Japan could just be the weirdest and most wonderful country on the planet. It’s the country that gave us samurai warriors, Hello Kitty and the Sony Walkman (remember those?) and it continues to both revere its ancient traditions and set the pace of technological advance for the rest of us.
Japan is a place where ritual reigns supreme, and where what pass for mundane tasks in other places have been raised to the level of an art form, like the tea ceremony. Manga cartoons and sashimi have swept the world, and yet Japan retains an air of intriguing mystery.
Spending time in Japan is likely to be a contradictory but deeply satisfying rollercoaster ride of very old-fashioned and the cutting-edge; of bubblegum pop culture and ancient Buddhist temples. Whether you seek high or low culture, karaoke or glimpses of geisha passing through wooden doorways, Japan delivers – and often in the most unexpected of ways.
There is also the incredible natural beauty of the Japanese islands, from Mount Fuji (so perfect that it looks like the mountains that kids draw) to delicate springtime cherry blossoms and incandescent fall colors.
Japan has dancing cranes, and monkeys that spend their days chilling in hot springs surrounded by snow. There are many unique experiences to be had, such as shooting through the countryside on a bullet train or squeezing into a pod hotel for the night.
Spend time in a manicured zen garden or admiring bonsai trees, or lose yourself in the neon-lit fantasia that is Tokyo or Osaka at night. Have a drink in an underground bar with the salarymen, or do your best to understand the fashion sense of Japan’s chameleon teenagers.
You’ll find that some stereotypes about Japan are true: people are infallibly polite, and there are attendants in white gloves pushing people into already-crowded subway carriageways. But Japan will also surprise and delight you in ways you could never have expected. It has superb ski resorts, ice cream made from red beans, and trains that leave on time, every time. It’s just that little bit different to anywhere else you’ve ever been, and that’s why it needs to be at the top of your travel bucket list.