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‘Japan and the Far East’ refers to the islands of the Japanese Archipelago, along with the Republic of South Korea and island nation of Taiwan. These three states may be separated by large expanses of the Pacific Ocean, but they share many remarkable similarities.
All of them are ranked among the most technologically advanced countries on the planet, with buoyant economies based on hi-tech manufacturing and exports. Yet their populations remain resolutely traditional in outlook. Peel away the veneer of modernity in Tokyo or Taipei, and you’ll find strong adherence to the ways of the past.
Traditional Far-Eastern culture stands to the fore in the cities of Kyoto (in Japan) and Gyeongju (South Korea’s “museum without walls”), where splendid Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and Taoist pagodas sporting elegant upswept eaves form an appropriately exotic backdrop for arcane rituals whose roots can be traced back literally a thousand years or more.
Another aspect belied by the familiar modern images of these countries is the striking beauty of their natural landscapes. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea all hold tracts of spectacular mountains, as well as wild forests and stretches of coast where you can trek all day amid stupendous scenery without coming across a soul.
Thanks to the high profile of their world-beating industrial giants, we all think we have a firm fix on Japan and its Asian Tiger neighbours. However, each holds its share of surprises that will re-define the way you see this culturally complex endlessly fascinating part of the world.