Photograph by Toshitaka Mori/Sebun Photo
Snowcapped Mount Fuji casts a bright spot on the frozen surface of Lake Yamanaka. The 12,388-foot (3,776-meter) volcano, which last erupted almost 300 years ago, is for the Japanese an enduring national symbol of serenity and strength. On a clear day, the iconic peak can be seen from Tokyo, 70 miles (112 kilometers) away.
Photograph by Paul Whitton, My Shot
Standing at low tide, the torii on Miyajima is thrown into silhouette as the sun sinks behind a mountain. The famous vermilion gate was built in 1875 and is the largest in Japan, standing about 53 feet (16 meters) high. Torii are traditionally built as entrances to Shinto shrines.
Photograph by Jtb Photo
Flooded rice terraces overlook water sparkling with fishermen’s fires. Rice, which has been cultivated in Japan for at least 2,000 years, is an important staple of the Japanese diet. The country’s hilly and mountainous landscape is particularly suited for farming the grain.
Photograph by Damien Plumbridge
A fire illuminates the surrounding water as a man and woman fish after the sun has set. Fishing in Japan is increasingly the labor of an older population, as fewer of the industrialized country’s young people are attracted to the trade. Japan is the largest single-country importer of fish, with 18 percent of the world total.
Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo
Photograph by Chris Jongkind, My Shot
Outside Shibuya Station in Tokyo, a crowd of pedestrians crosses a busy intersection beneath the glare of lighted billboards and neon signs. Japan’s capital is the planet's largest urbanized area, with some 36 million people.
Subway Station, Tokyo
Photograph by Victoria Lawrence, My Shot
Tradition meets trend at a subway station in Tokyo. Japan’s young people pride themselves on having a unique, up-to-the-minute style, projecting an edge in a country steeped in custom and convention. The kimono remains a mainstay of traditional dress.
Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo
Photograph by Getty Images/Panoramic Images
The clamorous labyrinth of stalls in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market showcases all manner of seafood—from live sea eel to pickled octopus—and reflects the well-ordered confusion of Japanese society. Fish has long been the protein staple of seagirt Japan, which consumes more than a tenth of the world catch.
Photograph by Justin Guariglia/National Geographic Stock
A father cradles his sleeping son during breakfast at the Daiwa Sushi restaurant in Tokyo’s immense Tsukiji Fish Market. "Everything there is really fresh," says photographer Justin Guariglia. "But also very expensive."
Bamboo Forest, Arashiyama
Photograph by Kashiei Huang, My Shot
Soaring bamboo stalks dwarf visitors to Arashiyama Park in western Kyoto. Known for its vertiginous growth, bamboo has numerous uses in Japan, particularly in Kyoto, where it is made into baskets, flutes, pipes, benches, dolls, garden fences, and artifacts for tea ceremonies.
Photograph by Jonny Taise, My Shot
Traditional lanterns illuminate a walk home in Chiba, one of the five main cities that surround Tokyo Bay. Tokyo and its satellite cities are at the center of Japan’s politics, arts, commerce, and communications, the bay area having attracted millions with new jobs and lifestyles following the devastation of World War II.
Whale Sharks, Okinawa
Photograph by Itsuo Inouye/AP
Whale sharks thrill a crowd at the Churaumi Aquarium on Okinawa, part of the Ryukyu archipelago south of mainland Japan. The aquarium features marine life found off the subtropical island, which is one of four “Blue Zones” where inhabitants enjoy extraordinarily long lives.
Photograph by Jodi Cobb/National Geographic Stock
A geisha stands with sealed lips symbolizing a code of honor. Entertaining Japan’s male elite through music, dance, song, and conversation, geisha are valued as much for discretion as for beauty. The famed icons of Japanese culture have practiced their gei, or art, for over 250 years.
Azaleas in Bloom
Photograph by Jose Fuste Raga/Corbis
Azaleas bloom in colorful clusters in a garden outside Tokyo. Japan is well known for its artistic, sometimes spiritual, approach to gardening, and visiting botanical gardens is a popular activity.
Japanese Macaques, Honshu
Photograph by Roy Toft/National Geographic Stock
Two Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, give each other the once-over on Honshu island. Living farther north than any other non-human primates, they rely on thick coats to help them survive the frigid temperatures in the highlands of central Japan and spend time soaking in the region’s many thermal springs.
Rappongi Hills, Tokyo
Photograph by Samwell Ortiz, My Shot
A wall goes digital in Roppongi Hills, a shopping and entertainment complex in Tokyo that boasts an arena, restaurants, and residences, as well as a 360-degree view of the city from the top of its centerpiece, the Mori Tower. The development’s art museums and exhibits have made it a popular cultural destination.
New Year’s Rice Cakes
Photograph by Phil Iossifidis, My Shot
Rice cakes, or mochi, are a favorite in Japan, particularly during the New Year, when they are traditionally given as gifts, set out decoratively in the home, or offered at shrines and temples. Their surfaces dusted with flour, the sticky, glutinous cakes are often stuffed with sweet beans or served in soup and, when not made by hand in a complex process, are widely available in supermarkets.
Photograph by Phil Iossifidis, My Shot
Paper lanterns decorated with script glow orange in Japan. The Japanese language commonly uses 15,000 kanji characters, which are borrowed from Chinese. Schoolchildren as young as seven must confront the language’s complexities, such as learning to write some of the 200-plus characters for the sound “shou.”
Sumo Wrestlers, Nagoya
Photograph by AP
Sumo wrestlers clash in a ring in Nagoya. Once supported by the patronage of emperors, Japan’s national sport has roots going back nearly 1,500 years. Short but intense, most matches last less than a minute, with the grandly attired gyoji serving as referee.
Festival Float, Hirosaki
Photograph by Jtb Photo
A brilliantly decorated lantern float stands out against the summer night sky during the Neputa Festival in Hirosaki. Often depicting warriors and shaped like fans, the floats are accompanied by traditional drums. Folk festivals featuring traditional music, dance, and costume are an important cultural element in Japan.
Photograph by Brianna Danese, My Shot
Designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations, Himeji-Jo is one of the finest surviving examples of classic Japanese architecture. Dating from the early 17th century, the striking, white-walled castle is also classified as a national treasure in Japan.
Sliding Doors, Okinawa
Photograph by Karen Kasmauski/National Geographic Stock
A man opens a set of sliding doors on the island of Okinawa. Covering only 454 square miles (1,176 square kilometers), Okinawa is noted for its fine beaches and for the long life expectancy of native islanders, who maintain ancient values and a vibrant culture distinct from that of mainland Japan.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
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