Our Japan travel guide starts in the bustling streets of Tokyo and ends in the peaceful nature of Mount Fuji as Sarah-Louise and Christopher take us on a breathtaking journey to the island nation.
TOKYO: WHERE TRADITION MEETS MODERNISM
A well-presented taxi driver weaves us through spotless streets, whisking us to the heart of Japan’s largest financial centre. After months of planning we had finally touched down in the upper echelon of electric cities, Tokyo.
A place where integrity meets attention to detail and tradition meets modernism, Tokyo is a city of inimitable scale and charm, where unique and fascinating concrete structures are sown together by a web of busy highways, luscious gardens and ancient temples. We made our way around the Imperial Palace Gardens as the glowing sun reflected off the district’s towering skyscrapers, our destination, one of the most exclusive hotels the city has to offer, Aman Tokyo.
In a city that invented small scale living, the notion of luxury can be found through peace, tranquillity, and a little more room to spread your wings. A marvel of modernist design and our escape from Tokyo’s sprawling metropolis, Aman Tokyo truly is a sanctuary in the sky.
The vast lobby atrium set on the 33rd floor creates an unforgettable first impression, with floor to ceiling windows offering one of the most striking views of the city skyline. The rooms cleverly fuse an appreciation of clean lines and contemporary minimalism with traditional colours and textures influenced by Japanese ryokan inns.
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
The views from every room are extraordinary, each overlooking the sprawling city and Imperial Palace below — as night falls, thousands of twinkling lights fill the sky, time to relax, breathe deep and escape the bustle of the frantic world below.
Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to see a great deal of Tokyo even if time is not on your side. So how does one tackle a city that plays muse to so many all over the world? Planning is essential; our Pilot’s Watch Chronograph and Portofino Automatic timepieces were the perfect companions, ensuring we were always on time.
With over a hundred thousand restaurants, most with only eight seats, booking in advance is a must. Here are a few of our favorites. Dine at Shima or Wagyu Mafia for the world’s finest Waygu beef. For fresh sushi handmade before your eyes, book a seat at the chef’s table at Sushi Nakamura or Sukiyabashi Jiro. Pick up a trendy yet traditional Japanese lunch at Maison Tonkotsu. Dine by candlelight with the best views of the city at Arva in Aman Tokyo.
The streets of Ginza offer the best luxury boutiques and fine dining experiences. After a quick stop into the IWC store to marvel over the exquisite collection of timepieces, we headed south to visit the historic gardens of the world famous Meiji Jingu Shrine.
For something iconic, a visit to the Shibuya Crossing is a must, the organised chaos sums up the pace and temperament of Tokyo perfectly. For contemporary design boutiques and one-of-a-kind vintage stores, explore the maze of pristine streets in the Shibuya District.
The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hands of man.
KYOTO: A FEAST FOR ALL SENSES
It was time to move on, we jumped on the Shinkansen bullet train two hours south to our next destination, the historic city of Kyoto. Home to thousands of ancient temples, shrines and immaculate gardens, our home for a few days was a traditional Japanese ryokan, the amazing Shiki Juraku. Peaceful, authentic, and perfectly located, we were instantly made to feel at home as we set off to explore the temples of Daigo Ji, Fushimi Inari-Taisha and Higashiyama.
Exquisite cuisine takes centre stage when exploring Japan, and Kyoto was no exception. Located on the Philosopher’s Path near Ginkakuji, Monk is a modest establishment that boasts simple dishes, prepared in a primitive way and cooked on a wood fire. Each morning head chef, Yoshihiro Imai, visits farms tucked in the mountains of Ohara to gather fresh local produce. His cooking is an art, his passion showing through in the taste and presentation of each and every dish. One of our culinary highlights in Japan was Kyoto’s legendary Tempura Matsu. A family run restaurant, head chef Toshio Matsuno is a marvel of innovative Japanese Kaiseki, the two-hour experience features flawless presentation and dishes from tempura to oysters and sashimi, it truly is something everyone should experience at least once.
Our next stop was the picturesque district of Arashiyama, after a short boat ride along the Katsura River we found ourselves at Hoshinoya Kyoto. Set atop a hill on the rivers edge, the breath-taking property boasts traditional Japanese architecture in its finest form and stands harmoniously against the tranquil forest backdrop. When in Kyoto, be sure to explore the iconic Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, take a walk around the streets of Gion and immerse yourself in the sights, scents and tastes of Nishiki Market.
FUJI: A PERFECT BALANCE
To escape the bustle of the city, we set off into the wild. Hidden amongst red pine forests with mesmerizing views of Mt. Fuji and Kawaguchiko Lake, Hoshinoya Fuji is one of Japan’s most ethereal places to stay. The hotel itself is made up of glass and concrete cabins that blend seamlessly with their surroundings, each with a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji, a view that we will remember waking up to for the rest of our lives. The back-to-basics approach promotes a true sense of relaxation, from the glowing campfires to the forest dinners of venison and wild mushrooms under the star; this is glamping in its finest form, striking the perfect balance between adventure, luxury and comfort.
Where will we head to next? Make sure you follow the @iwcjournal Instagram to find out.
Sarah-Louise Marks and Christopher Phelps run the popular travel blog "The Adventures of Us". The London-based couple are sharing their breathtaking escapes on The Journal in a special travel series.
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