Japan

Japan. Travel information

Japan is a study in contrasts and contradictions. Cities are as modern and high tech as anywhere else, but tumbledown wooden shacks can still be spotted next to glass fronted designer condominiums. In the middle of a modern skyscraper you might discover a sliding wooden door which leads to a traditional chamber with tatami mats, calligraphy, and tea ceremony. These juxtapositions mean you may often be surprised and rarely bored by your travels in Japan.

Japan has 23 World Heritage Sites, including *Himeji Castle (map), *Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and *Nara. Popular foreigner attractions include Tokyo and Hiroshima, *Mount Fuji, ski resorts such as *Niseko in Hokkaido.

Its insular character has allowed it to develop a unique and very intricate culture, while its closeness to other ancient Far Eastern cultures, in particular China, has left lasting influence.

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Like the English, the French and the Germans, the Japanese were also a nation of castle-builders. Only twelve of Japan’s castles are considered to be originals, which have keeps or donjons (天守閣 tenshukaku) that date back to the days when they were still used. (*Japanese castles)

*Japan’s Top 3 —  is the canonical list of Japan’s three most celebrated scenic sights, attributed to 1643 and scholar Hayashi Gahō.

*100 Landscapes of Heisei — In 2009, in celebration of its 135th anniversary, the Yomiuri Shimbun formed a selection committee and, together with its readers, selected the 100 Landscapes of Heisei (平成百景).

*100 Landscapes of Japan (Shōwa era) — The 100 Landscapes of Japan (日本百景) is a list of famous scenic sites in Japan. The 100 Landscapes or Views were selected alongside further sets of 8 Views and 25 Winning Sites in 1927, a year after Hirohito became Emperor.

*100 Soundscapes of Japan – In 1996, as part of its efforts to combat noise pollution and to protect and promote the environment, the Ministry of the Environment designated the 100 Soundscapes of Japan (日本の音風景100選).

It shouldn’t be surprising that in a country where more than 70% of the terrain is forests and mountains, outdoor activities abound. Hiking is very traditional and popular in Japan. You can find many small trails across the country, as well as plenty of rugged terrain in Japan’s many national parks. Hikes can also be part of a spiritual experience, such as climbing the 2446 stone steps of the holy Haguro mountain through an amazing primeval forest.

Japan’s longest holiday is Golden Week (29 April to 5 May), when there are four public holidays within a week and people go on an extended vacation. Trains become crowded and flight and hotel prices are jacked up to multiples of normal prices, making this a bad time to travel in Japan, but the weeks immediately before or after Golden Week are excellent choices.

Spring is one of the best times of year to be in Japan. The temperatures are warm but not hot, there’s not too much rain, and March–April brings the justly famous cherry blossoms (sakura) and is a time of revelry and festivals.

As a nation made of volcanic islands, it’s not surprising that in Japan hot springs (温泉 onsen) are commonplace. Japanese have pondered for centuries what the best hot springs in the country are, and they’ve come up with quite a few. Japan Association of Secluded Hot Spring Inns (*Public baths in Japan)

Camping wild is illegal in most of Japan, although you can always try asking for permission, or simply pitch your tent late and leave early. The National Camping Association of Japan helps maintain Campjo.com, a Japanese-only database of nearly all campsites in Japan.

Regions & Sities

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Okinawa – semi-tropical southern island chain reaching out toward Taiwan, its traditional customs and architecture are significantly different from the rest of Japan.

Hokkaido – home to Japan’s native Ainu people, Hokkaido continues to represent the untamed wilderness with many great national parks. Hokkaido is cooler than the rest of Japan, and the merciful lack of Japan’s muggy summers and rainy season makes it a very popular domestic destination between May and August.

Tohoku – the Snow Country (Yukiguni) of the western Japan Sea coast racks up some of the highest snowfall figures in the world, which also means great skiing and lots of hot springs to warm up in. Tohoku also has many castles and samurai residences, making it a good place to take in some history.

Kanto – with the megalopolis of Tokyo and its suburbs. In feudal times, Kanto was the home of the Tokugawa shogunate and Edo (modern Tokyo) the military seat of power, while the western region of Kansai represented commerce (Osaka) and culture (Kyoto).

In most of Japan, addresses use a hierarchical scheme that’s quite different from Western addresses. Most roads have no name; instead, cities are split into neighborhoods with names, which are divided into numbered districts (丁目 chōme), which are subdivided into numbered street blocks. Addresses are written in order from largest to smallest; an example address ending in 名駅4丁目5-6 or 名駅4-5-6 would be the neighborhood of Meieki (名駅), district 4, block 5, house 6. Numbering for districts, blocks, and houses is often not sequential.

The lack of road names makes it difficult to give directions; maps and especially satnav are a blessing in Japan. A minute spent checking a map can save you half an hour of aimlessly walking.

Tokyo (東京市)
Fukushima (福島市)
Himeji (姫路市)
Hiroshima (広島市)
Kamakura (鎌倉市)
Kawasaki (川崎市)
Kōbe (神戸市)
Kyoto (京都市)
Matsumoto (松本市)
Miyazaki (宮崎市)
Nagano (長野市)
Nagasaki (長崎市)
Nagoya (名古屋市)
Nara (奈良市)
Nikko (日光市)
Okayama (岡山市)
*Okinawa City (沖縄市)
Ōsaka (大阪市)
Sapporo (札幌市)
Tokushima (徳島市)
Yokohama (横浜市)

Public transport

The world’s best transport systems, and getting around is usually a breeze, with the train being overwhelmingly the most popular option. Trains are rarely or never late, and are probably one of the cleanest transport systems on earth. For sorting through transport schedules and fares, HyperDia is an invaluable companion; it computes to-the-minute directions including connecting trains, as well as buses and planes. (*Rail travel in Japan)

Transit Planner

Buses are plentiful in Japan, and over the last few decades they have evolved into a major mode of intercity transportation, especially for overnight travel. Major operators of intercity include the JR Group (operations of Japan Railways Group) and Willer Express. (*Bus travel in Japan)

Most international flights arrive at either Narita Airport near Tokyo or Kansai Airport near Osaka; a smaller number use Chubu International Airport near Nagoya.

Japan has many great opportunities for bikers. Bike rentals can be found throughout the country, especially near popular routes. Some routes (like the Shimanami Kaido Bikeway, which takes you from Onomichi on the main island to *Imabari in Shikoku) have been set up specifically for bikers.

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