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

Eastbound but unsure which among the two alluring countries in the mystical East to visit? A lot of 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 Japan and China. 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

JapanChina
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

Exploring Japan

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

It exudes an old-world charm with its culture, ancient traditions, and temples and shrines that blend perfectly with 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 travel 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 the shrines and temples to pray for good fortune and pay respects to the gods, deities, and different 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 found all over Japan, including the popular ones in Nikko and Hakone, that 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. 

Don’t forget Japan’s ryokans and time-honored traditions like 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 truly 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 sashimi, and sushi, like maki, nigiri, and temari. You may find these dishes elsewhere, but I assure you that 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!

Kyoto, japanese buddhist temple at night.

Awe-inspiring sceneries and landscapes

Admit it! 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. If this is your dream, Yoshino, Kansai should be your first stop.

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

There’s also the majestic Mt. Fuji, which is covered in ice during winter. But it shows its magnificent peak during summer when you get to view its exceptionally symmetrical cone.

Not for you? 

How about 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 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 town 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, 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 edge of technology and innovation. Travelers get to see futuristic architecture, inventions, state-of-the-art gadgets, and swift bullet trains that run with the help of magnetic levitation – very much like science fiction!

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

The country also boasts thousands of vending machines, some touchscreen, that dispense various things. Besides 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, demonstrating how the old and new can merge harmoniously. 

These modern marvels seamlessly blend with the old, and people respect them without question or hesitation. 

Discovering China

Now, let us unveil what China has to offer. 

One thing is for sure – China is a vast and diverse captivating country that is a mix of 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, then forming a sweeping arc tracing the outer boundaries of the Mongolian steppe.

What’s interesting is 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 served as home to the Chinese emperor and the imperial family. It became the ceremonial and political seat of power from 1420 until 1924.

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”. The construction took 14 years to complete and required the empire to employ more than a million workers.

The palace is surrounded by plush gardens and temples that showcase the lavishness 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, making it an impregnable fortress at the time of its construction.

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 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!

Each region has a specialty dish to offer – from Peking duck in Beijing to Sichuan’s spicy hotpot, aromatic roujiamo (meat sandwiches) you can get from street markets, Cantonese dim sum, Moon Cake and more, you are sure to have a foodgasm wherever you go.

What’s more, the ingredients used for Chinese dishes are mostly selected for their medicinal properties. 

Spectacular tourist spots

If you don’t know which place to visit when you go to China, here are some recommendations for some of China’s most enchanting natural destinations:

  • Karst Landscapes in Guilin and Yangshuo, where karst formations rise regally from jade-green waters. 
  • Jiuzhaigou Valley is situated in Sichuan province, Jiuzhaigou Valley. It is renowned worldwide for its sublime beauty with its crystalline lakes, multi-tiered waterfalls, and lush forests that transform into a kaleidoscope of colors in autumn.
  • Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is nestled in the northern part of Hunan province. It is characterized by a myriad of soaring sandstone columns, deep ravines, vibrant woodlands teeming with life, and an otherworldly appearance.

Things to consider when making your decision

After unraveling what’s in store for you when you visit China or Japan, let’s now talk about a few more things you should consider when deciding.

  • Budget – Visiting Japan may cost you more than when you travel to China. Accommodation, travel fare, local transportation, food, and tourist destinations are a bit more expensive in Japan.
  • Language and communication – English is more commonly spoken in Japan than in China, plus 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.