Shibuya – Tokyo
Taking a trip to Tokyo? You’ll be sure to end up at Shibuya. The sprawling capital’s commercial and business centre, this is a place popular with tourists and locals alike, a buzzing spot that has become renowned as Tokyo’s best shopping and entertainment district. Home to the two busiest train stations on Earth — Shibuya and Shinjuku — this can be a chaotic place, but get your bearings and you’ll soon find your feet. The famous Hachiko Crossing is a case in point. Master this and you’ll be on your way.
With its countless shops, restaurants and nightclubs, Shibuya never sleeps, this a colourful spot that can tire out tourists. But there are places here to enjoy a little quiet time too. When it all gets too much, head to the Meiji Shrine, set in 170 acres of beautiful forest, to recharge your batteries before heading back out onto the busy city streets once again.
Cross the Kamogawa River and discover shrines and temples aplenty, Eastern Kyoto awash with sights to savour and a great deal to see and do. Be sure to set aside sufficient time to explore the narrow streets here, as this is no place to rush. To do this properly, it's important to take things slowly.
Start at Kiyomizudera, one of Japan's most celebrated temples, before heading towards Higashiyama, a preserved historic district that demands to be explored. Ginkakuji is always worth a visit, whilst Gion -- the famous Geisha district -- is not to be missed. This is a peaceful place, its cobbled streets a far cry from Japan's modern urban hubs, and with Kyoto's Eastern Mountains providing a picturesque backdrop, you'll find strolling the winding lanes and alleys here an enjoyable experience indeed. Be sure to look out for the Philosopher's Path, a beautiful trail lined with cherry trees. Visit during spring and you'll be treated to a spectacular natural show, with the blossom out and beautiful flowers all around.
Take a step back in time in the beautiful Kiso Valley, a place where ancient Japan endures and a world away from the hustle and bustle of the country's chaotic cities. The superbly-preserved post towns of Magome, Narai and Tsumago demand a visit, with the stone paths and traditional wooden buildings entrancing those who are fortunate enough to spend a little time in these peaceful parts.
Running alongside the spectacular mountains of Japan's Central Alps, the Kiso River is a place of immense natural beauty, beckoning those with a penchant for the great outdoors and always a popular spot for hikers. Trek the historic Nakasendo trail or head for the foothills of Mount Ontake and Komagatake, the choice is yours. With all the fresh air and exercise, you'll be sure to leave Kiso feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and all set to take a trip back to modernity.
Sprawling Osaka is immense -- Japan's second largest metropolitan area after Tokyo, it can seem a little daunting at first, but get your bearings, do a little research and a world of attractions and activities await. Located on beautiful Honshu, this is a port city, with a great deal centred around the modern waterfront, not least Universal Studios, which always proves popular with families. Osaka Aquarium is another a top spot for kids and adults alike, whilst for those interested in history, the 16th century castle is the place to be.
There's so much to see here that anyone planning a trip to Osaka should be sure to set aside sufficient time to visit the major attractions. Enjoy the modern architecture, sample the legendary nightlife, and be sure to explore the countless street food stalls that dot this vibrant city, you'll never be short of something to do here.
Kabukicho - Tokyo
Known as the 'Sleepless Town' for obvious reasons, something is always happening in chaotic Kabukicho, Shinjuku's famed entertainment district and a place that demands a visit after hours. It's a place of bright lights and ever-bustling streets, where anything is possible and everything is available. It's also Tokyo's red-light district, although that shouldn't put you off.
Certain areas can be a little shady, it's true, but stick to the main streets and this is a thrilling place to spend a little time. Nightclubs, shops, hotels and restaurants are in plentiful supply, whilst there's always something to see, and the atmosphere is always buzzing. Look out for hawkers and always keep your wits about you, but don't be afraid to visit. No trip to Japan's chaotic capital would be complete without making a visit to Kabukicho, so buckle up, soak up the sights and, above all, enjoy.
Visitors are drawn to Hitsujiyama Park in the late springtime to see the beautiful pink moss fields - a breathtaking experience that is not to be missed. Located in Chichibu, just a short trip from central Tokyo, this is a treat for all the senses, with vibrant colours as far as the eye can see and Mount Fuji, with its imposing snow-capped peak, providing a spectacular backdrop.
There are beautiful blossoms to see here too, but the moss phlox flowers are the main draw, with late April and early May the best time to visit, when the fields come alive and all is pink, white, purple and blue. It's no surprise that Hitsujiyama gets busy at such times, but don't let that put you off. For the best views, head into the surrounding hills, where benches await and the fields can be enjoyed, from a distance, in peace, quiet and tranquility.
Tokyo is a modern metropolis. But in Asakusa, the city's traditional past can still be discovered. Tourists head here to visit the traditional shops and food stalls on Nakamise, the district's main street, whilst the ancient Sensoji-ji temple, dating back to the seventh century, is always a popular spot.
Explore by foot or take a rickshaw, getting around is easy here, and you'll soon leave Tokyo's skyscrapers and modern glass buildings behind. It's like taking a trip back in time and, although the streets here can get crowded, it's an experience that must not be missed. For those interested in Japan's traditional festivals, the third weekend in May is a good time to visit, when the Sanja Matsuri -- the Three Shrine Festival -- comes to town. Dating back to 1649, this is Tokyo's most famous such event, attracting more than one million people and always an experience to savour.
Like to see Japan's best blossom? The cherries in Ueno Park are hard to beat, with more than 1,000 trees lining the central pathways and no shortage of visitors enjoying their splendour. The best time to visit is in late March and early April and, although this means that the main areas can become rather crowded, the park is so large that quiet spots can still be found.
Established in 1873 in the Taito district of Tokyo, Ueno ranks amongst the sprawling city's best attractions, with numerous museums to visit. Be sure to check out Tokyo National Museum, the Science Museum and the Metropolitan Art Museum, before heading to the zoo, Japan's first and a popular place for families. Shinobazu Pond is the perfect spot for a picnic, whilst there are no shortage of paths and tracks to explore for those keen to leave the crowds behind.
Just a short trip from Tokyo, tourists flock to Kamakura to kick back on the pristine sand beaches and sample Sagami Bay's renowned surf. Japan's foremost seaside resort town, this is a place where the focus is on fun, although Kamakura does have a serious side, and the region's rich historic past is fascinating indeed.
There are countless Zen temples and Shinto shrines to visit, whilst Kotoku-in's famed bronze Buddha -- standing 13 metres tall -- demands to be seen and is always a popular attraction. For those keen to beat the crowds, Kamakura's forests are dotted with tracks and trails that are crying out to be explored, whilst the island of Enoshima makes for an interesting trip. Yet more often than not, you'll be drawn back to the beach, with Yuigahama and Zaimokuza in particular proving popular with those keen to lie back, relax and soak up the warm Japanese sun.
No visit to Japan can be considered complete without catching a glimpse of Mount Fuji. The iconic volcano -- at 3776 metres, the country's highest peak -- can be seen from miles around, of course, but for those keen to get up close and personal, opportunities abound. Head to the Fuji Five Lake region at the mountain's northern foot, or lie back and relax in the hot springs at Hakone, the choice is yours. Feeling active? Mount Fuji is open for climbing during July and August and there are several routes to choose from.
It might be considered active, but Fuji-san hasn't erupted since 1707. Prefer to see the snow-capped peaks from a distance? You can spot Mount Fuji from Tokyo and Yokohama on a clear day -- visibility is better during the colder months of the year -- whilst enjoying the view from a speeding Shinkansen train is an experience that's hard to beat.
Sprawling Nagoya might not enjoy the same cosmopolitan reputation as Tokyo and Osaka, but delve beneath the surface of this fast-growing urban centre and activities and attractions abound. Home to more than two million people (and counting), Nagoya's past as a manufacturing and shipping hub means it is sometimes believed to be boring, but those fortunate enough to visit are treated to some of Japan's top sights, with parks aplenty, green spaces galore and countless museums amongst the leading tourist spots.
The excellent Railway Museum is well worth a visit, so too Tokugawa Art Museum, whilst those seeking thrills and spills should head to the outskirts, where the giant rollercoasters of Nagashima await. Like to discover the city's rich history? Be sure to head for the reconstructed castle, Osu Kannon Temple and Atsuta Shrine. It might not enjoy the same cosmopolitan reputation as Tokyo and Osaka, but with so much to see and do here, Nagoya might just be Japan's best-kept secret.