While some street signs and cultural quirks might be ‘lost in translation’, that’s not deterring travellers from picking Japan as a number-one holiday destination for 2017.
According to research compiled by Amazon, books about Japan were the bestselling non-UK based travel books in December last year. Japanese phrasebooks were also the bestsellers on Prime Now.
So what’s all the fuss about? Here are the reasons why everyone’s going crazy for Japan.
1. Cherry blossom
One of the most popular times to visit the country is in sakura or cherry blossom season. It lasts roughly from February until early May (depending on the region), although hotels get booked up to a year in advance. From as far back as the 8th century, the Japanese have been enjoying ‘hanami’ (literally ‘flower viewing’) picnics and poetry sessions underneath the blooms.
Catching a train in Tokyo’s rush hour can often be a squeeze, but the country’s public transport does run like clockwork. The main islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Hokkaido are connected to Tokyo with a network of high-speed trains, meaning it’s a breeze to get around.
A holiday here will make you feel better – and could help you live longer, too. In Japan, more people are likely to live beyond 100 years than anywhere else in the world. Residents of the Okinawa archipelago have one of the longest life expectancies in the world. Their secret? A diet of tofu and squid.
Beyond city limits, this is an excellent country for trekking. Climb volcanoes in Kyushu, tackle the Big Snow Mountain in Hokkaido, or venture to the highest and most famous peak, Mount Fuji.
5. Vending machines
Thought vending machines were just for dispensing cans of cola? Not in Japan, where there are more per capita than any other country in the world. Shop for soups, milkshakes, loaves of bread, batteries and even rubber stamp seals.
It goes without saying that Japanese food is first class. Sushi and noodles are obvious choices, but don’t overlook the desserts. Japan isn’t best know for its sweet stuff, but the ice creams are worth seeking out. Try kurogoma (black sesame), beni-imo (Okinawan sweet potato) and matcha (green tea).
7. Scuba diving
It’s not the most obvious destination for diving, but the waters around the Okinawan archipelago are excellent for swimming with manta rays, hammerhead sharks and sea turtles. There are also some beautiful coral reefs to explore.
Almost every day is a celebration, with plenty of festivals in the national calendar. At Akita’s Kanto Matsuri event (August 3-6), performers balance giant poles covered with paper lanterns; the country’s largest dance festival, Awa, is held on Shikoku Island (August 12-15).
Stacked with enticing neon signs, Tokyo’s streets are a shopper’s delight. For upmarket boutiques, go to Omotesando in the Harajuku district; teens will prefer fashion stores in Takeshita Dori, also in the same area. Pick up electronics from big brand stores in Ginza.
10. Café culture
More than simply a place to sip hot brews, Japan’s cafés are a sight to behold. At the Cure Maid Café in Chiyoda, maids in frilly aprons serve tables, while at Tokyo’s Moomin Bakery & Café, it’s possible to share your table with Snufkin or Snork Maiden.
What's your favourite thing about Japan? Tell us in the Comments box below.