A fascinating blend of tradition and modernity, Japan has a unique way of respecting the old and welcoming the new. The quirky Harajuku culture and high-tech gadgets of Tokyo sit peacefully alongside the spiritual serenity of monasteries, temples and shrines, the lasting traditions of the delicate Geishas, ritualistic tea ceremonies and onsen bathing. Japan lives in the moment with a respectful nod to the past.
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Enjoy a taste of the orient on this remarkable family adventure in Japan. From dazzling cities and majestic mountains...View trip details
Articles on Japan
All’s not fair in love and war
Posted on Thu, 10 Apr 2014 by Sue Elliot
“Lest we forget” is our heartfelt pledge to all the people who have paid the highest price in defense of their country’s borders or beliefs. Historic sites around the world [...]Read more
Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport - which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.
Depending on which trip you're on while in Japan, you may find yourself travelling by:
Travelling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavour to provide travellers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.
When travelling with us in Japan you may find yourself staying in a:
At a glance
- Trips Available:
- Capital city:
- Tokyo (population 12.5 million)
- 127.2 million
- Time zone:
- (GMT+09:00) Osaka, Sapporo, Tokyo
- Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin) Type B (American 3-pin)
- Dialing code:
Best time to visit Japan
March, April and May are excellent months to visit Japan and, consequently, are also the busiest. Since it's springtime, the weather is usually fine and beautiful cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
September, October and November are also great months to visit as the days are warm, but not too humid, and the autumn colours make the gardens and countryside look amazing.
Winter, while cold, offers great conditions for skiing, snowboarding, going to snow festivals and admiring the stunning mountain scenery. The summer months can be quite humid but tourist areas are generally quieter and there are many fun festivals and fireworks displays to enjoy.
Culture and customs
Despite the difference in attitude and appearance, many traditions and ways of living endure in modern Japan. No matter what age, etiquette is important to the Japanese and guides people when eating, travelling, working and interacting with others. Traditions and rituals like tea ceremonies, bowing, kendo, geisha and sumo endure, as do festivals that have been in existence for centuries. Japan holds many festivals all over the country, ranging from large national celebrations to small regional fairs. Cherry blossom festivals - Hanami - are celebrated all over Japan in spring and other traditional festivals and celebrations can be stumbled upon in small towns and cities alike.
Although modern cuisine and convenience foods have infiltrated Japanese society, authentic Japanese cuisines like bento boxes, sushi and ramen remain ever popular. The contradictions of Japan are endless - kimonos and karaoke, contemporary art and calligraphy, bonsai and bullet trains - the modern collides with the ancient everyday, and makes for a truly fascinating place to visit.
Eating and drinking
Intrepid believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.
Food lovers will surely be satisfied with a visit to Japan. With a focus on fresh, seasonal produce, prepared meticulously and presented beautifully, dining in Japan is a memorable experience.
Things to try in Japan
Consumed for centuries, this fermented rice wine is usually served in small cups or saucers, and is drunk at restaurants and bars as well as during ceremonial rituals and special occasions. Sake has quite a high alcohol content - you've been warned.
2. Sushi & Sashimi
Being an island nation, Japan has a bounty of seafood to sample. Try fresh sushi and sashimi made with tuna, salmon, squid, eel or octopus, served with soy, ginger and wasabi, prepared carefully by a sushi chef.
The Japanese love a lager, with beer being the most consumed alcoholic drink in Japan. Asahi, Sapporo and Kirin are the most popular Japanese brands - look out for special seasonal varieties.
4. Green Tea
Cleansing, refreshing and packed with antioxidants, green tea is simply known as 'tea' or 'ocha' in Japan. A traditional Japanese tea ceremony is an experience not to be missed and a great way to try some of the many varieties of green tea available.
This tasty, salty broth of noodles and meat comes in many different flavours and regional varieties. Sit and indulge at a Ramen restaurant or slurp down a bowl at a market or karaoke hall.
Geography and environment
Japan has much forested, mountainous terrain, unsuitable for agriculture and development, so much of the population live in the coastal cities, which creates overpopulation. Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and as a result, most people are used to living in very small spaces and with a heavy reliance on public transport. Although life is fast-paced and crowded in cities like Tokyo and Osaka, rural areas typically feature low-density, traditional housing and a slower pace of life.
History and government
Japanese civilisation can be traced back thousands of years to prehistoric times. Over the centuries, Japan alternated between feudal, empirical and government rule, with each period birthing different styles of art, architecture and ways of living. Agriculture, particularly rice-growing, was a very important part of life in early Japan, and craftsmanship like metal working was also highly developed and respected in Japan's early days.
Over the decades, Tokyo has grown to become an economic powerhouse and one of the most cosmopolitan, modern cities in the world. Enduring an earthquake in 1923 that caused widespread damage and civilian fatalities, as well as several bombings during World War II, Tokyo remains a global city focused on trade, tourism and technological advances.
The Japanese Army were very aggressive during World War II, playing an important part in the war and therefore suffered many losses. Many troops were lost but the most notable losses were the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - two cities which were destroyed by atomic bombs dropped by the United States towards the end of the war. After World War II Japan slowly found its feet, creating a strong economy based on manufacturing and telecommunications. Enjoying decades of prosperity and abundance, Japanese arts, culture and cuisine flourished, allowing the rest of the world to see and enjoy Japan's unique heritage.
Emperor Hirohito passed away in 1989 after reigning for many decades. This signified the end of the Showa era and the beginning of the Heisei era. In 1998, Japan hosted the Winter Olympics and fast became known as one of the hottest new places to enjoy snow sports.
Currently, Japan is still in recovery from the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011. But with large parts of the country unaffected, Japan is still a very special place to visit.
Top 10 Culinary Experiences of Japan
1. Get In The Spirit
Learn about Japan's favourite fermented spirit on a visit to a sake brewery in Takayama. See the production process then sip on the end results. Kanpai!
2. Tasty Treasures of the Sea
Be amazed by the variety of seafood on offer at Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market. This is the world's largest fish market - it would be hard to find fresher sushi and sashimi anywhere else.
3. Ceremonial Tea
Be exposed to the careful ritual of a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto. Green tea is delicately prepared by a kimono-clad host and served amid flower arrangements, tatami mats and calligraphy scrolls.
4. Snack Attack
Japan has more vending machines per capita than anywhere else in the world. With ice cream, instant ramen, cold beer, sake and hot meals all available, just try leaving Tokyo without buying something from one.
5. Liquid Gold
Pay a visit to the Sapporo Brewery for a tour of the brewery and museum exhibitions. That's enough to make anyone thirsty, so be sure to sip on a cool beer at the gigantic Beer Hall afterwards.
6. Osaka Overindulgence
Head to Osaka's premier 'eat street', the famously flamboyant Dotonbori district. Restaurants specialising in crab, ramen, beef and takoyaki (fried octopus balls) line the streets - this is the perfect place to feast on food, and landmarks.
7. Meat-Free Morsels
Enjoy simple vegetarian fare prepared by young monks while staying at a monastery in Koya-san. This is a truly unique dining experience you won't forget anytime soon.
8. Pancake Pig Out
Don't leave Hiroshima without trying the local speciality of Okonomiyaki. This savoury pancake is layered with cabbage, meat, noodles, egg and sauce, and depending what restaurant you visit - sometimes you can cook it yourself.
9. Use Your Noodle
Head to a local restaurant and slurp a delicious bowl of steaming ramen. Choose from crab, pork, chicken or miso and top with ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, seaweed or corn.
10. Soba… So Good
Find out how a staple of Japanese cuisine is created by learning to make soba noodles from scratch in Tokyo. A rewarding experience for your mind, and your stomach.
Shopping in Japan is fun, but expensive! In cities like Tokyo there are loads of quirky stores and funky galleries showcasing the works of independent fashion designers and gadget-creators. From the outlandish to the kitsch, you're guaranteed to find loads of colourful clothing and edgy art that you won't be able to find elsewhere.
It's a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.
Things to buy in Japan
This quintessential Japanese souvenir can be worn on special occasions back at home or hung on the wall as an interesting decorative piece
2. Paper Lanterns, Kites and Fans
Japanese paper goods make great, relatively inexpensive souvenirs. Choose from high quality, traditionally-made, colourful kites or delicate rice paper lanterns.
Shops in Japan are bursting with the latest tech gadgets. Before buying, be sure to check that they are compatible for use at home.
Have fun with the amazing diversity of popular street culture fashion available in Japan. Vibrant, brash and sometimes bizarre - find something that no one back at home will be wearing.
5. Anime Paraphernalia
Japanese anime is riding a wave of popularity in the West, so why not pick up a book, magazine, t-shirt or print for yourself?
Festivals and Events in Japan
Sapporo Winter Festival
Held every February since 1950, this festival features hundreds of statues and ice sculptures, snow slides and mazes, regional food and artistic performances. Winter in Japan is truly amazing - and the Sapporo Winter Festival celebrates this magically.
Head to Okayama to watch thousands of men, wearing nothing but a Japanese loin cloth, vie to touch the chosen 'naked man'. It may look like a bizarre male-bonding exercise but it's actually a historic cleansing ritual dating back thousands of years.
Fuji Rock Festival
Held annually in the stunning surrounds of the Naeba Ski resort, this outdoor rock festival with green-cred is huge. Drawing in big-name rock acts and local bands, thousands of music lovers flock to Naeba for three days of camping, music and partying.
FAQs on Japan
Bowl of ramen = 700 yen
Beer = 700 yen
Snack from a convenience store = 300-400 yen
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
Jan 14 Coming of Age Day
Feb 11 National Foundation Day
Mar 20 Vernal Equinox
Apr 29 Showa Day
May 3 Constitution Memorial Day
May 4 Greenery Day
May 5 Children's Day
Jul 15 Marine Day
Sep 16 Respect for the Aged Day
Sep 23 Autumnal Equinox
Oct 8 Health and Sports Day
Nov 3 Culture Day
Nov 23 Labour Thanksgiving Day
Dec 23 Birthday of the Emperor
Please note these dates are for 2013. For a current list of public holidays in Japan go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/japan/public-holidays
Australia: No - not required
Belgium: No - not required
Canada: No - not required
Germany: No - not required
Ireland: No - not required
Netherlands: No - not required
New Zealand: No - not required
South Africa: Yes - required in advance
Switzerland: No - not required
United Kingdom: No - not required
USA: No - not required
Health and Safety
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
The World Health Organisation
also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/
Japan Travel Tips
Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.
Top responsible travel tips for Japan
1. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.
2. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.
3. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead.
4. Try to use public transport wherever possible.
5. Refrain from touching or interfering with ancient monuments, relics or historic sites.
6. Learn some Japanese greetings and don't be afraid to use them - it will help break the ice.
7. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.
8. Be respectful and modest when visiting temples and monasteries.
9. It's customary to remove your shoes before entering homes or ryokans.
10. Elderly people are very much respected in Japan, and it's customary to allow them to go first when entering buildings or public transport.
|Memoirs of a Geisha||Arthur Golden|
|The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle||Haruki Murakami|
|Retribution: The Battle for Japan 1944-1945||Max Hastings|
|The Year of No Money in Tokyo||Wayne Lionel Aponte|
|Beyond the Blossoming Fields||Junichi Watanabe|
|Zen and Japanese Culture||D.T Suzuki|
|Lost Japan||Alex Kerr|