With its geishas and lolitas, tea ceremonies and karaoke, ryôkan and capsule hotels, and astonishing mix of tradition and modernity, Japan makes a fascinating place for a holiday. Explore the large cities of Tokyo and Osaka, with their imposing and brightly-lit skyscrapers, and rub shoulders with businessmen and cosplay fans, sample street food and soak up the ambience of the cities' trendy bars.
Experience a complete change of atmosphere in the temples of Kyoto, the old Imperial city of Nara, the beautiful unspoilt town of Takayama, or out in the countryside dotted with the bright red temples of Kyushu, all of which introduce visitors to the more traditional side of Japan. The country's natural sites also add to its magical appeal. The bay of Matsushima and the idyllic bay of Kabira, in the Okinawa archipelago, are perfect for lazing in the sun, while the Shiretoko National Park is a great place for hiking. And of course, you can't go home without making a pilgrimage to Mount Fuji, the country's eternally snow-capped holy mountain, which has watched over the archipelago for thousands of years.
Michelin's recommendations for Japan
Nikko, an exceptional and sacred place
In 1999, the whole world paid tribute to the baroque splendour of the shrines and temples of Nikko that gleam among the giant cedars, when the complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These architectural masterpieces are tightly bound up with the history of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled from the 17C to the 19C.
Okunikko’s natural assets
In the upper reaches of the sacred city, the mountainous region of Okunikko is stunning in every season. While the cedars planted in the late 17C serve as a backdrop for the temples and shrines down in the valley, at altitude the lakes, moors and rivers surrounding Lake Chuzenji complement the perfectly formed cone of the Nantai volcano to create a fabulous landscape.
Lake Chuzenji, a holiday resort for Westerners
When the country opened up to foreigners in the late 19C, the cool summer weather and high altitude of Lake Chuzenji (1 200m) quickly won the hearts of Western tourists, diplomats and writers. The resort offered an escape from the stifling heat of Tokyo, without visitors having to travel too far.