Japan is swathed in natural beauty, from the snow festivals and lavender farms of the northern isle of Hokkaido to the sun-drenched beaches and turquoise waters of the subtropical islands of Okinawa. Whether climbing volcanic Mount Fuji, wandering the pine forests of Mount Koya, taking in the springtime beauty of the sakura cherry blossoms or the spectacular maple leaves in the autumn, a journey to Japan is a wealth of unforgettable natural landscapes. In recent years, the powdery snow of Japan’s ski fields has also been attracting international visitors.
Culturally, Japan offers a unique and exciting fusion of the traditional and the modern. The speed at which new technological developments are realised in Japan is as impressive as the longevity of traditional art forms and customs. Whilst it is no longer the economic powerhouse it was for the greater part of the 20th century, Japan is still a world leader in innovative design and fashion, and continues to offer superb customer service, clean and punctual trains and meticulously prepared and presented cuisine.
Japanese culture embraces the new while celebrating the past. It’s not unusual to see kimono-clad geisha singing karaoke in downtown Kyoto, or fully-robed Buddhist monks whizz by on motorbikes in central Tokyo. ‘Cool Japan’ has become an internationally-recognised byword for Japan’s popular culture, and Japanese manga, anime and video games have never been more popular. Modern architecture in Tokyo, and other major Japanese cities, is well-regarded for forging radical new styles and using clever combinations of glass and concrete, which hint at traditional architectural forms yet offer minimalist sophistication. However, ancient castles, atmospheric Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and fascinating festivals are never far away.
Despite never having been colonised, the country’s own imperialist ambitions in Asia during the first part of the 20th century had devastating consequences, culminating in the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Japan has also had to deal with a vulnerability to earthquakes and tsunamis that has caused widespread natural disasters throughout its history. The most recent include the powerful earthquake that hit Kobe, a port city in Western Japan in 1995, and in March 2011, when a massive earthquake and tsunami off the coast of North-eastern Japan caused the country’s biggest loss of life since WWII, and resulted in one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
With great challenges of rebuilding and revitalisation ahead, the resilience of the Japanese people is proving to be essential to recovery. Greater emphasis is being placed on disaster preparedness and environmental issues. Renewed efforts to attract international visitors mean there has never been a better time to visit beautiful and fascinating Japan.