A country of complete contrasts, Japan constantly defies expectations – which is perhaps at the heart of it’s attraction. Here, innovation and technology sit side-by-side with deeply rooted traditions.
Japan is a place of harmony. A successful collaboration exists between the past and present – making way for the whisperings of a future culture flowing from a deliberate intention to live in peaceful harmony with one another and the natural world. Explore Japan and you will find an Eastern philosophy of hospitality nestled next to exceptional Western expectations for luxury. With such inherent diversity also comes a consistent reminder of the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi; the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all else.
Welcome to Japan
Toyko is one of those cities, giddy with its own growth, and filled with clusters of such vast daily life and culture, that it almost requires a moment of pause before it is discovered. Once a fishing village it is perhaps now the whale itself, having evolved into the economic and cultural heartbeat of Japan. It is all too easy for time to evaporate with the ebb and flow of the Top-10 must see’s – so instead discover the city four ways; on foot, through food, with locals and with a view.
Take a walk through the beautiful Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Jingu shrine. One of the best spots to view the Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo during early April, this stunning shrine is dedicated to the late 19th-century emperor who opened Japan to the West. This is Tokyo’s most famous Shinto shrine and is beautifully serene, and not a complete tourist trap.
A great way to meet locals is to get up close with Sumo wrestlers as they train before taking eating alongside them with a Chanko lunch. A pre-dinner aperitif is at Gen Yamamoto, a cocktail bar delivering Japanese creativity in every glass. Served in exquisite glassware, a balance of spirits teamed with fresh seasonal ingredients, including kumquats from Kagawa or fava beans from Kagoshima are delivered with a delicate elegance found nowhere else in the world. Dinner brings the view and the opportunity to see Mt. Fuji and the city transform from day to night at the Park Hyatt one of a host of luxury hotels in Tokyo.
Kawaguchi is one of the five lakes at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Among these five lakes, Kawaguchi has the longest shoreline and the lowest elevation which delivers superior views. In April you get the beautiful fall leaves which dye the landscape in red and yellow. At night the autumn leaves are lit up, and you can enjoy a truly breath-taking perspective.
Nagano nicknamed “roof of Japan” is surrounded on all four sides by tall mountains and earning itself a deserved reputation for being a natural, historical and cultural wonder. Nagano is overflowing with hot springs, making it the king of Onsens - including Yudanaka - home to Japan’s snow monkeys. The Jigokuani Park is the only place in the world you can see wild monkeys bathing in an onsen.
Zenkoji Temple, although very popular, is for good reason an important part of the Japanese cultural story. Dating from the 7th century, according to legend, the first Buddhist image to arrive in Japan (from Korea in the 6th century) was brought to this temple. Underneath the temple’s main hall is a zigzagging, pitch- black tunnel that represents the road to enlightenment. On the way through the darkness, you will discover a metal handle, which is the “key” to salvation. The experience is not for the claustrophobic – but arguably an exciting one and gives you a true insight into how a spiritual journey in Japan finds its way into a story well told.
In addition, thanks to the crisp, clean water and impossibly pure air, Nagano is famous for its food – and is a place fit for foodies. When we think about ethically sourced food, locally gown and passionately understood form an agriculture point of view, Nagano is a place befitting of the ethos. Delicious soba noodles, local apples and purest sake (brace yourself), as well as a local tradition of oyaki dumplings and bamboo leaf-wrapped sushi. Nom Nom Nom.
The sprawling metropolis of Osaka embodies the innovative and pioneering nature of urban life in Japan, whilst also being home to serene, relaxing landscapes. Tranquility can be found at the Sumiyoshi-Taisha shrine, famous for its beautiful gardens and for being one of the oldest examples of Shinto architecture. The city’s best hotels have their own hot-spring onsen, but just north-west of Osaka is Arima Onsen, a town dedicated to the traditional spa experience. Hidden in the mountains it offers a calming change from the hum of Osaka city.
Kyoto is the keeper of Japan’s traditional culture and historical identity. It boasts some of the country’s oldest and most treasured temples and shrines, as well as being home to Japan’s exclusive Geisha district, Gion. Here in the Hanamikoji-dori area you will find a ﬂavour of Japan’s ancient customs with traditional tea houses, Buddhist shrines, and elegant restaurants. Kyoto is famed for its local cuisine, with special vegetables that are speciﬁc to the region, offering truly unique dining experiences.
The sparsely populated island of Naoshima is an unexpected sub climate of modern art and architecture. The Benesse House Museum is equipped with sophisticated guest suites and hosts remarkable overnight stays. Explore the interplay between modern life and nature through art with private access to the museum after hours and striking views of the island’s coastline. Benesse’s 2 restaurants are the highlight of any dining experience on the island.
OKINAWA & ISHIGAKI
Closer to Taiwan than Japan mainland, you’ll swear you’ve arrived in a different country. It’s laid back, uncommercial where barefoot luxury prevails. People come for the legendary seascapes, the lush iridescent-green landscapes, and the friendly laid-back locals.
The sandy beaches and gin-clear waters run between undiscovered islands and protected coral reefs. Holding the sunsets are the arms of the trendy port towns where easy evenings are spent shooting the breeze. Despite the relaxed vibe, as always in Japan, a proud history is never far from view. Okinawa’s bygone Ryukyu Kingdom forms an identity around its roots and is never far from view. Your hotel provides the perfect place to relax and enjoy this sub- tropical corner of Japan.
Ishigaki, although deemed part of Okinawa, is a day trip, and found just an hour away by a short flight. Lunch at Corners Grill is a perfect centre point for the day, either side of which a visit to the Arts and Crafts Museum, together with a tour of the island, brings a relaxing addition to discovering Japanese island life.
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Words by Idgie Beau