As the Rugby World Cup gets well underway, the spotlight's on Japan, offering a perfect opportunity to highlight this beautiful, enigmatic country's contrasts and endless diversity, from vast stadiums hosting world-class sporting tournaments to age-old traditions such as sumo and the legendary samurai warriors.
You can also go from towering modern skyscrapers to centuries-old temples and serene green spaces, and experience intoxicating Japanese culture from modern art to traditional arts such as calligraphy and ikebana - all of which are well worth discovering for yourself. And as with everything else in Japan, it all somehow co-exists side by side and there's a beautiful harmony and design to it all.
Sports: Rugby to Samurai
Japan's sleek modern stadiums have come to life as the world's best rugby players battle to be crowned world champions for the ultimate prize in their sport. However, Japan's sporting history goes back so much further. Sumo, the national sport, which sees its participants grapple each other kind of like in a rugby scrum, is said to have started over 2,000 years ago, with the first professional sumo wrestlers appearing in the Edo period between the 17th and 19th centuries.
And then there are ancient arts such as those of the samurai, the military nobility of medieval Japan, whose main weapon was the sword and whose influence still pervades Japanese culture and heritage. Also eternally capturing the imagination are the ninja warriors, or Shinobi, a symbol of feudal Japan and a staple of legends and folklore, with supernatural abilities such as invisibility and walking on water, and specially-trained ninjas first popped up in the 15th century. On our Way of a Ninja family holiday, your children will have the chance to learn the ancient arts of the ninja and become warriors themselves.
Architecture: Skyscrapers to Temples
In Japan, towering skyscrapers punctuate the skyline in a showcase of modernist style and sleek lines - most evident in Tokyo, but seen in cities across Japan.
These symbols of 21st-century city living and economic power jostle for position next to centuries-old temples with arched roofs and elaborate decoration, offering serenity and spiritual calm amidst the city buzz - and serving as a perpetual reminder of Japan's deep-rooted spirituality and tradition, which remains strong even as the country embraces modern life. Experience them both on this classic Japan holiday.
Landscapes: City to Country
Japan's cities are slick, bustling and a frenetic hive of activity, full of people perpetually on the move. Neon signs flash everywhere, and a dazzlingly diverse array of boutiques, bars and restaurants line the streets.
Yet Japan's spiritual relationship with nature is apparent everywhere. Even a city like Tokyo, which has the biggest urban metropolis in the world, has beautiful, tranquil green parks, while you don't have to venture that far outside of Tokyo and other cities to find serene green forests, hills, waterfalls and natural hot springs, or onsens. There are plenty of gorgeous, tranquil spaces for urbanites to escape the cities and the crowds to relax and recharge. Natural hotspots include the striking bamboo forests in Arashiyama, while the cherry blossoms in spring are justifiably famous for their beauty - see them in all their glory on a spring holiday in Japan.
Places to stay: High-rise hotels to traditional ryokans
Experience Tokyo's high-rise living in five-star style with a stay in a hotel such as the Park Hyatt Tokyo, a beautifully-designed hotel that occupies the top floors of a skyscraper, with a pool where you can swim while looking out over Tokyo and the snow-capped Mount Fuji beyond from floor-to-ceiling windows, and a bar where you can enjoy cocktails, canapés and jazz while taking in the panoramic views over the city.
In contrast, get a taste of life in a traditional ryokan in Kyoto at Kanamean Nishitomiya, where you can explore this beautiful city’s historic streets before returning to tuck into Michelin-starred kaiseki cuisine and stay in a minimalist room with tatami mats and traditional beds, overlooking a classic Japanese garden of plum trees, bamboo groves and flowers.
Food: Michelin-starred cuisine to street food
In Japan, pretty much everything is beautiful and ordered, and its food is no exception – it often looks too exquisite to eat but tastes as good as it looks. While we’re on the subject of Michelin-starred cuisine, Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world (230 at the last count), and there are several others around the country, where you can try world-class sushi and much more.
For an alternative foodie experience, try Japan’s tasty street food, or yatai, such as takoyaki (golden fried balls of octopus, ginger and spring onion), yakisoba (fried noodles) and yakitori (chicken skewers grilled over charcoal), while for a sweet treat, you'll love wataame, Japan’s delicious version of candy floss.
To drink, sip a beer in a modern bar while unleashing your inner diva with some karaoke, for a dose of Japan’s buzzing pop culture. At the other end of the scale, experience a traditional tea ceremony, or chado, which, like so many other things in this country, has become an art form in itself. Eat and drink your way around Japan on our gourmet adventure.
Art: Modern art to traditional art
Speaking of art, Japan's contemporary artists have taken the world's stage by storm. One notable example is Yayoi Kusama, whose exuberant, colourful dot paintings, sculptures of giant fruit and beautiful light installations have been celebrated and showcased everywhere from the Tate in London to the shores of the ‘art island’ of Naoshima, where a giant yellow pumpkin presides over the waterfront. Visit Naoshima on our luxury honeymoon in Japan.
Going back much further, age-old traditional arts in Japan include calligraphy, which has always been highly valued as a significant skill, and intricate origami (whose name comes from ‘ori’, which means ‘folding’ and ‘kami’ which means ‘paper’), another potent artistic symbol. There’s also ikebana, or ‘kado’ (‘way of flowers’), which taps into Japan’s view of nature as beautiful and divine. This ancient art of flower arranging dates from the 7th century, when floral offerings were made at altars and later in homes and gardens. A simple arrangement of flowers becomes a masterpiece and an extraordinary work of art, in true Japanese style.
From sleek cities to pristine countryside, and from the ultimate foodie trips to exceptional family holidays and memorable honeymoons, we can tailor-make your perfect luxury holiday to Japan, and arrange bespoke experiences from learning the ways of the ninja to discovering the ancient art of tea ceremonies.
Take a look at our suggested itineraries and our favourite hotels, call us on +66 265 613 63 or make an enquiry.