Japan values its cultivated traditions and practices as much as it values keeping in touch with the future. Whether grounded in history or in religion, Japanese customs are still widely practiced to this day. There are many ways travelers can experience authentic Japanese heritage without having to spend too much money. A visit to a shrine, temple, or castle would provide fantastic insight into Japan’s diverse history and how Japanese society has developed.
Additionally, Japan holds festivals year round that symbolize various aspects of culture and tradition, which are held in very high esteem by Japanese people. For anyone looking to delve further into Asian history and heritage, look no further than Japan.
Key Destinations in Japan
Hiroshima is situated at the center of the Chugoku region in western Honshu, the main island of Japan. In’no-shima Island and 150 other islands are located in the in the nearby Seto Inland Sea.
The Chugoku Mountains, rising to a height of some 1,000 meters, extend from east to west in the northern part of Hiroshima, with highways and national routes crossing mountain passes to connect the prefecture with areas along the Sea of Japan. The plains are narrow and the coastlines are mostly saw-toothed coasts, with mountains drawing close to the shore.
Nature abounds in Hiroshima Prefecture, which is surrounded both by ocean and mountains. Attractions include Setonaikai (Seto Inland Sea) National Park, Hibadogo-Taishaku Quasi-National Park, and West Chugoku Mountains Quasi-National Park. Hiroshima City is known to the world as the first city ever attacked by an atomic bomb. There you will find the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome(Genbaku Dome), which symbolizes the importance of world peace. Adjacent to the Genbaku Dome, which has been inscribed as a World Cultural Heritage Site, is the Peace Memorial Park.
Itsuku-shima-jinja, the shrine inscribed as a World Cultural Heritage Site along with the Genbaku Dome in 1996, is located on Miya-jima Island. It is said to be one of the three most beautiful sights in Japan, and has been designated as a nation’s historic site. Its symbol is the Great Torii Gate (shrine gate) that stands in the sea.
Hokkaido is an island at Japan’s northern extremity, surrounded by sea in all directions. It is an extensive land, accounting for 22% of Japan’s total land area. Low humidity makes the summers pleasant, while in winter you can enjoy winter sports. The island is gaining popularity as a tourist destination throughout the four seasons.
In Hokkaido you can enjoy the magnificence of nature to your heart’s content: Daisetsuzan National Park, which forms the roof of Hokkaido; the secluded Shiretoko Peninsula; Kushiro wetland, home to many precious living things such as Japanese cranes; Shikotsu-Toya National Park, which is full of volcanoes and lakes; and the ever-changing Shakotan Coast. There are also numerous hot springs, like the Noboribetsu, Jozan-kei and Sounkyo, where you can enjoy a leisurely bath to help you get over the fatigue of your journey.
The Sapporo Snow Festival and Mombetsu Ice Floes Festival are held in winter. In summer enjoy the Furano Lavender Festival, as well as port festivals in every coastal town held to pray for a good catch and safe fishing. Hokkaido boasts of over 1,200 festivals and events held throughout the year.
Kyoto Prefecture stretches out from the southeast to the northwest in the central and northern parts of the Kansai region. It has four geographical features, the saw-toothed coastal area around Maizuru Bay in the northeast, the Tanba Mountains around its center, the Kyoto Basin in the southeast, and the Yamashiro Basin.
Kyoto became the capital of Japan in the 8th century. It flourished as the center for Japanese politics, economy and culture for some 1,100 years, until the capital functions were transferred to Tokyo in the mid-19th century. There remain many temples and shrines in Kyoto that were built during this long period. Seventeen historic sites including, Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Nijo Castle, are inscribed as World Cultural Heritage Sites.
You may meet some ‘maiko,’ young dancing entertainers, who walk in long hanging-sleeved kimono in the Gion district, see the townscape characterized with popular 19th century style latticework, and visit the Nishijin where they weave traditional ‘Nishijin-ori’ textiles with vividly colored threads. The festivals in Kyoto are famous not only in Japan, but are also known worldwide. The three major festivals of Kyoto are the Aoi-matsuri Festival in early summer, the Gion-matsuri Festival in mid-summer and the Jidai-matsuri Festival in fall. There is also the Gozan-no-Okuribi, more commonly known as Daimonji-yaki, held on the night of Urabon (August 16th). During this festival numerous torches are ignited on the five mountains surrounding Kyoto, with the flames laid out to form a letter or figure. It is a summer event known both at home and abroad.
Nagasaki Prefecture lies in the northwestern part of Kyushu, the third-largest island of Japan and most southwesterly of its four main islands, and consists of five peninsulas and numerous islands. With the sea in between, it stands face-to-face with a continent, part of which is China, and the Korean Peninsula. It has therefore long been an important transportation point facing the continent of Asia. Ports for trade with Portugal and Holland were also established there in the 16th century. In addition, since it was once the center of Christian propagation, there are many exotic historical ruins and buildings that still remain within the prefecture.
Almost half of the total land area of the prefecture consists of 971 inhabited and uninhabited islands. The prefecture has many scenic spots, such as the Kujuku-shima Islands, a part of Saikai National Park, and Fugen-dake, the principal peak of the volcano Unzen-dake, which is situated right in the center of the Shimabara-hanto Peninsula. Huis Ten Bosch, a residential-style resort modeled after a medieval 17th century Dutch town, is also known as a popular tourist spot.
Nagasaki City, which is the heart of the Nagasaki-hanto Peninsula, is a port city that developed all the way up along the steep slope of a mountain, while it also stretched out horizontally, hugging Nagasaki Bay. The line of visitors attracted to its many tourist spots never ends. Such spots include Peace Park which tells of the facts and memories of the horrible damage that was inflicted by the atomic bomb and continues to appeal to the world with its wish for peace, and the nation’s oldest wooden Christian church, O-ura Tenshu-do, which even today exudes an exotic atmosphere.
Okinawa Prefecture is made up of the Ryukyu Islands, which at their southern extremity begin at Nansei Island, and lie between Kyushu, the most southwesterly of Japan’s four main islands, and Taiwan. Okinawa consists of 160 islands of various size scattered across a vast area of ocean. The temperature in winter is about the same as that of springtime in Tokyo and Osaka, making it warm and comfortable throughout the year.
With Okinawa being in the subtropical zone, you can enjoy beautiful flowers in any season. Taiwan Cherries, which bloom earlier in Okinawa than anywhere else in Japan, red Deigo flowers, colorful bougainvilleas, pure white Easter lilies, and beautiful yellow tabebuias – it is like a party of tropical flowers! Another highlight is the habitation of many rare species of plants and animals, such as the Iriomote wildcats (declared a protected species) on Iriomote-jima Island. The crystal blue sea, with white sand beaches and colorful fish dancing through coral, attracts vacationers as a holiday resort area with many diving spots.
For about 450 years, from the 15th to the 19th century, Okinawa prospered as the Kingdom of Ryukyu, a state independent of Japan’s central government. Cultural characteristics and conventions born through the relations with foreign countries in those days still survive in such interesting forms as artifacts and festivals, giving additional charm to Okinawa. Especially Shuri Castle (the castle of the King of Ryukyu) in Naha City, which reopened in 1992 after being reconstructed. It was inscribed as a World Heritage Site, and attracts many visitors.
Okinawa still preserves its traditional entertainment, such as Ryukyu-buyo, an elegant dance expressing a woman’s emotions and feelings for someone special, such as her husband. It is performed by women in traditional dress made of bright-colored Bingata cloth. The Shishi-mai, a dance of ‘shishi’ lions with colorful manes, and Eisa, danced in groups to the sound of heroic drums and a three-stringed musical instrument called a ‘sanshin,’ are other traditional dances still performed today.
Various festivals and events are held in Okinawa throughout the year. You can enjoy flowers and whale watching in winter and spring, marine sports and traditional performing arts in summer, and cultural events and field sports in fall. Some traditional festivals and events include the Hari Dragon Boat Race in May, an Eisa dance competition during the summer Bon Festival period, as well as tug-of-war competitions held each summer and fall.
Osaka prefecture located in the center of Kinki region in the Midwest Japan covers the smallest prefecture land area in Japan, but boasts of largest population and highest population density second only after the capital, Tokyo. Mountains surround three sides of the prefecture and the west faces the arc-shaped Osaka Bay. Since it is close to former capitals of Japan Kyoto and Nara, it prospered as an important point for land and water transportation as well as a commercial city.
In the Osaka City is the Osaka Castle with a five-layer donjon as its core, on a lawn park that stretches for about 60,000 square meters. During the cherry blossom season in the spring, this park is especially crowded with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) crowd. Osaka’s north gate, Umeda, has a gigantic stretch of underground mall that houses many restaurants, fashion and sundry goods stores.
In contrast to Kita with Umeda as its core, Minami is an area with core cities Namba, a popular business and shopping district, and Dotonbori with many restaurants on both sides of Dotonbori-gawa River. Minami is known as a town of public entertainment and has many theaters and cinemas.
Tenpo-zan Harbor Village, which has a 112.5 meter-high Ferris wheel, shopping mall and Kaiyukan Aquarium, one of the biggest aquarium in the world, and ATC(Asia Pacific Trade Center), Japan’s largest outlet mall, are also popular.
Tokyo consists of the southwestern part of the Kanto region, the Izu Islands, and the Ogasawara Islands. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, and the place where over 13 million people live, making it one of the most populous cities in the world. When the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu established a government there in the early 17th century, the area started to develop, spreading out around his residence, Edo Castle. Most of the city was devastated by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and then again by the bombing in the WWII, however, Tokyo was able to achieve a remarkably rapid recovery both times.
Tokyo is not only the political and economical center of Japan, it has also emerged as a center of the world economy and culture. There are a number of attractions in Tokyo that should not be missed. There are large-scale downtown areas, including Ginza where famous shops from around the world stand side by side, the sleepless Shinjuku that has become the “new city center of Tokyo,” Asakusa which is reminiscent of the traditional Edo (the former name of Tokyo), and Shibuya that starts the trends for the young people. Other unique areas include the computer town Akihabara, a dense retail area where numerous electronic shops compete against each other, attracting many shoppers from Japan and overseas, and Tsukiji, an open-air wholesale food market catering to shops and consumers everywhere in Japan.
Situated next to the western part of Tokyo and the southeast of central Japan, Yamanashi is encircled by the mountains and mountain ranges designated as national and quasi-national parks, such as Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Tanzawa-Oyama Quasi-National Park, Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, Yatsugatake-Chushin Quasi-National Park, and the South Japan Alps National Park. It is a prefecture where nature abounds with varying spectacular views of lakes and valleys.
Yamanashi boasts various places of natural beauty, such as Mt. Fuji, Fuji Goko (Fuji Five Lakes), and the Shosen-Kyo Valley. Yamanashi also has various historic ruins left for posterity by the Takeda family of war lords who ruled the region in the 16th century, such as Takeda-jinja Shrine and Kai Zenko-ji Temple. Another place worth visiting is a spread of hillside orchards on which fruits are grown, such as peaches, strawberries, cherries, apples, and blueberries. Especially around Katsunuma, which is known as the biggest vineyard in Japan, you can get in touch with the history of wine making in Japan while enjoying the tastes of different wines on a tour of wineries of all sizes, not to mention grape picking.
Yamanashi is easy to access from Tokyo. You can enjoy outdoor sports in the bosom of magnificent nature and encounter artifacts reflecting Japan’s history and culture on a tour of art galleries and museums. There are also a variety of theme parks worth visiting, and all of these are what characterize Yamanashi as one of the most attractive prefectures in Japan.
Winter (December – February)
The temperature rarely drops below 0°C in the plains along the Pacific coast during wintertime. It is also quite dry and very often sunny. Central Japan and Northern Japan are highly reputed regions for winter sports. Southern Japan is comparatively mild and pleasant in winter.
Clothing: overcoats, sweaters, etc.
Spring (March – May)
The plum blossom is a good sign that the cold winter will soon end and spring is just around the corner, followed by the cherry blossom at its best in the Tokyo area between the end of March and the beginning of April to bring this beautiful season to a climax. Splendid views of mountains, fields and gardens all blanketed in gentle pink abound in this season.
Clothing: light jackets, light sweaters and other similar kinds of tops.
Summer (June – August)
The Japanese summer begins in June with a three to four week rainy season. This is an important time for farmers to plant rice. It becomes seriously hot and humid from July onward and many Japanese enjoy bathing in the sea and relaxing at cool resorts in mountainous areas. Summer is when many interesting festivals and other events are held all over the country.
Clothing: light clothes (cardigans and other similar kinds are handy, since indoors are mostly air-conditioned.)
Autumn (September – November)
Autumn always brings such freshness with a light breeze and cool temperature after the hot and humid summer. All forests are dyed in glorious autumn colors. Chrysanthemums create beautiful displays with their abundance of flowers to enchant visitors to parks and gardens. Autumn is also the season for many exhibitions, music concerts and sports tournaments in Japan.
Clothing: light jackets, light sweaters and other similar kinds of tops.
Any foreign visitor who wishes to enter Japan must have a passport, which will remain valid during the period of stay.
Nationals of many countries are eligible to enter Japan without a visa unless the purpose of the visit is to reside in Japan, to obtain employment or to otherwise engage in remunerative activities.
Important Things to Know:
Passport Requirement: Yes
Visa Requirement: No. Travel up to 90 days without a visa.
This Destination is Best For: Hiking, Culture, Culinary, History, and Eco-Adventure,
Is This a Family-Friendly Destination: Yes
Best Time To Travel to This Destination: March to April & June to August.
Recommended Vaccinations: Vaccination for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, cholera, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), chickenpox, shingles, pneumonia and influenza.