Top tip: Brace yourself for the onsen’s electric bath
The country is made up of a series of mountain ranges that run from the most northern island of Hokkaido down to Kyushu in the south. The highest and best known of which is Mount Fuji at 3776m (12,388ft). Mountains and hills, many of which are volcanic cover four fifths of the country leaving just small alluvial plains scattered along the coast.
With the exception of Hokkaido in the far north and the Okinawa Region in the South, Japan has a temperate climate; winters tend to be sunny and cool in the south and getting progressively cooler as you go north, with Hokkaido having snow for up to 4 months of the year. The summer shows a very similar pattern with temperatures ranging from warm to very hot.
It is advisable to take lightweight cotton clothes for summer visits and medium/heavy weight clothing for the winter months. However, do remember that even in the summer the temperature falls considerably as you gain altitude. So if you intend to do some climbing or hill walking come prepared!
Facts and Figures
377,864 sq km (145,894 sq miles).
127,960,000 (2011 estimate)
Tokyo- population-13,010,279 (2010)
Japanese is the official language. Some English is spoken in major cities.
Shintoism and Buddhism (most Japanese follow both religions) with a Christian minority. In Okinawa, however, people believe in Niraikanai, the realm of the dead beyond the sea.
GMT + 9
For those seeking active exercise on holiday there is everything from challenging mountains to gentle hill walks. The Japanese Alps will attract the keen climbers, alongside lakes, hot springs,skating, fishing and camping.
One of the world’s most important cities with a population of 12 million people and the centre of a vast worldwide network of financial and commercial activity, Tokyo offers a taste of both new and old Japan. The Imperial Palace is a must along with the botanical gardens, national park and the Meiji shrine which are in the western quarter, known as Shinjuku.
Mount Fuji is also well within reach of Tokyo – the area of so-called ‘Fujisan’ is also the centre of wide-ranging natural recreation zone. The ceremonial capital of Japan is Kyoto built in AD 794 in the classic Japanese style. Kyoto has a myriad of temples, palaces and shrines which should not be missed. In Nara you can see the traditional 5-storey pagoda of Kofuku-ji, the Great Buddha Hall and the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world.
Okinawa is the collective name given to the South-West Islands which are scattered over 1000 kms from the southern tip of Kyushu to Yonagunijima. Best known for the tragic role they played at the end of World War II, the prime attractions of the islands are the warm climate, beautiful beaches with excellent diving and superb cuisine.
The best way to travel around Japan is on the ‘Bullet Train‘ and if you stay in the traditional Japanese-style hotels, ‘ryokan’ you will gain a fascinating insight into the Japanese way of life. Whatever you do, don’t forget to try a glass of sake.
Whilst modern, urban Japan may have become an explosion of bright lights, sharp-suited businessmen, high-tech gadgets and cutting edge fashion, the Japanese have always retained a deep-seated respect for their cultural and religious past, and thus it presents the best of both worlds as a travel destination.
Whether you prefer to take part in the feast of colour, pageantry, music and costumes that makes up every religious and cultural festival, stroll down wide boulevards with pink cherry blossom petals falling like snow on your shoulders during springtime, or emerge pink and utterly relaxed from an ‘onsen‘, a public bath in the mountains, steam rising off the outdoor hot springs and melting the snow on the ground, Japan is a country so full of rare outstanding beauty that it takes your breath away.
In the feudal era (12th-19th century), a new ruling class of warriors emerged: the samurai. One of the most famous and successful samurai, Oda Nobunaga, conquered numerous other warlords and had almost unified Japan when he was assassinated in 1582. Toyotomi Hideyoshi succeeded him and united the land in 1590 but open war broke out following his death.
Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated all rival clans in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and was appointed Shogun. ‘Shoguns’ were a powerful war-lords who were dedicated to retaining the insularity of the country – literally translated, the word Shogun means as ‘Repeller of Barbarians’. Under these rulers Japan lived through two and a half centuries of tenuous political unity known as the Edo period.
In 1868 a new leadership was established that not only returned executive power to the Emperor, but also set Japan on the road to rapid industrialisation during a period called the Meiji Restoration.
In 1905 they occupied Korea and by 1938 they had also begun to move into China, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. However, Japan’s modern history has been coloured by defeats, economic setbacks and natural disasters that repeatedly find it rebuilding its damaged society and infrastructure.
In 1942, when the Americans entered the WWII the tide of occupation turned against them. Japan gradually began to retreat from Western Asia, finally surrendering to American occupation after the horrific attacks atHiroshima and Nagasaki. Despite the total devastation that the country suffered, Japan built itself up with remarkable alacrity, attaining phenomenal economic growth and soon becoming one of the world’s leading economic powers.
In January 1989 Akihito took office as Japan’s new Emperor following the death of his father Hirohito. Akihito is proving himself a new kind of leader, ruling as a more accessible European-style monarch as opposed to his demi-god predecessors.
Unfortunately in the 1990s Japan experienced an enormous recession, though with the coming on the 21st century they achieved gradual economic recovery. The Japanese have an unrivalled dedication to work and self improvement that has undoubtedly contributed to the country’s repeated successes.
In March 2011 a large earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, triggering a tsunami that devastated the north western coastline and damaging a nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture. As aid continues to pour into the country, Japan begins to rebuild with the familiar resilience and determination that has been characteristic throughout its long history.
Interested in Japan? Call +44 (0)20 7604 4408 for expert holiday advice