Tokyo, Kyoto and beyond: what to do in Japan
There is no doubt that Japan is one of the most exciting destinations around. A country that successfully combines ancient traditions with cutting-edge modern living, an intensely rich and fascinating culture with ethereal landscapes and charming people - trips to Japan are not to be missed.
At Titan Travel, we are committed to helping you find your perfect moment – from getting up close to snow monkeys in Yudanaka to learning about geisha culture, our Japan tours mean that you will immerse yourself at the very heart of this remarkable destination and discover why Japan is truly the land of the rising sun…
We’ve rounded up some amazing experiences that should feature in your holiday to Japan.
Lose yourself in Japan’s serene gardens
Japan’s infamous gardens offer visitors the chance of a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of city life. Secluded temples and majestic pagodas, flanked by shimmering ponds, stones and mossy islands, as well as draping cherry blossom trees. Find a quiet nook and lose yourself in the sublime landscape. There are many Japanese gardens to visit but make sure to include Katsura Rikyu in Kyoto, Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo and Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en which has the oldest fountain in Japan.
Immerse yourself in Tokyo
There is so much to see and do in and around Tokyo. Be dazzled by the bright neon lights of a buzzing metropolis that is home to some eight million people but discover, too, the pockets of tranquility nestled in the back streets. Wander away from the crowds and find signs of the old city from ancient shrines and temples, to beautifully manicured gardens. Brave the famous Shibuya crossing, shop in Japan’s first-ever department store Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store, and be blown away by the sheer scale of the Tokyo National Museum with the world's largest collection of Japanese art, including samurai swords, prints and pottery. Tokyo will be an assault on the senses but in a good way.
Learn the traditional art of tea-making
Us Brits like a good cuppa, and in Japan the art of tea-making is taken to a whole new level. The traditional tea ceremony is the ultimate in Japanese hospitality and a spiritual process. Breathe deeply and let a sense of calm wash over as you watch green tea being prepared in spartan room decorated with traditional tatami mats and hanging scrolls. Gestures and movements have been choreographed as a sign of respect and friendship to guests. In return, show your appreciation by complimenting your host.
Travel in style on a bullet train
The Shinkansen or bullet train is the only way to travel on Japan tours. The Japanese rail network is extensive, and with speeds of up to 198mph, a journey of around 280 miles from Tokyo to Kyoto can be done in just over two hours, while Kanazawa to Hiroshima takes over four hours to cover nearly 400 miles. The Shinkansen connects every major city in Japan, and with comfortable, clean carriages, it’s the perfect way to travel across the country and watch the extraordinary scenery zoom past.
Eat your heart out
Japanese cuisine is big business. In Tokyo alone there are over 230 restaurants with a Michelin star. Foodies will be in for a treat. Head to a sushi bar and watch masters at work as they prepare nigiri, maki and all manner of delicious delicate dishes.
Do as the locals do and slurp ramen noodles adorned with different toppings including meat, fish and boiled eggs, tuck in to steaming hot bowls of Oden – a hearty hot pot, or tuck into pork Tonkatsu, crispy pork cutlets with a side of curry sauce. You can even taste amazing street food in the lively Nishiki Market, specialising in all types of food products, or grab yourself a train station Bento-box before you hop on the Shinkansen.
Fancy trying your hand at preparing a few Japanese specialities? Why not learn to create oyaki flour buns or udon noodles - our Grand Tour of Japan includes cooking classes where you can do just that. You won’t go hungry…
Worried about the etiquette when it comes to dining in Japan? Just remember these top tips and you'll be fine:
Wear your best socks
You might be expected to take your shoes off in a restaurant for hygiene reasons. Most places will provide you with dining slippers and a safe place to store your shoes until after dinner.
Slurping is good
While slurping your food in the UK is considered bad table manners, in Japanese culture it's positively encouraged. It's a sign that you're really enjoying your food, and will go down well.
Keep your rice separate
In Japan, rice is always eaten from a separate bowl. Most restaurants will top up your rice for free so if you want some more, leave a little bit at the bottom. An empty rice bowl means you’ve had enough.
When it comes to drinks, the opposite rule applies. If you want topped up, leave an empty glass as that is an invitation to have more.
Discover Japan’s glorious temples
There are over 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines in Kyoto alone where you can learn about sacred objects, spirituality and Buddhism. These architecturally stunning religious structures offer visitors and worshippers the chance for quiet contemplation and a moment to reflect. Visits to the Ryoanji Temple and its famous rock garden, as well as the exquisite Kinkakuji Temple, or ‘Golden Pavilion’ are a must, as well as Tokyo’s oldest temple - Sensō-ji, where it is said the smoke from its incense cauldron bestows good health.
A tour of Japan wouldn’t be complete without enjoying the national drink, sake or nihonshu as it’s known locally. Your sake education can begin at a traditional brewery where you’ll discover the key subtle differences to the flavour is the type of water used to ferment rice. Once you’ve learned the art of sake tasting, why not head out to a nearby izakaya (pub) or sake bar, and test out your new skill?
Walk amongst geishas in Kyoto
With the soft clickety-clack of geta (traditional wooden sandals) and rustle of beautiful silk kimonos, you might be lucky enough to spot geishas emerging from teahouses going and about their day in several areas of Kyoto. Geishas are performing artists – accomplished musicians and dancers and even though there are fewer opportunities to experience Geisha culture these days, it is still possible in the district of Gion.
Find peace at Hiroshima
The gutted remains of Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome at the Peace Memorial Park is a stark reminder of the 1945 attack, there is a clear message of peace that resonates for so many in what is now a leafy, thriving city. Vibrant and cosmopolitan, Hiroshima is well-worth your time, as is Peace Memorial Museum which is located next to the dome, with exhibits including the stories of survivors, that are both moving and thought-provoking.
Be astounded by Japan’s mountains
On a clear day, Mt Fuji – Japan’s tallest mountain – can be seen reflected in the still waters of Lake Jawaguchi. The active volcano is climbed by hundreds of thousands of people every year, but is still one of the country’s most sacred shinto sites, where shrines can be found dotted around the base. While Mt Fuji is undoubtedly a must-see, over 70 per cent of Japan is made up of mountains and hills, so experiencing the awe-inspiring heights of snow-capped peaks won’t be difficult. You can even take a cable car up to the volcanic Owakudani Valley and drink in the views across Tokyo Bay below.
If our Japanese travel blog has inspired you to discover the Land of the Rising Sun, our Japan tours will take you on an unforgettable journey from Kyoto to Tokyo and beyond.
Ting has a serious case of wanderlust. Having travelled to over 40 countries, it’s her mission in life to make her way through her ever-growing list. Her two young sons have also caught the travel bug, and recent trips have seen them making snow angels in Iceland while watching the Northern Lights, as well as walking alongside elephants in South Africa.
Ting | About the author
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