Japan is a blend of eastern wisdom, culture, effortlessly enhanced natural beauty and style with technologies that lead the world and affect every aspect of modern life. And it is in this blend that Japan fascinates and beguiles the traveller.
Big cities can overwhelm the first time traveller. Expect to get turned around in the Tokyo subway system and don’t be afraid to ask which way is where. It is all a part of getting to know the city. Be sure to take a hotel card with you – if all else fails grab a taxi and you will get back to your home base. Tokyo offers imperial palaces, beautiful gardens and park areas as well as some of the craziest shopping you will experience in the Ginza. It is possible to live for a week or more just from the vending machines, which will provide everything from pyjamas and toothbrushes and toothpaste to clean underwear and food, and drinks as well as just about anything else you might need.
If big cities are not for you, the bullet trains will get you out of the city quickly, and you can explore the countryside and smaller towns which retain a deal of the old Japanese traditional life. View Mt Fuji from the bullet train, explore the Hakone region, and maybe head south to explore more of the history of this country.
Kyoto was the capital before Tokyo and is home to beautiful wooden castles and graceful Shinto temples. If you can manage your visit in spring the cherry blossoms are spectacular.
Kyoto also offers some very good ryokans – the traditional Japanese inns. Not cheap, one night will give you a taste of this other worldly experience. You receive a traditional Japanese dinner, sleeping accommodations on rooms defined by how many tatami mats it holds, access to the baths where you clean first and then enter the bath, and breakfast in the morning. You may even get the traditional tea ceremony.
The cities of Nara, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are frequently visited as well, for heritage and for the latter two the World War 2 atomic bomb connections. Osaka, a large and busy city is another gateway to southern Japan.
The trains will get you around safely and efficiently. For travellers there are two kinds of train passes – the ordinary, which is really all you will need, and the green which is primarily aimed at tourists. Railpasses come in a range of regions, from all Japan to the western and eastern Honshu pass for the main island, and passes for each of the main four islands.
There is so much more to Japan than this – skiers will be well catered for in Hokkaido and also in the central mountains of Honshu. Go find the baboons that keep themselves warm sitting in the hot springs as it snows, taste the noodle soups in the tiny restaurants all over the places – it is all there.
Oh, and practise your bows.