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What to Do and Where to Go in Japan

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by Denise H-C (subscribe)
Freelance writer with a BA double majoring in Literature and Australian History who loves finding random places of social or historical treasure whilst travelling around visiting festivals, markets and quaint cafes with my husband and baby
Published April 8th 2014
Need to know where to visit and what to do in Japan?
Great! You've scored a good deal and managed to book one of the many cheap deals to Japan that are being offered by a variety of airlines. But once the rush of excitement over getting the great airline deal is over, you have no idea what to do once you get there.

Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto visit japan
Fushimi Inari Shrine, near Kyoto

Japan is a country of contrasts. Cutting edge technology sits comfortably alongside traditions that have lasted through the ages. Modern dress and transport mixes easily with religion and spirituality.

In Japan, you'll find more than you ever expected.

[ADVERT]This writer visited Japan purely at the instigation of her husband who had travelled the long dusty roads through South-East Asia with her and now demanded a cleaner, more technologically advanced country to enjoy his hard earned holiday. But what I found when I got to Japan completely surpassed my expectations.

The history of Japan was something I didn't expect. Of course, everyone knows the history we learn at school, but there's far more to Japan's past than we traditionally learn. The ancient wooden castles and the Imperial wars conjure up images of Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. I would definitely recommend that anyone planning a trip to Japan spends an hour or two reading about its history before finalising your trip.

Japan is a spiritual country, embracing a mix of Shinto and Buddhism. There are temples everywhere, tiny ones in little niches in the street in cities, and awe-inspiring ones on mountain sides in the country.

The cities are full of millions of people, the latest shops, clothing and takeaway restaurants. Thumping nightlife and ear-splitting karaoke sit alongside manga comics, cosplay and cartoons.

When planning your holiday in Japan, firstly you need to decide what sort of holiday you're after - romantic, relaxing break, self drive/railway, skiing or active. Then decide whether you want to visit northern Japan (above Tokyo) or southern Japan (below Tokyo). Don't forget that some of the area above Tokyo has been affected by the nuclear disaster following the tsunami a few years ago, so it's advisable to check with authorities and official websites before travelling into areas that might be contaminated.

Gion Kyoto where to go in Japan
Gion, Kyoto - Home of the Geisha

The country of Japan consists of 6852 islands with the four largest being the four largest being Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Japan is made up of 47 prefectures, each of them divided into cities, towns and villages. The capital and largest city is Tokyo, with the top 10 largest cities after Tokyo being made up by Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoyo, Sapporo, Kobe, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Kawasaki and Saitama.

Sites not to miss

Japan has way too many amazing sites and visitor experiences to list them all, but here are some of them you might want to consider depending on the region you plan to visit:

Torii of Itsukushima Shrine, near Hiroshima
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto
Matsumoto Castle, near Nagano
Disneyland, Tokyo
Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto
Mount Fuji
Shinjuku and Roppongi districts, Tokyo
Osaka Castle, Osaka
Japan Alps
Great Buddha of Kamakura

Torii shrine what to do in Japan
Torii Shrine

Things on the must do list

Japan is spoiled for choice when it comes to amazing things to do when on holiday there. With such a variety of experiences there's something for everyone in Japan:

Visit a Buddhist Shrine
Ride a high speed train
Visit a traditional Onsen/Ryokan
Take in a Geisha show
Enjoy a drink and a spot of karaoke in Roppongi, Tokyo
Walk the bamboo paths at Arashiyama, near Kyoto
Wander the halls of an ancient Japanese castle
See the sights from above on a Ropeway aerial lift

Ski Resorts

There are over 500 ski resorts in Japan, but some of the good ones are in the areas of:

Niseko, Hikkaido
Furano, Hikkaido
Zao, Tohoku
Teine, Sapporo
Shiga Kogen
Mount Fuji


Onsen traditionally means hot springs in Japanese, although the word is often used to describe the bathing facilities, resorts and inns around the hot springs. They come in many different sizes and designs including outdoor hot springs (often overlooking snow capped mountains) and indoor baths. The good ones are combined with luxury resorts and traditional Japanese ryokan hotels.

Great Onsen's for a relaxing/romantic holiday, at varying prices, are:

Norikura Kogen Onsen, Nagano
Dogo Onsen, Matsuyama
Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma
Hirayuno-Mori Onsen, near Takayama
Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido
Arima Onsen, Hyogo

Japan alps where to visit in Japan
Pure clean steam coming from underground natural hot springs in the Alps

Whatever you plan to do in Japan, you can be sure that your holiday will leave you with lasting memories and a desire to return. One trip just isn't enough!
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Why? Use your cheap flights to create an amazing holiday
When: All year round
Where: Throughout Japan
Cost: Varies
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