Travelling to Japan for the first time? Here’s what you need to know
It may be hard to believe, but Japan wasn’t always the perennial bucket list topper it is now. According to the World Tourism Organisation, Japan was only the 31st most-visited country in the world in 2010, attracting a humble 8.6 million visitors. That figure soared to 28.6 million visitors in 2017, making Japan the world’s fastest-growing tourist destination.
So what changed? Surely not Japan, which has a deeply ingrained cultural identity that’s remained the same for hundreds of years. What has changed is our appreciation of it. After all, Japan is undoubtedly a stunning place: filled with ancient temples, majestic mountains, soaring skyscrapers and fascinating customs.
The best times to visit Japan
To say Japan offers a wide range of climates is an understatement – neatly situated between the Asian continent and the Pacific Ocean, Japan is essentially a vast collection of islands stretching over thousands of kilometres. That means the northern island of Hokkaido is chillier than the southern subtropical island of Okinawa. It also means that there is somewhere in Japan worth visiting any time of year.
Not surprisingly, spring’s cherry blossoms and autumn’s golden-hued foliage make these two transitional seasons the busiest times to visit. Summers are typically hot, humid and wet – the rainy period in the southern regions takes place in June. Regions in the northwest of Japan receive snowfall between December and February. Overall, winters are the least busy time to visit but if you’re a skier, then you may want to head to the Japanese ski fields.
Consider the roads less travelled
Being a top travel destination does have one significant drawback: crowds. With 127 million residents packed into just 364,555 square kilometres, Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
While Tokyo is a tried-and-true destination that won’t disappoint, you can have an equally rich experience if you wander off the beaten track, such as Takayama in the the Gifu Prefecture whose narrow streets in the historic district are lined with wooden merchants’ houses dating to the Edo Period; Matsumoto in the mountainous Negano Prefecture, the serene castle town of Hagi (above) whose narrow streets are lined with samurai-era residences; and Ōtsu, the former imperial capital that’s home to Lake Biwa – the largest lake in Japan.