What To Love About Japan

What To Love About Japan

Introduction

People all around the world dreams of going to Japan. Regardless of what occasion you’re in Japan for, this country will far exceed your expectations in more ways than one. At one point or another, you definitely have stumbled across pictures or videos of the Japanese sakuras, maybe even the rustic streets of Kyoto. For some of us, they were what drew us into the fascination of Japan. 

This country has more in store for you than just the jaw-dropping landscapes — every corner is full of excitement and new ventures, even for those of us who are in Japan for longer than just a week or two-long holiday! Food, fun and freshness — what more can one ask of a country? Out of the thousands of reasons why, here I highlight the top 5 that will definitely get your hypes up about Japan!

1. Alcohol

Can anyone actually say no to good alcohol? When you’re in Japan, all alcohol is good alcohol; you definitely won’t be able to say no to them! Brace yourself for the huge alcohol range Japan has — not only are the Japanese beer of the best quality you can ever get in the entire world, but you also have other Japanese alcohol like umeshu (梅酒) and sake () at dirt-cheap prices! 

That’s not even the best part. I personally love the fact that every konbini (コンビニ) is fully stocked with a variety of alcoholic beverages! Everything from beers to fruity-flavoured three percenters like Horoyoi (ほろよい) — my ultimate favourites — is just footsteps away from your home. 

What’s more, unlike some countries in the world, Japan has no time limit on purchasing alcoholic beverages — so you don’t have to rush down to the nearest konbini two minutes before 11pm to get your night’s alcohol fix. I know that has been one of the best parts of Japan for me!

2. The Summer Is Nothing Short of Fantastic

Image Credit: Toshihiro Gamo

While Japan is famous for its spring season where the cherry blossoms dominate the country’s already beautiful nature, the summer in Japan is also a time of the year to be excited about. 

 The warm weather has the perfect combination for a getaway holiday: sun, sand and sea. Japan has more than a few beaches that are ideal for your sunbathing as well as beach and watersport activities. Okinawa might be the first stop that pops in your head — after all, it is Japan’s very own Hawaii — but even the cities not too far from Tokyo have awesome beaches that are even less crowded. 

Even the cities and towns have tons going on during the summer, so much that even the beach lovers might give a pass on a trip to the beach for a chill at a summer beer garden nearby or a day out dressed in yukata at a summer festival.

Summer Festivals

Enjoyed by both locals and travellers, summer festivals are ones to definitely be on your calendar! There’s the traditional Japanese summer festival that everyone looks forward to each year. Both guys and girls get dressed up in yukata, the summer version of a kimono, and walk down the rows and rows of stalls. After a whole day of munching on local street food and playing games, visitors end their day watching the fireworks in the evening.

Summer festivals aren’t just limited to the traditional one, though. There are quite a few other types of summer festivals — music ones are quite popular, consisting of local as well as international artists and attracting people all around the world; also keep an eye out for others like film festivals.

Summer Beer Gardens

Image Credit: sodai gomi

What’s a summer beer garden, you ask? Well, it’s exactly like how it sounds. Japan has a trend of indulging in refreshing beer during the hot summer months — so much like it’s a seasonal rite of passage. Beer gardens pop up in these months to cater to the demand of the people. Reasonably priced with a casual party atmosphere that’s perfect for gatherings of family, friends and even colleagues — what’s not to like about beer gardens?

Beer isn’t the only thing on the menu. Some of these stalls offer delicious foods that are perfect for both a la carte and food pairing to your beer. 

3. A Food Heaven

Speaking of food, who doesn’t love food? More correctly, who doesn’t love Japanese food? Sushi, ramen, yakiniku — you name it, of course, Japan has it; it is their local cuisine, after all. The best part of it all is that this is the only place on Earth where you can get the most authentic and truest flavours of Japanese cuisine.

Hiroshima is for okonomiyaki (お好み焼き); Osaka is for takoyaki (たこ焼き); Kobe is for beef (牛肉); Yokohama is for ramen (ラーメン); Fukuoka is for blowfish (ふぐ); Hokkaido for cheese (チーズ) — but what’s best is that you can get all of them in any city in Japan! 

Other than the Japanese food you already know, there are tons more you don’t! What about their unique cuisines like the kaiseki or kappo cuisine, where you sit back and relax while being served by the head chef of only the finest ingredients available during the season. You might think you know seafood before the dining experience, but be prepared to admit defeat and learn a thing or two from it. 

4. A Perfect Blend of Modern And Traditional, City And Nature

Japan has the best of both worlds: the modern city landscape and the preserved nature. One moment you’re surrounded by high rise buildings and neon lights, the next you’re deep in the woods surrounded by the cool natural breeze. Having both at your fingertips is extremely convenient, especially for an escape from the busy city life to the peaceful nature, or a buzzing night out instead of the quiet suburban life.

With about 3,000 kilometers from north to south in the Japanese archipelago, locals and travellers alike are spoilt for choices when it comes to natural sights — everything from the mangrove jungles in Okinawa to the drift ice in the seas of Hokkaido are experiences not to be missed out on. You don’t even have to travel to the ends of the country for some natural views; take in the beautiful coastlines and breathtaking volcanoes alongside preserved forests housing thousands of monkeys, deers, bears and other wildlife.

On the other side of the coin, there’s the wild and exciting city life of Japan that has the complete opposite atmosphere as well as activities to offer. The major cities like Osaka and Tokyo are definitely city stops to take if you’re an outgoing soul who needs bubbly afternoons and pumping evenings. For the shopaholics, better get your shopping shoes on — there’s a lot of ground to cover in Japan!

5. As Safe As Houses

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. Their crime rates are only getting lower and they have the second-lowest homicide rate after Iceland and the second-lowest assault rate after Canada. 

The best thing about being in Japan is not having to fear for your safety every second as you walk down the streets. No one will mug you in public, pickpocket your phone from the back of your jeans pocket or snatch your wallet on the top of the table you’re dining at. 

It’s so safe that there is at least a police box every five minutes’ walk down a neighbourhood street, so if you’re ever feeling unsafe during your walk back home, just pop in them and let the officers know.

Conclusion

The reasons mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg — there are so many more reasons as to why Japan is awesome. Most of the time, you have to experience it for yourself to understand the level of awesomeness this country is. There’s nothing quite like The Land of the Rising Sun, and I confidently believe that it’s a country everyone should at least once in their lives step foot on. So, what’s holding you back? Get your tickets booked now!

Japan’s Top 10 National Parks To Visit

Japan’s Top 10 National Parks To Visit

Introduction

Japan is not only the neon signs and bustling streets of Tokyo. One of this country’s best charms is the breathtakingly beautiful nature that offers unique experiences during the different seasons throughout the year. 

From pristine clear blue oceans that home tropical fish and coral reefs to unparalleled landscapes, Japan proudly has 32 national parks throughout the country. Each offering its own unique ambience and experience, these national parks are extremely well preserved and nothing short of magnificent. Here are 10 of the best ones to peak your interest.

1. Ogasawara National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site located 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, the Ogasawara Islands are more widely known as the Bonin Islands. These subtropical islands are only accessible by boat, with stunning coves and secluded beaches making up the beautiful scenery. Home to many faunas, flora and mammals in the turquoise waters framing the islands, this secluded beauty is nothing short of an adventure. 

Hiking and scuba diving aren’t the only activities available on the Bonin Islands. Dolphin and whale watching is an extremely popular activity, alongside kayaking and other fun water sports. With much to see and do, Ogasawara National Park is a golden gem of all national parks in Japan.

2. Nikko National Park

Home to the stunning and designated World Heritage shrine, Toshogu Shrine, Nikko National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in the country. As such, it is definitely worth visiting and witnessing the autumn colors during the season. History abounds this park, with countless of shrines and temples nestled in the landscapes. Another must-see shrine here is the Buddhist temple of Rinno-ji.

Natural wonders such as the famously known onsens and waterfalls beautifully decorated this phenomenal park. The water of Kegon Falls plunges into the pool below with thick forests on either side of it. Mountains and lakes frame the landscape of Nikko National Park, with the mesmerizing Lake Chuzenji lying between them. Located near Tokyo in the Kanto region, this park makes a good day trip or overnight trip from the bustling city. 

3. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

Anyone would know of Mount Fuji, and this famous mountain is located in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Argumentatively the most visited parks in all of Japan due to its extremely iconic mountain and its close proximity to the capital city, this park comprises a vast array of natural wonders. With over a thousand volcanic islands dispersed along its shores and waterways snaking around the hills, valleys and mountains, every corner here is picturesque.

The famous hot springs activity is scattered all around this area, more prominently in the Hakone vicinity which is a go-to destination for locals and tourists alike for their onsen fix. Other activities like diving are also available at the Izu Islands, which is what they’re famously known for. Old lava fields, waterfalls and ancient forests fill up the in-betweens of this stunning national park.

4. Shiretoko National Park

Another World Heritage site, the Shiretoko National Park still has traces of untouched nature in its midst. Located right in the northeastern bit of Hokkaido, the vast areas that comprise the national park is filled with undiscovered, untamed and unimaginable beauty. The main draw to this national park is the five lakes, known as the Shiretoko Five Lakes, that dot the primeval forest. Roads only cover about one-third of the park, while the rest is reserved for the adventurers ready to explore the area by foot or boat.

Another highlight of this park is its large population of brown bears. During the summer season, an extremely popular activity to do here is bear watching from sightseeing boats. A fair number of rare, endangered wild species homes in this vicinity too. This well-preserved national park is definitely a must-visit to experience its unparalleled beauty first-hand.

5. Kerama Shoto National Park

Lying off of Okinawa are a bedazzling archipelago of islands that are so majestic and dreamlike due to their appearance. The most well-known and often visited are the Zamami Island and Tokashiki Island, two of the number of islands that comprises the Kerama Islands. Not short of the tropical nature, the pristine and turquoise waters surrounding the islands gently crashes onto the creamy white sand, making the beaches so enticing to lounge upon.

Depending on the time of the year, whale watching activity is offered as tours. The “Kerama Blue”, which is the crystal clear waters that extends out, attract numerous divers and snorkelers to revel in the electric colors of the coral reefs. If you’re lucky, you might even see some sea turtles lazing onshore or floating around. 

6. San’in Kaigan National Park

The San’in Kaigan National Park hugs the Sea of Japan, and is largely known for its enormous Tottori Sand Dunes, hills of loose sand that can only be found in the part of Japan. During winter, the Tottori Sand Dunes is layered in thick snow, making them a fascinating and unique scenery of snowy hills by the shore.

This national park is also part of San’in Kaigan UNESCO Global Geopark as it contains geological heritages that are scientifically special, important and valuable. The Kasumi coast is often designated as a national site of scenic beauty, encompassing of oddly-shaped rocks, sea caves and cliffs that resulted from erosion of the raging waves of the Japan Sea. The picturesque Kinosaki Onsen Town is also part of this national park, a widely known area for its amazing hot springs.

7. Akan Mashu National Park

One of the oldest national parks in the country, Akan Mashu National Park and its surroundings have long been protected and well-preserved for all to enjoy. Located north of Japan in Hokkaido, the area is sprawled with forests that accompanies the volcanic craters, mountains and lakes. With diverse ecosystems and a large range of activities to do, visitors can spend weeks here without a moment of boredom.

Here you can find the three freshwater lake calderas of Akan, Kussharo and Mashu. From the Lake Akan that reflects the colors of Ainu culture, the active volcano Meakan-dake can be seen clearly with Mount O-kan and Mount Akan Fuji to complete the picture. Lake Mashu is known for its extremely clear waters and is one of the clearest lakes in the world. Nearby the vicinity of Lake Kussharo, where part of it is tempered by underground hot spring, is the most-visited Kawayu Onsen. A mysterious and fascinating experience awaits you at the Akan Mashu National Park.

8. Yoshino Kumano National Park

Located in the Kansai region, Yoshino Kumano National Park is the most famous cherry blossom viewing spot across the whole of Japan, as it homes more than 30,000 cherry trees. Rising up high into the mountain peaks and dipping down low into densely wooded alleys, this park is well-decorated with rapid rivers, pristine beaches and grand shrines. Bursting with flora and fauna along with the World Heritage sites and pilgrimage routes, this park offers an abundance of opportunities and activities for all.

One of the most iconic attractions is the Kumano-Nachi Taisha Shrine. The tallest waterfall in Japan, Nachino-Otaki Falls, is accompanied by a three-story pagoda and protected by the Nichi primeval forest surrounding it. The spiritual grounds of Kumano is no stranger to visitors, with the cobbled paths winding through the jagged mountains, have been well worn by the soles of pilgrims. A nature-filled experience awaits you at this magnificent hotspot of attractions.

9. Towada Hachimantai National Park

Tucked away in the Tohoku Region is the Towada Hachimantai National Park, centering around the Hachimantai mountains and Lake Towada. A primal viewing location of the colorful leaves during the autumn season, a myriad of colors spring forth and spring out life among the forests during summer. Traditional onsen baths can be found here as well due to the volcanic nature of the area.

The mountainous regions offer a number of lovely trails and paths for hikers to enjoy the wilderness. Mini waterfalls lined down the lakes take plunges into the pools of water below, creating a gushing calm sound that fills the area.

10. Yakushima National Park

An island of natural wonders, Yakushima National Park is heavily forested and nestles in the warm, sub-tropical waters south of Kagoshima prefecture. Best known for its extensive and hauntingly beautiful forests that oozes a moody ambience and twisted with fairytale-like trees, the extremely wet climate allows for crystal-clear rivers tumbling down the high peaks.

Home to species of deer and monkeys that cannot be found anywhere else, a hike in the Yakushima forest opens up opportunities to see the Yakushima macaque and Yaku deer. On summer days, endangered loggerhead turtles are spotted on the shores of the beaches, and snorkelers can enjoy the colorful coral reefs in the waters. Much like other parts of Japan, natural onsens are also found here. The unique Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen located on the south coast is a must-visit. It’s right by the rocky shoreline, so it’s only accessible twice a day when the tide is low. One-of-a-kind experiences await you here at this spectacular national park.

Conclusion

Even though Japan is home to a big number of 32 national parks, each one of them has something different and unique to offer that none of the others can. Furthermore, visiting at different times of the year also largely affects the experience as the sceneries change throughout the year.

From beautifully lush forests, high mountain peak landscapes and white sandy beaches, to heritage attractions, iconic shrines and temples, the Japan national parks, especially the top 10 above, are oozing with nature and history to offer to the world. Why not put them on your Japan bucket list?