Japan is truly a great year-round destination with 4 distinct seasons!
In the springtime, the fabulous cherry blossoms bloom from south to north. You can see cherry blossoms from January to May, depending on where you are in the country. Summer is the season of festivals, and lots of fireworks. Fall is the season for food and colors, and winter is great for skiing and hot springs. Every season has something special to offer, but it is important to plan so you can experience what is important to you, on your trip.
Currently, Canadian and US citizens with a valid passport do not require a Visa to visit Japan. You do however need proof of a ticket showing that you are leaving the country within 90 days.
The currency in Japan is called the Yen, and that is the only currency used in the country. When you visit Japan, you can purchase Yen ahead of time, or get it from local ATM’s or post office ATM’s. In Japan, there is no tipping either!
There are a lot of international flights into Japan, and it is a great destination to visit, and it makes a great stop-over to other parts of the world.
In Japan, the Bullet Train (Shinkansen) crisscrosses the country, and there are rail passes available for international guests. You can also rent cars from Nissan and Toyota that have English GPS systems. There are lots of taxis as well, so it is easy to get around in Japan.
The cuisine in Japan is world renowned. In 2013, the traditional cuisine of Japan was recognized as a Cultural Heritage asset by UNESCO. Tokyo has the most Michelin 3- star restaurants of any place in the world, and is unofficially recognized as the culinary capital of the world! There are also some great Mom and Pop places to dine. Cuisine is a big reason to visit Japan, and the Japanese use a very diverse selection of meats and sea food, as well as fresh vegetables, that are served raw, cooked, and grilled.
Some great dishes to try would include: Sushi (raw fish with rice and vegetables), Ramen (wheat noodle soup), Soba (buckwheat flour noodles), Yakiniku (BBQ), Okonomiyaki (pan fried pancake with cabbage), Tempura (battered and deep- fried vegetables and seafood), Udon (chewy thick white noodles), and Gyoza (dumplings) for starters. Are you hungry yet?
Japan offers great shopping too! There are Temple flea markets for local souvenirs, department stores, and over 35,000 tax free stores as well. All you need to do is present your passport as a traveler, and you will not have to pay tax on your purchases at these stores.
The accommodations in Japan are typically very clean, safe, and offer great service. There are guest houses (Minshuku), and Japanese Inns (Ryokan), and business and big Brand name hotels are available.
First time visitors on a tight time schedule might enjoy starting in Tokyo (2-3 nights), moving on to Hakone (1-2 nights), then Kyoto (2-3 nights), and finally Osaka. Tokyo offers a great blend of the modern and traditional. Highlights would include the Koishikawa Botanical gardens, and the Sensoji Temple (an ancient Buddhist temple). In the Hakone area, you will find Mt. Fuji, and plenty of outdoor activities like horseback riding, and hiking. Kyoto was the capital before Tokyo, and Kyoto has over 2000 temples and shrines. You could check out the Sagano Bamboo Forest in the Arashiyama area, the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and in the summer, you can dine on the Kawadoko River.
There are a lot of other areas to explore in Japan, and some exciting day trips you can do from the cities. From Tokyo, you can take the Bullet Train to Nikko where you can visit the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In late April and early May, you can see over 350 wisteria trees in bloom in the Ashikaga Flower park, which is fabulous! There is also Edo Wonderland, a cultural theme park, which gives you an idea of classic Japanese life in the Edo period.
From Tokyo, you can also travel to the Yokohama and Kamakura area for a day trip. Here they have a fantastic China Town, and you can also visit the Great Buddha of Kamakura, which dates to 1252. Wow!
On a day trip from Kyoto, you can visit Osaka, and get an amazing view of the area from the observation deck on the Umeda Sky building. You can visit the Osaka Castle, and enjoy all the great food in this area.
Nara is another day trip from Kyoto, and in Nara you will see over 1200 deer wandering around the national park, as they are considered a national treasure. You can buy special deer crackers to feed them, and they are very friendly. The deer are super cute to take pictures with, that you can share with your friends and family. In Nara, there are also many Temples to visit, and a beautiful old Tea House.
Mt Koya, is a sacred mountain near Osaka, which offers a spiritual experience. You can stay in a typical Buddhist Temple, meditate, and eat vegetarian food prepared by the monks. This is a perfect off- the-beaten-track mountain retreat experience.
Fukui offers another off-the-beaten-track experience, and in August they have lantern festivals. You can also take a pottery, and other craft workshops in this area. This area is also known for its fresh crab!
There are many exclusive experiences that a person can do in Japan as well. Some examples would be watching Sumo Wrestling training, cooking classes, taiko drum experiences, and home hosted dinners.
A must see in the Japanese Alps would be the Jigokudani Monkey park near Yudanaka, where you can see wild snow monkeys bathing in the hot springs. The best time to see them is the cooler months in the winter, as the hide when it is warmer. In the winter (January and February), you can see the snow monkeys gathering in their social groups, and watch their entertaining interactions in the hot springs. How fun!
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