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The Warsaw Voice » Other » February 4, 2010
Japan in Poland
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Allure of the Land of the Rising Sun
February 4, 2010   
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Known throughout the world as an economic powerhouse, Japan is also a country with a rich culture and a unique approach to society, art, and nature.

It has long remained the focus of Western authors and researchers, and thanks to their efforts much is known throughout the world about the country and its customs. The international success of Japanese arts in the 20th century has also contributed to building an image of Japan in other countries. The topic of tourism in Japan however, remains relatively little known.

Japan holds a place among the popular tourist destinations of East Asia, and recent years have shown a rising trend in the number of foreign visitors. Part of the credit goes to the "Visit Japan" campaign, funded by the Japanese government and aimed at promoting the country among prospective visitors. One of the campaign's major goals is achieving 10 million foreign tourists this year. The most recent figures show that achieving this goal is within reach.

Japan's main appeal to foreigners lies undoubtedly in its rich cultural heritage. Ever since the country abandoned an isolationist policy and opened up to the West in what has come to be known as the Meiji Revolution (1868), observers have commented on the exceptional ability of the Japanese to embrace outside influences while honing local traditions. This characteristic tendency to assimilate new cultural trends is not a new phenomenon for the Japanese. Their history consists of reoccurring bouts of fascination with overseas culture, interwoven with periods of isolation and a focus on the indigenous. This process has shaped Japan throughout the centuries, and its traces can be found in all aspects of culture, from language through art and social structure. Today, Japan gives visitors the opportunity to savor its 8th century legacy alongside 21st century achievement.

In order to preserve the material traces of Japan's rich past, 11 significant historic locations have been registered as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with 12 more on the tentative list. They are popular tourist destinations not only for foreign visitors, but also for the Japanese themselves. Each of the sites provides the visitor with an insight into a different period of Japanese history: the ancient temples of Nara look as they did in the 8th century, when the city served as the emperor's residence and administrative capital. Nearby Kyoto boasts many traditional wooden structures which illustrate the development of religious architecture and the art of landscape gardens. Kyoto's treasures include the brilliant Temples of the Golden and Silver Pavilion, the Zen rock garden at Ryoanji, and the moss-covered Saihoji Temple.

Japanese culture is often said to harbor great respect and love for nature, and this becomes apparent when one considers the popularity of nature tourism in Japan. The once-in-a-lifetime experience of climbing Mount Fuji aside, the Japanese Archipelago offers nature lovers huge stretches of pristine forests, mountains, rivers and beaches. The prudent foreign visitor will take hints from the Japanese and go skiing in the Nagano prefecture in winter, and spend the summer holidays swimming in the warm, tropical waters of Okinawa. Japan's unique geography allows visitors to enjoy both the sea and the mountains, often at the same time.

Because domestic travel played an important role throughout Japanese history, the hospitality trade developed into what can truly be considered a notable branch of traditional culture. Onsen, or hot springs, and the facilities built around them have been used since ancient times as public baths, and are enjoyed today by entire families. A weekend getaway at a hot-spring hotel is a great way to experience true Japanese leisure, complete with traditional cuisine, sleeping on a tatami floor and a chance to slip into a yukata gown.

For most Japanese, a trip to a different part of the country means getting to try the delicacies offered by the local cuisine. Although modern food culture in Japan has become considerably unified, different regions still retain their own culinary specialties, such as the famous Sanuki udon from Kagawa prefecture or okonomiyaki from Osaka or Hiroshima.

Alongside a rich tradition, visitors in Japan will experience a modern culture, proud of its technological and social development. Those who wish to immerse themselves in the pleasures of a hi-tech society choose Tokyo or Osaka as their travel destination. The two biggest metropolises in Japan provide leisure activities for millions of residents, and the curious traveler could spend entire weeks enjoying the theaters, restaurants, cafes, music venues and museums, for which these cities are famous.

Although Japanese prices are often considered high, dining out in Japan may prove to be cheaper than Poland. Also, while luxury hotels are always available, the economical tourist will find a wide range of inexpensive business hotels and youth hostels at their disposal. Various discounts on public transportation also apply.

Tourists can fly from Poland to Japan via major European cities, and direct charter flights have also been organized. The introduction of a regular direct air connection between Japan and Poland is currently being considered, and if it were to become a reality, Japan would become even more accessible to Poles as a tourist destination.

"One glance is worth more that a hundred words" goes the old Japanese saying. It holds ever so true in the case of Japan. A visit to the Land of the Rising Sun grants the opportunity to witness firsthand the marvels of a unique and fascinating culture.
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