Japan is one of the most stunning countries in the world. With its’ unique flora and fauna, its’ rich cultural heritage and booming industry, it is the perfect fusion of a natural near-mythical paradise and a contemporary utopia of Asia’s far East. This week we explore Japan in all its’ splendor…
Japan is frequently glamourised by its’ futuristic cities where fashion is far out, technology is light years ahead and the culture is one with a welcoming embrace. Whilst the stereotypical view of Japan is not always accurate, this strange and beautiful island is more often than not, exactly as stunning and exciting as the movies would have you believe. From karaoke to martial arts, fine cuisine to nature trails, Japanese theater to historical museums; Japan is just the culture shock you need right now to satisfy your wanderlust!
Right at the heart of Japan is the buzzing, neon-lit capital city of Tokyo. Established as the political centre of Japan during the Edo Period, Tokyo is home to many unique historical monuments such as the city’s oldest temple in Asakusa as well as towering sky-scrapers which changed the cities skyline following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1929 which destroyed much of the city. There are many museums and garden to explore near Asakusa and Tokyo has a surprising amount of greenery despite its’ reputation as a towering metropolis. The Imperial East Gardens , Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens and Kyu Shiba Rikyu Gardens in particular are home to many traditional Japanese serene streams, stunning Cherry blossoms during the Spring months, sculpted azalea’s, willow trees and Japanese maples for a truly spiritual journey.
For those who prefer the hustle and bustle, central Tokyo can be explored by train, subway or bus which link the unique urban districts together in a dense network. Visit the hip and happening areas of Harajuku, Koenji, Shinjuku, Ginza and Shibuya which are considered some of Tokyo’s most fashionable districts. This is where Japanese street style emerges in all its’ weird and wonderful glory where only the coolest teen cliques (known locally as kei) and twenty-something taste-makers spend their time shopping and eating in the area. Tokyo has a big nightlife and club culture with many office workers leaving late and going straight out on the town to share drinks. Sushi bars and Karaoke bars which serve Sake, Japanese beers and whisky are particularly popular, with finely crafted fresh sushi being prepared carefully and delicately in front of customers. If you come to Japan and don’t try the sushi, you are sorely missing out!
Tokyo also has a lot of great spots for shopping and eating such as Kagurazaka street, Marunouchi; which boasts luxurious hotels for afternoon tea and A’la Carte Japanese cooking) and Daikanyama; a spot with chic independent fashion boutiques. The Tokyo Tower and Edo-Tokyo Museum are great tourist haunts within a reasonable distance however if you invest in a travel pass to go slightly further afield you can pay a visit to the Studio Ghibili Museum and Tokyo Disneyland which sit just a few miles outside of the capital.
Eating in Japan
Japanese cuisine is some of the finest in Asia and the imported versions’ we encounter in the West just don’t quite live up to the real thing. Tokyo and Osaka are your go-to locations for fine sushi but there is so much more on offer across the country than raw fish. Noodle bars selling great bowls of Udon and Ramen are incredibly delicious experiences whilst Tonkatsu (a deep fried breaded pork or chicken cutlet traditionally served with shredded cabbage) is also a surprisingly more-ish dish you should definitely try to ease yourself into the unique culture.
Tempura, Yakitori (skewered chicken) and sea food are also customary here and are much better in quality above the versions you will find in Europe or the US. Traditional Japanese tea houses hosted by Geisha’s are also a unique cultural experience that will give you a true taste of Japan. Hotel Chinzanzo and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo both offer the service to tourists with a reservation however the tea rooms in Kyoto have a more old school feel with ceremonies that can last up to four hours. A more casual option can be found with Japan’s now infamous Cat Cafe’s. Originating in Taiwan, there are at least 39 cat cafe’s in Tokyo alone where patrons are invited to drink and dine (usually snacking on popular foods and beverages such as Bubble tea, Japanese desserts, Miso soups and sandwiches) with the resident cats of the establishment; a concept which has been embraced fully by animal lovers and kawaii obsessed teenage cliques of the bigger cities. Eating in Japan is certainly never boring and always a refreshing experience for Westerners.
Tourists are frequently pre-warned of the very specific customs and unique social etiquette when visiting Japan; particularly when dining, doing business or visiting homes. Politeness is a highly valued trait in this country and displaying aggression, anger or an overly-direct tone are considered to be a sign of ‘losing face’. Address aquaintances by their last name with the respectful ‘san‘ afterwards and try to refrain from being late; punctuality is much appreciated in Japan!
Removal of shoes is particularly encouraged when entering the home and/or a sacred site whilst some of the aforementioned restaurants (particularly at tea houses) will expect you to remove all footwear before sitting on their Tatami flooring. Diners are encouraged to use chopsticks to eat their meals according to Japanese dining etiquette (you’ll master them within a few days, no doubt!) though in the larger cities, many restaurants are understanding if you need to ask for Western cutlery. Just make sure to never use the same chopsticks used for eating your meal to grab communal items at the table and do not leave them sticking upwards out of a dish, instead laying them down on your plate or bowl. Remember to always bring a token gift for your host and never refuse or pour your own drink.
The beauty of Japan is equally as breathtaking and diverse outside of the main city of Tokyo. Osaka and Kyoto are great smaller cities to explore and with Kyoto as Japan’s former capital, it is host to a number of atmospheric Buddhist and Shinto temples including the Temple Of The Gold Pavillion. Mt. Fuji is also a popular tourist destination and stands iconic as a snow-capped dramatic backdrop to Japan’s natural mountainous green landscape. There are numerous trips up to the summit with July to September being the optimum time of year to explore for spectacular views and fair weather. The slopes of Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps are great for skiing whilst Okinawa boasts tropical beaches and crystal waters for a more traditional summer break. Visiting Japan is annually a great experience however the Spring bring the sight of thousands of pink and white Sakura cherry blossoms which make Japan much like a candy-floss covered haven.
If something less orthodox and off the beaten track is what you require there are also special guided tours of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which provide insight into one of Japan’s darkest periods at the end of the Second World War. Kawaguchiko nearby is also home to Onsen Spa whilst the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto provide the perfect environment for zenning out. The best way of course, is to search for yourself and see what you can discover.
Japan truly is one of the most individually breath-taking places on Earth and is certainly like no other.
When you’re travelling through such a beautiful, colourful country we would definitely suggest looking for the same in your sunglasses. For men’s sunglasses, maybe opt for something with a bright mirror lens; like these Ray-Ban® Aviators in Matte Gold Blue Mirror. For women’s sunglasses, maybe go for sunglasses that have a colourful frame or have some stand-out features. We love these Miu Miu Irregular Metal Feature sunglasses.
Have you visited Japan?
Planning a trip next season?
Tell us in the comments below!