Travel consultant Sophie recently returned from Japan where she embraced the unique culture of one of the most intriguing places on earth. In this blog, Sophie tells us all…
Before embarking on my trip to Japan I had many questions from my friends and family. What is a Ryokan? How fast does the bullet train go? What is the food like? I couldn’t wait to find out for myself and get under the skin of this diverse country.
Upon arriving into Tokyo, I knew I was going to be amazed. Immediately I was exposed to a culture that is so far from anything I was familiar with, from the food, mannerisms, transport systems and dress to the simple fact that English is not widely spoken. My time in Tokyo was enjoyed exploring the back streets of boutique shops around the Harajuku and Omotesando areas and the bustling Takeshita Street with shops offering anything from candy floss to Hello Kitty. The Ginza area, famous for its upmarket shops, was a favourite of mine too and there I enjoyed some incredible sushi, all freshly rolled out in front of you in the open kitchens. Each restaurant offers its own speciality, from tempura to soya buckwheat noodle restaurants, making it hard to choose from with such variety.
The famous bullet train out of Tokyo takes you to the other end of the country in just 4 hours making the other highlights of the country easily accessible. Going at a speed of 300km per hour, this is a highly efficient and safe way to travel around the country along with being an adventure in itself. I travelled from Tokyo to Hakone where I experienced another side to Japanese culture.
I was so excited, if not a little nervous, about my first Ryokan experience, with little idea of what to expect. But upon arriving at Gora Kadan, a traditional Japanese inn in beautiful Hakone set high up in the mountains, you are instantly welcomed. The service levels are first class with such warm and friendly staff allowing you to feel truly at home in a gloriously alpine atmosphere. Here you are taught about the customs and how to wear the traditional yukata, which guests are expected to wear around the Ryokan and for dinner too.
It is very much a peaceful and relaxing experience here. You can enjoy the onsen and learn all about how and why the Japanese use these communal hot springs and baths, an integral part of the relaxation culture. However if the idea of going nude in the public onsen really is not your cup of tea, ask the staff to book the family onsen for you so that you can have a completely private and exclusive bathing experience.
Gora Kadan also has a lovely pool and outdoor jacuzzi where you can enjoy a relaxing few hours in the afternoon before your unique dinner experience. If you are feeling more energetic then I’d suggest venturing off to Lake Ashi, where on a clear day you can see Mount Fuji towering over the lake, a stunning landscape. Enjoy walks, a boat trip or a cable car adventure for scenic views, all set around the lake.
Later return for Kaiseki, a traditional Japanese dinner made up of up several delectable dishes, all waited on by staff in the comfort of your room. Settled in to your low chairs and table, you spend a good couple of hours enjoying a Japanese tasting menu, sampling some of the weird and wonderful creations that are specialities in Japan. The dishes vary, it is said that no Kaiseki is the same. From an amuse bouche of grated turnip with conger eel in soy sauce to fresh sashimi and monkfish liver and prawns in a citrus sauce… be brave and try it all.
In my opinion a Ryokan experience is an absolute must on anyone’s visit to Japan. It is a truly unique, relaxing experience which showcases just how culturally different this fascinating country is.
To find out more read our guide to Japan or call one of our travel consultants on 020 8682 5000