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About Japan
Whether you end up taking photos of a reproduction Eiffel Tower, surfing an indoor wave, shacking up in a love hotel or kipping down in a capsule, you'll do best to come with an open mind and be prepared to be surprised.

Somewhere between the elegant formality of Japanese manners and the candid, sometimes boisterous exchanges that take place over a few drinks, between the sanitised shopping malls and the unexpected rural festivals, everyone finds their own vision of Japan.

Japan is the subject of more gullible and misguided musings than perhaps any other place in the world: the best way to approach it is to discard your preconceptions. Somewhere between the elegant formality of Japanese manners and the candid, sometimes boisterous exchanges that take place over a few drinks, between the sanitised shopping malls and the unexpected rural festivals, everyone finds their own vision of Japan. Whether you end up taking photos of a reproduction Eiffel Tower, surfing an indoor wave, shacking up in a converted love hotel or kipping down in a capsule, you'll do best to come with an open mind and be prepared to be surprised.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +9
Dialling Code: 81

Facts for the Traveler

Visas: US passport holders, most EU residents and visitors from Australia and New Zealand do not require a visa if staying in Japan less than 90 days. For information on visas visit the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

When to Go

Spring (March to May), with its clear skies and cherry blossoms, is probably the most celebrated Japanese season, but it's a holiday period for the Japanese and many of the more popular travel destinations tend to be flooded with domestic tourists. Autumn (September to November) is a great time to travel: the temperatures are pleasant, and the autumn colours in the countryside are fantastic. Mid-winter (December to February) can be bitterly cold, while the sticky summer months (June to August) can turn even the briefest excursion out of the air conditioning into a soup bath; on the plus side, major tourist attractions will generally be quieter at these times of the year. It's also worth considering peak holiday seasons when you plan your trip. Moving around and finding accommodation during New Year, Golden Week (late April to early May) and the midsummer O-Bon festival can be a real headache.

Japan Attractions

Tokyo
The sheer level of energy is the most striking aspect of Japan's capital city. Tokyo is a place where the urgent rhythms of consumer culture collide with the quieter moments that linger from older traditions. It's hectic madness leavened by the Zennest of calms.

What makes Tokyo fascinating is the tension between mammoth scale and meticulous detail. Sightseeing in its streets can be a neon assault that leaves you elated and breathless or an encounter with the exquisite art of understatement. Jump aboard the subway and see how one city is really many.

Daisetsuzan National Park
Japan's largest national park (2309 sq km/1432 sq mi) is in central Hokkaido, the northernmost and second largest of Japan's islands. The park, which consists of several mountain groups, volcanoes, lakes and forests, is spectacular hiking and skiing territory.

Japan's largest national park (2309 sq km/1432 sq mi) is in central Hokkaido, the northernmost and second largest of Japan's islands. The park, which consists of several mountain groups, volcanoes, lakes and forests, is spectacular hiking and skiing territory.

Kyoto

Kyoto, with its hundreds of temples and gardens, was the imperial capital between 794 and 1868, and remains the cultural centre of Japan. Its raked pebble gardens, sensuously contoured temple roofs and latter-day geishas fulfill the Japanese fantasy of every Western cliché hunter.

With an astonishing 1600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shinto shrines, a trio of palaces, and dozens of gardens and museums, Kyoto is Japan's cultural treasure house. Perhaps more impressive, 17 of Kyoto's ancient structures and gardens have been declared Unesco World Heritage sites, making of it one of the world's most culturally rich cities.

Nagasaki

Nagasaki is a busy and colourful city, but its unfortunate fate as the second atomic bomb target obscures its fascinating early history of contact with the Portuguese and Dutch. The chilling A-Bomb Museum and Hypocentre Park are evocative reminders of the horror of nuclear destruction.

As a solemn aniversary, a bell in the turtle-shaped Fukusai-ji, a Zen temple, tolls at 11:02am daily, the time of the explosion. One of the world's biggest Foucault pendulums (a device which demonstrates the rotation of the earth) hangs inside the temple.

Kirishima National Park

Kirishima, in southern Kyushu, is known for its superb mountain scenery, hot springs, the impressive Senriga-taki waterfall and spring wildflowers. The day walk from Ebino-kogen village to the summits of a string of volcanoes is one of the finest volcanic hikes in Japan.

Love Hotel Hill

In Tokyo's Shibuya district is a concentration of love hotels catering to all tastes. The buildings range from miniature Gothic castles to Middle Eastern temples. The rooms within can fulfil most fantasies, with themes ranging from harem extravaganza to sci-fi.

Mt Fuji
Japan's highest mountain (3776m/12,385ft) is a perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone which last blew its top in 1707, covering the streets of Tokyo 100km (62mi) away with volcanic ash. It's sometimes visible from Tokyo but is more often mystically shrouded by cloud or, in winter, capped off by snow.
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