Japan is located in East Asia and made up of four main islands that are mountainous and wooded. The island nation has a vast and rich history, with historical records dating back to the 4th century. Today, Japan remains a traditional society with strong social and employment hierarchies – it is hard to find a country with a better mix of futuristic cities, sensational food, crazy shopping, rich heritage and stunning nature.

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Japan has a rich and colourful history. According to legend, in the fourth century the country was unified under the Yamato Dynasty which centred upon Shintoism; a religion indigenous to Japan and marked by its worship of nature, ancestors, and ancient national heroes. In the sixth century, Buddhism was introduced via China and Korea and many Buddhist temples were constructed in japan – most noteworthy the Horyuji Temple and the Todaiji Temple (with Japans largest bronze Buddha statue). In the twelfth century, military clans began clashing for power – this marked the beginning of Japan’s military rule and the ascendancy of the warrior caste – known as the famous samurai. It wasn’t for another 700 years, in the 19th century, the Emperor was restored to power.

Japans first encounter with the West took place in the mid 19th century, when the U.S. Navy entered the port of Uraga. A trade agreement with the U.S was forged and set Japan on a course of modernization – Western culture and influence flowed into Japan with western dress, food, architecture and industry. However, in the 1920s nationalism begun to take hold with an emphasis on the preservation of traditional Japanese values – and a rejection of western influence. In the years to follow, Japan went to war against China and signed an anti-communist agreement with Nazi Germany and Italy.

With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Japan moved to occupy French Indo-China and carried out a suprise attack on the Americans at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. In 1945, US planes dropped two atomic bombs; one on Hiroshima (6 August) and a second on Nagasaki (9 August) causing widespread death and destruction. Emperor Hirohito surrendered and Japan was placed under US military government. Following World War II – Japan adopted a democratic constitution that denounced war and guaranteed human rights. Japan’s rapid post-war expansion was propelled by successful automotive and consumer electronics industries, which allowed Japan to become the intra modernistic nation that is it today.

As of 2014, Japan had a population of ~127 million people, with more than 75% of the population living in massive cities on the islands coast lines. Japan has a landmass 377,864 square kilometres that is divided between four main islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu). Japans series of islands stretch for 3,000 kilometres from north to south, three-quarters of country is mountainous which provides fantastic skiing in the North. Japan experiences four distinct seasons and one of the very famous sites is the spring cherry blossom. Japan is located on the boundary of three major techtonic plates, which is the reason that 20% of the world’s earthquakes take place in Japan. In March 2011, an earthquake created a devastating tsunami, which the nation is still recovering from.

In 2014, over 13 million international tourists visited Japan – the greatest number of visitors came from neighbouring Asian countries such as Korea, Taiwan and China. When considering a trip to Japan, it is well worth trying to coincide with the spring season to experience the astonishing Cherry blossom. Be sure to indulge yourself on the delicious fresh cuisine that Japan has to offer, along with learning about Japans most famous forms of entertainment; the kabuki (Japanese performing arts) and sumo wrestling. Embrace the Japanese mix of heritage and ultra-modern by staying in one of the country’s many traditional inns, followed by booking into a hotel with robot staff and face recognition instead of room keys!

Ethical Travel Issues and advice

gail (1)Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.

Taking photos of friendly local people is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities. 

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