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  • Heathrow
    Stuart Messham
    Airlines and routes, Shopping, Food and drink,
     
    Japan is once again re-opening to West via Heathrow. It's one of the most eccentric, modern, arresting and addictive places in the world, and here’s five things to prove it…
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    Japan's Shinkansen are the Concordes of rail: fast, cool and just a little bit awesome.

    Devilishly quick, ultra-kooky bullet trains

    Also known as Shinkansen, these futuristic-looking modes of travel are among the most efficient and contemporary known to man. Not only are they the Concordes of rail, Shinkansen are equipped with top-class amenities like ultra-comfy reclining seats, enviable legroom, myriad electronic outlets, plenty of overhead storage and toilets that work – dang!

    Course, this being Japan, Shinkasen also come imbued with a brilliant offbeat kook factor, too: there have been Hello Kitty, Harry Potter and Neon Genesis Evangelion (Japanese mecha anime television series) themed rail cars between Osaka and Fukuoka.

    It’s what social media feeds were made for.

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    Wherever you end up, you can most likely vend up.

    Omni-present, ultra-handy vending machines

    The super-busy, on-the-move Japanese are obsessed with vending machines. There are over 5 million in the country, which are not just confined to busy city centres but also prevalent in smaller, rural areas and even on Fushimi Inari Tasiha and atop Mount Fuji itself.

    They’re packed with all sorts of warm and cold beverages, ice cream, eggs, ramen (noodle soup), crisps, clothes, hamburgers, toys, umbrellas, cigarettes and even mystery gifts.

    And for some unknown reason, they're much more fun than shops. [Shrugs]

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    Some Japanese delights require an open mind and a curious nature.

    Avant garde, pretty and peculiar food

    With a vast array of dishes to ponder, fathom and appraise, dining is Japan is nothing if not memorable: ‘Fugu’ is poisonous pufferfish prepared by experts to remove the toxin and retain the flavour; ‘Chinmi’ is the name given to Japanese delicacies such as the reproductive organs of the sea urchin, mullet roe pickled in salt or sea cucumber guts; 'Neba Neba' are naturally sticky, slimy food presented over rice that cool the body in summer; and 'Nankatsu' is fried chicken cartilage.

    And when you’re done with all that you can have saki- or purple potato-flavoured ice cream to wash it down.

    Nom.

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    Once submerged in an onsen, you'll leave all your mortal worries behind.

    All-natural, regenerative onsens

    Shifting around Japan at bullet speed scoffing vending snacks and sampling devilish new nibbles can be hard graft, so it’s good news for tourists that outside most major cities you can find an onsen or ‘hot spring’.

    These natural hot water baths can be outdoor or indoor or part of a hotel, are rich in beneficial minerals and incredibly restorative for the skin and the muscles.

    (Warning: Those wishing to try an onsen should be prepared to get naked. Clothes, swimsuits, shoes and towels are not usually allowed within the bathing area. Eek!)

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    Sakura, sakura, sakura: the sight of it in full bloom would never get old.

    Beyond beautiful gardens and public parks

    Lastly, we really have to give a shout out to the breath-taking gardens and public parks in Japan.

    Japanese style design and landscaping is incredibly idiosyncratic and legions of tourists and locals flock to see the Sakura (cherry blossom) in full bloom. Locals love to meet and mingle in parks and share food and drink. Some of the most famous are the Three Great Gardens of Japan — Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, Kairakuen in Mito, and Korakuen in Okayama.

    They are relaxing, inspiring and just beyond beautiful.

    As we said, visiting Japan is an experience like no other. And we haven’t even talked about the heated public toilet seats, the incredibly low crime rates or the jaw-dropping, centuries-old shrines, temples, and castles that still stand up to this day.

    What a place.

    ✈️ 

    Japan is eccentric, historic and just fantastic.
    You can fly there from Heathrow using British Airways, ANA or Japan Airlines.