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Lying across the western North Pacific Ocean, Japan’s great string of archipelagos stretches from northeast to southwest as far as 1, 500 miles (2. 400 km). Japan has four main islands, from north to south are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. In term of the size of the land, Honshu is the largest followed by Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. The nation’s capital is located in Tokyo in the east-central of Honshu which has the densest population. This mountainous archipelago is bounded to the west by the Sea of Japan (East Sea), to the north by La Perouse (Sova) Strait, to the northeast by the southern Kuril Islands, to the east and south by the Pacific as well as to the southwest by the East China Sea. Hence, making it as the outermost edge of Asia that has a profound influence on its history. Close enough to the mainland of Asia, yet far enough to keep a distance, helps to shape much of the Japanese history.
Archaeological evidence of settlement in Japan dated far back in 50, 000 years ago and was able to trace the line back to the Kofun period. Despite human has occupied Japan for tens of thousands of years, yet its history has only started to be recorded back in the 1st century BC. This was mentioned in Chinese source named Book of Han, stating that Japan made their very first contact around this time with China and Korea. This interlace weaved greatly in Japan’s writings, religion, arts and architecture. One of the profound changes in Japan is Chinese calligraphy which survived through ages and is used till today’s Japanese writings. Between the 4th and 9th century was the first time that this lands and tribes have gradually been unified under one single centralised government, controlled by the Emperor. In the year 794, marked the beginning of a new Heian period based in the new imperial capital of Heian-Kyo (modern Kyoto). Lasted until 1185, this period is considered as a golden age of Japanese culture, so as its religions. At this point, Japanese worshipers were divided into ancient native Shinto practices and new Chinese-influenced Buddhism. This remains true until today.
Over the centuries, the Emperor’s and its imperial court’s reign continued until it gradually declined and was passed to military clans and armies of samurai warriors. Eventually, Japan descended into an era of civil war until the late 16th century when Japan was reunified under feudal lords, also known as daimyos, named Oda Nobunaga and his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1598, Tokugawa Ieyasu came to power after the death of Hideyoshi. He was then appointed as Shogun by the Emperor. His governing led to a prosperous and peaceful era of the Edo period (modern Tokyo). The first European to have landed the shores of Japan, in the southern region, is the Portuguese. The first affiliation was in 1543 which subsequently brought the Netherlands to establish trades with Japan and American Perry Expedition. Thus, ended up Japan’s seclusion from the outside world and the change of power once more. In 1868, the power of Emperor was reinstated over again. Japan was then transformed from a feudal country into an empire under the new national leadership.
Closely adapting Western models, Japan rose to be a supreme power to be reckoned with. Despite the democratic rule and modern civilian culture prospered, Japan’s military was still powerful with great autonomy power. They overruled civilian leaders and proceeded an invasion into China. Worst, Japan went into war with the United States and its allies as a consequence of its attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Severe damages were inflicted on Japan. On 15th August 1945 following the biggest nuclear war in centuries, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Emperor Hirohito decided to announce Japan’s unconditional surrender. The Allies occupied Japan until 1952 under a new constitution that made Japan experienced a flourishment of rapid economic growth. It became a world economic powerhouse. After an official agreement named San Francisco Peace Treaty 1951 was signed both by Japan and the United States, the occupation ended in 1952. Since then, Japan continued showing spectacular economic growth and brought the country to the forefront of the world’s economy, despite the waxing and waning pattern. Nonetheless, Japan has now forged its name in the world’s prestige to be the foremost manufacturing and trading country as well as a global financial leader! Once unknown archipelagos, now it is indeed a name to be reckoned with!
Japan is indeed eccentrically attractive on its own. On the surface, it may seem that Japan is exceedingly modernised with its technology and infrastructures, but you will notice as you travel that Japan still does retain and preserve its rich traditional culture. Hence, making Japan truly timeless, like a time tunnel, its ancient traditions are fused and coexisted alongside its modernisation. The complexity and contrast in their culture make it even more vibrant as keynotes of life in the Japanese nation. Although it was an island nation that had been shut off from the outside world for a long time, Japan’s ethnicity and culture are very homogeneous. The largest minority here is Korean in the 3rd and 4th generation, followed by sizable populations of Chinese, Filipinos and Brazilians. The majority of Chinese are concentrated mostly in Japan’s three Chinatowns in Kobe, Nagasaki and Yokohama. Having a great influence of Chinese in their culture, many native Japanese customs seemed unperturbed which made these two cultures to be blending seamlessly.
Furthermore, Japanese are also well-known for their politeness even to foreigners. Especially the younger generations, they are thrilled and extremely interested in meeting and becoming friend with foreigners. What’s more? They are also incredible a life saviour when you are at lost of directions. Not all Japanese are that approachable. Some are more reserved and reluctant to communicate. But, don’t take it personally alright? Since they are just either afraid of you addressing them in English or embarrassed that they can’t understand and reply you. Just a simple, cheerful smile and a ‘Konnichiwa’ often do help you. Japanese are sophisticated. This can be seen through their lifestyles which are heavily woven around the etiquette they perfected and practised in their family households. Correct manners are just simply obligatory and to be familiarised with even to their foreign guests. A few of the most basic rules are seen to be applied in a Japanese home, table manners, sitting techniques, usage of Japanese chopsticks, dining out, exchanging gifts, greetings and even addressing names. Is it not just so intriguing?
As mentioned above, Japan has two dominant religions which are ancient Shinto and Buddhism. But generally speaking, Japanese aren’t particularly religious in spite of common visits to the shrines and temples, offering coins and making silent prayers to religious artefacts from various temples. They tend to take religion as not a dogma or faith, but simply as a particular practice that they follow if they see it fits. The Shinto religion can be seen from the country’s exquisite gardens and peaceful shrines deep in the ancient forests. To sum it up, Shinto focuses more on the spirit of the land.
Meanwhile, Buddhism is more towards Zen, the aesthetic and moral sensibilities which are imprinted in Japanese culture of flower-arranging (ikebana), tea ceremony (sado), ceramics, paintings, calligraphy, poetry and even martial art. As centuries past, Shinto and Buddhism have intertwined considerably well that it is not surprising to see a sparse Shinto torii standing before a Buddhist temple. Some Japanese also practised Christianity.
Heavenly seasons are what Japanese are truly proud of. The four seasons here will surely give you a breathtaking view that differs accordingly to the season. The best times of the year to visit Japan is from March to April when you will be welcomed with spring festivities and revelries under the most infamous cherry blossoms called Sakura. An amazing sight that you will only be able to experience in Japan. During summer from June to August, the temperature can spike up to 35oC. But looking at the brighter side, the fireworks shows (Hanabi taikai) and summer festival are indeed awesome!
Meanwhile, autumn starts in September. This time of the year the temperature are more tolerable. And then what’s more interesting is the autumn colours of red to green to yellow, will mesmerise the eye of the beholder. Oh, what a natural splendour Japan is! Last but not least winter in Japan is the best time for you to enjoy skiing and hot-spring hopping. The blast of winter will give you a blissful memory of Japan.
Regardless of nationalities, Japan provides you with a temporary visitor visa upon arrival to which it is valid up to 90 days of stay. A short interview on your details of stay and purpose of the visit will be conducted by the immigration officer. As part of immigration entry procedures, you will also be needed to undergo the electronically fingerprinted and photographed. Throughout your vacation in Japan, please bear in mind to always carry your passport wherever you go. If you are caught without it, you will be detained until somebody fetches you or a fine that can go up to ¥200, 000. The national language of Japan is Japanese. Most Japanese studied English for at least six years, but it focused more on formal grammar and writing rather than usage in daily conversation. Hence, don’t panic and always have a guidebook or a Google translate with you. They’ll come in handy. If you are lost, practically write down in simple words on a piece of paper and show it to younger Japanese which will be likely able to point out for you.
An abundance of Japanese gastronomical delights awaits you here in every corner of Japan. Enlighten your palates with the boundless variety of regional and seasonal dishes including top-notched international cuisine. Majority of restaurants here are specialised in a single type of cuisine which might be due to a recipe that has been passed down to generations and made to perfections. You can choose either to enjoy food out of the mobile hawker stands to centuries-old ryotei, atmospheric drinking spots, seasonal terraces by the rivers, cheap chain shops an even themed restaurants on butlers, ninja, robots and anime. Never more than 500m, you will simply be able another great meal. Different regions of Japan offer different specialities. Imagine slurping down your flavorful ramen, tackling down the freshest sashimi and sushi, biting through that high-quality marbled Kobe beef and feasting on the delicious, hearty hotpots stews of oden, sukiyaki and shabu-shabu. Oh and don’t forget a shot of coffee in their jazz coffee shop (jazz kissa) or danwashitsu to complete your meal of the day. My, just reading these would be enough to make your mouths water indeed!
The flight from Changi International Airport Singapore to Tokyo’s Narita Airport and Haneda International Airport Japan takes roughly about 6 hours and 55 minutes. Non-stop flights take between 6 to 10 hours with the quickest one-stop flight takes nearly 10 hours. A few of the well-known airlines that directly arrive in Japan are AirAsia, Scoot, Philippine Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Garuda Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Air China. Cheapest flight ticket cost only SGD 378.32 and the most expensive goes up to SGD 1, 342. Another most common destination is Kansai Airport located about an hour south of Osaka.
Meanwhile, Osaka International Airport is primarily a domestic airport. Other international airports in Japan are Fukuoka Airport, Naha Airport and New Chitose Airport. Japan’s proud airlines are the two major ones called Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways. This Land of the Rising Sun has the world’s best transportation facilities. Hence, getting around in Japan is super breeze and easy.
This metropolis, Tokyo is what symbolises modernisation and technology perfectly. With its neon-lit streetscapes, modern sky-scrappers, the indelible buzz of 24-hours street life and vibrant hubs of excitement like a setting out of sci-film sets, Tokyo is one busiest region. It acts as a business and cultural megacenter that homes tens of millions of people. Staggeringly diversified, futuristic and fast-paced, Tokyo is also a hub of 234 Michelin-starred restaurants. Simply amazing!
Shinjuku is one of the most popular shopping districts to visit in Japan. Explore the large scales of restaurants, alongside Tokyo’s tallest skyscrapers and the observation decks of the twin towers, Metropolitan Government Office for free. Shinjuku Station is the world’s busiest railway station with more than two million passengers every day.
Located just 15-minute train ride from Tokyo Station, Tokyo Disney Resort consists of two theme parks called Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. They are the world’s most visited theme park.
Famous for its leisure activities of hot springs (onsen), hiking, camping, fishing and snow sports, Fujigoko is less than 100 kilometres from Tokyo. It is a part of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National park. Fujigoko lies at the base of northern Mount Fuji. It is also the best places to view Mount Fuji from close up and a good base to climb the mountain.
Impressively built with the top two floors covered in stunning golden leaf and overlooking a dazzling pond, Kinkakuji is just classical.it was previously a retirement villa of the shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.
If you are visiting Tokyo, Nine Hours Shinjuku-North is a great choice to stay. Designed in a modern capsule, the hotel’s sleeping concept in the pod is very smart, unique and very minimalist. Simple, yet comfortable this hotel to offers superb services and hospitality. It is a home to 206 bedrooms which are also provided with comforts like slippers, lockers, towel and Wi-Fi. It is as cheap as SGD 48.36 and maximum goes up to SGD 147 only per night, depending on the types of capsules. A rule of thumb here, it is not for the claustrophobic guests!
With the nature hub of Mount Fuji just nearby, this Guest House Orange Cabin is strategically located in the lovely area of Kawaguchi-ko/Sai-ko. Enjoy the good quality facilities offered by the hotel at just SGD 46.89 cheapest and SGD 220.40 at the most with different types of rooms that can accommodate from one to four persons at once. A delightful stay awaits you here!