Welcome to Japan! This is a land of intriguing contradictions. Japan is an archipelago made up of more than 6,800 islands with three quarters of the land being either forest or mountains, leaving little for residential, industrial, or farming areas. Yet it is densely populated for its size. Its leaders have ranged from the samurai to the shogun to the emperor. Its highest point – Mt. Fuji – is beautiful and sacred, as are its many temples and shrines. Its capital city – Tokyo – is a bustling metropolis containing anything one might desire, from food to entertainment to art and culture. Kyoto is filled with serene religious buildings and glorious gardens. A Japan trip awaits with open arms!

Destination Must-See's

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Until the 19th century, Tokyo was known as Edo. It started out as a fishing village but grew to become the seat of a feudal government in the early 17th century. Emperor Meiji moved the capital from Kyoto to Edo in 1868 and renamed it Tokyo, or “Eastern Capital.” By then it had become one of the world’s most populous cities. After World War II it was completely rebuilt. Today, Tokyo is more than just a large city – it is a metropolis with 23 wards. Learn all about the city’s fascinating history and culture through artwork and antiques in Tokyo’s National Museum. Travellers dive even deeper into Tokyo’s ancient roots with a visit to the Zojoji Temple, the center of Japanese Buddhism. From the Ginza district to the Sumida River there’s something for everyone in Tokyo.

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Kyoto was home to the emperor from 794 to 1868. It was Japan’s political and cultural center for 1,100 years, until the capital was moved to Tokyo. Kyoto was largely spared from damaging air raids of World War II and numerous temples, shrines, castles, and palaces are still standing today. Among them is the Golden Pavilion, a Zen temple whose top two stories are completely covered in gold leaf. Once the lavish retirement home of a shogun (military dictator), it was converted to a Zen temple in the 1400s. It has survived wars, been rebuilt after fires, and still stands as an impressive piece of historic architecture. Nijo Castle, another impressive monument, was built in 1603 as the residence of Tokugawa leyasu – the first shogun of the Edo Period. Kyoto is also well-known for Gion – its most famous Geisha district where you may be lucky enough to see a woman dressed in full, traditional geisha regalia.

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Hiroshima will forever be remembered for the devastating event of August 6, 1945: the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Nearly everything within a mile of where the bomb fell was destroyed, and some 80,000 people perished. There were predictions that the city would no longer be habitable. Today, Hiroshima has been rebuilt and a large park was constructed, containing several memorials to the victims. The Peace Memorial Museum focuses on the dropping of the bomb and its aftermath; the Atomic Bomb Dome was one of the few buildings to remain standing afterward; and the Memorial Cenotaph is an arched tomb for those who died. Also worth a visit is Hiroshima Castle. Originally built in 1589, it was five stories tall and was surrounded by a moat. It was destroyed in 1945, rebuilt in 1958, and is now a museum featuring Samurai culture.

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Takayama means “tall mountain,” and is a city in the mountainous Hida region. During the feudal ages, it became known for its high-quality timber and skilled carpenters. Yet it was kept fairly isolated due to the surrounding mountains. Today it is known for its well-preserved old town. The Hida-Kokubunji Temple is the oldest structure, originally built in 746. It features a huge ginko tree, said to be 1,200 years old, and a three-storied pagoda. The Hida no Sato Folk Village, with its traditional wooden farm houses, is an open-air museum. There are also two morning markets, or Asaichi, held on a daily basis, as well as sake breweries. It is the perfect place for a walk.

Destination Must-Do's

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Japanese Cuisine:

No trip to Japan would be complete without experiencing its flavourful dishes. A bowl of gohan, or cooked rice, is a central part of Japanese meals. From there we go to sushi, famous both outside of and inside Japan. Sushi is made from cold boiled rice, moistened by vinegar and typically combined with seafood and vegetables. Sashimi is thinly sliced raw food – most often seafood. (Japan is an island, after all.) The most popular noodles are soba (buckwheat flour), udon (wheat flour), and ramen, a noodle soup dish. Tempura is lightly battered, deep-fried seafood and vegetables. Yakatori refers to grilled chicken skewers you can try at a yakitori-ya. Be sure to enjoy green tea with your meal, as the Japanese do.

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The Tokyo Skytree:

The Tokyo Skytree is the perfect way to get a panoramic view of the city and beyond. A television broadcasting tower, this Tokyo landmark is almost 1,200 feet high and is the tallest structure in Japan. A large shopping complex and an aquarium are at its base, but it’s the two observation decks that warrant a visit. Head to the “world’s highest skywalk” for views that will take your breath away!

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Temples and Shrines:

Temples and shrines are found all over Japan, with most municipalities having at least one temple. (Kyoto has 1,200.) Temples are Buddhist places of worship, and they store and display sacred objects. They typically consist of a main hall, a lecture hall, a pagoda, gates, bells, and a cemetrey. Some were monasteries in the past, and some still are. Shrines are Shinto places of worship. They are the dwellings of the kami, or Shinto gods. Sacred objects are stored in the innermost chamber, and are not to be seen by anyone. People visit shrines to pay respect to the kami, or to pray for good fortune. The approach to the shrine is marked by Torii gates; the komainu, a pair of guardian dogs or lions, is found on each side of the shrine’s entrance.

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Hakone has been a hot springs resort for centuries. There are more than a dozen hot springs, with Yumoto being the most famous. There is much natural beauty to be appreciated here. Lake Ashinoko, or Lake Ashi, was formed in a volcanic caldera after an eruption 3,000 years ago; it is the perfect place for a scenic boat ride with views of Mt. Fuji. The Hakone Shrine, on the shores of Lake Ashi, is Hakone’s most famous Shinto shrine. Three striking Torii gates mark the approach to the shrine. Odawaro Castle is the closest castle to Tokyo, some 60 miles away. Originally built in the 15th century, it has been rebuilt twice since then. Hakone remains a popular destination for the Japanese and tourists alike.

Expert Advice


Diana Ditto

Sr. Director of Product Marketing
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Sake is a traditional accompaniment to a Japanese meal. Made from fermented rice, it is often referred to as a wine as both are often chosen paring with dishes. The junmai-shu is the middle grade variety; ginjo and daiginjo are higher. Something to keep in mind: its alcohol content is higher than wine. 
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The Tsukiji Outer Market, located in central Tokyo, is known as Japan’s “Food Town” where travellers can experience a variety of traditional Japanese foods. This bustling locale is also home to wholesale and retail stores, as well as several informal restaurants and cafes. 
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Japanese culture is complex. That’s one of the things I love about going there. Remember, etiquette is important. When you meet someone bow politely.

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