High Five… Japan!

Here at STA Travel HQ, we’ve been hearing a lot of talk about Japan lately. Not only do we seem to be getting more enquiries about travel there, the Land of the Rising Sun has captured the hearts of a few of us in the office, too.

It’s easy to see why. From sushi to sumo to shopping to loads of amazing things that don’t begin with ‘s’, Japan has a lot to offer. In fact, we think it has so much to offer, that we’re going to give it a big High Five.

Tokyo bokeh

 Head to the bright lights of Japan | Image by kevin dooley

Here are our favourite things to do in Japan

1. Take in Tokyo

No visit to Japan would be complete without spending some time in its mecca of modernity, Tokyo. Sprawling shopping districts, architectural splendour and the famous pedestrian crossing at Shibuya provide the backdrop to modern Japan, while sights like the forward-fashion girls hanging out by Harajuku station remind you what a unique city this is.

Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that remnants of old Japan still exist among the high rises. Take in some old culture at the Meiji Shrine, and some culture at the Ghibli Museum. For the ultimate foodie experience, head to Tsukiji Central Fish Market. It’s the world’s largest and busiest fish market and the main reason for going is to catch the live tuna auctions at 5am. Make the most of the early start; grab an atmospheric (if slightly pungent) spot at a counter for a sushi breakfast.

2. Hit the slopes

While not traditionally synonymous with skiing and snowboarding, Japan actually has some of the world’s best resorts. Retreat to the hills and grab a ski package to Hakuba, the heart of the country’s snow scene. For something really different, head north to Hokkaido and try out some night skiing – a truly sensational experience.

night ski

 Go on a night time ski in Hokkaido| Image by hirotomo

3. Monkey around in an onsen

You know how you go to the pub with your mates after work? Well, in Japan, they go
an onsen – that’s a hot spring, to you and me. Relaxing and purifying, this is a Japanese experience not to be missed – and what a way to bond with the locals! Male and female onsen are kept separate; arguably a good thing, since nudity is mandatory. Men, women, children and monkeys alike have been known to enjoy the onsen. Yep, I did say monkeys. Head to Yamanouchi, central Japan, and marvel at the snow monkeys who enjoy relaxing in the hot springs. Probably not a good idea to get in with them, though.

4. Say Konnichiwa to Kyoto

Kyoto is the heart of Japan. Temples, teahouses, shrines, shops, and of course, geisha – it’s all here. Japan’s capital for over 1,000 years, Kyoto is awash with culture and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Take in the temples, and ponder Ryoan-ji’s baffling dry rock garden. You could spend hours wandering around Gion, the country’s most famous geisha district, but don’t forget to stop off in one of the many teahouses to take in a tea ceremony – more Zen-like than your average cuppa.

5. Discover sumo

Japan’s signature sport is actually quite hard to come by – it’s seasonal, so you’ll have to be there in January, May or September to catch a match. Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall, is the place to go. Bouts are scheduled throughout the day, and usually only last a few seconds – but what a few seconds they are. Stomping, twisting, slapping, interlocking: the sumos here do it all. Watch out for sumo fans throwing their seat cushions in the heat of the moment.

Interested in heading to Japan? We’ve got loads of tours that will take you the length and breadth of the country, as well as flights to get you there, of course. Have you been to Japan? We want to hear about it! Lay your experiences down in the comments thread below.