We spoke to Matthew Fryett from Into Japan Specialist Tours who gave us an insight into the wonders of Japan and what sort of activities you can get upto during your time in Japan.
What 5 activities would you recommend doing when visiting Japan?
Tsukiji Fish Markets
A morning tour of the frenetic Tsukiji fish markets in Tokyo provides a truly impressive insight into the pace and scale of commerce behind the scenes in Japan’s capital city. The tours conclude with a superbly fresh sushi lunch as standard, or you can take a sushi making lesson and make your own lunch under expert supervision.
Japanese Tea Ceremony
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony, best enjoyed in Kyoto where there are numerous dedicated tea houses, is a fantastic way to witness the meticulous and delicate attention to detail that runs through Japan’s cultural and aesthetic soul. The tea ceremony can often be combined with other traditional activities available at the same establishment, such as calligraphy or kimono wearing sessions.
Traditional Japanese Inn
Staying at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) is a cultural experience in itself, and one not to be missed. Extravagant service and sumptuous seasonal kaiseki dinners served in your room are what good ryokan pride themselves on, but for a western traveller every detail is a small marvel – from the texture of the tatami mat flooring to the simple yukata gowns given to all guests to wear throughout their stay.
Natural Hot Springs
Bathing, particularly in onsen (natural hot springs), is an integral part of Japanese culture, important enough that whole towns can thrive on the reputation of their thermal springs alone. The norm is to bathe naked (with a small towel for modesty) in separate male and female sections – if you can overcome some initial shyness it’s a calming, cleansing, and nearly meditative experience that most visitors are eager to repeat.
Perhaps the most extravagant way to spend an evening in Japan is to hire a real geisha to entertain you over dinner. These ladies have dedicated their lives to learning traditional music and dance, and are seen as the personification of refinement and elegance in Japan – custodians of the performing arts as much as they are entertainers. If you want an exclusive and culturally unique evening to remember, this is it.
What are your top 3 must see locations in Japan and what makes these locations so unmissable?
(Tokyo and Kyoto go without saying – they are the modern and traditional hearts of Japan respectively)
The most famous of the fifty-three stations on the old Tōkaidō Road from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo’s ancient name), Hakone is best known for its peaceful lake, steaming hot springs, and above all, for its views of Mount Fuji. A popular holiday spot, it incorporates a number of museums, and sights are linked by ropeways, cable-cars and funicular or cliff railways. Lake Ashi (Ashi-no-ko) marks the centre of a large national park, and the mountains around (including old sections of the cobbled Tōkaidō Road) provide excellent walking trails, with Mount Fuji making a memorable backdrop.
Across a narrow stretch of the Seto Inland Sea from Hiroshima is the small island shrine commonly known as Miyajima (‘shrine island’). The whole island has long been considered sacred and, historically, stepping foot on the island itself was allowed for devout men only. Nowadays visitors are welcome to the island, and it is well worth the short ferry ride to see the iconic red torii gate – an element of what is said to be one of the three best views in Japan. The spectacular torii, built on tidal sands, faces the majestic Itsukushima shrine at the foot of Mount Misen. As the tide comes in, sweeping under and around the ancient shrine, the torii appears to float on the sea. The shrine itself extends on stilts over the water, and at high tide the whole shrine appears to be floating on the waves too.
Strung out to the south of Japan, the island chain of Okinawa reaches nearly as far as the Tropic of Cancer, pristinely white-sanded in the blue waters of the East China Sea. Originally an autonomous kingdom, the islands have a culture, climate and cuisine that are simultaneously Japanese and, to the mainlanders, almost foreign. People come here for the scuba diving and the superb beaches, and a number of world-class resorts dot the coastlines. Away from the coral reefs and untouched wilderness of the more remote islands, the prefectural capital of Naha is famous for pottery and markets.
What luxury accommodation can customers expect to enjoy whilst in Japan?
There are some truly excellent western-style luxury hotels in Japan, especially in the bigger cities. To name just a few there are the Palace, the Peninsula and the Shangri-La in Tokyo, or the Hyatt Regency and the Granvia in Kyoto.
Japanese Style Accommodation
Japanese-style ryokan accommodation can vary tremendously in character. There are inner-city establishments that focus on providing traditional comfort and luxury, such as the historically renowned Tawaraya in Kyoto, or ryokan situated to take advantage of natural hot springs, like the modern and super-exclusive Kaichoro in Ikaho Onsen (north of Tokyo). Most of the best ryokan are independent, but there is one chain in Japan – Hoshinoya – which manages a variety of properties in many of the most popular areas which are consistently outstanding.
Thank you very much to Matthew Fryett from Into Japan Specialist Tours for taking the time to answer our questions! If this has made you want to learn more about what Japan has to offer please do visit the Into Japan Specialist Tours stand, A28, at this year’s Luxury Travel Fair!