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Being the home of sushi, ramen, and some of Asia's most beautiful scenery, Japan is an incredibly modern country with ancient roots. All this has been drawing curious and enchanted travelers for centuries.
In the larger cities like Tokyo and Nagoya, travelers can see towering skyscrapers, modern fashion, and the culture of VR and anime. However, traveling through Japan, there are plenty of places to connect to the country's ancient roots, for example Zen gardens, bathhouses, and regional culture.
In this article, we will explain all the basics you need to know about Japan before you travel there. Japan is an amazing destination for everyone, from solo travelers to families. But before you decide where exactly you want to go, you can start here with the basics.
|Name of the country||The State of Japan||Abbreviation||Japan|
|Population||127 million (2016)||Area||377,972 sq km (145,936 sq miles)|
|Major language||Japanese||Major religions||Shinto and Buddhism|
|Major cities||Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Nagoya||Currency||Yen (approx. USD1 = JPY 110.47, July 2018)|
|Prime Minister||Shinzō Abe||Famous figures||Hayao Miyazaki (Film Director); Haruki Murakami (Author); Ken Watanabe (Actor)|
|Time Zone||UTC+ 9:00||International call code||+81|
Located off the eastern coast of Asia, Japan is an archipelago surrounded by the Sea of Okhotsk in the North, the Pacific Ocean in the East and the South, and the East China Sea in the Southwest. Japan is located southeast of Russia, east of the Koreas, and northeast of China and Taiwan, although the country it is closest to is Russia.
The area of Japan is slightly smaller than that of the U.S. state of California and has a total coastline of 29,751 kilometers. Although Japan includes thousands of Islands, the country is separated into 5 districts which are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Okinawa. Each district includes one large island and many smaller ones.
Oftentimes, the major islands in Japan are called the home islands. Out of the 6,852 islands in the country, only 430 are inhabited by people. The rest are uninhabited and controlled by nature.
Japan is situated on four tectonic plates which have greatly affected the shape of the land and Japanese culture. Japan is one of the most geothermically active areas in the world. There are tremors almost every 3 days in Tokyo although most of them can't be felt. The geothermal activity means plenty of natural hot springs.
The activity of the tectonic plates has created the towering and sharply defined mountains that cover 73% of the country. Japan's highest mountain is the famous Mount Fuji which stands at 3,776 meters (12,388 feet) tall.
Japan is also very heavily forested; it is almost 69% covered in forests. The high number of mountain ranges and untouched natural land makes for beautiful scenery and plenty of opportunities for adventure sports.
Due to the many slopes and hills, only about 15% of the land in Japan is suited for agriculture and living, so most of Japan remains uninhabited which is unusual compared to other developed nations.
Japan also has a lot of fresh water that originates up in the mountains and flows down in shallow rivers and streams. Japan's climate is very humid, but the high-levels of moisture makes for splendid greenery and beautiful misty mornings.
Due to the large number of mountains, certain areas of Japan get harsh winters and heavy snowfalls. This makes them great places for outdoor lovers, including skiers, snowboarders, hikers and cyclists. Two of the best places in Japan for outdoor sports and winter sports are Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps.
Hokkaido is the most northern and second largest island in Japan but only contains 5% of the country's population. The island is covered in large areas of wilderness, with beautiful lakes and wildflowers in summer.
In winter, cold fronts from Siberia bring snow storms that dump lots of white powdery snow in the area, making it perfect for snowboarders and skiers. There are many international level resorts in Hokkaido.
Hokkaido also offers excellent seafood, history, and a chance to see the indigenous Ainu people.
The Japanese Alps are a mountain range that runs through the island of Honshu. The Alps include almost all of Japan's tallest mountains except for Mount Fiji. Most of the mountains in the Japanese Alps stand at over 3000 meters tall and are capped with snow all year long.
There are also many international level resorts in the Alps and they attract many international thrill seekers and adventurers. There are three sections of the Alps including the Northern Alps, Central Alps, and the Southern Alps.
The Central Alps are the best place to start, as there are several beautiful hiking routes in the area that are suitable for all levels of hikers.
Mount Fuji is Japan's most famous mountain. It is perfectly shaped and has inspired painters, authors, and worshipers for centuries. Today, many people travel to Mount Fuji and the surrounding area to relax in the misty mountains and to participate in outdoor adventure sports.
Mount Fuji stands at 3776 meters tall and is an active volcano. Although Mount Fuji is an active volcano, it hasn't erupted since 1707. The geothermal activity of the volcano also creates natural hot springs in the area surrounding the mountain.
Today, Mount Fuji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its spiritual significance and many people make pilgrimages to the mountain every year, outnumbering the recreational climbers.
Climbing to the top of Mount Fuji is a grueling hike and those who do it must be in great physical shape and well-prepared. Fuji is typically open for climbing from July to August.
Those who want to take in the view of Mount Fuji without the physically challenging hike, can also enjoy the mountain from the Fuji Five Lakes Region on the northern side. You can hike around the lakes there, enjoy the scenery, the town, and of course the picturesque views of the nearby mountain.
The Five Lakes Region includes the Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko, and Motosuko Lakes. The lakes area includes plenty of things to do such as hiking, camping, fishing, snow sports, hot springs, and many other outdoor activities.
Out of all the lakes, Lake Kawaguchiko is the easiest to access and offers the most things to do for foreign tourists. The other lakes are equally beautiful but cannot be easily accessed by public transportation.
Bathing in natural hot springs or onsens has been a tradition in Japan for thousands of years. The act of bathing in a hot spring is thought to have health benefits, due to the natural minerals, and the Japanese have long used hot springs in purification rituals.
Due to Japan's high level of volcanic activity, the country has over 27,000 hot springs throughout all of the major islands. One of our favorite Japanese hot springs is in Hakone which is near Mount Fuji and less than 100 kilometers from Tokyo.
Hakone is famous for its hot springs but it also is surrounded by the natural beauty of the area. Overlooking the beautiful Lake Ashinoko and Mount Fuji in the distance, Hakone is the perfect place to relax and experience this ancient Japanese tradition.
Do you want to experience the perfect trip to Japan but don't know where to start? Our experts at Asia Highlights plan tailor-made trips to fit the desires of each individual traveler. We can help you see what you want to see and miss what you don't want to see. Send us an email today.