The Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for late July 2021 may be one reason to consider visting Japan this year. However, Japan’s borders are still closed to international tourists and no one knows when they will reopen.
There are very tentative plans to open borders before the games – reportedly to small tour groups from countries with low infection rates in April 2021 at the earliest. The situation is still very uncertain, though. The best time to visit Japan, however, are spring (March-April) and autumn (October – early December) when the weather is ideal.
Travel buffs say, if you only have time for one Japan destination, make it Kyoto, considered the heart of Japan This is traditional Japan as you imagined it – geisha in brightly coloured kimonos emerging from wooden teahouses, forests of bamboo, temples and shrines in gold and silver and scarlet, raked gravel Zen gardens, intricate feasts served on lacquered plates, graceful tea ceremonies, and markets full of intriguing but unidentifiable ingredients.
If you find the concrete high-rises of downtown Kyoto disappointing, it is better to head out towards the mountains to the surrounding neighbourhoods where you’ll find narrow stone streets, old wooden houses, monks in flowing robes, and the sounds of chanting and gongs from the many temples and shrines.
Gion is the place to spot geisha, Higashiyama has many beautiful temples to explore, and Arashiyama, up in the western hills, is one of the most traditional neighbourhoods and home to bamboo groves, quirky temples, and monkeys.
Kyoto is one of the top Japan tourist spots, so try to visit the popular temples early in the morning as they do get crowded. A trip of three nights is good enough for Kyoto but, if you have five nights, you can do much more.
In Kyoto, don’t miss wandering through the red torii gates of Fushimi Inari shrine, taking the train to the village of Kibune, retreating from the busy streets of Gion to the magical Yasaka-jinja at night, strolling the Philosopher’s Path, experiencing Zen Budhist cuisine at the Tenryu-ji temple and exploring the magical Kyoto cherry blossom spots in March-April.
If Kyoto is the heart of traditional Japan, Tokyo – its ultramodern counterpart – can be considered the soul. Japan’s busy capital, mixes the ultramodern and the traditional, from neon-lit skyscrapers to historic temples. It’s here you’ll find noisy arcades and malls, busy pedestrian crossings, crazy youth fashions, and many many delicious restaurants.
Tokyo is also home to some of the weirdest activities, from themed cafes to sensory-overload shows and arcades for go-karting. The capital offers a seemingly unlimited choice of shopping, entertainment and dining options to its visitors. Three to five nights in Tokyo are good enough to let the lures grow on you.
In Tokyo, don’t miss driving a go-kart on real roads, dressed as your favourite character, eating in a tiny restaurant on atmospheric Memory Lane, gazing at the night skyline from the free Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, viewing crazy fashions of Takeshita Street in Harajuku, visiting Tokyo Disneyland, and immersing yourself in the colourful digital arts museum.