WHERE ANCIENT AND MODERN CO-EXIST
Japan conjures images both exotic and familiar and even the stereotypes seem contradictory. A Japan holiday will bring all the things you imagined to life, but also so much more.
The bright lights of Tokyo, high-speed trains, sake, nightclubs and a pop culture straining towards the future sit side by side with tranquil Zen gardens, ancient shrines, delicate cherry blossoms, geisha, tea ceremonies and an adherence to tradition. But this is Japan where even such stark opposites exist in harmony.
Discover art, both old and new, theatre and the famous cuisine. Japan’s compact size makes getting around quite simple, especially by high-speed train. The Japanese are strong and proud, but also incredibly welcoming. Even without a common language you’ll find a friendly smile on every corner.
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Wandering the streets of busy Tokyo propels you into the future amongst a society ever racing forward. Surrounded by the neon lights and pop culture of dazzling Harajuku, the crowds themselves are fascinating, but all this is underpinned by the traditional culture so highly protected and revered in Japan. Walk through Yoyogi Park to come upon the Meiji shrine, cruise to Asakusa to find traditional neighbourhoods and witness the busy trade in the world's biggest fish market.
A tranquil cruise on Lake Ashi-no can provide wonderful glimpses of Mount Fuji through the mist, or take a cable car to admire views of the famous mountain. The pace drops dramatically from Tokyo in Hakone, and ancient culture comes to life when you stay in a traditional tatami mat room at an atmospheric Japanese Inn dating back to the 15th century.
Best known for the adorable 'snow monkeys' that keep warm in the snowy winter months by bathing on the natural hot springs in the area. This is also an ideal destination to stay in a traditional ryokan and make the most of its onsen.
Known as the Roof of Japan, Nagano is rich in culture and houses some of Japan's most spectacular architecture. Nagano is home to the magnificent Zenko-ji, a 7th-century temple so auspicious it attracts millions of pilgrims each year.
Matsumoto sits in a fertile valley with stunning views of the surrounding alps. The 16th-century samurai castle is Japan's oldest and known as crow castle, because of its black exterior. A cultural hub, it is also an emerging food destination and the Daio wasabi farm there is the country's largest.
Often described as Little Kyoto, Takayama is famous for its shrines and temples, quiet backstreets, and old-world feel. The city is small, so lends itself to discoveries on foot, and holds ancient shrines, manicured bonsai gardens, boutique shops, museums and wonderful local-style restaurants.
Nagoya is Japan's third largest city and is well known for its friendly inhabitants. The city is also home to Toyota's headquarters, comprising an exhibition hall, and the world-famous Toyota assembly plant. It also houses some fantastic museums like the elegant Noritake Ceramics Museum and is famous for its shabu or izakaya restaurants.
Kyoto is the cultural centre of Japan, filled with World Heritage-listed sites, shrines and temples, geishas, tea houses and gardens. Explore the city's gardens and wander through the geisha quarter at Gion, made famous in the novel 'Memoirs of a Geisha'. A scenic train ride in the nearby Sagano bamboo forests in the Arashiyama hills provides a relaxing contrast to the town.
Offering cultural delights amidst a modern Japanese city, Osaka is an urban phenomenon that was rebuilt after World War II. It retains an old-world feel, but as night falls the small streets and alleyways shine brightly with neon lights as the down-to-earth locals swarm the many eateries in the city known best for its food.
Known worldwide as the atomic bomb site, Hiroshima has well and truly reinvented itself to become a thriving seaside city, with a stylish atmosphere. A ferry to Miyajima Island brings you to the famous Torii Gate, regarded as one of the top three views in Japan, and a visit to the Peace Memorial Park and Museum and the A-dome is a sobering yet educational experience.
Sitting amongst the 3000 islands that pepper the Seto Island Sea is fascinating Naoshima. With sandy beaches and a relaxed atmosphere, it is best known for the modern art that is dotted all around the island. It is possible to visit on a day trip, but staying overnight gives you time to enjoy the slower pace of life. The island is small enough to explore by foot, or travel by bike or bus to conserve your energy and allow more time for sightseeing.
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Stay in a tatami mat room in a ryokan
This historic style of Japanese Inn originated in the Edo Period and is an insight into local culture. Many ryokans have an onsen, or hot spring, on site and offer traditional multi-course dining called kaiseki.
See Mount Fuji from Hakone
Perhaps Japan’s most iconic sights, Mount Fuji can be seen from Tokyo on a clear day, but travelling a couple of hours to Hakone allows travellers to enjoy the mountain views surrounded by the beautiful natural scenery and hot springs, as well as a variety of options for viewing the mountain itself, such as a cruise on Lake Ashi-no.
Meet a maiko in Kyoto
An exclusive Maiko dinner and performance in Kyoto gives you a unique opportunity to learn about the life of an apprentice Geisha.
Wander old-world towns in the Kiso Valley
Travel back in time and soak up the old-world atmosphere of the Kiso Valley. Wander the villages of Magome and Tsumago or explore World Heritage-listed Shirakawago, dotted with traditional thatch-roof homes.
Tsukiji fish markets in Tokyo
The fish market in Tokyo is the largest in the world, and it is well worth rising early to explore the markets as they bustle with local trade, before a sushi breakfast as fresh as they come.
Spot a geisha in Kyoto or Kanazawa
Spot a beautiful Geisha steal through Kyoto's atmospheric Gion district in the quiet of dusk or visit the old Geisha Quarters of Hagashi Street and Nomura-ke House in the samurai district of Kanazawa.
Visit the snow monkeys
When the snow begins to fall, the macaques of Yudanaka jump into the natural hot springs to keep warm. Watch them frolic in the pools as the steaming water melts the sprinkling of snow from their winter coats.
Race through the countryside on a bullet train
Rail in Japan is reasonably priced, fast and extremely reliable, and a trip on one of the high-speed bullet trains is not only a convenient form of transport but an exciting experience.
Discover Japanese cuisine
The Japanese passion for food means meticulously-prepared dishes are an art form in themselves. Produce is both seasonal and regional, and culinary tourism is popular with both local and international guests. Get your hands on some of the huge variety of typically Japanese dishes and taste it for yourself.
Take part in a tea ceremony in Kanazawa or Kyoto
A renowned part of Japanese culture, take part in a traditional Tea Ceremony in Kyoto or Kanazawa.
From the blog
Planes, Trains and Automobiles in Nagoya, Japan
January 2016A major manufacturing centre, Nagoya also offers a number of museums, temples, shops and restaurants. For those interested in transport new and old, it offers an interest not many other cities in Japan can.
Food in Japan: How to order like a local
Everything you wanted to know about Japanese food but were afraid to ask. Our guide to Japan’s most popular dishes, and the ingredients used to make them, will have you ordering like a local in no time.
Just Arrived: new tours unveiled in the beautiful Japanese Alps
Japan’s Alps reveal unexpected delights from snow monkeys to ice breakers.