Flights to Japan: Volcanic baths and octopus balls
Meet the locals
A quarter of Japan's population squeezes into metropolitan Tokyo where national and global trends are set. In Osaka you'll find affable extroverts who pride themselves on their blunt humour. Next door in Kyoto the locals are more genteel (or pompous if you ask an Osakan). If they warm to you, you’ll be treated with peerless hospitality. To meet the locals anywhere, head to an izakaya (Japanese pub), where inhibitions disappear with beer.
Eat and drink
Regional cuisine reigns in Japan. On Shikoku Island, locals subsist almost entirely on thick udon noodles. Osaka residents have coined the phrase 'kuidaore' (roughly: eat till you explode), to describe their approach to local fare such as takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes). Take an internal flight to Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, where locals live to be several hundred years old. How? A regular diet of bitter melon, seafood, sweet potatoes and, bizarrely, Spam.
Japan's mountains are blanketed in the white stuff for a third of the year. Niseko in Hokkaido has knee-deep powder and the jolliest après-ski life. In the warmer months, hurl yourself down a canyon in mountainous Minakami. That’s also the place if you want to spend your Japan holiday whitewater rafting or paragliding over rice paddies. For a slower but no less exhilarating experience, lace up your boots and climb Mount Fuji.
Get naked and jump into a bath of volcanic water at one of Japan’s hot spring resorts. Most are communal and segregated by gender, but exhibitionists might prefer the konnyaku variety, where men and women bathe together. Move even more slowly at a ryokan (Japanese inn), with absolutely nothing to do but sip tea, soak in a cypress tub, and dine, dine, dine.
Population: Japan has a population of 127 million people, including over 47,000 who have received a silver cup from the government to mark their centenary.
Key dates: Japan was a closed country, forbidding immigration or emigration from 1635 to 1853, partly due to the shogunate’s concern about the spread of Christianity.
Did you know? Japan celebrates Christmas on December 24th. The 'traditional' festive dish, KFC chicken, is so popular the chain takes pre-orders.
Getting about: The rear doors of taxis in Japan are opened and closed remotely by the driver. You won’t be thanked if you attempt to close one by hand.