EPIC ROAD'S SAFARI BLOG

Entries in Japan (4)

Wednesday
Nov072018

Japan's Best Cultural Experiences

 

The best way to experience Japan’s fascinating history and culture is to fully immerse yourself in cultural practices that you would never see or experience elsewhere. Take a tour behind the scenes of Tokyo’s sumo stables, indulge in a private dinner with a geisha, learn a chosen art form like sword-making with an expert craftsman, go back in time with a stay at a traditional ryokan. In Japan, luxury means more than just staying in immaculate five star hotels and eating at Michelin star restaurants, although those are important components of any dream trip to Japan! Rather, luxury here also means discovering Japan’s best kept secrets and hidden gems, many of which are hard to find without the insight and connections of a true inside, making them all that much more special.

For a dining experience unique to Japan, make arrangements for a private kaiseki dinner with geisha entertainers in Kyoto. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner, meticulously prepared by a highly skilled chef. Just experiencing a kaiseki dinner is something many people have on their ultimate travel bucket list, as it may just be the best meal of your life. But we recommend going one step further and arranging for traditional geisha entertainers to join the dinner, which can take place at some of Japan’s best restaurants. In modern day Japan geisha entertainers are highly skilled, training for up to five years to be able to be recognized as geisha.The experience will include traditional music, dancing, and conversation with geisha.

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Tokyo’s world famous Sumo matches? Take an insider’s look at this ancient sport that is still practiced in modern day Japan with an early morning tour of the Sumo stables, which is where the athletes train year-round when they’re not competing. With special arrangements and connections you’ll take a private tour with a guide who is also an expert in the sport - sometimes even a former wrestler themselves - and can facilitate direct conversations with the wrestlers following their morning practice.

The art of samurai sword-making is a centuries old tradition that continues to this day, with sword smiths whose special techniques have been passed down for generations. To learn more about this ancient art form you can visit a workshop and learn how it’s done from a master craftsman, who will then help you forge a blade, also called a katana, of your own. An authentic samurai sword of your own is a souvenir unlike anything you could purchase in a store and will always remind you of your once-in a lifetime trip to Japan!

For an unusual and authentic hotel experience in Japan, opt to spend a night at a traditional Ryokan in addition to some time spent at Western-style luxury hotels. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, and they’re usually located near onsen, the Japanese name for a natural hot spring. Ryokans first came about in the 1600’s and most are characterized by their traditional design - old, wooden buildings with pointed roofs, surrounded by beautiful bamboo gardens. The atmosphere inside Ryokans is peaceful and serene, guest rooms are simple, and the level of hospitality is incredibly high.

Japan has a million hidden treasures, and with a little help from an expert you can uncover and experience this amazing country in a deeper way.

Thursday
May102018

Travel to Kanazawa, Japan’s Best Hidden Secret

It would take a lifetime to discover the best of Japan’s hidden secrets, and many travelers with limited time will only see the highlights of major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto. Even still, it’s possible to maximize your time and see off the beaten path sites in Japan that will give you a more authentic and unique travel experience in this incredible Asian country with so much fascinating history and culture. History buffs should take a trip to beautiful and historic Kanazawa, just two hours by bullet train from Kyoto, where you’ll explore one of the best preserved castle town from the Edo period. Below are some of the best sites and experiences in Kanazawa.

Considered one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan, Kenrokuen Garden is a beautiful place to visit year-round. In the spring, the garden is decorated by colorful plum and cherry springs, flowers such as azaleas bloom in the summer, and fallen leaves of fiery colors make the garden glow in fall. In winter, the snowy garden has "yukizuri" or "snow hangings" built to protect the plants from heavy snowfall, which includes a conical array of ropes that hold up branches to prevent them from breaking. The name "Kenrokuen" means "having six factors," which were used to design the garden’s perfect landscape: expansiveness, peacefulness, artifice, antiquity, water sources, and fantastic views.

The Nagamachi Samurai District was where samurai families lived during the Edo period, and has some buildings that were spared during WW2 and are centuries old. Narrow pedestrian-only lanes, cobblestoned streets, and winding canals make the area very beautiful and photogenic. Some of the former samurai residences and gardens are even open to the public. A visit to this enchanting neighborhood is like going back in time and visiting a fascinating part of Japan’s history.

Kanazawa Castle’s history begins in the early 1546 when it was founded as a religious school for Kanazawa Mido. One of the most interesting features of Kanazawa Castle is the variety of stonewalls located on the castle park grounds. The castle park is sometimes referred to as a "stonewall museum" due the different eras the walls were constructed. Throughout its history the castle has seen a number of fires and a large fire in 1759 almost burned down the entire castle. In 1996, a project was started to rebuild Kanazawa Castle using original construction techniques.

Finally, the most unforgettable part of your trip to Kanazawa will be a visit to a local master sword maker who will show you how to forge your own blade. Planning a trip to Japan can be overwhelming and is best done with the help of a true expert who can help you discover magical places and experiences you would never find otherwise.

Friday
Oct272017

Family Travel Destinations for Luxury and Adventure

Planning a fun family getaway with kids doesn’t have to mean sacrificing adventure or luxury-style travel in favor of theme parks and all-inclusive resorts. Some of our favorite destinations rank high in terms of safety and tick the right boxes for family travel - optimal weather during school break times, palatable food for picky eaters, sleeping arrangements that are comfortable and convertible, and where you can see a lot in a week or so. What lies beyond those basics is even more of a draw - a bonding opportunity for the whole family through experiences that  will thrill travelers of all ages. Through a face to face encounter with an endangered species, or exposure to a wildly different culture, experiencing the sights and natural wonders that feel a world away from home, or taking the opportunity to give back through conservation initiatives, both parents and children will go home with a feeling of significance and a broader understanding of the world beyond the familiar.

Africa has so much to offer families of all kinds. In fact, we’ve dedicated a whole page to ideas for African family safaris. In particular, Botswana is a sparsely populated country with a peaceful energy and vast open spaces for exploration. A beautiful green season coincides with spring break times and brings about lush vegetation and lots of animal babies. In this atmospheric land reminiscent of the Lion King family members of all ages will find themselves enchanted. Canoe through the Selinda Spillway filled with zebra, hippos and elephants, embark on a meerkat walking safari, or go a step further and take part in a solar light distribution to a village where children can interact with others their own age, taking with them life lessons and memories they will cherish their whole lives.

Iceland has been named the most peaceful country in the world for several years in a row now and its location just a few hours from New York and London makes it a prime choice for families looking for a shorter excursion, as highlights can be seen and done in less than a week. Reykjavik has all the conveniences of a big city and easy day trips to waterfalls and thermal pools will keep everyone occupied and also offer some of the most incredible frame-worthy photo opportunities. More adventurous families with slightly older children can also opt to sleep out in a luxury camp on an ice blue glacier giving them more exposure to incredible nighttime spectacles in the sky, depending on the time of year: the never ending day under the midnight sun, or the mind-blowing northern lights.

New Zealand is also considered one of the safest countries in the world, a utopian paradise where airport security is practically non-existent because it doesn’t have to be. Plentiful outdoors activities including swimming with wild dolphins, exploring coastal waters via catamaran or kayak, fly fishing, hiking, exploring mermaid pools, and much more. Parents will love wine tasting in Marlborough where plenty of the wineries are kid-friendly. There are even cultural immersion opportunities with indigenous Maori groups in their villages that are organized and well-equipped to handle visits from tourists. Finally, visions of the spectacular Aurora Australis (the south pole’s version of the Northern Lights) from New Zealand’s south island will leave everyone spellbound.

In Japan, a culture of respect, rich history and ancient traditions that are strikingly different from most everywhere else will result in a sensory-filled learning experience for the whole family. In Tokyo, older kids and teenagers will delight in a trip to the famous Tsujiki Fish Market or a stroll to experience neon overload in Harajuku. Art, music, and all types of media make this capital city a mecca for pop culture lovers. For more traditional learning experiences, there are dozens more temples and UNESCO World Heritage Sights than one can experience in one trip, as well as plenty of natural wonders in more rural areas. Accommodations range from traditional to modern all over the country, and japan is known for being one of the safest and cleanest places on the planet.

At Epic Road we create custom itineraries for families to ensure all needs and interests are met. Check out our pages with expansive info dedicated to family safaris, Iceland, New Zealand, and Japan.

Tuesday
Sep122017

Top Destinations for Foodies in Japan, India, and Sri Lanka

Japan, India, and Sri Lanka have some of the most incredible offerings for food lovers that complement or even anchor the extraordinary experiences that can be had on a bespoke luxury trip to Asia with Epic Road. For some people, sightseeing and adventurous excursions are even just a way to fill the time in between meals, and even if you don’t consider yourself a true “foodie” a fantastic meal may end up being one of your favorite trip memories. Maybe it has something to do with sensory overload - the texture of the freshest sushi, the exotic aroma of the spiciest curries, that sleepy satisfaction following the finest meal that’s heightened by tropical surroundings.

TOKYO, Japan

Serious foodies know that Japan’s capital city has some of the best restaurants in the country, which as a whole is known for its incredible cuisine, and boasts some of the best food on Earth. In fact, Tokyo is the city with the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Fresh and innovative sushi is an obvious choice, and a visit to the world-famous Tsukiji Market is a must. Tokyo has excellent food offerings of all kinds that prioritize high-quality seasonal ingredients. Specifically, Yakitori - skewers of meat roasted over hot coals - is a good option for carnivores, as is Kobe beef and Wagyu, a delectable marbled beef that comes from a breed of Japanese cattle. For the Japanese comfort food comes in the form of noodles; in a place known as Ramen Street eight of the best shops cluster together. A visit to a brewery to taste the best sake in the world comes at a price but is worth the indulgence. Excellent dining options are found everywhere from street stalls to back alleys to exclusive eateries, including an Epic Road signature experience involving a private dinner with a geisha and musicians. 

RAJASTHAN, India

India’s Rajasthan region has some of the best food in this colorful nation, and the city of Jaipur sits at the top of the list of foodie hot spots with a cuisine that is influenced by a rich culture of exotic spices, busy bazaars, and diverse religious influences, as well as by its environment. Rajasthan is arid, but despite the dearth of vegetables that grow here the food is primarily vegetarian, with recipes including an abundance of lentils, beans, red chilies, buttermilk, flatbread, rice, garlic, and different types of curries mixing together various spices like fennel, turmeric, and cumin. Perhaps the most famous Rajasthani dish is called dal baati churma, a combination of three distinct flavors and textures: balls of dough (baati) that are usually dipped into a bowl of spice lentils (dal) and then churma, a mixture of wheat, ghee and sugar. Dal baati churma is emblematic of the Rajasthani way of combining sweet and savory in one meal, with no demarcation between entree and dessert. To sweeten the overall experience in Rajasthan, Epic Road can arrange a private full moon excursion to the magnificent Taj Mahal at sunset or a stay at the sophisticated Jawai Leopard Camp in the Aravalli Hills where meals include organic produce from their own garden. 

SRI LANKA

In Sri Lanka, the island’s colonial history means that the culture and gastronomy both have Portugese, Dutch and English influences. The food also takes a cue from nearby India with a strong focus on rice and curries, albeit without the bite - Sri Lankan food tends to incorporate milder spices like cardamom and cinnamon. Expect to see a huge variety of flavors in menu offerings, with unusual options like pumpkin curry with mustard seeds, jackfruit curry, and side dishes like mixed leafy greens with coconut, flatbreads and homemade chutneys. As a relatively small country, it’s possible to sample and savor it all in one trip: a visit to the tea plantations in the southern hill country, the high end restaurants and street food stalls in cosmopolitan Colombo, and fresh seafood restaurants in northern Jaffna. For a really special experience, Epic Road can set up private cooking lessons for a chance to learn - and taste! - more about this underappreciated cuisine. 

Click here to a deeper look at the incredible travel experiences to be had in different parts of Asia with Epic Road, and read more in depth information on our pages about Japan, India, and Sri Lanka