Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto, Japan (Photo: Bernd Thaller via Flickr)
Japanese culture is as diverse as it is fascinating. Sumo wrestling, Zen Buddhism, Manga and Samurai are all elements of Japan that are well-liked and known globally. Much of this culture is steeped in time, some of it has developed more recently, and much can be understood through the learning of Japanese history. But Japan is also a land of delicious local cuisine, a strong set of social values and beautiful, unspoiled natural landscapes. The latter include volcanoes such as Mt. Fuji and paradise beaches in Okinawa. It could be down to the Edo period (1603-1868), when Japan became strictly isolationist, that the country now seems so unique and different. Traditional ryokan inns established during this time epitomize this era, where the shower rooms are communal and the paper doors slide open. Even for the well-travelled, Japan seems to supply a seemingly endless chain of first-time experiences. Big cities like Osaka and Tokyo blend the traditional with the ultra-modern, but take a 30 minute bullet train and you could be in a temple complex petting overly-friendly deer. Japan tends to be a popular year-round destination, but more importantly, it is one that draws people back over and over again.