Japan is full of contrasts — ancient temples and ultra-modern cities, geishas and suited businessmen, timeless traditions and kawaii-cute pop culture.

Welcome spring at the annual cherry blossom festival

Springtime in Japan is a magical time. From March to May the landscape is transformed into a blossoming pink wonderland and April is when the annual cherry blossom festival takes place. Tokyo’s Ueno Park is the place for picnics and traditional hanami (flower viewing) while Kyoto holds nighttime Hanami festivals against a backdrop of geisha girls and temples. It’s not just spring that’s celebrated either — there are the winter snow and ice festivals, summer’s fireworks season, and the autumn harvest festivals.

Stay in a traditional ryokan guesthouse in Kyoto

Kyoto’s traditional ryokan guesthouses offer a truly immersive cultural experience. After a day visiting ancient temples, there’s nothing like slipping into a yukata (cotton robe) and slippers and settling in for an evening of simple pleasures — a traditional multi-course kasekei dinner of local and seasonal specialties, a soak in one of the inn’s communal hot spring onsen, and a night’s sleep on a futon or traditional tatami mat.

Soak in a hot spring onsen with views of Mt Fuji

Japan’s hot spring towns are plentiful and a popular weekend getaway. Kusatsu, in the north, has more than 100 hot springs including the famous Yubatake, a large pool where the hot mineral water comes gushing down a wooden chute. Hakone, though, is one for the list. This hot spring town where visitors get about in yukata robes and slippers has views of Mt Fuji and a mind boggling array of hot springs — private hotel room onsen, indoor and outdoor ones as well as chocolate and sake onsen. 

Explore Tokyo’s buzzy scene, where old mingles with new

Exciting and energetic, Tokyo is best explored in sections. Asakusa is home to its oldest temples, Tsukiji Markets the spot of its famed tuna auctions, while Happo-en Japanese Garden is the place to experience a traditional tea drinking ceremony. For a taste of its pop-culture, there are the quirky cat and owl cafes, the nerdy manga scene in Akihabara and the famed Bo-Peep costumed girls in Harijuku. 

Go on a foodie trail

Okinamaya pancake in Osaka, cheesecake in Tokyo, melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef and Fukui’s echizen crab — Japan is an exciting place to eat. While in cities like Tokyo and Osaka you can find ramen, sushi or gyoza-only restaurants alongside pricey sushi and omakase (a chef’s choice venue) it’s regional Japan, with its focus on local and seasonal produce, that’s a foodie’s delight.

By Belinda Luksic

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