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Japanese cherry blossoms

Japan is one of the most unique countries in the world, offering a wide variety of culture, entertainment, sports and technology unlike any other country in the world.

While cities such as Tokyo Metropolitan and Kyoto offer a vast selection of unforgettable attractions, there is more to Japan than just the big cities. Kobe City provides amazing architecture and wonderful scenery, while Yokohama City boasts an incredible botanical park and a visually stunning Chinatown.

Currency: The currency is Japanese Yen and you can expect large multiples, as 1,000 of these equate to £7.80.

Climate: The weather in Japan is temperate, with mild temperatures towards the south of the country and colder conditions further north.

Customs and etiquette: Japan has a selection of unique customs, including bowing upon meeting someone and sitting upright on the floor during meals. When visiting temples, tourists should take off their shoes at their entrance.

Hokkaido Prefecture and Iwate Prefecture

Hokkaido

As two of the northern destinations of Japan, the Hokkaido Prefecture and Iwate Prefecture receive little attention from tourists, as many travellers prefer to visit the bigger cities.

Nevertheless, despite the small crowds, you can expect astonishing architecture in these locations, along with amazing culture and a wonderfully laid-back way of life. Perhaps take a dip in Hokkaido’s amazing hot springs, or explore the stunning Chuson-ji Temple in Iwate, which dates back centuries.

Sapporo City is the capital city of Hokkaido, the largest and most northern of Japan’s four main islands. Although in many ways similar to other major Japanese cities, for historical reasons Sapporo City also stands out from the crowd. 


Must see: Don’t miss out on the amazing Cape Kamui, which offers unbelievable views and magical scenery.

Shopping: Head to the Sapporo JR Station in Hokkaido to explore a magnificent array of shops, selling everything from souvenirs to electronics.

Getting around: There are subway lines, trams and buses available across Hokkaido. Iwate Prefecture has fewer transport options, but buses are still available to many areas.

Kyoto

Maiko Kyoto

As arguably the second most popular tourist destination in Japan, Kyoto offers the perfect balance between traditional values and modern day culture.

You can see some of today’s biggest music stars in the jaw-dropping Kyoto Concert Hall, or take a step back in time to appreciate the awe-inspiring Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine or the historic Kinkakuji Temple.

In fact, Kyoto has some of Japan’s most treasured landmarks, including the beautiful Nijo Castle and the timeless Gion neighbourhood, which dates all the way back to the 17th century.  Expect tasty local cuisine and outstanding architecture in this wonderfully well-preserved area of the city.

If you want to gain an even better insight into some of the country’s traditions, perhaps take advantage of the many workshops available. You can try your hand at making authentic Japanese tea, or take a food class to learn more about ikebana, the fascinating Japanese art of flower arranging.

Must see: When it comes to historical sites, you are spoilt for choice in Kyoto, but the Kiyomizu-dera temple may be the best of the bunch. Expect amazing views, picturesque gardens and an unforgettable shrine within the building.

Shopping: Shinkyogoku is full of excellent retailers, offering a range of both local and international products. It’s also just a short walk away from Teramachi, where more stockists await.

Getting around: The bus and subway networks are both reliable and provide excellent links across Kyoto. If you’re ever lost or confused, there are tourist information desks to provide guidance, too.

Tokyo Metropolitan

Tokyo

Tokyo Metropolitan is packed with fascinating attractions and culture, making it one of the most unique holiday destinations in the world.

In many ways, the capital is Japan’s symbol to the rest of the world and, despite westernisation creeping in in some areas, it has stayed true to its roots and preserved its authenticity over the years.

The Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is one of the most popular tourist spots. These marvellous gardens are truly mesmirising and offer a serene change of pace for visitors. On the other hand, those wanting to experience the big-city should take time out to see the Shibuya pedestrian crossing. It may not be an attraction per se, but it is an insightful snapshot into what it would be like living in one of the world’s busiest cities.

Elsewhere, the National Art Centre cannot be missed. Along with its compelling collections, the building is an example of magnificent architecture and provides a lot of information on Japan’s creative history.

We can’t discuss Tokyo Metropolitan without covering its amazing temples and shrines, either. The Meiji Jingu and Asakusa shrines are truly spellbinding and, even with large crowds, the atmosphere around them is wondrous and peaceful.

Must see: It may seem bizarre to recommend an attraction that is 60 miles away from Tokyo Metropolitan, but Mt Fuji really cannot be missed. While other cities are closer to the area, some of the best travel packages are available from the capital and the two-hour journey will be worth it when you see the remarkable landscape in person.

Shopping: If you’re searching for upmarket products, Ginza is the place to be. You can look forward to everything from crafts sellers to department stores in this eclectic area of town.

Getting around: The Japanese rail network is unbelievably large and provides fast, efficient transport across the city.  Never before has local travelling been so fun.

Fukuoka Prefecture and Oita Prefecture

Fukuoka Night

Fukuoka Prefecture and Oita Prefecture are based in south-west of Japan and provide a majestic mix of history and architecture.

The Oita Prefecture is a coastal prefecture on Japan’s Kyushu Island and is home to many iconic onsen spots such as Beppu and Yufuin. It is well-regarded for its amazing hot springs and the spectacular Oita Prefecture Art Museum, and offers a slow-paced lifestyle in comparison to Japan’s more metropolitan areas.

Fukuoka Prefecture is an important harbour city (it is nearer to Seoul, Korea than Tokyo Metropolitan) and was formed after the merging of two cities. It is known for ancient temples, beaches and modern shopping malls. Some of it's incredible attractions include the historic Kushida Shrine and the picturesque 17th-century Fukuoka Castle. For nature lovers, Nokonoshima Island cannot be missed and delivers some breathtaking views over Japan’s coastline.

Must see: The spectacular Ohori Park is one of the top attractions in both Fukuoka Prefecture and Oita Prefecture. Expect a tranquil atmosphere and stunning scenery.

Shopping: Canal City is the top shopping destination within these regions, offering numerous attractions ranging from shops to cafes, restaurants and a game centre. It’s also built around a canal to provide a truly unique retail experience.

Getting around: Fukuoka Prefecture is served by both Japan and Nishitetsu Railways, alongside three subway lines and a bus network. While Oita Prefecture has fewer transport options, there are still several bus services.

Yokohama, Saitama and Shizuoka Prefecture

Yokohama

With outstanding artifacts, amazing restaurants and plenty of culture, Yokohama City, Saitama and Shizuoka Prefecture are fantastic destinations to visit.

Just over an hour apart, Yokohama City and Saitama are easily within reach of each other thanks to Japan’s highly efficient bullet train network. From Yokohama City, Shizuoka Prefecture is also reachable via a rail journey of around one hour and ten minutes.

Whether you wish to travel between them, or choose just one, there are plenty of excellent attractions to choose from. Firstly, Yokohama City is home to the spectacular Sankei-en botanic garden and the picturesque Osanbashi Pier, ensuring plenty of amazing photo opportunities and a blissful atmosphere for visitors.

Plenty of amazing attractions also await in Shizuoka Prefecture, where travellers can see fantastic collections at the Prefectural Museum of Art and understand the beautiful culture of the country at the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine.

In Saitama, the Musashi Ichinomiya Hikawa Shrine awaits, offering a splendid insight into Japanese religious ceremonies and some marvellous photo opportunities. There is also the Saitama Stadium 2002, giving you the chance to catch some J-League football. This ground was built for the 2002 World Cup and is the home of the Urawa Red Diamonds.

Must see: Minato Mirai 21 is a holidaymakers’ dream. Loaded with shops, restaurants, a beautiful sea view and even a theme park, it cannot be missed if you’re in Yokohama City.

Shopping: Motomachi Shopping street in Yokohama City is full of excellent retailers, selling everything from boutique goods to high-street brands.

Getting around: Train is the most efficient mode of transport in Yokohama City, with stops scattering all over the city. In Shizuoka Prefecture, the Entetsu and Kururu bus networks are the best ways to explore, while Saitama’s subway network ensures easy access to all of the big attractions.

Osaka Prefecture

Osaka

Behind Tokyo and Kyoto, Osaka Prefecture is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan and is full of outstanding attractions for visitors to enjoy, ranging from the colourful commercial hub of Dotonbori to the serene magic of Osaka Castle Park.

Osaka City is only one part of the wider Osaka Prefecture, which includes Hannan, Higashiosaka City and a host of other destinations. However, the capital is what attracts many of the tourists and it continues to offer a magnificent metropolitan experience.

If you’re looking for a slice of western culture with a Japanese twist, the Universal Studios theme park is sure to be a big hit, featuring rides inspired by some of the greatest movies of all time.  

For those looking for some peace and tranquility in the middle of the city, the Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine is sure to be appealing. This spectacular building dates back to 1810 and is designated as a National Treasure.

Must see: The Kuchu Teien Observatory offers magnificent views over the entire city, making it the perfect place for photo opportunities.

Shopping: There are plenty of extraordinary shopping outlets in Osaka Preceture, but Shinsaibashi may be the best option, providing a variety of amazing Japanese and international retailers.

Getting around: Rail and bus services are the best ways for tourists to explore the city, with the subway offering easy transport across Osaka Prefecture. 

Aichi Prefecture and Kobe City

Kobe

The Aichi Prefecture provides a variety of excellent attractions, ranging from traditional Japanese architecture to amazing museums. The Atsuta shrine is one of the greatest centres of worship from ancient times and continues to attract visitors. Toyota City, located in Aichi Prefecture is the home to several of the Toyota Motor Corporation's manufacturing plants (including the Tsutsumi part) are located here. It is of course also home to a great automobile museum. 

Similarly, Kobe City has a magnificent variety of places to explore, including the breathtaking Mount Rokko and Meriken Park. Both of these spots provide glorious scenery and a blissful respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. Kobe City was one of Japan’s first ports to open up to international trade, resulting in Kobe being widely associated with sophisticated culture and fashion ever since the 1860s. This is encapsulated in the popular Japanese phrase, "If you can't go to Paris, go to Kobe

Osu is another extraordinary attraction and ensures a fantastic mix of small shops, department stores and local crafts, making it the perfect place for souvenirs.

Must see: The Kobe Nunobiki Herb Garden is an extraordinary attraction, providing amazing views of the city and a majestic variety of flowers.

Shopping: One of the top destinations for shopping in Aichi Prefecture is Oasis 21, where many retailers are present. What’s more, there are plenty of delightful restaurants.

Getting around: Both locations have excellent subway systems that provide amazing transport across all of the main sights.

Kumamoto Prefecture

Kumamoto

With a laid-back way of life and small crowds, Kumamoto Prefecture gives travellers an excellent insight into Japanese culture, away from the bright lights of the country’s larger cities.

Unfortunately, a series of earthquakes in April of this year caused significant damage and the recovery is still underway. As a result, thousands of residents were left without homes and many landmarks required repair work. The continued resilience of Kummato’s residents highlights the amazing spirit of the city.

Arguably the number one attraction is Kumamoto Castle, which is a truly breathtaking example of architecture. Many structures within the complex have been designated as Important Cultural Property and it continues to attract tourists from across the world.

The Suizenji Jojuen Garden is another magnificent area to explore and is the perfect place for a picnic after a day of exploring. Expect lush plant life, a relaxing atmosphere and some delightful restaurants.

Must see: The Sakuranobaba Johsaien area is the top destination for tourists in the city, with a vast selection of amazing stalls and eateries to choose from. It’s also only a short walk away from Kumamoto Castle.

Shopping: The Shimotori Shotengai is one of the most popular retail areas in the region, offering excellent restaurants and unique shops offering everything from local to international products.

Getting around: The Kumamoto City Transportation Bureau provides both trams and coaches across the area, ensuring easy accessibility for all major attractions. 

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