Japan is an island country made up of around 7000 islands. The five main islands are:
- Honshu – the largest and most populous island, where the capital Tokyo is situated
- Hokkaido – the northernmost and second largest main island
- Kyushu – the third largest main island and nearest to the Asian continent
- Shikoku – the second smallest main island, situated between Honshu and Kyushu
- Okinawa – the smallest of the main islands.
Discover a unique culture which blends the modern and the traditional with ease. Explore the scenic beauty, sample the delicious cuisine, get to know the friendly people and take a ride on a bullet train for a truly memorable holiday.
From the iconic Mount Fuji to the pacific coast, the cherry blossoms of Kyoto to the hot springs of Beppu, and the snow monkeys (Japanese macaques) of the Japanese alps, Japan will amaze and delight.
From sushi to ramen broths, tempura to gyoza, each region has its own speciality and unique dishes so your tastebuds will be in for a treat!
Places to visit
If you are heading to Japan in cherry blossom season, Kyoto will be on your itinerary. Kyoto was Japan’s ancient capital before being replaced by Tokyo in the 19th century. The city has a rich culture, with 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites including ancient Buddhist temples and magnificent palaces.
Japan’s capital Tokyo is a huge city with a fascinating mix of old and new, of temples and skyscrapers. It has a great choice of shopping, culture, entertainment and places to eat, so visitors won’t be bored here. There are plenty of gardens and outdoor spaces to enjoy the cherry blossom in bloom. You will also find a number of museums worth visiting, including the Tokyo National Museum. The Imperial Palace is also in the city.
Osaka is a large port city on the island of Honshu. Known as the Nation’s Kitchen, you’ll enjoy sampling the delicious street food. It also has a lively nightlife, one of the oldest temples in Japan and a castle. Osaka is also where you will find Universal Studios Japan.
Kobe is a port city, considered one of Japan’s most attractive cities as it lies between the sea and the Rokko Mountains. This cosmopolitan city offers shopping, culture, entertainment and, of course, the world-famous Kobe beef. Where better to try it?
Hiroshima is a vibrant city, rebuilt from the devastation inflicted by the atomic bomb which was dropped on the city in 1945. In the centre is the huge Peace Memorial Park, with its museum, cenotaph to the victims of the atomic bomb and the A-Bomb Dome, one of the few buildings to survive the blast.
Kyushu is Japan’s third largest island, offering historic treasures, modern cities and breath-taking natural beauty, including dramatic volcanoes, powerful waterfalls and lush forests. The island is renowned for its rejuvenating hot springs where you can unwind in one of the many public bathhouses.
Things to see
The iconic Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest mountain and an active volcano. On a clear day it can be seen from Tokyo but you can also enjoy the view on a train trip from Tokyo to Osaka or from the Fuji Five Lake at the foot of the mountain.
The cherry blossom is Japan’s unofficial national flower which has been celebrated for centuries and holds a prominent position in Japanese culture. There are many different varieties of cherry tree in Japan. The season is relatively short and varies depending on where in the country you are but generally the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom in early April.
The colourful display of autumn leaves also draws many visitors to Japan. Again, times will vary from North to South but the season starts around mid-September in the northerly mountain areas to mid-November in more southerly regions. The autumn colours generally last for a few weeks, unlike the cherry blossoms which usually only last for about a week.
Matsushima Bay is celebrated as one of Japan’s most scenic views, with over 200 islands covered in pine trees. Although many of the islands can be reached on foot, a sightseeing cruise would also be a great way to enjoy the views.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Japanese Macaques, or snow monkeys, inhabit the park and can be seen here as they come to bathe in the natural hot springs. Although the park is open all year round, there is usually snow in the area from December to March and the best time to see the monkeys bathing is January and February.
Things to do
Skiing and snowboarding
There are over 500 ski resorts across Japan, varying in size from the very small, one-lift slopes to large resorts with many runs. The largest is the Shiga Kogen ski area in the Nagano Prefecture, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics.