Abercrombie & Kent’s award-winning expedition team will lead a small ship cruise around Japan in 2020. The Wonders of Japan voyage will take place from 13th to 26th June, sailing Japan’s lesser-known wilderness areas and offering on-board exclusives, such as a private performance of the world-renowned Kodo taiko drummers.
The small-ship setting will allow A&K’s experienced expeditionary team, as well as historical, cultural and scientific experts, to show guests rarely-visited ports and sites that are otherwise impossible to reach by larger ship.
Travellers will begin their two-week journey when they arrive in Osaka to explore the city before boarding the 199-guest Le Soleal on day three. The luxury ship is exclusively chartered by A&K and offers every guest a private balcony, meals, house drinks, gratuities and a desirable crew-to-guest ratio of 1 to 1.3.
A&K’s enrichment specialists will additionally provide fascinating on-board lectures and presentations on Japanese history, art, culture, gardens, nature and culinary traditions. Guests also have the option to delve even deeper and choose from a wide array of included shore excursions that explore the country’s culture, architecture, arts, history, geology, economy and natural wonders.
Spanning multiple cities, the cruise will travel through the culture-rich Kyoto, filled with Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines; Gyeongju, Korea, the ancient dynastic capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site; Hiroshima, where time is spent reflecting on Japan’s turbulent history and miraculous resurgence; the medieval Karatsu village, an early trading post; the arts centre of Kanazawa with its famous Kutani-style pottery; the rice paddies of Sado Island; as well as some unique art experiences during visits to leading museums and strolls through famous gardens, markets and castles.
In a special offer, interested travellers can book a room in cabin categories 1-3 on board Wonders of Japan and save $8,960 per couple. Prices start at $24,615 per person twin share, compared to the original $29,095, and the trip is limited to 199 guests.
The property will be the first and only luxury international brand hotel with onsen (hot spring) facilities in the heart of Kyoto City
Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts will open its first property in Japan in 2022 following the redevelopment of Hotel Ryozen in Higashiyama-ku in Kyoto, which will cease operation in October this year.
The new Banyan Tree hotel will feature designs by renowned master architect Kengo Kuma and feature 60 rooms, a specialty restaurant, bar, library, gymnasium, an award-winning Banyan Tree Spa and onsen facilities.
The announcement of the new property comes as Banyan Tree expands its global network of hotels and resorts and works to further position Kyoto City as an international destination for discerning travellers.
“As we accelerate our expansion to grow our brands worldwide, this agreement marks Banyan Tree’s move in planting the first hotel flag in Japan, renowned for its distinctive culture, cuisine and scenic destinations,” Ho Kwon Ping, Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree, said.
The hotel group currently operates two spas in Japan at partner hotels and a membership residence.
Banyan Tree Group celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has announced its luxury vessel EUROPA 2 will be heading to Japan for the first time in 2019, with two new itineraries on offer: a 15-day ocean cruise from Hong Kong to Tokyo and an 18-day voyage from Tokyo to Singapore.
The journey out of Hong Kong will take you to Taipei, before journeying to Jeju in South Korea where you’ll take a trip across the volcanic island to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak.
Your first port in Japan will be Nagasaki, where you’ll learn all about the city’s turbulent past on a tour, before visiting the historic Sofukuji temple and the Peace Park. This route will take you up the Inasayama hill by cable car giving you spectacular views of Unzen, Amakusa and the Goto Islands.
Continuing the historic adventure, visit Hiroshima and the holy island of Miyajima to discover the moving details of Japan’s involvement in the Second World War. You will also find out all about traditional Japanese life and the vermilion Itsukushima-jinja Shrine.
On this voyage you’ll also get to visit one of the best-known spa resorts in Japan and melt into the hot thermal springs of Beppu and the Tatsumaki Jigoku geyser on an a shore excursion.
With two full days to spend in Kobe, you can head off on shore excursions to the ancient imperial city of Kyoto, famous for its countless shrines and temples; Nara, the legendary city of myths and traditions; or bustling Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city.
Wrapping up your Japanese journey is a vital visit to the county’s sprawling capital city of Tokyo. Here, visit the imperial palace and the Ginza district at your own pace or enjoy a view over the city on a helicopter flight. There are shore excursions on offer to world-famous Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, and you’ll get to experience the high-speed Shinkansen train.
On the lengthier 18-day voyage aboard EUROPA 2 from Tokyo to Singapore, guests will not only get to know the metropolis of Japan’s capital, but also some of Japan’s natural wonders. On the itinerary are trips to Ago Bay with its fjord-like waters and Mikimoto Pearl Island, where the first cultured pearls were created at the end of the 19th century.
Ishigaki, the main island of the Yaeyama archipelago, is famed for its idyllic swimming spots and fine sandy beaches, and guests on board EUROPA 2 will get to discover its beauty on a tour, with the fast ferry also taking you to the neighbouring island of Taketomi with its long sandy beaches and picturesque town.
Other highlights include an excursion to the Shuri Castle where fascinating impressions of Okinawa Prefecture await, a visit to the Shikinaen Royal Garden, and a trip to the ruins of Nakagusuku Castle, which dates back to the 15th century.
As the pioneering operator of seasonal walking tours across Japan, Walk Japan specialises in expertly-led small group tours that traverse the diverse islands of the archipelago. Authentic and cultural, these tours are for travellers wanting to gain an understanding of Japanese society, customs, history and food while walking at an enjoyable pace.
Inland Sea Odyssey
The 10-day, 9-night Inland Sea Odyssey is a fully-guided journey through Japan’s incredible Seto Inland Sea. This tour explores the region’s recent history including work by some of Japan’s greatest 20th and 21st Century architects, artists and film directors including Kenzo Tange, Kengo Kuma, Kusama Yayoi, Yukinori Yanagi, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. Travellers also delve into the life of Isamu Noguchi, a Japanese-American who led an extraordinarily full life, became one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th Century, and, in older age, found a home aside the Seto Inland Sea.
Additionally, the Inland Sea region is a wealth of beautiful vistas, sunsets, and some of Japan’s greatest ancient landmarks such as the imposing Himeji Castle. There are also abundant sleepy island communities and charming towns. Added to this is some of the best modern art and architecture found anywhere in the world, delicious local cuisine, onsen hot spring baths and a spirit of revival led by an influx of younger Japanese attracted to this delightful but lesser explored region of Japan.
Walk Japan’s Inland Sea Odyssey is a leisurely Level 2 walk and loosely follows the travels of the late American-born author Donald Richie, one of the greatest observers of modern Japan, whose book The Inland Sea relates his meandering journey east to west through the Inland Sea, from Himeji to the shrine at Miyajima that seemingly floats out over a bay.
The latest in Walk Japan’s series of self-guided walking tours of Japan, the Bosho Wayfarer is a 6-day, 5-night exploration of Japan’s northerly Tohoku region. This tour was inspired by the acclaimed poet Matsuo Basho and his travelogue, Narrow Road to the Deep North. Walkers follow in Basho’s footsteps from Sendai to Yamadera; from historic temples to beautiful coastlines, through forests in remote countryside, to charming villages and traditional, local inns. In nearly all accommodation, authentic local cuisine is followed by onsen natural hot springs baths; where a luxurious soak is the ideal way to end the day’s travels.
The Basho Wayfarer includes visits to Matsushima Bay and its pine-laden islands, known for centuries as one of the three most scenic locations in Japan; the exquisite Hiraizumi temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Yamadera, a temple dramatically poised on a cliff; and Hojin-no-Ie, a venerable thatched building and the only structure that remains to this day where Basho is known to have stayed.
Each night, accommodation is often in charming Japanese traditional inns, or ryokans, dotted across the countryside. Guests are invited to soak in the famous onsen hot spring baths and enjoy outstanding and distinct regional cuisine. Occasionally, such as in the larger cities, travellers stay in centrally located, carefully selected hotels.
Tours run at a maximum of 12 people, plus the tour leader, ensuring all walkers receive the highest levels of care and attention.
The fifth annual ILTM (International Luxury Travel Market) Japan event took place from 27 February to 1 March this year, bringing together Japan based and international luxury travel exhibitors and buyers. The event endeavours to connect Japan’s luxury heritage with both global travellers and wealthy Japanese looking to travel internationally. This year’s ILTM Japan saw a 24% increase in exhibitors and buyers, with marked increases from Australia, Canada, UAE, the UK and the US.
Our Managing Director Gary Allen attended ILTM Japan on behalf of Luxury Travel magazine and was impressed by the luxury exhibitors.
“ILTM Japan was a great opportunity to meet various Japanese operators that I didn’t know about before, such as the boutique luxury experience company, Luxurique and the spa and health retreat, Sankara in the Kagoshima Prefecture”
For Allen, the trip was a great opportunity to meet with leading travel exhibitors, whilst also reconfirming his high personal regard for Japan as a luxury travel destination.
“I’m a big fan of Japan. It ticks all the boxes for me as far as travel fulfilment. It has a rich and vibrant culture and history, amazing food, safe and clean streets and is filled with natural beauty,” he commented.
Other guests at ILTM Japan echoed Allen’s impressions of both the event and the country.
Alexandra Navia of Forest Travel in the US noted:
“It is clear that in the lead up to the Olympics, the Japanese are taking this really important opportunity to showcase Japan as a modern country, blending tradition and history with luxury. Its rich culture makes it a favourite destination for our well-travelled US clients and I have discovered so many more opportunities for them in these two days here at ILTM Japan.”
Allen summed up the event perfectly, “It was another successful ILTM for me.”
Okinawa is a totally different Japan. It’s Japan’s island holiday destination and so it has a completely different vibe to anywhere else you might have visited in the country. We visited the main island, also called Okinawa. Being an island, it’s slow moving and casual. For the locals, enjoying a good life and being a part of the community seems to take priority over working hard and getting ahead. The islands are known throughout the world for their beautiful beaches, great food, clean living and friendly people and it’s true; the locals always share a smile and a wave.
Having just said that it is unlike the rest of Japan, Okinawa is very much an island holding onto its Japanese heritage having not yet yielded to international tourism and the cultural dilution it inevitably brings. Foreign travellers are still a rare sight on the island and something of a curios- ity, and English is not at all widely spoken.
Traditional architecture meets tropical beaches
The island is small so renting a car is a great way to explore everything it has to offer. It’s also a great way to find out more about the local way of life because it requires that you interact with people going about their business; you’re often relying on them to point you in the right direction.
I say this because it was challenging at times reading the road map and trying to figure out where I was. My hire car came with an English-speaking satellite navigation system however I still got lost often enough to get to know the locals and even though the language barrier presented some difficulties, thanks to their good humour and patience it was almost always amusing.
Author and an 89 year old local measure up
There were more than a couple of times that I found myself driving down some sandy road in some remote area of the is- land knowing that I was an unusual sight in that part of town, but there was always someone willing to look at my map while I spoke English and he or she spoke Japanese and they’d somehow help get me back on track with a smile and a wave goodbye.
It wasn’t just driving directions that proved difficult. Trying to ask: “What exactly is that on my plate” presented some uncomfortable moments. Sometimes I couldn’t work out if it was something I was supposed to eat or if it was there by accident. Apparently the pig’s anus was no accident. This foreign dining dilemma is a common experience to regular travellers but I gotta say it’s a good thing the Japanese like to have pictures on their menus.
Luxurious spas and pools
Okinawa is well known for having more centenarians per capita than anywhere else in the world. Fresh food from the ocean along with a healthy Japanese diet has this local population en- joying good health for a very long time and I met plenty who were proof of that.
The Okinawans take their fresh food very seriously. They are apparently known throughout Japan for eating every part of the pig, “except the oink”. I was told more than once at restaurants that the pork tastes so good in Okinawa because the pigs are happy; they enjoy the sunshine and the island life so they taste better. The chicken and the fish tasted great as well but nobody told me whether or not they were also happy.
Any trip to Okinawa must include a visit to the Churaumi Aquarium. Churaumi means beautiful ocean in the Okinawan dialect and the aquarium is indeed a beautiful ocean. The mesmerising main tank holds a whopping 7,500 cubic metres of water, (roughly equivalent to three Olympic-sized swimming pools) held back by the world’s largest acrylic window. Though the pane is 60 centimetres thick, it appears as if nothing separates visitors from the gracefully gliding marine life on the other side. I was so infatuated with the sight I spent an hour just watching what happened on the other side of the gigantic window, including three massive whale sharks. Just amazing.
Beautiful views right from your bathroom
WHERE TO STAY
The most authentically Okinawan of the island’s luxury hotels is Hyakunagaran with only 15 rooms in a peaceful setting overlooking the ocean in southern Okinawa. The hotel provides beautiful and very comfortable traditional Okinawan clothing and pyjamas to wear during your visit. Among the rooms on offer are six wonderful rooftop tea room pavilions that have private outdoor baths overlooking the ocean. The res- taurant serves beautifully authentic meals and a 12-course dinner.
Rates: Rooms are priced from JYP52,500 (about A$523) per per- son per night including dinner and breakfast. hyakunagaran.com
The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa
Opened in mid-2012 The Ritz- Carlton, Okinawa is the first international luxury brand to open in the region. The hotel is set on an 18-hole championship golf course with a beautiful ESPA spa. At Kise, the hotel’s Japanese restaurant, I ate an incredible two- hour long teppanyaki dinner by Chef Jun who has been training in teppanyaki for seven years.
Rates: Rooms are priced from JPY31,000 (about A$309) per night plus taxes. ritzcarlton.com
Busena Terrace Resort
Just down the hill from the Ritz-Carlton, the Busena Terrace Resort juts out into the ocean on a small peninsula. Tucked away at one end of the property is the exclusive Terrace Club at Busena, a smaller resort within a resort of just 68 rooms. The Club is right on the beach and specialises in wellness. There’s a Thalasso spa pool – a saltwater maze of high- pressure jets that massage different parts of your body – which is amazing for deep tissue massage from the soles of your feet to your neck. Treatments focus on the natural healing properties of mud, algae and seawater along with gentle exercises and stretch- ing to boost metabolism and improve circulation. The fine dining restaurant at Busena Terrace serves an Okinawan-style menu as well as a low calorie healthy menu. Guests can also use the facilities at the main Busena resort which include more than 10 restaurants and bars, swimming pools and, of course, karaoke.
Rates: Rooms are priced from JPY77,385 (about A$770) per night including breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails. terrace.co.jp/en/clubatbusena/
To experience a traditional Japanese culture, you might consider venturing into the country and away from the vortex of big-city life. Here, amongst the trees, parks and small villages where the local people have lived for generations, you’re away from the global shopping brands and crowded tourist hubs.
I’d never been on a guided walk before, having always opted for cycling; a faster, more intensive way of exploring the countryside. I was looking forward to experiencing Japan at a more leisurely pace. It was to be a time for slowing down; an opportunity to observe an unfamiliar way of life, to interact with people going about their daily routines, and to sample the foods that have been eaten locally for centuries.
The Nakasendo Way walk brings to life the majesty and tradition of ancient Japan. It is a journey rich in history. Dating back to 1600, samurai and their subordinates travelled this route making their way to Edo (modern day Tokyo) to pay homage to the Shogun, the supreme military commander and overlord, answerable only to the Emperor. There were 12 of us on this walk along with our guide Shima, Tokyo-born but now living in America. She had led this walk 16 times before and knows the trail inside and out (including every bathroom, café and grocery store along the way!).
The Nakasendo Way starts in Kyoto and, after 10 nights of travel through cities and towns including Hikone, Sekigahara, Magome, Tsumago and Narai, ends in Tokyo. Along the way we stayed in ryokans (inns) catering to distinguished travellers that have been run by the same families for generations. Traditional customs are still very much a part of the hospitality offering in Japan’s ryokans: from eating your meals sitting cross legged on the floor; washing in a Japanese onsen before dinner; sleeping on futons laid out on the straw tatami mats on the floor; and definitely no shoes allowed (all guests receive slippers upon entry).
Flowers on the journey
At one of the nightly meals I had wild boar that was shot by the innkeeper only the day before as well as freshly caught trout from a nearby stream and sweet crispy grasshoppers. All of it was amazingly delicious. Have no fear though; the hosts do happily accommodate Western preferences where they can, such as having small stools or backrests at meals. The futons take some getting used to but after a day of walking, you might be so tired you won’t notice the difference. I did bring a pillow with me, and I was glad I did, as the local pillows are very small and sometimes made of buckwheat. Ryokans also feature the traditional Japanese rice-paper walls, which as you would imagine, are very thin. A tip for light sleepers, you may want to bring ear-plugs and an eye mask.
The walks were beautiful. Distances varied from 10km to 25km in a day and incorporated differing and often undulating terrain. I recommend doing some training before you go. It will make for a more comfortable experience, as there were some challenging ascents over compact earthen trails, pavement, stone paths and dirt roads.
After each day of walking, and that relaxing onsen, you’ll change into your yukata; a cotton kimono provided at every ryokan. This multipurpose piece is what you wear to dinner – a great way to keep packing to a minimum as you never have to worry about dressing up. Dinner and breakfast are served at a long, low table and everyone is seated on the tatami mats, which takes some time getting to get used to for most Westerners (unless you practice yoga).
One day we happened to walk through a village that was having its annual harvest festival. Dressed in traditional costumes, drummers played and chanted as the crowd watched, then the town elders threw dozens of small packets of rice cakes to the amassed people. There was a frenzy of both young and old clamouring to catch these prizes – a few of our group managed to catch some which we enjoyed grilled at dinner, to bring us health and happiness in the coming year.
I enjoyed this tour so much that, if I’d had the time, I would have continued with Walk Japan’s add-on tour of Tokyo. If you are interested in history and want to enjoy an authentic cultural experience in Japan – one that includes exercise, traditional food and the great outdoors with a knowledgeable guide – then this is your trip.
On the shores of ago bay (also known as the Bay of Pearls) in Japan, nestled in Ise Shima National Park, is the newly-opened Amanemu,a hot spring resort by Aman that embraces classic Japanese decor in the ryokan tradition. Upon entry, guests travel along the windy drive, framed by cherry and maple trees. The interior aesthetic of Amanemu is simple; the Japanese timber walls are lightly adorned with accents of Japanese Art (including works of Japanese Kimono and Obi artisan, Genbei Yamaguchi and traditional Kumiko artwork developed in the Asuka Era); each suite has floor-to-ceiling windows with textile and timber sliding shutters; and the furniture is custom-made from white oak and neutral fabrics.
Designed by Kerry Hill Architects, the exterior low-slung tiled roofs are complemented with dark-stained walls, inspired by Japanese Minka Buildings. Each suite and a selection of villas include their own onsen (hot spring), imitating traditional Japanese bathing retreats.
Amamenu works to translate omotenashi, the warmth and spirit of Japanese hospitality, to its guests by keeping to a number of traditional practices. This includes having an okami, a female manager whose job is to tend carefully to guests and assure that all aspects of the retreat are up to quality.
The resort’s amenities include a yoga studio with an outdoor deck that overlooks a garden and a restaurant that draws on the Japanese izakaya style of sharing.