Insider’s Guide to Japan

For a truly authentic experience of Japan, use these hand-picked recommendations as your guide.
March 2022

Japan is as unique as it is beautiful, a place where ancient and modern collide. Where a tranquil Shinto shrine sits sandwiched between cloud-piercing skyscrapers. And where ladies draped in decorative silk kimonos wait patiently to board speeding bullet trains. The contradictions are illuminating, exciting and inviting. And so is its cultural scene with a wealth of both traditional and modern arts and crafts, and a rich history.

Tokyo

Feel the vibrant urban pulse in Japan’s exciting capital where the eclectic and the unusual make this city Asia’s capital of cool. A dazzling fusion of ancient and modern, traditional and avant-garde, Tokyo offers the traveller a myriad of activities that draw on the city’s imperial history, innovative technology, exciting art and design, and the charm of her people. For food, fun, art and fashion there is no city quite like Tokyo.

DO

Vintage & Vinyl
The laid-back bohemian district of Shimokitazawa is Tokyo’s centre of cool. Home to vintage clothing stores, eclectic bookshops, music emporiums and funky cafés and bars, you can easily spend a day here trawling the stores for antique treasures, rare release records and one-off vintage finds before grabbing a table on the street for some people watching and sipping a draft beer or Akita sake in one of the area’s many quirky bars.

Tokyo’s coolest Neighbourhood

Home to high-end fashion boutiques, brewpubs, coffee roasters and some of Tokyo's best brunch spots, the leafy streets of Daikanyamacho are where the capital's fashionistas come to see and be seen. Browse the backstreet boutiques and accessory stores, step inside a bookshop that doubles as a gallery cum cocktail bar, grab a seat at NOMAD for some jazz or cocktails at Débris where the vibe is speakeasy meets cool.

The World of Sumo

Learn about the ancient art of Japanese wrestling on a private walking tour with a retired sumo practitioner who opens the door to the world of Japan's most beloved sport. Explore two historic areas long associated with sumo: the Ryogoku District, ancestral "heartland" of sumo where most of the sumo stables are found as well as the first professional sumo stadium. The walk ends in the historic Asakusa area where the sacred Sensoji Temple and busy Nakamise shopping street are popular attractions.

DINE

MoonFlower Sagaya Ginza
Run by digital art collective teamLab, MoonFlower Sagaya Ginza offers a unique dining experience dishing up inventive cuisine to just eight guests in the middle of a digital art installation. Dine on a 12-course menu of seasonal dishes and high-quality Saga wagyu beef on specially made porcelain crockery while a moving forest of trees, a fish-filled river or field of flowers is projected around you.

Sasanoyuki

Opened in 1691, this is one of Japan’s most famous tofu restaurants. With a tradition dating back more than 300 years, the delicate white cakes of soybean curd are made fresh on the premises daily. Traditionally Japanese, the restaurant serves a varied menu showcasing the star ingredient in a myriad different ways. Be sure to taste ankake-dofu, the restaurant's original dish, where the silky tofu simmers in a soupy stock seasoned with soy sauce, sugar and kuzu starch, and finished off with a dollop of hot mustard.

SEE

21_21 Design Sight
Design aficionados will definitely want to schedule in a visit to this cultural bastion. Conveniently located in Roppongi in the centre of Tokyo, the museum was designed by the legendary Japanese architect Tadao Ando and founded by the award-winning fashion designer Issey Miyake. Admire the beautiful architecture, which is as much a feature of the museum as the exhibits it contains.

Perrotin

Located in the heart of Tokyo’s vibrant Roppongi neighbourhood, this is the Japanese outpost of Emmanuel Perrotin’s gallery empire which offers a vibrant environment to experience the work of some of the world's most celebrated contemporary artists.

SHOP

Streetwear
Born and raised in Tokyo, Shinichiro Nakamura (better known as Sk8thing) has been a pivotal figure within the streetwear world for over two decades. Elusive and enigmatic, this masked designer has worked on some of the most iconic labels in streetwear and fashion —BAPE, WTAPS, Human Made and Undercover among them. Visit Cav Empt’s Tokyo flagship store to see the latest collection.

Wind Chimes

On the outskirts of Tokyo, in a neighbourhood near the Edogawa River, stands the Shinohara Furin Honpo workshop, where glass wind chimes are created using techniques passed down from the Edo period (1603-1867). Today, a group of six craftsmen led by members of the Shinohara family, the fourth generation to run the shop, is striving to protect the traditional craft. Wind chimes were originally used to drive away evil spirits and today these beautifully crafted items with their tinkling sound are much treasured.

Kyoto

Turn back time in Kyoto where the mysterious Geisha culture blends into a backdrop of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and World Heritage Sites. This is the heart of historic Japan, a city steeped in imperial heritage and deeply rooted in classical Japanese tradition. Famous for its temples, gardens, shrines, and the ethereal philosophy of an ancient way of life, the city is a repository of the cultural treasures for which Japan is celebrated.

DINE

Isshi Souden Nakamura
Founded over 180 years ago, this prominent old Japanese restaurant in Kyoto has retained a Michelin 3-star rating consistently since 2011. Famously representing Kyoto and its cuisine, head chef and owner Motokazu Nakamura is the sixth generation of the Nakamura family to run the iconic establishment which specialises in traditional kaiseki, the elaborate multi-course meal which uses highly refined seasonal ingredients.

Kagizen

Established in the mid-Edo period, more than 300 years ago, this is one of Kyoto’s most famous confectionery shops located in the heart of stylish Gion. Handmade from a simple recipe passed down from generation to generation, the sweet treats are artistically presented in the front window every day. Venture inside to the tea room for a taste of the traditional sweets washed down with a cup of local matcha tea.

SHOP

Hiyoshiya
Established nearly 150 years ago, Hiyoshiya is the only producer of traditional Kyo-wagasa, Kyoto-style umbrellas. Made out of bamboo and washi paper, these finely crafted umbrellas are used at tea ceremony gatherings, Noh and Kabuki theatre plays and in other parts of traditional Japanese culture.

Traditional Handicrafts

Quaint and picturesque, the old cobblestone streets of Gion, Ninenzaka, and Sannenzaka have prospered since ancient times. Wander their atmospheric sloping streets lined with historic Japanese-style buildings and search amongst the handicraft shops selling swords, drums, fans, pottery and more to find your perfect Kyoto memento.

DO

Galerie 16
Galerie 16 is one of the city’s best contemporary art spaces. It has been running since 1962 and is an important player in the local art scene.

The Gardens of Kyoto

Meet Chisao Shigemori, a leading Japanese garden designer who specialises in designing Kyoto-style gardens around Japan and communicating their aesthetic appeal. Grandson of famed gardener Mirei Shigemori, Chisao will walk you through some of the city’s finest horticultural attractions including the gardens of Tofukuji and Shinnyo-do Temple.

Pilgrimage Hike

The best way to appreciate Fushimi Inari, one of Japan’s best known Shinto shrines, is on foot. The hike to the summit of 233m Mt. Inari and the pilgrimage circle around
the shrines near the top is one of the most interesting short walks around Kyoto and provides outstanding views over southern Kyoto and as far as Osaka on a clear day. Much of the hike is through the eye-catching arcades of vermillion torii (Shinto shrine gates) as well as various shrines and subshrines along the route.

Kanazawa

Set at the southern end of the Noto Peninsula along the coast of the Sea of Japan, Kanazawa is Japan’s hidden secret and historic jewel. Authentically Japanese, the city is home to one of the country’s three most beautiful classical gardens, an historic samurai quarter, a traditional geisha district and a number of elegant handicraft workshops.

DO

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
This striking circular structure resembling a UFO was designed by Sejima Kazuyo and Nishizawa Ryue of world-renowned architecture firm, SANAA. Void of designated entry points, visitors are invited to approach the museum, and its artworks, any way they choose. Installations by Leandro Erlich and James Turrell are interspersed throughout the museum’s public spaces, seamlessly integrating art into everyday life.

Tea in the Garden

Join a tea master in the enchanting garden of Gyokusen-en with its more than 300-year-old history. The garden design and construction began in the middle of the 17th century, and four generations continued the landscaping. Lava stone lanterns, old trees and waterfalls provide the perfect backdrop for an immersion in the most important Japanese ritual - the tea ceremony.

Lifestyle of the Geisha

Higashi Chaya-gai is Kanazawa’s geisha district. Chaya is a traditional place of feasts and entertainment, where geisha have been entertaining guests by performing dances and playing Japanese traditional musical instruments since the Edo period. Venture inside a 180-year-old chaya house for a glimpse into the unique lifestyle of the geisha.

DINE

Yamato
Yamato has been making miso and soy sauce since 1911 and you can visit the factory to learn about the traditional production method and see the huge barrels where the soy sauce is fermented. The local Kanazawa soy sauce is known for its balance of sweet and salty flavours and you might like to try a lunch of fermented foods, soy-sauce flavoured dishes or a steaming bowl of miso soup.

Naoshima

Washed by the jade waters of the Inland Sea, Naoshima and its sister island, Teshima, have become an international art sensation – these are the art islands of Asia. Attracting the world’s most celebrated contemporary artists and designers, the islands are shrines to the diversity of international contemporary art.

DO

Chichu Art Museum
Designed by architect, Tadao Ando, this museum is another example of how art exists within nature on Naoshima Island. A contrast in Buddhist simplicity and Modernist brutalism, the subterranean gallery spaces, which only utilise natural lighting, house important artworks by James Turrell, Claude Monet and Walter De Maria.

Teshima Art Museum

This striking museum sits on a hill overlooking the Seto Inland Sea. Uniting the creative visions of artist Rei Naito and architect Ryue Nishizawa, the museum is located in the corner of a rice terrace that was restored in collaboration with local residents and resembles a water droplet at the moment of landing.

STAY

Benesse House
Both modern art museum and resort hotel, Benesse House on the southern coast of Naoshima Island was famously designed by Tadao Andao. To get close to the art, stay in Museum building where you are literally living among the artists' work. The Oval is close to the museum, with panoramic views of the Seto Inland Sea, while the Park offers views across the green lawns and the sparkling sea. The Beach has just eight rooms, steps from the water's edge.

Reach out to our Journey Designers or contact your travel agent to learn more and start planning.

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