Channel your inner Zen in a country where ancient traditions combine with an ultra-modern way of life. Japan – an island nation in the Pacific Ocean – is a diverse mishmash of majestic palaces, dense cities and scenic mountains. There really is nowhere like it. From skyscrapers, shopping and pop culture, to calm countryside and tranquil temples, the Land of the Rising Sun will exceed all your expectations.

Thanks to an increasing amount of cheap flights to Tokyo and new direct flights to Osaka – along with the rise of Instagram and those infamous cherry blossoms – Japan’s popularity has soared in the past few years. And, with the upcoming Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympic Games, it looks set to continue. Thinking of going? We’re shining the spotlight on Japan to give you all the latest tips.

Kinkakuji Temple

Where to go in Japan

  • Best for city life: Tokyo – Japan’s chaotic capital blends a modern and traditional lifestyle
  • Best for culture: Northern Honshū – includes Kakunodate which is the samurai district, unchanged since 1620
  • Best for the coast: Yaeyama Islands – a dazzling archipelago in the southwest of Okinawa prefecture
  • Best for scenery: Hida Mountains – spectacular mountains that stretch through the Nagano, Toyama and Gifu prefectures

The best things to do in Japan

  • Visit the ancient sites in Kyoto, including the Kinkakuji – aka The Golden Pavilion – and Kiyomizu-dera
  • Head to Gion in Kyoto, the oldest and most prestigious Geisha district ­– you can even get dressed like an apprentice Geisha
  • Go skiing in Niseko or Hokkaido
  • Experience a traditional tea ceremony
  • Visit Mt. Fuji
  • Watch a live sumo-wrestling match
  • Visit the Sagano Bamboo Forrest
Sakura and Mountain Fuji

Essentials: what you need to know

Best time to go: Late spring (March to May) and late autumn (September to November) are generally the best times to visit Japan as there is little rainfall, the skies are clear, and the temperatures are mild.

Visa: You’ll need one if you’re going to Japan for longer than 90 days

Vaccines: Japanese Encephalitis

Currency: Yen ¥

Time zone: UTC +9:00

Language: Japanese

  • Hello: Kon’nichiwa (kon-nee-chee-wah)
  • Goodbye: Jaa ne (jah-neh)

Local tips: It’s common to bow when greeting someone. Keep your back straight and bend at the waist with your eyes cast downwards. The longer and deeper the bow, the more respect is shown.

  • Men bow with their arms straight, hands at their sides, with straight fingers
  • Women bow with their hands clasped in front of them

Tipping in Japan:

  • Food & drinks: none
  • Taxis: none
  • Salon services: none
  • Note: Tips aren’t always accepted in Japan. But, if you do decide to tip, it’s best to place in an envelope and leave it behind – don’t offer it directly to your server

Five dishes we love:

  • Sushi – rice topped or rolled with seafood and vegetables
  • Shoyu Ramen – brown broth flavoured noodle soup with soy sauce
  • Okonomiyaki – pan-fried batter and cabbage, with different toppings, such as cheese, wasabi, seafood
  • Japanese cheesecake – fluffier than Western cheesecake
  • Kit Kat – there are so many different flavours available, such as matcha-green tea, purple sweet potato, wasabi and cinnamon cookie

Thinking about booking flights to Japan? Read about the best cities for a stopover on the way.

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