Travel to Japan

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Japan

Tokyo is one of the most fascinating cities in Asia and is not to be missed.  Kudos to the Japanese for preserving her antiquities while building dazzlingly avant-garde structures right alongside.  Wandering the neighborhoods of Tokyo yields an endless discovery of things modern, traditional and delicious – even hole in the wall restaurants proudly serve food of freshness and high quality.  Fun things to do are to visit the Tsukiji fish markets – the world’s largest and busiest - in the early morning, watch the time warped 50s dancers in Harajuku on weekends and browse the upmarket stores in Ginza.  Day trips from Tokyo to such destinations as Mt Fuji, Nikko, Kamakura and Hakone are easily doable by regular or bullet train.

Kyoto is, to many people, old Japan. A UNESCO World Heritage site, its ancient temples and shrines, kimono clad women, narrow streets and small shops create an atmosphere of times gone by.  Accessible by air or bullet train, a couple of nights in Kyoto – staying at a Japanese Inn if possible -  is recommended. 

Osaka This confident, stylish city is a shopping hub, with fabulous restaurants and nightlife. It’s also an ideal base for exploring the whole region; Kyoto’s World Heritage Sites, Nara’s temple and Koya-san’s eerie graves are within 90 minutes by train. Top city attractions include the aquarium, Osaka Castle, Universal Studios Japan and the futuristic Floating Garden Observatory.

Hiroshima Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is the largest attraction in this historical city, which engenders many emotions in visitors – mostly admiration for how the citizens have rebuilt and moved on, while never forgetting the past. The Peace Park contains a museum, the remnants of buildings destroyed by the 1945 atomic bomb and monuments to those who lost their lives.

Nara Thirteen hundred years ago, Nara was the imperial capital of Japan. “Old Japan” is still easy to spot here, from Great Buddha Hall to traditional inns and the serene Isuien garden. Travelers enjoy walking tours of Nara, particularly in the historic Naramachi merchant area.

Nagano Those who want to ski in Japan will want to consider the site of the 1998 winter Olympic games.  Whether you ski or not, visitors to Nagano will also be rewarded with sight seeing opportunities such as Zenkoji Temple, and the legendary home of the Togakure Ninja School!

Kanazawa  During the Edo Period, Kanazawa served as the seat of the Maeda Clan, the second most powerful feudal clan after the Tokugawa in terms of rice production and fief size. Accordingly, Kanazawa grew to become a town of great cultural achievements, rivaling Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo).  During World War Two, Kanazawa was Japan’s second largest city (after Kyoto) to escape destruction by air raids. Consequently, parts of the old castle town, such as the Nagamachi samurai district and chaya entertainment districts, have survived in good condition. Today, Kanazawa remains an important city in its region and serves as the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. The city boasts many historical attractions such as restored residences and districts, as well as modern museums. But Kanazawa’s unchallenged main attraction is Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s “three best landscape gardens” and considered the most beautiful of them all.

Takayama Due to its previously inaccessible location nestled high in the mountainous Hida alpine region, this beautifully preserved old town was cut off from the rest of Japan, allowing it to develop its own unique culture.  Takayama is an intimate, leisurely place and even the very center of the town has a quiet, rustic charm. The region is an agricultural one, and every day the freshest of vegetables and fruit are brought by local farmers to Takayama’s lively morning market. The surrounding forests provide fine timber for building traditional houses and for the simple utensils and lacquer ware that have been made in Takayama for hundreds of years.  The skillful carpenters of Hida (as this region is called) are said to have built the Imperial Palace in Kyoto and many temples in that city, as well as in Nara.  The district called San-machi Suji, the traditional home of Takayama merchants and sake brewers, has been preserved in almost exactly the same state as 200 or 300 years ago. Here are inns, shops and taverns which trace their history back many generations. The Takayama Festival, which takes place in spring and autumn, is considered to be one of the three most impressive festivals in Japan.

The most distinctive of all Far Eastern countries, Japan has an original identity that is instantly engaging and delightfully full of enigma and contradiction. Throughout Japan, the visitor will find tradition and modernity, simplicity and intricacy, elegance and ostentation. One can experience the adrenaline rousing rush of Tokyo in the morning, and be calmed by the timeless beauty of Kyoto in the afternoon. Japanese cuisine is now internationally revered and Tokyo has the most Michelin star restaurants of any city in the world. In addition to enjoying some exquisite meals, why not add a cooking class and learn how to make some favorite dishes at home.

People

It is not known exactly from where the Japanese descended. The current population of Japan is nearly 130 million.

Language

Japanese is the official language of Japan. English is a mandatory subject in school but the natural shyness of the Japanese people makes them reticent to speak English with visitors.  Simple, polite questions prefaced by “Excuse me, …” are likely to be understood and responded to.

History

Japan likely was settled about 35,000 years ago by Paleolithic people from the Asian mainland. At the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, a culture called the Jomon developed. Jomon hunter-gatherers fashioned fur clothing, wooden houses, and elaborate clay vessels. A second wave of settlement around 400 B.C. by the Yayoi people introduced metal-working, rice cultivation, and weaving to Japan. DNA evidence suggests that these settlers came from Korea.
The first era of recorded history in Japan is the Kofun (250-538 A.D.), characterized by large burial mounds or tumuli. The Kofun were headed by a class of aristocratic warlords; they adopted many Chinese customs and innovations. Buddhism came to Japan during the Asuka Period, 538-710, as did the Chinese writing system. Society was divided into clans, ruled from Yamato Province.  The first strong central government developed in Nara (710-794); the aristocratic class practiced Buddhism and Chinese calligraphy, while agricultural villagers followed Shintoism. Japan’s unique culture developed rapidly in the Heian era, 794-1185. The imperial court turned out enduring art, poetry and prose. The samurai warrior class developed at this time, as well.
Samurai lords, called “shoguns,” took over governmental power in 1185, and ruled Japan in the name of the emperor until 1868. The Kamakura Shogunate (1185-1333) ruled much of Japan from Kyoto. Aided by two miraculous typhoons, the Kamakura repelled attacks by Mongol armadas in 1274 and 1281.
A particularly strong emperor, Go-Daigo, tried to overthrew shogunal rule in 1331, resulting in a civil war between competing northern and southern courts that finally ended in 1392. During this time, a class of strong regional lords called “daimyo” increased in power; their control lasted through the end of the Edo period, also known as the Tokugawa Shogunate, in 1868. In that year, a new constitutional monarchy was established, headed by the Meiji Emperor. The power of the shoguns was broken. After the Meiji Emperor’s death, his son became the Taisho Emperor (r. 1912-1926). His chronic illnesses allowed the Diet of Japan to democratize the country further. Japan formalized its rule over Korea and seized northern China during World War I.
The Showa Emperor, Hirohito, (1926-1989) oversaw Japan’s aggressive expansion during World War II, its surrender, and its rebirth as a modern, industrialized nation.

Currency

The Japanese yen (円 or ¥; code: JPY) is the official currency of Japan. Currently circulated are: Coins:  1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 yen
Notes: 1,000, 2, 000, 5,000, and 10,000 yen

Best Time to Travel

The best times to visit Japan are the climatically stable seasons of spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November).
Spring is the time when Japan’s famous cherry trees burst into bloom, but the blooms last only a week, so timing a visit around this event is difficult.
Autumn is an equally good time to travel, with pleasant temperatures and brilliant autumn colors.
Traveling during either winter or summer is a mixed bag – midwinter (December to February) weather can be cold, while the summer months (June to August) are generally hot and often humid. June is also the month of Japan’s brief rainy season, which in some years brings daily downpours and in other years is hardly a rainy season at all.

Health Requirements

No shots are required for entry to Japan. Neither Yellow Fever not malaria are present in Japan. Please check with your travel clinic for their recommendation based on your personal health history.

Visa Requirements

US nationals are eligible for visa on arrival at no charge. You will be required to have a passport valid for at least 6 months from date of return and at least 2 blank visa pages.  This is subject to change without notice.

Tipping & Porterage

Tipping is not an accepted Japanese custom. If you wish to thank a driver or guide for an excellent job, best to place your monetary gift in an envelope, and avoid handing cash directly, which may cause embarrassment.

Credit Cards

Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, American Express less so.  Cash is needed for shopping at smaller shops. ATMs are easily found.

Electrical Appliances

The voltage in Japan is 100 Volt, which is slightly different from North America (120V) and may require a voltage adaptor for some devices. Japanese electrical outlets take two, straight pins, just like the US. 
For more information on plugs and voltage, please visit http://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plugs-and-sockets/

Water

Tap water in Japan is completely potable.


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This Destination

Japan

Related Destinations

Bali & Indonesia
Bhutan
Cambodia
China
Hong Kong & Macau
India
Japan
Laos
Malaysia
Myanmar
Nepal
Northern India
Philippines
Singapore
South Korea
Southern India
Sri Lanka
Taiwan
Thailand
Vietnam

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