The Wanderlust guide to the best of Japan

Japan is a country of contrasts, from high-tech cities to ancient wooden shrines, with cherry blossoms sprinkled on top like confetti. There's nowhere else quite like it. Go now!

6 mins

Many myths surround Japan. People often presume it is one of the world’s most expensive countries. In fact, it’s cheaper to travel in than much of North America and Western Europe and if you read our tips below, you should find some extra yen in your pocket.

Most of us have one of two set images when we think of Japan – a high tech superpower made up of overcrowded, noisy metropolises, or an ancient land of peaceful Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and gorgeously-attired Geisha. Actually Japan has all of these things and much more than just its urban centres.

Thanks to its 20° of latitude, Japan has a rich variety of landscapes to please every hiker – from the snows and hot springs of Hokkaido to the tropical climes of Okinawa. And there are no more enthusiastic hikers than the Japanese themselves, since reconnecting with nature is an important part of their Shinto traditions.

What are you waiting for?

Tokyo at night (

Tokyo at night. From

Looking for inspiration?

Japan is at once familiar, but completely different: an assault on all your senses as soon as you get off the plane. Luckily, Sophie Campbell is on hand to take you on a short walk through the Japanese psyche. And once she’s finished, Ben Lerwill will tell you how to find calm in the chaos of Tokyo.

For a taste of traditional rural life in Japan, Lyn Hughes recommends visiting Kiso Valley, particularly the village of Tsumago, where the residents have made a decision to preserve its unique character. If you really want to delve deep, Martin Symington says head to Hokkaido, especially the far north, where untamed back-country is haunted by its indigenous people, the Ainu.

To really understand the diversity of Japanese landscapes and traditions, Doug McKinlay says you can’t beat getting a bike and riding through it. Just keep away from the lager, handily dispensed by vending machines, along the way.

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A short walk through the Japanese psyche – Sophie Campbell

Tokyo: how to find calm in the chaos – Ben Lerwill

Travelling in Japan's Kiso Valley – Lyn Hughes

Hokkaido: Japan's wild frontier – Martin Symington

Cycling in Japan – Doug McKinlay

Cherry Blossom party (

Cherry Blossom Party. From

Japan’s secrets revealed

Perhaps the biggest myth about travelling in Japan is that it is expensive. Mark Stratton was surprised to find how easy it was to make your money stretch further in Japan without compromising the real Japanese experience.

With that in mind, the Japan Tourist Board also put together a list of 10 things to do for free in Tokyo. From ancient temples and bustling fish markets to showrooms bristling with the latest gadgets, there’s something to interest everyone.

One of the most amazing things to in Japan for free is enjoy the sakura, cherry blossoms, when they bloom across the country in spring. Our team reveal everything you need to know about cherry blossoms as well as the 11 best places to experience them.

More information

10 things for free in Tokyo – JTA

Know your cherry blossoms – Wanderlust Team

11 prime places for spring cherry blossom blooms – Wanderlust Team

Traditional Japanese food market (

Traditional Japanese food market. From

Tantalise your tastebuds

Did you know that Tokyo has more Michelin stars than London and Paris combined? Food is a big deal in Japan, and Ben Anderson did his best to sample as much of it as possible on a culinary tour of Japan. The good news is that he discovered that basic peasant dishes were just as spectacular as the meals served in high-end restaurants.

Japan being Japan, there are some rather strange dishes on offer as well. In the name of research, Ali Muskett sampled 5 of the weirdest, from cow's tongue to bee and wasp larvae.

Fancy sushi roll, just like they make it in Osaka? International chef, Yuki Gomi, provides a step-by-step guide to making authentic Japanese sushi rolls in the comfort of your own kitchen.

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A culinary tour of Japan – Ben Anderson

5 strange foods from Japan – Ali Muskett

How to make sushi rolls at home – Yuki Gomi

Little Foxes (

Little fox statues. From

Time to get weird

For a largely quiet and reserved people, the Japanese certainly like to push the envelope. While vending machines in the rest of the world might pop out soft drinks and the occasional chocolate bar, the ones in Japan sell everything from lingerie and beer to fruit. We’ve gathered together the 7 craziest vending machines here.

Then there are Japanese toilets. They are so complex and mysterious that The Only Blonde in Osaka has out together an insider’s guide to using them.

Finally, manga fans will want to check out Justin Egli’s piece about the notorious Manga Man of Shimokita. Make sure you watch the video at the bottom of the piece as well.

More information

7 crazy Japanese vending machines – Weird@Wanderlust

An insider's guide to Japanese toilets – The Only Blonde in Osaka

Snow Monkeys (

Japanese Snow Monkeys. From Shutterstock.

Capturing it all on film

From Blade Runner cityscapes, to intricately made-up geishas clopping along cobbled streets in Kyoto, Japan offers up a visual feast that you’ll want to capture on film. They’re images that have already been shot a million times before, of course, but with a bit of help from Paul Harris’s guide on how to make your travel photos unique, you should be able to come home with something suitably different and evocative.

Should you find yourself in Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, contemplating how to best capture the blissful monkeys reclining in the hot pools, hopefully you’ll remember the advice doled out by David Yarrow as he recounts the story behind his famous photo of a young snow monkey.

Still looking for inspiration? The photos taken by our readers during their travels in Japan will provide it in droves.

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How to make your travel photos unique – Paul Harris

Snow monkey, Japan: the story behind the photo – David Yarrow

Readers' photos from Japan

Shrine, Kyoto. (

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. From Shutterstock.

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Japan Travel Guide is the place to start. 

Chances are, your first port of call in Japan will be Tokyo. Our guide to your first 24 hours there makes essential reading. You’ll probably end up in Kyoto too, so make sure you check out Lyn Hughes’ Top 5 Kyoto sights.

If you have a particular question about Japan, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Our check out the questions that have already been asked about Japan. The answer to yours might already be there.

More information

Japan Travel Guide – Wanderlust Team

First 24 hours in Tokyo – Mick Coldicott

10 alternative things to do in Tokyo – Ali Muskett

Top 5 guide: Kyoto – Lyn Hughes

Forum posts about Japan

Geishas in Gion (

Three geisha in Gion. From Shutterstock.

Main image: Mount Fuji and temple. From

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