Posted by on 23 Apr 2021
A business and cultural megacenter that's home to tens of millions of people, Tokyo is also the crossroads where the Japanese interact with citizens from all over the world. The media love to focus on Harajuku's vibrant fashion, robot restaurants, maid cafes and the passionate uberfans known as otaku. As fast-paced as Tokyo’s innovation is, the metropolis is just as devoted to preserving tradition through its historical gardens, shrines and temples.
Known for its extreme attention to detail, Japan's capital is home to some of the best Japanese food in the country, with 234 Michelin-starred restaurants—more than any other city. Whatever your cultural interests are, Tokyo is likely to have you covered. Home to many world-class art galleries and museums, staggeringly diverse nightlife options and cutting-edge technology, you'll never be stuck for things to do or places to go in Tokyo.
When to visit
Tokyo has four distinct seasons. Tokyo in the spring is mild followed by hot and humid summers punctuated with typhoons. Autumn in Tokyo is cool and fresh, followed by cold winters. Snow is rare but has been known to fall in the first few months of the year.
- Spring (March to May): See the city take on a gentler appearance as the plum blossoms and cherry blossoms flower. Stretch out on a mat, drink sake and eat Japanese dumplings under the blooms at Shinjuku Gyoen, Yoyogi, Ueno or Inokashira parks
- Summer (June to August): Enjoy one of Japan's largest fireworks displays at the Sumida River. Head for Mt. Takao for its seasonal beer garden and to see some fireflies.
- Autumn (September to November): Visit gardens such as Koishikawa Korakuen, or hike the Okutama mountains for fantastic fall foliage. Temperatures cool but the event calendar heats up with the Tokyo Game Show and Tokyo International Film Festival.
- Winter (December to February): Winter illuminations appear throughout the city, ice-skating rinks open and revelers crowd Sensoji Temple and Meiji-jingu Shrine for New Year pilgrimages and festivities.
Osaka is only a short shinkansen ride from Tokyo, but has a very different personality to Japan's capital city. Hop off the bullet train into an area of exciting nightlife, delicious food and straight-talking, friendly locals.
Along with plenty of shopping and modern attractions, Osaka also has a historical side, the highlight of which is Osaka Castle. The castle is a great place to discover more about Japanese history and to wander the beautiful grounds, especially during cherry blossom season in April when the sakura blooms and the weather is often at its best.
When to visit
- Spring (March to May): A sea of pink fills the prefecture's parks and boulevards, and the city comes out in full force to celebrate the gorgeous views at Osaka Castle, Yodogawa Riverside Park and the Osaka Mint.
- Summer (June to August): Festive spirits and outdoor amusements take everyone's minds off the stifling heat. Osaka's foremost festival, the Tenjin Matsuri, thrills the crowds and many head for the prefecture's southern beaches. Frequent firework displays brighten the night.
- Autumn (September to November): As summer's humidity dissipates, the leaves turn fiery red and provide a striking backdrop for outdoor adventure. The Midosuji Parade brings a vibrant procession of floats and marching bands down Osaka's grand boulevard.
- Winter (December to February): Holiday illuminations light up the urban areas and end-of-year festivities get into full swing. Runners from all over the world gather for the Osaka International Women's Marathon.
Kyoto City attracts millions of local and international visitors each year looking for traditional Japanese culture. Temples and shrines such as Kiyomizudera Temple and Kinkakuji draw lots off attention from visitors, as do the bamboo groves of nearby Arashiyama.
Stay in a traditional ryokan, take a dip in a rejuvenating onsen, and enjoy the seasonal changes of cherry blossoms and brilliant autumn foliage. Kyoto's magic is only a short bullet train ride from Tokyo.
Beyond the city lie Kyoto Prefecture's many attractive rural areas. In the north, Amanohashidate has long been considered one of Japan's three most scenic places. Nestled in the mountains, Miyama is one of the last towns with thatched-roof farmhouses, many of which are still inhabited. Enjoy delicious local vegetables and the famous green tea grown in Uji.
When to visit
- Spring (March to May): Late March to April is the time to view the cherry blossoms and the fresh green maple leaves in shrine and temple gardens.
- Summer (June to August): Highlights of the hottest season include riverside dining, cormorant fishing performances, beach excursions, the month-long Gion Festival, and fire displays to honor the spirits of ancestors.
- Autumn (September to November): Kyoto’s autumn foliage attracts visitors from the world over. Harvest moon festivals, such as the Jidai Matsuri, are another autumn highlight. The cool temperatures are perfect for hiking at Mt. Ponpon and Mt. Atago.
- Winter (December to February): Kabuki’s biggest stars come to perform, plum blossoms emerge after the snows, and countryside onsen offer plenty of warmth. Winter festivals like Arashiyama Hanatoro illuminate the city of Kyoto.
The city of Hiroshima is a great place for trekking through dense forests and enjoying natural hot springs. Discover quaint towns like Onomichi and Tomonoura or enjoy golden beaches, the islands of the Seto Inland Sea, and the iconic Itsukushima on Miyajima—the floating shrine with a red gate set in the sea.
Hiroshima's other World Cultural Heritage site, the Atomic Bomb Dome, and its surrounding memorial park are monuments to peace. Hiroshima is also famous for savory okonomiyaki pancakes, anago or saltwater eel, and other culinary delights. Hiking, cycling, ocean sports, and skiing are all popular outdoor activities.
When to visit
- Spring (March to May): Spring brings the cherry blossoms as well as hundreds of thousands of tulips and roses to Hiroshima. This is also the time for the Spring Gourmet Festival, and for the young rabbits on the island of Okunoushima—also known as Rabbit Island—to emerge from their burrows.
- Summer (June to August): Summer festival time is here, including the Mihara Yassa Festival, a dance extravaganza, and the dazzling Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival. The annual memorial event at the Peace Park occurs August 6, starting in the morning and ending with a river filled with glowing paper lanterns.
- Autumn (September to November): The leaves change, and in particular the gorges of Sandankyo and Taishakukyo are known for their fiery autumn colors. Get there before the areas close for the winter season.
- Winter (December to February): New Year's celebrations enliven the temples and shrines, and thousands take the ferry to Miyajima to visit Itsukushima Shrine. Hiroshima Dreamination—a decorative illumination event set up along Peace Boulevard—lights up the city. People head for ski slopes and onsen.