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Japan

Japan is an island nation located in East Asia. It has the world’s 10th largest population of 127 million including 1 million Koreans (many 3rd & 4th generation).

Four islands make up Japan proper; these are (from north to south) Hokkaido, Honshu (the largest island, where the capital and most major cities are located), Shikoku, and Kyushu.

There are two major religion, namely Shinto and Buddhism.

The government in Japan declares that the emperor is the symbol of the state but that sovereignty rests with the people. Hirohito was emperor from 1926 until his death in 1989; he was succeeded by his son, Akihito.
Japan has the world’s second largest economy yet it is still having difficulty defining its international role.

Japan is a nation of contrasts and contradictions. It is possible to see the big cities dazzle with their bright lights and high-tech gadgetry, whilst in the countryside towns, centuries-old Japanese culture is alive and well with geishas, zen rock gardens and temples and shrines.

Japan is a land of immense natural beauty. There are contrasts again which range from the snow festivals and lavender farms of the northern isle of Hokkaido to the sun-drenched beaches and turquoise waters of the subtropical islands of Okinawa.

Kyoto is the treasure house of Japan. The city escaped the destruction of WWII and it remains the cultural heart of the nation, with over 2,000 temples and shrines.

Nagoya is an important centre for industry. At the same time, the city does have a thriving cultural scene and a vibrant nightlife.

In spring, an absolute must is viewing the cherry blossoms.

Travel Advisory: Kindly check with the local Japanese Tourist Office or your Foreign Office prior to booking due to the devastating earthquake that took place in Japan in March 2011. Tokyo is not included but the areas of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures which are at continuing risk from aftershocks.

Formalities

Nationals of 61 countries can obtain a visa on arrival in Japan. For further details, it is best to visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan.

When in Japan, you are obliged to carry your passport with you at all times.

Caution: some over the counter medicines such as Vicks inhaler, Actifed and Sudafed to name a few, are banned in Japan. So, too, are strong painkillers and drug-filled syringes, such as EpiPens even with a doctor’s prescription. For convenience sake, as people do get deported for this, it’s best to visit Japan Customs and arrange the proper documentation ahead of time.

Languages Spoken

Japanese, English (but, besides the main hotels and tourist areas, there might be a problem. Even though Japanese school kids have studied the language for six years they are not as proficient in speaking English as they are at reading it. If you need help, it’s best to write it down and show it to a high school or college student).

Weather

Japan is spread out over 25 degrees of latitude (25° N to 45° N) and 20 degrees of longitude (122° E to 145° E). As such, the climate varies dramatically from one region to another.

Spring is probably the best time of the year to visit Japan. The temperatures are pleasantly mild (Tokyo 15° C – 23° C in May with 138 mm of rain) with not too much rainfall and, of course, the blooming of the cherry blossoms.

Summer kicks off at the beginning of June with their rainy season (known as tsuyu or baiu). This is followed by sweltering heat in July/August (Tokyo 24° C – 31° C August with 168 mm of rain). The temperature can go as high as 40° C with extreme humidity.

September sees the start of autumn with temperatures and humidity dropping (Tokyo 15° C – 22° C October with 200 mm of rain). However, early autumn also brings the typhoon season to the southern parts of Japan when everything comes to an abrupt standstill. The autumn leaves are almost as breathtaking as the cherry blossoms in spring.

The climate variation between the west and east coasts of Japan are very noticeable during winter. The west coast might have snow and icy winds blowing down from the arctic yet, the east coast might have a smattering of rain and warmer temperatures (Tokyo 5° C – 13° C December with 51 mm of rain).

When to go

Spring (March/April) brings, almost momentarily, the famous cherry blossoms. Autumn (September) is also a good time to be in Japan.

Historical Places

Three Views – The most famous list of them all, attributed to scholar Hayashi Razan back in 1643.

There are a substantial number of “three” lists.

Japan has 16 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 12 Cultural and 3 Natural.

Bucket & Spade

Japan has over 1000 beaches. Goza Shirahama Beach is considered to be very good. Also, Minabe in Wakayama and the beaches in Okinawa.

Japan is not part of the blue flag program at this time.

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