Greg, our content and partnerships executive, traveled to Japan this past month and we asked to pull together some of his highlights to share with you below.
Home of mysticism, oriental charm, Japan has been on my list since my father showed me a photograph of Mount Fuji’s conical dome, snow-dashed and intimidating amongst the otherwise low-lying surroundings. The route that I took was a little different than a traditional Japan itinerary you might see scrolling through a travel site.
An area of Japan that’s often reserved for second, or third time visitors, Setouchi isn’t often featured in a typical Japan itinerary. If you only have a couple of minutes, read a few of my highlights below and then re-visit my story to familiarize yourself further with the beautiful Setouchi.
Where would you travel to for your story? Tag #TravelForYourStory to share with us.
After 15 hours in the air, with Sky Udon and a little sake to get me in the spirit, touching down in Tokyo for just 1 hour before taking a connecting flight to Osaka only added to the excitement.
Upon arriving in Osaka after another 2 hour flight, the transfer to Kobe was another reason for excitement. Hailed for the finest steak in the world, Kobe beef is raised with unique techniques, allowing the meat to transform into melt-in-your-mouth like you’ll never have tasted before. Naturally my first visit after checking-in (and catching up on a few hours of sleep) was to source some of this famous cuisine for my evening meal, and it didn’t take long to do so.
There are plentiful offerings for those seeking Kobe’s namesake of the food world, and it comes in many forms. Mine was served teppanyaki in form, with shitake mushrooms and enormous langoustines to start. It was an indescribable first experience.
Starting the day with sake tasting just 30 minutes after breakfast isn’t something I’d recommend if you’re expected to be productive in any way, but if you’re on holiday in Japan it’s something I’d say is a must. And Kobe being home to the legendary Fukuju brewery meant that this was the order of the day as I took a short walk to the brewery from my hotel.
The sacred and social roots of sake being a drink of the Gods is a powerfully believed and honoured tradition in Japan. Keep your eyes peeled on side streets for hanging balls of cedar, referred to as ‘Sugidama’, which is the national sign for sake. Back in the day, Sake makers would hang up a fresh green sugidama in November or December, right after they had pressed sake made from the new rice harvest, and this tradition is now used all year round to signify that there’s sake inside.
Today we ventured out to Onomichi, a cyclists’ haven where several routes stretch across the scattered islands and take you across a series of suspension bridges (including the longest in the world). We started pedaling early in the morning, but you’ll quickly understand why as you make the bend around the second island. The sunrise stretches over the water from east to west with clear views in all directions. Of all the views I anticipated seeing in Japan, I never thought this would be one of them.
Today started off with a traditional Japanese breakfast at Bella Vista Spa and Marina. The modern kitchen served a combination of complex flavours, from sea urchin to a miso soup that came complete with a crab claw, my advice – try everything that’s offered to you, even at 7.30am.
Our next stop along the way: Naoshima. The usually sleepy island is typically greeted by the thousands during the Naoshima Art Festival every year. I had heard stories of the underground Chi Chu museum, Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin installations and Monet’s Water Lilies long before my visit, so I knew exactly what I was looking for (though, you can’t really miss them).
Bonsai World. Also read as: The best place to buy souvenirs for all of your mates. It’s so incredible to see the sheer variety of Bonsai and the care and detial that goes into their tending. In the late afternoon, I headed to Ritsurin Park for a tea ceremony. Dating back to the 17th century, these verdant gardens were built for the feudal lord of Sanuki and nestle at the foot of Mount Shiun, offering a slice of peace and solitude all year round. Afterwards, I headed on to a traditional indigo dying factory, another perfect place to pick up/make a souvenir.
Nestled in the heart of the highlands, I drove up to the Iya Valley where I had the chance to stay at the incredible two-hundred-year-old home of Alex Kerr. My time spent here was unlike my time in any other region of Japan. We had little access to wifi (talk about a digital detox!) and our host had arranged for a local chef to prepare cuisine for us specific to that region.
While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by the area’s iconic Vine Bridge – but maybe give it a miss if you suffer from vertigo.
The next morning I woke early and celebrated my birthday with an early morning flight to Osaka. You can also take the train but I wanted to arrive earlier to have the full day and night to explore. Osaka’s counter-culture, food scene and sights, both traditional and neon-flooded, had been well-recommended and I couldn’t wait to experience what was on offer.
After one brief but beautiful night in Kyoto, it was time to experience one of the most iconic modes of transport on earth. When you read through the travel guides online, you almost always read about everyone’s first time traveling via bullet train.
Believe the hype. There’s just no way to fully describe it. You’re traveling at 320 km/h watching the landscapes seamlessly fold into each other, when around 2 hours into the journey, the majestic Mount Fuji appears, perfectly completing the iconic journey before pulling into the palpable energy of Tokyo.
Once I’d tackled the smaller regions of Japan, visiting Tokyo felt like my first time ever exploring a city, but it wasn’t what I expected and I fell instantly in love with the Japanese capital. It’s busy, but there’s an element of calm running throughout that I didn’t expect to experience. Perhaps that perception was due to the feeling of tranquillity that had stuck with me after my time in Setouchi, but visiting such a well-documented city and having it completely surprise me perfectly summed up my unforgettable Japanese experience.
Read more on the best of Japan with our digital guide.
Can't find it? Don't worry. Just because it's not here, doesn't mean we can't do it.
Call us on +44 207 426 9888 or +1 646 558 3644 or tell us what you're looking for here.
We'll make it happen.