Japan is a country with everything to offer. Dramatic mountain scenery, ancient temples and the glittering lights of some of the most expensive real estate in the world can all be experienced within a few hours of travel. Whether you find yourself in a quiet, contemplative garden, a tiny four-seat bar tucked away off a neon alley or even on the slopes of Mt. Fuji watching the sun rise, you’ll come away from Japan feeling like you’ve seen it all.
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The Shangri-La Tokyo is a tranquil retreat in the heart of the city. The elegant 200-room hotel has majestic views of Tokyo and was designed with the well-traveled connoisseur in mind.
Tokyo – Gleaming skyscrapers, neon billboards, hidden shrines and quiet gardens – Tokyo is a megacity that has it all, and it’s all happening at the same time. Take in the sights in famous neighborhoods like Harajuku and Shibuya, shop till you drop in Ginza and Akihabara, and make time to visit the historic temples of Asakusa. Whether you’re there for a few days or for your whole vacation, Tokyo will keep you busy.
Hakone – This quiet resort town is set against the spectacular backdrop of nearby Mt. Fuji. It’s only a short trip from Tokyo, perfect for day trips or longer stays alike. The area’s volcanic past means plenty of natural hot springs, so relax and enjoy this scenic destination.
Kyoto – Step into the past with a visit to Kyoto. Well-preserved architecture and hundreds of shrines and temples make this ancient imperial capital the destination of choice to explore the historical and spiritual heart of Japan.
Osaka – Osaka is a loud, friendly port city and the food capital of Japan. Fried, griddled, raw or on a stick – if it’s delicious, it’s served here. Once you’re full, explore the area’s samurai heritage at Osaka Castle, which rises tall on a hill above the city.
What To Do
Visitors come to Japan from around the world to see Mt. Fuji. On very clear days, the tallest peak in Japan can even be seen from Tokyo, and both Tokyo and Hakone are only a few hours’ journey from the foot of the mountain. Climbing the mountain itself can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but if a whole day on the mountain isn’t your style, climbing to one of the lower camps can still reward you with a spectacular view.
Getting around in Japan can be a destination in itself. The rail connections between major cities are a convenient way of traveling from place to place, but the view from your window alone as you speed through the countryside on a bullet train is worth the price of the ticket. Inside Tokyo, riding the excellent public transportation system can be a great way to get a feel for the many different neighborhoods and see the sights without sore feet. Make sure to purchase a prepaid transit pass before you go, and enjoy your ride!
Before you leave Japan, be sure to stop in at an izakaya, a kind of Japanese pub where you can drink beer and sake and grab small, sharable meals. This is bar food at its best, whether fried, skewered, or stewed, but the real treat is the casual and friendly atmosphere. You’ll make new friends, learn a few more helpful phrases in Japanese and come away with a new appreciation for the local drinking culture.
What To See
The viewing of blossoming cherry trees in Japan, known as hanami, is a big deal for both locals and visitors to Japan. It’s a busy time of year, but for good reason – the sight of thousands of blushing pink blooms is an impressive and uniquely gorgeous experience. If you don’t mind a bit of a crowd, then plan your trip from the last week of March through the first week of April to increase your chances of seeing this iconic display of natural beauty up close.
Shinto and Buddhism coexist in modern Japan, and the result is a variety of shrines and temples dedicated to hundreds of deities and guardians. These places of worship, many of which are hundreds of years old, make for excellent sightseeing for the respectful visitor, and often feature dramatic architecture and beautiful gardens.
Don’t limit yourself to a single city in Japan – the excellent rail network connects major cities and makes taking day trips into the mountains and countryside a breeze. If you’re staying in Osaka, be sure to spend a day wandering Kyoto’s historic streets, where the well-preserved wooden buildings you pass are often hundreds of years old. In Tokyo, escape the bustle of the city for Hakone, a forested resort town near Mt. Fuji with scenic natural vistas that can’t be missed.
When to Go
The weather in Japan varies based on destination, but in general, the summer is warm (80°F) but not too warm, while the winter is cold (40°F) but not too cold. Spring and fall are excellent times to visit Japan, especially for nature lovers – the cherry trees blossom in late March to early April, while the leaves vibrantly change color in late fall. If you’re adverse to crowds, you’ll want to avoid major holidays like New Year’s and Golden Week (the end of April and the first week of May) when many Japanese workers have time off to take their own vacations. Popular attractions such as hanami (the viewing of cherry blossoms) and various religious festivals throughout the year can also increase lines and waits. June and July are the rainiest months of the year, and summers tend to be humid, so pack accordingly.
Visitors from the US must have a passport that is valid for the entire length of their stay. A visa is not required for stays of less than 90 days. Visitors will be fingerprinted and photographed on entry. Please consult the US State Department website for more details and the most current travel information for Japan.