Updated: Jan 31
Gosh, they say "time flies when you're having fun" I must be having lots! I don't know about you but it just seemed like the other day I posted about Incredible India and now we're almost halfway through November. I must admit I'm running a little behind schedule. Sorry, it's either feast or famine in the world of freelance. You can guess which one it has been of late. Will be back up to speed by Christmas. Sorry, I know... it's the C-word. Last from me on that one till December.
Excited to say hello "Konnichiwa" to the exotic land of Japan. You might be familiar with the movie Lost in Translation or/and Godzilla? I used to love watching the cartoon Godzilla, not realizing until I had completed some research that Godzilla originated in Japan. It was the anniversary of the origin movie on the 3rd of November. Such a great animated cartoon with historical references such as The Lost City of Atlantis. Amazing what inspires you to travel the world!
It was a dream come true when we finally visited a few years back during one of the most beautiful times of the year, to celebrate Sakura - Cherry Blossom. The timing can vary depending on the weather conditions, we managed to see them in late March. No matter what time of year you visit, I'm sure you will have an amazing time.
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A to Z Travel Blog - Japan
There is so much to see and do in Japan, with little time as well as the language barrier we opted for a tour. This took us by bus, bullet train and boat to see the major highlights not to be missed such as The floating Torii Gate, Hiroshima and much more.
Would you like to take a twin holiday to both Beijing and Tokyo? To discover more click here.
We travelled with Virgin Airlines from London to Tokyo which took just under 12 hours. There are many airline's to choose from, though I believe that the last Virgin Atlantic flight flew back in 2015 and was taken over by ANA.
If you can order your Japanese Yen currency online then you will get a better rate and also save yourself the hefty airport additional handling fee of between £5 - £10 per transaction. The Post Office credit card also offers good exchange rates and charges no fees per transaction. So don't let the bank eat away at your hard-earned cash. Go treat yourself to something delicious!
There are lots of interesting local savoury and sweet treats to enjoy. Local markets offer a wide selection of fish, meats and something resembling deep-fried custard creams on a stick. Yum!
If you are visiting the active volcanic valley area Owakundani in Hakone, also known as "Jigokudani" meaning "the Valley of Hell". You might like to feast on the local delicacy of black-boiled eggs.
What You Need To Pack
Pack comfortable clothes, depending on the time of year you travel, you might need a water-resistant jacket and don't forget your walking shoes! Can't find what you're looking for? Can highly recommend Craghoppers for all your travel clothes needs and accessories.
*I have recently been working with Maier Sports and I am highly impressed by the spring jacket and both pairs of trousers I have. They have over 61 sizes available! You can read more about the Maier Sports spring collection Jacket and trousers here and also the Maier Sports winter collection trousers here.
Top Tip: Pack light so you can go shopping and buy new technology, crafts and gifts for friends/family.
Top Highlights Not To Be Missed
1. The Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
The fastest train in the world set a new record in 2019 with a speed of 360 kilometers per hour but runs at a capped speed of 285 kilometers per hour. One of the most popular and easiest routes to experience the Bullet Train is via Tokyo to Kyoto. This route takes 2 hours and 15 minutes.
It was very comfortable, with views disappearing as quickly as they arrived outside the window. A must while in Japan!
2. Mount Fuji
Japan's only active volcano - Mount Fuji stands at 3,776 metres. The tallest peak in Japan, it is also a pilgrimage for many, who come to climb and walk around the sacred site. We didn't have the allocated time to climb Mount Fuji but took a boat trip around the lake, with beautiful views.
3. Geisha Experience
The Geisha Experience is one I will always remember. I took this one in Kyoto only a 15-minute walk from our hotel. It is very popular but appointments are well spaced and the photoshoot is not rushed. The make-up artist is very skilled. Once the make-up has been applied, the wig is then placed, followed by your kimono. The photographer will keep you right with where to stand and look. It is very well organised and the time passes so quickly! Highly recommend it!
4. Traditional Tea Ceremony
The Traditional Tea ceremony is known as chanoyu, or sado said to date from the Kamakura period (1192–1333) by Zen monks. Then during the 16th century, it was used more formally by the rulers of Japan and wealthy merchants to forge and reinforce ties (Shogun Period).
Over the years creation of different wares have been produced with Raku ware particularly prized in the tea community. Most often in the form of tea bowls, these lightweight glazed earthenwares were molded by hand rather than thrown on a potter’s wheel
The art of tea drinking is today formed as part of a ritual using traditional utensils such as chashaku (to take out a measure of green tea, used in the same way as a spoon), then there is the chasen (sort of handheld whisk) to mix and froth.
There is also etiquette to siting for the tea ceremony. The host will show you your mat - Chashitsu. Firstly, You will enter on your knees and use your fits to help you balance while seating. It is important not to stand in the centre of the mat and to not use your palms (hygiene).
Today the tea is also served with a traditional sweet also made with matcha. If looking for or expecting something sweet, sorry, it isn't. Even some of the red coloured almost like a chocolate colour isn't sweet (made from beans).
The experience is really unique and I highly recommend it.
5. Zen Japanese Gardens
There are many zen Japanese Gardens throughout Japan. The Kiyosumi Garden is one that comes to mind readily with its Koi pond, birds and turtles. I loved discovering the meaning nature takes, from larger rocks symbolising mountains and taller/upright stones - trees. The dry landscape uses sand and rocks to bring out the meaning of life. Mostly used for meditating and being at one.
6. Ama (lady free divers) Pearl Divers at Mikimoto Island
Pearl diving has been said to have taken place over 7,000 years ago in UAE. In Japan, it has been said to date back to the 8th century. By the early 1900s, the Japanese discovered ways to make cultured pearls.
The centuries-old women diving role - ama (sea women) in Japan is dwindling. Once a thriving traditional way of mainly fishing. There are only 2,000 ama (lady divers), mostly due to new generations not being interested in learning the technique and also loss of demand. Today many are employed by Mikimoto Pearl Island for tourism.
We were thrilled to have been able to visit and witness an ama dive. Taken back by the skill of the freediving women ranging in age from '20s through to '60s, who were able to hold their breath for up to seven minutes. In a day, can be plunging more than 100 times to sustain their living.
The A-Bomb Dome is the only remaining structure in central Hiroshima, which predates the atomic blast of 1945.
Many people are still living with effects from the serious atrocities that took place in 1945. With birth deformities, missing limbs - the building stands to show the world the consequences that should never happen again.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum located in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is well worth a visit. It has a large collection of documents and exhibits from WWII. It is very stark, bleak and sad, but must be seen.
I am not one for dark tourism but this is more than that, people's stories, everyday lives and objects telling a very real story, one that must be told.
8. Castles, Temples & Shrines
There are very few historic buildings in Japan, many are taken down and re-built. Though there are still some incredible castles, temples and shrines to visit. One of my favourites was the Golden Temple/Golden Pavilion - Kinkakuji. It is also the most well-known in Japan. The top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Built by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and designed on 15th-century architecture, it opened in 1955. The Buddist zen temple was originally built as a retirement home. It is very beautiful, who wouldn't dream of living here.
9. Ogimachi Village
The UNESCO World Heritage Site's of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are remote regions in the mountains of Gifuand Toyama. Famous for their solid houses built in the Gasshozukuri architecture style. Gassho-zukuri means "constructed like hands in prayer", as the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The architectural style developed over many generations and is designed to withstand the large amounts of heavy snow that falls in the region during winter. The roofs, made without nails, provided a large attic space used for cultivating silkworms. Some of the houses date more than 250 years old. You can see the traditional way of life with rice fields, zen gardens and large koi fish ponds.
Visiting Ishikawa Prefecture
A part of Japan you might like to include on your itinerary while visiting, is Ishikawa Prefecture. Sitting on the seacoast, Ishikawa’s capital city of Kanazawa is home to the “perfect garden" Kenroku-en Garden. The adjacent Kanazawa Castle, once home to feudal lords, has been partly reconstructed. The scenic Notojima Island and sandy beaches of the Chirihima Nagisa Driveway, across the Asano River, teahouses from the Edo period have been preserved in the Higashi Chaya District. Have you heard about the Snowman or World Kite Festivals? There is plenty to explore off the beaten path in Ishikawa.
Japan’s Ishikawa prefecture has a thriving traditional craft scene that’s been nurtured for generations. From shimmering gold leaf to masterpieces of woven silk, read on for an artisanal guide to Ishikawa.
A Brief History Ishikawa’s rich history of fine arts and crafts dates back to the Edo period (1603-1867), when the region prospered under the rule of the wealthy Maeda family. Like the Medici’s of the Italian Renaissance, the Maeda family poured their wealth into the arts and established craft workshops where experts from around Japan could hone their skills.
Japanese arts, such as Noh theatre and tea ceremonies, flourished. Many specialised crafts, such as gold leaf, Kutani china and Kaga-yuzen silk dyeing developed out of these traditions. Today, there are countless opportunities to experience Ishikawa’s thriving artistic culture first-hand. Shimmering Gold Leaf Over 99 percent of Japan’s gold leaf is produced in Kanazawa, Ishikawa. Its boutiques, galleries and cafes celebrate this luxurious craft. Gold leaf is found in a wide range of products and is even edible and served on soft-serve ice cream.
According to legend, gold leaf production began in Kanazawa when the first Maeda lord, Toshiie (1537–1599), ordered gold-tipped spears for his warriors. Historically, gold leaf was used in luxury residences and temples. Learn about gold leaf at the Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum and try embellishing a jewellery box, postcard or chopsticks at one of the many shops offering.
Kutani china ware Kutani ware is Ishikawa’s local porcelain, first made in the mid-1600s when kilns were established in what is now the city of Kaga. Although known for vivid colours and bold designs, Kutani ware is not identifiable by one style. The original style, produced from the mid-1600s to 1730, features nature motifs in two distinct colour palettes: aote (deep green, yellow, dark blue, and purple) and iroe (red, green, purple, dark blue, and yellow). In the 1800s, Kutani was made in a new style called akae, with detailed patterns painted in red glaze. Later, with the growing importance of the export market, gold was added to akae to help Kutani ware stand out overseas.
The Kutani-yaki Art Museum introduces the history of the craft and displays notable works. Famous pieces are also displayed at the Kutani Ceramic Art Village. The Kutani-yaki Kiln Exhibition Hall exhibits the 1824 kiln that was instrumental in reviving the art after it had been dormant for nearly 100 years. Visitors can paint a ceramic piece using Kutani ware methods and then have it fired at the hall’s own kiln.
Kaga-yuzen silk dyeing Kaga-yuzen, the local technique of hand-dyeing Japanese silk, has been practised in Kanazawa for about 500 years. Kimono dyed this way commands extremely high prices. Using a palette of five colours – indigo, crimson, ocher, dark green and royal purple – Kaga-yuzen creates vivid, hand-drawn patterns featuring realistic natural motifs such as insects and flowers. See notable examples of Kaga-yuzen, try the dyeing process or rent an authentic Kaga-yuzen kimono at the Nagamachi Yuzen-Kan or Kaga-Yuzen Kimono Center, the latter of which has a studio where visitors can observe a master at work.
Wajima lacquerware Produced on the Noto Peninsula for over five centuries, Wajima lacquerware is highly regarded for its durability and refined appearance. Today, there are around 500 lacquerware workshops in the small city and the pieces make popular and authentic souvenirs from Japan. Especially strong due to the base layer of lacquer mixed with local soil, Wajima pieces can last for hundreds of years. The Wajima Lacquerware Museum displays Wajima lacquerware pieces and tools collected by a local craftsman. Get an even closer look at the Wajima Kobo Nagaya, where visitors can meet artisans, observe the process and decorate their own pieces to take home.
The Hachinohe Area is a region in the southeast Aomori Prefecture made up of the city of Hachinohe and seven towns in the surrounding area (Hachinohe City, Sannohe, Gonohe, Takko Town, Nanbu Town, Hashikami Town, Shingo Village and Oirase Town). These separate villages and cities were once part of the domain of the Nanbu clan. This shared cultural history has shaped the region into a tight knit community filled with unique experiences just waiting to be discovered.
Hachinohe is known for its scenic coastline along Tanesashi Coast including the famous Tanesashi Beach and Kabushima Island. Various events take place throughout the year including Hachinohe Sansha Taisai, Japan’s biggest float festival, where 27 different floats move through Hachinohe City. This area is also celebrated for its local produce from the sea, mountains and land, made with great care and producing only the best quality, such as Wagyu beef. Here are some top picks of workshops and interactive activities Hachinohe has to offer.
Decorate Yawata-Uma aka ‘Hachinohe Horses’ The Yawata-uma horse figurine is a traditional local craft with a 700 year old history. Also called ‘Hachinohe horses’, the Yawata-uma is one of Japan’s Migoma or top-three traditional wooden horse styles. They are often given as mementoes of celebrations such as weddings and new buildings to bring good luck.
These horse figurines can be found all over Hachinohe, from road signs to temple grounds. Just like centuries ago, the horses remain one of the most popular souvenirs of Hachinohe and can be purchased at most souvenir shops. Yawatama-uma traditionally comes in as a pair of horses, one black and one red, but visitors can choose from a range of colours.
Additionally, instead of buying a set of Yawata-uma, some workshops offer lessons for visitors to make their own unique creations. For example, the Nejo Castle Site provides a unique experience where visitors can paint and place patterns on Yawata-uma figurines, creating a set of personalised horses.
Take part in sustainable workshops in Gonohe There are many different programs in the town Gonohe where visitors can experience a wide variety of farm and country-life activities. Everything from harvesting garlic or shiso, making pickled plums or dried persimmons to cloth dyeing workshops are available for anyone to join in and try. The programs in Gonohe are constructed with special attention given to agricultural stability and safety. For example, many of the cooking experiences offered utilise fresh and locally harvested produce during their program.
Furthermore, the contents of many of the programs offered are things that visitors and even most locals have never had the opportunity to experience first hand. Trying this unique and eco-friendly local adventure will make the experience of visiting this town even more memorable. Make Soba (Buckwheat) Noodles in Hashikami, this classic dish of buckwheat noodles has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, not just in Japan but also abroad.
The town of Hashikami is well known throughout the country for its breed of buckwheat called Hashikami Wase Buckwheat. Noodles made from Hashikami’s Wase buckwheat taste great, and visitors to the town can make their own soba noodles by joining a class and learning from an expert who will teach them everything from making and cutting the dough to plating the finished product.
What's New In Japan 2022
With the world of travel slowly but surely opening back up, Japan cannot wait to welcome visitors once again. Luxury travel, adventure travel and bucket list travel are all key themes this coming year with Japan being the ultimate destination offering something for everyone. If you are looking to indulge and enjoy the great outdoors, Japan is the perfect travel destination with the likes of the Japan Alps, celebrated National Parks and Japan's growing number of luxury hotels.
The Setouchi Art Triennale, April - November 2022: Seto Inland Sea, Japan
Every three years, Japan’s Setouchi islands host a spectacular art festival that draws in visitors and artists from around the world. Spread among multiple islands, the eight-month (April - November) art fair offers a wealth of art and culture to discover. Visitors to the region will be charmed not only by the intriguing art but also the laid back, slow paced rural atmosphere of the islands’ villages and natural beauty. Advance ticket price from £24. www.japan.travel/en
Lovers of the great outdoors;
Running along the coast of the Tohoku region is the Michinoku Coastal Trail, a path offering hikers a rocky shoreline, numerous bays, cliffs and coves stretching over 1,000 kilometres. As a result of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, tourism has been and still is vital to the recovery of the area. The region is visited by less than 3% of international travellers despite it being one of the biggest areas in Japan. Visitors can hike the Michinoku Coastal Trail and stay in guesthouses along the way, allowing visitors to experience local life for themselves. Return flights from London to Aomori from £682 return visa Lufthansa and ANA. www.visithachinohe.com
Onsen galore: Kyushu, Japan
Known as Japan’s ‘Onsen Island’, Kyushu is a land formed by volcanoes and geothermal forces. There are onsen resorts suited for everyone, whether its rustic charm, historical retreats or modern luxury. For thousands of years, these mineral-rich waters have healed and soothed emperors, samurai and the multitudes. Visit Kurokawa Onsen, a charming and traditional town and popular hot spring resort for over 300 years. Tucked away in the misty Kuju mountain range, the area is also ideal for hiking. Price for a night at Kurokawa Onsen from £151. www.visit-kyushu.com/en
For those hidden gem lovers;
Japan’s Three-star Road
Snaking through the centre of Japan, the Mitsuboshi-Kaido - or Three-star Road - cuts through some of Japan’s lesser-explored pockets. The road takes travellers between chaya houses, ancient castles and the homes of samurai warriors. Running between six cities, spread across four prefectures where mountain air mixes with hot-spring steam and dense forests cusp vibrant old towns, the Three-star Road is the perfect backdrop for a glimpse into authentic Japanese culture. Return flights from London to Komatsu from £675 via Lufthansa and ANA. https://www.mitsuboshi-kaidou.com/
For culinary enthusiasts;
From fresh fish to succulent beef: Ishikawa, Japan
With rich pastures and abundant fishing grounds, Ishikawa is famous for its cuisine. Dine on fresh seafood, including snow crab and sea bream, or enjoy succulent wagyu beef. For a touch of luxury, request a dusting of Ishikawa’s famed gold leaf. Visitors can enjoy treats from ice cream to sushi with a golden touch. During the Edo period (1604-1867), present-day Ishikawa was part of the Kaga domain, the richest in all of Japan. The ruling Maeda family’s emphasis on hospitality, influenced by their devotion to the tea ceremony, led them to promote the area’s culinary culture. The family also encouraged the work of master artisans, whose dedication and skill influenced the region’s chefs. Return flights from London to Wajima from £671 via Lufthansa and ANA. www.ishikawatravel.jp/en
New Hotel Openings & Refurbishments
Naoshima Ryokan Rokasumi, a new luxury ryokan is opening in Naoshima. The hotel opens in April 2022, with advance reservations available now. The upscale establishment will deliver traditional Japanese hospitality with a contemporary twist through kaiseki meals, tatami mat guest rooms and open-air onsen baths.
Okinawa’s Kouri Island sees two new luxury hotels. Kouri Island is home to two new luxury properties which opened in 2021: Away Okinawa Kouri Island Resort and LOISIR Terrace & Villas KOURI.
Shiroiya Hotel is a newly opened, ambitious refurbishment project realised by award-winning architect Sou Fujimoto based around an abandoned guest house in the greater Tokyo sprawl. The result also referred to as the Heritage Tower, is a lush and light-filled ode to brutalism, with unique rooms each designed by different international artists and an Escher-like grass-covered rooftop extension.
Refurbished luxury hotel, Ento, is located on the Oki islands in the UNESCO Global Geopark of the Sea of Japan. Boasting the ‘luxury of nothingness’, the island escape offers en-suite hot spring baths and floor to ceiling windows running the length of its rooms, with commanding views over the dramatic volcanic landscapes of the islands.
Aman Kyoto has started selling ‘Helicopter Journeys’, an experience that allows the guests to see Kyoto from the sky. Prices from £790 for three people.
Adventure travel in the wild north and south of Japan is more accessible and appealing than ever thanks to new train routes, UNESCO listings and new openings.
Ski & Snow Adventures in the North
Niseko Hanazono resort is opening new chairlifts, a new gondola and new courses in the 2021-2022 season.
Sapporo, Japan’s northern foodie capital, breathed new life into its accommodation scene with a collection of new openings including a bookshop hotel and Onsen Ryokan Yuen Sapporo, its first high-end ryokan inn overlooking Odori Park.
North Japan’s prehistoric Jomon sites were officially recognised as UNESCO World Heritage in 2021, raising the profile of Hokkaido’s historic and cultural heritage, alongside its natural offering.
New luxury resort called ‘New World La Plume Nis' is set to open in Niseko in 2023. It will be located between Mt. Yotei and Annupuri and will constitute a significant addition to the Niseko offering.
Sun & Sea Adventures in the South
Japan's newest bullet train route, to be named Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen, will open in autumn 2022. The new bullet train line between Nagasaki and Saga will be called “kamome” meaning “seagull”.
Glamp Dome Fukuoka Fukutsu opened in summer 2021, offering freestanding glamping pods in rural seaside Kyushu with a view over the rock formations of Ainoshima Island.
Kyushu’s subtropical island chain becomes a listed World Heritage site, off the shores of Japan’s answer to Naples. A 43,000-hectare area consisting of Amami-Oshima Island and Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima prefecture, north of the Okinawa island chain, was officially approved during an online World Heritage Committee session in July 2021. The islands offer an unparalleled sunny escape into remote and untouched nature.
BUCKET LIST JAPAN
Japan hosts an abundance of sights to see, food to taste and things to do giving travellers the opportunity to tick off more than one of their bucket list dream ventures.
Studio Ghibli Park slated to open in autumn 2022. 2022 will see the opening of three zones, covering a huge Ghibli glasshouse exhibition space and cinema, an area devoted to its early films called Youth Hill and the Dondoko Forest based on the children’s cult classic My Neighbour Totoro.
Japanese Theme Park Yomiuriland Opened a Pokemon Forest for fans to spot Pokémon. Pokémon Wonder, the scavenger hunt experience, opened 17 July and will run until 3 April, 2022.
Super Mario World opened to general acclaim in 2020. A Mario Kart rollercoaster and two zones, Bowser’s Castle and Peach’s Castle, allow for exploration of the Mario world with a virtual watch-based scavenger hunt that allows visitors to punch hidden blocks and compete for Mario coins.
The sky-high Fujimi Terrace in Shizuoka opened in summer 2021 after refurbishment, offering stunning views of Mt Fuji and new mirror-like reflective pools of water to bring a new perspective on Japan’s most beloved mountain.
Post-Olympics, a lot of investment in making the megacity of Tokyo as welcoming and accessible as possible for visitors to navigate is underway. See below for just a few of these investments:
· Redevelopment of Shibuya station continues
· Shinjuku Station is getting a ¥72.8 billion makeover to make it easier to navigate
· Tokyo Station bullet train platform gaps have been shrunk to let wheelchair users board independently
· Dawn Avatar Robot Café has robot waiters controlled remotely by disabled workers
· 5G wifi wireless service now available at the top of Mt Fuji during the summer months
I hope you have enjoyed reading and are inspired to visit Japan. If you are planning on visiting during Cherry Blossom it is not too early to book! A very popular time to travel with visitors and locals alike. As always, would love to hear from you if you have any comments/questions. You can contact me via email click here. Happy Travels:) x
P.S Would you like a private photoshoot with the cherry blossoms? Get in touch soon to discuss options.