Rob’s field notes from Japan

Rob shares the highlights from his recent research trip to Japan.

For two restless weeks, Rob – one of our Japan Travel Experts – has been crossing the length and breadth of what is arguably the world’s most beguiling country; where crimson torii gates frame views of cities that glitter with neon and light.

Fieldwork – like Rob’s – is at the heart of what we do. Testing our experiences. Uncovering new landscapes. Ultimately, this research helps us to ensure our approach to luxury travel truly brings these destinations to life. For you, our travelers.

Over to Rob.

Metropolitan glamour at Palace Hotel Tokyo

Bright and buzzing, my first stop was the world’s busiest city and Japan’s vibrant capital – Tokyo. Stepping out into the night air, I couldn’t help but marvel at the pure magnitude and (somewhat hectic) energy of this sleepless city. Eager to explore (but also somewhat jetlagged after a 14-hour flight), I couldn’t resist the call of sleep – or the king size bed in my own private suite. I soon drifted off to the twinkling lights of Marunouchi district and its towering skyscrapers.

The Palace Hotel Tokyo was nothing short of a dream – a peaceful retreat in the heart of an urban jungle. A private balcony overlooking the Imperial Palace, a rejuvenating Evian Spa (the only one in Japan), and a bath equipped with a waterproof TV (and Blu-ray player for that matter). My stay here was pure luxury. I’d also recommend sitting outside for an evening drink on the Club Lounge terrace. With unbeatable city views, watching dusk settle on Tokyo from up here was a sight to behold.

tokyo at night

Tokyo: a quiet moment amid the bustle

Tokyo is so high energy, with something to discover down every bustling street. Under bold neon lights, you have an unshakeable feeling of being immersed in a completely different culture – a different world. Away from the madness, I found a moment of serenity at the city’s oldest Buddhist temple: Sensō-ji. Something ancient and a little more Zen – right in the middle of a modern, very lively metropolis.

But temples were not the only historic gems I sought. Tucked away among Tokyo’s busy streets are quiet sanctums of tradition – sumo stables. These stables – or “Heya” in Japanese – are where professional sumo wrestlers train, sleep and eat. They’re very modest buildings with pine walls and clay-stained floors. Visiting the ‘sumo district’ of Ryogoku, I stepped inside to watch their morning training session. Witnessing this way of life – practically unchanged for hundreds of years – was a huge highlight for me.

Discover Tokyo

tokyo temple
sumo wrestling japan

For the sake of saké

It wasn’t long before I headed off into the Japanese Alps to visit Tama-san – a huge saké connoisseur. His personal (and rather extensive) collection was calling my name. Its simplicity (an alcohol brewed from rice) belies the complexity of its flavors – particularly with the rare varieties he introduced me to (with notes of melon and citrus). Sat around the fire in his historic home with drink in hand, I could barely drag myself away.

The Japanese Alps are also a great place for some pretty epic powder skiing. For the ski enthusiasts amongst you, please do let us know if you’d like to explore Japan’s unbeatable frozen terrain. We’ll curate a trip that takes you swishing down these white powder slopes and indulging in a spot of saké tasting. We’d recommend saving the latter till last – just to be safe.

Explore the Japanese Alps

sake japan

Kyoto: a charming stay in old-world Japan

I loved all the hotels on this trip. But my favorite had to be Park Hyatt Kyoto. There was something so peaceful about waking up to views of traditional tea houses, palace gardens, and the mountains beyond. Being situated in the heart of historic Higashiyama, right next to the Kiyomizu-dera temple, there was a delightfully tranquil feel to it.

Being the historic center and former imperial capital of the country, Kyoto is the perfect place to immerse yourself in some of Japan’s most enduring culture. And cuisine. I ventured out to the Nishiki market, appropriately named ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’. With more than 100 shops and restaurants covering five blocks, I was entirely spoilt for choice. Leaving the vibrant colors and tantalizing food behind, I crossed the bridge to the Gion Geisha district, where I spotted graceful Geishas decked out in traditional kimonos going about their daily life. I rounded it all off with a wander along the winding trails of Maruyama Park (a beloved peaceful haven) – followed with a visit to the ancient golden temple of Kinkakuji.

More about Kyoto

geisha japan
kyoto temple

Feeling like a local in Osaka

Hopping aboard the bullet train for a lightning-fast journey, I left one vibrant city for another. Heading towards the coast along central Japan, I was met with views of glistening ocean, majestic mountains, and a sprawling metropolis – Osaka.

Tempted by the many food stalls, izakayas (a sort of Japanese tapas bar), and hole-in-the-wall eateries that populate the city of Osaka, I set off to explore its bustling nightlife with my local guide. After eating my way from pillar to post, I became fast friends with the owners of a small izakaya – one that fitted just seven people. When we left, they closed their own bar and followed us to the next one to keep us company. I felt like a true local out on the town.

If you’d like to experience a night on the town among Osaka’s quirky (and tiny) bars, our luxury travel experts – like me – will be sure to curate a trip that’s as lively or tranquil as you like. Just ask.

More about Osaka

osaka street
osaka street

Final Thoughts

Despite having literally just returned, I find myself eagerly looking ahead to Japanese springtime. Why? Each year, the country’s innumerable cherry trees burst into life – an enchanting event that is celebrated with its own annual cherry blossom festival. Exploring beautiful, pink-dusted landscapes among historic wonders and natural gems – there’s nothing quite as peaceful as the art of cherry blossom watching.

We’ve even written an entire guide about it. Head here.

Curious about Japan?

Buzzing metropolitan life or ancient mountain retreats – our trips to Japan are always bespoke, created for you. Right from the ground up.

Discover more