Anyone who’s ever eaten sushi, read manga, or sipped sake may feel they know something about this 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 disorientated 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.
On the surface, Japan appears exceedingly modern, but travelling around it offers numerous opportunities to connect with the country’s traditional culture. Spend the night in a ryokan, sleeping on futons and tatami mats, and padding through well-worn wooden halls to the bathhouse or go one step further and sleep in an old farmhouse. Chant with monks or learn how to whisk bitter matcha into a froth. From the splendour of a Kyoto geisha dance to the spare beauty of a Zen rock garden, Japan has the power to enthral even the most jaded traveller.
The neon-lit streetscapes of Japan’s cities look like sci-fi film sets, even though many of them are decades old. Meanwhile, cities such as Tokyo and Osaka have been adding new architectural wonders that redefine what buildings – and cities – should look like. There’s an indelible buzz to these urban centres, with their vibrant street life, 24-hour drinking and dining scenes, and creative hubs that turn out fashion and pop culture trends consumed the world over. Travel is always smooth and efficient, whether you’re using the subway to get around or the shinkansen (bullet trains) to go from one city to the next.
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