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Japanese food is renowned the world over for its subtle taste, exotic textures, and meticulous presentation. Part of the fun of visiting Japan is indulging in this delicious culinary concoction. In fact, it might be the ultimate destination for a foodie traveller. But while dishes such as sushi and tempura have made an international impact, there are hundreds of other local Japanese recipes ready for visitors to sink their teeth into. Breakfast Breakfast is an entirely different situation in Japan. The most common Japanese breakfast is a combination of miso soup, grilled fish, pickles, and rice. Saying that Western-style buffets are also available in most tourist hotels. Sushi and Seafood It’s a myth that sushi and seafood are synonymous. What makes sushi, well, sushi is the way the rice is prepared with vinegar. It can then be served with meat, fish or vegetables. The most common varieties of sushi are described below: Maki – the seaweed is on the outside of the rice and other ingredients Temaki – seaweed is wrapped loosely around all other ingredients in a cone shape Uramaki – sometimes called ‘inside-out’ sushi, you’ll find the rice on the outside of the seaweed (and other ingredients in the middle) Sashimi - slices of raw fish and seafood on their own Nigiri – hand pressed rice topped with an ingredient, this is the oldest type of sushi and was created in Tokyo Rice Dishes Rice is considered an essential part of Japanese cooking, and many main meals come with a side-serving of rice. Rice-based snacks are also very popular. Such as Onigiri, which is a palm-sized triangle of rice filled with soy, tuna, salmon roe, or sour umeboshi (pickled plum), all wrapped up in a sheet of crisp seaweed (also called nori). Noodle Dishes Noodle dishes are also very popular in Japan, and three main types of noodles you’ll come across are: soba, udon and ramen. Soba are thin noodles made of brown buckwheat flour and can be served hot or cold. Typically hot soba noodles are served with tofu, vegetables and chicken – combined with a hot broth. Cold soba noodles are laid on a bamboo screen bed, with a cold sauce for dipping. Udon noodles are much chunkier and made with plain wheat flour. Yakisoba and yakiudon are the most common dishes udon noodles are found in, where the noodles are fried (often in a thick soy sauce) along with seaweed flakes, meat and vegetables. Ramen noodles, made from yellow wheat-flour, are usually served in big bowls in a steaming oily soup and typically comes in three varieties: miso (flavoured with fermented bean paste), shio (a salty soup) or shōyu (a broth made with soy sauce). Vegetarian and vegan While Japan might have been the country that brought the world tofu, plant-based diets are not that common in Japan. While it is easy to avoid dishes with meat or fish in them, it’s hard to find something where the broth doesn’t contain a by-product. Like most international cities, however, Tokyo has a splattering of vegetarian restaurants and more restaurants are creating 100% vegetarian dishes. You just need to plan ahead. Kyoto, however, is the most vegetarian-friendly place in Japan. It’s an ancient city that has deep Buddhist routes – where Zen Buddhist temple cuisine, which is entirely vegan, is still served today. Desserts Japan has a sweet tooth and dessert is a big part of its culture. However, Japan was making desserts before sugar was readily available in the country and, as a result, fashioned unique desserts that were based on rice and sweet beans. One of the most popular desserts in Japan is mochi – which can be a dessert in its own right or mixed with something else. Daifuku is mochi with a sweet filling, ranging from black sesame to strawberry. Mochi can also be turned into an ice-cream. Another popular option is Dango: chewy Japanese rice dumplings served on a stick that can be toasted over a campfire. Small crepe shops are also a common sight in Japan, with their crepes usually served as a cone containing elaborate fillings. Drinks Japan’s most famous alcoholic beverage is undoubtedly sake (also known as nihonshu). If you’re not familiar with it, officially it is a rice wine but tastes more like beer. Two varieties exist - sweet (amakuchi) and dry (karakuchi) – and while there’s technically three grades of sake, these grades are mainly used for tax purposes and don’t indicate the quality of the beverage. Sake is traditionally served in small square bowls and drank with a meal. You might be asked if you want your sake heated up but most sakes taste best cool. As a final note, sake is 15% alcohol and one small box is more than enough to get someone tipsy. You’ll also spot the beverage shōchū, which is a cheaper version of sake. It’s potent, ranging between 25 to 50 per cent alcohol. Premium brands can be served straight like traditional sake, while budget-friendly bottles are served with cocktails. While sake might be Japan’s official drink – beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage. Ironically the first ever brewery was set up to please American expats, and Japanese locals had to be bribed into drinking it. These days, Japan boasts four big-name breweries: Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo and Suntory – each of which churns out several varieties of lager and ale-type beers. Local craft beers are also becoming more popular. If you’re not drinking alcohol, tea is very common. Green teas in Japan are graded. Bancha, the lowest grade, is for everyday drinking. While Sencha is medium-grade and served in upmarket restaurants. While gyokuro, the highest grade, is served during special occasions. Ordering and etiquette Restaurant and dining etiquette is different in Japan. When you are initially seated, you’ll be handed an oshibori (a damp, folded hand towel, usually steaming hot though sometimes cool in the summer) and a jug of water will usually be automatically brought to the table. Most Japanese restaurants will give you chopsticks by default, but in tourist places, forks and knives are usually available (though you might have to ask for them). Chopsticks, however, come with their own rules of etiquette. You should use different ends for your own plate and taking food from communal dishes, and shouldn’t use them to point at things. Also remember to not stick your chopsticks upright in rice, as this is an illusion to death. As for tipping, it is not usually expected and service charges are automatically added to bills. Have you been to Japan? Tell us about the best meal you ate and anything you think first-time visitors should know.
Japan is a multi-faceted country with beautiful landscapes at one end and glittering neon cities on the other (with lots of temples, anime, sushi, technology, karaoke and hot springs in the middle). It’s a fabulous destination that can also be overwhelming for a first time visitor. If there’s anywhere in the world where an organised tour would be a great decision, it’s Japan. Thankfully numerous organised and escorted tours are available. Whether you want a short trip around Tokyo, or you’re looking for a month-long itinerary that covers every mile of the country – you’ll find what you’re looking for in our choice of tours. Here are five destinations that are especially popular on an organised Japan tour. 1. Tokyo First off is the world famous Tokyo. A larger than life metropolis that combines modern-day neon skyscrapers and futuristic technology with ancient shrines and old-school sweet shops. It’s also a haven for foodies, with a higher volume of Michelin-star restaurants than any other city in the world. Shopping is also world-class, offering high-tech gadgets, colourful anime toys, traditional crafts, and trendy clothing. 2. Kyoto While Tokyo is one of the world’s most futuristic cities, Kyoto celebrates the old ways. Sometimes known as Japan’s spiritual heart, it is home to 2,000 temples and shrines and it’s not unusual to see monks and geishas wandering the streets. If it’s traditional Japanese culture that you’re looking for, this is where you’ll find it. This includes traditional Japanese foods. In the afternoon you can stroll into a traditional teahouse, or tuck into some hearty ramen. Then in the evening, you can visit an izakaya (Japanese pub-eateries) or Michelin-star restaurant. Finish the night off at one of the trendy cocktail bars. 3. Hiroshima While it is certainly an unsettling part of Japan’s history, a visit to Hiroshima is essential for anyone interested in the country’s past. While it was once believed that the city would remain uninhabitable, the city has now been re-built (including the reconstruction of monuments such as Hiroshima Castle and Shukkeien Garden) and Peace Memorial Park was constructed as a reminder of the city’s past. 4. Osaka Osaka is Japan's second largest metropolitan area after Tokyo – and is a popular nightlife destination. The Kitashinchi and Dōtonbori districts are the most popular places for locals and tourists to head out to in the evenings. During the day, we recommend you try out the unique cuisine (which differs from that of Tokyo on the east coast). Some local foods include battera (a block type sushi topped with mackerel), okonomiyaki (fried cabbage cakes that resemble a cross between a pancake, pizza, and omelette) and takoyaki (bits of octopus inside fried dumplings). Also remember to visit Kaiyukan (one of the world’s largest aquariums), Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum and – of course – Universal Studios Japan. 5. Hakone Only an hour and a half in the car from Tokyo, the mountainous town of Hakone is the polar opposite of Japan’s capital city. Its main draw is its hot springs, which makes it a great final destination on a Japan tour. It is also a place of picturesque natural beauty with impressive views of the iconic Mount Fuji and is on the doorstep of the scenic Lake Ashi, which you can tour by boat and is overlooked by the stunning Hakone Shrine.
Princess Cruises has announced its programme for 2019. The season, stretching from March – November 2019 will have 60 departures from seven countries. Within the 40 unique itineraries there will be access to 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites. "Japan is a culturally rich country with an abundance of local entertainment, historical sites and culinary experiences for our guests to embrace," said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia group president. "Cruising is the best way to explore this island nation and Princess has been recognized the number one international cruise line in Japan."
May isn’t your typical holiday month. There’s no longer the desire to book a winter break to escape the wet British winter, but it’s not officially summer yet either and if you have children, they’ll still be in school. But in turn that’s what makes May a great month to go abroad – it’s the low season almost everywhere and you won’t be followed by crowds wherever you visit. So if you’re looking for a last minute break or want to make 2018’s holiday a May getaway here’s our top destinations for the last month of spring. Japan The best time of year to visit Japan is spring or autumn. Between March and May the country is illuminated with the soft pink hues of cherry blossoms, with the southern regions the first to reach full bloom. The air is still slightly cool at this point and the ski slopes still have enough powder to include a day of skiing in your itinerary. Caribbean December to April is largely considered peak season for the Caribbean, but with May just after popular holiday times you’ll be treated to similar weather but won’t have to fight for a deck chair. Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Grenada are all great islands to visit in late spring. Peru If it’s a bucket list destination you’re looking for – the South American country of Peru is in its peak during May. The dry season runs from the start May until October and boasts sunny days, bright blue skies in the Andes and chilly nights. Peru isn’t the kind of destination you can book last minute though, so get planning now! Algarve If you’re looking for somewhere that doesn’t require a longhaul flight, then the Algarve in the south of Portugal is the perfect option. Temperatures begin to increase at this time of year as summer rises across the Atlantic, with daily temperatures in the capital of Faro typically sitting pretty at 22ºC (and 12ºC at night). Indian Ocean Mauritius, Seychelles and the Maldives are all pleasant to visit in the month of May. The Seychelles, in particular, boasts daily temperatures of 28 degrees and visibility off the coast can reach 30m making it a great month for snorkelling. California This western USA state boasts a Mediterranean-like climate and in May temperatures usually hover about 25 degrees Celsius (and very rarely fall below 10 degrees). This lends a hand to creating picture-perfect landscape of hillsides that are draped in lush green grass and the deserts are in bloom with poppies. The high season is still school holidays, so May has the added benefit of smaller queues and lower prices. Tuscany Tuscany is a great place all year round for an authentic Italian break, but is at its best in May. This is when the weather is comfortably warm with lows of 10°C and highs of 22°C, and the countryside is coloured by bright-green grass, yellow-tinged *****-seed flowers and red poppies. Locally-grown strawberries and cherries are also in season. Marrakesh During the summer Marrakesh reaches scorching temperatures, and May is the last time to visit before they set in. The atmosphere is hot and dry with average daily temperatures of 29ºC, which drop to a cooler 14ºC at night. Bali Traditionally May is a transitional month for most of South East Asia and doesn’t typically attract many travellers. Bali, however, is different. Its dry season runs from May to November when winds are also quiet creating a great environment for watersports. Nepal If you’re looking for a trekking holiday in May, you’ll be hard pushed to beat Nepal. Precipitation and humidity are low, while visibility is high. Also, the birthday of Gautama Buddha falls on the 23rd of May and festivals are held across the country (the cities Lumbini and Kathmandu are especially vibrant).