Japan is a country that is steeped in culture and history. The scenery will take your breath away as you are faced with towering mountains contrasting against volcanic valleys, large crowded cities and small traditional villages.
Japan is made up for four major islands, Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, though there are more than 4000 smaller islands surrounding these. No matter what time of year you are planning to visit, you will find an abundance of activity, from some of the world’s best skiing in winter, to outdoors adventures like rafting and mountain biking in the warmer months.
There are more than 126 million people living in Japan, with the capital Tokyo home to around 12 million. Yokohama is second most populated, followed by Osaka.
Things to see and do
Tokyo is one of the most intriguing cities in the world. With a population of around 12 million people, the streets are congested and the air is thick, but the beauty that lies beyond this is astounding.
The busiest areas for tourists are the more modern Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Roppongi, and Odaiba precincts within the city and you will find an array of art museums and galleries, shopping and food. If you’re big on technology, Akihabara “Electric Town” is the place to go and if you only choose to go to one museum on your trip, a visit to Tokyo National Museum is a must. Here you will find the world's largest and finest collection of Japanese art, including, Buddhist sculptures, ancient pottery, samurai swords and kimonos, among many other things.
Tokyo’s old east side is bursting with history and includes the Hanayashiki Amusement Park, where you will find Japan’s first ever rollercoaster among other retro rides. Take a walk through the streets and you can also see the historic theatres of Rokku Broadway, Tokyo's last original tram line and much more.
Yokohama is the second most populated city in Japan and located just 20 minutes from Tokyo, it is one of the country’s most popular and easily accessible tourist destinations. Yokohama’s port was one of the first in Japan to be opened for trade back in 1859, which quickly saw the small fishing village become a metropolis.
Yokohama is home to one of the world’s biggest Chinatowns, dating back to the Opening of Japan in 1859. Tourists love to visit, eat and shop here, and you can also visit Yokohama Kanteibyo (Guan Gong Temple) - one of the oldest temples in Chinatown founded in 1862; and the much newer Mazu Miao Temple, built in 2006.
Minato Mirai 21 is the Central Business District of Yokohama city and is home to the Landmark Tower, Japan's tallest skyscraper, which stands at 972 feet high; the world's third largest Ferris wheel the Cosmo Clock and the Grand Inter-Continental Hotel.
If you love shopping, head to the Red Brick Warehouse - a historic dockside warehouse which has been restored and renovated to become a major shopping centre.
And if getting back to nature is your thing, there are plenty of parks and gardens around the city, but you will also not want to miss a visit to Zoorasia - one of Japan's newest, largest and best kept zoos; and Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, an amusement park which also has an aquarium.
Osaka is Japan’s third largest city and was once known as Naniwa, the first known capital city of Japan. Located in the Kansai region on the main island of Honshu, it is a major industrial, port and economic centre and its history dates back many hundreds of years and in the 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi chose Osaka as the location for his castle.
The city is surrounded on three sides by mountains, with the beautiful the arc-shaped Osaka Bay on the other side.
Osaka is extremely popular for tourism, particularly as it is home to Universal Studios theme park, as well as the Osaka Castle and grounds, Umeda Underground Mall and the city's most famous entertainment district of Namba, which are major attractions.
If you want to learn more about the history of the region and see some of its most ancient sites, visit the Osaka Museum of History, Sumiyoshi Shrine (dating back 1800 years) and Shitennōji Temple, which was originally built by Emperor Suiko in 593 AD. And if you’re there in March, don’t miss the Sumo Spring Grand Tournament – you won’t find anything like it anywhere else in the world.
Must do Activities
Kyoto’s Ancient Sites: Kyoto was Japan’s capital city from 794 until 1868 and is home to the World Heritage Listed Kinkakuji – a Zen Buddhist temple that was once a shogun’s retirement villa; along with 16 other World Heritage listed sites, around 2000 temples and shrines, and some of the world’s most beautiful gardens.
Skiing at Niseko: Niseko is a small ski resort town in Hokkaido and you will find three major ski resorts, prime backcountry skiing and plenty of opportunities for activities like snowboarding, ice climbing and telemark skiing.
Hiroshima, Peace Memorial Park and Museum: A visit to this park and museum is a must. Dedicated to the victims of the atomic bombing that happened in 1945, you will find yourself surrounded by monuments representing the horrors of nuclear weapons. One of the few buildings to survive the blast, the A-Bomb Dome is located here.
Naoshima: Naoshima is an island in the Seto Inland Sea and is popular for contemporary art. Known as “Art Island” there are a number of galleries and art venues, with works from artists including David Hockney and Frank Stella.
Natural Hot Springs, Dogo: Dogo, in Shikoku, is one of Japan’s best known onsen, or natural hot spring waters, resorts and is extremely popular with those wishing to relax and heal. The Japanese have been using communal hot springs for well over 1000 years.