ABTAs Top Travel Trends for 2019: Japan
Have you ever watched the film Lost in Translation and felt Bill Murrays confusing experience of Japan would mirror your own, should you ever visit this part of the world? With its image for quirky manga-related leisure pursuits, not to mention a perception that the Japanese language is impenetrable to foreigners, or the idea that getting here may be unaffordable, youd be forgiven for thinking getting to know Japan sounds like hard work.
Let us reassure you it isnt. It is, in fact, one of our hottest destinations at the moment. Not only are our all-inclusive luxury deals great value for money, theyll also provide you with a tour guide who can help you navigate the seemingly alien social landscape, translate for you and facilitate your transfers, meals, parties and overnights.
At the moment, travelling to Japan will provide a huge thrill for those following world class sports and athletics events. The 2019 Rugby World Cup is being hosted here in various cities from Tokyo to Yokohama, but also, during the following year, 2020, the eyes of the world will turn towards the Japanese capital to watch the Olympic Games take place.
However, Japan isnt just for the jocks. This ultra civilised country is at the cutting edge of the modern developed world. With unparalleled tech, food that tastes and is presented deliciously quite unlike any other, and a history so compelling its impossible not to immerse yourself in it, Japan is utterly unique.
Taking a trip here should be on everyones bucket list, so lets take a look at 3 main cities; Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, with a view to working out how you can fit the most iconic landmarks and must-experience events into however long youve booked off work. Before we get into the wheres and hows, however, first a quick word about Onsen.
Why everyone should open their minds to Onsen
Onsen is the act of relaxing naked in a public hot spring. Although to the reserved Western mind, this may sound like utter hell, it is one of Japans most popular pastimes and once youve tried it, (youve really got to trust us on this), youll be counting down the days and weeks until you can do it again. Hear us out!
Bathing facilities linked to natural hot springs, courtesy of Japans volcanic activity, are provided in Onsen spa hotels, know as Ryoken. More often than not, the spa area will consist of hot tubs arranged on a terrace with stunning views of the surrounding volcanoes, often split by gender, but not always. Youll lie in the steaming, piping hot, sulphur-infused water, feeling your skin getting softer and your thoughts quieten as you become one with nature and the world around you.
Before getting into the baths youll have slipped out of the robes and slippers given to you on arrival and washed carefully in the luxuriously scented shower gels and shampoos provided. Youll wash again as you exit.
The baths may well be open to you all day and all night, so you can experience the view in different lights, and is usually accompanied by an incredibly opulent room. Youll have everything you need to perform your own tea ceremony, including sweets, snacks and a low table, as well as a comfortable seating area next to an exquisite countryside view.
The room will be made up with your futons ready for the night, while youre having your traditional multi-course kaiseki meal. This is an haute-gourmet meal, which will be beautifully presented in front of you by means of various dishes.
Some of the courses will be grilling, or simmering away, in individual cooking pots, while you tackle the initial cold courses. The food itself will be designed with the aim of balancing its taste, texture, colours and appearance. Your meal will be both delicious and beautiful to behold. Miso soup, sashimi of some kind and a barbecue meat course will be included as standard. You can expect to leave your onsen break feeling refreshed, full of good food and utterly recharged.
Making the most of Tokyos neon wonderland
Tokyo is so very often portrayed in films through the narrow focus of the ultra busy Shibuyo crossing, the inexplicably costumed teenagers on Harajuko bridge and the amusement arcades, virtual reality zones and hectic whisky bars of Shinjuko. However, this is a city that delights in showing off the old, just as much as the new.
Asakusa is just a couple of metro stops away from Tokyos iconic tallest building; the Skytree, but it embodies the spirit of traditional Japanese rituals and ethos. As well as having your fortune told at one of the various shrines here, seeking your inner zen in front of the koi-carp filled ponds, or buying a bit of tourist tat from one of the hundreds of stalls, you can also enjoy great street food, marvel at the women walking around in full kimono and accept the fact that youre not going to escape the billowing clouds of incense.
Other attractions here that will help you soak up the atmosphere of time gone by is a stroll around the gardens of the Imperial Palace, an evening taking in a Kabuki theatre show and checking out the beauty of the trees in Ueno park. In the Spring, crowds flock here to take part in the ritual of Sakura; having a picnic under the cherry blossoms, and to witness the changing colours of the leaves in Autumn.
Those on holiday with the kids will love the zoo, the aquarium, the Ghibli museum and Miraikan, which is Japans centre for emerging technologies – in other words, the robot museum. This is where youll have the chance to interview extremely lifelike robots and watch the famous Asimo run past you with very human-like motions.
When you consider that Japan is a long haul flight away and youll want to make the most of all of these highlights, as well as fit in the Olympic and Rugby events and matches you want to watch, you can be assured that there will be barely a moment when youre not feeling fully entertained by everything thats on offer.
The street food of Osaka
Osaka is known for its traditional temples and very tasty street food. Sumiyoshi-taisha is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan with beautiful gardens surrounding it, while the temple at Shitenno-ji is also well worth a visit. However, its Osaka Castle, with its distinctive green and gold roofs, not to mention its moat, lined with peach, plum and cherry blossom trees, that is the most iconic Osaka landmark of all.
The 3 must-try street foods here are a savoury pancake known as Okonomiyaki, a flour-based batter ball filled with octopus, ginger and green onion, named Takoyaki, and deep-fried skewered meats and vegetables, which the locals call Kushikatsu. Together with a particular sushi roll, Ehomaki and a noodle dish called Kitsune udon, youll discover some delicious new tastes here, so make sure you save time for exploring Dotonburi, the restaurant and theatre district.
Theres plenty of modern architecture to marvel at here as well. You can shop til you drop at Shinsaibashi and take in the city from above on the observation deck of the Tsutenkaku tower, while the kids will love the aquarium and the Universal Studios theme park.
Temples and traditional Japanese culture in Kyoto
Kyoto, with its many historical temples and shrines, will give you an authentic insight into the customs of traditional Japan. For the full Kyoto experience, youll want to see the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine, the gold-coloured Kinkaku-ji temple overlooking the lake, and the Ginkaku-ji zen temple, which has scenic gardens to explore. The tree-lined Philosophers Walk is one of the best places in Japan to watch the Autumn leaves turn picturesque shades of red, gold and brown.
Booking your trip to Japan
Whether youre planning to beat the Olympic crowd, or youre following the English rugby team, Aspen Travel can help. We are a respected booking partner for a number of internationally renowned and award-winning holiday operators, who offer all-inclusive escorted tours in Japan. This means that, as well as your flights and accommodation being included, youll also get a tour guide to take you to your included transfers, entrance tickets to top attractions, and your food thrown in.
Wendy Wu, Travelsphere, Titan Travel, Saga, Intrepid Travel, Great Rail Journeys, Exodus and Cox and Kings all offer different Japanese itineraries, each with its own focus. You might be looking for a foodie tour, a temple tour, or to meet like-minded solo travellers over 50. When you call us or email us to discuss your travel preferences, well be able to match you with a tour that best suits your travel needs, budget and preferences. Get in touch to have one of our friendly travel team members help you start planning your incredible holiday to Japan now.