Where else in the world do you get a culture that is still deeply rooted to its traditional culture and customs with genteel Geisha girls, the annual Cherry blossom festival and ancient shrines and temples? Yet is home to a zany youth culture and leads the way globally in electronic games – the Nintendo Game Boy no less – and everything, literally, seems to be dispensed by vending machine.
You must have heard of the capsule hotels. This makes Japan the ultimate in destinations for those after a truly cultural adventure.
Unknown to most, Japan is not just one island but rather an island archipelago that stretches off the coast from China, Russia and Korea. These islands are densely populated and dotted with neon-lit cities. The brightest is Japan’s capital, Tokyo. What a city this is. Its influence is felt the world over, setting fashion, food and architectural trends.
Yet, sitting side by side in this urban jungle are all the things that make Japan so unique. Peek inside buildings and see minimalist interiors. Venture off the beaten track and unearth timber houses and kimono clad woman. Freshly made tofu is still sold door to door and bonsai trees decorate local street corners.
A must whilst in Tokyo is to view the parade of Harajuku fashion. Here you will see Japanese youth dressed up as everything from Hello Kitty to a French Maid and beyond. It is best visited on a Sunday and ironically it is situated right next to the stunningly peaceful Meiji Jingu shrine. This shrine is Tokyo’s most venerable Shinto Shrine and is a perfect display of the refined style of Shinto architecture combining Japanese cypress with green-copper roofs. The sense of calm that pervades is palpable.
The brightest is Japan’s capital, Tokyo. What a city this is. Its influence is felt the world over, setting fashion, food and architectural trends.
Many go to Tokyo for the shopping. The city is defined into distinct shopping areas. Shibuya is a pulsating mass of humanity all eager to purchase something at the birthplace of Japan’s fashion and entertainment trends. The area is home to a lot of Japanese ‘love’ hotels. For luxury brands housed in architecturally cutting edge buildings, head to Ginza and for nightlife venture to Roppongi.
The most traditional of cities in Japan is Kyoto. It is here that your image of Japan will come to life but you will need to peel away the layers of urban life to discover them. With patience you may glimpse traditional Geisha woman fleeting into wooden doorways, courtyards filled with smooth, groomed pebble stones and romantic bamboo groves. It is also in Kyoto that there is the most famous Cherry Blossom Festival. Time your visit to coincide with this and you will be enchanted. It is not hard to get your fill of culture in Kyoto as it has 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than 1600 Buddhist temples and over 400 Shinto shrines.
To escape the hustle and bustle of the cities visit the revered ‘Fuji-San’, more commonly known as Mount Fuji. Its distinctive shape and snow-covered cone has become an iconic symbol of Japan and even better it can be climbed. You just need good shoes and a little bit of stamina. It will make a welcome respite after the energy overdose from Japan’s urban metropolises.
To really get a sense of the best of Japan here is our favourite things to do: forget the price and enjoy a martini at the ‘Lost in Translation Bar’ at the Park Hyatt; shrug of your British prudery and enjoy a traditional Japanese stone bath; delight in the best Sushi you will ever enjoy; and ride the Tokyo subway and the shinkansen, or bullet train. With an average speed of 170 miles per hour it is not the best way to see the countryside but the perfect way to get from city to city and is a lateral experience in itself.