Japan

Japan's a country unlike any other. This archipelago of almost 7000 islands kept itself isolated from the rest of the world for centuries, to preserve its distinctive way of life. It's 150 years since Japan opened its ports to the outside world, and nowadays you'd be hard-pressed to find a more cutting-edge, techno-savvy nation, from the famous bullet trains to the robots of Fukuoka. Distinctive Japanese manners, traditions, and art-forms, so strongly embedded during the previous centuries, have endured – and make this country one of the most beautiful and fascinating in the world for visitors.

Experience the extremes of modern and traditional Japan with trips to Tokyo, the biggest metropolis in the world, and Kyoto, the ancient Japanese capital where you can still see geishas in the street and drinking tea has been elevated to an art form. You could be watching ancient noh drama one day, and pounding the pavements in the famous Harajuku shopping district the next. Sport here too is extreme: you can ski, snowboard or trek up icy mountains in Sapporo and Nagano, with the promise of sinking into a natural hot spring (onsen) at the end of the day, or scuba dive, snorkel and surf in the radiant waters off Amami Oshima. Wherever you go, you'll find one consistent aspect amidst the variety: this is a country that truly appreciates beauty. As you walk through the Three Great Gardens of Japan, look up through a winding passage of 10,000 sacred orange torii gates at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha, or join in the nation's favourite pastime of "hanami" by picnicking with friends under a flowering cherry tree, you'll find the serene, haunting beauty of Japan stealing into your heart – where you'll carry it forever.

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