Luxtripper Travel Editor
This is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited, let us show the beauty of Japan!
Leaving the aeroplane and walking through Tokyo Narita Airport for my Japan holiday is less like entering a new country, and more akin to stepping onto another planet, one where everything talks. Gentle robotic voices gestured me onto travelators, cute animated characters signposted the directions I need to walk in, and every single advertisement featured a kawaii (‘cute’ in Japanese) brand mascot, and trust me when I say that this is echoed throughout the whole country.
As I got into my car bound for my Tokyo hotel, I stretched my legs and began to wonder whether it would live up to my sky high expectations. I’d dreamed of seeing the cherry blossoms fall for so many years after seeing how beautiful they looked in Memoirs of a Geisha, and I had these spectacular images of Tokyo and Kyoto in my mind that I couldn’t seem to shake free, but I can honestly say that my expectations were blown out of the water.
As the car came out of a tunnel into central Tokyo, my eyes were suddenly filled with colour. Neon lights from buildings that seemed to touch the sky shined from every viewpoint, Japanese voices both human and electronic invited patrons into restaurants, and where arcades seemed to have died in the West, they were apparently still alive and drawings crowds to their glitzy machines in Japan.
We pulled up to the world-famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing and waited patiently as the stop light beeped, and watched as endless flows of people darted across the quad to shopping centres, cafes, train stations and the perfectly placed Starbucks that I could tell offered great views of the crossing from above. Every street led deeper into the swell of Tokyo’s maze-like buildings, and I couldn’t wait to get out and explore the urban playground, it was like stepping onto the set of Bladerunner!
I spent my first night in Tokyo at the iconic Park Hyatt Tokyo, as I would be catching the bullet train to Kyoto as part of my Japan tour the next day and knew this one-night stay would be the perfect opportunity to experience the iconic scenes in Lost in Translation! As I stepped into my suite I almost didn’t notice the beautiful cream furnishings and king-size bed because my eyes were instantly drawn to the mesmerising view of Tokyo I was blessed with.
Huge windows afforded me endless vistas of the city’s dazzling skyline and I was perplexed, the only thing that pulled me away was the thought of popping up to the bar on the 52nd floor for an even better view. After freshening up, I arrived at the New York Bar and was immediately relaxed by the soothing sounds of the jazz singer and her band as she mesmerised the room. The lovely staff seated me next to the floor-to-ceiling windows and I ordered the aptly named L.I.T. (Lost in Translation) cocktail, and I have to say, sipping this delicious cocktail and taking in panoramic views of the city of Tokyo was the best way I could start my adventure in Japan.
I’d heard that Mount Fuji was a notoriously shy mountain, and catching a glimpse of it from the bullet train is a rare occurrence, so I felt very lucky as we zoomed away from Tokyo and saw the iconic snow-capped summit peaking out from behind a cloud of mist. After saying goodbye to the high rises of Tokyo, the bullet train zipped through the Japanese countryside and I got to see workers tending to rice fields, idyllic villages nestled between mountain ranges and even the sea!
I arrived in Kyoto after a comfortable journey and could instantly tell I was no longer in Tokyo. Even though Kyoto is a large city, it was once the capital of Japan for over 1000 years and is home to over 2000 shrines and temples, so it still shows plenty of signs of tradition and is deeply rooted in their ancient culture.
I spent the afternoon wondering the beautiful streets and traditional neighbourhood of Gion, and couldn’t believe how beautiful and well-preserved everything was. Gorgeous traditional houses constructed in deep mahogany with ornate detailing lined the cobbled paths, colourful hanging lanterns and sliding doors led to family-run restaurants. As I walked down one of the tiny back streets, I even saw a Geisha with the most beautiful white makeup and scarlet-coloured lips scurry very quickly from one building to another, I couldn’t help but gasp in excitement!
I then spent some time exploring the nearby Yasaka Shrine; walking through the huge vermillion tori gate was like stepping through a doorway into the past. I walked along the many altars and watched locals leave prayer tablets, burn incense and even draw a fortune for the year ahead. It was so serene and quiet. I’d worked up quite an appetite by this point so I slipped into a tiny restaurant for a bowl of ramen (noodle soup). I took a seat along the bench facing the chefs, and watched as they carefully constructed the most beautiful bowl of soy ramen I had ever seen, it’s safe to say I devoured it in no time at all!
I couldn’t have chosen a more stunning hotel to stay at than the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto, as soon as I arrived for my traditional Japanese tea ceremony, I was in awe. Sublime architecture and modern design fused effortlessly with the graceful and eye-catching elements of Japanese tradition, and everything was constructed of natural materials such as wood and bamboo that truly reflected the beauty of Kyoto.
I was led to the gorgeous tea house via a glass bridge by a kind member of staff who wore a beautiful yukata (casual kimono). She would be teaching me about the art of tea and said that I’d be making a cup of matcha green tea myself! Watching her delicately demonstrate the ritual with such precision and elegance was like watching a master at work, and enjoying my cup of matcha while taking in serene views of the quiet 800 year old zen pond garden outside was a truly unforgettable experience.
After having the most magical time exploring the ancient shrines, bamboo forest and tranquil zen gardens of Kyoto, I hopped back on the bullet train and headed for Hakone, a small town just an hour outside of Tokyo that promised beautiful vistas of Mount Fuji and perfect views of the sakura (cherry blossom) trees. I soon arrived at Hoshinoya Resort and was blown away by how beautiful the setting was. The hotel is nestled 100 metres above sea level in the heart of the forest overlooking Lake Kawaguchi along the edge of Hakone.
I had to stop and take a minute to admire my beautiful cabin, that exuded minimalist style and was so clearly designed to keep the focus on the beautiful scenery that could be viewed from the glass wall at the far end of the cabin. The bed was so comfortable and the sitting area was constructed of elegant natural fibres that reflected a traditional Japanese room, I truly felt like I was living in lavish luxury but also immersing myself in the gorgeous landscape. I took a moment to sit along the balcony and take in the endless view of light pink blossom trees and the dazzling lake waters.
In the early morning I enjoyed a delicious al fresco breakfast at the dining hall of freshly baked breads and mouth-watering grilled dishes, while I took in the view of the red pines surrounding us. After this I was invited to canoe along Lake Kawaguchi as Mount Fuji can be viewed very clearly when the sun has just risen, so I grabbed my camera and set off for the waters.
As we paddled along the waters I felt so relaxed and at peace with the world. I was surrounded by the most beautiful blush-pink cherry blossom trees that were delicately dropping petals into the lake waters as the gentle breeze pulsed through, and it looked like a scene from a water colour painting. I rowed through the falling blossoms, but then when I looked up and saw how majestic Mount Fuji’s blue and white colours looked against the morning sky, I stopped rowing.
That once in a lifetime moment of being able to watch the sakura and Mount Fuji together along the fabled lake will stay with me until the end of time, it was truly magical.
The days never felt long enough to do everything that I wanted to do on my Japan tour, and I know that my next adventure will include walking the streets of Kyoto in a kimono, training in the art of Samurai, watching a sumo match and walking through a beautiful tunnel of tumbling wisteria flowers in Fukuoka. If there was one thing I had learned throughout my journey in Japan, it was that this sublime country contains surprises and intimate beautiful moments around every corner, under every unturned stone and beyond every sliding doorway.