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All About Japan - Virtual Travel Guide BuscarHotel.CO


Picking green tea leaves in Japan's Iya Valley

 

 


Shibuya 11-VIII-2012

The ancient cultural roots of Japan are evident throughout the country, as are the modern trappings of a high tech society that is a major global power. Visitors to this incredible land can see cultural attractions, rugged scenery, serene landscapes, and more

No amount of sushi or drunken karaoke sessions can prepare the first-time visitor for the culture shock that is Japan. A society that places an inordinate emphasis on efficiency, cleanliness and politeness, it is impossible for the boorish Western traveller not to feel like a hurricane blasting through a Buddhist temple. Conversely, most Japanese are notoriously forgiving and courteous, and will go to extreme lengths to help a lost or bewildered gaijin (foreigner).

From sumo to Sony, Kabuki to capsule hotels, Japan offers up an intoxicating mix of the traditional and the modern. Futuristic cities such as Tokyo and Osaka are characterized by cutting edge fashion, neon-lit skyscrapers and the incessant din of pachinko parlours, but this archipelago of 127 million people is also a place of serene temples, painstakingly-painted geishas, lush tropical islands, ancient vine bridges, volcanic mountains and 300 or so ski resorts.

Since opening itself up to the wider world in the mid-1800s, Japanese culture has taken on more contradictions than a sumo wrester has had hot meals.

Western visitors will be flummoxed to find that tipping is considered rude, or that many people think nothing of going on a whale-watching trip in the morning and then chowing down on kujira (whale meat) in a restaurant that night.

While public displays of affection are frowned upon, sex is ubiquitous – businessmen flick through porn magazines on rush-hour trains and 'Love Hotels' where rooms can be rented by the hour, take up rows of city streets.

Although blowing your nose in public is considered filthy (Japanese with colds or allergies wear surgical masks), after a few sakes social mores and inhibitions disappear, and late at night it is not unusual to see drunken businessmen slumped in the corner of subway stations or karaoke booths crammed with co-workers belting out a Bon Jovi medley.

While bullet trains whiz commuters across the country at break-neck speed, people will spend hours melting away the pressures of the 12-hour-a-day work ethic in communal onsen (hot spring bathhouses).

 

11 agosto 2012


Whale for sale in the fish markets in Tokyo

Top destinations in Japan

Tokyo

Thirty million people and a barrage of neon can't curb Tokyo's charm. Start your day by ogling the giant red tuna at the Tsukiji Fish Market in the Ginza district, then join the camera-toting tour groups outside the Imperial Palace, before riding the subway to the traditional Asakusa district where a rickshaw driver will cart you through the narrow streets that surround the Senso-ji temple. Sample some tempura or sukiyaki at a nearby restaurant and soak away the jet lag at an onsen. On the weekend, join the locals for a stroll in one of Tokyo's many manicured parks or check out the future of fashion in Shibuya and Harajuku where an army of alienated teenagers parade around in outrageous garb for the benefit of voyeurs. Party the night away in the clubs of Roppongi and catch some shut-eye in a manga cafe while you wait for the subway to open the next morning. Since Bill Murray found himself Lost In Translation in Tokyo, it has been de rigeur for travellers to visit the 53-floor Park Hyatt in Shinjuku and take in the view and a cocktail at the hotel's swanky bar.

Kyoto

A geisha turns heads in Kyoto's historic centre

A bustling city of 1.5 million people, Kyoto is also the cultural heart of Japan. The city's historic centre with its quaint bridges, exclusive craft shops, Buddhist temples and extravagant gardens give awestruck visitors the impression that not much has changed since it was Japan's imperial capital. In the Gion district, perfectly-poised geisha entertain wealthy men in 17th century teahouses. At sunset, visitors can spot camera-shy maiko (apprentice geisha) tottering down narrow alleyways lined with hanging lanterns and traditional wooden buildings. Geisha tours are popular with travellers and many Japanese and Western women pay no small fee to have a costume studio transform them into a geisha for an afternoon. Kyoto has 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, hundreds of Shinto shrines and almost 2,000 Buddhist temples. Kiyomizu-dera is the most visited temple complex and its grounds boast superb forested walking trails and waterfalls. Further afield, the Kinkaku-ji or Golden Temple is one of Japan's most photographed sites, while the tranquil Fushimi-Inari Taisha shrine complex has a hiking path that winds 4km up the mountain through rows of bright red torii gates.

Hiroshima

The famous floating torii on Miyajima

After the hedonism of Tokyo and Kyoto, Hiroshima is a sobering experience. The atomic bomb that was dropped

 
The A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

on the city on August 6, 1945 was met by predictions that “nothing will grow for 75 years”. Thankfully, this has failed to ring true and Hiroshima has risen from the devastation to become a thriving, modern and surprisingly green city. Millions of tourists and school groups flock here every year to pay their respects at the A-Bomb Dome (the eerie ruins of the building that marks the epicentre of the bomb), the Peace Park, the memorial hall and the museum. Hiroshima is also a jumping off point for the nearby island of Miyajima, with its fantastic network of hiking trails and famous floating Shinto torrii.

Beppu

If being buried alive by hot volcanic sand or covered in sulphurous mud is your idea of a good time, then you'll

 
Taking a soak at the Ichinoide Kaikan onsen in Beppu

adore Beppu. Situated on the east coast of the island of Kyushu, Beppu is the hot-spring centre of Japan. Sporadic bursts of steam rise out of the ground all over this sprawling spa town. Its reputation as an all-round R&R destination has encouraged a roaring sex industry centred around the tacky red light district. Still, Beppu's wonderful selection of onsen are distraction enough, and with more than 100 million litres of hot therapeutic water a day flowing out of springs, there is no shortage of bathhouses to kick back and relax in. The nicest onsen is Ichinoide Kaikan where single-sex outdoor pools are built into the forested mountainside and afford brilliant views of the bay. Sand and mud baths are also available at a number of Beppu's onsen. If you're feeling adventurous, ask locals for directions to free hidden baths that are tucked away in the bushes.

 

Yakushima

This remote island south of Kyushu is as wet and wild as it gets in Japan. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yakushima is just 25km in diametre and covered in temperate ancient forest and towering waterfalls. Its beaches are nesting grounds for sea turtles, wild monkeys wander along the limited roads and outdoor onsen are nestled in rocks by the ocean. Hiking is the main pastime here, followed by diving, snorkeling and kayaking. There is an airport on the island with connections from Kagoshima on the island of Kyushu. Ferries and speedboats also run from Kagoshima, taking up to four hours.

A vine bridge in the Iya Valley

Iya Valley

Often referred to as the 'Tibet of Japan', this remote and misty valley is in the mountainous centre of the island of Shikoku. Thatch-roofed cottages, Buddhist temples and outdoor hot springs dot steep mountainsides covered in green tea plantations. A raging river runs through deep gorges and beneath ancient, twisting vine bridges. Activities in the Iya Valley include white-water rafting and kayaking in the Koboke and Oboke gorges as well as hiking up Mount Tsurugi (there is also a chairlift that takes you most of the way). Shops and services are limited in the area and getting around is difficult without your own transport although there is a reliable public bus that winds through the Iya Valley several times a day. An hourly train stops in Oboke, linking the valley with Kochi and Okayama.

Daisetsuzan National Park

At 2300 square kilometres, this is Japan's largest national park - a wilderness area packed to the majestic snow-capped mountain peaks with dense forest, meadows, gorges, lakes, volcanoes and onsen to escape the bone-chilling cold. Diasetsuzan translates as 'great snowy mountains' and Hokkaido's highest peak (2290 metres) – Mount Asahi – is here. The area is a playground for hikers and skiers as well as the occasional brown bear. The main tourist centres are the hot spring towns of Sounkyo Onsen in the park's northeast and Asahidake Onsen where a cable car whisks people partway up Mount Asahi.

 

things to do in japan


Sumo wrestlers prepare to fight at a tournament in Tokyo

Watch a sumo wrestling match

With its oversized stars and elaborate rituals, this 2000-year-old sport is fascinating to observe. Even if you have no understanding of the rules, it is hard not to be entertained by the wrestlers' dramatic grunts and the high-pitched shouts from the hyperactive referee. There are six 15-day-long Grand Sumo Tournaments held in Japan every year; half of them are in Tokyo (January, May and September) and the others are in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November). Sumo pulls in massive crowds, but it is often possible for tourists to pick up last-minute tickets on the mornings of competitions. A sumo match involves two well-fed opponents facing each other in a ring that is just 15-feet in diametre. Before the tussle starts, the wrestlers stomp their legs, claps their thighs, throw salt into the ring to purify it and attempt to stare down their opponent. A match rarely lasts longer than six seconds, with the loser the first one to touch the ground outside the circle or inside the circle with any part of his body other than the soles of his feet.

 

Soak in an onsen

Japanese have no qualms about public nudity. The onsen - hot spring bathhouse - is where people of all social ranks get together, get their kit off and boil themselves like lobsters. The water generally has a high mineral content which affords it healing properties. Onsen etiquette dictates that you give yourself a good scrub with soap and water before submerging yourself in the steaming communal pools. Onsen come in all shapes and sizes: some are indoors and attached to ryokan (traditional guesthouses) or located down narrow inner-city side streets, while others are spacious outdoor affairs on remote mountainsides with multiple pools and adjoining restaurants. Most are single-sexed, although mixed-sexed bathing is optional in some onsen in remote rural areas.

 


Outdoor onsen in the Iya Valley, Shikoku

 
Spend the night – or take a 'Rest' – in a Love Hotel
There's more lust than love going on in these kitsch palaces of passion. Neon-lit witnesses to many an illicit affair and drunken one-night stand, Love Hotels have nonetheless become an institution in a country where most young people live with their extended families in cramped apartments with paper thin walls until they get married. You'll find Love Hotels in any red-light district – look out for rows of buildings with elaborate facades and wonderful English names like 'Hotel Seed' or 'Hotel Lovery'. The set-up of these hotels is very discreet: entrances are separate from exits and many have computerized booking systems in the lobbies so that human contact is unnecessary. Rooms are kept scrupulously clean and can be rented by the hour or by the night. Some rooms are themed or are decked out with vibrating beds, Jacuzzis, costumes, sex-toy vending machines and karaoke machines.

Booking a room in a Love Hotel
 

Historical influences

Archaeological experts agree that some of the earliest settlements in Japan can be traced back to 100,000 years or more, but the first recognizable cultural elements began to appear sometime in the 3rd century A.D. For centuries, the country was ruled by an imperial state system that featured strong feudal clans and development of the samurai code of discipline. In the 17th century, Japan had its first contacts with European explorers, and by the 19th century, it was rapidly moving toward industrialization and Westernization.

Modern Japan grew into a global force in the decades following World War II. Their revolutionary ideas for efficient manufacturing and reducing the size of products and their components have found their way around the world. No country can compete in the global marketplace without embracing many of the attributes found in Japanese industry.

   

What to see in Japan

The history of Japan is important to understand if you are to truly appreciate the sights and sounds of traveling through the country. One of the most popular places to begin a vacation in Japan is Tokyo, the capital city. It is a large, bustling city of contrasts, where you can find towering modern skyscrapers alongside traditional shrines and temples. The famous Senso-ji Temple is an excellent place to sample Japan's ancient Buddhist traditions, while the main entertainment district Shinjuku offers an excellent opportunity to see modern Japan in action.

Because Japan is an archipelago of islands covering over 200,000 square miles, there is no shortage of places to visit. The largest island is Japan, followed by Hokkaido in the North, then Kysuhu and Shikoku, with many smaller islands making up the rest of the country. The climate varies from subtropical in the south, to cold and snowy in the north.

 

Festivals and celebrations

Japan is famous for its festivals and celebrations, many of which have their roots in ancient Japanese culture. Springtime is when the cherry blossoms abound, filling gardens and other outdoor areas with incredible beauty and serenity. Golden Week, which occurs from April 29 to May 7 each year, is a main holiday period when most Japanese take time off and tourist attractions are generally crowded with citizens on vacation. The biggest celebration of the year, though, occurs on the New Year when families are expected to gather at their family home and participate in ceremonies and temple visits to honor departed ancestors. This is a wonderful time for visitors to experience Japanese traditions and culture.

 

The great outdoors

Japan has a surprising number of outdoor opportunities and destinations. The island of Hokkaido boasts fantastic resorts where you can ski in winter and bike or hike in summer. Perhaps the most famous outdoor location in all of Japan, though, is Mount Fuji. This picturesque but rugged peak is located in Fuju-Hakone-Izu, one of Japan's 28 national parks. Another popular spot is Nikko National Park, where visitors can enjoy lakes and waterfalls as well as ancient forests complete with walking paths for exploration.

   

Getting there and getting around

Air travel to Japan is easy and convenient. The two major international airports are located in Tokyo and Osaka, and there are numerous other airports around the country. Once on the ground, visitors generally get around via the extensive subway and railway systems. Of particular note are the famous “bullet trains” that offer rapid but scenic travel opportunities.

   

Survival guide

With arguably the world's best public transportation system and super-hospitable ryokan (traditional guest house) hosts, Japan is a joy to travel around.

It is far more expensive than other Asian countries, but not much pricier than Britain or parts of the United States. Armed with a cost-saving Japan Rail pass (these are only available to foreigners and must be purchased before arriving in the country) and an insatiable appetite for cheap but filling udon noodle soup, your Japanese vacation need not blow the bank.

Outside the main tourist cities, it is rare to see signs in English. A few basic words of Japanese will impress people no end and might just get you out of a pickle when you're lost in the vast Tokyo subway system or trying to explain vegetarianism.

Less adventurous palates and those without any Japanese will relish the plastic food displays in restaurant windows – simply point to what you want to eat.

Spring is the best time of year to visit Japan - the temperature is mild and in April the parks and temple gardens are filled with clusters of weeping cherry blossoms.

Come to Japan with an open mind (and possibly a surgical mask) and you'll have one of the most intriguing adventures the planet has to offer.



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