Tradition and modernity share space in this Pacific Ocean island nation where ancient temples and shrines bump up against skyscrapers and pedestrian throngs. Castles and palaces whisper of history, and bullet trains shuttle travelers through spectacular landscapes to cities packed with world-class restaurants and shopping.
From Tokyo’s neon skyscrapers, urban sprawl to the peacefulness of Kyoto’s gardens, from boisterous Osaka nightlife to Hiroshima's contemplative spirit, Japan’s big attractions never fail to dazzle first-time visitors. But what keeps people coming back is astoundingly delicious food, a unique culture, historical curiosity and warm hospitality.
Tokyo is often the “gateway” into Japan and it lives up to its reputation as a must see when visiting the country. With its fast pace, skyscrapers and urban sprawl, Tokyo is as historic as it is futuristic. Its historical gardens, shrines and temples live side-by-side with robot restaurants and fashion-forward retailers. A mecca for foodies, the city is home to 234 Michelin-starred restaurants – more than any other city in the world.
Kyoto City is another stop that warrants time and attention when traveling to Japan. It is home to traditional Japanese culture with temples, palaces and shrines dotted throughout the area. Kiyomizudera Temple is perhaps Kyoto’s most photographed temple, recognized by its huge, lattice-supported deck. The bamboo groves of nearby Arashiyama are also a beautiful sight to experience.
While some of the towns throughout Japan’s countryside offer a quaint and charming spirit, Osaka provides exciting nightlife, a fun vibe and food options galore. Along with plenty of shopping and modern attractions, Osaka also has a historical side, the highlight of which is Osaka Castle. The castle is a great place to discover more about Japanese history and to wander the beautiful grounds, especially during cherry blossom season in April when the sakura blooms and the weather is often at its best.
Riding the Bullet Train, seeing the cherry blossoms in spring and enjoying the views of Mt. Fuji are common experiences for travelers to Japan. But what are some of our favorite, not-so-common experiences people might not even realize are possible when traveling through this diverse country? Here are a few of our favorites:
Samurai Sword Fighting. Practice the basics of Iyaido sword fighting like the Samurai of old. Go all out with a privately guided ninja training day.
Gracious Geisha. Follow the steps of a Kyoto geisha as she transforms from average woman to the picture of traditional beauty. Be invited to watch and learn as the geisha selects her elaborate and vibrant kimono for the evening, reflecting the colors of the season, and see how she deftly applies the makeup that brings the full geisha image to life.
Zen Buddhism. After an exclusive Japanese tea ceremony, learn about the inner beliefs of Zen Buddhism and how meditation and spirituality influence this deep-rooted religion.
Historical Hiroshima. Under the guidance of an expert, local guide, visitors can access exclusive areas of this historic site – the location of the 1945 atomic blast.
Urban Photo Safari. The frenetic excitement of backstreet Shinjuku (home to Tokyo City Hall, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, and a concentration of entertainment options) is available to capture during this in-depth street-photography adventure – under the watchful eye of a professional photographer.
What a quick video snapshot of all Japan has to offer? Watch this time lapse of some of the country’s most iconic sites.
Want to learn more about travel to Japan? Email Linda at LindaB@PiqueTravel.com.