Japan has always held a great fascination for people around the world. It has an ancient history and culture, rich in traditions and customs, full of samurais and warriors, invasions and war, geishas and fan dances and finer arts. Japanese food is one of the most popular Asian cuisines, with sushi, tempura and miso. Solemn and silent tea ceremonies exist alongside noisy rickshaws and busy street markets, bullet trains and hybrid cars, anime, manga and Ginza, kimonos and retro-punk, comics and karaoke bars. Travellers can ski its alpine mountains, swim near its seaside villages, as shop in cosmopolitan cities built with cutting-edge technologies. For the younger traveller, Japan is one of the most exciting, interesting and safest countries in the world to visit. There’s so much to explore in this great country, but read on to get the low-down on everything zen…..
Places to see and things to do in Japan
Kyoto is filled with ancient temples and shrines, stunning gardens and royal palaces, and old architecture, once being the capital city of Japan. Visit the Ryoanji Zen Garden, the Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion and the Imperial Palace. To see some old history and culture, visit the National Museum. Take a walk through Old Kyoto to experience a world set back in time, with its wooden houses and narrow alley ways. Dine in one of the restaurants along the Kamo River, or search the Nishiki Markets for every kind of Japanese food imaginable.
If you’d like to see a real-life, modern-day geisha, dance performance or theatre show, Gion Corner is the place to go, with live entertainment on every night. To experience a traditional tea ceremony, buy a handmade tea set, or sample the finest teas, make a trip to Uji, the tea capital, just outside of Kyoto, for the best in Japan.
When you hit Tokyo, the first thing you need to do is check yourself into a capsule hotel. They’re just as cheap as a youth hostel, but you’ll get to experience this bizarre twist in accommodation!
Once you’re settled in, you can get on the must-see tourist trail, and off the beaten track a little more, on a budget, without missing out of the best Tokyo has to offer. Visit the Meiji Shrine, one of Tokyo’s biggest and most famous, and if you walk you can do Shibuya, with all its fashion victims, and Harajuku, with its crazy crossing, all in one afternoon. Shinjuku is the most happening nightlife scene. It’s where it’s all at with its bars, clubs, restaurants, gaming parlours and big neon lights. If you’re feeling brave you can venture into the red light district of Kabukicho, but stick together with friends and don’t let yourselves get trapped in places by streetwise locals preying on tourists. Try Nakajima restaurant in Shinjuku for a $10 meal in a 5-star rated place. Visit the Imperial Palace in Tokyo after a big night out, to recover where it is serene and beautiful, or change the pace and watch a sumo match at the National Sumo Hall.
A Japanese expedition wouldn’t be the same without a trip to the famous Mt. Fuji. Travel 100 kilometres outside of Tokyo to Mt. Fuji, an old volcano and the highest mountain in Japan. All you budding photographers will love the photo ops, and if you happen to plan your trip for late March or early April, you’ll get the added bonus of seeing the cherry blossoms out in all their glory, with a ‘Sakura Matsuri’ (Cherry Blossom) Festival held each year all over Japan.
While you’re in the area, take the plunge, butt-naked, into an ‘Onsen’ or hot spring, which are scattered around the mountain region – there’s another photo opportunity for you and your friends!
Osaka is great for its shopping centres, fashion and nightlife, and is very cosmopolitan. It’s becoming the place to be seen for trend-setters, hipsters and edgy types. Browse some of the latest fashions, accessories and gadgets in the malls and markets, then get dressed up and head downtown to Dotombori for some fun with the locals and tourists in the clubs and karaoke bars at night. This is where you’ll see the big neon signs and all kinds of light shows. Jump on the rides at Japan’s very own Universal Studios, visit the Aquarium, Tempozan Harbour Village and the Floating Garden Observatory.
Niseko is Japan’s premier ski resort, offering some of the best light powders in the world, with huge numbers of adrenaline junkies seeking long, wide runs. It’s great for back country skiing and Niseko has enough slopes and trails to give even the Alps a run for its money! If the snow is what you’re into, then you’ll want to experience a stay here. Although more expensive than your average local ski holiday, you must expect that for a trip of a lifetime that’s well worth it!
Home to Japans most lavishly decorated temples and shrines, Nikko has been at the centre of Shinto and Buddhist worship for many centuries. Take a trek through the Nikko Botanical garden, visit the Tamozawa Imperial Villa, which was once home to numerous imperial families, and of course you have to see the Toshogu Shrine itself, which is the complex renowned for its extravagant decorations made up of 12 different buildings, set in a beautiful forest.