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Fantastically rich in cultural heritage, Japan seamlessly blends extremes. From modern high-density urban living to the serenity of ancient mountain temple villages. If you can't find what you are looking for in Japan then maybe it can't be found.


All About Japan

When we think of Japan we think of Geisha, Samarai and Anime. We recall images of Tokyo's crowded streets and even more impossibly crowded subway as well as the serene Mt Fuji. And of course, we've all been to a sushi restaurant. Japan is all of that...and more.


It has a rich, grounded culture that has been intact for millennia as well as one that leads the world into an unexpected future. The juxtaposition of ancient and futuristic, from imperial precision to pop culture randomness, of high-density urban cities to mountain wilderness is seamless and enthralling. 

Many travellers don't venture out of Japan's "Golden Triangle" (the region encompassing Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo) and there is certainly enough there to make for a fantastic trip. But it's also worth noting that, unlike some countries, it doesn't take a lot of effort or planning to get off Japan's well-worn tourist trail. Transportation is easy, efficient, and goes almost everywhere.


Japan's smaller cities are certainly not backwaters and cultural heritage is not a tourist commodity that disappears in places where the tours don't go.  At the same time, even a small detour can provide you with a satisfyingly remote and unique experience. 

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日本 "Nippon" is the country's name in Japanese.  The characters mean "the origin of the sun". Reference to the name first appears around the year 600 when, on a visit to China, the Japanese Emperor referred to himself as "the Emperor of the land where the sun rises" because Japan lies to the east of China.  

Humans have inhabited Japan for at least 30,000 years, yet Japan remained relatively closed to the outside world until 1854 when the United States forced the signing of the Convention of Kanagawa. Further treaties with western countries followed which resulted in political and economic upheaval. By the early 20th Century the Empire of Japan was the most developed nation in Asia with views to expansion and militarisation.


After signing a pact with Germany in 1936, Japan invaded China and subsequently other pacific nations over the next few years culminating in the WWII Pacific Campaign.  In 1945, Japan was forced into unconditional surrender and a new constitution was adopted in 1947.


Despite the political and social upheaval, Japan became a post-war success story. Through rapid economic growth, it become one of the largest economies in the world. The country has long been at the forefront of technology, particularly electronics and vehicles, with companies including Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Sony, Toyota and Honda household names in homes and garages around the globe.


Japan is an island nation - almost 7,000 of them, actually.  Of the 5 main islands, the majority of visitors head to Honshu (where Tokyo, Osaka and Mt Fuji are located) or Okinawa leaving the others relatively unexplored.  

Avoiding the mountainous terrain, the majority of Japan’s population squeezes into lowland cities on the coast. So while these urban centres are densely populated there is still plenty of countryside left to explore at higher altitudes. The mountains ("Yama"), dotted with tiny hamlets, secluded temples and wilderness walking trails are a refreshing contrast to Japan's crowded cities.

Japan is situated on the most active part of the "Ring of Fire" meaning that earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis are a constant threat. In 2011, an undersea earthquake triggered a 15m high tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility resulting in a major radiation leak and mass evacuations. The disaster led to the government's vigorous reassessment of non-nuclear clean energy sources. 

Japan has also made solid improvements in waste management and air pollution. In such a densely populated country, waste management is always going to be a problem but with aggressive recycling practices, only 1% of Japan's waste ends up as landfill.



Since 2013, Japan’s visitor numbers have swelled from a steady, decade-long average of 10 million annually to a whopping 30 million. Japan's reputation for safety, cleanliness, the quality of its travel facilities as well as its unique culture make it a competitive tourism market. The majority of those visitors come from Asia, the USA or Australia. Domestic tourism is also strong.


Is the boom sustainable? Should it be? “Kanko Kogai” or “Tourism pollution” is a hot topic in Japan as the tourism campaign's success jars against already overcrowded infrastructure and creates local discontent. Critics argue that tourism budgets are disproportionately spent on promotion rather than ensuring a better on-the-ground experience by investing in infrastructure. 

While people expect cities to be crowded, overcrowding in one of the most densely populated countries in the world is a serious issue for both locals and visitors. Jammed-packed heritage sites, immovable crowds, and claustrophobic public transport don’t necessarily scream ‘value for money' for some travellers. For locals, the impact of tourism on the economy is relatively small and may not be worth the hassle. 

The tourism boom also has an inevitable environmental and cultural impact, however, Japan is better placed here. Public transport, particularly an extremely accessible train network and predominantly passive tourism activities like walking, viewing and a food scene focused on regional, seasonal produce are good from an environmental point of view. 

Recently, Japan introduced accommodation and departure taxes on tourists with the idea being the money will go to improving their experiences. The 2020 Olympic Games were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is possible that there will be a considerable drop in tourism numbers due to the virus for some time. The breathing room that creates could be used to improve infrastructure, providing a better experience for locals and travellers when tourism regains its momentum.



Spring is possibly the most beautiful time of year as the country glows a soft pink with Japan’s iconic cherry blossoms. Sakura is not just about viewing pretty blossoms, it also marks the ‘new year’ and is celebrated with open-air festivities under the flowers. Predicting the moment the cherry blossoms will be in bloom is tricky as it depends on climate but is usually late March to early May.  The festival is busy with both local and international visitors so it is always a good idea to book well ahead and be prepared for crowds as you won't be alone. Read more about Japan's Cherry Blossom festival and the best places to see them.


Japan’s Festival Season continues into the peak summer holiday period (June - August) which also coincides with the rainy monsoon season. If crowds and drenching rain aren't your idea of a great holiday combo then this is not the time to go.


Avoiding the crowds and variable weather of Spring and Summer makes Autumn (Sept-Dec) a great time to visit. This season also has its own unique beauty as the fall foliage turns the landscape a fiery amber. You won't be entirely missing out on festival fun either with the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival ("Tsukimi") celebrated in late September or early October (dates depend on the moon).



Japan has numerous international airports with the two most common entry points being Tokyo Narita and Osaka. Once in Japan, it’s incredibly easy to connect by air or land to almost anywhere.


For a low eco-impact trip, you can’t beat Japan’s trains; they are swift, on time, comfortable and seem to reach every city, small town or mountain temple village in the country. Japan offers great value train passes which include trains, buses, ferries and some of their high-speed Shinkansen "bullet" trains. However, if you are slow travelling or not going to many places, buying tickets individually may actually work out to be a better option. Especially if you want to experience Japan’s fastest bullet train: "Nizomi" which clocks a futuristic 285km/h and is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. 


Japan’s cities have extensive subway networks which can be a little tricky to work out at first. Subway ticketing is based on inputting the cost to the station you are going to, rather than choosing the destination or zone itself. To work out the cost, you consult the map near the ticket machines which will list the price to the destination. Better still, if you’re in town for a few days, go the easy route and buy a top-up card, that way you can just tap-and-go and let the turnstile do the calculations. 

History & Culture
Sustainable Tourism
When to Go
Getting There & Around

A seamless blend of ancient traditions and modern madness. Japan is inspiring, provocative, beautiful and timeless.

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