Photo by Galen Crout
Whether exploring Japan’s metropolises or trekking through the countryside, you’ll be richly rewarded with historical sites and stories. The Japanese are serious about their cultural heritage and artisans—known as shokunin, masters of their craft—are recognized as national treasures. Shinto and Buddhism are the main religions and the country is sprinkled with Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines from throughout Japan’s long history. The Japanese celebrate the seasons and Buddhist and Shinto holidays with festivals throughout the year. On Ganjitsu, New Year’s Day, the locals head to temples and shrines to pray for the new year. The Ohanami (flower viewing) festivities last from late March to mid-April as people celebrate beneath the cherry blossoms with sake and singing. And in mid-May, Tokyoites and tourists pack Asakusa and march through the streets with portable shrines for Sanja Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s liveliest and largest festivals.