July 2017 Road Trip

Destination: Japan, the hottest trend

Japan is one of the hottest destinations for 2017. A significant language barrier has deterred many travelers, as English is fairly uncommon and thousands of characters compose the kanji alphabet. However, it does not take long for the distinguished culture to overshadow this challenge. Shortly after observing the order of everyday life, attention to detail, extreme cleanliness and formal etiquette, you’ll realize how special Japan is and embrace one of the most rewarding travel experiences you’ll ever have.

Tokyo is a vibrant city that until you experience firsthand, is nearly indescribable. Unlike traditional cities where most businesses and attractions are ground level, Tokyo is a “vertical city” with all sorts of establishments on every floor. Because this can be overwhelming and disorienting, having a great guide is essential. Some of the most amazing places are on the 11th floor or five stories underground, and without an insider, you’ll miss some spectacular experiences found only in Tokyo.

Each of the many neighborhoods has its own purpose and personality. The Ginza is known for its food and shopping, Akihabara is an electronics wonderland, Asakusa is the crafts emporium and Minato houses our two favorite museums, Nezu and Mori. If you visit just one shrine or temple, the Meiji Jingu Shrine is an oasis amid the metropolis. Right across is Harajuku, a whimsical hangout for young people parading their outrageous outfits. The Harajuki Girl trend has waned in recent years, so visitors should no longer expect an elaborate spectacle. Exploring the side streets leads to many innovative shops and cafes like Deus ex Machina, an eclectic art/motorcycle café. Omotosando Street is nearby and encompasses the flagship stores of all the major luxury brands. Even if you’re not buying, stop to admire the stunning architecture. At the Shibuya Crossing, witness the true hustle of Tokyo, as tens of thousands of people cross the intersection hourly. The Golden Gai in Shinjuku has more than 270 bars in a square mile. Japan’s subculture originated in this labyrinthine area, which renders a glimpse of Tokyo nightlife not be missed.

Food tourism is huge in Japan, where there are more Michelin Star restaurants than France or Italy, and where visiting the basement food court of a major department store like Mitsukoshi is a pilgrimage. Menus and pricing can be confusing, as many restaurants offer pre fixe menus only. Venues are typically small and specialize in a certain cuisine, such as sushi, tempura, noodles, teppanyaki, yakitori or shabu shabu. Given the complex culinary landscape, a guide, host or experienced agent is crucial to crafting a dining itinerary. Reservations are imperative, as many restaurants book up quickly (Jiro and Narisawa are two of the hardest reservations). Locating establishments and ordering can be difficult, but these challenges lead to sublime experiences you will treasure forever.

Kyoto is Japan’s historic capital. As Kyoto resisted bombing during WWII and boasts 1200 ancient shrines and temples, it transports you to the majesty of old world Japan. Geishas still promenade in traditional kimonos, and you can experience a traditional tea ceremony, Kabuki performance or geisha dinner. Must-see attractions include the Kiyomizu temple, Inari Shrine, Ryo-an-Ji rock garden temple, Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion and the Arashiyama temple and bamboo forest.

After the big cities, most venture to the countryside to a traditional inn or ryokan, where it is common to sleep on a tatami mat. Hakone is popular due to the famous Onsen thermal baths in the shadow of Mt Fuji. Hakone also has an impressive open-air museum, where you can enjoy a cruise on the lake or gondola ride to view Mt. Fuji. Another fantastic art destination is Naoshima, an art island where the hotel is an actual museum. Nearby is Teshima, another island of outdoor installations. This journey requires additional travel time but is immensely rewarding.

Japan is extremely safe and extraordinarily clean, which contributes to its current popularity. Springtime is the most popular time to visit for the cherry blossom season, yet we prefer fall when the weather is cooler and sights are less crowded. Japan is not for young children, but adolescents will enjoy activities like pottery, samurai/ninja lessons and calligraphy. If planned correctly, Japan is a phenomenal destination that will not disappoint. Spending extra dollars for a translator/guide is worth it not only for access and assistance, but so you don’t miss out on truly unique experiences. Prepare yourself for an exotic adventure, and a flourishing culture marked by authenticity and the unexpected.