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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, with sliding paper screens and doors, and windows opening on to a beautiful Zen gardens.