Japan is a world apart – a cultural Galápagos where a unique civilisation blossomed, and today thrives in delicious contrasts of traditional and modern. The Japanese spirit is strong, warm and incredibly welcoming.
Standing at the far-eastern end of the Silk Road and drawing influences from the entire continent, the Japanese have spent millennia taking in and refining the cultural bounties of Asia to produce something distinctly Japanese. From the splendour of a Kyoto geisha dance to the spare beauty of a Zen rock garden, Japan has the power to enthrall even the most jaded traveller. And traditional culture is only half the story: emerging from Tokyo’s Shibuya Station and soaking up the energy, lights and sound of the city is like stepping out of a time capsule into a future world.
Since the Jesuits first visited Japan in the 17th century, travellers to Japan have found themselves entranced by a culture that is by turns beautiful, unfathomable and downright odd. Staying in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) is utterly different from staying in a hotel. Sitting in a robe on tatami (woven floor matting) eating raw fish and mountain vegetables is probably not how you dine back home. And getting naked with a bunch of strangers to soak in an onsen (hot spring) might seem strange at first, but try it and you'll find it's relaxing.
Savouring the delights of Japanese cuisine on its home turf is half the reason to come to Japan and you can easily build an itinerary around regional specialities and sublime restaurants. Eat just one meal in a top-flight Tokyo sushi restaurant and you’ll see why. The Japanese attention to detail, genius for presentation and insistence on the finest ingredients results in food that can literally change your idea of what is possible in the culinary arena.
The wonders of Japan’s natural world are a well-kept secret. The hiking in the Japan Alps and Hokkaidō is world class, and with an extensive hut system you can do multiday hikes with nothing more than a knapsack on your back. Down south, the coral reefs of Okinawa will have you wondering if you’ve somehow been transported to Thailand. And you never have to travel far in Japan to get out into nature: in cities like Kyoto, a few minutes of travel will get you into forested mountains.
Why I Love Japan, Asia
By Chris Rowthorn, Author
I’ve spent most of my adult life in Japan and now it feels like home to me. I love the food: it’s incredibly varied and nourishing and there seems to be no end to the culinary discoveries one can make. I love the combination of a hike in the mountains followed by a long soak in an onsen. But, most of all, I love the meticulous and careful nature of the Japanese people, reflected in every aspect of Japanese life, from trains that run right on time to sublime works of art. Put it all together and you come away with a country that still intrigues me even after almost 20 years of living there.
Best places to stay in Japan
Exploring Japan’s subtropical Ogasawara Islands
Pristine beaches, star-studded night skies, searing sunsets and whales splashing in tropical waters are not the usual things to expect on a trip to Japan. But venture about 1000km south of downtown Tokyo and that’s exactly what you’ll find.
Hiking and skiing in Japan
Day trips from Tokyo
Japan destination guides
Yoking past and future, Tokyo dazzles with its traditional culture and passion for everything new.
Escape to Japan's Oki Islands
Japan seduces and dazzles travellers with its buzzed-up, sprawling, ultra-convenient big cities. But if you’re weary of crowds and vending-machine-packed streets, get yourself to Matsue in Western Honshū and hop a ferry to the slow life on the remote and fascinating Oki Islands.
Japan's best traditional and modern architecture
Mt Fuji, Lake Ashi and Bullet Train Day Trip from Tokyo
Visit Japan's iconic Mount Fuji on Tokyo's most popular day tour, then return to Tokyo by famous Shinkansen Bullet train. You'll enjoy lunch on Mt Fuji, cruise Lake Ashi and ride the aerial cableway at Mount Komagatake for sweeping views of the celebrated Hakone National Park.
Kyoto and Nara 2-Day or 3-Day Rail Tour by Bullet Train from Tokyo
Choose from a two-day or three-day Bullet train excursion to Kyoto and Nara from Tokyo. You'll tour Nara's temples and shrines, spend the night in Kyoto and take morning and afternoon sightseeing tours of Kyoto.
These adventures will keep kids and grown-ups smiling while exploring the world. This article is adapted from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures. Step into a fairy tale in Prague, Czech Republic Prague Castle. Image by Fandrade / Flickr / Getty Images.
Sights in Japan
Activities in Japan
Tours in Japan
Restaurants in Japan
Budget hotels & hostels
Guesthouses and B&Bs
Kyoto is old Japan writ large: quiet temples, sublime gardens, colourful shrines and geisha scurrying to secret liaisons.