Japan, an intoxicating, charming country of startling contrasts, is home to a culture influenced by both ancient philosophy and modern enterprise. It boasts timeless traditions and pop culture, fascinating history and futuristic cities, cultural treasures and natural beauty. A captivating land of etiquette, innovation, and outstanding cuisine, Japan excels in the details.
Most travelers start their adventure in Tokyo, the capital and financial center of Japan and its largest metropolis. Known as “The Land of the Rising Sun,” Tokyo embodies the country’s fusion of old-world and ultramodern with Buddhist temples, geisha districts, and elaborate traditional tea ceremonies alongside neon-lit streets, lively nightlife, and some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. Tokyo showcases the country’s natural beauty with its famous spring cherry blossoms and breathtaking Japanese gardens – and, on a clear day, a glimpse of Japan’s three “Holy Mountains,” including the iconic snowcapped Mount Fuji. Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s most important and popular shrine hosting many festivals and ceremonies, and the famous Senso-ji Buddhist temple are among its must-see destinations.
Kyoto, a short ride away from Tokyo on Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train, is known as “The City of Ten Thousand Shrines” and is often regarded as the cultural heart of Japan. Containing about a quarter of Japan’s national treasures, including over a thousand temples, Kyoto is an imperial city whose highlights include the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), the 15th Century Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji), the Nijo Castle, and the Imperial Palace. Gion, Kyoto’s famous geisha district, is a popular attraction with its charming wooden merchant houses and traditional tea houses. In the spring, the Philosopher’s Path bursts into color and follows a canal lined with cherry blossoms.
Osaka, a large port city and important commercial center, also highlights the unique blend of the modern and ancient in Japan. While considered by many to be the best place in Japan to eat, drink, and party, Osaka dates back to the 7th century and features the historic Shitennoji Temple, Osaka Castle, and Sumiyoshi Shrine. Osaka’s science museum and aquarium are also renowned.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, historic cities that have emerged from destruction to become modern cosmopolitan cities, are located in the southwestern part of the Japanese islands and are rich in the natural beauty of both the sea and mountains. Hiroshima, known as “The City of Water” because of the six rivers that flow through it, was rebuilt with great effort after World War II. The destroyed monuments of its historical heritage, like Hiroshima Castle and Shukkeien Garden, were reconstructed, and a large park, named “Peace Memorial Park” was built in the center of the city as was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Nagasaki, another important port city, is known for its vivid history and culture, and its attractive location around a narrow inlet make it another top destination for travelers.
Japan is most vibrant in the spring, when its glorious cherry blossoms are in full season, and in the autumn, when it comes alive with the rich, colorful foliage of its ubiquitous maple and ginko trees – yet it also most crowded at these times. Hikers and nature lovers enjoy travel to Japan’s mountains and national parks in the summer months, while some travelers enjoy the snowy winter months in northern Japan with its many festivals and events.
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