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A Visitors' Cultural Guide to Japan
Your 'land of rising sun,' Nihon or Nippon or Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of China, Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea in the south, Japan is an Archipelago that is comprised of over three thousand islands.

Honshū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū and Shikoku are the largest islands. The islands are mainly mountainous and volcanic; Mount Fuji is Japan's highest peak. Tokyo is the capital, and Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Nagasaki, Nara, Osaka, Sapporo, and Sendai are important cities of Japan. Japan is the country full of scenic beauties and tourist attractions including mesmeric mountains, captivating sites, temples, castles, hot springs, etc.

Japan has total population of 128,085,000 (2005 Estimate). The Japanese society is homogeneous with non-Japanese, mostly Koreans, just making up less than 1% of the population. Shinto and Buddhism are the principal religions, but varieties of Buddhism, such as Jodo, Shingon, and Nichiren, and Christianity is followed by some Japanese people.

Spring is one of the best times to visit Japan; it's warm, but not hot and it doesn't rain too much during this time of year. Famous cherry blossoms (sakura) bloom in March-April; the Japan Meteorological Agency in early March, announces predictions about when the blooming will begin. It's a time of revelry and festivals. Japanese celebrate Hanami, a festival of outdoors picnics and drunken revelry in parks in March or April. Hinamatsuri, the Doll Festival is celebrated on 3 March. The Golden Week (April 27 to May 6) that is the longest holiday in Japan is not good time to visit Japan, as there are four public holidays and people go on for vacation, and trains are crowded, flight and hotel prices go incredibly up, but you may plan you tour a couple of weeks immediately before or after the Golden Week.

Summer brings a dreary rainy season in June and Japan turns into a steambath in July-August, with extreme humidity and the temperature heading as high as 40°C. During this time northern Hokkaido or the mountains of Chubu and Tohoku are some of the places to visit. Summer brings number festivals that include several big and small local festivals and impressive fireworks competitions. On July 7th or early August in some places, Tanabata is a star festival commemorating a story of star-crossed lovers who could only meet on this day. Celebrated in mid-July in eastern Japan (Kanto) and mid-August in western Japan (Kansai), Obon is the largest summer festival that honors the departed spirits of one's ancestors.

Starting in September, autumn is also the best time to visit Japan. Temperature and humidity is tolerable, days are fair, and colors of fall are mesmerizing. Winter is cold and snowy, which is good time for skiing or hot-spring hopping.

Matsuri are local festivals, usually related to the rice harvest, celebrated in late summer/early autumn. Matsuri are celebrated almost every region of Japan. Gion Matsuri (Kyoto), Tenjin Matsuri (Osaka), and Kanda and Sannō Matsuri (Tokyo) are some of the most popular.

Shichi-Go-San is the festival day for children aged three, five and seven, celebrated on 15 November. Ōmisoka - New Year is celebrated with great fervor and festivity. It is holiday that shuts down the country between December 29 and January 3. People eat festive foods and gather at temple at midnight to wish in the New Year. Second Monday of January is Seijin Shiki, which is a nation wide festival of Coming of Age Day.

Japanese national holidays include January 1 (New Year's Day), 2nd Monday of January (Coming-of-Age Day), February 11 (National Foundation Day), March 21 (Vernal Equinox Day), April 29 (Showa Day), May 3 (Constitution Day), May 4 (Greenery Day), May 5 (Children's Day), 3rd Monday of July (Marine Day), 3rd Monday of September (Respect-for-the-Aged Day), September 23 (Autumnal Equinox Day), 2nd Monday of October (Sports Day), November 3 (Culture Day), November 23 (Labor Thanksgiving Day), and December 23 (The Emperor's Birthday).
About the Author
Orson Johnson writes for Holiday Velvet, a website providing Tokyo apartments.
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