As a country deeply rooted in culture, history, customs and most importantly, beauty—Japan attracts curious travelers from every corner of the globe. With its recent recognition as the place to visit in 2019, this South Pacific country will dazzle a new generation of explorers who seek to experience its beautiful gardens, imperial palaces, creative fashion trends, and of course—unique culinary creations. No matter what area of this wonderfully weird (and fascinating) destination you decide to venture through, you will return home with a renewed perspective, inspired to integrate more of the Japanese traditions into your own routine. From the jaw-dropping temples of Kyoto to the equally surprising street fashion of Tokyo, consider this your starter guide to checking Japan off your travel bucket list in 2019:
Go temple-hopping in Kyoto.
Few realize this city south of Tokyo was the original capital of Japan many moons ago. Today, it is renowned as a town that gives visitors a special look into Japanese history, with countless Buddhist temples, palaces and zen gardens. Here is also considered the birthplace of the geisha culture, where female entertainers still hosts patrons and guests today in the Gion district. Many jetsetters choose to rent bikes during their stay in Kyoto, since pedaling through the quaint streets and country roads to see various temples adds character to the experience. Though there are dozens to choose from, the most renowned include the Golden Temple, adorned in shades of yellow and set upon a lake, as well as the Fushimi Inari-taisha, which might remind you of an emoji you’ve used once or twice. Before you leave Kyoto, make sure to check out their various morning or night food markets, and have a traditional tea ceremony, offered at most temples or shrines.
Witness the fashion—and glamour—of Tokyo.
Even if you’ve spent time in major metropolitans like New York, Milan or London—nothing quite compares to the controlled chaos of Tokyo. Though it is home to the busiest intersection in the world—Shibuya Crossing—you’ll be amazed by the reliability of commuter trains, and the kind demeanor of busy professionals, even at rush hour. If you’re intrigued to witness the crazy fashion and beauty looks Japan is known for, spend an afternoon walking down Takeshita Street in the Harajuku district. Here, you can try on the garments or opt for a makeover yourself, fully emerging yourself in the scene. Tokyo is also home to plenty of wacky shows and experiences, including the Robot Restaurant, countless cat cafes, Tokyo Disneyland and many more. Before you leave this capital, grab a cocktail with a view and talk with your travel buddies about your trip, since hey, you’ll definitely have plenty of discuss.
Take a deer selfie in Nara.
A little over an hour from Kyoto is Nara, a quaint destination that’s home to many UNESCO World Heritage sites. In addition to being a much slower pace than other cities in the country, Nara is also known for its temples and of course, the deer! Because these wild animals are used to people and they’re Japanese, you’ll notice they bow when you greet them with a cracker. Many Instagrammers are blown away by their manners, and thrive on the ability to interact with these sweet creatures up close and personal. When you’ve had your fair share of feedings, don’t miss Daibutsu-den at Todaiji, which is the largest wooden building in the world, complete with a 50-foot gold and bronze Buddha statue that was built in 751. Talk about sensory overload!
Experience the splendor of Mt. Fuji.
You don’t have to be an experienced hiker to admire the majestic beauty of Japan’s notorious, renowned active volcano. It is not only the tallest in the country at 12,000 feet, but it is one of three sacred mountains in the nation. There are many avenues that allow you to see this beauty in person—from a multi-day pilgrimage that brings you to the peak, to a day trip from Tokyo for a quick tour and lunch. It’s recommended to stay a night or two so you can tour the various art galleries that feature work from Hokusai or Hiroshige, as well as go for a kayaking or boat adventure along the base. Make sure to check your travel dates if you do intend to hike, since certain months feature uncomfortable winds and temperatures that make it unsafe to climb.
Take a dip in an onsen in Kinosaki.
There are many customs particular to Japan, but one that many locals and travelers alike indulge in are onsens. Though there are many rumors that speculate what created these natural baths, the Japanese use this ritual as a way to cleanse body, mind and soul to prepare for new passages in their life. Many honeymooners will make the journey to Kinosaki, where many public and private baths invite them for a dip. Wanderlusters who visit Kinosaki will savor the opportunity to stay at a traditional Japanese house called a Ryokan. Here, you can have a private multi-course meal in a kimoni within your room, before or after you soak away your troubles of yesteryear. It’s best to visit this town in the spring when weeping willows guide your path, or in the fall, at the heart of snow crab season, where you can have this local favorite prepared in numerous ways.
Time to pack your bags and get ready for an eye-opening, dazzling trip to one of the most understated and beautiful countries in the world. Happy travels!