Journey to Japan

22/06/2016

TOKYO

Tokyo is a city of contrasts and contradictions. From the moment you arrive after the 11 hour flight, fast forward 8 hours, throw in some lost in translation style craziness and your senses begin to play havoc! I no doubt resembled a deer in headlights absorbing each and every sound, smell and vision as we explored the bustling streets! With only 'konichiwa' to my repertoire and nothing but incomprehensible sign after sign, we were definitely thankful to have our lovely guide, Izumi on hand to keep us right!

First up we headed to the Asakusa area, which is as close to the old downtown atmosphere as it's possible to get in modern day Tokyo. Home to Sensoji temple, the oldest and most important shrine in Tokyo and also the most amount of selfie sticks I have ever seen! It was the perfect starting point to get a real flavour of old Tokyo and its rich traditions.



Next up its time for a visit to Tsukiji Fish Market's outer market. We amble through the lanes, home to stall after stall of fresh fish; most notably huge tuna heads and an abundance of weird and wonderful dried delicacies. The market has now put restrictions on the number of tourists allowed to visit each day. With a city of over 30 million, only 120 tourists are now allowed to visit the market each morning, so to be in with a chance of experiencing this lively outer market, you will need to set your alarm and be in line wide awake at least at 3am!



Our home for the night was the Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo, housed on the lavish top floors of the tallest tower in Tokyo. Zooming up to the 52nd floor we were whisked straight to our Club floor room, which features the Club Lounge with full refreshments on tap. Entering the room you are immediately captivated by the huge windows which offer a film screen view of the sparkling metropolis in front of you!

Situated in the Rappongi district, the city's entertainment and business hub, you feel that you are still part of the energetic city beneath you, while being tucked away in the calmness of your room atop of the city, making the hotel the perfect respite. Make sure to check out the luxurious Espa spa, the perfect tonic to wash away the jet lag and prepare you for the lively night ahead!



Tokyo boasts more Michelin starred restaurants than any other city in the world! Meaning the only issue you will have is room to squeeze in more than your 3 meals a day! We dined in the hotels' French cuisine restaurant - Azure 45 - the foie gras was one of the best I have ever tasted and the views were simply breath-taking!

My first impressions of Ritz-Carlton Tokyo were the jaw-dropping 360 degree panoramic views, impeccable service; they even have an aroma butler! Opulent contemporary decor throughout featuring exquisite marble floors and bathrooms and the rooms are some of the most spacious in the capital, that you can easily while away yours days here!



KYOTO

Swapping skyscrapers for ancient serenity, we boarded the futuristic “bullet" train to Kyoto, bypassing Japan's highest mountain, Mt Fuji, looking imposing as ever, and travelling at up to 300km/hr we arrive in just under two and half hours . . . . A smooth and swift journey I must add! As a place of craftsmanship, it is still dotted with over 2000 shrines and temples and also boasts over 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sights and an abundance of cultural experience and entertainment activities.

After a delicious Yakitori lunch at Kushikura we got to partake in an authentic tea ceremony at Kodokan, Kyoto's distinguished private club for art & cultural experience. Known for its appreciation of art from the preparation to the blessing itself, each ceremony is unique - regarded as one meeting in a lifetime.



Situated on the charming tree filled banks of Kamogawa River, the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto is less corporate than other Ritz-Carlton city properties. It is a stylishly intimate and elegant property, which mixes ancient Japanese heritage with modern and masculine aesthetics.

Guaranteed to keep you amused throughout your stay, the hotel offers useful workshops in everything from origami, cooking classes, kimono dressing, and soap making to art tours! On the dining scene, we ate at Mizuki, which serves delicious artistic Japanese food, the sashimi was amazing and came served on a sculptured ice display representing the Zen garden outside the restaurant.



With an action packed day of activities ahead of us, our hilarious and knowledgeable guide Mie took us on a tour of the sights of the famed Golden Temple - Kimkaku-ji, the Nishiki food market and shopping on the colonial tree lined streets of Kyoto. Two of my favourite highlights of the day and the trip were the Zen meditation class at Myoshinji Shunkoin and the Maiko experience at Tsudoro. Tsudoro provides visitors with an authentic experience of traditional Japanese and Kyoto tea house culture.

We were lucky to partake in a multi course keyaki feast hosted by a young Maiko, a Geisha apprentice. Dressed in beautiful kimonos and lavish white makeup, they are considered the very essence of Japanese beauty and refinement. Their dancing, serving and Shamisen playing are definitely a highlight of any visit to Kyoto and should not be missed.



We arrived back to a very frenetic Tokyo, where we dined at Fish Bank Tokyo, a modern seafood restaurant overlooking the empowering Tokyo Tower and thriving city. After dinner, we took endless photos whilst crossing the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world at Shibuya, where our new Q Travel Japan office is located, and looked in wonderment at the gaggles of teen fashionistas in Harajuku and hunted for selfie sticks in Akihabara - known as Electric Town, for all types of gizmos and gadgets.

I absolutely loved Japan, it really was unlike anywhere I have ever been. Getting to experience both Tokyo and Kyoto was a great pairing – it is easily done in one trip. Once you get passed the bright lights and chaos, you will be bowled over by the hospitality and kindness of the Japanese people – they live by their philosophy of giving and gifting and I would say this is pretty evident everywhere you go.


By Jenny Graham

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