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A Japan travel guide – serene shrines, volcanic landscapes and sumo wrestling

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Holidays in Japan will take you from snow-topped mountains to subtropical beaches, from steaming hot springs and peaceful temples to neon lights and ultra-modern bars. Book your Japan hotel and experience a country steeped in centuries-old tradition yet at the cutting edge of design and technology.

Get your bearings

A long stretch of islands off Asia’s east coast, Japan encompasses a range of diverse climates and landscapes. To the north are the snowy mountains of the country’s second largest island, Hokkaido. Heading south, the biggest island, Honshu, is home to Nagano’s lakes, Kyoto’s temples and the vibrant capital, Tokyo. Southwest of the capital is famous Mount Fuji, a dormant volcanic cone. At the base of Honshu are Shikoku and Kyushu islands. On Kyushu is the cosmopolitan port city Fukuoka, home to traditional inn-style restaurants. Venture even further south for the sun and sand of the Ryukyu isles and Okinawa.

Diverse dining

No holiday in Japan is complete without an exploration of each region’s distinctive flavours. In Tokyo, the food is a blend of fresh sushi, tempura and monjayaki, a doughy, vegetable and fish pancake cooked on a hotplate. Stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese hotel, in Kyoto to experience kaiseki ryori (Japan’s fine dining in delicate morsels). Oysters freshly shucked or battered are a speciality in Hiroshima or head west to coastal Kobe for tender, marbled Wagyu beef. A trip to Fukuoka should include a taste of Hakata ramen (juicy pork noodles).

Time-honoured traditions

Centuries of isolation have given Japan a unique culture that’s on show throughout the country - from Sumo wrestling matches across Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka, to the more serene art of cha-no-yu (tea ceremony) in Kyoto. Catch a kabuki show (traditional theatre with spectacular costumes) at Tokyo’s Kabuki-za Theater. The intricate art of ukiyo-e (woodblock printing) can be seen the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto City. Observe bathing rituals at onsen (natural hot springs) in northern Honshu’s Aomori or south of Tokyo on volcanic Izu Peninsula

Shrines and samurai

Explore the samurai era in northern Japan at the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, a mausoleum to the 16th-century shogun (warlord) Tokugawa Ieyasu. The story continues in Matsue, where samurai mansions remain preserved around Matsue Castle. Kyoto is a haven of Zen and Shinto temples and the place for geisha spotting. Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Museum documents the devastating Second World War nuclear strike. Nearby Miyajima on the Inland Sea is home to Japan’s famous floating gate, Otorii. Nearby, just outside Osaka, lies Himeji Castle, one of Japan’s few remaining original 14th-century castles. 

Outdoor Japan

Winter holidays in Japan might mean skiing in Hokkaido, famed for its deep, powdery snow. In summer, hiking amid the rivers and cliffs of Daisetsuzan National Park takes its place. Close to Tokyo, the Tonegawa River in mountainous Gunma region offers all-level of white water rafting amongst breathtaking canyons. Cycle through rice paddies and bamboo groves on the Asuka Plain near Nara for more spectacular views, or play golf by Mount Fuji in Gotemba