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Whether you’re lured by the futuristic skyline of Tokyo, the picturesque shrines of Kyoto or the off-the-beaten-path spots that are begging to be explored, you won’t regret booking a holiday in Japan. Make the most of your time there with this handy guide.
Travelling to Japan for the first time? Here’s what you need to know
It may be hard to believe, but Japan wasn’t always the perennial bucket list topper it is now. According to the World Tourism Organization, Japan was only the 31st most-visited country in the world in 2010, attracting a humble 8.6 million visitors. That figure soared to 28.6 million visitors in 2017, making Japan far and away the world’s fastest-growing tourist destination.
So what changed? Surely not Japan, which has a deeply ingrained cultural identity that’s remained the same for hundreds of years. What has changed is our appreciation of it. After all, Japan is undoubtedly one the most stunning places on Earth—a country filled with ancient temples, majestic mountains, soaring skyscrapers and fascinating customs. (In case you needed reminding, the food is nothing to scoff at either.) If you’re travelling to Japan for the first time, keep these helpful hints in mind.
There’s no “best” time to visit Japan
To say Japan offers a wide range of climates is an understatement—neatly situated between the Asian continent and the Pacific Ocean, Japan is essentially a vast collection of islands stretching over thousands of kilometres. That means the northern island of Hokkaido is chillier than the southern subtropical island of Okinawa. It also means that Japan is worth visiting any time of the year, since each season makes for its own unique experience.
Not surprisingly, spring’s cherry blossoms and autumn’s golden-hued foliage make these two transitional seasons the busiest times to visit. Summers are typically warm and humid—a rainy period in the southern regions takes place in June. Regions in the northwest of Japan receive snowfall between December and February. Overall, winters are the least busy time to visit.
Consider the road less travelled
Being a top travel destination does have one significant drawback: crowds. With 127 million residents packed into just 364,555 square kilometres, Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Add the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics to the equation, and expect even more crowds next year.
While Tokyo is a tried-and-true destination that won’t disappoint, you can have an equally rich experience if you wander off the beaten path. Case in point: Toronto-based travel company G Adventures’ Backroads of Japan tour. This 11-day adventure begins in Tokyo and ends in Kyoto, but features a host of underrated spots in between: the Japanese Alps-backdropped city of Matsumoto, the serene castle town of Hagi (above), and Ōtsu, the former imperial capital that’s home to Lake Biwa and a host of impressive temples.
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