Travel is again booming. With restrictions slowly dropping in many countries, travellers are getting out and exploring the world. After several years with significantly low tourist numbers, Japan is a hot destination with a record number of tourists embarking on private escorted tours of Japan or Japan guided tours.
I was recently presented with an irresistible opportunity by Japan National Tourism Organisation, offering a chance to experience luxury travel Japan in several wonderful regions. I have been to Japan before, but this recent opportunity allowed me to explore new territories and learn about new experiences and activities.
For me, Japan has it all. Whether you are a food lover or a seeker of nature, a culture enthusiast or an adventure junkie, Japan offers many captivating experiences that will leave you spellbound.
The highlights of my recent trip were both diverse and breathtaking – a common occurrence in this fascinating country.
Here below are my top five experiences.
TeamLab Planets Tokyo
What Japan does exceptionally well is incorporate technology into everyday life.
TeamLab Planets Tokyo is a renowned digital art museum in the heart of Japan’s vibrant capital city. It is said to be one of the world’s most Instagramable destinations, and I can see why.
Put simply, this experience was mesmerising and one of my favourites. This installation pushes the boundaries of reality. It toyed with my brain. It stretched my sense of reality. It fooled my senses in the most wonderful way.
The beauty of TeamLab Planets lies in the seamless integration of technology and nature.
If you are embarking on a Japan private tour or a Japan-guided tour, a stop at TeamLab Planets cannot be missed.
Ama Pearl Divers & Seafood lunch at Ama Hut Satoumian
South of Tokyo, halfway to Kobe on a peninsula is the region of Ise Shima in the eastern area of the Mie Prefecture. To get here you need a diversion off the well-travelled thoroughfare south to Osaka which makes this region an area that is not as well frequented by travellers. That to me is a plus.
Those looking for luxury travel Japan experiences are well catered for in this region. I was lucky enough to experience two related luxury Japanese experiences – shelling pearl shells and making my own take-home jewellery as well as dining at the seafood hut operated by the Ama free-divers.
A cage of pearl shells was lifted from the water and the contents emptied onto the table. In all there were around 100 shells that came from this single cage. As a team, we removed the shells and extracted the exquisite pearl from its three-year home. Once cleaned we then added our best pearls to either a ring or necklace to take home. It was a wonderful experience to transform raw, unpolished pearls into exquisite jewelry.
After the morning shucking pearl shells, we were lucky enough to dine at the Ama Hut Satoumian, which is operated by female Ama underwater free-divers. The restaurant was set up as a form of support and income for the divers.
The Ama underwater free-divers are famous in Japan, if not worldwide. They free dive in the local waters for seafood and pearl shells. Ama free-diving as a practice has been around for 2000 years and it is predominantly female divers who participate. A customary practice for female divers is to wear white clothing when diving underwater.
At the Ama Hut Satoumian, the seafood that was cooked on the fire pits was nothing short of sublime – abalone, lobster, and other wonderful delicacies from the ocean with a splash of lemon or lime that sent the taste buds dancing.
Knife Making @ Sakai
Sakai is a city located in the Osaka Prefecture. Sakai is a blacksmith town famous for its Japanese knives, said to be used by 90% of Japanese chefs.
I was lucky enough to make my very own knife at the Wada Shoten. Over a two-hour experience, I learnt about the Japanese art of knife making and then procured the knife metal, sharpened it to razor sharp and finished it with a handle of my choice.
The knife I brought home sits on my magnetic knife board, blade up, in my kitchen. The knife is carbon steel, unlike many of my locally bought stainless steel knives. Out of all my knives, I find that I must give the most care and attention to my Sakai knife in wiping, cleaning, and sharpening. As an example, they can stain if left without cleaning after using on acidic foods. The joy this knife brings me is immeasurable, especially since I know the history behind Sakai knives and the fact that I personally helped assemble my own knife.
Kobe Beef…in Kobe
If you are a vegetarian, then you may wish to skip this section.
Australia produces high-quality beef. Although I’ve had some great experiences with Australian beef, my evening in Kobe surpassed them all thanks to the delicious Kobe beef restaurant I dined at.
Kobe beef comes from the Japanese Black breed and more specifically the Tajima-gyu cows of which strict lineage is required. This breed comes from the mountainous areas in this prefecture and live in relative isolation and has developed incredibly unique differences in taste and texture.
I have never experienced beef quite like this before. It may be cliqued to say, but an accurate description would be to say that it melted in my mouth. There was little chewing involved as it was so tender.
The dining experience was hugely impressive, as we watched the chefs skilfully dice, sear, and turn the Kobe beef on the hotplates right in front of us. The chefs included small condiments to complement different beef cuts. Occasionally we had a morsel of lettuce or carrot, which made this a balanced meal.
Temple Stay in Koyasan
Our last night in Japan was not what you would call a luxury travel Japan stay but it was a stupendously wonderful Japanese experience for the soul and gave me a great insight into Japanese Buddhism.
Our stay was in the mountains at a temple hotel in Koyasan (Wakayama Prefecture) which was a simple lodging on the edge of the enchanting Okunoin Cemetery, the largest in Japan. Whilst the Kobe Beef dinner was not for vegetarians, this stay catered for vegetarians with not a whiff of meat.
The temple complex was founded by the monk Kobo Daishi and is the headquarters for the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. This area is so important to the Japanese population that in 2004 it was named a UNESCO heritage site.
During my stay, I had the pleasure of experiencing an after-dark tour of a unique and magical Okunoin cemetery, guided by a Buddhist monk. This was no ordinary cemetery, as it was surrounded by towering cedar trees covered in moss and featured a long stone pathway leading to a magnificent mausoleum. The mausoleum was breathtakingly beautiful, illuminated by thousands of lanterns and making for an unforgettable sight. I felt privileged to have the opportunity to explore this magical place with the guidance and insights of the monk.
These were just some of the great activities experienced during my recent stay in Japan thanks to the generosity of Japan National Tourism Organisation.
At Traveloso, we believe that travel is all about stimulating the senses. Japan is a destination that offers plenty of opportunities for just that.
We focus on sending clients on private escorted tours of Japan as well as Japan luxury small group tours.