Japan Destination Guide

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

The Land of the Rising Sun is one of the hottest travel destinations for 2011. Lonely Planet’s team of travel experts reveal why…

ESSENTIALS
✪POPULATION 127 MILLION

✪FOREIGN VISITORS PER YEAR 6.8 MILLION

✪CAPITAL TOKYO

✪LANGUAGE JAPANESE

✪MAJOR INDUSTRIES MOTOR VEHICLES, ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT, MACHINE TOOLS, STEEL AND NONFERROUS METALS, SHIPS, CHEMICALS, TEXTILES, PROCESSED FOODS

✪UNIT OF CURRENCY YEN (¥)

✪COST INDEX BOWL OF RAMEN NOODLES ¥800 (US$8.50), PINT OF SAPPORO BEER ¥400 (US$4.25), BED IN A CAPSULE HOTEL ¥4000 (US$42.50), CROSS-TOWN TAXI ¥2500 (US$26.50)

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DOWN, BUT NOT OUT…
It’s been a rough year for the Land of the Rising Sun. Although the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) had hoped to attract 10 million foreign visitors a year by 2010, this lofty target was dropped quicker than a maegashira (lowest sumo rank) squaring off against a yokozuna (sumo grand champion). The Great Recession, the rapid deflation of the yen against Western currencies and the spread of H1N1 infl uenza in Asia resulted in the fi rst annual decrease in tourism in more than two decades. Japan may be down, but it’s not out. Case in point: the JNTO recently issued a new target of 20 million foreign visitors annually by 2020, which means that now more than ever, travellers touching down in Japan are treated as most honoured guests.

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SUSHI, SAKE & SUMO
Japan has an ill-deserved reputation as an expensive destination where the English language is in short supply. But US$100 cuts of Kobe beef and the occasional Lost in Translation moment aside, Japan is surprisingly affordable and user-friendly. Before you go, stop by your local travel agency and purchase a Japan Rail Pass, which grants you unlimited access to the country’s sophisticated transport network. While Tokyo was ultimately unsuccessful in its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the campaign resulted in increased English signage across the country. So, if Japan has been on your travel wishlist for a while, make this the year that you fi nally see the birthplace of sushi, sake and sumo.

DEFINING EXPERIENCE
Japan is home to so many travel clichés that every experience you have here will be strangely familiar despite being completely foreign. Race past rice paddies on a lightning fast bullet train while tucking into a perfectly balanced bento box. Strip down, scrub clean and slowly ease your travel-worn body into a sulphurous hot spring. Sip matcha (powdered green tea) as you silently refl ect on the fl awless perfection of a Zen rock garden. Photograph street parades of teen fashionistas sporting goth Lolita dresses and anime costumes. Slurp down a bowl of al dente ramen noodles floating in a broth of miso, soy sauce and seasoned pork fat. Hike millennia-old foot trails linking together mountaintop Buddhist temples and aesthetic places of worship. The list goes on and on…

FESTIVALS & EVENTS
✪ In January, there is no bigger event than Tokyo’s annual Grand Sumo Tournament, a multiday battle between the sport’s largest and most celebrated behemoths.

✪ In February, head north to the frozen island of Hokkaido for the Sapporo Snow Festival, which is highlighted by an ice sculpture–carving contest.

✪ Late March and early April is a glorious time to be in Japan, especially since the blooming of the sakura (cherry blossoms) heralds the springtime.

✪ The historic Asakusa district in Tokyo attracts more than a million people each May for the Sanja Matsuri, a Shinto festival involving a thronging parade of mikoshi (portable shrines).

✪ July and August mark the offi cial climbing season for Mt Fuji, the country’s iconic volcano that peaks at 3776m. Summer festivals and fi reworks displays abound.

✪ Mid-November hosts Shichi-go-san (Seven-fi ve-three); parents celebrate these milestone ages by dressing up their children in kimonos and bringing them to shrines.

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RANDOM FACTS
✪ The average Japanese person eats more than 60kg of rice per year.

✪ High-quality sake is served chilled, as room temperature or higher will mask the true flavour and aroma.

✪ In 2008 scientists discovered how to raise non-poisonous fugu (blowfi sh) by specially controlling their diet.

✪ The sudden bloom and rapid death of cherry blossoms is an enduring Buddhist symbol for the cycle of life.

✪ Sumo wrestlers bulk up by eating massive quantities of chankonabe, a rich stew of fish, meat and vegetables.

✪ Traditional handsewn silk kimonos with accompanying accessories can cost upwards of US$30,000.

✪ In experimental test runs, the bullet train reaches speeds of more than 440 km/h.

This is an edited extract from Best in Travel 2011  – the latest edition of the inspirational travel annual with the hottest trends, destinations and experiences for the year ahead. To buy the book or find out more about Lonely Planet, please visit www.lonelyplanet.com

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