Traditional and futuristic, exquisite and rich
There is a saying, if you want to go to Mars you should first try going to Japan. And while it is (probably) rough and exaggerated, this country situated on an archipelago consisting of nearly 7000 islands sure does feel like another planet. Of course we all tried sushi, some even had sake and know what anime is, but should you choose to actually travel there you are quite likely be surprised by just how bipolar Japan is: the ancient traditions, arts, crafts and gods right next to all things high-tech, combined with modern style and latest fashion.
Need to get from one part of the country to another? Just catch a Shinkansen and you will be amazed by how punctual these futuristic-looking bullet trains are.
One extraordinary thing you notice when you get out of an ever-growing megapolis is how rural landscape and elements of city are mixed up together: a dazzling video game center, and then a paddy field just around the corner. Take a revitalizing bath in an open air hot spring pool while watching sakura petals (or snowflakes if it's winter) dance in the air, and then spend the next day shopping around boutiques in exclusive designer buildings.
The growth that Japan has undergone has been truly intense: it transitioned from feudal society to a highly industrialized and most powerful country in Asia in just a couple of decades. After an A-bomb strike and defeat in World War II the country has managed to get up from the knees and go on to build a colossal economy and become one of the most successful countries in the world. There has been a period of economic stagnation from mid-90s, and now Japan is promoting its concept of “soft power” to the world coming on as an unmatched leader of modern culture and a home to anime and manga, which have been showing a constantly growing increase in popularity during the recent years.
When you travel around the big cities of Japan, the first thing that catches attention is how crowded they are. If you want to find yourself on the cutting edge, be it electronics or fashion, you've come to a right place – the humming megapolises of Japan often have it first. Again, there is no shortage of traditions so greatly appreciated by the Japanese: Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo and Kanazawa just to name a few, all give the best chance to get yourself acquainted with classical Japanese performance arts such as the plays of noh and kabuki, or visual arts on the display in the biggest museums of the country. Get out of the city to pick a travel choice from an even bigger list: visit UNESCO heritage National Park in the northern Hokkaido or soak yourself in sunlight on the mellow subtropical islands of Okinawa in the South. The towering castles and shrines will keep you company most of the time, and often you will also find yourself lucky to witness some local street festival celebrations.
The fact that Japanese economy is among the strongest implies that it isn't the cheapest place to travel around. Yet it doesn't have to hit astronomic values, as some of the best places in the spirit of traditional Japan one can find are usually reasonably priced. As Japan strives to attract more tourists, the price policies in some fields are being revised, notably the airlines, which could be a good option to choose over the famous bargain rail passes should you decide to travel to a far distance inside the country.
Of course, there is a flip side to everything. The demands of the mass tourism provoke effects that are sometimes devastating, like tasteless hotel and gift shop buildings ruining otherwise peaceful and picturesque places. The Japanese are masters when it comes to details, however the wider vision is something that obviously sometimes escapes them: it is shocking to see the excessive development and enormous at places pollution going on inside the nation that is so famous for it's neatness and affection towards nature. Perhaps it is because Japan is so susceptible to natural disasters like typhoons and earthquakes which are its regular guests, that rarely if ever anyone expects things to last anyway.
Still Japan wins back with welcoming people, beautiful nature and the atmosphere of relished traditions and authentic history. The culture is absolutely alluring and unique: it is neither East nor West, yet it is both at the same time. The boundaries are not distinct anymore, which makes Japan even more enticing and definitely worth giving a try.