Japan is a country with a unique culture, a rich history and a playful quirky side. Millions visit its shores every year, but few get to see all it has to offer.
Tokyo is the country's focus point for tourists, with two international airports bringing in visitors from around the globe. The capital has much to offer, with many travellers being particularly taken by its odd cafes. The most popular are its animal-centric offerings – cat cafes came first, and these have been followed by dog, owl, goat and more varieties. Tokyo also has a mystery cafe (where you get what the customer before you ordered), mother cafes (where you get to sit with an older woman who can give you life advice) and aiseki cafes (which is essentially formalised speed dating).
Sumo wrestling is a very traditional Japanese sport, but many tourists don't realise that there are seasons to it. Throughout the year there are six tournaments, one in every odd-numbered month. Tokyo hosts three (January, May and September) while the other three are spread across Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka (in March, July and November, respectively).
Those looking to take advantage of the country's snow and mountains have two main options -- on Hokkaido and Honshu. Some of Hokkaido's best rated ski resorts include Furano, Kurodake and Niseko, while Honshu boasts Minowa, Nozawa Onsen and Tenjindaira.
Another winter scene Japan is famous for is its snow monkeys, who bathe in hot springs to escape the freezing temperatures. The monkeys – which are around in summer too, but spend less time in the public gaze – can be found in Jigokudani Monkey Park, near the onsen town of Shibu.
Animal lovers may also want to visit Tashirojima, or Cat Island as it's known colloquially. The animal is seen as a good luck token, so hundreds of felines are kept on the island and cared for to encourage good karma. Dogs are banned. Not too far from Tashirojima is Zao Fox Village, a petting zoo dedicated to the cunning woodland creature.
Best time to visit Japan
Japan's summer (from late May to August) can be warm and humid, especially in the south. Shoulder seasons are generally more favourable, with spring the perfect time to see the famous cherry blossoms.
During winter – generally from December to March – the country's many ski fields are popular, with travellers flocking to the north of the country.
Skyscanner research has shown that the best time to book flights to Japan is 16 weeks before you intend to travel.
Flights to Japan
Japan uses the yen (¥), which is broken down into 100 sen. Prices tend to have bigger numbers than you're used to seeing in New Zealand, with a coffee in Tokyo likely to cost around 400 yen (about $5).
New Zealand passport holders do not need to apply for a visa before they travel to Japan, as long as their intended stay is 90 days or less.
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Please note: all information is correct as of December, 2016.
Images by Flickr/andynew
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