Frequently Asked Questions Japan
Have you ever wanted to know more about travelling to Japan? Our FAQ with Michael Allford can help you find the answers to all those burning questions.
What are the top reasons to visit Japan, and what are the main things it has to offer travellers?
Cultural discovery is the key reason to visit Japan, as the culture here is unique. It is made up of the contrast between being an intensely modern, futuristic country and its commitment to traditional practices. And these practices are something that is very much alive within the culture today, so you really do have the contrast of past and present living not only side by side, but intertwined with one another.
What are the country's top destinations, and what sort of experiences is each good for?
Tokyo is one of the country's most popular destinations, particularly among first-time visitors. It offers an excellent introduction to Japan; while being a bustling city that offers amazing shopping as well as incredible modern architecture and technology, it also has beautiful gardens and ancient shrines.
Another must-visit destination is Kyoto, which is often described as the cultural heart of the country and was the capital city until 1868. Today, it is the ideal place to see the more traditional side of Japan, thanks to its mix of temples, zen gardens and geisha culture.
It is also worth visiting the Japanese Alps, which are home to absolutely spectacular landscapes, as well as traditional villages. Similarly attractive thanks to its beautiful scenery is Hakone National Park, which offers some of the best views of Mount Fuji, as well as hot springs.
What are the country's top tourist attractions?
Some of Japan's finest tourist attractions can be found in Kyoto, which is where you can discover a taste of traditional Japan. Temples such as the Golden Pavilion are truly remarkable places to visit; indeed, the Golden Pavilion is a particular highlight, and is one of the best-known attractions in the country.
Originally built in the 14th century as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, it was subsequently converted into a temple by his son. Unfortunately, this beautiful building was burned down in 1950, but was rebuilt in 1955 to the original design, with the exception that its famous gold-foil decoration was carried over onto the lower floors as well.
Gion, which is Kyoto's historic Geisha quarter, also shouldn't be missed. It is possible to take a guided tour through its narrow streets, where you can spot geishas in full costume travelling back and forth to appointments.
Another top attraction is Hakone National Park. While it is deservedly famous for the stunning views it offers of Mount Fuji, there is plenty else to do here. For example, you can spend an evening or two relaxing at a traditional Japanese onsen to enjoy the park's wonderful hot springs.
Are there any lesser-known gems I shouldn't miss?
Certainly. When visiting Tokyo, try to visit the Tokyo Fish Market, which is located in Ginza. The catch is that you will need to be prepared to get up very early – approximately 4am – in order to experience it. This is because business begins at 5am, and only a limited number of tourists are allowed in to watch the action, so you need to be up and queuing for entry bright and early.
Seeing this part of Tokyo life play out is a fantastic experience, though, and well worth the early start. It also means that, once the market is over, you can start the day with a sushi breakfast.
Another attraction to consider visiting is Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park, where you will find memorials to those who died in the atomic bombing. A very moving and sombre attraction, the park is also a very peaceful place, and locals tend to be very warm and welcoming towards visitors – a heartwarming sight.
What is the climate like?
Japan has the four seasons, typically being snowy in winter, mild in the spring and quite hot in summertime, reaching up to 40C in Tokyo. However, thanks to the length of the country and the fact that it's spread across four islands, the weather does vary from one place to the next at any given time of the year.
As an example, if you are holidaying in Hokkaido in the winter, the weather will be very cold, and you can attend ice festivals that feature all kinds of spectacular sculptures hewn from the ice. Visit the Yaeyama Islands at the same time of year, however, and you could relax on tropical sands.
When is the best time to visit Japan?
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Japan is between March and May, and during October and November. Overall, these months give you the chance to see the country at its most beautiful. In March, for example, you will have the opportunity to admire the famous cherry blossoms painting the landscape, while in May beautiful irises are in bloom. During October and November, the warm colours of autumn arrive.
However, do not rule out visiting Japan outside of these periods. Indeed, there are certain advantages to travelling in winter, such as the fact that there are usually far less tourists travelling during this time. What's more, the landscape will still be absolutely beautiful, and you'll have the chance to discover spectacular seasonal attractions, such as the ice festivals.
Do you need a visa to visit Japan?
No, as long as you possess a full British passport, a visa is not required.
Do you need any vaccinations to visit Japan?
No vaccinations are formally required to visit Japan, although you should always consult with your doctor before you travel.
What is the food like?
There are a number of stereotypes about dining in Japan – such as that there is little but raw fish and sushi to eat, and that dining is very expensive. However, as is frequently the case with stereotypes, these paint a somewhat inaccurate picture.
While raw fish and sushi is indeed popular – and a delicacy very much worth trying – there are plenty of other options too. Noodles, for instance, are very popular, and there are plenty of speciality dishes that offer something quite different. Okonomiyaki is an example of Japan's delicious street food, and is a kind of special omelette made with pan-fried cabbage, fried shrimp and different kinds of meats – and it's absolutely wonderful.
Note that this is an example of street food, which is by nature inexpensive, and therefore debunks the myth that dining in Japan is always expensive. There are plenty of fantastic foodstuffs, particularly on reputable street stalls where you can find authentic cuisine, that do not cost much at all.
Of course, you can also pay visits to high-end restaurants and try some of Japan's more extravagant cuisine, such as wagyu beef. This expensive beef is made by taking particular care of the live cow, which will often be massaged frequently and given beer and sake to tenderise the meat.
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