Japan is a culture all at once exotic and familiar, modern but ancient, intense yet sedate... Experience these contrasts, from Geisha, pop culture, ancient rituals, sublime spirituality, to outdoor adventures. Below are only a handful of experiences we can organize during your travel in Japan.
Sumo tournaments are only at certain times of the year in Osaka and Tokyo, but there is nothing more astonishing in Japan than witnessing the power of the massive wrestlers doing battle and the grand spectacle of the tournament itself, involving complex rituals.
If a tournament is not on, we can plan a private sumo stable (gym) visit to watch sumo train and interact with them over breakfast afterwards, enjoying an extraordinary and intimate view into their unique lifestyles. This fascinating experience also provides insight on Japan's ancient sumo traditions and most popular national sport.
Tokyo and Kyoto are surprisingly fun, safe, and efficient by bicycle for all ages. Explore back alleys and unique places most travelers miss with an experienced cycling guide. E-bikes now allow all travelers to enjoy cycling for small or longer parts of their trip. For longer cycling trips, consider our Tango Peninsula cycling tour or explore remote stretches of sublime Kyushu. We can also add a detour from Kyushu to the wild, rainforest island Takushima.
Japan is known for its bullet trains but not many travelers know it also has the world's an exclusive train, Seven Stars, a slow but luxurious one which crawls past majestic volcanoes, across hills shrouded in bamboo and cypress trees, then onwards to emerald green rice paddies and crisp shorelines of fishing boats and seaweed farms in Kyushu. Suites feature the finest in Japanese craftsmanship, with walls of rosewood and maple, floors of walnut, Shoji paper screens over the windows, and hand-etched glass of flowers and birds. Combine this three-night luxurious train journey with our unique itineraries in Tokyo and Kyoto.
The blissful sound of the monk's chanting ritual wakes you each morning at an ancient monastery on the slopes of a sacred mountain. It's a sensual way to start the day, spirituality floating between the temple walls. Japan luxury tours sometimes incorporate an opulent hotel on the highest floors of a skyscraper. But luxury comes in the uniqueness of the experience when you spend the night in a temple, sleeping on traditional tatami mats, sipping on fragrant tea, conversing with and being served traditional vegetarian meals by the resident monks, and soaking in an onsen (hot spring pool). It's the perfect break from the cities and an insight into Zen Buddhism, a part of Japan isn't always apparent, but is at the heart of their culture.
It's easy to mistake the Japanese for a secular society, yet Zen Buddhism and Shintoism lie at the heart of Japanese history and culture. Seeing a dozen temples in Kyoto can provide a superficial snapshot, one that's peaceful and beautiful but only the starting point onto the tradition. There's so much more to discover, as all our luxury Japan travel can show how Buddhism continues to influence Japanese society and art. Spend time with a monk in Kyoto during an annual festival, explore Mount Koya with a nun, and visit with artists behind the changing art scene.
This insight into Buddhism can be an inspiring introduction to Japan, one that contradicts the stereotypes of a fast-paced culture. It's also an interlude, a chance to escape the cities and learn from the equilibrium of local monks. Or our escorted Japan tours can make spirituality their focus, revealing how it perforates all parts of life in the country. We also arrange an immersive luxury Japan tour, exploring the festivals. ceremonies, rituals, and sacred places that make Japan what it is.
Explore Naoshima Japan’s famed "Island of Art," which has become a mecca for contemporary art and architecture fans. Naoshima sounds like a single island although is actually comprised of over two dozen islands dispersed in the Seto Inland Sea. Once an area of heavy industry, Naoshima proper has being reborn as a massive space of modern art museums with its architectural buildings and sculptures distributed all around its landscapes bringing worldwide renown. Throughout the island are scattered outdoor sculpture and installation art by world-renowned artists such as Kusama Yayoi. Indoors, impressive art collections can be found at several museums including the Benesse House Museum, itself part of a series of striking architectural structures including dual-purpose lodging and museum sites.
Stroll Naoshima's sublime, tranquil landscapes and modern art installations, including the Benesse Art Site, Chichū Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum, the Art House Project, and Ando Museum world's away from the frenetic urban cities on the mainland. A visit to nearby Teshima is also highly recommended and can be arranged.
This master sushi class takes place under the expert instruction of a Michelin-starred chef in Tokyo, a city where food is both art and science, applied in search for perfection. Begin with a visit to the renowned Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest wholesale fish market int he world, with your sushi chef to learn about and pick out the right meats for your class.
In Tokyo, the art certainly isn't restricted to famous museums. Galleries are hidden on back alleys, unique art fills private residences in tucked-away suburbs, and contemporary design fills derelict warehouses. The challenge is finding it all, for even when you're on the right street, it's hard to find the right door. We arrange insider's guided tours of Tokyo's inspiring art scene, taking you to distinctive galleries and museums that are only known to those invested in the local scene. There's even an anime-inspired castle in the woods and a renovated public bathhouse from the 1950s.
A place renowned for dignified temples and shrines, a massive castle, and tranquil landscaped gardens, Kyoto is also unsurpassed for crafts. There we can arrange visits to authentic shops and factories making traditional goods made from pottery, glass, textile, lacquer ware, and bamboo, where one can observe and work hands on with craftsmen. However, Kyoto is also a place of new things and ideas and the city has long been a place of innovation in the arts and sciences. Although modern art in Japan, along with almost everything else modern or new, is centered in Tokyo with contemporary Japanese artists eager to have their work shown and sold there the art scene in Kyoto, although always very small when compared to Tokyo, nonetheless in the last few years there has been a rise in galleries and vibrant scene in Kyoto devoted to ''new'' Japanese art. Several galleries have cropped up in the city, and in recent years, many young people and artists are discovering links to past, renovating machiya (traditional Kyoto merchant homes), converting them into stylish restaurants, cafes, galleries and shops. This has added a new face to the city landscape of ancient Kyoto.
The famous Tokyo Giants provide a fascinating spectacle of how the baseball-crazy the Japanese are, where games are taken to another level beyond what has even been seen in the U.S., with beating drums, flags, and chanting fans, it is a spectacle not to miss. Games are played at the famed Tokyo Dome from late February through September. If the Giants are not playing during your visit, then the Seibu Lions or Swallows are also another option for taking in a game.
Explore Japan's bucolic landscapes, traveling along rural coastlines, through remote islands, volcanic peaks, bamboo forests, river valleys, hot springs, and quaint villages. Explore by bicycle, foot, boat, and train, traveling through these quintessentially Japanese settings. Along the way, enjoy comfort and high aesthetics in the country's most luxurious hotels and renowned ryokans. Our outdoor luxury Japan vacations are completely handcrafted, taking you to landscapes that few have even heard about. Some of the featured destinations include Kamakura, Mount Koya, Hakone, the islands of Shikoku, Naoshima, and Kyushu, along with the remote and tranquil northern shores where few travelers venture.
There are few experiences more quintessentially Japanese than staying at a traditional ryokan. Ryokans, or guest houses, are from ancient times yet still popular with Japanese today and range from simple properties are some of the most famous and luxurious accommodation in Japan, such as the renowned ryokans Tawaraya in Kyoto and Gora Kadan in Hakone.
Constructed using traditional Japanese methods in a minimalist style featuring tatami mat flooring, plain sliding doors made from rice paper, and of course, futon bedding, gardens, and onsen (warm spring baths). Breakfast and multi-course kaiseki dinner are served by custom. Some ryokan also offer Western style beds for those with mobility issues or simply prefer an elevated mattress.
While Japanese typically escape the cities to relax in remote ryokans located in the countryside, there are also ryokans in cities, including Tokyo and Kyoto. Some of our travelers enjoy mixing both ryokan and modern properties, even within the same destination, to experience both. Ask us for recommendations.
In Japan, the tea ceremony is a composite art where the sense of beauty, space, etiquette, and the spirit of hospitality coalesce and is based on four principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. Experience the sublime “Way of Tea” during a private traditional tea ceremony lead by a tea master in a traditional machiya (wooden townhouse) we will arrange during your stay in Kyoto. This tranquil ancient ritual is deeply rooted in history and rich with symbolism—one of the most insightful and pleasant experiences you can have during your travel in Japan.
Experience the sublime “Way of Tea” during this private traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto lead by a tea master in a traditional machiya (wooden townhouse).
During this one to three-hour long ceremony, enjoy the pleasant setting of the tea house, surrounding nature, and calming, ritualized engagement with your host. Along with witnessing the choreographic practice of predefined movements and aesthetics in preparing and serving of green tea (matcha), enjoy traditional Japanese sweets called Namagash, that are served with the intent to balance the bitter taste of the green tea.
The most famous exponent of the tea ceremony was Sen Rikyū, an aesthete at the 16th-century court of the military dictator Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who codified the ceremony into a style known as wabi-cha (meaning roughly “simplicity,” “quietude,” and “absence of ornament”), which still enjoys popularity in Japan. The preference of the wabi-cha tea masters for simple, seemingly rustic objects for use in the tea ceremony led to the production of tea utensils in this simple style most notably the famous pottery used for pots, bowls and cups, known as raku ware.
Since then, tea has become a quintessential part of Japanese culture and sipped everywhere, from Tokyo’s hip cafés to elaborate tea ceremonies in Kyoto's temple gardens. Wazuka, near Kyoto, is landscapes of undulating tea bushes and where the country's finest and most prized-tea tea, Ujicha, is from.
A tea practitioner, or host, must be familiar not only with preparing tea, but also the production and types of tea and associated components, including kimono, calligraphy, flower arranging, ceramics, incense and a wide range of other disciplines and traditional arts in addition to his or her school's tea practices. The study of tea ceremony takes many years and often lasts a lifetime and there are tea ceremony schools—the main ones, Urasenke and Omotesenke, have their headquarters located in Kyoto
THE TEA CEREMONY
The point of the chaji (ritual), in which a light meal and whisked powdered matcha (tea) are served by a host to a few invited guests, is founded in the samurai ideal “one lifetime, one meeting” (ichigo, ichie). It is a moment to be treasured. A host presenting a decorated bowl of matcha to one of their guests.
The tea ceremony emphasized the following four qualities: harmony between the guests and the implements used; respect, not only among the participants, but also for the utensils; cleanliness which is derived from Shintō practices, requiring participants to wash their hands and rinse their mouths as symbolic gestures of cleansing before entering the cha-shitsu; and tranquility, which is imparted through long and caring use of each component of the tea ceremony.
By now, everyone is familiar with trend-setting Japanese pop and youth culture including the films of renowned director Hayao Miyazaki, to outlandish cosplay (costume play), wildly popular video games, toys, anime and manga (comics), amazing electronic gadgets, and venues and streets beneath neon signs where all of this plays out for Japanese youth.
Experience places you've heard of, including Shibuya crossing — the busiest street crossing in the world — Harajuku's colorful subculture featuring street fashion and boutiques, Akihabara, or ‘Electric Town’ with multi-level electronic stores and wild video parlors, and neon-lit streets, but also the city's most interesting anime and manga shops, and other fascinating experiences and places, including maid cafes and the world's wildest dinner show featuring robots.
What more of an extreme and exhilarating activity in more contrast to Japan's more tranquil ones is there than heli skiing on a volcano? This full-day trips includes a half-dozen flights to the summit of a volcano in Hokkaido with stunning 360-degree views to savor before taking in the fresh powder with your professional guide. The local terrain features a mix of slight forest, steeper chutes, and open glades with slopes ranging from 20-40 degrees (a typical resort black run is 32º).
Average runs from the top are about 2,000 feet long. As with any heli ski terrain, the number of runs per day may depend on the weather, avalanche conditions, and your party’s ability level. Contact us for more details.
Not far from Kyoto is Japan's largest lake, and most ancient, estimated to be over two million years old. Replete with an old Torii gate the lake provides abundant fishing on bass (the world record bass catch was made here in 2009), trout, as well as salmon.
Enjoy a half-or full-day trip from your Kyoto hotel, joining your guides on a four-person boat with complete tackle and gear provided. The ideal fishing season stretches between April and November with the best month being May.
With a an area of over 845 miles (Paris is a mere 41) and population of over 38 million, greater Tokyo is astonishing in scale and impossible to grasp from the ground even if one had years to explore it's breadth.
Flying over the massive megalopolis, spy famous landmarks such as Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree and Rainbow Bridge. Night flights are especially breathtaking, with Tokyo ablaze with lights once the sun goes down.