Having hit their annual target of 20 million visitors 4 years early, the Japan National Tourism Organization has now doubled their goal, with the ambitious aim of drawing 40 million overseas tourists annually by 2020.
With all the efforts to achieve this goal, the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and the 2020 Olympics set to see tourists flocking to Japan it’s fair to say that the multi-island country has a busy time ahead.
But while the thriving metropolis of Tokyo and the serenity of the many gardens and temples are obvious calls for the contemporary traveller, there is another more secret Japan waiting to be explored. Aiming to help visitors who want to experience the many different sides of Japan and avoid just being swept along with the growing wave of tourists expected over the next few years, Japan Experience has compiled a list of essential must-see attractions so visitors get the very best from their stay in this most fascinating of countries,.
With unique ‘Travel Angels’ located in ten major cities across Japan, Japan Experience provides customers with personal guides and companions for the duration of their stay. Working with French and English speaking residents, customers gain an authentic experience: immersing themselves into the local community, culture and experiencing the very best from their travel experience, while receiving equally valuable tips about things best avoided.
According to the Japan Experience’s Travel Angels, these are the top five must-see sights for any visitors to Japan.
1. Another Tokyo: Surface Tokyo has plenty for the tourist, but it’s worth making time to delve deeper and experience the local culture. Spend an evening in an izakaya (traditional small bars/restaurant), or visit the lesser-known neighbourhoods of Shibamata and Yanaka.
2. Kyoto’s Temples: Kyoto has many well-known ‘tourist’ temples, but explore further and you’ll find gems like Myōshin-ji; a temple complex of Rinzai Zen Buddhism, or Daigo-ji in south-east Kyoto; much loved by locals but relatively unknown to overseas travellers.
3. Hiroshima: While The Peace Park, Atomic Bomb Dome and Miyajima are certainly worth visiting, there is more to this historic city. Orizuru Tower, Hiroshima Castle, Shukkei-en Garden, and the Peace Pagoda on top of Mt. Futuba shouldn’t be missed.
4. Japanese Festivals (Matsuri): There are numerous matsuri, celebrated throughout Japan and throughout the year, and they provide the perfect opportunity to really experience Japanese culture. The three most important matsuri in the calendar are the Kanda Matsuri (Tokyo), the Tenjin Matsuri (Osaka), and the Takayama Matsuri.
5. Asanogawa River of Kanazawa: With the beautiful Kenroku-en Garden, the famous Higashi Tea District and the atmospheric streets of old Kazue-machi, a walk along Kanazawa’s Asanogawa River is just like stepping back in time.
As for what you might want to avoid, in order to make the most of a Japanese journey, Japan Experience suggest:
• Not sleeping in, as many attractions close in the afternoon
• Avoiding the crowds by steering clear of national holidays, such as New Year and Golden Week (April 29th-May 5th)
• Being aware that public transport isn’t always the best option in some cities; with confusing timetables and crowded stations, riding a bike can make for a better experience
• Not thinking that the country is all about high tech sushi bars and end up missing the authentic Japan
• Spending too much time in Tokyo because although the capital is incredible it’s only the cherry [blossom] on top of a beautifully iced cake; there are plenty of other amazing cities and sights to explore.
Japan Experience founder, Claude Sauliere, explains: ‘Everyone thinks that they know what Japan has to offer, but while it’s fine to stick to the tourist trail we feel that the best way to get to know a country – any country – is to consult the locals.’
‘Our unique Travel Angels help our clients see the parts of Japan which you won’t find in your average guide book – the special places treasured by the residents – as well as the usual hotspots.’
‘The next four years are going to be an incredibly busy time for Japan, so rather than spending all their time fighting through crowds, we want to help our guests get a bit more from their visit. The Japan Experience Travel Angels are just the people to do that.’