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A first timer’s guide to Japan

A country of contrasts, with its ancient traditions, state of the art technology, the most modern of cities and stunning mountain scenery. Discovering this mix of wonders is a major part of what makes travelling here so appealing.

Where to go:

First of all, as with any destination where contrasts are a key attraction, it’s important to select an itinerary that allows you to explore these. For first-time visitors to Japan, a tour that incorporates the dazzling capital, Tokyo, taking in trips to Mount Fuji, Nikko and Kyoto is a good choice. This way, you’ll get to experience plenty of facets of Japanese culture.
The nation’s capital, Tokyo is a great starting point for any tour of Japan – it’s a unique experience. Seeing the sea of people rushing across the famous Ginza intersection, being squeezed into a metro train and going to one of the local karaoke bars is all part of a classic Tokyo visit.
From Tokyo, there are many amazing day trips. One is to Nikko, the most famous attraction of which is its line of Jizo Buddhas, so old that they’re covered in moss. You can also go to Mount Fuji, which is one of the country’s most iconic sites. This active volcano is absolutely beautiful and easily admired from ground level, but if you’re an active person you might prefer to make the trip to the summit.
When it is time to leave Tokyo there is only one way to go, by bullet train. A Symbol of everything that is modern day Japan taking a ride on the Bullet train has to be done, and where better to head for than Kyoto a city that really contrasts with Tokyo.
Indeed, this ancient city is full of historic buildings and age-old ritual. Home to an incredibly impressive 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, it was actually once the nation’s capital – a title it held for over 1,000 years. Plus, there are more than 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines to discover here too.

Onsen:

It is important to get some rest and relaxation while on holiday: for this, many people think of the beach, but in Japan they have Onsen. These natural hot springs provide the perfect place to rest and relax after a few days in the city or trekking in national parks.
Onsen can be found in various locations across the country, but the oldest is thought to be the Yunomine Onsen. Here the water is said to change colour seven times a day and purification rituals are undertaken in the mineral-rich pools.

Castles:

Japan is a land of castles, with many fine specimens to be explored. Each one has its own distinct character and claim to fame. These include Himeji Castle, which was constructed in the 17th century and is instantly recognisable by its impressive white walls. In contrast, Matsumoto Castle is entirely black and has therefore been nicknamed the Crow Castle. It is where the oldest keep in the whole country can be found.
Alternatively, visit Okinawa Island where Shuri Castle Park is situated. Here you will find ruins associated with the Ryukyuan culture, which thrived in the region between the 12th and the 17th centuries.

Festivals:

There are a wide selection of festivals held in Japan every year and planning a trip to coincide with one of these will make for a truly memorable experience. One of the nicest things about a number of these occasions is that they celebrate natural phenomena.
Take the Cherry Blossom Festival, for example, which recognises how beautiful the landscape becomes when it is covered in light pink flowers. Others include the snow and ice festivals held in Sapporo to the north of the country, where the air is cooler.

Slurp your noodles:

And finally, don’t be afraid to slurp your noodles. Dishes like ramen are virtually impossible to eat without at least a bit of slurping, and this is expected – in fact, it’s considered polite, because it shows that you’re enjoying your food!