Japan is one of those destinations that everyone seems to want to visit and for those fortunate enough to have traveled there, want to go back. This year they’re attracting even more tourists than ever before thanks to its hosting of the Rugby World Cup, followed by the 2020 Olympics.
On 31st March, British Airways introduced a direct flight route to Osaka. They’re departing four days a week from Heathrow to Kansai International Airport.
So what’s so special about Japan? Here’s the lowdown on what makes the Land of the Rising Sun the must-visit destination of the year.
Osaka is known as Japan’s kitchen. It’s the street food capital and has had some recent documentaries made about it by Netflix and the BBC. The latter recorded their episode with – Ayako Kiyono, the energetic and fun guide with whom I met with thanks to InsideJapanTours.com. Aya helped me explore the tastes of Dotonbori (a foodie-lover’s street which sees around 10,000 people pass through it per day) and shared her knowledge on the history behind the local delicacies.
- Gyoza (which you’re most likely familiar with) was brought over to Japan from China by soldiers
- Takoyaki (octopus-filled balls) used to be made with beef until the 1930s when beef became too expensive
- Okonomiyaki is a popular dish unique to Osakans that was invented at a tea ceremony 400 years ago
- Kushikatsu skewers come in a wide range of deep fried varieties and were originally invented for the workers and remain cheap to this day, working out to roughly 80-90p per skewer!
Osaka may be the home of Japan’s street food, but Tokyo is home to its fine dining; it has the world’s most Michelin-starred restaurants with 230 restaurants owning one star or more. The 5* Capitol Hotel has got a small collection of great restaurants, one of which – Origami – is where Shinzo Abe (Japan’s Prime Minister) goes for his lunch. And if it’s good enough for Abe, it’s good enough for you.
Palace Hotel Tokyo is one of the finest in the city and is located opposite the Imperial Palace gardens. Their amazing restaurant Wadakura features kaiseki, which is a traditional multi-course dining experience that’s both delicious and beautiful in presentation. Couple this with incredible street views (think New York’s Madison Avenue) and you’re in for one hell of a dining experience. As a special treat for tourists in the lead up to 2020, the Palace Hotel Tokyo is also now arranging bespoke services such as unique running, cycling and kayaking city tours and private swimming sessions with a former Olympian. This is a brilliant and unique way to see the city.
If you prefer the traditional method of sightseeing with a tour guide, then contact trueluxury.travel.
Or, if you’d prefer to laze the afternoon away in a high-end club lounge with a glass of champagne and some unmissable views of the city opposite Tokyo Tower (and quite frankly who wouldn’t?), then look no further than The Prince Park Tower Tokyo, part of the prestigious Preferred Hotels & Resorts.
Tokyo is a fast-paced, energetic and vibrant city. Kyoto is a complete contrast. It’s peaceful, authentic and seeped in history; it used to be Japan’s capital from 794 to 1868 and was formerly known as Heian-kyo.
The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) of Kyoto is a must. The gold leafed Buddhist temple is breathtaking in its beauty, dazzling visitors from all over the world. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is popular with tourists thanks to its series of red gates, while the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest offers several pathways for tourists to immerse themselves in. Gion, too, is not to be missed as it’s the home of the geisha!
The highlight, however, is Ryoan-ji Temple – home to Japan’s most famous Zen Garden. It is the perfect place to capture the delicate aromas of the cherry blossom in season.
Get off the beaten track by escaping to a rather unseen part of Japan just 90 minutes away from Tokyo on the shinkansen; the Japan National Tourism Organization can arrange your pass if you’re considering travelling on the bullet train.
Karuizawa is a little known mountain town that offers an insight into the unmissable Japanese countryside. Karuizawa Prince Hotel East (part of the Prince hotel group) is the number one choice if you’re after a skiing holiday since they have their own slopes out back. They also have a very talented teppanyaki chef that will feed you well and enchant you with his skills. One of the highlights here though is simply listening to birdsong and soaking in the surroundings as you bask in the waters of the hotel’s very own hot spring.
HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, meanwhile, is a breathtaking luxury resort. Inhabiting its own village, you will feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. This eco-friendly resort in the Hoshino region makes the most of its rich natural environment, which captivates all of the senses – particularly the sounds. Its power is provided hydroelectricity and geothermal energy from the rivers and hot springs.
They share their space with Picchio, who are at the very heart of Karuizawa’s gorgeous nature. This incredibly dedicated, award-winning team care for the area and the animals that inhabit it, believing in finding harmony with their neighbours. Take a look at their work with the local Asian black bears and as well as the nocturnal activities of the giant flying squirrels. The Wildlife Research Centre is located by one of four national wild bird forests in Japan, which makes for a beautifully natural soundtrack. They provide opportunities for families and visitors to enjoy and appreciate the rich and idyllic natural environment of Japan, which many Western tourists don’t get to explore.
Japan is a fascinating country with fun cities, amazing food, picturesque sights and the friendliest, most hospitable and respectful people. Book flights soon and simply go. You will not be disappointed.