The thing I most like about Japan is the quiet dignity of its people.

The thing I most like about Japan is the quiet dignity of its people. Photo: Greg Elms/Lonely Planet

It's difficult today to take our eyes off Japan. We are transfixed by the tsunami disaster, which appears to have killed thousands or tens of thousands of people, as it was the first such natural catastrophe to have been beamed around the world on live television. Not even the 2004 tsunami in south-east Asia was captured in such arresting, real-time terror.

In fact, Japan is a country that Australians find mostly uninteresting, the tourism figures tell us. Fewer than 100,000 Australians travel there every year, whereas the number of Australians travelling to neighboring China has become a flood of around 350,000 a year and is climbing towards 500,000 in the next decade, according to the forecasts.

Natural, you might think. China is so big and has all that history and many places of natural beauty.

But, on another level, Japan already has the prosperity that modern China is just striving for. Everything in Japan works like a bought one, to use the vernacular.

It helps if you appreciate things like engineering. The punctuality and speed of the train system are legendary, so it's simple and quick to get around, even without a car. The "infrastructure" – roads, bridges, key buildings – are top-class. Everything is planned.

Even better, the Aussie dollar buys lots of yen these days, so all the old stories about how expensive Japan is have largely become irrelevant. And it's an excellent stopover en route to Europe as prices via both Japan and Korea remain competitive.

There are plenty of beautiful spots, from the snow-capped mountains up north to the islands down south. Without the chaos of south-east Asia, there's space to get away from the crowds or join them in an indulgent tour of the local cooking.

The thing I most like about Japan is the quiet dignity of its people. And, even if you don't speak Japanese, you can engage the locals by just making an effort to get up to speed on key words to help you get around.

Yet Japan is just not on the Australian radar. We spent the weekend looking at terrible pictures of awesome natural events. But the people bearing the brunt of nature's fury are people we collectively don't know. Even the former influx of Japanese tourists to Australia (800,000 a year) has halved.

The latest calamity is going to batter the Japanese economy, even though the damage is confined to a relatively small coastal region of Honshu island. It wouldn't hurt to pop in and say hello.

Have you been to Japan? Or is it a destination you've never thought about? Are there specific things that have put you off? Is it on your list of places to visit?

ADVICE FOR AUSTRALIANS TRAVELLING TO JAPAN

The Australian government advises travellers to Japan to avoid the Miyagi prefecture due to the ongoing relief and recovery operation and severe damage caused to key infrastructure. Australians travelling to quake affected areas, including Tokyo and surrounds, Chiba, Fukushima, Aomori, Iwate and Ibaraki Prefectures, are advised to reconsider the need to travel. Travellers to unaffected parts of Japan are advised to take into account the ongoing disruption to transport hubs around the country. Full details at smartraveller.gov.au