Thoughts of Japan conjure up a mixture of images: gentle mists, cherry trees, Shinto temple gates and honourable and brave samurai sacrificing all for love and chivalry alongside vibrant modern life: robotics, manga, dazzling neon on skyscrapers and the joy of all things kawaii.
It is for this reason that Japan is such a wonderful place to visit – it embraces the future while remaining fully connected to and proud of its historic roots.
Japan At A Glance
The country is far east in terms of time zones, lying 9 hours ahead of the UK and 14 to 17 hours ahead of the USA, depending on which coast you are originating from.
While you do not need a visa to visit Japan for 90 days or less, your passport must be valid for the whole projected time of your visit. It helps your passage through customs if you have an address that you can provide as a ‘contact’ even if it is simply the first of a series of hotels that you plan to stay in as you travel your way around the country.
Japan’s population is currently sitting at just under 127 million people, and the cities and public transport can get very crowded, to the extent that a westerner might feel uncomfortable. As a result, everyone is very polite and considerate towards others, and there is little in the way of littering or anti-social behaviour.
The currency used is the Japanese yen which sits at around 140 yen to the British pound or 109 yen to the US dollar, and Japan is known to be one of the more expensive countries in the world. You will need, on average for a fairly generous holiday, a budget of about £100 ($150) per day, with your accommodation probably not included. Hotels can range from as cheap as £40 per day for budget options and up to £400-plus for five-star luxury, so do work out where you will stay before you commit to your trip.
Must-See & Do
If you land in the capital, Tokyo, and spend a couple of days there, you will undoubtedly see much of that city’s vibrancy in the lively neon lights, the crowded noodle restaurants and electronic shops, and all of the robotics and gaming technology on show. Once you have sated yourself with the bustling city, head out in search of beauty, history and spirituality.
Cherry trees bloom in Japan between January and May (Hiroshima usually benefits between March and early April), with April being the best month for the most widespread blooms.
The season is very short, with the flowers lasting a scant two weeks before they fall to the ground, briefly turning it pale pink. If there is a storm, the blossom might not even last that long, so you might have to be prepared to travel to catch up with the pace of the season.
Perhaps Japan’s most evocative image, Mt Fuji is an active volcano, albeit one that has been quiescent since the early 1700s. Frequently seen with snow on its symmetrical peak, the mountain is stunningly beautiful and deceptively tranquil.
The mountain has long attracted artists and spiritual seekers who made their way to the foothills to admire and soak up the atmosphere of the place, and in recent years, Instagrammers and holiday-makers have flooded to the area to immortalise themselves with Fuji as a backdrop. Why not see if you can get a unique angle on the picturesque mountain?
Correctly called Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, this space is dedicated to those who lost their lives (directly or indirectly), or who were affected by, the bombing of Hiroshima by the USA in the Second World War.
As well as honouring their memories, the park stands as a reminder of the horrors of nuclear warfare and as an encouragement to world peace.