Japan, a timeless country where modern and ancient are seamlessly blended: after whizzing from city to city on the bullet train you can take time out to relax in the sparse beauty of a Zen rock garden.
There is much to see and do in the Land of the Rising Sun, whatever the season. Cherry blossoms in spring, festivals and folk dancing in summer, a riot of reds and golds in autumn, and winter sports in the colder months – whenever you holiday in Japan you’ll be able to experience something new.
In the next of our top holidays destinations 2019 blogs, we will take you to the ultra-modern metropolis of Tokyo, the ancient capital of Kyoto and the mountains of Nagano.
The bustling metropolis of Tokyo
Set in a park of 120,000 trees, which are effectively the lungs of the city, is the Meiji shrine, dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Empress Shoken. Their reign (1868-1912) coincided with the move from feudal state to modern nation. Constructed in 1920, the shrine was destroyed during WWII air raids but reconstructed in 1958, retaining its atmosphere. If you wish to make an offering, there are kiosks nearby selling ema (wooden prayer plaques) and omamori (charms).
Close by is Harajuku, the trendy fashion district where you can choose from Goth style to international brands such as Gap and Forever 21. Takeshita Street is reminiscent of London’s Carnaby Street, pedestrianised with a mix of boutiques, cafés and restaurants. For an insight into Japanese street fashion and sub-cultures, head to Jingu Bashi bridge on a Sunday.
Food aficionados will love the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market. One of the world’s largest markets, it’s a fascinating sight with more than 2,000 tonnes of fish and seafood sold there every day.
Japan’s Cherry Blossom
If you’re able to coincide your holiday to Japan with the cherry blossom season, you’re in for a treat.
Cherry blossom is big news in Japan with talk shows, blogs and festivals following the trees as they go into full bloom across the country. There’s even a vocabulary associated with the blooming:
So where are the best places to hanami?
Tokyo’s Shinjuku Gyoen park has more than 1,000 species of cherry blossom while the 800 trees that line the Meguro River in the Nakameguro neighbourhood colour the water a brilliant pink.
In Kyoto, the Nakaragi no Michi path takes you past the lake under pink and white blossom to the Botanical Garden. The Lake Biwa Canal has reopened after being off-limits for almost 70 years, here you can drift in your boats as the blossom spreads over you. The canal is particularly beautiful at night when the blooms are illuminated.
On the northern shores of Lake Kawaguchiko, with Mount Fuji as the backdrop, you’re guaranteed Instagram-able moments.
Considered by many to be the ultimate cherry blossom viewing site in Japan, Mount Yoshino in Nara has around 30,000 trees which decorate the mountain range. World Heritage Listed temples and shrines share the mountainside making it a fantastic destination for viewing both cherry blossom and the Japanese culture.
For the Japan cherry blossom 2019 forecast, click here.
The spiritual heart of Japan, Kyoto is home to 2000 temples and shrines where incense wafts and prayer chants carry through the gardens as beyond the walls the modern world hurries about its business.
The Kiyomizu Temple, also known as the Pure Water Temple, offers incredible views over the city from a 13-metre high veranda that juts out of the cliff face.
Another of Kyoto’s iconic sites is Nijo Castle. Built in 1603 by the first shogun of the Edo Period, it remained in the family until 1867 when it was used as an imperial palace before being donated to the city. It is arguably the best surviving example of castle architecture from Japan’s feudal era.
In a city where tradition is cherished, the winding alleys of Gion with their wooden merchant houses and 17th century tea-houses whisk you back in time. Famous for geishas – whom you may catch sight of as they hurry to engagements – with their white-painted faces, colourful kimonos and wooden shoes, you can learn more about this traditional form of entertainment at Kanikakuni, a former geisha house.
At the speed of a bullet
The fastest way to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto is the Tokaido Shinkansen. Opened in 1964, it was the world’s fastest high-speed railway line.
With around 8 departures every hour, more during peak times, you can easily fit the journey into your schedule. The fastest train category is the Nozomi and can get you from one city to the other in just 2 hours and 20 minutes.
As you speed on your way, you will pass Mount Fuji rising majestically into the skies.
Alternatively, you could head north from Tokyo to the 1998 Winter Olympics host city of Nagano.
To the northwest of the city, in forested mountains, is the Togakushi area with its many shrines and the Togakure Ninja School.
The Togakushi shrine consists of 3 separate shrines – lower, middle and upper – which tell the Japanese myth around the sun goddess. The shrines are connected by roads and hiking trails, so you can choose to walk or take the bus between the different levels.
Adjacent to the upper shrine is the Togakure Ninpo Museum devoted to the school of ninja. Here you can release your inner warrior at the shuriken (throwing star) range and the Ninja House with its secret doors, passages and contraptions, as well as discovering the tools and weapons used by ninjas in warfare and infiltration.
For a taste of Japanese culture head to Nishi-no-Mon, a sake brewery with restaurant, shops and a free museum housing historic photographs and brewing equipment.
Outside of the city is Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, home to the Japanese Macaques, commonly known as snow monkeys. Reachable by bus and a 1.6km walk to the park’s entrance, it is located in the Yokoyu River Valley. An inhospitable place for humans to live (it translates as Hell Valley), it is heaven for the monkeys who bathe in the hot springs during winter months and come into the park for feeding.
Temples, bullet trains, monkeys, geishas and sake all delivered with that special blend of modern and traditional that is distinct to Japan. For tailor-made holidays to Japan, that offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences, look no further than CLC World Resorts & Hotel’s very own travel specialists, CLC World Travel.