Images of modern Japan are familiar the world over: white-shirted commuters streaming across giant zebra crossings; the bullet train hurtling through vast urban landscapes of neon and glass; pop-art obsessed school kids in cartoon costumes. But it’s the way this novelty-oriented country juxtaposes the new with the old that makes it such a fascinating place. Because for all its love of fashion, gadgets and fads, Japan’s way of life is as firmly rooted in tradition as anywhere in Asia.
Look beyond the ugly mishmash of its modern cities and you’ll find many living vestiges of old Japan at every turn: Shinto shrines with graceful pagoda roofs; mineral hot baths enclosing exquisite pebble gardens; wood-fronted sake bars; carved temples set amid parks of fragrant cedar and cypress trees, where teenagers slip out of their micro-skirts into flowing white robes to place votive paper offerings written in fine calligraphy.
If the Japanese capital, Tokyo, encapsulates the country’s love of all things modern, then Kyoto is its alter-ego: a city whose ancient buildings form a backdrop to arcane ritual and art forms, from geishas to tea ceremonies, block-printing to origami, and other-worldy Kabuki dance drama.
Another of facet of Japanese life often eclipsed by the country’s modern image is its unspoilt hinterland. In the Japan Alps of central Honshu or along the rocky coastline of the Kii Peninsula, the diversity, pristine state and sheer grandeur of the landscapes can come as a revelation. Indeed, some of the most memorable moments of any holiday in Japan are likely to be nature-based, whether trekking along ancient pilgrims’ trails in the hills to remote Buddhist monasteries, powder skiing in the mountains, or spotting bears, monkeys and wild boar in the forests.
Multi-faceted and endlessly compelling, Japan is a country like no other, and one that’s hard to beat as a holiday destination. The food culture tops anything in Europe; standards of service and overall politeness are unmatched anywhere in the world; and the transport infrastructure is second to none.
All our tours of Japan have been carefully devised to showcase as many facets of this complex country as possible. Accommodation is offered in a range of styles, from international-grade luxury and business hotels to family-run minshuku B&Bs, or simple shukubo temple lodges. For a uniquely Japanese experience you can also stay in a traditional ryokan inn, where you’re encouraged to wear a yukata (light cotton kimono), sleep on a futon and eat kaiseki cuisine in rooms lined with tatami mats, sliding paper screens and doors, and windows opening on to beautiful Zen gardens.
Area: 377,780 square kilometres (One and a half times the size of the UK)
Population: 127 million (Twice the UK’s)
Religions: The majority of Japanese follow more than one. Shinto (84%), Buddhism (76%), Christianity (1.4%), others (8%)
Languages: Japanese. A varying degree of English is understood. One can get by with English in major cities but not necessarily in remoter parts
Time: +9 hours (GMT)
When to Go to Japan
It is possible to visit Japan throughout the year. March to May and late September to November are considered the best times to visit owing to the milder temperatures, relatively low rainfall and frequent clear days.The climate varies considerably, the north being cooler than the south. Late November to mid March is generally colder than the UK and certain regions receive a lot of snowfall. July and August are hot and often humid (with the exception of Hokkaido) and there is a short rainy season beginning around June. From late May through to September occasional typhoons come in from the Pacific.
Getting to Japan
Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offer direct flights from London Heathrow to Tokyo. Japan Airlines also have a direct flight from Heathrow to Osaka Kansai. Indirect options are available including via Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Dubai and Seoul. Direct flight time is 11-12 hours.
Private Transfers and Sightseeing in Japan
Hiring private cars and guides in Japan can be very expensive. In our tours the scheduled sightseeing tends to be a mix of private tours using public transport and tours of a ‘shared seat in coach’ basis. These shared tours generally run on a minimum of two people and you may be joined by like-minded travellers from other hotels.
Transportation in Japan
Japan has a highly developed, fast and punctual rail system. Train travel is highly recommended. A Japan Rail Pass can be included and is often economical.
A good network of internal flights links many of the major cities and islands.
Ferries link the separate islands as well as ports on the same island. Ferries can also cross to South Korea, China and Russia.
Japan has an extensive network of well maintained roads. Cars and drivers may be hired for transfers and sightseeing but this can be very expensive. Cars can also be hired but an international driving licence is required. We advise against driving in the major cities.
Suggested Tailor-made ToursMore Suggested Tailor-made Tours
Group ToursMore Group Tours
Absolutely nothing could be improved on our trip. Thank you, thank you, thank you!Mr & Mrs Howick, Tailor-made Japan read more comments