Travel to Japan

Travel to Japan

From sublime vistas of snowcapped volcanoes to some of the globe’s most utterly modern cities, this island country offers a whole universe of exploration!

Japan’s a fascinating destination, defined by a venerable culture that’s elegantly sophisticated and yet also genuinely warmhearted and fun-loving. Explore ancient landmarks and some of the most technologized entertainment hubs you’ve ever seen in Japan’s great cities, which include Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. Take in Tokyo’s colossal cityscape from the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower and enjoy a clear-day view of Mount Fuji, one of the most recognizable (and revered) summits on Earth. Among Kyoto’s incomparable heritage sites, explore Japan’s immensely rich spiritual traditions at landmarks such as the Saiho-ji Zen temple and the Shinto shrine of Kamigamo. Relish the country's cherished blooms of cherry blossoms, celebrated in art and culture for centuries. Meanwhile, start a lifelong investigation of Japanese cuisine—among the world’s most refined—in Osaka’s spirited Dotonbori district, a great place for ramen, sushi, udon, and other delectable specialties.

Japan has a strong arts tradition. During the years known as the Edo period, the Japanese developed a style of wood block printing known as ukiyo-e. Prints by the artist Hiroshige have become iconic of this style and continue to be popular in museum exhibits today. The roots of origami date back centuries. Origami is a fascinating art whereby paper is folded into animals, flowers and other objects.

The Japanese love of nature can be seen in the arts of bonsai and ikebana. Bonsai practitioners take young trees, typically pine, and through careful pruning and fertilizing create miniature trees. Developed in the 16th century, ikebana is the practice of arranging flowers in an artistically pleasing and harmonious way.

A Japanese form of theatre, known as Kabuki, developed in the Edo period. Visitors to Japan who are able to attend a performance will enjoy the traditional rotating stage as well as the footbridge, or hanamichi, which extends into the audience making attendees feel like part of the action. In a Kabuki play, all the actors are men, some of whom play the female roles, and the plays are typically about historical events or love relationships. Another event that visitors to the country will find interesting is the Japanese tea ceremony, which is a highly ritualized practice of preparing and drinking tea.

When foreigners think of Japanese sports, sumo wrestling is one of the traditional sports that instantly spring to mind. This national sport originated in ancient times as a performance for the Shinto gods. In this unique style of wrestling two competitors fight within a 15 foot circle. The match is lost when one competitor goes outside the ring, or if any part of his body, other than the soles of the feet, touches the ground. Both sumo bouts and training are highly ritualized and fighters wear the mawashi, a type of belt made of silk. The other type of sport that people think of when they think about Japan is the martial arts which include karate, judo, kendo and more. Most of these are focused on technique over power and disciplined training is a hallmark of them.

Baseball is likely the most popular sport in Japan today; it was introduced to Japan by the United States around the 1870's. There are two professional leagues in Japan, and many players have had success outside the country playing for American baseball clubs.

Early in its history Japan developed rice agriculture and rice remains a central part of Japanese cuisine today. Popular dishes with rice include domburi and curry rice (kare raisu). Rice not only plays a role in many Japanese entrees, but it serves as an ingredient in rice crackers, rice cakes and even rice wine.

While rice is an integral part of the food culture in Japan, noodle dishes are very common too, the most common being udon, soba or ramen. Udon noodles are made from wheat flour and are boiled in a broth with ingredients added as toppings. In contrast, soba noodles are made from buckwheat, and are thinner and darker and typically served cold. Usually, soba is eaten with sliced green onions and a dipping sauce and often other toppings. Finally, ramen are thin egg noodles served hot in a flavored broth.

As a nation of islands, seafood is a standard of the Japanese diet. Although fish is grilled, fried or lightly battered, as in tempura, when most people think about Japanese fish, they think about sushi and sashimi. Sushi contains cooked vinegared rice accompanied by other ingredients such as seafood or vegetables. Makizushi is a type of sushi which is rolled and wrapped in nori, a thin seaweed wrapper. Makizushi is the type of sushi best known in the West, however, visitors to Japan may want to sample some of the other types such as Temaki, Hosomaki or Shizushi. Visitors to the country have fun ordering sushi at kaiten zushis, a type of sushi restaurant where a conveyer belt containing plates of sushi roll past customers who select items as they go by. Customers are billed at the end when the wait staff totals how many plates of which color were selected. Sashimi is thinly sliced raw seafood, served without the rice that comes with sushi, and is often dipped in soy sauce and wasabi.

Tofu, derived from soybeans, is a popular protein. Often fried, it is also regularly added to soups, such as Miso, a typical Japanese broth soup, which might be served at any of the three mealtimes. Japanese food is overall a very healthy diet which doesn't put a lot of emphasis on meat, though dishes like grilled chicken, yakitori, and deep fried pork cutlets, tonkatsu, developed in the late 19th century.

Located in East Asia, the Sea of Japan separates the country from the rest of the Asian continent. Slightly smaller than California, Japan is made up of thousands of islands. The four main islands are Kyūshū, Shikoku, Hokkaidū and Honshū. Honshū as the biggest island includes approximately 80% of the country's population.

Over 50% of the country is covered by forests and mountains. Japan's mountains form the Japanese Alps. The very recognizable Mt. Fuji, Japan's highest point is not a mountain but a dormant volcano. Japan also has many lakes and small rivers, the latter a source of hydroelectric power.

Due to the fact that only a small amount of the land is habitable, Japan's cities are extremely populous. The country has made efforts to reclaim land from the sea and rivers using a combination of dikes and drainage systems.

Japan's capital, Tokyo, is the economic, cultural and political center of the country. Tokyo's skyscrapers, transportation system, mega-department stores and entertainment venues might also convince visitors that it's a completely modern city, but the old traditions can still be felt in the Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, tea ceremonies and traditional Kabuki theatre performances. The charming city of Kyoto is home to 1600 temples, 400 shrines, 60 gardens and 2 Imperial villas from a 1,200 year old history and served as a former capitol of Japan.

Most visited cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima

Japan was initially settled by migrants from China, Korea and Siberia. The early people of Japan were hunters and gatherers who eventually developed rice agriculture. By the 5th and 6th centuries, Buddhism was introduced and power was held by nobles and shoguns, military governors.

Japan's first contact with the West occurred in the 16th century with the Portuguese. Eventually traders from England, the Netherlands and Spain arrived along with missionaries. The shogunate grew concerned that the foreigners represented conquest by European powers. Therefore, for nearly two hundred years starting in the 17th century Japan implemented a policy under which foreigners were placed under strong restrictions and eventually forced to leave the country, with relations with the outside world almost completely banned. This policy of isolation from foreign influence did provide some benefits, it created both a very stable period for the country as well as allowing the native culture to thrive. However, following the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854, negotiated by Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy, Japan opened its ports and the country quickly began to industrialize. During the Meiji Restoration of 1868 reforms were enacted including the abolishment of the feudal system, the adoption of Western style government and legal systems, and the restoration of the emperor to power.

Japan joined the Allied forces in WWI; however things were different in the Second World War. In the 1930's Japan invaded China. Then, in 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the unexpected attack and horrific losses triggered America's long awaited entry into WWII. Two atomic bombs led to Japan's Emperor surrendering to the Allies.

Despite Japan's defeat in the war, it quickly recovered to become an economic powerhouse, a democratic nation and an ally of the United States. Japan became a member of the UN in 1956. Today the Japanese people are an urbanized peaceful society and the country is known for its technology.

Tokyo Escape
Tokyo & Osaka
Tokyo & Kyoto