Enigmatic and complex Japan is one of the most intriguing countries on earth. It’s the land of snow monkeys and Samurai legends, Ninja, Geisha, and the world’s oldest monarchy. But it’s also Tokyo and technology, Manga and Cosplay, teen-centric Takeshita-dōri, and awe inspiring family festivals.
Japan’s an island nation connected by high-speed bullet trains and much easier for a family holiday than you might imagine. Honshu is the main island, from here you can travel just about anywhere by air or rail. Tokyo or Kyoto are good city bases and, if you’re going to do both: visit hectic Tokyo first, then catch your breath in serene Kyoto.
Direct flights from the UK to Tokyo year round take just under 12 hours.
Japan’s seasons are clearly defined. Winter’s are cold and snowy; summer is hot and humid; and spring and autumn are the best times to visit for spectacular landscapes.
In 2017, Tokyo had 304 Michelin Starred restaurants, more than anywhere else in the world.
Japan has 20 UNESCO World Heritage sites including Mount Fuji and the tropical Ogasawara Islands.
Slightly larger than Germany, Japan is covered in its entirety in just 12 hours by the Shinkansen Bullet Train. If you aren’t up for that challenge, it also speedily connects all provinces and major cities, and is definitely the way to get around.
Japan’s beautiful landscape is protected in 33 national parks. There are several in each province, and one of the most famous, Mount Fuji, is within two hours of Tokyo.
From Capsule Hotels in Tokyo to 18th century townhouses in Kyoto, designer resorts, cool guesthouses and pretty villas by the sea or in the countryside, Japan has plenty of interesting place to stay.
Japan’s capital is one of the most populated cities on earth. It’s so packed with people, practising musical instruments indoors is forbidden by law (look out for schoolkids playing violins in Yoyogi Park). The architecture’s astonishing: tall, glittering, splattered with media and crammed into every available space. Teenagers love it here: it’s the original ‘influencer’; international trends are named after districts; and shopping’s as relentless as weird and wonderful snacking. But Shinto temples tuck in between skyscrapers. You’ll find traces of Edo and the Shogun era everywhere. And, city kids are as passionate about Cherry Blossom as Cosplay.
Relatively untouched by war or natural disasters, Kyoto is Japan’s most historic city. It was here that the Imperial Court was exiled during the reign of the Shogun, and nowhere else has so many ancient temples, shrines, gardens and districts. This is the city for tea ceremonies, the Gion Geisha quarter and charming traditional festivals. Alternatively, head downtown and immerse in 21st century Kyoto’s glossy designer shopping, major museums and galleries, award-winning restaurants, and non-stop noise.
Air and rail is the way to go between provinces and cities in Japan. If you book international flights with a Japanese carrier, book domestic flights at the same time, it works out considerably cheaper. The national rail company, JR Network Transportation, has a wide range of inexpensive family rail passes for travel all over the country, they also operate the Shinkansen ‘Bullet Train’. City transport is universally excellent, so always avoid taxis, and use local buses, trains and underground services instead.