Japan is the home of pink cherry blossoms, geisha girls, car manufacturers, sushi, anime and Nintendo – and it is precisely this unpredictable mix of the traditional and modern which makes the country unique and so exciting to visit. The nation of Japan consists of an island archipelago that sits off the coast of mainland China, Russia and Korea. Between the 17th and 19th centuries Japan cut itself off from trade with the rest of the world, but since it reopened its borders to international traffic just 150 years ago these densely populated islands have been subject to radical changes. Japan’s manufacturing and tech industries have enjoyed a long boom period, matched only by its growth as a global destination. Today, leisure tourism is as every bit as popular as business travel to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya and its other sprawling, neon-lit cities.
As hypermodern as it may be, Japan still retains plenty of its ancient, mystical charm. From the intricacies of etiquette to the minimalist décor behind rice paper screens, the strength of Japanese culture can only be admired. Its contemporary metropolises are dotted with numerous ancient shrines and temples, and parks are festooned with beautifully formal, white gravel Zen gardens.
Japan's islands are mountainous in their interiors – in fact, three-quarters of its landmass is comprised of mountains – and its countryside is riddled with hundreds of volcanoes and hot springs. The majority of the population is clustered within the limited spaces of its coastal plains.
Tokyo, the capital and largest city, is situated on the island of Honshu's east coast, and has a population of 12 million – the largest in the world.
Despite this mass of humanity crammed into relatively small areas, Japanese society is noticeably well ordered, respectful and harmonious – as well as extremely welcoming to visitors.
The weather throughout the four main islands is generally temperate but the weather can get very hot and humid during June, July and August. The average summer temperature for Tokyo, in the heart of this central region is 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), falling to 6 degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter. However, Japan’s extreme southern and northern islands, Okinawa and Hokkaido, fall respectively into subtropical and subarctic climatic zones.
In the south, winters are cool but still sunny. As you travel further north, winters grow progressively bitterly cold , with snow guaranteed.
Japanese is the official language. English is also widely used, though only in tourist areas.
All tourists must have return/onward tickets and funds to cover their expenses while in the country. Please check the rules around visa requirements before you travel, as they may change regularly.
The vast majority of visits to Japan are trouble-free but you should, as ever, be vigilant about personal safety and belongings.
Typhoons are common particularly from June to October and Japan is in a major earthquake zone, and earthquakes of varying sizes occur very frequently.
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