Earlier this year I set off on a research trip to Japan ahead of the launch of our newest destination. Over the course of our three-week trip, I completely fell in love with this fascinating, complex country. Here are some of my photos and seven things that stood out during my travels.
Japanese gardens are carefully constructed works of art. Having been part of the culture for over 1,000 years, there are several periods and types, from the Emperors’ strolling gardens to the Zen monks’ dry stone gardens. Designed with the seasons in mind, they are beautiful all year round. I found them so peaceful.
Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are equally important in Japan, and equally beautiful and interesting to visit. Kyoto is a fantastic spot to visit temples, such as the grand Golden Pavillion.
Hot spring baths – onsens – are found all over Japan and should be included in every trip. There is a ritual when it comes to bathing: you must clean yourself whilst perched on a stool before immersing yourself in the natural, mineral-rich hot water. Different onsens have different properties: some are believed to purify, whilst some will make your skin softer. It’s very relaxing and an incredibly calming way to start the morning or end the day, before or after a traditional kaiseki dinner.
Japan is blessed with an array of striking landscapes from verdant mountains towering above deep valleys divided by rivers, to beautiful, sun-soaked islands with sandy beaches and clear, aquamarine water. Top of your list should be the iconic Mount Fuji.
The food in Japan is outstanding, with an emphasis on local produce and seasonality. It doesn’t need to cost the Earth, either: street food is inexpensive, diverse and extremely tasty. Make sure you try the octopus balls in foodie Mecca, Osaka (below).
Kind, helpful and welcoming, the people made travelling around Japan a real pleasure. They are keen to show off the best of their country, their food and demonstrate their customs. This photo was taken at a Hiroshima Carp baseball game. The Japanese love baseball and going to a game is a great way to interact with the locals.
Tradition and Customs
From tea ceremonies, geishas, and bowing, to accepting cards, onsen conduct, and knowing the difference between house and bathroom slippers, Japanese customs make travelling though this country fascinating and a constant learning curve. Don’t worry though: for the Japanese, it’s only important that you try to learn their various customs and they will easily forgive foreigners who make mistakes. Check out our etiquette guide here.
Inspired to travel? Check out some of my example itineraries for Japan.