When our travelers tell us they want to go to Peru, they want to see Machu Picchu. When they say they want to go to Egypt, they want to see the pyramids. Many destinations have that one site, or cultural highlight that draws people to its borders.
Japan has, like, a million.
People request trips to Japan for all different reasons. It seems that different parts of Japan fascinate travelers in different ways. And it’s equally fascinating to us how people can see the same country, and, like seeing it through a glass prism, observe different versions of the same place.
Here, we’ll attempt the impossible task of filing these versions of Japan into three columns. The following are three different reasons we hear from travelers on why they are pulled towards this special place.
The most obvious and popular reason travelers go to Japan is the culture. We know, it may sound like a cop-out to just say “culture,” but we’re trying to stick to three categories here, so give us a break.
Accounting for a sprinkling of Chinese influence, Japan’s island-bound culture was pretty isolated for centuries. So many aspects of culture here are unique to Japan, honed over years of specialization.
From sushi to sake, food in Japan is a reason to come here by itself. Every city/region has its signature dish or dishes, so one can completely make a trip out of sampling different foods in different prefectures and cities.
Japanese ryokan-style inns are the traditional way to not just spend the night, but sample a region’s cuisine with a specially prepared dinner and breakfast. Many ryokan are built near onsen (hot springs), which by themselves are a completely different reason to travel in Japan.
Sumo wrestlers, geisha, tea ceremonies, capsule hotels, samurai history, Hello Kitty, ancient castles, crazy nightlife options, martial arts, flower arranging, cat cafes … The list of cultural activities and quirks that Japan encompasses is nearly endless.
The land itself puts on a year-long show in Japan. Clear blue skies and perfect outdoor weather in summer, a riot of color in autumn, stark beauty in winter, and plum and cherry blossoms in spring all drive millions of travelers.
Ask one of our Travel Specialists, and they’ll tell you that the changing seasons are a huge driver of demand, and the busiest time of year are the months boasting cherry blossoms in March and April. An explosion of beautiful, light pink petals takes over the country. Though always in spring, a big topic of conversation in Japan is predicting exactly which week the blossoms will bloom, as the span of their bloom is surprisingly short. The often elusive mankai (full bloom) is the most sought after time for photos and hanami (flower viewing).
Predictably, the summer is a popular season to travel in Japan. Outdoor lovers come to Japan to hike through its Alps, kayak on its shores, and snorkel across its southern islands.
Some of the worlds best skiing and snowboarding is found in central Nagano and on the northern island of Hokkaido, along with a mountain landscape that reminds Americans of Colorado and Utah. Record snowfall covers the island every year, and winter is a true celebration here, with festivals and fairs all season long.
Lastly, comes the inspiration for this blog post in the first place. So many people come to us with very specific reasons they want to see Japan. In Japan, an otaku means “having obsessive interests,” and is usually said with a smirk. We call them nerds.
Otaku in this case can be nerdy about just about anything. The most common subjects of the term are fans of anime or manga (comic books). But we’ve received requests from bullet train otaku, beer otaku, hot spring otaku, and the list goes on.
More than perhaps any other country in the world, Japan attracts the quirky traveler. We all are otaku about something, but Japan seems to embrace obsessiveness with open arms. Hotels in Tokyo may have a special Hello Kitty room for otaku, and the Studio Ghibli museum caters directly to animated film otaku. Japan understands that being into something is fun, and while otaku are definitely not the norm, it’s a part of the culture too broad to ignore, and fun to take part in!
We published a free travel guide about Japan! It's a comprehensive guide to exploring Tokyo, from best times to travel there, to where to eat and what to see, and it's downloadable by clicking the button below!