Beyond Tokyo - Kyoto and Osaka
Overnight or day trips to surrounding cities are incredibly easy thanks to Japan's robust transport system.
Explore Japan with ease. The country's famed bullet train, the shinkansen, makes getting from city to city a speedy, hassle-free affair. Each destination and point of interest is within reach. The Nozomi, one of the fastest trains in Japan, departs for Kyoto and Osaka on a frequent basis and tickets can be booked in advance or at the station on the day of travel. Reaching speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour, the fastest Nozomi in operation takes just under 2.5 hours to travel the 515 kilometres to Osaka. While there's ample space for plenty of luggage on board, stops at stations are often brief. Make sure you're prepared to disembark when your destination approaches as trains in Japan run to a tight schedule.
Shrines, museums and temples - there's no shortage in Japan's cultural mecca of Kyoto. Hopping on a bicycle and taking a ride through the cobbled streets is often the best way to get your bearings in this city. And while there are plenty of cultural landmarks waiting to be explored, Kyoto's vibrant orange torii gates, Fushimi Inari Taisha, is the best place to start. Kyoto is home to Gion, an entertainment district once famous for Kabuki performance and now well-known for its geishas. The best time to visit is early evening as lanterns illuminate Gion's many bars and eateries and geisha as they move gracefully about the streets. Don't leave without taking a slice of Kyoto's culture home with you: the city is one of the best places in Japan to shop for souvenirs. Get your hands on traditional Japanese arts, crafts and goods. Take home a yukata - a lightweight, summer kimono - washi paper, woodblock prints or a Japanese knife welded by a traditional blacksmith.
Japan's street food scene may pale in comparison to its neighbouring countries, but the foodie scene is rife in Osaka. Eat your way around the city stopping by the quaint food stalls that line the streets - Kitsune udon (udon noodles topped with deep-fried tofu) and kushikatsu (deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables) are just a couple of the local specialties on offer. Osaka is home to a number of family friendly attractions with Universal Studios Japan and Osaka Aquarium - one of the largest aquariums in the world - being the major attractions. While the city's cultural offerings are often overshadowed by nearby Kyoto, historically significant Osaka Castle is one of Japan's most popular points of interest. Although the castle has been modernised inside, its museum is home to some of Osaka's most treasured artifacts.