If you thought that Japan was all about Kimono clad women, sumo wrestlers and perhaps the world's best car makers, well, you surely don't know it all! Did you know the Japanese people usually learn about the arrival of each season through the variety of fish available in the super market? So, if it's a good catch of Salmon, they know, autumn is in! It's this unique way of life that makes this country so beautiful and different from the rest of the world.
Discipline in life, swiftness in work and precision of things are three qualities about the people here that will impress you. The Japanese apparently learnt to work fast since they realised that if they do not finish their jobs on time -- be it construction work or drying clothes - the typhoon would spoil everything! No wonder, today, they have not only made the world's fastest bullet trains and elevators, but have also rebuilt themselves in record time after the devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Fly down or vroom through the longest underwater tunnel, The Seikan Tunnel (53.85km), to reach Hokkaido from Honshu -- Japan's two major islands. While Honshu woos you with modern cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Hiroshima etc, Hokkaido will floor you with its ethnic charm in cities such as Otaru and Sapporo. Take the Subway (metro rail) or simply absorb the beauty of the locales on foot. For a dose of spiritual beauty, go to the picturesque Asakusa temple in Tokyo, or indulge in some retail therapy at the adjoining shopping arcade. From traditional umbrellas to silk fans -- you'll find it all here. And when you're tired, hop on to a hand-pulled rickshaw with rich red velvet seats. And, to live a truly Japanese life, book your stay in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) with tatami mats and futons.
Walking down the Ginza -- Tokyo's famous entertainment district, featuring numerous branded stores, boutiques, restaurants, theatres, and night clubs -- is a must for all those who love to party! Packed with similar stores, bars, restaurants and karaoke shops is Sapporo's popular entertainment area, Susukino. To see the gigantic neons and glitterati here in the evening is an experience in itself.
The Onsen delight
When in Japan, it's a sin to not indulge in an Onsen or a hot spring experience in the Jozankei valley that houses numerous hot spring resorts with luxurious pools containing steaming hot natural mineral water gushing out straight from the ravines. No, you can't plunge in, in your swim suit. Onsen bathing has some strict rules and must be done with sanctity. First shed all your inhibitions (read clothes), then take a good shower and finally walk into the pool. And you will not be the only one there! Men and women have separate bathing areas. Hot spring baths are not only relaxing but are known for treating chronic anaemia, frozen shoulder etc. Most resorts run free shuttles from downtown Sapporo to Jozankei which is which is about a 40-minute drive.
Things to know
Best time to go: If you want to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, go in April and May. To see Sapporo turn into a winter dreamland, catch the Sapporo Snow Festival in the second week of February.
How to go: Several airlines including Air India, All Nippon Airways (ANA), Cathay Pacific etc operate flights from India to Tokyo. However, for a non-stop eight-hour flight, you can opt for Japan's official carrier, Japan Airlines that also offers gourmet cuisine with choice of wine and cocktail, as you enjoy the latest movies on your personal TV monitors. Tickets start from Rs30,000.
What to see: The Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) and the Japan Tourism Board (JTB) recommends seeing the Yamashita Park by the harbour in Yokohama, the Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill, the Otaru Canal, Mt Tengu and the largest glassworks factory in Otaru, the Clock Tower, the TV Tower and the Odori Park in Sapporo. For more info on attractive spots, hotels and hot spring resorts, log on to: www.jnto.go.jp