THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Though Japan might be most famous for its dazzlingly modern cities, you’ll want to spend at least a few days exploring its stunning natural offerings. This is a nation that truly has it all, from rocky mountain peaks to white-sand beaches.
Here are few Japan experiences that will allow for both relaxation and adventure.
As winter storms rush though Japan’s Zao Mountain Range, trees are transformed into incredible “snow monsters.”
It’s easy to see why this stunning Iwate prefecture beach was named “Jodogahama,” or Pure Land.
Being an island nation, Japan’s beach offerings are just as impressive as its skyscrapers and bullet trains.
Even macaques in Japan know how to enjoy an onsen.
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For anyone who hasn’t been to a Japanese onsen, take note: Nudity isn’t just the norm. It’s the rule.
The word “onsen” refers to Japan’s natural hot springs but it also can represent facilities like spas and inns that pipe the waters into their own bathing areas.
For travelers with ink, however, stripping down at a Japanese onsen can get tricky as many ban tattoos, which have been associated with yakuza gangs.
Each listed property includes a brief description of the place and its amenities, as well its specific policies on tattoos.
Every spring, Japanese celebrate cherry blossoms by gathering and picnicking at parks while admiring the pink blossoms.
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For just a few weeks every spring, Japan celebrates an annual ritual known as hanami: stopping to view and appreciate the beautiful spring blossoms.
It’s so popular the Japan Weather Association’s annual sakura (cherry blossom) forecast is broadcast live on TV, while the Japan National Tourism Organization has a regularly updated timetable of cherry blossoms predictions on their website.
A hike along the Kumano Kodo trail is a Wakayama highlight.
Being a mountainous nation, trekking is an extremely popular Japan activity.
Here, ancient cedar forests share space with historic pagodas, paved roads, restaurants, schools, cafes and souvenir shops.
Japan excels at striking the right balance between tradition and modernity, leading the way in technological advances while also embracing its past, whether it’s architecture, art, fashion, food or sports.
Here are a few experiences that will give you a taste for Japan’s traditional side.
Stay in a ryokan
Nishimuraya Honkan is a seventh-generation ryokan in Hyogo prefecture.
Looking for that classic Japanese inn experience, complete with tatami floors, onsen and sliding doors?
Staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese guesthouse, is the way to go. Catering to all budgets, they can be found throughout Japan — most commonly in the countryside outside of urban centers.
Guests are encouraged to wear yukata (house kimonos) and socks, while traditional Japanese meals are prepared in-house.
CNN’s Paula Newton travels to Fukuoka and the surrounding tea-rich lands to experience the traditional winter tea ceremony.
To make it, green tea leaves, grown in the shade, are dried and ground into a fine powder. This allows the tea to retain its nutrients. During the ceremony, which focuses on the rituals and mental states achieved in the process, the powder is whisked with hot water in a small bowl until a slight foam appears.
The top place to experience Japan’s matcha tea ceremony — or just enjoy a few cups of the precious drink — is Kyoto. There are plenty of tea making classes and demonstrations available in English and other languages.
It can take up to two years to make a high-end kimono.
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Japan’s most beautiful traditional attire, kimonos are undeniably an expensive souvenir to bring home. One reason for their hefty price tag is the painstakingly detailed process that goes into making them.
If you’d simply like to don one during your Japan visit, there are a number of rental companies throughout Kyoto.
Prefer to appreciate these beautiful garments from afar? Kyoto’s Gion district is where travelers can view graceful geishas, traditional Japanese entertainers, walking down the street in their kimonos.
Sumo wrestling dates back at least 2,000 years.
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Sumo is as ancient as it is quintessentially Japanese. Historians agree that the sport dates back at least 2,000 years, and in its current form has remained largely unchanged since the Edo period.
There are other ways to get close to a sumo wrestler.
When they’re not competing, sumo wrestlers train year round in designated sumo stables, or beya.
These stables, which are mostly based in Tokyo’s Ryogoku neighborhood, are where the city’s wrestlers live, eat, sleep and practice on a near daily basis. In recent years, it’s become more common for foreigners to visit the morning practice, which begins at about 5 a.m. and lasts three to four hours.
Japan is a culinary wonderland thanks to its unique heritage, a national obsession with food and an almost religious embrace of freshness and perfect production.
Chances are, sushi is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think “Japanese food.”
Almost poetic in its simplicity, good sushi relies on two things: the freshness of the ingredients and the knife skills of the chef.
Whether you like your raw fish draped over bite-sized balls of vinegared rice, rolled up in toasted nori seaweed or pressed into fat rectangular logs, delicious sushi can be found in every price range.
If you’re up for a splurge, Sushisho Masa (106-0031 Tokyo, Minato City,Nishiazabu, 4 Chome−1−15) in Tokyo’s Roppongi neighborhood is nothing short of perfection.
Only 3,000 cattle are classified as Kobe grade each year.
Known for its pervasive marbling and melt-on-your-tongue texture, Kobe beef is one of Japan’s most prized meats.
This has caused a fair bit of confusion but here’s an easy way to remember it. Wagyu (which literally means “Japanese cow”) refers to specific breeds of cattle that come from a direct, traceable and pure bloodline.
The Kansai region, where Osaka is based, produces the three “king” varieties of Wagyu: Matsusaka, Kobe and Ohmi. However, beef from other areas can be equally tasty.
Want a seat at Kyourakutei? You’ll have to wait in line. CNN meets up with the man behind this popular Michelin-starred Tokyo soba restaurant.
Soba, or Japanese buckwheat noodles, are usually served cold with dipping sauce (called zaru soba) or served hot in dashi broth.
One wanko soba restaurant claims a diner ate 570 bowls in one sitting.
One of the best reasons to visit a pub in Japan? Yakitori, Japanese style chicken skewers.
A yakitori restaurant is where you can sample every part of the chicken — from chicken breast to skins to gizzards — all presented on skewers, Japanese style.
Kaiseki meals were originally intended to be enjoyed before a tea ceremony.
Japan travelers researching a trip to Kyoto will inevitably come across the word “kaiseki.”
To the outsider, it appears to simply be a multicourse Japanese dinner made up of beautifully plated dishes. But there’s so much more to this meticulously prepared, exquisitely served and, usually, very expensive meal.
To practitioners of this haute cuisine, kaiseki is the embodiment of “omotenashi,” which means wholehearted hospitality.
Ramen is the ultimate Japanese comfort food.
Nothing’s more comforting than slurping back a bowl of ramen on a cold rainy day.
There are four basic styles of the world-famous soup-based dish: Shoyu (soy sauce seasoning); shio (a light soy sauce version of shoryu); miso (made with fermented soy beans); and tonkotsu (a creamy-white pork bone broth).
A one-minute tour of Japan’s northern Tohoku region, which produces some of the country’s best bottles of sake.
Japanese rice wine, sake has a long-standing history dating back to the third century.
It’s produced all over the country — and many brewers are open to tours — but Japan’s Tohoku region in the northeast is where you’ll find some of the best bottles.
Part of what makes Tohoku’s sakes so different is geography: The winters are severe with heavy snowfalls and historically, because of its remoteness, agriculture has been the mainstay in Tohoku.
For visitors making the trip north, several breweries offer tours in English, as well as tastings — but you will need to book in advance via their websites.