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Japan is a majestically mountainous country surrounded by the ocean, lined with many waterways, and abundant in nature. As the country stretches some 3000 kilometres north to south, it encompasses a range of climates from subarctic to subtropical with four distinct seasons, meaning there is no shortage of activities to be enjoyed year round.
Spring time, March to May, is when the cherry blossoms bloom, with the first week of April hailing as the best time for viewing in the major cities of Tokyo and Kyoto. Viewing parties known as hanami are a popular way to admire the transient beauty of Japan’s iconic blooms.
Summer in Japan brings traditional festivals and firework displays, whereas Autumn brings the cooler crisper weather and the brilliant red and gold foliage known as Koyo. Late October to November is the peak time to view Koyo as the leaves change from the north and make their way southwards, painting the landscapes. Then all the ski junkies take their annual pilgrimage from around the world to descend on Japan for their powder snow and steaming onsens.
Tokyo is an incredibly dazzling and diverse city. A night out in Shinjuku and an amble down the lanes of the old city (Golden Gai) are a must at dinner time even if you choose not to dine there. Little nook restaurants and bars crammed together only seat a handful of people each but around the corner, modern Shinjuku is a surreal maze of neon colour where everyone from businessmen to eccentrically dressed youngsters swarm.
When Kyoto calls, you go running - it's just the nature of this breathtakingly beautiful area. It's Japan's seventh-largest city, boasting enchanting temples and shrines that positively ooze history and culture. Kyoto is not too shabby when it comes to culinary delights. Try some mackerel sushi, one of Kyoto’s delicacies. You can also take a day trip to nearby Nara where deer roam around the Todai-ji Temple and Nara Park.
It's one of the world's biggest metropolitan areas, with a teeming population of almost 9 million. At any time of year, shopping street Osaka Nipponbashi is great to visit if you're interested in learning more about the country's pop culture, with plenty of animation, gaming and comic stores where the fans hang out. You'll see a lot of people dressed up, role playing and poring over collectibles in the shops.
With three-quarters of the country lending itself to mountain, Japan’s a haven for the avid skier or snowboarder. As the better-known Japanese resort, Nisko enjoys an enviable 16 metres of snow per year, but with over 700 winter resorts dotting the map, there’s light powder to be found all-over, as well as a relatively low-lying landscape which will thankfully keep the altitude sickness at bay.
Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the beginning of spring and the arrival of beautiful Sakura – Japanese cherry blossom. It is also a time for eating and drinking, with locals descending on the neighbourhood’s prettiest parks to sit under the candy-coloured trees with a picnic. Popular festival activities include tea ceremonies and food hampers packed-out with onigiri rice balls, Yakiniku (grilled meats) and steaming miso soup.
Harajuku is the ultimate fashion and shopping district. Head to Takeshita Dori in particular, a narrow, pedestrian-only street packed with Tokyo's young fashionistas. Peruse the boutiques and cafes at your leisure and enjoy some fantastic people-watching. On Sunday's visit Harajuku Bridge, when the city's youth parade around in Disney style costumes - it's an incredibly unique sight!
Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari is one natural hot spring, or onsen, which features 14 different baths with natural hot spring water sourced from 1,400 metres underground. The water is high in compounds such as calcium and magnesium, said to have a soft and soothing effect on the skin. For something a bit different, test the pure white waters of its Kinu-no-Yu bath, which has tiny bubbles and is said to stimulate the skin's surface with a massaging effect..
This structure is one of the city's greatest and most powerful symbols. It features awe-inspiring gates and turrets, as well as an impressive outer moat. Aside from its solid structural design, there are amazing decorative touches, such as the ornamental dolphins, tiles and tigers adorning the roof.
If you go to just one temple in Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji is not a bad option. It's the most well-known one of the area and is a truly impressive sight, complete with gold leaf detail and drenched in history. It was once the retirement villa of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu before becoming a zen temple, along with a large pond to add to the atmosphere. It's incredibly popular, however, so it's best to visit here early or later in the day, avoiding holidays and peak tourist times.
The Nishiki Market is an essential destination for any foodie, offering more than a hundred shops and restaurants packed to the brim with mouth-watering delights. Stock up on dried seafood, Japanese sweets, pickles and other delicacies while you're here.
No trip to Kyoto is complete without a visit to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, which is regarded as the city's most important and impressive shrine. Comprising of a series (and by series, we mean thousands) of vermilion torri gates that spread across an entire mountain. In the grounds of Fushimi Inari you'll notice plenty of fox statues, important as they are thought to be Inari's messengers. And why is this important? Because Inari is the Shinto god of rice.
With average temperature between 3°C - 7°C, a Japanese winter will nip at your nose and fill your lungs with an icy inhale. But it’s also one of the most breath taking times of year to see all of Japan’s most revered spectacles. Discover the smaller, scenic villages of Hida-Takayama and Shirakawa-go, and the natural hot springs built into the riverbed at seninburo onsen. Take a daytrip to Mt Fuji and you’ll be rewarded with a volcano dressed in her very best attire; a pale winter's glow, mist hovering like a suspended white blanket and a mountain peak encased in serene, untouchable snow.
With over 600 resorts from the mainland of Honshu, to the Island of Hokkaido, small parks, knee deep powder, quirky resorts (some with amusement parks) and the charm of resorts such as Nozawa Onsen which are steeped in tradition and history, it’s also home to Niseko, one of the snowiest resorts in the world, with an enviable 16 metres of annual snowfall. On the mountains you’ll enjoy light, dry powder and off them you’ll find remarkable culture and Japanese cuisine. As NZ’s closest country for a Northern Hemisphere snow season, ski December through to April without suffering the dreaded jet lag..
Are you planning your next trip to the Japan ? Want to learn more about this destination? Or looking for ideas and inspiration for your next holiday? Here is where you can find our featured articles on the Japan.
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