Idyllic holidays in enchanting Japan
The world's third largest economy has already set into motion a series of initiatives and reforms, including a radical overhaul of the regulations governing the tourism sector
After a fast-track rebound from a spate of natural disasters, including the Great East Earthquake of 2011, Japan has embarked on a major drive to lure visitors from yet untested markets of the Arabian Peninsula.
The world's third largest economy has already set into motion a series of initiatives and reforms, including a radical overhaul of the regulations governing the tourism sector. Measures also include more liberal visa rules, a wider array of entertainment and activities, extended night life in tourist spots and shopping centres, and multilingual signage and tourist information counters to beef up tourism revenues which account for 4.5 per cent the GDP.
In 2018, Japan National Tourism Organisation launched a global, multilingual campaign entitled "Enjoy my Japan." The campaign seeks to woo long-haul travellers to explore the country beyond the well-known popular attractions to assimilate Japanese nature and culture that exist off the beaten tourist path.
Indeed, a holiday in this country of ancient charm and modern marvels is a great investment of time and money as it could be idyllic, educational and adventurous. Endowed with an endless list of breathtaking attractions, the country offers tourists an exotic and invigorating vacation with plenty of sights to savour and exciting points of interest to explore.
A relatively small Asian country steeped in history, Japan has in store countless surprises and mystique treats for first-time visitors. As one of the world's most advanced industrialised nations boasting a rich and fascinating history that dates back thousands of years, the country projects an intriguing blend of the most modern and ancient characteristics.
Despite wars and a series of natural disasters, the country has been able to preserve (or rebuilt) most of its ancient national treasures. So invariably, a visit to Japan is an adventurous and enthralling experience.
Long before many of Europe's most spectacular cathedrals were built, Japan's Shinto and Buddhist temples were already well-established and drawing pilgrims and patrons for their often-elaborate designs and décor.
For visitors, Japan is an easy country to get around thanks to its superb modern and efficient public railway system. Japan Railways is responsible for more than 21,000 kilometres of rail lines, connecting all points to larger cities such as Tokyo. The best of these is the Shinkansen Bullet Train, capable of traveling 320 kilometres per hour, making a trip such as Tokyo to Fukuoka - some 1,170 kilometres away - possible in just over six hours.
The country's incredibly splendid cultural heritage and distinctive natural beauty is reflected in the fact that the country boasts 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These are located right throughout the country, from the wild beauty of the remote Shiretoko Peninsula in the north to the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom sites in Okinawa in the south.
Indeed, it really makes sense to start Japan holidays and sightseeing exploration with a visit to Tokyo's most famous landmark, the Imperial Palace with its beautiful 17th-century parks surrounded by walls and moats.
Another must-see for tourists visiting Tokyo is the famous Ginza shopping district, home to the Kabuki-za Theatre with its Kabuki performances, as well as the Shimbashi Enbujo Theatre with its traditional Azuma-odori dances and Bunraku performances.
One of Japan's most visited cities is the enchanting Kyoto, where it seems that time stands still. One of the few cities in the country to be spared the devastation of Second World War, the city attracts more than 10 million visitors to explore its fine old streets and architecture, much of it unchanged since the Imperial family took up residence here more than 1,000 years ago.
A not-to-be missed spot is the island of Miyajima, which is just a short ferry ride from mainland Hiroshima. It is famous all over the world as Japan's Shrine Island. Covering an area of 30 square kilometres in Hiroshima Bay, Miyajima is best known as the home of the Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto temple dedicated to the Princess daughters of the wind god Susanoo. Dating from the eighth century, the majority of the shrine's buildings rise out of the waters of a small bay supported only by piles.
One of the most popular tourist destinations is Osaka Castle, which was built in 1586 by the famous Japanese warrior and politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Once the largest and most important fortress in the country, it was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times since and the present structure, built in 1931, remains true to the original.
Japan boasts a host of tourist spots designated as national parks or, in some cases, UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of the country's most spectacular parks is Chubu-Sangaku National Park in the centre of Honshu, incorporating in its northern and central regions the group of mountains collectively referred to as the Hida Mountains, or Japanese Alps.
The region contains some of the highest peaks in the country, including Hotaka at 3,190 metres, and Yari at 3,180 metres.
For most tourists, a must-see destination is Fukuoka Castle, one of the few surviving examples of the once prolific and majestic hilltop homes preferred by Shoguns and city rulers.
Once part of a massive complex that covered an area of some 47,000 square metres, this beautiful castle still impresses with its size and its position on a tall foundation overlooking the Naka River.
The city of Sapporo, located on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido, offers tourists an enthralling treat of scenic places and culinary delights. As the island's largest city, it's a hub of cultural activity, hosting many excellent events and festivals; a distinctive culinary style; a rich theatrical history; and plenty of museums, galleries, and parks.
The focal point here is very much the city's attractive downtown area, the centre of which is Odori Park, a large swath of green that's very pleasant to explore. From here, you can also access points of interest such as the Sapporo TV Tower, as well as the city's famous aerial tramway, an easy walk away.
Another intriguing experience for visitors is a trip to the Atsuta Shrine that lies in the heart of the city of Nagoya. It is the most important Shinto shrine in Japan, and attracts more than five million visitors each year. Established in the first century, this religious site is famous for its preserved Imperial insignia, the "grass-mowing sword," one of only three in the country.
A visit to Japan is incomplete without a visit to the historic city of Kyoto. One of Japan's most visited cities, lovely Kyoto - one of the few cities in the country to be spared the devastation of WWII - attracts more than 10 million visitors annually to explore its fine old streets and architecture, much of it unchanged since the Imperial family took up residence here more than 1,000 years ago.
Highlights of Kyoto's Buddhist-influenced architecture include its many well-preserved temples, 30 of which are still in use, and important structures such as the 14th-century Golden Pavilion.