Sushi & More
Sushi (which you can eat right at the fish market) is Tokyo's signature dish, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. There are restaurants here that excel at just about everything. Tokyoites love dining out; join them, and delight in the sheer variety of tastes and experiences the city has to offer.
For fans of Japan's infectious pop culture – be it the enchanting anime films of Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away) or the old-school monster movies starring Godzilla – this is the place to be. Snap selfies with giant robots and cosplay while go-karting around the city.
Tokyo is one of the world's great shopping cities, with grand old department stores, avant-garde boutiques, vintage shops and style mavens who set global trends. There are some excellent shops for traditional crafts here, too.
Mt Fuji & Around Tokyo
Hot Spring Getaways
Hakone is Tokyo's favourite onsen retreat but there are others to choose from, all within easy striking distance of the capital: mountain hideaways to the north, lakeside resorts to the west and laid-back coastal villages to the south.
Mountains & Sea
In addition to climbing the famous Mt Fuji, outdoor activities include hiking among cedar groves, strolling along bluffs, surfing and sea kayaking. Options range from easy Tokyo day trips to ambitious island excursions.
Nikkō & Kamakura
There are two excellent and distinctly different destinations for temples here: Nikkō, in the mountains, has ornately decorated lacquered structures set among cedars; and Kamakura, by the sea, is home to austere Zen temples and a hip beach community.
The Japan Alps & Central Honshū
Mountain Hot Springs
The mountainous heart of Japan bubbles over with exquisite hot springs and fantastic inns in which to enjoy them – you're spoiled for choice here. There's nothing like gazing up at snowy peaks while steam rises from your body.
Travel to the remote village of Shirakawa-gō (or, even remoter, Ainokura) and fall asleep to the sound of chirping frogs in a centuries-old thatched-roof farmhouse.
Hiking & Skiing
In summer the Japan Alps is the country's top hiking destination. Come winter it offers some of Asia’s best skiing. Après-ski soaking in hot springs is mandatory and there's nightlife in some ski towns, too.
Shintō & Buddhist Masterpieces
With over 1000 Buddhist temples and more than 400 Shintō shrines, Kyoto is the place to savour Japanese religious architecture and garden design. Find a quiet temple to call your own for the morning or join the throngs at a popular shrine.
Traditional Culture & Crafts
Japan's cultural capital for over a millennium has it all: historic geisha districts, classical theatre performances, excellent museums and venerable shops selling artisan crafts like lacquerware and washi (Japanese handmade paper).
Kaiseki, Tea & More
Kyoto is the place to try kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) and to get better acquainted with Japanese tea. Shop the city's central food market or pick up some new skills at a cooking class.
Get your city fix in one of Kansai's urban centres, like the bold and brash commercial hub Osaka or the cosmopolitan port city Kōbe. Both have vibrant dining scenes, nightlife and shopping districts.
See the remains of Japan's earliest temples – and the famous Great Buddha – in Nara and Hōryū-ji or visit the mystical mountain monastery Kōya-san, established by Japan's most famous monk.
Castles & Tombs
There aren't many original castles left in Japan but two of the best are here: the 'White Egret Castle' of Himeji and Hikone-jō. The town of Asuka is home to burial mounds from the early days of Japanese history.
Hiroshima & Western Honshū
Naoshima (and the islands in its orbit) in the Inland Sea has become synonymous in Japan with contemporary art and architecture. Come see works from international artists inside buildings that enhance the natural scenery.
Hiroshima is a moving place to reflect on the history of the last century and the way forward. Other areas of western Honshū were key players in Japan's 19th-century modernisation.
Cycle over bridges linking the tiny islands of the Inland Sea, rent a car and drive through the bucolic rural scenery of Yamaguchi, or head to Tottori's forlorn sand dunes.
Northern Honshū (Tōhoku)
That image you have of milky-white waters and stars overhead or the steamy wooden bathhouse all by its lonesome in the mountains – that’s Tōhoku. The onsen here are remote, isolated and among the best in the country.
Parks & Peaks
Northern Honshū is blessed with some spectacular mountains, including Dewa Sanzan – three peaks used for ascetic training (you can hike them). In winter there is skiing at established resorts and some less developed spots.
Nobody in Japan does traditional festivals like they do up here; visit in the summer and book ahead. Ancient customs and beliefs live on in Tōhoku, preserved by centuries of isolation.
Sapporo & Hokkaidō
This is big mountain country and big snow country, where skiers carve snow drifts reaching several metres in depth and where hikes through old-growth forests can last for days. There's much to explore here, on foot, by bicycle or by car.
Seafood & Ramen
The cold northern waters produce excellent seafood, including prized delicacies like uni (sea urchin) and crab. Capital city Sapporo's specialities are miso-rāmen and its namesake beer.
The culture of Hokkaidō's indigenous people, the Ainu, is represented in museums, in concerts of traditional folk songs and in shops, restaurants and inns run by Ainu descendants.
A short drive from the mainland madness, Iya Valley has dramatic gorges, ancient vine bridges and a hint of sustainable living. Raft along the pristine Yoshino-gawa.
The 88-temple pilgrimage is a rite of passage for many Japanese who, dressed in white and armed with a walking stick, lower the pulse, raise the gaze and seek to honour the great Buddhist saint, Kōbō Daishi.
Sand & Waves
There's good surfing, especially at Shishikui in Tokushima and Ikumi Beach in Kōchi; the crowd-free swells at Ōkinohama should be legendary. There's also a slow-life, beach-bum vibe to match.
Christian rebellions led to over two centuries of seclusion, during which Nagasaki's Dejima Island was Japan's window to the world. Visit the city to learn about this fascinating chapter of Japanese history.
Kyūshū is home to two of Japan's most famous – and famously active – volcanoes: always smoking Sakurajima, which lords over the skyline of the southern city of Kagoshima, and Aso-san, a hulking giant in the middle of the island.
In Hot Water – and Hot Sand
Some of Japan's most popular onsen towns are here, including Beppu, Yufuin and Kurokawa Onsen (our favourite, for its secluded riverside location). In Ibusuki experience something different: getting buried in hot sand.
Okinawa & the Southwest Islands
Japan's best beaches are naturally found on its semi-tropical islands. Laze about the gorgeous golden beaches of the Kerama or Ishigaki Islands, snorkel or go for a dive.
Yakushima is a beacon for hikers who come to bask in the enormity of the island's towering cedars. Almost the whole island is forested, blanketed with one of Japan's most primitive natural environments.
Tuck into a plateful of gōyā champurū, Okinawa’s signature stir-fry with bitter melon. Add some awamori, the local firewater, and you’ll be ready to grab the sanshin (banjo) and party.