Japan

How to see the best new bits of Japan before anybody else | Travel

How to see the best new bits of Japan before anybody else | Travel


smallSnowflakes the size of fivepence coins fell on the smooth surface of Ine Bay, an ancient fishing port in the Sea of ​​Japan in an area known as Kyoto by the Sea. A blue heron perches on an oyster bed, waiting for a chance, or beach season. The bay is deserted except for our small pleasure boat, and the 230 wooden houseboats along the water’s edge are quiet, their owners tucked away in beech huts behind. Despite the bite in the air, it’s a sight to behold in Japan’s birthplace.

If the map of Japan were a seahorse, the volcano Tango Peninsula, where Ine is located, would be where the seahorse’s body meets its tail. It is millions of years old.cultural return Thousands, to the first yields of rice and sake.this houseboat The houses with direct access to the sea date back to the Edo period hundreds of years ago, when tourists like me started coming to visit such a time.

Such moments of peace were rare before Japan’s coronavirus-related shutdown. As Ine approached Venice’s overtourist levels, local authorities began working with tour operators to promote slower travel in the area. From now on, visitors will spend no less than two nights in a traditional inn, where they will eat local sustainable food. This year, experts such as Inside Japan, Audley and Wild Frontiers began offering tours of artisan workshops in the hope that people will see Egan in the context of the historic district. My guide took me to meet three young samurai swordsmiths who opened the Nippon Genshosha forge last year to preserve the time-honored method of forging raw steel into £15,000 blades (gensho.jpn.com).

Ghibli Park opens in November

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

If you have never visited Japan or are considering returning to Japan, you are in luck. Classic destinations that have reopened to foreign visitors have new, thought-out infrastructure, allowing them to be explored in exciting and inspiring ways. With visitors still skinny on the ground, you can enjoy plenty of breathing room – as long as you wear a mask both indoors and outdoors, or subject yourself to some heavy gasping.

In the ancient capital of Kyoto, where I started and ended my trip to Ine, the newly built Hotel Higashiyama has washi doors and a tea ceremony bar (where I was greeted after a whiskey-soaked night with antique) nourishing green tea hangover drug). The staff are familiar with the vast contemporary art collection but are also well versed in the city’s artisanal heritage, allowing me to join a kimono silk dyer for a new ‘experience’ (single doubles from £104; tokyuhotelsjapan.com). On the way home, I spotted the recently opened Ace Hotel, a stylish conversion of a century-old telephone station and poised to host Denmark’s famed Noma restaurant, due to move in in March.

Leaving Kyoto and taking the Shinkansen high-speed train, it took less than an hour to arrive in Nagoya.The ancient forest outside the town is the recently opened theme park-museum mash-up Park Ghibli by Japanese animation studio Ghibli, to include Spirited Away and my neighbor chinchilla – My kids ate it as children (£19; ghibli-park.jp). I desperately wanted to get off here, but it was too late in my attempt to book tickets to the park. Ghibli fans should start planning now.

Everywhere else, locals seemed ecstatic to see unfamiliar faces for the first time in three years—even the geisha I ran into in public restrooms outside Mishima, the next stop on the shinkansen map and the ancient Tokaido An old post on a trade route. Dressed in a yellow kimono (folded left over right, as is customary) and a young recruit in tow, she was more than happy to entertain two parties that day after a long, slow blockade.

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The pair are two of only ten geisha still working in the area around Mishima. This quiet neighborhood features a babbling river and an old-fashioned cocktail club, now better known as a base for bowing to the altar of Mount Fuji. Of course, the views from Japan’s tallest mountain have always been spectacular, but the opening of Fujisan Mishima Tokyu Hotel in 2020 takes peak viewing to a new level (double rooms from £139; tokyuhotelsjapan.com).

I intentionally arrived after dark so I was instructed by reception to set the alarm for 6am to enjoy the curated experience. At the appointed time, I put on the pajamas and slippers provided and head to the hot spring bath on the 14th-floor rooftop, just as the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji is receiving its first blush of the morning. Even though its snub-nosed image has graced artwork, postcards, and the walls of every sushi bar for decades, I couldn’t help but gasp when I saw it in person. Or, it was my guest who gasped, and I showed up at this sacred ablution area in outdoor clothes—that is, without any clothes. For the next half hour, the two of us soaked on either side of the steaming bath, dressed appropriately, as the mountain peaks turned from pink to gray to pure white under a clear sky.

For most visitors who stop here on their way to Tokyo, the surprise sunrise on the rooftop of Mount Fuji is enough to write a book about. Yet Mishima is also the gateway to the Izu Peninsula. The mountainous cape was formed when a rogue Philippine island washed up on Japan’s Pacific coast and merged there. And now, just 20 minutes by taxi from Mishima, it has a new claim to fame: a 452-meter-high panorama park.

Crosswalk in Shibuya, Tokyo

Crosswalk in Shibuya, Tokyo

Getty Images

At the foot of Mount Katsuragi, I boarded a gondola for the same après-ski experience as on the Japanese main island (£16 return; panoramapark.co.jp). There are observation decks, and two full-service cafes connected by rows of wooden seats facing Mount Fuji. Then, built into the treetops at the back, is VIP seating: four private cabins covered with blankets and cushions (from £19 per person). They are empty. I started to act.

Fuji is always changing – like a live-action movie, I’m told. The Mt Fuji I saw a few hours ago was not the Mt Fuji I saw from my cabin surrounded by cirrus clouds and the distant Southern Alps. A waiter knelt beside me, serving green tea ice cream. Another tried to get me interested in footbaths, further up the hillside next to an ancient shrine. I can’t imagine a more typical Japanese scene.

Until, that is, later that day. Because probably the most Japanese thing about Izu is that you can enjoy a post-lunch happy coma at Mishima Station, 50 minutes later and get off on the inner circle of the Tokyo Metro, between one of the world’s largest Muji stores and the tower of the Aman Hotel.

That’s not to say the sudden transformation after Izu’s wild bamboo groves and acid-green fields isn’t vaguely scary. I made sure my first stop in Tokyo was the newly opened Shibuya Sky Observation Deck, where I was able to position myself above the organized chaos of Shibuya Crossing, the iconic crossing that makes Piccadilly Looks like the place (£11; Shibuya Scramble Plaza.com). Safe on it, I put my bag in the locker room and climb up the glass parapet to watch Tokyo in miniature. To the east, I caught a glimpse of the 634-meter Skytree, and to the west, with Fuji jutting out of the background, I tried to figure out which low-rise block I was going to sleep that night.

Best trips while in Japan

I chose a hotel called Mustard. Its only nod to my favorite condiment, other than the yellow business card at check-in, is the brochure claiming it’s added a “secret ingredient” to the community – it’s sleek, ultra-modern, but cheap enough to appeal to those The elusive digital nomad. There’s a Mustard in Shibuya, but a friend suggested I stay at the new outpost in Shimokitazawa, five minutes west on the subway.

The “Shimokita” neighborhood is a maze of narrow pedestrian streets around an old railway junction, which survived wartime bombing.In fact, there was nothing modern about it until this decade, when new developments along immaculate old tracks started cutting into small enclaves dedicated to pocket sizes Izakaya (Japanese gastropub) and old kimono sellers.

This would be a great introduction to Tokyo. On the way there, I spotted an artisanal donut bakery, a boutique selling tissue paper ceramics, and a salon that indicated it worked on “human hair.” Wasabi seems at home in the slender whitewashed Reload complex, alongside an old-school “coffee lab” playing jazz. Staying here is a great move. Shimokita’s affordable vintage souvenirs and crazy souvenir figurines intrigued me, and when I kept hopping to the lobby to repack my bag with new purchases for hours after checking out, wasabi and There’s no holding back (room-only double from £87; mustardhotel.com).

In my last few hours in the city, I tried a few new things. . . tomes. Halfway through a recommended dinner spot, behind an illegible neon sign, I noticed an open kitchen with an empty stool on the counter. The chef beckoned me in. I pointed to something I couldn’t understand on the menu. Then I took part in “hope for the best” endangered practice. I was lucky enough to eat some damn fine chow mein. Let’s hope at least some things never change.

Ellen Himelfarb is a guest of all mentioned hotels, Japan Airlines, Heathrow-Tokyo round trip £1,189 (jal.co.jp) and Shinkansen trains; Kyoto-Tokyo round trip £112 (shinkansen-ticket.com ). 15 nights full board on the Japan Uncovered tour, covering places similar to the author’s trip, from £7,090 per person including flights (wendywutours.co.uk)

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