The Ultimate Japan Holiday - Handpicked Itineraries
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Japan is an incomparably beautiful destination, from the futuristic neon that lights up Tokyo to the enchanting shrines that wind through the ancient streets of Kyoto. With Tokyo hosting the Olympics and Osaka the Rugby World Cup, it’s no wonder Japan has become our top trending destination for 2019! Luxtripper's Travel Editor Holly set out on her perfect Japan holiday...
BY Holly OBrien
Luxtripper Travel Editor

This was my first time visiting beautiful Japan, and I’m so excited to be able to share my trip with you!

Discovering Japan

Japan has been my top bucket list destination for as long as I can remember, and I was so worried that it wouldn't be as good as I dreamed it to be – but Japan did more than deliver! As soon as I stepped off the plane and into the airport at Narita, it was glaringly obvious that I was in another country, one completely alien from my own.

The Bright Lights of Tokyo

There are so many things to do in Tokyo, and so many districts to visit. We wandered through the streets of Shinjuku, hypnotised by bright lights and kaleidoscopic colours. There were lit up vending machines on every street, and people spilled in and out ancient dimly lit restaurants, where steam was escaping hot ramen bowls. Asakusa Shrine was a beautiful sight to see the next morning, with its stunning architecture and polished ruby structure. As I walked along with a fresh, warm melon pan (traditional melon bread – a Japanese treat!) clasped in my hands, I was drawn towards people shaking wooden boxes, and soon found that they were pulling out fortunes.

I had my first taste of authentic sushi at Edo Tokyo SUSHITSUNE in the Tokyo Skytree, before heading to the highest point with my partner. My breath caught as I stepped onto the viewing platform – in front of me was the most stunning image of the sun setting over Tokyo, sun bouncing off the glass in the high-rises and making them sparkle. I’m so glad that I was able to share such a magical and incomparable moment with my partner, a memory that I know I’ll cherish forever.

Lost in Translation at the Park Hyatt

There is no shortage of fabulous Tokyo hotels, but I was glad to spend my first two nights in Japan at the legendary Park Hyatt (captured in ‘Lost in Translation’). As soon as I entered the room, I ran past the sumptuous bed and straight to the window. My belongings lay forgotten on the floor as my eyes were met with a panoramic view of the sprawling and unique city of Tokyo. We were desperate to explore but allowed ourselves a quick cocktail from the glittering New York Bar first. High in the sky on the 52nd floor, the bar had a spellbinding view accompanied by the sound of amazing live music. I mean, if this setting was good enough for Bill Murray in the film, then it was certainly good enough for me!

The Ancient City of Kyoto

After saying my farewells to the buzzing capital, I journeyed to the ancient city of Kyoto, with images of magnificent shrines and women in stunning kimonos swimming in my brain. I took in as much as possible as the Shinkansen bullet train sped through the beautiful Japanese countryside (a comfortable journey that took 2.45 hours) – my heart leapt at the silhouette of Mount Fuji, its peak hidden by candy floss clouds. 

Temples and Tori Gates

We began our exploration of Kyoto by treading in the footsteps of Geisha’s, whilst exploring the historic neighbourhood of Gion. We stumbled across the Kenninji Temple and were overjoyed to find that we had the place to ourselves. Kyoto is still rooted in the beautiful traditions of years gone by, and the temple's halls really transported me back in time. Soon after, we stopped by a tiny tea house and were shown the art of Japanese tea ceremony by a kind lady dressed in kimono – it was the best matcha tea I had ever tasted.

There was one thing that I really wanted to do in Kyoto, and as soon as I saw the pink floral yukata (casual kimono), I knew that it was the one for me. I felt elegant and beautiful, as though I was in Memoirs of a Geisha - this was a dream come true, and the highest point of my holiday! I made my way to Fushimi Inari, a true sight to behold. I couldn’t help but marvel at the thousands of bright red gates as I climbed to the highest point. I clapped my hands and rung the Shinto bell of the shrine before praying, a must do activity for anyone wishing to experience true Japanese culture

A Very Traditional Evening

I couldn’t have been happier with my choice of hotel for Kyoto. Hidden in a cool alleyway by the town, Villa Sanjo Muromachi really captured the essence of Japanese tradition, and really made me feel like I had stepped back in time. I was delighted to find green tea produced in Kyoto itself in my bedroom, so I poured my boyfriend and I a cup before heading out to explore. 

After sundown, we had the most incredible Kaiseki meal at the Yasaka-Dori Enraku restaurant in the company of a Maiko (a Geisha in training) - an amazing experience that I will never forget. There’s no shortage of things to do in Kyoto with its many immersive opportunities to step back to the Edo period! 

The Temples and Deer of Nara

While staying in Kyoto, we took a day trip to the beautiful city of Nara – this was Japan’s first permanent capital city before Kyoto and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. I instantly knew why people are drawn to Nara when I saw the dozens of deer roaming the grounds of Todai-ji Daibutsuden (‘The Great Buddha Hall’). The deer are incredibly tame, and I got to feed them biscuits, which they bowed to receive!

My partner and I stepped into the hall to see the colossal wooden Buddha for ourselves. The hall had a deeply meditative atmosphere, and I found myself surrounded by smoky trails of sweet-smelling incense as I marvelled at the building. We left the hall and wandered through a street full of wooden stalls selling traditional sweets. We stopped to watch an old man who was making sweet manju, a traditional steamed bun filled with bean paste, and we couldn’t resist the temptation of trying one for ourselves.

Osaka, the Nations Kitchen

After being awestruck by the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and spectacular Golden Temple (it really is gold!), it was time for us to move onto Osaka, otherwise known as ‘Japan’s Kitchen.’ I soon added the beautiful Osaka Castle to the list of striking buildings I had spotted in Japan. I could barely believe that although its appearance had changed, I was looking at a structure that had dominated its spot since 1583. 

Walking through the gardens surrounding the castle was such a serene experience, and I was excited to see it was lined with food stalls selling takoyaki (fried octopus), yakisoba, ramen and more! We bought some takoyaki and sat down to admire the cherry blossoms surrounding the castle. There are lots of things to do in Osaka which are great for couples - we also found out that Osaka is home to the world’s largest aquarium, which would be a great attraction for groups and families  visiting the area.

Downtown Dotonbori

I loved spending the evening in Dontonbori, the main shopping and entertainment district of Osaka. I made sure to take snaps of the famed Glico Running Man, the mascot of a popular Japanese food producer. Tourists (including myself) and locals alike laughed as they tried to enthusiastically imitate his victory pose. Soon after, we sat down along the teppanyaki bar of Okonomiyaki Mizuno  for our first taste of Japan’s savoury pancake Okonomiyaki – it was absolutely delicious and definitely a top thing to do in Osaka!   

I was very impressed by the service at the Intercontinental Hotel, which was perfectly located near many of Osaka’s most popular attractions. I had many a relaxing bath during my stay, and not just in the comfort of the deep bath in my own room. The Intercontinental has its own traditional Japanese bathhouse, an unmissable experience for anyone spending their holidays in Japan. I found that this was the perfect way to unwind after a long day of exploring.

Cherry blossoms at Mount Fuji

We then jumped onto the Shinkansen towards Hakone, a small town not far from Tokyo that we’d heard would give us the most magical views of Mount Fuji – and if we were lucky, we’d be surrounded by sweet smelling cherry blossoms too, an unbeatably romantic scene. We soon arrived at Hoshinoya Fuji, my stunning accommodation beside  Lake Kawaguchiko. It wasn’t long until we discovered that this hotel would be perfect for a romantic Japan honeymoon.  

I expected the views from the hotel to be pretty, since it is nestled in the heart of the forest that neighbours the lake – but I was completely mesmerised by the view from my balcony. Early in the morning we brewed our own coffee on the terrace, a perfect start to the day, and made our way down to the lake. As we gently paddled along the lake, my heart came to a halt. I was in awe at the sight of Mount Fuji soaring above me as the wind gently pushed blossoms from the trees. This had to be the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

Reflecting on my Journey

My Japan holiday flew by and came to an end far too quickly for my liking, and although I had so many unforgettable experiences and saw so many amazing things, there is so much of the country that I’m yet to explore! I look forward to relaxing on the beaches of Okinawa, trying my hand at skiing and relaxing in the natural onsens (hot springs) of Hokkaido, seeing a sumo wrestling match, and trying out Zen meditation in a temple for myself. There are so many things that holidays in Japan can offer, and I can’t wait to try them all! 

Alternative Hotels

Tokyo

Ritz Carlton Tokyo – Enjoy sprawling panoramic views from the comfort of the hotel’s teahouse in the sky, an unmissable scene. 

The Tokyo Station Hotel – Luxury and style in an iconic colonial building, experience unparalleled hospitality in the heart of the capital.

Four Seasons Tokyo – A sleek and chic escape from the bustle and buzz of the city; relaxundisturbed after a day of adventure.

Kyoto

Suiran – Indulge at this authentic Japanese hideaway, a harmonious union between a tranquil past and the vibrance of the modern-day city teeming with life. 

Hotel Kanra – Fall in love the modern interpretation of the old-age style of ancient Japan; watch the curative practise of ‘Kintsugi’ as objects are repaired, their breakages considered part of their life. 

Hoshinoya Kyoto – Stay amongst stunning landscaped grounds at this century-old property; step back in time at this elegant riverside resort. 

Osaka

The St. Regis – Dazzlingly glamorous and opulent; marvel at the mystifying patterns of this escape’s Japanese zen rock garden.

Hyatt Regency Osaka – Choose modern or traditional luxury at this grand property and take a dip in the fabulous whirlpool bath.

Osaka Marriott Miyako – Admire spectacular views of the city through amazing floor to ceiling windows at this welcoming and comfortable hotel.

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