Eastbound: Japan or China? Answer to your Epic Travel Dilemma!

Eastbound but unsure which among the two alluring Asian countries in the mystical East to visit? Many people feel the same way and have asked themselves the same question – Japan or China?

You can now stop fretting and pulling your hair because of this dilemma.

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In this article, we will discover the hidden treasure troves of China and Japan. We will explore enchanting destinations, breathtaking landscapes, ancient traditions, modern marvels, culinary wonders, and unforgettable experiences to guide you to your ideal destination.

Quick Preview of the Main Differences Between Japan and China

Tourist destinationsDiverse, spiritual, awe-inspiringHistorical and considered some of the world’s greatest sceneries
Travel inside the countryFast and easy with bullet trains when using JR Pass, even in Tokyo Metro.Time-consuming due to complicated modes of transport
CuisineFlavorful, fresh, well-presentedAromatic, medicinal, have regional specialties
Language and CommunicationHave bilingual signs, easy to
communicate with locals since many of them can speak English
Hard to communicate with locals, very few can speak in English.
BudgetExpensiveMore economical and budget-friendly
When to visitYear-roundSpring, Autumn

Trip to Japan

Coined “the land of the rising sun,” Japan weaves its magic and enthralls travelers with the promise of exceptional travel adventures and unique experiences.

It exudes an old-world charm with its culture, ancient traditions, and temples and shrines, which perfectly complement modern, cutting-edge technology while retaining its stunning natural beauty. 

Why Travel to Japan

If you are having second thoughts and not sure if you should go to Japan, here are some points that could help you decide:

An orange tori tori gate sits on the shore of a body of water.

Rich Culture and Tradition

Japan is fascinating because its traditions are not stagnant relics of the past. Rather, they are pulsing, vibrant expressions of a living heritage. This enables foreigners to immerse themselves in Japanese culture and experience everything firsthand.

Let’s take the historic temples and shrines as an example. Even today, locals visit them to pray for good fortune and pay respects to the gods, deities, and other forces they believe in. They are also holy grounds for celebrating special events and festivals. 

Moreover, each shrine and temple has its’ own captivating story and showcases architectural pomp from bygone eras.

There are also thousands of torii gates all over Japan, including the popular ones in Nikko and Hakone. These gates are said to separate the sacred grounds from the secular, earthly space we humans live in. 

The Japanese believe passing through torii gates empowers and cleanses you of impurities. 

Remember Japan’s ryokans and time-honored traditions, such as tea ceremonies, floor traditions when eating, flower arranging, and removing shoes when entering private homes and spiritual spaces. 

While the historical and religious sites provide us a glimpse into Japan’s centuries-old spiritual devotion, artistry, and architectural proficiency, the traditions give us an insight into the values, beliefs, and philosophies that governed Japan and shaped it into what it is today. 

What’s genuinely admirable is Japan’s stance and insistence on preserving its customs and traditions, letting it influence the country up until modern times. 

Mouth-watering Cuisine

Want to know what Asian flavors are all about? Then visiting Japan is a must!

If you are a foodie who enjoys savory cuisine and fresh seafood, visiting Japan solely for its traditional and modern culinary delights is already a big win.

Gorge and indulge in fresh and delectable seafood like sushi, maki, nigiri, temari, and sashimi. While you may find these dishes elsewhere, the flavors and preparation are way different in Japan.

There’s also the world-famous savory ramen, sukiyaki, okonomiyaki, tempura, unagi, takoyaki, gyoza, and yakitori and more!

All of these are just a fraction of the enjoyable food in Japan!

Kyoto, japanese buddhist temple at night.

Awe-inspiring Sceneries and Landscapes

Admit it! When visiting major cities in Japan, you want to experience walking down a path lined with hundreds, if not thousands, of cherry blossom trees in full bloom while enjoying the soft breeze blowing on your skin. Yoshino, Kansai should be your first stop if this is your dream.

If not, be enthralled by the vibrant red, orange, and yellow autumn colors as the seasons change, and listen to the calming cascade of water from a nearby fall when you visit Nikko or Hakone.

There’s also the majestic Mt. Fuji, covered in ice during winter. However, it shows its magnificent peak during summer when you can view its exceptionally symmetrical cone.

Not for you? 

How about other traditional Japanese travel sites like the enchanted forest Mt. Haguro in Yamagata?

Imagine yourself climbing to the peak, taking thousands of steps to reach the top, and then, out of nowhere, and you see a five-story wooden pagoda that seems out of place yet at home within the cluster of cedar trees. Truly enchanting!

If you are looking for picturesque, quaint towns, your best bet would be the Shirakawa-go. It is a perfectly preserved Japanese town boasting traditional gassho-zukuri style farmhouses with thatched roofs and interiors with unique architecture.

Spend time at the post town Narai in Kiso Valley, where heritage houses retained their original glory. It is best to visit this travel destination in autumn when the beautiful foliage of trees lights up the mountain range and makes it seem on fire. 

You can also visit Hiroshima, a city with a poignant history that offers awe-inspiring landscapes.

From the Peace Memorial Park and Hiroshima Castle to the scenic Miyajima Island with its “Floating Torii Gate” and Mount Misen trails, the city seamlessly combines historical significance with captivating beauty.

Technological Advancements and Modern marvels

Amid the retro stuff, Japan is at the forefront of technology and innovation. Travelers can see futuristic architecture, inventions, state-of-the-art gadgets, and swift bullet trains that run on magnetic levitation—very much like science fiction!

If that doesn’t faze you, try Japan’s toilet seats, which have tons of settings to make you feel comfortable when nature calls. 

The country also boasts thousands of vending machines, some with touchscreens, that dispense various items. In addition to regular cold drinks and coffee, you can buy rice, hot meals, flowers, cigarettes, disposable cameras, neckties, and even underwear from these machines.

Osaka, Kyoto, and Fukushima are thriving Japanese cities that demonstrate how the old and new can merge harmoniously. 

These modern marvels seamlessly blend with the old, and people flock to Japan to witness these. 

Discovering China

Now, let us unveil what China has to offer. 

One thing is for sure—China is a vast, diverse, captivating country that combines historical opulence, natural wonders, and modern engineering and technology.

Here’s what to expect to see if you travel to the “Middle Kingdom”.

China’s Greatest Contributions to the World

Let’s talk about two great historical and architectural genius China contributed to the world. 

The great wall of china.

Great Wall 

The Great Wall consists of numerous walls erected to fend off attackers from different sides. 

Built from the 3rd century BC until the 17th century AD, the Great Wall of China is an expansive bulwark that spans 13,171 miles, covering the eastern region of Liaodong to the western shores of Lop Lake. 

It also protected the north from marauders, starting from today’s Sino–Russian border extending to the Tao River and then forming a sweeping arc tracing the outer boundaries of the Mongolian steppe.

Interestingly, it is not just a static barricade but a functional and responsive battle rampart.

It boasts of strategically positioned watchtowers where guards can easily monitor and spot invaders; garrison stations that served as hubs for coordination, communications, and logistics; and troop barracks that housed soldiers stationed in the wall. 

They also built advanced signaling capabilities to inform soldiers stationed on other parts of the wall that enemies were approaching.

It is a living proof of the Chinese indomitable spirit, resilience, and ingenuity. 

Forbidden City

Built at the center of the Imperial City of Beijing from 1406 to 1420, the Forbidden City was home to the Chinese emperor and the imperial family. From 1420 until 1924, it became the ceremonial and political seat of power.

The palace complex is called Forbidden City because even high-ranking officers and members of the imperial family were barred from entering sections of the palace, and only the emperor could enter. 

It consists of 980 buildings with 9,999 rooms, constructed with whole logs of precious wood, huge blocks of marble, and “golden bricks”. Construction took 14 years and required the empire to employ more than a million workers.

The palace is surrounded by plush gardens and temples that showcase the extravagance of the Chinese emperor’s residences. At the same time, they ensured compliance with traditional Chinese palatial architecture and feng shui. 

It is also protected by high defensive walls and a wide moat, which made it an impregnable fortress when it was built.

Because of its noteworthy historical and cultural significance, it is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and continues to attract millions of people.

A variety of chinese dumplings on a table.

Culinary Diversity and a Flavorful Palette

China is not only home to noodles, spring rolls, and sweet and sour pork. It is the hub of diverse culinary flavors and textures that will treat your taste buds to a true sensory feast!

Regions of China have specialty dishes to offer—from Peking duck in Beijing to Sichuan’s spicy hotpot, aromatic roujiamo (meat sandwiches) from street markets, Cantonese dim sum, Moon Cakes, and more; you are sure to have a foodgasm wherever you go.

What’s more, food in China mostly uses ingredients with medicinal properties.

Spectacular Tourist Spots

After my recent adventure in China, I’m thrilled to share some of the most captivating natural wonders I have encountered:

  1. Karst Landscapes in Guilin and Yangshuo: These regions are famed for their ethereal karst formations, which rise like ancient sentinels from the emerald waters below. The unique geological formations create an almost surreal landscape, perfect for boat cruises or leisurely hikes along the riverbanks.

  2. Jiuzhaigou Valley, Sichuan Province: Prepare to be transported to a realm of pure enchantment. Jiuzhaigou Valley is renowned for its crystalline lakes, fed by mineral-rich waters that lend them vibrant turquoise and azure hues. Cascading waterfalls, dense forests, and snow-capped peaks complete the picture-perfect scenery, especially in autumn when the foliage bursts into fiery colors.

  3. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan Province: This otherworldly destination is home to the towering sandstone pillars that inspired Pandora’s floating mountains in the movie Avatar. The sheer magnitude and surreal beauty of these formations, coupled with mist-shrouded ravines and lush vegetation, make Zhangjiajie a photographer’s paradise and a hiker’s dream.

  4. Shanghai Botanical Garden: Nestled in the heart of Shanghai, this oasis of greenery offers a peaceful respite from the urban hustle and bustle. Wander through themed gardens showcasing flora from around the globe, including the captivating Bonsai Garden and the fragrant Rose Garden. It’s a sanctuary where you can reconnect with nature and find solace amidst the city’s chaos.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Shanghai Botanical Garden. Strolling through its diverse plant collections, especially in the Bonsai and Rose Gardens, soothes the soul and leaves you feeling utterly refreshed.

Japan or China? Things to consider when making your decision

After unraveling what’s in store for you when you visit China or Japan, let’s discuss a few more things you should consider when planning your trip to Asia.

  • Budget—Visiting Japan may cost more than traveling to China. In Japan, accommodation, travel fare, local transportation, food, and tourist destinations are a bit more expensive.

  • Language and communication—English is more commonly spoken in Japan than in China, and many signs are bilingual, so navigating around Japan is pretty easy.

  • Best time to visit – Japan has something to offer all year round but has the best weather and most stunning scenery during spring and autumn. China is a wonderful place to visit in spring and autumn when the weather is great, and there are fewer tourists.