I wasn’t sure what to expect before travelling to Japan, but I did know that it would be magical and nothing quite like anywhere else I’d been. Over the course of our three-week destination research trip, I fell completely in love with this fascinating, complex country. Here are some of my photos and the seven things that I think should be included in any itinerary.
1. Japanese gardens
I was immediately captivated by the beauty of the Japanese gardens I visited. They have been part of the culture for over 1,000 years and there are several periods and types, from the Emperors’ strolling gardens to the Zen monks’ dry stone gardens. Strolling through these carefully constructed works of art was both awe inspiring and incredibly peaceful. Designed with the seasons in mind, the gardens are beautiful all year round so put them to the top of your list no matter when you’re planning to visit.
2. The temples
Perhaps one of the first things most visitors think of when planning a visit to Japan, the temples did not disappoint. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are equally important in Japan, and are equally beautiful and interesting to visit.
Kyoto is a fantastic spot to visit temples, such as the grand Golden Pavillion.
3. The hot springs
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 a wonderfully relaxing experience and an incredibly calming way to start the morning or end to the day, before or after a traditional kaiseki dinner.
4. The scenery
Japan is blessed with an array of striking landscapes. It has everything from verdant mountains that tower above deep valleys divided by rivers, to beautiful, sun-soaked islands with sandy beaches and clear, aquamarine water. They make a striking contrast to the bustling cities. Top of your list should be the iconic Mount Fuji.
5. The food
I’ve always enjoyed Japanese food, but experiencing it in the country itself added a whole new dimension to this cuisine. 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). I’ve taken away some great inspiration and recipes to share with family and friends.
6. The people
Kind, helpful and welcoming, the people made travelling around Japan a real pleasure. Everyone I met was keen to show off the best of their country, their food and to 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.
7. Tradition and customs
Japanese customs make travelling though this country fascinating and a constant learning curve. There are traditions and customs for everything from tea ceremonies to geishas, and bowing to accepting cards, not to mention proper onsen conduct, and knowing the difference between house and bathroom slippers… Don’t worry though: a little effort goes a long way. 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 to get a head start.
Inspired to travel? Check out some of my example itineraries for Japan.