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Luxury Travel in Japan: Ryokans and Timeless Tokyo

OVERVIEW

A small country with a big personality. Luxury travel in Japan is like an amuse-bouche, a small yet flavorful taste that inevitably leaves you craving more. Often misrepresented as a homogeneous place and people, Japan reveals its true colors and expresses its beautifully intricate and diverse culture across many distinct cities. Tokyo is timeless, a city where past, present and future can not only coexist but thrive, a city where skyscrapers and luxury boutiques are neighbor to peaceful shrines and century-old artisanal businesses and luxury ryokans. Kyoto is imperial, a city that glistens with rich ancient heritage as former home to the emperor for over a millennium and present resting place to more temples than one can fathom. Hakone is traditional, with breathtaking views of Mount Fuji and some of Japan's finest ryokans. Naoshima is inspirational, an island town located in the Seto Inland Sea and the ultimate stomping ground for contemporary art and architecture. Hiroshima is invincible. It's testimonial to recent history is offset by the mesmerizing scenery of nearby Miyajima, the Island of Gods and lesser-known Kanazawa, Japan's best kept secret, a shrine of preserved culture and insatiable tastes. Luxury travel in Japan is irreplicable, offering a signature look at an extraordinary crossroads of history and modernity, sophisticated handicraft, utopian landscape and amazing gastronomy.

So much to see, so little time...It's impossible to experience all that Japan has to offer in one visit, so take our word for it and don't try to see it all - you'll come back, anyway.  

WHAT WE LOVE 

  • Tokyo Lost & Found: A small space paired with a fierce culture has allowed for one of the most impressive cities in the world. Tokyo renders urban chaos desirable as the most populous metropolitan area on Earth, the Gastronomic Capital of the World, and as home to the biggest fish market, most expensive sake, best service, fashion and riverboat entertainment on the planet. Lose yourself in a maze of Michelin-starred restaurants, pachinko parlors, quirky museums, imperial architecture and bustling streets. Re-discover yourself in a deliciously juicy watermelon square and a short train ride to the mountains. Test the limits of your sensory stimulation and then let it all go - it's part of the experience.
  • Visit Sumo Stables: Become privy to the discipline and traditions that go on behind the scenes in the life of a Sumo wrestler with a morning visit to one of Tokyo’s legendary Sumo stables. Observe the special nuances of this ancient sport and you’ll understand why these athletes are still revered in modern day Japan. Later, visit Tokyo's National Sumo Hall and witness former champions demonstrate classic moves and aspiring ones compete against each other in bouts that usually last for just a few intense seconds.
  • Samurai Swordmaking:  Take a bullet train to a well-preserved castle town from the Edo period with one of the last remaining samurai districts and immerse yourself in the ancient Japanese art form of sword-making. We’ll connect you to a local sword maker who will captivate you with the incredible detailed workmanship that goes into making a Katana sword. After learning from this master, you’ll have the opportunity to forge a beautiful blade of your own to take home as the ultimate trip souvenir. 
  • A Traditional Luxury Ryokan Experience: very country-specific kind of accommodation, ryokans elegantly embody the concept of "Omotenashi", Japanese hospitality at its best. From the instant you arrive to the moment you depart, personalized service and attention to detail are second to none. Complimented with sumptuous kaiseki cuisine and private thermal hot-spring baths from the comfort of your suite, prepare yourself for a genuinely flawless experience. 
  • Kyoto Temples: 17 temples are listed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites list and they are there for a reason. We highly encourage you to visit these grand monuments but we also love the more anonymous and unexplored temples in remote corners of the city. So remember to satisfy your curiosity and explore the grounds for lesser-known hidden gems.
  • Private Sushi Class & Chef-Escorted Tsukiji Shopping: Sushi chefs walk you through the local markets, help you pick out the freshest ingredients and teach you how to make incredible sushi.
  • Private Encounter with a Monk & Meditation: Tap into your spiritual well-being with hands-on meditation coaching from a Monk. These retreats include walks in the fresh mountain air, often leading to exquisite shrines, breathtaking waterfalls and natural hot springs.
  • Private Visits to Artisans' Workshops: Those interested in Japanese art can visit with a local artisan at their home or workshop for an authentic and immersive experience. Learn expert tricks of the trade as you sit side by side with a master of the unique craft that interests you most (Japanese calligraphy, gold leaf, silk kimono dyeing, Geisha, Kabuki, Ikebana).  
  • Private Encounter with a Geisha & Fine Dining: This once in a lifetime experience takes place in a restaurant you will find in no guidebook and which only accepts reservations upon recommendation from existing patrons. Over the course of an exquisite kaiseki dinner, you will be privy to world-class entertainment and exclusive interaction with musicians and Geisha.
  • Private Calligraphy Lessons: Learn about traditional Shodo Calligraphy and how to replicate this incredible art form.
  • Naoshima's Benesse House: Once a sleepy island of the Seto Inland Sea, Naoshima emerged from anonymity thanks to the opening of the Benesse House, designed by self-taught and esteemed architect Tadao Ando. If Ben Stiller has ever compelled you to spend the night in a museum, this integrated Art & Accommodation complex will allow for that dream to come true. Discover the island at your own pace and feast on the surplus of galleries, exhibitions and art installations - this fashionable getaway is a veritable wonderland for lovers of the arts. 

REST & REJUVENATE

  • Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo: An extraordinary sense of space where you wouldn't think it possible. Whether you're walking through the lobby, relaxing in your suite, or dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant, the views from the Mandarin will take your breath away. Dramatic and ever changing throughout the day, these views are perfectly captured as all rooms are adorned with expansive glass walls and the acclaimed spa is no exception.
  • Aman, Tokyo: Set in the heart of Otemachi, Aman Tokyo embodies the fusion of urban dynamism and traditional serenity that we love so much about Japan. Aman features large luxury suites outfitted with traditional furnishings from washi paper slide doors to an ofuro or deep-soaking bathtub, a spa with eight different treatment rooms, a 1,200-bottle wine cellar, an in-house signature sake and a private dining room perched right above Tokyo's sweeping skyline. 
  • Andaz, Tokyo: Located in Tokyo's second-tallest highrise and surrounded by the capital's ever-pulsating urban flux, we present Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills. The property hosts gorgeous boutique hotel rooms and specialty suites, a rooftop bar with breathtaking views and a 20-metre pool overlooking the Imperial Palace. 
  • Gora Kadan, Hakone: Formerly a getaway for the Imperial Family, Gora Kadan is, as expected, one of the most luxurious ryokan in Japan. The rooms are grand in size, beautifully minimalist in design and serene in lighting. Take full advantage of this peaceful resort and soak in a private open-air bath before fruther rewarding yourself with a gourmet Japanese kaiseki from the comfort of your own suite.
  • Araya Totoan, Yamashiro Onsen (Ishikawa Prefecture): Lesser-known but just as fabulous, Araya Totoan is one of Japan's oldest ryokan and has been operated by the same family for 18 generations. Here you will enjoy the unique hospitality that only a small ryokan with long tradition can offer, sophisticated cuisine served in ancient lacquer and ceramics ware and a hypnotizing sense of relaxation you never knew you could attain.
  • Beniya Mukayu, Yamashiro Onsen (Ishikawa Prefecture): This Relais & Chateaux property is simple yet decadent. The elegant architecture of Beniya Mukayu hosts 17 suites, each with their own private open-air hot spring bath overlooking a voluptuous authentic Japanese garden, as beautiful in Winter and Summer as in Spring and Autumn. An intimately cultural experience awaits - traditional private tea ceremonies performed by the owner, yoga lessons given by his wife, kaiseki cuisine served on locally crafted dishes and invigorating medicinal spa treatments tailored to your needs and desires.
  • Tarawaya, Kyoto: If you're looking for a pure, uncompromised taste of Japanese hospitality in the most traditional sense, Tarawaya ryokan fully and undeniably epitomizes this experience. Private gardens, tea time in the zen library, ten-course kaiseki cuisine served in the comfort of your room, Japanese decor and impeccable service through and through.
  • The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto: This property has been described as a modern day luxury ryokan - combining century old traditions with world class hospitality that The Ritz-Carlton is known for. Perfectly located at the heart of Kyoto, the Ritz affords expansive panoramic views of the Kamogawa River and Higashiyama mountains. So retire to your culturally inspired suite with floor-to-ceiling windows and traditional Japanese motifs, relax, and enjoy the mesmerizing and imperial purple sunset.  
  • Hyatt Regency, Kyoto: The Hyatt Regency is a 5-star luxury property located in the traditional and historic area of Higashiyama, Shichijo. The Regency suites are adorned with high ceilings, garden views and Japanese interiors including a deep wooden Hiba tub and a Tatami living room. The Riraku Spa treatments incorporate both Eastern and Western traditions, inspired by Shiatsu, Acupuncture, Maxibustion and Aromatherapy. The Hyatt is stylish and cultural and your stay is guaranteed to be a great one. 
WHAT TO KNOW
  • Best Time to Visit Japan: 
    • End of March & early April is a bit of a Catch-22. These months mark the height of the beautiful Cherry Blossom season but they also mark the busiest travel season. Hotels are often booked out as far as 6 months in advance so make sure to contact us early on!
    • Fall (Mid-October to End-November) is incredible anywhere, but the Autumn leaves in Japan are inexplicably vibrant and colorful. But again, be sure to note that this is a busy season.
    • Late Spring (Mid-May to End-June) & Late Summer (September to Mid-October) are our personal favorite times, as they offer great weather and smaller crowds. 
    • Winter is rather cold and there is always potential for rain or snow. That being said, crisp blue skies, amazing seafood and sparse crowds make this a very desirable season to visit Japan.
  • Visa: On arrival for US citizens (valid for 3 months)
  • Japan Travel Tips from Epic Road

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