To us foreigners, Japan can seem like a whole different world. Year after year, tourists from all over the globe are drawn to the country to see its stunning landscapes, visit its historic temples, taste its unique dishes, and experience its incredible technology.
This country has something for everyone and is a must-visit for any traveller. If you're thinking of planning a trip to Japan soon, our guide will help you get started.
There is so much to see and do in Japan and that you won't be able to take in everything this beautiful country has to offer in one trip. That's why we've highlighted the very best bits, so you can pick and choose what you want to do on your holiday.
Skiing in Hokkaido
The island of Hokkaido is not only achingly-beautiful, in the winter months it becomes the perfect place to go skiing or snowboarding. There's a huge range of ski resorts to choose from, each enjoying light powder that you'll glide across with ease. Snowsports have never felt so relaxing!
Arguably the best resort on Hokkaido is Niseko, which enjoys an incredibly good snowfall every year. More recently, it has become popular with foreigners, particularly Australians. You're sure to make a few friends here!
After a long day on the slopes, you can relax in one of the many hot springs - that sounds like a perfect day to us.
Exploring the districts of Tokyo
More than 13 million people live in Japan's capital, Tokyo, so you can only imagine how large and sprawling this city is. It is made up of many different wards and districts, and each has something different to offer. If you're a video game or technology geek, you'll want to check out the electronics stores of Akihabara, while Ginza is perfect for anyone who loves to shop until they drop and Kabukicho is the place to go for all-night entertainment.
Amongst all the blaring, brightly-coloured lights and billboards lie remnants of traditional Tokyo. Edo Castle, which was first built in 1457, is a must-see. It is currently the Imperial Palace of the Emperor of Japan and entry to the castle is free. Located in Chiyoda-Ku, it is a ten minute walk from JR Tokyo Station - there's no excuse not to visit!
From huge shopping malls to impressive theme parks, Osaka has a lot of offer travellers. Osaka Castle and its surrounding 60,000 square metres of parkland are not to be missed. If you can, visit the castle during the cherry blossom season, which typically takes place between March and April. The park will be busy, but the spectacular view is worth braving the crowds.
If it's animals you're keen to see, head to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan - it's probably one of the best aquariums you'll ever visit. Some 30,000 creatures live in the aquarium, including turtles, penguins and otters. Plus, entry is inexpensive at just 2,300 yen (£13) for an adult ticket.
Thrillseekers will want to visit Universal Studios Japan, where they can delve into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, go on an amazing adventure with Spiderman and go back in time with the help of a Delorean. An adult ticket costs 7,200 yen (£41).
Paying respects in Hiroshima
The history of Hiroshima is a dark one, but it's an extremely interesting place to visit. It's worth taking a day trip just to see the Peace Memorial Museum and Park. The beautiful, if solemn, green space stretches 120,000 square metres - before the atomic bomb was dropped, this area was Hiroshima's political and commercial centre.
Not many buildings remained standing after the explosion - the so-called A-bomb Dome is one of the few and serves as a reminder of what happened here. You can also pay your respects at the memorial for the 220,000 people that died all those years ago.
Museum entry is only 50 yen (30p).
Relaxing in Hakone
If you want to experience the more traditional and serene side of Japan, then the town of Hakone in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is the ideal place to stay. It's famous for its hot springs, terrific views of Mt Fuji (Japan's tallest mountain) and traditional inns. At the weekend and during public holidays, Hakone can get busy, so it's best to stay at the resort during the week to avoid the crowds.
Make sure you see as much of Japan's beautiful scenery whilst you're here - go hiking and visit Ashino-ko, the huge lake at the heart of Hakone. There are also a number of great art museums here, displaying western paintings, modern Japanese paintings and treasures from the East.
Petting deer in Nara
Back in 710, Nara served as Japan's first permanent capital. It may not be the capital anymore, but it remains a popular destination for foreign and Japanese tourists alike. Its biggest attraction is Nara Park, where more than 1,200 deer roam freely. Even when you're visiting the many wonderful temples within the park, you won't be far away from the deer. They tend to stick close to humans as they are constantly begging for deer crackers, which you can buy around the park. Some deer have even learnt to bow for their crackers!
The most famous and impressive temple in Nara is Todaiji Temple. It was first constructed in 752 and the main hall, where the giant Buddha sits, is the largest wooden building in the world. The huge bronze statue is one of Japan's largest - Buddha's hand alone is as tall as a human being. Entry to the hall is only 500 yen (less than £3) too.
Food and drink
Japanese food is a lot more varied than most people think - it's not all noodles and raw fish. In fact, Western cuisine has had an influence on modern Japanese food, so you needn't be worried about what you're going to eat if you really can't the thought of eating eels and octopus.
Here are some dishes you must try whilst on your holiday.
This dish consists of seafood and vegetables in batter - the prawns are particularly tasty. Traditionally, the battered fish and veg are fried in sesame oil and are served with a soy sauce-flavoured broth containing grated raddish or a small pool of salt for dipping. It's simple, but incredibly moreish.
Sushi is a dish synonymous with Japan, but it's a myth that it literally means 'raw fish'. The name actually refers to any meal containing vinegared sushi rice. There are several different types of sushi, but typically the filling and rice is rolled in nori (seaweed). It's very easy to eat and makes for a great, quick lunch time meal. Head to a conveyor belt restaurant for a chance to try as many types as possible for as little as 100 yen (60p) a dish.
If you're a bigger fan of beef than fish, then Sukiyaki will be more up your street. It's not an overly-complicated dish - meat and veg are stewed in an iron pot - but the flavours differ from region to region. If you're travelling across Japan, it's a good idea to try this dish in several different places to see how the taste varies.
Yakitori is popular at Japanese pubs and bars, especially with those who've had a long day at work and want something quick and tasty to eat. These chicken skewers are seasoned with either sweet salt or soy sauce and then barbequed - the result is a really tasty snack! There is also a pork version, called Yakiton.
The Japanese may have a healthier lifestyle than most, but that doesn't mean they don't have a sweet tooth! Bakeries selling sugary treats are popular in Japan, and one of the snacks you'll often see is kashipan - a sweet bun which comes in a variety of flavours. Some buns are just flavoured whereas others are filled. We recommend the bean paste, curry sauce and chocolate-filled ones; although the melon buns are pretty good too.
Saki, or rice wine, is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in Japan. It's an acquired taste, but just like the white and red wine you're used to, the flavour varies. Saki can range from dry to sweet, so it's worth trying a few different types even if you're not keen the first time around. Kampai!
Customs to follow
Although it will probably be obvious that you are a tourist when you visit Japan, it doesn't mean that you can get away with being rude! It's all too easy to make a mistake if you don't do your research, so bear the following in mind:
Whatever you're planning to see, do and eat on your holiday to Japan, we know you'll have an incredible time and experience things you can't anywhere else in the world. Once you've planned and booked your trip, don't forget to buy travel insurance too.
Alpha Travel Insurance and alphatravelinsurance.co.uk are trading names of Infinity Insurance Solutions Ltd which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority: FRN 528912. Registered Office: 1 Tower View, Kings Hill, West Malling, ME19 4UY. Company Registration: 4319592. (c) Infinity Insurance Solutions Ltd; All rights reserved.