Japan, a country steeped in mythical traditions and modern wonders. This journey uncovers the highlights of this fascinating country. Like the history, the country is varied and diverse: from the ancient cities like Kyoto to the historically relevant city of Hiroshima and on to the beautiful Edo era city of Takayama; countryside backdropped by mountains, lakes and waterfalls to the bustling futuristic city of Tokyo.
Japan is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. It is a unique blend of traditional and modern, with many temples and buildings from the past co-existing with modern achievements in architecture and technology. Visitors can be immersed in Japanese history and culture one day and get a glimpse of the future through technological developments the next. Almost all of the historical sites are still used for their original purposes while remaining open to the public. The natural beauty of Japan can be seen all year. In addition, Japan has one of the world’s lowest crime rates which makes it ideal for travelers.
Traveling in Japan
Japan works in a unique way and planning a visit requires a certain degree of expertise in the quirks of the local system. The language barrier and cultural differences can be intimidating at first and having your vacation planned by someone with in-depth local knowledge can vastly simplify the process.
Our USA Staff will be there with our Japanese counterpart will be throughout your travels. They will provide valuable advice on the most convenient ways to get around, the best guides to use and the best places to stay. To travel between attractions we generally recommend making use of Japan’s world-class rail network, and combining this with some private guiding and carefully selected small group tours to help you get your bearings. Our accommodations to suit your taste and budget, choosing from our personally researched selection of hotels and traditional ryokan inns.
Traveling with us: With our knowledge of the destination we can send you extremely comprehensive pre-departure information, including detailed transport and accommodations information in English and Japanese to enable you to get as much out of the country as possible in the time you have available. Our USA and Japanese will thorough knowledge and detailed planning will provide you with all the support required to experience the real Japan.
Language Japanese is the official language. Some English is spoken in major cities.
Food & Drink Japan has one of the world's most sophisticated food cultures. Some of the more famous specialties, including sushi and sashimi can be a little expensive, but it is easy to find delicious food at very reasonable prices. Noodles are an excellent lunch option in soup or fried dishes, offering a varied and filling meal. Other favorites include bento boxed lunches, teriyaki, sukiyaki, tempura and nabe. Traditional Japanese drinks include sake and shochu, a strong aquavit, often mixed with soda or juice. Local brands of beer such as Kirin, Sapporo, Suntory and Asahi are recommended.
Tipping There is no culture of tipping in Japan, and nobody expects it. The only exception is in high class ryokan, where a token of ¥2000 might be left in an envelope for the room attendant. Compulsory service charges are levied in some hotels and restaurants.
Money Do not be afraid to carry cash on your person as Japan is an extremely safe and even more importantly, honest country. The local currency is the Yen. Major credit cards are accepted in most hotels and restaurants, but it is difficult to use them to get cash advances. The Japanese Post Office ATMs in major branches accept foreign issued debit and credit cards, as do the ATMs in many branches of the ubiquitous 7Eleven convenience store. Travelers cheques in sterling or yen can be exchanged at most major banks, larger hotels and some duty-free shops.
Social Issues Japanese manners and customs are vastly different from those of Western people. However, they do not expect visitors to be familiar with all their customs but expect them to behave formally and politely. Bowing is the customary greeting. The honorific suffix san should be used when addressing adults. When entering a Japanese home or restaurant it is customary to remove shoes and exchange them for indoor slippers. When entering hot-spring baths, which are normally segregated, clothes are removed and you enter the bathing area naked except for a small towel. Wash thoroughly at the showers or taps before entering the bath. Never wash in the baths themselves. The principle thing to avoid when eating, in common with most of northern Asia, is to leave your chopsticks sticking up vertically from your rice bowl.
Top Tourist Locations
Hiroshima Peace Memorial - The Hiroshima Peace Memorial is a haunting tribute to the lives lost when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Set in a park, the memorial features Genbaku Dome, the only building left standing in the vicinity after the bomb dropped. This harsh reminder of a world at war reminds visitors of the importance of human life and honors the victims so they will never be forgotten.
Jigokudani Monkey Park - Jigokudani Monkey Park is a famous hot spring area near Nagano,. The name Jigokudani (meaning “Hell’s Valley”), is due to steam and boiling water that bubbles out the frozen ground, surrounded by steep cliffs and formidably cold forests. It is famous for its large population of wild Snow Monkeys that go to the valley during the winter when snow covers the park. The monkeys descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the warm hot springs, and return to the security of the forests in the evenings.
Kiyomizu-dera - The Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple is located in Eastern Kyoto and can be traced back as far as the year 798. An indoor waterfall fed from the outside river keeps the temple in harmony with nature and not one nail was used in construction. While locals used to jump off the edge to have a wish granted (with a survival rate of 85.4%), modern visitors can enjoy the shrines and talismans and artwork on display without risking life and limb.
Himeji Castle - The Himeji Castle is considered the best existing example of Japanese castle architecture. It was fortified to defend against enemies during the feudal period, but it has been rebuilt many times throughout the centuries and reflects the different design periods. It survived the bombings of World War II and is frequently seen in domestic and foreign films, including the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice”. The white exterior and design give the castle the appearance of a bird taking flight, earning the the castle the nickname ‘white egret castle.
Great Buddha of Kamakura - The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a colossal outdoor representation of Amida Buddha, one of Japan’s most celebrated Buddhist figures. Cast in bronze, the Great Buddha stands at over 13 meters (40 feet) high and weighs nearly 93 tons. The statue reportedly dates from 1252. Although it originally was housed in a small wooden temple, the Great Buddha now stands in the open air as the original temple was washed away in a tsunami in the 15th century.
Todaiji Temple - The Todaiji Temple in Nara is a feat of engineering. It is not only the world’s largest wooden building, it is home to the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and wildlife, the Kegon school of Buddhism is centered here and the grounds hold many artifacts of Japanese and Buddhist history. Deer are allowed to freely roam the grounds as messengers of the Shinto gods.
Tokyo Elegant Imperial Gardens - Vast underground shopping malls, art, fine dining and Tokyo Station: Tokyo Station and the surrounding Marunouchi district epitomize the contrasts between traditional and modern Japan. Soaring skyscrapers overlook the quiet Imperial Gardens, and the station's striking 1900s-style facade conceals sleek bullet trains and a wealth of pop culture shopping and intriguing culinary options. The serene gardens, moats and traditional structures surrounding the Imperial Palace. Steaming bowls of noodles from all over the city competing in the underground Ramen Street. Museums and shops housed in retro buildings. Tokyo Station is a major hub for many commuter trains, metro lines, as well as the bullet trains. Besides bullet trains from all over the country, Tokyo Station can be reached from within the city limits on the Yamanote Line, Chuo Line, Sobu Line and Keihin-Tohoku Line. For those using Tokyo Metro lines, the Marunouchi Line is convenient. Although it is a bit of a walk, you can also reach Tokyo Station via underground passageways linked to nearby Otemachi Station, where the Tozai, Chiyoda, Hanzomon and Mita metro lines stop.
Tokyo Disneyland - Is a 115-acre theme park at the Tokyo Disney Resort in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, near Tokyo. Its main gate is directly adjacent to both Maihama Station and Tokyo Disneyland Station. It was the first Disney park to be built outside the United States, and it opened on 15 April 1983. The park was constructed by WED Enterprises in the same style as Magic Kingdom in Florida and Disneyland in California. It is owned by The Oriental Land Company, which licenses the theme from The Walt Disney Company. Tokyo Disneyland and its companion park, Tokyo Disney Sea, are the only Disney parks not wholly or partly owned by the Walt Disney Company.
Tokyo Tower - The Tokyo Tower is a testament to the advancement of technology and modern life. Inspired by the Eiffel tower design, it is the second tallest man-made structure in Japan and functions as a communications and observation tower. Visitors can climb the tower for unparalleled views of Tokyo and the surrounding areas as well as visit shops and restaurants.
Tokyo Shopping, Dining and Night Life
Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ginza are the primary areas of interest for people who like to shop. They also have a lot to offer for the nightlife. Shinjuku has a wealth of dining and entertainment venues. The Shibuya district caters to the younger crowd, and it is close to the major shopping districts of Harajuku and Omotesando.
Tokyo is also one of the most diverse cities when it comes to cuisine. You can find anything to eat just about anywhere you go in Tokyo. Many shopping centers offer cafés and diners inside their stores so you will never go hungry and you will never get bored while visiting this wondrous city.
Some are the more popular dining experiences are:
Shima: Chef Manabu Oshima prepares perfect steaks using beautifully marbled premium wagyu beef from his native Kyoto, and he ages them himself. He serves them as part of a set meal, usually with an appetizer of crab or other seafood. If you fancy second helpings but are too full, you can even order steak sandwiches to go for your breakfast the next morning. Be sure to get a map link (or print-out) as the entrance to his basement location is nondescript and hard to find.
Fukamachi: Inside and out, Fukamachi looks the typical old-school Tokyo restaurant, with its modest facade and simple dining room with one counter plus two small tables. But for its many fans, there is no better tempura in the city. Order the omakase ("leave it up to the chef”) menu for batter-fried morsels of seasonal seafood, vegetables including sansai (wild herbs) in the spring and mushrooms. If you still have room, order the awabi (abalone) or uni (urchin) from the a la carte menu — both are outrageously good. Open for lunch and dinner.
Sushi Sugita: Tokyo’s cognoscenti have long championed Takaaki Sugita as one of the city’s top sushi chefs. Now at work in a sparkling new premises in Nihonbashi, he is at the top of his game and finally starting to get the mainstream attention and respect he deserves. Needless to say, Sushi Sugita has become one of the hardest places to book, so out-of-towners should get their concierges working on it well ahead of time.
Sushi Tokami: One of the most talented of Tokyo’s sushi young guns, Hiroyuki Sato won a Michelin star within months of opening Tokami in 2013. From his opening tossaki tuna roll to the distinctive red vinegar he uses in his sushi rice and the closing brûlée-style tamagoyaki omelet, Sato's omakase menu demonstrates that he already has a clear signature style of his own.
Kagari: Creamy white chicken-based paitan soup, delicate al dente noodles, and elegant toppings of chicken breast and seasonal greens: just three reasons why many people rate Kagari their favorite ramenya in Tokyo. Both the ramen and tsukemen (dipping noodles) are so popular you can expect waits of an hour or more at peak times. If it’s raining or you’re pressed for time, head to the nearby branch in the Marunouchi Line subway station.
Temperature extremes are fewer than in the U.S. since no part of the interior is more than 100 miles from the coast. At the same time, because the islands run almost directly north-south, the climate varies. Sapporo, on the northern island, has warm summers and long, cold winters with heavy snowfall. Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, on the southern part of the largest island of Honshu, experience relatively mild winters with little or no snowfall and hot, humid summers. Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu, has a climate with mild winters and short summers. Okinawa is subtropical.
Spring, with its profusion of cherry blossoms and other flowering trees and shrubs, and autumn, with its gold and flaming red trees and lovely fall flowers, are the most pleasant seasons. The hot, humid summers are difficult in the cities, but the sandy beaches along the coast and the many fine mountain resorts provide pleasant relief. With rather mild and dry winters it rarely snows or rains in the Tokyo area at this time of year.