An archipelago in the Pacific, Japan is separated from the east coast of Asia by the Sea of Japan. It is approximately the size of Montana. Japan’s four main islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. The Ryukyu chain to the southwest was U.S.-occupied from 1945 to 1972, when it reverted to Japanese control, and the Kurils to the northeast are Russian-occupied.
Eclectic cities, traditional villages, snow-capped mountains and coastal beauty – discover the splendors of Japan on a journey of discovery, from iconic Tokyo to Kanazawa and Kyoto.
Garden design is an important Japanese art form that has been refined for more than 1000 years. Gardens have evolved into a variety of styles with different purposes, including strolling gardens for the recreation of Edo Period lords, and dry stone gardens for the religious use by Zen monks. Great gardens can be found throughout Japan, with many in the former capital of Kyoto.
Japanese cuisine offers an abundance of gastronomical delights, with a boundless variety of regional and seasonal dishes, as well as international cuisine. Restaurants range from mobile food stands to centuries old ryotei, atmospheric drinking places, seasonally erected terraces over rivers, cheap chain shops and unique theme restaurants about ninja and robots. Many restaurants are specialized in a single type of dish, while others offer a variety of dishes.
Temples are the places of worship in Japanese Buddhism. Virtually every Japanese municipality has at least one temple, while large cultural centers like Kyoto have several thousands. Temples store and display sacred Buddhist objects. Some temples used to be monasteries, and some still function as such.
The best cities to visit temples are Kyoto, Nara and Kamakura. One of the best places to overnight at temples is Mount Koya.
While many of Japan’s historic buildings and districts have been lost due to fires, earthquakes, wars and city redevelopment over the centuries, some cities and towns have managed to preserve a street block or whole district of traditional buildings for residents and tourists to enjoy today.
Many Japanese cities, including Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, have developed as castle towns, where the local feudal lord resided in the centrally located castle, and his retainers, the samurai, lived in the districts surrounding the castle. As the highest social caste during the Edo Period, the samurai were allowed to construct elaborate residences with earthen walls and elegant homes. Among the best preserved former samurai districts are the ones of Kakunodate, Hagi and Kanazawa.