With the Rugby World Cup starting in two weeks – and the Olympic Games next summer – it's a busy time for sport in Japan.
The eyes of the sports world will be on the Far East, which is now easier to reach, with new British Airways flights to Osaka.
A great way to see Japan is to fly to Osaka and Tokyo, or vice versa, and travel with bullet trains to make the most of your time – perhaps stopping at the ancient city of Kyoto and the hot springs of the mountainous Hakone along the way.
Japan is more popular with British visitors than ever; 334,000 went last year – nearly 40 percent more than ten years ago. Pictured is a pagoda near Mount Fuji
Japan is more popular with British visitors than ever; 334,000 went last year – nearly 40 percent more than ten years ago. Here are our top tips about what to see and do …
Tokyo is & # 39; the world's largest metropolitan area. But it is not necessary to feel intimidated, because traveling around is easy.
Start with a walk through the beautiful imperial palace gardens, next to the emperor's house.
Then head to the Jimbocho district, with hundreds of book stores and plenty of tasty places to eat. We loved the fresh, spicy dumplings in Suito Pozu, a place popular with the locals.
Then stop at the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa and view the intriguing Asakura Museum of Sculpture, designed by the sculptor Fumio Asakura, who was known as the "Rodin of Japan".
Aman Tokyo, near the imperial palace gardens, has large rooms, a nice spa and a top sushi restaurant, Musashi (stock image of a sushi dish)
The Tokyo that you have seen on film can be found in the Harajuku, Ginza and Shibuya districts. Make sure you enter a Pachinko arcade full of games and slot machines, if only for a moment. Ringing sound, smoke, flashing lights – it is dizzy.
The Shinjuku district sells shady wares with carefree worry. Continue to Golden Gai, a neighborhood full of small bars. Bar Lonely, where we settled for a drink, has been run by Kazuko Arai for just over 50 years. Rock band The Killers has been in it, director Guy Ritchie had a gin and tonic and Franz Ferdinand even wrote a song about it.
Where to stay
Luxury: Aman Tokyo, near the imperial palace gardens, has large rooms, a beautiful spa and a first-class sushi restaurant, Musashi. Doubles from £ 760 (aman.com).
Budget: OMO5 in the Otsuka district is a slick hotel with smart compact rooms and gourmet tours for guests. Doubles from £ 97 (omo-hotels.com/otsuka/en).
Hakone is located in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. It is about a two-hour train journey from Tokyo.
The mountain town is a popular place to view Mount Fuji and contains many onsens (hot springs) and ryokans (hot springs).
A great way to see the area is with the narrow-gauge railway from Hakone to Gora, a resort with hot springs on a hill.
Track enthusiasts will marvel at the many kickbacks in the mountains from Odawara. It is known as the "hydrangea line" thanks to the frou-frou flowers that flower along the spores.
From the top of the Hakone Ropeway cable car you can catch a glimpse of Tokyo that looks small on the horizon.
With the Rugby World Cup starting in two weeks – and the Olympic Games next summer – it's a busy time for sport in Japan
And there is also a fascinating geological museum that is a little Blue Peter in his presentation, with volcanoes puffing steam from cotton wool and timelines from past explosions and earthquakes.
We stayed in a hot spring hotel and had a boiling bath next to our room, which had surprisingly comfortable tatami mats to sleep on.
Where to stay
Luxury: Hakone Gora Onsen offers views of Mount Fuji, comfortable rooms with hot tubs and public hot tubs. Doubles from around £ 300 half board (gorahanaougi.com).
Budget: Fuji-Hakone Guest House in the village of Sengokuhara is an old favorite with British visitors. Doubles from £ 76 (fujihakone.com).
Kyoto offers another change of pace. Wear shoes that are easy to put on and take off because you will take them off all day to visit temple after temple.
The Nison-in Temple offers a fantastic view of Kyoto and the Gio-ji Temple has a beautiful garden where we were lucky to spot a geisha.
It is worth taking a walk from the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine at the foot of Mount Inari, with its beautiful orange tori (traditional Japanese gates).
Depicted is a maiko (student geisha) in Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years
The shrines along the way are filled with stone foxes – messengers for the gods of prosperity.
Another day, north of here is The Philosopher & Walk, which follows the canal and ends at the Silver Pavilion. It is perfect for a contemplative walk, and wonderful in the spring and fall when the cherry trees show off.
Opposite the Kamo River of Gion is the Nishiki market, where you can taste all kinds of street food, from small octopuses on sticks to cheesy dough balls or black sesame ice cream.
Where to stay
Luxury: Hoshinoya Kyoto is a treat, with breakfast served in rooms, tea ceremonies and yoga-inspired morning stretch sessions – double costs from £ 745 (hoshinoya.com/kyoto/en). Shimaya Stays also has great apartments from £ 400 (shimayastays.com).
Budget: Apartment-hotel Mimaru has smart rooms at the Kyoto station. Doubles from £ 150 (mimaruhotels.com).
OUT TO OSAKA
Enjoy a few days in this busy port city, which is home to Universal Studios, the avant-garde National Art Museum, the Osaka Aquarium (one of & # 39; the world's largest), as well as temples and shrines.
The Sumiyoshi Taisha Temple is one of the oldest in Japan, dating from the third century, while the Shittenoji Temple was founded in 593 AD. It is a short walk from the last to the beautiful Gokuraku-jodo garden.
However, the highlight for many is the neon-lit Shinsekai district with its 103-meter Tsutenkaku tower. Head to the observation deck for a spectacular view, then explore the clear labyrinthine streets of the neighborhood and stop at a cheap fast food tent, some of which are open 24 hours a day.
Where to stay
Luxury: The glitzy five-star Ritz-Carlton has double rooms from around £ 300 (ritzcarlton.com).
Budget: Try the Best Western Plus Fino Osaka Kitahama for simple, clean rooms in the convenient Chuo department. Double of around £ 50 (bestwestern.com).
AVOID A GREAT FAUX PASS
Learn the chopstick etiquette from Japan before you travel
- Don't tip – the staff will be embarrassed.
- Blowing your nose in public is considered rude.
- Never wear outdoor shoes in a ryokan (traditional hotel) or temples – slippers are usually provided.
- Talking on cell phones in trains is a big no-no.
- Always wait for the & # 39; green man & # 39; at intersections – even if no cars are visible.
- If you stay in a ryokan, where you get a yukata (a kind of cotton kimono), wrap the right side over the left side and not the other way around, as this is linked to a funeral ritual.
- It is polite to keep chopsticks at their ends instead of in the middle or front third.
- When meeting people, bend slightly to be informal and informal – a deep, long bow indicates great respect.
- Slurping is standard practice, but chopsticks should not be licked, sucked or left upright in a bowl, as this is associated with funerals.
- Tattoos should be covered wherever possible because they are associated with gangs.
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