Japan is like a shining Pacific pearl with many faces. You can expect to see sparkling royal palaces which once housed samurai warriors, and explore temples and shrines to ancient gods. But equally, you’ll also find sandy beaches, breathtakingly beautiful natural landscapes and skiing which compares with the very best.
At first glance, Japan’s cityscapes, technology and infrastructure convey the impression of an ultra-modern Asian nation. But in truth you are never far away from fine examples of the country’s long history and traditional culture. Enjoy the splendour of a Kyoto geisha dance, or witness the perfect beauty of a Zen rock garden in the moonlight when its still waters shine like a mirror and no sound can be heard other than the shimmering string music of the koto echoing around the space. Meditate alongside monks – a traditional practice which dates back thousands of years – or arrange to stay overnight in a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) where you can drink green tea, walk on tatami mats, sleep on futons and try out a traditional bathhouse. No one can visit Japan without being touched by the experience. You can also enjoy a wonderful Japanese experience by playing our Asian Beauty casino slot game.
Like Japan itself, Tokyo finds a way to accommodate a cherished past as well as a vibrant future. There are so many experiences side by side: sleek modern architecture and city real estate next to small-scale wooden buildings lit by lantern light, green spaces where traditional sakura cherry blossoms paint the air with vibrant spring colour close by functional-looking grey concrete structures which conceal art galleries and trendy bars.
In Tokyo, you can find examples of every kind of Japanese culture from traditional theatre and sumo wrestling, right through to pop culture and robots. The city is also rated as a top international food venue complete with gourmet restaurants, celebrity chefs and a glowing reputation for exceptional quality, which applies to all kinds of food outlets regardless of whether you’re looking for a premier sushi experience or just want to snack on some noodles.
A large port located on the island of Honshu, Osaka has more of a commercial focus than many cities and also seems to be more outgoing than most. The picturesque River Yodo flows through the centre, and the city has a 16th-century shogun castle, moat and museum, and a beautiful park. It is also home to Sumiyoshi-taisha, one of the country’s most ancient shrines. Nevertheless, it’s the dazzling neon lights, futuristic skyline, vibrant nightlife, endless bars and restaurants, and welcoming citizens for which Osaka is best known. Make time to visit the ultra-modern Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, a great walk-through experience, and take a ride on the Tempozam Ferris Wheel for great views across the city and the bay.
Okinawa is essentially a large group of tropical islands which enjoy a warm climate and can be reached via good flight connections to and from Japan’s major cities. The Okinawan island culture is a little different from mainland Japan, and the islanders refer to themselves as ‘sea people’. Okinawa is the spiritual home of the martial art of karate – the place where it all began – as well as being the location which inspired our Karate Pig casino game. The area is also known for its musical culture, though it tends to be a blend of traditional sounds mixed with modern American music. This US influence reflects the fact that Okinawa was a major battle zone during World War II.
Most of Okinawa’s tourists come for its sun, beaches and superb watersports. There is also a distinctive local food culture which shows some Taiwanese influence. The largest city is Naha which has a lively nightlife scene.
Hokkaido is the most northerly of Japan’s quartet of major islands. Being the least-developed of these, Hokkaido is the perfect destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts at any time of year. During the colder seasons, Hokkaido is mainly frequented by skiers and snowboarders, but during the warmer months (from June through till September) visitors come to enjoy hiking, cycling and camping amid unspoilt landscapes.
The largest town, Sapporo, holds an annual snow festival which is internationally renowned and features magnificent ice sculptures. The island is rich in wild and beautiful landscapes and has a number of spectacular national parks to visit. There is an abundance of wildlife, and bird lovers won’t want to miss the chance to see Japanese cranes in the wild.
Nagasaki is a city which lies on the north-west coast of the island of Kyushu. A natural harbour, Nagasaki was Japan’s only international trading port from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Despite its WWII history, which must be viewed alongside Nagasaki’s many other attractions, it remains a charming, welcoming city set amid a pleasant hilly landscape. The legacy of a long trading relationship with Europe and China has left its mark on the modern city which thus has a wonderful mix of churches, shrines and temples. The city’s cuisine also reflects its cosmopolitan inheritance, offering a wonderful menu of traditional Japanese recipes, Asian food and international dishes.
Take care with footwear: If you visit houses or temples, you’ll be expected to change from outdoor to indoor shoes – which will be available at the venue. And toilet visits will require another change into toilet slippers.
Sakura is a must: For an unforgettable memory, the best time to see Japan is during the vibrant spring period when its sakura (cherry blossoms) are all in bloom. This magical season runs from the end of March up to the beginning of May.
Get a JR Pass and ride the bullet train: As well as being a signature experience, taking Japan’s shinkansen (bullet train) is a great way to travel around the country. Purchasing a JR pass will allow you to travel on any of Japan’s railways.
Observe good manners: Noisy foreigners are not appreciated in Japan, so respect is the order of the day if you want to make a good impression with the locals. Don’t eat in public. It’s considered rude to answer your phone on public transport, and also keep your volume way down low if you listen to music.