With its beguiling mix of the traditional and ultra-modern, Japan is a nation of contrasts and ever-changing surprises. From the shimmering waterfront of Yokohama to the bustling back alleys of Osaka; Sapporo’s snowy climes and Kyoto’s historic neighbourhoods, Japan presents a charming mix of old and new.
Japan holidays are perfect at all times of the year. Pick your season and experience the magic of the cherry blossoms in Kyoto in Spring, shopping and cultural activities in Tokyo in Summer, the Autumn maple leaves in Shizuoka or Hokkaido's perfect skiing conditions in Winter.
Japan tours cover the breadth of this diverse country, consisting of more than 6,000 islands and 47 prefectures. As the cherry blossom front sweeps across the land, bringing warmer weather and fragrant blooms, the people of Japan come out in droves for 'Hanami' – a Japanese picnic under the cherry blossom trees. The spread of blooms begins in January in the southern-most prefecture of Okinawa, reaching Kyoto and Tokyo by the end of March.
Tokyo is Japan's capital and its most vibrant city, made up of numerous distinct neighbourhoods. Shibuya is Tokyo's unofficial heart and with its neon splendour it's hard to ignore. Shibuya's Yoyogi Park comes to life on Sundays when a raucous collection of manga-loving teens, rock'n'roll wannabes and fashion aficionados take to the streets. Nearby Shinjuki is famous for its 'Golden Gai' bar district and incredible world-class restaurants.
Wander down the streets of Asakusa and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped back in time. Like so much of Japan, this bustling neighbourhood plays host to ancient temples and ageing shopfronts, on plots surrounded by modern skyscrapers and the stunning neon backdrop of Tokyo.
Like the cherry blossom season before it, autumn sweeps across Japan in an explosion of vibrant colour. Starting in mid-September, the Autumn leaf 'front' or 'koyo' moves southward, hitting Kyoto and Tokyo in December.
There are numerous national parks where the leaves are spectacular, including Daisetsuzan National Park, Fuji Five Lakes and Tokufuji. Japan travel in Autumn is one of the best times to explore the picturesque leaves which frame ancient wooden temples, crystalline lakes and craggy mountains with a golden ring of fire.
You can ski Japan from early December to early May, with the best skiing found in the northern-most prefecture of Hokkaido. Many resorts centre around the town of Niseko, boasting some of the best powder in the world. However, Japan has ski resorts across its length – from Saga province to Niigata and Yamaguchi. Celebrated for its dry snow and more than 14 feet of average snowfall during the season, Japan is the perfect place to shred some powder.
Japan's delicious traditional fare is another big attraction, including sushi (traditionally raw fish, seaweed and rice) and sake (an alcoholic drink made from fermented rice). For fashionistas, Harajuku is the best shopping district with vast boulevards of boutiques and department stores.If you'd rather follow a less popular itinerary then throw away your Japan travel guide and get lost in one of Japan's more underrated cities. Fukuoka is fast gaining popularity thanks to its high living standards, historic Hiroshima is home to various reminders of World War II, while nascent Nagasaki is particularly spectacular in warmer months when the weather is perfect to explore the harbour and the city's many Chinese temples.
International flights to Japan generally disembark in Tokyo or Osaka, and these sprawling cities are a great place to start your holiday in the Land of the Rising Sun. If you plan on hitting the slopes, look out for onward flights to Sapporo.