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Japan 2020: It’s Gonna Be Big
To kick off our new ’20 reasons to visit Japan in 2020’ mini-series, we’ve gathered our travel experts and shaken them down for their finest travel tip-offs. The first section of our guide focusses on that euphoric, vibrant, and ever-so-humid time of the year that is the Japanese summer.
Summer in Japan in 2020 is going to be massive; we’re talking the biggest summer in over fifty years. This season is the only chance to conquer Mount Fuji, to dance your way through a flurry of festivals, to flit across the country on the newly unveiled bullet train. And then, of course, there’s the small matter of the world’s greatest games.
Watch the Summer Games
The big one: in 2020 the world’s most famous sporting event will make its way to Japan, some 56 years after it last swept the country. The first time the world’s greatest athletes descended on Japan, the opening show and subsequent competition wowed the billions watching around the globe, unveiling technologies and innovations never before dreamt of – and in 2020 you can bet that Japan will go all-out to raise the bar (and then presumably vault over it).
The games will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience Tokyo transformed. Already a heady mix of ultra-modern and traditional, expect Tokyo to present a dizzying mixture of entertainment right across the city. Spectators in Tokyo will be met with athletic heroism, roaring crowds, quirky pop-up stores, the opening of a brand-new bullet train and even – get this – robotic staff.
The clash of sporting wunderkinds coupled with the adrenaline of Tokyo in the summer makes this one way too tempting to miss out on. Robots.
Climb Mt Fuji at sunrise
For those with a dash of derring-do in their veins, hiking to the summit of Mt Fuji to watch the morning sun splash across the land is an experience like no other. It’s only during summer that this feat is achievable – the mountain is closed off in the colder months – so if you’d like to add ‘climbed one of the earth’s most iconic mountains’ to your list of achievements, you know what to do.
While camaraderie is all part of the experience, we’d advise that you head out on a weekday to avoid the busiest periods. Avoid the week of Obon Festival week altogether, as although a beautiful cultural experience, this is one of the mountain’s busiest periods. Come prepared; bring plenty of water for the hike, good footwear, sun cream, and a decent camera for capturing the phenomenal sights that await you at the summit.
Snorkel the world’s largest blue coral reef colony at Ishigaki
Picture yourself all decked out in scuba gear, drifting in calm, warm waters, just off the gleaming beaches of a tropical island. You peer beneath the waves, marvelling at the lively coral cityscape below, when from the corner of your vision a vast, elegant manta ray cruises by, its powerful fins sweeping effortlessly through the water. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? If only such a thing were possible.
Whoa there: it is.
The azure waters surrounding Ishigaki are teeming with bright, tropical fish who make their homes among hundreds of different kinds of coral. The blue reef that surrounds Ishigaki is much-loved by locals and visitors alike, with its unique colour, excellent visibility and warm sea temperatures making it a great spot to experience scuba, whether you’re a seasoned diver or a first-timer. Plus, mantas are particularly common in the area, especially the rich feeding grounds at dive spot ‘Manta Scramble’ just off Ishigaki, where they flock on an almost daily basis.
Party in the streets at Nebuta Matsuri
Every August, the sleepy northern Japanese town of Aomori comes alive, its usually quiet streets playing host to an ethereal procession of glowing demons, deities, beasts and warriors amid a thunder of drums.
Nebuta Matsuri is one of Japan’s most famous festivals. Each night as darkness falls, huge illuminated floats are pulled through the streets by cohorts of local people. Crafted from coloured rice-paper, these towering images bear down on the crowds below as the floats bob and weave their way through the town. Hundreds of dancers follow the floats, along with a cacophony of bells, flutes and drums.
On the last night of the festival the floats are loaded onto boats and sailed out to sea against the backdrop of a spectacular firework finale!
Go firefly spotting
This last one isn’t quite so location specific; all you need is a warm evening and a sense of adventure. Early June to mid-July is Japan’s rainy season, and the humidity and the sporadic showers bring a magical surprise. Wait until nightfall and leave the city behind. Get out into nature, far from electric light, and there, if you’re patient and just a little bit lucky, you’ll find the fireflies.
These hypnotising little creatures hold a special place in Japanese culture. For hundred of years, the Japanese have enjoyed seeking out and watching fireflies, with legend stating that they are the souls of samurai who have died in battle. Fireflies like clean water, green spaces and humidity but shy away from man-made light – so leave your phone in your pocket. Once you find them, just stand and be amazed by silent beauty of the small glowing beasties.