Few places conjure such powerful imagery as Japan. The cities are full of high rise neon, technology and 'salarymen' hurrying to the office. It is the birthplace of Hello Kitty and the land where “cute” reigns supreme. Trendy teenagers in Harajuku don cat ears to impress their friends and young women dressed as school girls hurry across the Shibuya crossing.
Yet when we think of Japan we also imagine ancient temples, moss covered gardens, misty mountains and ancient Samurai warriors. The sight of a geisha, dashing through the streets of Gion and ladies praying at the temple dressed in traditional kimonos all evoke a sense of a time passed.
It is this contrast of traditional and modern which makes Japan so intriguing, so unique.
- Experience Japanese hospitality with a stay in a traditional Ryokan. Delicious meals are typically served in your room and a surprisingly comfy bed is constructed on the tatami mat floor. If you’re lucky there might even be a private onsen overlooking pretty gardens.
- Witness the pomp and ritual of a sumo match, complete with salt throwing and intense staring as opponents try to psyche each other out in the ring. Bouts can be over in a flash but the atmosphere is always electric.
- Visit the Hiroshima Memorial Museum and Peace Park, above which the world’s first nuclear bomb was released. A sobering experience but an important lesson for all and certainly not to be missed.
- Escape the crowds of the larger temples in Kyoto and explore some of the smaller, lesser frequented spots. Charming Shoren-in is our favourite: take off your shoes, pad around the temple interior, stopping to sit cross-legged and take in the 180 degree view of the gardens and lake. Very zen.
- Take a crash course in all things Ramen at a busy ramen shop in Osaka. The friendly owner will take you through the stages of making 2 different types of ramen. A must for ramen geeks but great fun for anyone with a keen interest in food.