Japan’s crowning glory in the 2023 Readers’ Choice Awards as the “Best Country in the World” signals that it’s a destination unlike any other. With a blend of tradition and innovation, Japan is a realm of juxtapositions that beckons travelers. After a two-year hiatus due to entry restrictions, international wanderers are pouring in, ready to immerse themselves in the country’s remarkable charm.
24 Reasons Why You Should Explore Japan in 2024
- Thriving Restaurant Scene: Tokyo reigns supreme with some of the world’s finest dining establishments. From humble eateries to globally celebrated omakase spots, Japanese chefs channel their shokunin spirit, a relentless quest for perfection in their culinary craft.
- A Spectrum of Cuisines: Japan offers a gastronomic voyage, encompassing traditional delights like sushi, tempura, and kaiseki, as well as innovative fusions. The appreciation for seasonal ingredients, known as shun-no-shokuzai, permeates every cuisine.
- Finely Brewed Sake: Sake, Japan’s nectar, is a testament to the country’s reverence for tradition. Crafted in Shinto shrines, this elixir combines premium rice, pristine water, yeast, and koji fungus. The mineral-rich mountain waters infuse unique character and flavors into each brew.
- Stunning Spring Blossoms: Spring in Japan heralds “new beginnings.” The sakura, or cherry blossoms, burst into life with delicate shades of pink. Over 600 types of sakura trees paint the landscape in myriad hues.
- Festive Summer Activities: Summer ushers in the matsuri festival season, with regions hosting bon-odori (traditional communal dance) and hanabi-taikai (fireworks conventions). Attendees don yukata, a lighter kimono variant, savoring street food like yakisoba and ringo-ame (candy apples).
- Glorious Autumn Foliage: As temperatures cool post-summer, Japan dons its koyo, or autumn foliage, attire. Leaves transition from verdant greens to a breathtaking medley of red, orange, and gold. Kyoto, adorned with momiji (Japanese maple) trees, shines in mid to late November.
- Refreshing Winter Weather: Tokyo’s winter offers a refreshing change, with crisp, dry air and blue skies. Mountains like Niseko and Hakuba are ski havens, while serene ryokans (traditional inns) invite guests to soak in onsen (hot springs). Even snow monkeys frolic in the wild at Jigokudani Monkey Park.
- Juxtapositions in Tokyo: Tokyo is a paradoxical masterpiece. The organized chaos of Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing contrasts with the tranquility of Meiji-Jingu Shrine. Harajuku’s pop culture hub neighbors the Imperial Palace. From Toyosu’s fish market to Roppongi’s cocktail bars, Tokyo is a city that never sleeps.
- Astonishing History in Kyoto: Once Japan’s capital for over 1,000 years, Kyoto boasts 3,000+ Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites like Kinkakuji Temple (“Golden Pavilion”) and Kiyomizu-dera Temple beckon with their magnificence. Don’t miss the Arashiyama bamboo forest and Fushimi Inari Shrine’s iconic red gates.
- Natural Treasures in Hokkaido: Japan’s largest prefecture, Hokkaido, is a treasure trove of diverse landscapes. From spring flower fields to winter skiing and mouthwatering delicacies, this region has it all.
Cool Local Activities in Japan
- Craftsmanship in Hokuriku: Hokuriku, along the Sea of Japan, is famed for Kobako-gani (female snow crab). Fukui Prefecture is a haven for artisans, producing handmade knives, Echizen washi paper, and pottery.
- Casual Bites in Kyushu: Kyushu’s Hakata district, in Fukuoka, is known for its B-kyu gurume, casual bites. Relish the local ramen with tonkotsu pork-based broth, along with mizutaki, gyoza, and mentaiko.
- The Art Island Naoshima: Once abandoned fishing islands, Naoshima, Teshima, and Inujima have transformed into ‘art islands.’ Iconic sculptures, like Yayoi Kusama’s yellow pumpkin, grace these shores. Art House Project turns old houses into interactive exhibitions, while Chichu Art Museum and Lee Ufan Museum are gems.
- The Rainforest in Yakushima: A temperate rainforest envelops this sub-tropical island, housing Jomon-Sugi, an 83-feet-high Cryptomeria tree believed to be thousands of years old. Yakushima is said to have inspired Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke.
- The Tropical Okinawa: Okinawa boasts pristine white sand beaches, ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving. Explore the Honto main island, Ishigaki, and Miyako islands, and discover Ryukyu architecture, including castles and fortresses.
Amazing Historical and Enchanting Sites in Japan
- Magnificent Mount Fuji: The symmetrical grandeur of Mount Fuji is visible from Tokyo on clear days. Its presence, be it adorned with cherry blossoms in spring or crowned with snow in winter, captivates all. Ashinoko Lake in Hakone offers postcard-worthy views.
- Relaxing Hot Springs: With over 100 active volcanoes, Japan boasts numerous onsen hot spring locations. Experience the art of bathing, adhering to the unwritten rule of showering before entering fully unclothed.
- The Abundance of Architecture: Japan marries history with modernization, featuring ancient landmarks alongside futuristic skyscrapers. Renowned architects like Tadao Ando craft minimalistic, spacious structures often centered around concrete.
- World-Class Contemporary Art: Japan’s thriving contemporary art scene stars luminaries like Yayoi Kusama, Takashi Murakami, and Yoshitomo Nara. Galleries and museums showcase avant-garde works, from Kusama’s polka dots to Murakami’s vibrant flower-like characters and Nara’s wide-eyed figures.
- Seasonal Festivals: Japanese calendars brim with festivals, each season marked by unique rituals. Spring ohanami picnics celebrate cherry blossoms, while summer’s Tanabata involves bamboo branches and colorful tanzaku paper. Tsukimi moon festivals honor autumn moons, and winter dazzles with snow festivals and ice sculptures.
- Efficient Public Transport: Japan’s pride is its exceptional public transport system, known for reliability and punctuality. Shinkansen bullet trains whisk passengers across the country at speeds of up to 300 km/h. Subways and trains, especially pleasant outside rush hours, arrive with Swiss-clock precision.
- Outstanding Cleanliness: Japan’s reputation for cleanliness extends far beyond its pristine streets. A culture of respect underpins a sense of communal responsibility to keep public spaces immaculate. Removing shoes before entering homes is customary, and visitors may find limited outdoor rubbish bins—carry-out-your-trash is the norm.
- Historic Temples and Shrines: Japan’s spiritual heritage is on full display with ancient temples and shrines that dot its landscape. From Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha to the serene beauty of Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), these sacred sites offer a glimpse into Japan’s rich spiritual traditions.
- Warm Hospitality: Japan’s hospitality, known as omotenashi, envelops visitors with warmth and care. From friendly locals to helpful guides, you’ll experience a heartfelt welcome everywhere you go.
Pack your bags and embark on a journey like no other in 2024, as you unlock the magic of Japan. With culture, cuisine, and natural wonders around every corner, this land of contrasts awaits your discovery.