As a modern city Tokyo, the capital of Japan, could be described as too good to be true. People dress in the latest gear, excellent restaurants serve up delicious food of all varieties, and the trendiest nightclubs keep things hopping. The public transport system is punctual and one of the most efficient in the world; and shops and vending machines provide necessities and luxuries both day and night. Best of all, experiencing the best of what this city has to offer is inexpensive and often free. All this is achieved in a city that is home to 12 million people, amid the confusion of bumper-to-bumper traffic, flickering neon signs and a crush of humanity packing subways and sidewalks. In the crush and rush Tokyo remains, remarkably, one of the world's safest cities with a low crime rate and local people who are only too willing to spare the time and effort to assist a stranger.
Kyoto, Japan's most historically important town, is the country's sightseeing capital, packed with 1,700 Buddhist temples, 300 Shinto shrines, imperial palaces, gardens and traditional wooden homes, all well preserved and presenting a picture of traditional Japanese culture. The city lies in the mid-western Kansai district on the island of Honshu, surrounded by plains full of rice paddies.
Tragedy has turned Hiroshima, the main city of the Chugoku Region on Japan's main island of Honshu, into the country's most famous tourist attraction. On 6 August 1945 the unfortunate city became the first ever target of an atomic bomb. Early in the morning three United States B-29 bombers flew in from the northeast; one dropped its deadly ordnance over the center of the city, leaving a mushroom cloud that darkened the sky while more than 200,000 civilians died. Today thousands of visitors make a pilgrimage to Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park, marvelling at the lively modern city that has overcome its tragedy to become the thriving home to more than a million people. Not surprisingly the city has become vehemently engaged in the promotion of peace. Visitors are drawn mainly to the Peace Memorial Park and its museum, but the rebuilt city is an attractive place to visit in its own right, criss-crossed by rivers and wide avenues and containing several good museums. Nearby are some of Japan's most scenic excursion destinations.
Fukuoka, the largest city on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, was the home of the samurai and today is the terminus of the famous Shinkansen Line bullet train from Tokyo, 730 miles (1,168km) away. Originally the town of Hakata was the center of the area, acting as a gateway to Japan from the rest of Asia, which lies just across a short strait. The feudal town of Fukuoka, however, grew rapidly just across the Nakagawa River, clustered around a castle. In the late 19th century the cities united under the combined name of Fukuoka. The modern city is busy and bustling, with an international flavor and plenty of innovative architectural development.
The most remarkable thing about the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, and its capital city Sapporo, is the contrast in temperatures between winter and summer. Sapporo, site of the 1972 Winter Olympics, is a favorite ski destination with temperatures plummeting well below freezing in December and January - the lowest ever recorded was in January 1945, when the mercury dropped to -11°F (-24°C). Summer time, however, sees daytime highs of above 86°F (30°C), although evenings and mornings remain cool and pleasant. Because of its thick snows that turn the city into a winter wonderland Sapporo is favored more as a winter sports destination than a spring or summer resort.