A Japanese Calendar Of Culture For 2012

A Japanese Calendar Of Culture For 2012
     30 Dec 11

InsideJapan Tours recommends when to go to Japan for new openings,
festivals and fun in the Year of the Dragon.


January: See ancient sites, such as Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion Temple, sparkle with a dusting of snow or head to the Alps to watch snow monkeys bathe in hot spring pools; on Hokkaido, see the graceful Japanese red cranes perform dances as the orange sun sets over the pure white snowfields of Tsurui.

15 January – Nozawa Fire Festival, Nagano
This intense celebration of health and growth brings heat to the snowy slopes of Nozawa, the country’s oldest ski resort. Fireworks and bonfires light up the village and the skies above whilst large amounts of sake are consumed by the locals and visitors alike.

How to get there:
The ‘Alpine Winter Culture’ self guided adventure heads from Tokyo to the Japanese Alps for a 9 night trip taking in the exciting Fire Festival, visits the ‘Snow monkey’ of Yudanaka, stays in the atmospheric Zenkoji temple and the alpine castle town of Matsumoto. Costs £1,450pp (two sharing), departs 9th January.

February: In the north, after a day in the sublime snow, relax in outdoor hot spring pools, surrounded by snow-covered rocks; meanwhile, in the southern sub-tropical Okinawa islands, bathe in warm sea waters as the cherry tree blossom awakens.

6-12 February – Sapporo Snow Festival, Hokkaido
One of the country’s most sense-assaulting festivals with spectacular snow sculptures, bright lights, traditional and pop music, and a vast array of food, beer and sake.

How to get there:
The 14-night ‘Winter Highlights’ small group tour incorporates the excitement of the snow festival and a host of winter wildlife-watching opportunities including dancing Japanese cranes and sea eagles on the remote Shiretoko Peninsula. Costs £3,250 pp (two sharing), departs 3 February, see details here.*

March: Plum tree blossom provides the first sign of the transition to spring and is a pretty prelude to the more celebrated cherry tree blossom.

11 March – first anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami

24-25 March – Tokyo International Anime Fair
This quirky fair brings some of the most famous artists, film studios, manga characters and creators from the animation world together and is visited by fanatics in their hordes.

How to get there:
The 13-night ‘Spring Elegance’ small group tour takes in pulsating Tokyo, followed by time in the Alps to appreciate pristine nature and to see the cherry blossom. Costs £2,650 pp (two sharing), departs 25 March, see details here.*

April: As the country looks pretty in pink, the country enters the ‘hanami’ season, when the nation gathers in groups under the cherry blossom to drink, eat and be merry.

14-15 April – Takayama Festival
The ancient castle town of Takayama hosts this most popular celebration of spring. The streets are lined with magnificent floats (yatai) crafted by local artisans and are crowded with people carrying colourful portable shrines (mikoshi).

How to get there:
The 14-night ‘Traditional Japan’ self-guided adventure winds through the heart of the Japanese Alps and includes a stay in a traditional ryokan in Takayama. Costs £2,370 pp (two sharing), see details here.*

May: The ideal time to see Japan, when the temperature is perfect for sightseeing. The foliage in temple gardens, castle grounds and vast public parks is stunning at this time of year.

22 May – opening of The Tokyo Sky Tree
This 643 metre-tall structure will ensure a seamless transition to digital broadcasting. The Tokyo Sky Tree will be one of the tallest towers in the world, providing unforgettable views over and beyond the metropolis.

How to get there:
A new signature tour from InsideJapan Tours’ guide Tom Orman, the 11-night ‘Emperor’s Footsteps’ itinerary takes participants into the mountains, along the parts of the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path and to ancient shrines, with stays in traditional Japanese ryokan and dips in hot springs along the way. Costs £2,150 pp (two sharing), departs 22 May, see details here.*

June: As the snow melts away across Hokkaido, this remote wilderness, unaffected by the rainy season, becomes a little-known haven for hikers, cyclers and campers. Walk amidst tulips, pink moss and lavender, and savour local seafood dishes and Hokkaido cheeses.

1-2 June – Takigi Noh
Head to the Heian Shrine in culture-rich Kyoto to see graceful Takigi Noh theatre performances taking place by flaming torch-light

How to get there:
The 16-night ‘Hokkaido Fly Drive’ self-guided adventure is highly recommended for those who wish to appreciate the panoramic beauty of Hokkaido. Costs £2,830 pp (two sharing), see details here.*

July: As the level of humidity soars during the Japanese summer, head to fresh air at altitude with a climb up Mt Fuji. The official climbing season is from 1 July – 31 August, and is popular with pilgrims who aim to reach the sacred mountain’s summit of 3,776 metres in time for sunrise.

27-29 July – Fuji Rock festival
Japan’s answer to Glastonbury – without the litter-strewn surroundings – takes place in the mountains of Niigata.  2012’s line-up includes The Stone Roses.

How to get there:
The 7-night ‘Fuji Rock’ self-guided adventure starts in Tokyo and includes the Fuji Rock festival experience. Costs £902 pp (two sharing), including accommodation in Tokyo, festival ticket, tent and transfers. Departs 24 July, see details here.*

August: Matsuri (festival) madness sets upon Japan in August with the Aomori Nebuta, Akita Kanto and Sendai Tanabata Festivals in the Tohoku region. Fireworks, kimonos, takoyaki (fried octopus), taiko drummers, flute players and floats create an unforgettable and kaleidoscopic picture of Japanese culture.

29 July – 17 September – The triennial Echigo-Tsumari Art Festival
A sprawling display of modern art covering 760km2 across the Echigo region in the mountainous Niigata prefecture – nearly 600 artists from 40 countries scatter their works across terraced rice fields, amidst forested hills and throughout tiny rural villages.

How to get there:
The ten-night ‘Festivals of Japan’ self-guided adventure is designed to give travellers a taste of Tohoku’s summer extravaganzas and more. Costs £1,254 pp (two sharing), see details here*. Meanwhile, the 14-night ‘A Northern Soul’ small group tour heads up through the rural Tohoku region at £2,650 pp (two sharing), departs 12 August, see details here*

September: Stay in the samurai castle city of Matsumoto and spend time in the mountains, where you might catch a glimpse of the rare Asiatic black bear that inhabits the forests of central Honshu.

22-23 September – Tokyo Game Show
Welcoming a record number of visitors last year (over 222,668), the Tokyo Game Show is an awesome forum for computer gamers and geeks to try out the latest innovations, including products for smart phones, future phones and PCs.

How to get there:
A new signature tour from InsideJapan Tours’ guide Liam Chawdhary, the 14-night ‘Hands on Japan’ itinerary includes a plethora of cultural experiences from kimono-wearing, pottery-making and the tea ceremony, to a trip to a wasabi farm, taiko-drumming and the chance to see a Sumo wrestling match, plus foodie experiences. Costs £2,700 pp (two sharing), departs 9 September, see details here.*

October: The ‘koyo’ (autumn leaf viewing) season sees Japan ablaze with colour. Steeped in history and home to the Toshu-gu-shrine, the national park of Nikko, located at 1,269 metres above sea level, boasts glorious ‘koyo’ opportunities near the Chuzenji Lake.

23-30 October – Tokyo Fashion Week
A feast for the eyes but in a completely different format – the world’s top designers and fashionistas descend upon the capital city for this week of global glamour.

How to get there:
The 14-night ‘Essential Honshu’ small group tour heads to the stunning Kamikochi National Park for an appreciation of autumnal aesthetics, to the hot springs in Hakone National Park plus Osaka and then Tokyo, in time for fashion week. Costs £2,400pp (two sharing), departs 13 October, see details here.*

November: The district of Arashiyama is one of the most cultural parts of Kyoto and, in the autumn, the most colourful, too, as the mountain-covering maple trees turn red, gold and yellow.

1-10 November – Gion Odori (autumn dances)
Tickets to these enchanting performances by Kyoto’s geisha are highly sought after.

How to get there:
The nine-night ‘Tokaido Trail’ incorporates the classic sights of Tokyo and Kyoto, including ‘Gion Odori’, Mt Fuji, the Hakone National Park and the coastal temple town of Kamakura, with smooth transfers by shinkansen. Costs £1550pp (two sharing), departs 3 November, see details here.*

December: Join the Japanese as they wind down for the most important annual celebration – New Year. Bonenkai (literally translated as ‘parties to forget the year’) are held amongst colleagues and friends, and on New Year’s Eve itself, families eat buckwheat noodles symbolizing longevity and visit temples at midnight.

31 December – shogatsu (Japanese New Year)
New Year (shogatsu or oshogatsu) is the most important holiday in Japan. Most businesses shut down from January 1 to January 3, and families typically gather to spend the days together.

How to get there:
The ‘7 Night Price Cruncher’ covers the classic sights of Japan on a budget taking in Tokyo, the Hakone national Park and the cultural capital of Kyoto on a self guided adventure. Costs £648pp (two sharing) departing throughout the year. See details here*