Leading the way in technology, architecture and innovation, Japan’s capital Tokyo resembles something from a sci-fi film, flaunting towering skyscrapers, sleek structures, neon-lights, an ultra-efficient subway system and creative hubs that produce cutting-edge art and popular culture trends consumed around the world. However, amid the modernity, there are glimpses of traditional Japan in the form of temples, shrines, markets and museums. Home to picturesque gardens, authentic teahouses and traditional geisha, Kyoto is a city of artisans and ceremony, while cosmopolitan Hiroshima is a warm and welcoming city with a wealth of moving memorials.
Alongside its technological innovation, Japan is a land of tradition. Perhaps the most recognisable of these is the Geisha, renowned for their distinctive white face, red lips and elaborate hairstyles. Professional entertainers and icons of a historically complex social structure, the girls live and work in traditional teahouses, taking classes in tea ceremony performance, dance, song and music. Explore the district of Gion in Kyoto with a local guide, learning more about the practice and spotting the Geisha schools with their programmes of study displayed on the wall. Another Japanese tradition is the onsen, large thermal baths created by the natural hot springs in the country’s volcanic areas. Authentic communal onsens (in which bathers traditionally relax naked) are often located in scenic surroundings, while our featured ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) offer private baths.
A volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, Japan is a nation that is rich in diverse landscapes and striking natural scenery. Alongside the neon-lit cities, around eighty percent of Japan’s land is considered mountainous, home to bubbling hot springs, fields of wildflowers, sprawling National Parks and enchanting forests. As winter arrives, the Japanese Alps become covered in snow, creating world-class ski resorts that are often much more intimate than their European and American counterparts. Though often hard to glimpse, the country’s tallest peak is the iconic active volcano Mount Fuji, considered one of Japan’s three sacred mountains. Hakone offers boat trips and cable car rides above the peaks, while Yudanaka Onsen is renowned for its hot springs and nearby Monkey Park. The landscape is entirely different in the country’s southern islands, as striking mountains are swapped for tropical beaches.
Japanese cuisine is renowned around the globe for its flavour, freshness and diversity, as well as its long-standing traditions and important role in the country’s culture. In fact, it is now listed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, recognising that this way of eating is vital to the survival of authentic Japanese culture. Often wonderfully simple, the staples include fresh seafood, noodles, flavoursome broth, rice and vegetables, used to make nutritious yet delicious Japanese delights – including the international favourites of sushi and ramen, as well as lesser known delicacies. Of course, the dining choice extends beyond just the Japanese classics, with Tokyo home to more Michelin-star restaurants than any other city in the world.
The native religion of Japan is Shinto, a prehistoric faith that emphasises the divinity of the natural world. Over time, Shinto and Buddhist practices were combined into a single religion, resulting in sacred Shinto shrines being joined by ornate Buddhist temples, still dotted all over the country. The Meiji Jingu Shrine is one of the oldest in Tokyo, built in the memory of Emperor Meiji, while Kyoto is home to over 2,000 temples and shrines. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mount Koya, located in the forested mountains south of Osaka, is home to a collection of more than one-hundred sacred temples and monasteries, housing practicing Shingon Buddhist monks in their recognisable red robes.
Cherry Blossom Season
An international symbol of Japan that adorns countless postcards, the stunning pink cherry blossom (sakura) blooms between late March and early May. During this time, the country is at its most vibrant, with locals and visitors alike engaging in Hanami - a word that translates literally to 'looking at flowers'. Hanami picnics are often held in parks to appreciate the beauty of the blossom. The flowers are deeply symbolic to the Japanese, their quick cycle representing the transcience of life and its beauty.
Some of Japan's deep-rooted traditions and cultural heritage can be intimidatingly different to our own, though completely unique, fascinating and well worth experiencing when you visit. From tea ceremonies to samurai training to kimono, our Concierge Service can assist in making these 'once-in-a-lifetime' experiences happen.
Riding Japan's iconic bullet train (Shinkansen) is an experience in itself, renowned for its incredible efficiency and high speeds, reaching up to 200mph. It is considered disrespectful to talk loudly or answer your phone while riding the trains.
Things to Note
- Travellers with tattoos needs to be aware that many people in Japan do not look on tattoos favourably. As a result of a dominant, anti-tattoo view and Japan’s fraught history with regard to tattooing, any traveller visiting Japan will likely find that having tattoos makes things more complicated for them, namely if they want to use a pool, spa, gym or enter traditional environments like a ryokan.
- Outdoor shoes often need to be taken off before entering temples, traditional houses and some restaurants, and replaced with indoor shoes. Shoes should be removed on any tatami flooring.
- Photography is generally forbidden inside sacred buildings.
- Different shrines and temples have different rituals and traditions - such as a ceremony of purification with water on entry and the burning of incense. Be sure to respect the tradition of the building you are visiting.
- Modest dress is expected in shrines and temples.
- Many places don't accept credit cards so it is wise to carry cash.
- Bowing is the common greeting and gesture of thanks.
- The English language is not as widely understood as many visitors expect, so don't carry the assumption that locals will be able to speak it.
British Airways and Japan Airlines from London Heathrow to Tokyo. Flights with Emirates (via) Dubai from London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow are also available. Onward connections from Tokyo to Osaka, Fukuoka, Sapporo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kagoshima.
11 hours 40 minutes from London Heathrow to Tokyo
14 hours 30 minutes from London Heathrow to Kansai (including layover time)
14 hours 40 minutes from London Heathrow to Osaka (including layover time)
Travelling With Children or Without an Adult
Children travelling without both parents should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country or, in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country. Please contact the relevant Embassy for the county you are travelling to for further information.
Visa and Advance Passenger Information
All passengers must ensure they have a valid, acceptable passport, any required visa and any other documentation for both the final destination and any stop-off points en route. Please make sure that Advance Passenger Information is submitted in advance to travel for all destinations. Failure to hold correct documentation or submitting incorrect details with Advance Passenger Information or Visa applications may result in refusal of carriage or entry into a country. Please check with the relevant Embassy regarding visa requirements well in advance of your travel date. Charges may apply for some visas.
Passengers not travelling on a British Passport are advised to contact their relevant Foreign & Commonwealth office for individual Visa requirements.
For up-to-date resort information, visit www.fco.gov.uk
Health facilities, hygiene and disease risks vary worldwide and you should take health advice about your specific needs from your general practitioner or a specialist clinic as early as possible before travel. Those planning to become pregnant should discuss their travel plans with their healthcare provider to assess their risk of infection with Zika. For information about Zika, other mosquito-borne diseases (such as Dengue fever and Chikungunya), Lyme Disease (caused by tick bites), and to receive advice on mosquito bite avoidance measures, please visit Insect and tick bite avoidance.
In addition, we highly recommend that you seek specialist advice from your doctor and, where recommended, obtain vaccinations or tablets for protection against, for example: Malaria, Hepatitis A, Polio and Typhoid. In some cases, treatments for Malaria should begin well in advance of travel. Travellers may also be required to show Yellow Fever Certificates on arrival in certain destinations ie, some African countries. Please note that you are strongly advised against scuba-diving for 24 hours before travelling by air. We would also like to draw your attention to the risk of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) and recommend that you consult with your doctor before travelling.
Visit the FCDO website and select your destination country for the very latest travel advice: Foreign Travel Advice. Additional sources of information include: Public Health England, The National Travel Health And Network Centre, Foreign And Commonwealth Office and your General Practitioner or a specialised clinic.