Sometimes you visit a place and experience an instant connection. That’s Japan for us. It has an inviting warmth and comfort from the second you step off the plane, so much so that it almost feels like returning home.
Why is that? It could be largely thanks to Japan’s long-held “omotenashi” culture of hospitality, where guests are treated with the deepest respect and every service comes from the bottom of the heart. But it’s more than that too.
There are a lot of other things we love about Japan. Here are some of the main ones.
1. The Culture
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Japanese culture so enchanting. Is it the deep-rooted traditions that have evolved over millennia? The mutual respect or the strong familial bond? Whatever it is, we love it. And it’s one of the things that continues to draw us back.
Japanese culture has a foot in the past and an eye on the future, with both complementing each other in different ways. The city of Tokyo is a perfect example. It’s both a glittering neon wonder with futuristic architecture and outrageous fashion, and a place where people visit their local shrine to pray for good health or write wishes on pieces of paper and hang them on a wall.
2. The Food
A moment on the lips is all it takes to fall in love with Japanese cuisine. There’s also a much greater variety than what you might find at your local sushi train. From sweet and mild curries to smoky charcoal-grilled “yakitori” skewers, impossibly fluffy pancakes to stir fries like “goya champuru” and delicious “takoyaki” octopus dumplings lathered in lashings of sauce.
There are some foods you’ll only find in certain places too – like regional-specific “eki ben” bento boxes, which are sold exclusively at train stations and feature a mix of tasty dishes perfectly suited to eating on the go. If you want a crash course in the variety of foods available though, just head to a local convenience store. They’re a gold mine of cheap and tasty eats!
The best advice we can give? To go with an open mind, to follow the locals, and just embrace every opportunity. The trip may be your only chance to try an authentic dish, so dive right in.
3. The Natural Wonders
Japan has a spectacular natural side. Made up of 6852 islands, it’s home to more than 100 active volcanoes, steaming hot springs, sprawling beech forests that extend far beyond the horizon, tropical islands and clear waters brimming with marine life, cascading waterfalls and so much in between. And that’s not even touching on seasonal differences.
Everyone is familiar with images of pastel-pink cherry blossoms in spring, but the other seasons offer just as much visual delight. Forests ablaze in shades of red, yellow and orange in autumn. A blanket of pure white snow that almost begs you to throw on a pair of skis in winter. Beautiful, winding hiking trails that lead you under the cool forest canopy in summer. It’s just magic.
4. The Man-Made Wonders
Of course, the man-made side of things is pretty spectacular too. Not only colossal skyscrapers but ancient Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, stunning gardens landscaped around central ponds… there are even “life-size” Gundam robots that look like they could take flight at any moment! Every twist and turn in the road can lead to another captivating sight.
Some of Japan’s most impressive man-made wonders are UNESCO listed too, including Himeji Castle in Himeji, which dates from the Edo period and is widely considered the country’s most beautiful castle; Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, recognisable for its beautiful gold-leafed façade; and the historic mountain villages of Gokayama and Shirakawa-go.
One experience combining both natural and man-made wonders is the Kumano Kodo, a sacred pilgrimage trail in the Kansai region. Shrines, waterfalls and towering forests are just the start.
5. The People
Above all though, it’s the Japanese people themselves who often leave the deepest impression. They make the country what it is – a welcoming, surprising, safe, and friendly place to travel.
Whether it’s an expert tour guide, someone helpful at a restaurant or mall, or a random person you share a drink with in one of Tokyo’s famous hole-in-the-wall bars, chances are you’ll always remember the memories you made and long to return for a return visit again soon.
All images by Chris Ashton.
Ready to fall in love? Browse tours to Japan here.