Japan is not the clichéd vacation wish list destination, but talk to anyone who has been there, and they come over all funny. Like you are bringing back memories of a long lost lover. Because a cultural vacation to Japan, rooted in landscapes and rich culture, have an effect on people that makes them want to go back again and again. They become addicted to the love. So, just what is the J-Factor?
Not that love should ever be based on looks alone, but Japan definitely is a stunner. Ridiculously beautiful, your photos of temples emerging from the middle of a misty lake, a multi-coloured maple forest in autumn, crystalline waters of a Pacific Island, the world famous cherry blossoms or the snow settling on a mountain monastery in winter, will all look photoshopped.
Japanese culture is also super polite, with hospitality and genuine welcome so embedded in its mindset, you can’t help but feel bowled over by people’s generosity. It’s everywhere. If you are lost late at night, not only will someone volunteer to take you where you need to go, but you also won’t have any reason to mistrust the kindness of strangers. Because there is virtually no crime. Steal your wallet or nab your phone? No, that would just be rude in Japan. Get lost in a central Tokyo station surrounded by millions of people at rush hour? You won’t be short of helpers who stop their commute to commune.
Even if you break the ‘rules’- and there are a lot of unwritten rules to look out for on a Japanese cultural vacation – you won’t be looked down on or chastised. That would be unwelcoming in Japanese culture. Learn some words in Japanese, find out how deep you need to bow, and get to grips with the tradition of gift giving, and you will be treated like royalty. In fact, understanding the traditions, from temple going to tea ceremonies, bathing to beer drinking, is one of the things that visitors love about Japan. The Japanese wear their culture on their sleeves and, like any great love, you know where you stand with them at all times.
Japan is also a sensual country and who doesn’t fall in love with that? The food always tastes amazing, the mountain air smells so good it is hard to believe they haven’t bottled it and started selling it yet from their wide array of vending machines. And everywhere you go, you hear so many different sounds to western cultures. From the fake bird noises designed to calm commuters in a busy Tokyo station to hearing monks chant at sunrise in the mountains of Nagano. And for the sense of touch, nothing really beats the daily ritual of the onsen, or hot thermal bath. Stay in a mountain ryokan, or traditional inn, and have your own private bath, often on a terrace overlooking the peaks, to truly immerse yourself in Japanese sensuality.
The other memories that come flooding back after a vacation to Japan, and eventually pull you back, are romantic ones, because Japan is a place that has lots of secret spots that make you feel good. Outside adrenaline filled Tokyo, when you experience hiking through a misty bamboo forest at dusk on the ancient Kumano Kodo walking trail, following this ancient pilgrimage route through the Kii Mountains, near Kyoto, you will be totally moved by the beauty of it all. Similarly seductive is sailing out to somewhere like the sacred island of Miyajima off Hiroshima, a tree covered idyll with little temples dotted around it. You won’t want to leave, and like so many places in Japan, you will get that feeling that there are still so many 'joys' yet to uncover. Ah joy... maybe that’s the J-Factor.