Summer 2019

108 In the lead up to Japan hosting the Rugby World Cup this Autumn and the 2020 Summer Olympics, Alison Brinkworth, writing for LUXlife, highlights unmissable experiences the country has to offer. Sitting back in an outdoor wooden tub soaking in simmering hot water from nearby bubbling natural springs, my view stretched for miles across ancient hillsides where samurai and emperors once roamed. Even simple bathing is steeped in historic rituals in Japan – and one of many unforgettable experiences you won’t want to miss. Japan has quickly become one of the most fashionable destinations in the world, even before the country secured two international sporting events for the coming year. On top of that, Osaka will host the World Expo in 2025. The country offers an eclectic mix of bustling modern cities and peaceful misty mountain landscapes that are home to playful snow monkeys and flourish with pink blossom in the Spring and leaves the colour of burning embers in Autumn. While your key destination will probably involve main cities of Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima and the historic heartland of Kyoto, make the best out of your trip by considering these options too. The Japanese archipelago is highly volcanic, so you’ll find numerous spectacular sights and hot springs, which are called ‘Onsen’ in Japanese. Onsen often come with bathing facilities Japan’s Unmissable Luxury Experiences It’s a peaceful, relaxing haven with distinctive traditional rooms and the highest quality of service from attentive staff. What’s more, as the area is famous for hot springs, the hotel has separate male and female bathing areas (which require nudity). Alternatively, a private bathing room can be booked for free that features a secluded balcony with an outdoor, traditional bath-tub and stunning views. There’s many more Onsen where you can enjoy hot springs including Kusatsu in Gunma, which has one of the most famous hot springs resorts in Japan. Gunma is also where you find the luxury Relais & Chateaux hotel Bettei Senjuan, where the snow-capped peaks and natural beauty of Mount Tanigawa can be seen from every room. The floor to ceiling windows and a zen interior aim to make guests feel at one with the scenic surroundings. Then there is Beppu, on the island of Kyushu, which offers something different of mud baths and black sand. This area prides itself on having 3,000 hot springs feeding into over 150 public bathhouses. Other renowned areas to take in the waters are Tohoku and Tochigi. Ryokans began life in the 8th Century as basic wooden inns for weary travellers to stay the night but now provide distinctive and often luxurious accommodation that embody the traditional culture and customs of historic Japan. With paper doors, futons and tatami mats made of woven reeds on the floor, the atmosphere is very different from a normal hotel and a far cry from the skyscrapers, noise and hi-tech lifestyles of larger cities. Ryokans also provide guests with a set meal that is truly memorable. There may be food you have never tasted before, like a furry fish or wholesome broth, but it’s all beautifully presented and made using historic recipes. The Japan Tourism website has a directory to search for ryokans here. For once in a lifetime experiences, head to the outskirts of Kyoto to Arashiyama. Here you will because soaking in the waters is believed to have health benefits. The Hakone region, around a one-hour journey from Tokyo, should be on your must-see list where a day trip becomes an adventure, taking you over the live smoking Owakudani volcano in a cable car. Heading further on with break-taking views at every turn, the Hakone Ropeway travels towards Japan’s highest peak, the imperious snow-topped Mount Fuji. Its final destination is the glorious Ashinoko Lake where there’s inexplicably a pirate ship to jump aboard for a tour of the lake. A word of advice: check ahead as when volcanic gas levels are high, and as such part of the cable car service can be suspended, although a replacement bus route is then in action through this wild and stunning landscape. The cable car journey starts in Gora, just a few steps from the luxurious Gora Tensui, a boutique hotel with 20 rooms, priced between £143 and £780 per night. Guests are given traditional kimonos and slippers to wear during their stay, and the elegant bar has a foot bath running around it to soak your feet while sipping on a cool drink.