaido
It is also possible to arrive in Japan
by sea from a number of nearby countries, including
Flying is an efficient way to travel from the main islands to any of the small
islands, and is often not much more expensive than going by rail.
Train is the most popular way to travel
in Japan. The trains are on time, (except during
very heavy snow storms in Hokkaido but that is a
whole other story) fast, clean and comfortable. (but
take a snack if traveling from Kutchan to Sapporo
during a snow storm as after 11 hours on a journey
that should take 2 you may be a little hungry). The
subway in tokyo is extremely efficient and in most
stations the ticket machines are in English and Japanese.
Maps on the wall display the ticket prices, and if
in doubt ask. As they say in Japan
Services range from small local lines
to the shinkansen, or 'bullet trains', which have
become a symbol of modern Japan. The Shinkansen can
reach speeds of up to 300km/h.
If you are planning to travel by train
be sure to purchase a Japan Rail Pass. these passes
must be purchased before you arrive in Japan. They
offer great value for money.
Intercity buses are generally slower
than trains, but they are markedly cheaper.
Driving in Japan is not quite as scary
as often made out to be. The major roads are clearly
sign posted in both Japanese and English. Don't forget
traffic travels on the left in Japan.
Ferries connect Kyushu, Shikoku and
the southern coast of western Honshu, across the
waters of the Inland Sea. Ferries also connect the
mainland islands with the many smaller islands off
the coast and those dotted down to Okinawa and beyond
to Taiwan. This can be a very economical and easy
way to travel between islands.
Almost every Japanese city will have
a bus service. they are usually not difficult to
use so long as you know where you are going to. Tell
the driver your destination and thy will tell you
how much to put in the coin operated box to get a
For more information about Japan visit
the National Japanese Tourism Bureau web site http://www.jnto.go.jp
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