Japan - a destination focus
The land of the rising sun - Japan is a unique destination blending ancient and new worlds.
Japan has it all. If you have an interest in history, cutting-edge technology, cuisine, ancient or contemporary architecture, nature, shopping, unique cultural pursuits - you name it, Japan has it all. From vibrant metropolises to rural retreats, from tropical beaches to lofty mountain peaks, from world-class hotels to traditional Japanese inns, Japan offers a wide range of destinations and diversions that appeal to both the novice and seasoned traveller.
A Natural beauty all its own
The thrill of seeing Mt. Fuji fore the first time with its perfect, cone-shaped symmetry rising majestically against a blue sky is no doubt one of the most sought after experiences. Japan is famous for its shimmering cherry blossoms in the spring, so ethereal it is heaven on earth, but equally stunning are its irises, wisteria, hydrangea, and many other blossoming plants and trees, not to mention its maple which blaze a fiery red across the country in autumn. Mountains beckon with hiking trails in summer and top-rated skiing in winter.
→ Did you know Japan has hosted the winter Olympics twice?
Japan's hot springs (Onsen in local language) are among the most numerous and varied in the world. Japan has mastered the art of these healing mineral waters for more than 1,000 years.
Treasures of the Past
Japan's history is evident at every turn, whether it is a venerable Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine, a museum housing Samurai swords or intricately detailed ceramics, or one of Japan's many festivals with its profusion of costumes, ancient rituals, and throngs of joyous crowds. Feudal-era castles still rise from their massive stone foundations, while Japan's exquisite gardens, many of them former noble-class retreats, are visible commentaries of what nature can achieve under generations of skilled master gardeners.
Experiencing the Culture of Centuries past
Two of Japan's most famous forms of entertainment, Sumo wrestling and Kabuki, are like time capsules from the country's past, so little have they changed over the centuries. Other cultural pursuits with strong historic ties include the country's unique forms of flower arrangement and the tea ceremony. But for visitors, nothing conveys Japan's past better than the country's many traditional inns, renowned for their impeccable service, regional cuisine, and refined beauty.
Needless to say, Japan is also a modern country in every sense of the word, from its super-efficient Shinkansen bullet trains to tis cloud-tickling skyscrapers, many of them housing sleek, world-class hotels with unparalleled service and astonishing views. Department stores are like microcosms of Japan itself, with everything from vast food emporiums and fashions by the world's leading traditional crafts. Indeed, Japan is a shopper's delight, whether it is at artisan shops that have been passed down from generation to generation or stores selling the latest in technical gadetry.
Foodies and lovers of fine cuisine will revel in Japan's varied styles of cooking, from tempura, sushi, and teppanyaki to the feast of all feasts, kaiseki (a multi-course meal embodying the height of Japanese hospitality). What is more, each region of Japan has its own local specialties, which can range from seasonal mountain vegetables and other delicacies to locally caught seafood. Gourmets seeking cuisines from other countries will find many options in Japan as well, whether it is a tony French restaurant or one offering delectable Indian curries. And remember tipping (giving gratuities) is considered rude in all situations including restaurants and bars in Japan.
One of Japan's most compelling attributes is its people, who are legendary for their honesty and kindness to visitors. Virtually all visitors to Japan have stories of individuals who went out of their way to help, whether it is someone who walked blocks out of their way to deliver lost tourists to their destination or a diner who took it upon themself to translate a Japanese menu. Visitors can expect everyone from store clerks to taxi drivers to waiters to be honest, trustworthy, and hospitable. Just remember you are required to carry your passport at all times while visiting Japan.
Located in the Far East, Japan is an archipelago of more than 6,800 islands stretching about 2,900 kilometers from northeast to southwest. Its latitudinal range is the same as Quebec all the way to Key West, Florida. Its land mass is slightly smaller than the state of California or Sweden, with almost 75% of the land consisting of mountains.
Among the major islands are Honshu (the mainland), Hokkaido (Sapporo), Shikoku, Kyushu (Nagasaki/Fukuoka), and Okinawa. Honshu, the largest and most populated, is home to Tokyo (13.5 Million residents and currently the most populated city in the world), Kyoto and other major cities. This island is subdivided into five geographical regions: Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, and Chugoku. Hokkaido, in the north, is subarctic and boasts spectacular mountain scenery and wide open plains with Sapporo city as the main hub for this island. To the south of Honshu is the southern island of Kyushu. This island is subtropical and is famous for its balmy weather, beaches and hot-spring resorts with Nagasaki and Fukuoka as the primary hubs. Shikoku, connected to the main island, Honshu, via three bridges yet off the beaten path for most foreign tourists, is know for its many Buddhist temples and views of the Seto Inland Sea. Okinawa, Japan's Hawaii, boasts nine World Heritage Sites, a strong crafts tradition in ceramics and textiles, a lively contemporary music scene, breathtaking empty beaches and old world market places.
Japan has many choices of accommodation from Western style hotels like the Marriott hotel brands to Japanese brands like JR, and independent properties. Majority will have English speaking team members, western style beds, toilets, bath/shower.
Ryokan - A Ryokan embodies the very essence of Japan and should be the accommodation of choice if you are wanting to experience the uniqueness of Japan - the architecture, lifestyle, nature, traditions and culture. Staying at a Japanese Ryokan offers the opportunity to enjoy the spirit of Japanese hospitality and graceful customs that have been passed down over many generations.
Most Ryokan have a beautifully-designed communal bath, which is for separate sex bathing. Most have an in-room bath as well. In addition, many Ryokan also have an open air bath, called rotenburo, and guest rooms with a private open-air bath attached. The room charge will include two meals, invariably an evening feast of delicious, locally found ingredients, and breakfast. Ryokan males are generally served by the maid in the guest room. After the evening meal, the maid will return and clear your table and then lay out your futon (sleeping bed). The typical lounging wear of a Ryokan, a cotton robe called yukata, is also provided.
Minshuku - for those looking to economize and wish to experience affordable Japanese-style lodging, a Minshuku is a great way to go. Small, family-run guest houses located primarily in tourist resorts and the countryside, they offer the chance to sleep Japanese-style on futon mattresses spread on the floor, and many provide breakfast and dinner as well, including local cuisine, usually served in a communal diving room. Note that most do not have rooms with private bathroom but rather public, shared bathrooms. Since Minshuku (Japanese version of a B&B) cater largely to Japanese travellers, they are often great places to meet the locals.
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