Japan is truly an amazing country. You can discover its culture, with sumo, samurai, and religious festivals; explore its nature, with plenty of volcanoes, forests, and lakes; or wander around unique sites like Buddhist temples and Japanese gardens.
We have chosen three reasons why you should visit Japan: its culture which is unique and lively; its traditional heritage, that makes every place unique; and its breathtaking landscapes, that widely vary from place to place. Read our short guide and learn more about the three reasons that make Japan a must-visit country!
The Unique Culture
Exploring another country’s culture is a fun and never-ending experience. In Japan, this is especially true. Its culture is unique, fascinating, and easily recognizable. Everyone knows something about sumo, the samurai, the geisha… but there is so much more to discover – any list would be incomplete.
Here are just some of the elements that make exploring Japanese culture an extremely fun adventure!
Buddhists and Shinto Festivals
No matter when you travel in Japan, there will surely be a festival somewhere. In fact, in Japan, there are as many matsuri (traditional festivals) as Shinto shrines. Every shrine organizes its own small festival to celebrate the kami dwelling inside it.
However, there are many important festivals that attract thousands of people. Some of them, like Kanda Matsuri and Gion Matsuri, come from the Shinto tradition. A long procession will go around the city, displaying the main shrine of the city. Others come from Buddhism, the most important being Obon, the Buddhist festival celebrating one’s ancestors.
Every festival is a chance to join joyful parades, witness hundreds of people dressed with traditional costumes, eat special food, and take part in the many different activities.
Sumo originated 2,000 years ago and, nowadays, hardly anyone is unaware of this unique sport. Back in the days, sumo was seen as a dance to fight and drive away evil spirits, and today it is a fight of strength and intelligence between two athletes that spend their days training and eating to form their skills.
In Japan, there are sumo matches all year-round, with tournaments showing multiple matches throughout the day.
We strongly recommend to watch a full day of a tournament, as this is a sport you won’t find anywhere else. Everything, from the way the fighters are dressed, to the referee, from their training, to the stage they fight on, is carefully thought to respect the sacredness of the sport.
Noh and Kabuki Theatre
Theatre is an important part of many cultures, and the noh and kabuki theatre are widely popular in Japan. Watching one of these shows is a unique experience. You will be amazed by the colorful masks, showy dresses, and the amazing skills of the performers.
Noh and kabuki are both stylized, and tell traditional stories. Noh is calm and quiet; while kabuki aims to shock and entertain the spectator with gruesome stories and spectacular performances.
The Rich Traditional Heritage
The rich culture of Japan has left a rich heritage, and most of it can still be appreciated today, representing one of the strong points of the country. All over the country you will be able to visit medieval castles, religious structures, and unique gardens.
Today, these places are there to be peacefully enjoyed while meditating on the rich history of Japan.
Japan is home to many castles from medieval times, built when Japan consisted of a dozen small independent states. Many castles are on top of mountains and hills for defensive purposes. When Japan was unified, castles were built in the plains and became the center of castle towns. Many castles were destroyed later on, and only a dozen original castles survive today.
The most beautiful one is the Himeji Castle (near Kyoto), with a startling white appearance. The castle is a national treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was completed in 1609 and it survived many calamities. It is also a famous spot for the cherry blossom festival.
According to Shinto, the kami (deities) dwell inside the shrines. To Shinto practitioners, they are the most important place to worship and must be visited often, especially during the festivals. Maybe the most easily recognizable element of the shrines is the torii gate, which marks the transition from the mundane to the sacred.
Two of the must-visit shrines are the Fushimi Inari Shrine (Kyoto), famous because of its thousand red torii gates leading inside the forest; and the Itsukushima Shrine, built on a stretch of sand that gets covered with water at high tide, giving the impression that the torii gate is floating.
Temples are to Buddhists what shrines are to Shinto practitioners. Every municipality has its own temple, which is structured always in the same way: a main hall with sacred items, a pagoda, a lecture hall, and several gates.
The Buddhist temple that is considered to be the most beautiful, is located in Tokyo: The Senso-ji Temple, built in the 7th century. Its gate, known as Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) is the symbol of the capital city.
Japanese gardens represent the effort of the artist to recreate the harmony Japanese people love in nature. This tradition originated during the 7th century, and since then many different styles have been developed, each one focusing on one or more different aspects of the creation of these beautiful gardens.
The gardens, designed following the principles of harmony, are decorated with ponds, streams of water, sand, rocks, lanterns, bridges, etc. Every element is important, and what you will have to do is just to walk around and contemplate the beautiful surroundings.
Many of the best gardens are to be found in Kyoto, and they are mainly decorated following the Zen principles.
The Stunning Landscapes
Japan is a small country, but its landscape is very diverse and, without exception, truly beautiful. Mountains, plains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests, beaches, islands, volcanoes… everything is to be found in this small stretch of land.
Here is a selection of what we think are the most unique landscapes you can appreciate.
Cherry blossom can’t be appreciated all year round, but when it’s there, it’s amazing. Every year, for about a month between March and April, all the Japanese cherries of the country will blossom, coloring the parks and the cities with a beautiful, soothing, relaxing pink.
The sight is so unique and charming that Japanese people have created a festival to celebrate it and a word to describe it: hanami. In Japanese this indicates the traditional custom of appreciating the transient beauty of flowers. People will have picnics under the trees to fully appreciate this beauty as long as it lasts.
Climbing Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain, is the dream of many. The official climbing season goes from July to September. During this period, the mountain will be free of snow and the weather will be mild and nice.
From afar, the mountain is truly stunning. Its shape is unmistakable, and it is one of the symbols of Japan. Visibility is good during colder seasons, early in the morning or late in the afternoon. You can enjoy a relaxing view from the hot springs of Hakone.
Segano Bamboo Forest
Near Kyoto you will find this fascinating grove: A pathway cuts through thousands and thousands of bamboo trees, that move and make a rustling sound when the wind blows. You can walk or cycle through the forest.
The forest is located in the gorgeous district of Arashiyama, a popular touristic destination since the 8th century. The location has a beautiful rural atmosphere, and you will find temples, shrines, lakes and bridges there.
Aoiike – The Blue Pond
Outside the hot spring town of Shirogane you will find the Blue Pond, so called because of natural minerals dissolved into its water. In 1988, Mount Tokachi erupted, and the Biei River resulted and contained the damages.
Nowadays the pond is still a fairly unknown touristic attraction, and all you can do is to appreciate the wonderful color of the water and the peace surrounding this small place.
Hitachi Seaside Park
The park covers an area of 190 hectares, and is famous all over the country because of its baby blue-eyed flowers. In spring, around 4.5 million flowers will bloom and draw thousands of tourists. The park houses also thousands of daffodils, many different kinds of tulips, and other flowers.
Beside admiring the flowers, you can entertain yourself with numerous activities, like having a BBQ, cycling, running or walking along the athletic tracks, or sit and enjoy a coffee in one of the many cafes.
We have listed just a bunch of reasons why you should visit Japan, and we bet you can’t wait to start exploring this unique and fascinating country. Don’t wait any longer and start planning your next trip with the help of Asia Highlights. Our knowledgeable staff will craft the perfect, hassle-free trip for you and your family.