Japan features on many a travel bucket list, and having just returned from a whistle-stop tour, I can confidently say that it well and truly earns its place. Here, the modern and the ancient exist side-by-side, and incredible experiences are around every corner.
My first port of call was central Tokyo. After checking-in to an incredibly spacious suite at the Capitol Hotel, I set off on a tour of the city. First stop was the Honda Welcome Plaza, open daily for visitors to watch an intriguing demonstration of robot technology, including the famous ASIMO robot who can mimic human movements, run and dance! Next was a visit to the famous Shibuya Crossing – rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world – where the green man flashes and hundreds of people converge on the zebra crossings. I’d recommend going up a few floors in a nearby shop to witness this spectacle from above!
A short subway train away is the renowned Harajuku area where, on Takeshita Street, style-conscious teenagers flock to stock up on cutesy fluffy things and eat spectacular sugar-filled treats – rainbow candy floss, cartoon animal-shaped ice creams and waffles stacked high with toppings.
The next day I was in for a real once-in-a-lifetime experience – a journey aboard the Royal Express Train. The boarding process was the most elegant I’ve ever seen – we were served drinks and fruit whilst being serenaded by a pianist and violinist! I really did feel as though I was in an Agatha Christie novel.
After travelling in style for three hours, with sea, mountain and village views to admire throughout, I arrived on the Izu Peninsula and transferred to Shimoda City. I stopped at Shimoda Park to admire three million hydrangeas in full bloom; there are over 350 kinds here, and luckily my June visit was the peak time to see this amazing spectacle and to admire ‘Shimoda Fuji’ – a cone-shaped volcanic hill which imitates the shape of Mount Fuji.
The Shimoda region is beautiful to behold. Crystal clear Pacific waters lap beaches surrounded by lush volcanic cliffs. The region is also famed for its natural hot springs and most hotels have ‘onsen’ (hot spring spas). The naturally hot, volcanic water is purported to provide many health benefits.
My next destination was Shuzenji, where I wandered the beautiful Onsen Bamboo Forest and admired the temple, before checking-in to the wonderful Ufufu Resort & Spa. The dining experience was indescribably good – diners sit at a long table facing the bamboo forest, and each of the twelve (!) courses is prepared in front of you.
After a restful night I moved onto the most anticipated part of my trip – Mount Fuji. I was lucky that my first glimpse of the mountain was without the notorious clouds that cover the peak; it really is as impressive as it looks in photos and I let out an audible ‘oh wow!’ as I first saw it.
My accommodation for the evening was also high on my anticipation list; HOSHINOYA Fuji - a luxury glamping resort overlooking Lake Kawaguchi and of course Mount Fuji. I was transferred by jeep to my ‘cabin’ for the night – complete with panoramic glass windows and a balcony with an inbuilt fire perfect for enjoying Mount Fuji views. The property is truly incredible – paths wind up through the trees to wooden platforms where hammocks and geodesic domes provide mini retreats in which to properly unwind.
Climbing up some steps, I reached the Cloud Terrace: a purpose-built hut containing complimentary tea, coffee, books and treats. Outside, a fire pit is lit 24/7 for you to toast marshmallows on a stick. I was lucky enough to have the terrace to myself, and – emphasising the superb resort experience – I was unexpectedly served hot tea, which I enjoyed while listening to a traditional guitarist playing nearby. The next morning, I headed back to the terrace to enjoy my book but instead found myself peacefully sketching the forest using one of the art bags provided. It seems that HOSHINOYA Fuji goes out of their way to surprise and delight guests wherever possible.
After a swift checkout I transferred back to Tokyo for one last wonder. TeamLab Borderless is an interactive art exhibition like no other. The experience is hard to describe and must be seen to be believed. Each room invites visitors to climb, explore and stand mesmerised as giant balloons, bouncing floors, interactive screens and moving light installations emerge, and transform. My favourite room had desks where you can draw an underwater sea creature, scan it in and within seconds see it swimming in front of your eyes in the giant aquarium on the walls.
After an enjoyable few hours I made my way to the airport and sat on my flight home reflecting on my first ever tour of Japan. My journey was just a snapshot of what this magnificent country has to offer visitors, and with the upcoming Rugby World Cup this October and the Olympics in 2020, I have no doubt that the rest of the world is about to discover this as well!
• Visit inspiringtravelcompany.co.uk for an extensive portfolio of holidays to Japan, or call 01244 355 577 for a tailor-made tour.