Japan was voted the best country in the world in the 2023 Readers’ Choice Awards. Here, resident foodie and travel connoisseur Tokyo Halfie explains 24 reasons why you should visit Japan in 2024.
With a rich cultural heritage that eloquently integrates tradition and innovation, Japan is full of juxtapositions. After a two-year entry restriction that was lifted earlier this year, international travelers are flocking back to explore the splendors the country has to offer.
The diverse landscape unveils its ever-changing tapestry of colors, from the delicate pink sakura cherry blossoms in the spring to the vibrant fiery gradation of koyo autumn foliage. The seasonal transitions are beautifully mirrored in its remarkable dining scene, featuring shun-no-shokuzai (seasonal ingredients).
From the vivacious festivals in cities to serene onsen hot springs in the countryside, there are boundless possibilities for discovery.
1. The thriving restaurant scene
First and foremost, Tokyo has some of the best restaurants in the world, from casual rustic walk-ins to globally acclaimed omakase spots. Chefs dedicate their lives to mastering techniques with their shokunin spirit—the virtue of seeking perfection in their craft. Intricately prepared dishes are served with impeccable service, stemming from the tradition of omotenashi—a deep-rooted psyche of taking care of guests.
2. The vast spectrum of cuisines
The country offers various cuisines, ranging from traditional genres (sushi, tempura, and kaiseki) to progressive and experimental fusions. The appreciation for the change in seasons is often ingrained in any genre, featuring domestically sourced fresh produce Japan’s diverse landscape offers a wide variety of local vegetables, seafood and meat throughout the year. Each region will have their local speciality, whether it be seasonal ingredients or kyodo ryori (literally translating to ‘regional cuisine’).
3. The finely brewed sake
Sake literally translates to ‘alcohol’ in Japanese—rice wine is technically referred to as nihonshu. The beverage was initially brewed in Shinto shrines, and has held a sacred place in the country’s culture. Its production process encapsulates centuries of craftsmanship, carefully blending premium rice, pure water, yeast, and koji fungus. The mountainous terrains provide mineral-rich natural waters, with each water source greatly influencing the character and flavour notes of the final product.
4. Stunning spring blossoms
With flowers emerging after a cold winter, spring represents “new beginnings” in Japan (including the school year, which starts in April). The first sakura, or cherry blossom, appears in the southern islands, and the phenomenon moves its way northwards. There are over 600 types of sakura trees across the country with varying shades of pink. Petals gradually unfold outwards until reaching their peak mankai (full bloom) for a mere few days.
5. Festive summer activities
Summer marks the matsuri festival season, with each region hosting their annual bon-odori (traditional communal dance) or hanabi-taikai (fireworks convention). Many will attend wearing a yukata, a lighter and more casual version of a kimono. Generally, yatai vendors can be found at these celebrations, serving a variety of street food including yakisoba (stir-fried noodles with soy and oyster sauces) and ringo-ame (candy apples).
6. Glorious autumn foliage
As temperatures gradually decline following the scorching summer, the renowned koyo or autumn foliage begins in mid-September in Hokkaido. Leaves transition from shades of green to a breathtaking gradation of red, orange and yellow. The peak season in Kyoto is generally around mid to late November when many visit the stunning zen gardens at Buddhist temples and their colouring momiji (Japanese maple) trees.
7. Refreshing winter weather
Contrary to the grey British winters, the Kanto region (including Tokyo) is usually dry and crisp this time of year, with higher chances of blue skies. Snow can be enjoyed in the mountains, hosting world-renowned ski resorts such as Niseko and Hakuba. It is also the best season to enjoy the onsen (hot springs) at serene Ryokans (traditional Japanese inns)—even snow monkeys can be found bathing in the wild at Jigokudani Monkey Park.