- What to see & do
- Where to go
- Where to stay
- Special interests
Facts about Japan
Area: 377,835 sq km (145,883 sq mi) Location: Situated off the eastern edge of the Asian continent, the Japanese archipelago is bounded on the north by the Sea of Okhotsk, on the east and south by the Pacific Ocean, on the sw by the East China Sea, and on the w by the Sea of Japan. Neighbouring countries: China, North Korea and South Korea. Russia is also to the east of Japan. Below Japan, in the Pacific Ocean, are other island countries like Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and New Guinea. Climate: Japan’s weather and climate features four distinct seasons, something which the local Japanese seem to be quite proud of. Depending on the experience you’re after, each season offers its own unique conditions and attractions however, the best time to visit Japan is generally spring or autumn when the weather is fine and mild. Spring from March to May is perhaps one of the very best times to visit Japan as temperatures are pleasantly warm without being too hot, with daytime temperatures ranging between 21C to 26C. The weather is fine with little rain and from March to April, the landscape is awash with colour as the famous Cherry Blossoms bloom and festivals are celebrated. Summer from June to August begins with heavy rainfall which turns the country into a steam bath with temperatures as high as 35C and extreme humidity. If you plan on visiting Japan during the summer weather, northern areas such as Hokkaido or the mountains of Tohoku or Chubu are the most comfortable places to escape the heat. The best thing about summer however is the fantastic firework shows and festivals. Autumn from September to November is also a wonderful time to visit Japan with the weather much more tolerable than in summer. The days are commonly fair and the landscape turns to rich autumn shades which are almost as impressive as the stunning cherry blossoms. However, visitors to Japan in autumn should be aware that this is also typhoon season in parts of southern Japan which can bring things to a standstill so plan accordingly. Winter from December to February is a magical time to visit as the landscape is turned white with snow. It’s the perfect time to go skiing or check out the hot springs however visitors should be aware that it does get very cold and some areas can receive quite heavy snow or freezing wind blasts from Siberia. Okinawa is a great place to visit during the winter as it is not quite as cold as the rest of Japan’s weather. Temperatures in winter generally range from -4C up to 21C in some warmer parts. Landscape: Japan is a volcanic island nation, rich in variety of landscapes such as mountains, ocean and lakes. Language: the official language is Japanese. Population: 127,187,000 Capital: Tokyo. Form of government: is a constitutional monarchy in which the power of the Emperor is limited and is relegated primarily to ceremonial duties. As in many other states, the Government is divided into three branches: the Executive branch, the Legislative branch and the Judicial branch.
Head of state: The Emperor of Japan is the head of the Imperial Family and the traditional head of state of Japan. Administrative division: 47 prefectural entities: 43 prefectures (県 ken) proper, 2 urban prefectures (府 fu, Osaka and Kyoto), 1 "circuit" (道 dō, Hokkaido), and 1 "metropolis" (都 to, Tokyo). Largest cities according to the population: Tokyo (13,115,747), Yokohama (3,714,200), Osaka (2,667,830), Nagoya (2,254,891), Sapporo (1,930,496), Kobe (1,553,789), Fukuoka (1,474,326), Kawasaki (1,433,765), Kyoto (1,420,719), Saitama (1,253,582), Hiroshima (1,186,928), Sendai (1,049,578), Kitakyushu (981,891), Chiba (960,051), Hamamatsu (812,286), Niigata (806,525), Kumamoto (734,287), Shizuoka (718,774), Okayama (704,572). Ethnic composition: Ethnic Japanese make up 98.5% of the total population and that the rest are Koreans 0.5%, Chinese 0.4%, other 0.6%, in fact these numbers are not known. Religion: Shinto and Buddhism. Life expectancy: average 69 years (67 years for males and 71.1 years for females). National currency: Japanese yen. Independence:
3 May 1947 (current constitution adopted as amendment to Meiji Constitution); notable earlier dates: 660 B.C. (traditional date of the founding of the nation by Emperor JIMMU); 29 November 1890 (Meiji Constitution provides for constitutional monarchy). Coat of Arms, Imperial Seal of Japan and Flag: Public Holidays: New Year’s Day (Ganjitsu) 1st January
Coming of Age Day (Seijin no hi) Second Monday of January
Foundation Day (Kenkoku kinen no hi) 11th February
Vernal Equinox Day (Shunbun no hi) 19th-22nd March (one of these days)
Showa Day (Showa no hi) 29th April
Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpo kinenbi) 3rd May
Greenery Day (Midori no hi) 4th May
Children’s Day (Kodomo no hi) 5th May
Marine Day (Umi no hi) Third Monday of July
Mountain Day (Yama no hi) 11th August (from 2016)
Respect for the Aged Day (Keiro no hi) Third Monday of September
Autumnal Equinox Day (Shubun no hi) 22nd-24th Sep (one of these days)
Health & Sports Day (Taiiku no hi) Second Monday of October
Culture Day (Bunka no hi) 3rd November
Labour Day (Kinro kansha no hi) 23rd November
Emperor’s Birthday (Tenno tanjobi) 23rd December
See & doAnyone who’s ever eaten sushi, read manga, or sipped sake may feel they know something about this slinky archipelago of some 6800 volcanic islands. And yet, from the moment of arrival in Japan, it’s almost as if you’ve touched down on another planet. Prepare to be pleasantly disoriented as you negotiate this fascinating land where ancient gods, customs and craftsmanship are mixed up with cutting edge modern technology, futuristic fashions and up-to-the-second style. High-speed trains whisk you from one end of the country to another with awe-inspiring punctuality. In the suburbs of a sprawling metropolis, you can catch sight of a farmer tending his paddy field, then turn the corner and find yourself next to a neon-festooned (video) games parlour. One day you could be picking through fashions in a boutique designed by an award-winning architect, the next relaxing in an outdoor hot-spring pool, watching cherry blossom or snowflakes fall, depending on the season. Japanese shrines and temples Generally, it is defined that Shinto gods are worshipped at shrines whereas temples have Buddha statues and Buddhist priests preach the faith of Buddha. However, the Japanese people have long syncretized Shinto with Buddhism without distinguishing between Shinto and Buddhism, a foreign religion. Therefore today Japanese people are less aware of the differences of the two religions and these religions are co-existing as epitomized by the fact many Japanese families have both a home shrine and a family Buddhist altar. Moreover, Japanese people visit a shrine to make wishes on a New Year’s Day, get married at a church, enjoy shrine festivals in summer, celebrate Christmas in winter, hold a Buddhist funeral service and visit graves in a Buddhist way. These examples demonstrate that many Japanese people use different religions depending on their life events and they have their own unique viewpoints towards religion. There are many popular shrines and temples across Japan where many people visit every year. Not that there are many religious people, but rather these shrines and temples are often regarded as a sightseeing spot. Recently some shrines and temples have gained popularity as a so-called "power spot" (a spot regarded to be imbued with spiritual and mystical energy).
Onsen (Hot Springs) Japan has many volcanoes and natural hot springs across the country. Many hot springs are used for bathing purposes. The different mineral compositions of the water have an effect on colour and smell, as well as having various health benefits to our bodies. Hot springs for bathing are provided in two ways. Either a single flow of natural hot spring water, or a combination of the original flow and re-cycled overflow that is filtered and re-heated. Many people prefer the single flow hot springs. Hot springs cater for both health improvement and enjoyment. Some hot springs have medically proven health benefits. Those that seek the health benefits drink the water and bath in it, believing in its healing properties. Different mineral compositions of the water provide different health benefits. Hot springs are believed to have general health benefits against neuralgia, muscle pain, joint pain, frozen shoulder, motor paralysis, tension of the joints, bruises, sprains, chronic digestive problems, hemorrhoids, poor circulation and fatigue. It’s important to note that health benefits are not guaranteed to everyone. The stimulation from the hot spring may even have negative effect to those that suffer from high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis and heart disease. Many people visit hot springs simply for enjoyment. Family, couples and friends enjoy day trips and overnight stays at Japanese Inns with hot springs (Onsen Ryokan). There are hot spring theme parks and large leisure facilities that not only have hot springs but also pools and restaurants. Some hot springs have a unique setting or landscapes where you enjoy the scenery. Examples include the hot water fields (Yubatake) of Kusatsu Onsen and the “Hells” of Beppu.
Traditional performance art Traditional arts that still currently exist in Japan include poetry (Waka, Haiku), dance, painting and performance art. Though these genres are summarized as traditional performance art, they time period in which they were first performed range over 100 years and include arts from Noh (originating from prayer rituals to God) which hold high prestige, to Kabuki, which was created to bring people comfort. The features of each genre range greatly. However, one tradition often seen in these performing arts is that the veteran performers do not ‘’over-teach’’ and do not tell their disciples everything they need to know. One may think that this process is an inefficient way of learning and it would be better to teach key elements to their disciples right away. But there is an understanding that the Japanese traditional performing arts hold sacred things that cannot be put into words. For example, if a key element of an art form were to be taught to a disciple, his improvement at first would be great. However, the world of traditional arts fear that by telling these key elements to disciples in words, the disciple would then have an illusion that he knows everything he needs to know to perform. By going through rigorous training to discover and learn these key elements of their arts which cannot be told in words, these arts exist in their great tradition even today.
Japanese culture and tradition As a rule, Japanese culture has few extravagant and flashy things. In general, the Japanese prefer simple things to luxurious ones. For example, this trend can be seen in food such as sashimi, which is just cut raw fish. However, the aspect of it is that Japanese tend to care about details. Sashimi arrangement, fish used, the way fish is cut, the way wasabi is made: special attention is paid to such details, so it goes from simple to profound. This is not simply about food but can be said about Japanese culture in general. The bottom line is to enhance the beauty of natural materials, getting rid of unnecessary decorations; this is the trademark of Japanese culture. This forms an aesthetic view, called "wabi-sabi".
Leisure In Japan, there are plenty of choices of entertainment besides sightseeing, shopping and dining. You can go for karaoke, theme parks, amusement parks, zoos, and aquariums. Karaoke facilities are open till late at night. If you want to take part in sports, you can play golf at a driving range or at a course. Playing around a course requires reservation in advance. You should check dress code before you go to the golf course because it differs from course to course. Batting centers and bowling alleys are also fun venues. Most of them are open till at night so checking opening hours in advance is recommended. Baseball is quite popular among the Japanese. Besides professional baseball games, you can watch the ‘Koshien,’ the all Japan high school baseball championship that is held at Koshien ballpark in summer. Soccer games or sumo wrestling are also available for your amusement. You can enjoy spectacular sports if you go out alone, so if you are interested in sports, you have a wide variety of options to enjoy. Although there are no casinos in Japan, gambling is available at government-controlled competitive sports, such as horse racing, motorboat races, and bicycle races as well as at pachinko parlors. Clubs and discotheques are open midnight to morning and at kyabakura-hostess club, female companions entertain male customers.
10 to two weeks is the minimum needed to skim the surface of what Japan at scores of temples, shrines and imperial gardens. Consider also taking in a couple of the city’s surrounding attractions, in particular the historic towns of Nikkō, home to the amazing Tōshō-gū shrine complex, and Kamakura, with its giant Buddha statue and tranquil woodland walks. Northern Honshū sees surprisingly few overseas visitors, but its sleepy villages and relaxed cities deserve to be better known. The Golden Hall of Hiraizumi more than justifies the journey, and can be easily combined with the islet-sprinkled Matsushima Bay or rural Tōno. The region is also known for its vibrant summer festivals, notably those at Sendai, Aomori, Hirosaki and Akita, and for its sacred mountains, including Dewa-sanzan, home to a sect of ascetic mountain priests, and the eerie, remote wastelands of Osore-zan. Further north, across the Tsugaru Straits, Hokkaidō is Japan’s final frontier, with many national parks including the outstanding Daisetsu-zan National Park, offering excellent hiking trails over mountain peaks and through soaring rock gorges. The lovely far northern islands of Rebun-tō and Rishiri-tō are ideal summer escapes. Hokkaidō’s most historic city is Hakodate, with its late nineteenth-century wooden houses and churches built by expat traders, while its modern capital, Sapporo, is home to the raging nightlife centre of Suskino and the original Sapporo Brewery. Winter is a fantastic time to visit and catch Sapporo’s amazing Snow Festival and go skiing at some of Japan’s top resorts including Niseko. Skiing, mountaineering and soaking in hot springs are part of the culture of Central Honshū, an area dominated by the magnificent Japan Alps. Both the old castle town of Matsumoto, and Nagano, with its atmospheric temple of pilgrimage, Zenkō-ji, can be used as a starting point for exploring the region. Highlights include the tiny mountain resort of Kamikōchi and the immaculately preserved Edo-era villages of Tsumago and Magome, linked by a short hike along the remains of a 300-year-old stone-paved road. Takayama deservedly draws many visitors to its handsome streets lined with merchant houses and temples, built by generations of skilled carpenters. In the remote neighbouring valleys you’ll find the rare thatched houses of Ogimachi, Suganuma and Ainokura, remnants of a fast-disappearing rural Japan. On the Sea of Japan coast, the historic city of Kanazawa is home to Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s best gardens, and the stunning 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa. Nagoya, on the heavily industrialized southern coast, is a more manageable city than Tokyo or Ōsaka, and has much to recommend it, including the fine Tokugawa Art Museum and many great places to eat. The efficient new airport nearby also makes the city a good alternative entry point. From Nagoya it’s a short hop to the pretty castle towns of Inuyama and Gifu, which holds summer displays of the ancient skill of ukai, or cormorant fishing. South of the Japan Alps, the Kansai plains are scattered with ancient temples, shrines and the remnants of imperial cities. Kyoto, custodian of Japan’s traditional culture, is home to its most refined cuisine, classy ryokan, glorious gardens, and magnificent temples and palaces. Nearby Nara is a more manageable size but no slouch when it comes to venerable monuments, notably the great bronze Buddha of Tōdai-ji and Hōryū-ji’s unrivalled collection of early Japanese statuary. The surrounding region contains a number of still-thriving religious foundations, such as the highly atmospheric temples of Hiei-zan and Kōya-san, the revered Shinto shrine Ise-jingū, and the beautiful countryside pilgrimage routes of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kumano region. Not all of Kansai is so rarefied, though. The slightly unconventional metropolis of Ōsaka has an easy-going atmosphere and boisterous nightlife, plus several interesting sights. Further west, the port of Kōbe offers a gentler cosmopolitan atmosphere, while Himeji is home to Japan’s most fabulous castle, as well as some impressive modern gardens and buildings. For obvious reasons Hiroshima is the most visited location in Western Honshū. On the way there, pause at Okayama to stroll around one of Japan’s top three gardens, Kōraku-en, and the appealingly preserved Edo-era town of Kurashiki. The beauty of the Inland Sea, dotted with thousands of islands, is best appreciated from the idyllic fishing village of Tomonoura, the port of Onomichi and the relaxed islands of Nao-shima, Ikuchi-jima and Miya-jima. Crossing to the San-in coast, the castle town of Hagi retains some handsome samurai houses and atmospheric temples, only surpassed by even more enchanting Tsuwano, further inland. One of Japan’s most venerable shrines, Izumo Taisha, lies roughly midway along the coast, near the lake- and seaside city of Matsue, home to the region’s only original castle. Location for Japan’s most famous pilgrimage, a walking tour around 88 Buddhist temples, Shikoku also offers dramatic scenery in the Iya valley and along its rugged coastline. Its largest city, Matsuyama, has an imperious castle and the splendidly ornate Dōgo Onsen Honkan – one of Japan’s best hot springs. There’s also the lovely garden Ritsurin-kōen in Takamatsu and the ancient Shinto shrine at Kotohira. The southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, Kyūshū is probably best known for Nagasaki, an attractive and cosmopolitan city that has overcome its terrible war-time history. Hikers and onsen enthusiasts should head up into the central highlands, where Aso-san’s smouldering peak dominates the world’s largest volcanic crater, or to the more southerly meadows of Ebino Kōgen. So much hot water gushes out of the ground in Beppu, on the east coast, that it’s known as Japan’s hot-spring capital. Fukuoka, on the other hand, takes pride in its innovative modern architecture and an exceptionally lively entertainment district. Okinawa comprises more than a hundred islands stretching in a great arc from southern Kyūshū to within sight of Taiwan. An independent kingdom until the early seventeenth century, traces of the island’s distinctive, separate culture still survive. The beautifully reconstructed former royal palace dominates the capital city, Naha, but the best of the region lies on its remoter islands. This is where you’ll find Japan’s most stunning white-sand beaches and its best diving, particularly around the subtropical islands of Ishigaki and Iriomote.