Ritual is an important part of cultural life, from Ikebana, the careful art of flower arranging, to the understated presentation of food.
As you travel around, you’ll find Japanese cuisine is deeply varied. The hearty chanko-nabe hotpots of the mountains are a world apart from the delicate sushi for which the coast is famous. It’s also seasonal, meaning you can visit again at a different time of year and experience new flavours and textures.
On the surface, Tokyo is very modern. Yet beneath the skyscrapers and futuristic neon beats a traditional and historic heart. In fact, you can expect to see the best of the ancient and modern worlds right across Japan. In Asakusa, the city’s traditional district you will fine the red Senso-ji Temple and quaint shopping streets lined with stalls, while in Akihabara you’ll find gadgets galore.
A visit to Kyoto, a couple of hours by Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo, is like taking a step back in time. Breathe in the incense as you wander the temples, observe the intricacy of the tea ceremony and catch glimpses of geisha as they clip-clop along ancient lanes in their ornate kimonos. You can take tea with a Maiko, a trainee Geisha, and sample sake, hot or cold, on a brewery tour. Kyoto is also famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, as well as its Zen-like gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses.
Japan is rich in natural beauty – nowhere more so than Hakone. The serenity here is something truly special, with its hot springs, endless views and rolling green landscapes. At the centre of Hakone you’ll find the cool, peaceful waters of Lake Ashinoko – a natural mirror which reflects the magnificence of Mount Fuji, rising up in the distance.
When to go
Spring (March-May) and Autumn (Sep-Nov) are the best times to visit, when there is little rain fall and temperatures are mild. Spring sees an explosion of cherry blossom and Autumn is vibrant with the bright hues of falling leaves.