In recent years, Japan has become one of the hottest travel destinations in the world. Steeped in centuries of tradition, the striking contrast between its ancient traditions and the modern, fast-paced cyber-punk cityscapes we recognise as Tokyo have intrigued travellers from all walks of life.
According to JNTO, visitors to Japan have increased up to 40% since 2013. And in the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, tourism in Japan doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon. Japan has a lot to offer travellers, from its culinary delights to its eccentric fashion and so much more. In this article, we’ve come up with 8 reasons you need to add Japan to your bucket list – sooner rather than later.
Japan is considered one of the best culinary countries in the world with Tokyo dubbed the unofficial foodie capital. Japanese food is not all sushi and sashimi (although you will find plenty of that here). Tokyo has some of the best sushi restaurants in the world – you won’t find fresher sushi than from the shops at the Tsukiji Fish Market.
Ramen is another popular dish found all around the country, it is a wheat noodle soup served with vegetables, boiled egg and meats such as beef, pork or fish. You also have the option of udon noodles which are thick white noodles. Udon can be served cold, with or without soup and with vegetables, egg and meat. Slurping while you eat noodles in Japan is not just accepted, it’s encouraged!
Other must-try dishes include okonomiyaki (a kind of savoury pancake that is pan-friend with cabbage and sometimes meat or seafood), tempura (battered seafood) and gyoza (dumplings). If you are feeling adventurous you might also want to try natto – a concoction made from fermented soya beans.
Vegetarians can enjoy shojin ryori – a sophisticated Buddhist cuisine, centred around soybean-based foods like tofu, vegetables and mountain plants. Meal times in Japan are just as much about socialising as they are about food. If you are curious about learning how to prepare Japanese food, cooking classes are a great way to improve your skills and meet new people too.
- Shinkansen (bullet train)
Everyone who visits Japan must experience the bullet train. Bullet trains comfortably travel at speeds over 300km per hour and some passengers report it feeling very similar to flying in a plane. Trains are also famously known to be on-time to the very second. You could set your watch to their departures and be amazed at their accuracy!
You’ll find that Japanese people are very courteous and polite so you’re expected to have your phone on silent and avoid speaking loudly so as not to disturb other passengers. In return, you can enjoy a peaceful ride on one of Japan’s most intriguing forms of public transport.
- The architecture
From humble shrines to grand imperial palaces, Japan has a wide variety of buildings with different architectural styles. These styles have evolved over the centuries and today, influence from the West can be seen in the major cities. Some temples such as Kyoto’s Ninnaji and Daikakuji used to be former palaces. Other famous temples include Sanjusagendo Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu Temple and the Temple of the Gold Pavilion.
Castles also exist all over the country with some dating way back to the 15th century. Osaka Castle is one of the best-preserved castles in Japan. The museum inside the castle has a large variety of historical materials and the panoramic view from the top floor observation deck is incredible. From here you can see the modern high-rises, Osaka Plain and mountains in the distance.
- Nature and gardens
Many people may think of Japan as a densely populated country, however, what is less known is that over two-thirds of Japan is made up of forest, mountains and hills. Beyond the cities, Japan boasts some incredible natural wonders. If you get the chance, take the time to visit some of its national parks including Rishiri Rebun Sarobetsu and Akan National Park in Hokkaido, or Towada Hachimantai National Park in Tohoku. There are many national parks scattered throughout Japan, and if you feel at home in the great outdoors they’re definitely worth the visit.
Japan’s coastline is also quite impressive. With its rugged cliffs, rocky geological formations, winding hiking trails and beaches where you can swim and snorkel.
If you’re only in Japan for a short time, one experience you can’t miss out on is a visit to a zen garden. These incredible gardens are meticulously manicured and tended to throughout the year. They offer a tranquil and calming atmosphere where you can relax and unwind. At the right time of year, you can witness the iconic cherry blossoms in full bloom.
- Pod or capsule hotels
Capsule hotels are unlike any other accommodation. Guests sleep in individual pods, each in a self-contained mini hotel room. Many capsule hotels are for men only, but increasingly as their popularity grows, there are hotels for both men and women. The costs can be inexpensive, but some of the more interesting or luxurious can be up to $113 a night.
(Photography @isabelleossy )
Japan observes many traditions, ceremonies and rituals. Its unique culture and heritage has been preserved since ancient times. These traditions include Japanese tea ceremonies which celebrate the art or skill of preparing tea, festivals such as the Aomori Nebuta Festival, the Hadaka Matsuri Festival and the Cherry Blossom Festivals, and Japanese calligraphy which requires years of practice and was once considered essential learning.
While in Japan it’s also worth learning about the Samurai, Sumo culture and the Geisha which remain an integral part of Japan’s unique history.
- Kawaii culture
Everyone likes cute things, but the Japanese take it to the extreme. The Japanese’s love of cuteness is so intense that is often seen as quirky. Rather than being a fad, it’s a well-established part of their culture. The word “kawaii” is derived from a phrase meaning “a radiant or blushing face” and over time it came to mean anything “cute” and “able to be loved”. This huge part of Japanese culture has made its way into the west, with characters like Hello Kitty – who to this day is one of the most recognisable characters in the world. Kawaii is expressed through toys, fashion, accessories, comic books and video games. The Harajuku district in Tokyo is one of the best places to see the influence of kawaii fashion.
- The Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo
There is nothing quite like this restaurant anywhere else in the world, and could only exist in Japan. It’s similar to a Medieval Times dinner and theatre experience – but with robots. Expect a show that is eccentric, highly entertaining and hilarious. Picture dancing robots, techno music, flashing lights, pole dancing girls, boxing jungle animals and fire-breathing dinosaurs. Since it is a major tourist attraction, taking photos is permitted throughout the show. You can also take photos with the robots at the end.
Of course, there are plenty more reasons you should visit Japan, and if you want to discover more of what Japan has to offer, you can check out our Discover Japan tour. This tour takes you from Tokyo to Kyoto where you can experience all the wonders of Japanese culture, including sake-tasting and a cable car ride up to the famous Mount Fuji.