Few places on Earth offer visitors so diverse a range of experiences as Japan, from the snow-covered mountains of Hokkaido in the north to the pristine beaches of Okinawa 2,000 miles further south.
The Japanese archipelago offers everything from snow-capped volcanoes to tropical beaches, but most visitors do not have the luxury of enough time to see it all. Despite the wonders of the Japanese railway system, a nation that stretches some 2,000 miles from north to south is just too big to see in one go, and that's where we come in. In fact, of all the destinations in the Original Travel portfolio Japan is probably the one that requires the most expert advice, given language barriers and the sheer alien nature (in a good way) of the country.
And what a country it is, with 127 million inhabitants living on increasingly over-crowded coastal plains beneath rugged mountain ranges that stretch the length of the islands, and with these megalopoli some of the most vibrant, innovative city destinations an urban warrior could wish to visit. Equally, those in search of calm and serenity can find respite from the hubbub surrounded by mountain peaks or in one of the country's remarkable Zen gardens.
It's the contrast between technology and tradition that makes Japan such an alluring destination for luxury travel, but with so much to see, careful planning is required. For the ideal 'beginner's guide to Japan' the starting point has to be Honshu - the main island - and home to Tokyo, Kyoto and much, much more. For the time pressed, there's a lovely loop taking in Tokyo, the beautiful rural area of Hakone (home to magnificent Mount Fuji), venerable Kyoto and then most likely the harrowing Hiroshima and elegant Miyajima island. A well-trodden route, but understandably so given what a perfect combination of experiences this represents - ultra-modernity, ancient capitals, urban energy and rural idylls, and a superb range of accommodation options from luxury hotels in Tokyo taking up the top floors of skyscrapers to luxury ryokan traditional Japanese inns in pristine countryside
For the smitten (trust us, you will be) looking to return, or the fortunate few with longer to explore, we passionately urge exploration beyond the above. Honshu itself has other unmissable luxury travel highlights, from bathing hot spring snow monkeys and skiing in Nagano to the UNESCO World Heritage old town of Takayama, but further afield the islands of Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and Okinawa are all fascinating as well. For luxury skiing in Japan, the place to visit is northerly Hokkaido, and particularly the resort of Niseko. Beer drinkers please note that Hokkaido is also home of the Sapporo brand. Kyushu island, to the south west of Honshu, is renowned for onsen hot springs, spectacular volcano lakes (as seen in the classic Bond You Only Live Twice) and the beautiful southern city of Kagoshima, known as the 'Naples of Japan' thanks to its coastal setting and brooding volcano. Kyushu is already well off the tourist trail, and neighbouring Shikoku island even more so, but the place to go for temples and long distance walking trails; and then there's Okinawa for a taste of the tropics. Stay in a luxury ryokan by the beach for the ultimate in original beach holidays.