Saturday, April 5, 2014

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO JAPAN

Erland Stubmo discovers corners of fascinating Japan and visits a range of recommended hotels and traditional Japanese style inns, travelling as usual with his revealing camera ...

Tokyo

One of the world's largest cities, with loads to do, and a natural place to start a journey in Japan. It has a large number of museums and shrines, cool shopping in e.g. the Ginza area and not to forget the Tsukiji fish market (the worlds largest wholesale fish market) . The oldest part Asakusa is also worth a visit and maybe some people would like to have a closer explanation about Japanese calligraphy? It was quite interesting.

Select Collection can arrange sightseeing in two ways. Either with a private car and a guide or it can also be done with a guide and public  transport (subway). The last option is of course cheaper and maybe also more fun for some people.

Tokyo is a very safe city and you can happily spend some time sightseeing on your own. 

The old area of Tokyo - Asakusa
          

THE PALACE

 In the Marunouchi area. A top class hotel with discreet luxury. Very harmonious colour schemes. Modern, clean style, but not too modern. A cozy atmosphere.

Worth noting for those who like to step out into the open - some 80% of the rooms have a balcony, which is not common at all in Tokyo.

And for families - there are 7 pairs of interconnecting rooms (Deluxe Rooms) and some "communicating" rooms (suite + Deluxe room). The rooms are quite big, but for even more space a Garden Suite is the perfect option.  Because of possible noise, the best option is not on the ground floor, and provides a large terrace with a small garden.

Aiming higher: There is an Elegant Club Lounge for guests staying in suites or in rooms higher than 18th floor.

The hotel boasts an EVIAN Spa, the only one in Japan . Great pool area ( with a separate lap pool) Guests have to pay to use the sauna/steam room and pool.

Breakfast was really good , serving almost everything you can think of. The hotel has a lgood variety of dining outlets. And - super-friendly staff.

 
The Palace, Tokyo


MANDARIN ORIENTAL

 The Mandarin Oriental lies in Nihonbashi area, and a bit more centrally located than The Palace. It is a beautiful hotel in contemporary style. The lobby is actually at the 38th floor. All the rooms starts at the 30th floor and have floor to ceiling windows.  I would recommend a Corner  Deluxe room (50 sqm) or a Mandarin Suite (100 sqm), both with magnificent views.
I was lucky to have a wonderful Mandarin Suite. Very high-tech with buttons on the bedside for nearly everything. Even the toilets are very high-tech. All categories, even the Presidential Suite, are for 2 persons , but with possibilities for an extra bed. 


Bath with a view at the Mandarin Oriental

View from Erland's room at the Mandarin Oriental

Kanazawa



Kenrokuen Garden

Kanazawa is 1 hour by plane from Haneda airport which is only 30 minutes from Mandarin Oriental.
Actually we left the hotel at 08:30 to catch the flight at 09:40, so it was really very efficient.

Kanazawa is a less known area of Japan when it comes to foreign tourism. With it's 460.000 inhabitants it felt like a small town compared to Tokyo. But it's a very pleasant, clean, cultural and modern city with proud inhabitants who really want  to see more foreigners in their region.

What to see there?  Visit the oldest Sake brewery of Kanazawa, the Samurai district, discover the art of Kutani ceramics, the beautiful D.T  Suzuki Museum in modern Zen style, the Omicho Market, the 21st century Museum of contemporary Art , the Geisha district and The Kenrokuen Garden. It's one of the most famous and important Japanese gardens in the whole  country. Even without any cherry blossom and other flowers it was an absolutely beautiful park.

The cherry blossom in this area lasts about one week some time between the end of March to the end of April . It's impossible to know exactly when and we can never ever promise our clients that they will experience it.

The Omicho market, Kanazawa

Kanazawa has around 40 Geishas and one of the places together with Kyoto where this tradition is still practiced . It is possible to arrange a Geisha evening for our clients, either at a restaurant in the center or more preferably in the Geisha district (a more real ambiance there) . It's quite expensive though . A private dinner for two will cost approximately EUR 2000. Then you will get a huge traditional dinner (Kaiseki dinner) served by two Geishas. They will also entertain with music and dance. This can be arranged for up to 30 persons , but if you have a couple traveling they will never be mixed with others.

The same way it will also be possible to arrange a private Tea Ceremony, which is very important in Japanese culture. A real ceremony can actually last for hours.

It is important to know that the life of the Geishas has nothing at all to do with prostitution, like many westerners tend to believe. They are entertainers and artists, spending many years learning traditional singing, dancing and playing instruments. The more skilled ones are called Geikos.

First dish of our Geisha dinner

And the geisha

ASADAYA RYOKAN 

The first night we stayed at Ryokan ASADAYA in a quiet street of Kanazawa (5 rooms only).
A Ryokan can best be explained as a mixture of a small hotel and a guest house, normally only with a few rooms. The concept is very Japanese. The meals served will be a set menu which consists of several small dishes (up to around 15) typical for the region. Guests need to be open to new tastes as the dishes can be quite "unusual" to us  (raw baby eel, blow-fish and slimy seaweeds for example). Breakfast can either be Japanese style (Miso soup,  tofu, pickles, fish, etc.) or Western style.

Everybody working in a Ryokan wears a kimono and the style of the rooms is rather simple even though the standard can be quite high.

The rooms at ASADAYA are almost empty during daytime , but in the evening they put very comfortable Futon-mattresses on the floor. Tiny bathrooms, but they have a large "hot pool" downstairs that can be booked privately.

ASADAYA is such a cozy place to stay and the staff does everything to make you pleased.

Ryokan Asadaya Kanazawa

HOTEL NIKKO

The second night we stayed at HOTEL NIKKO in the center of Kanazawa. A more typical half-modern hotel with satisfactory standard. Supposedly one of the best hotels in Kanazawa, but many visitors might prefer a stay at ASADAYA, the ryokan. It gives a more special Japanese feeling to stay there.

Onsens near Kanasawa

A third concept of places to stay is called Onsen. An onsen  is a term for hot springs in the Japanese language, though the term is often used to describe the bathing facilities and ryokans  around the hot springs. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsens  scattered around. . Onsens were traditionally used  as public bathing  places and play a central role in directing Japanese domestic  tourism.
The accommodation itself can be of different styles. The ones we stayed at are located about half an hour outside Kanazawa. Two of us stayed at ARAYA TOTOAN (featured in our brochure) and the two others at BENIYA MUKAYU (only 5 minutes drive away from each other ).

ARAYA TOTOAN (7 rooms) is in the middle of a small village and the style is traditional Japanese of high standard. Large rooms with separate bedroom and outdoor space with bathtub heated by the hot springs.
Three beautiful large common baths available for guests, separate  times  for men and women. Not for the shy ones though as you have to be totally naked.

No restaurant. All meals served in the room which only has pillows to sit on or in a separate dining room with "normal" chairs and table.
Again a gourmet Kaiseki dinner will be served.

The atmosphere is very relaxed. All rooms are provided with a Yukata (a traditional outfit) which can be used during the whole stay.  Very comfortable !

The owner is a wonderful person. Her English is not the best , but she really made an effort to make us feel welcome.

Ryokan Araya Totoan

BENIYA MUKAYU 

This ryokan with 17 rooms is much more modern and stylish. It has really nice architecture and became a member of Relais & Chateaux last year. The nicest accommodation here would be the Western/Japanese room. Spacious and with separate bedroom. Bathtub with natural heating outside.
This ryokan has a bit more to offer. There is a nice spa and there are Yoga sessions in the morning.

Beniya Mukayu

Kyoto

Next stop KYOTO, the famous cultural city of Japan.  About 1,4 million inhabitants and only low rise buildings. Here there are a large number of different temples and shrines and also some beautiful gardens. It is recommended to stay at least 3-4 nights here to be able to see the most important sites.
Kyoto is also a city for food lovers, having several Michelin restaurants.
The Golden Temple  
Bamboo forest outside Kyoto
Dressing up for the weekend          
Kyoto market         

We stayed at two hotels here, one night at each.

RITZ CARLTON

A brand new riverside hotel. This is also a low rise building and absolutely beautiful. Modern style with a lot of Japanese influence. Very aesthetic. Rooms are large and modern with high tech amenities.

The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
Kyoto market

HYATT REGENCY

This is also a good hotel, but a bit older (8 years). The lobby is large and  nicely decorated and the rooms are quite ok  even the leading category. For more space I would recommend  the  Deluxe corner rooms with balcony.

The location is good, just across the street where the National Museum is and also one of the most important temples (Sanjusangen-do)  is just 5 minutes walk away . These attractions can easily be explored on your own.

The itinerary we did is also  suggested in our new Select Collection brochure 2014-2016. I think it's a good combination for a first time visitor to Japan. Three quite different areas and experiences. From March next year will it be possible to do the whole itinerary by train as the Shinkansen will operate between Tokyo and Kanazawa (approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes) and then again train from Kanazawa to Kyoto (approx.. 2 hours)  The nearest airport to fly home from will then be Osaka (approx 90 minutes from Kyoto).


Best time to travel

I was there  in end of February/beginning of March and the climate/ weather is pretty much the same as up here in this period, which means approximately between 4–10 degrees C.
I had a great experience even at this time of the year,  but the most beautiful time would be to go in April/May and September/October.


Why go to Japan?

  1. Rich culture,  with many influences from the Emperor and Samurai/Shogun periods.
  2. Very modern, but yet keeping many traditions. 
  3. Different from the rest of Asia.
  4. Great shopping  (many interesting Japanese designers)
  5. Beautiful sceneries/gardens.
  6. Very safe!
  7. Very clean!
  8. Friendly, helpful and very polite inhabitants.
  9. If you like punctuality, then Japan is the place.
  10. Not as expensive as people tend to think. (the Yen has dropped a lot the last couple of years)
  11. A heaven for food lovers.
  12. No tipping !  (nobody expects tips)
  13. We have a very reliable and professional agent there – THE REAL JAPAN.



An itinerary including the above hotels, onsens and ryokans in electric Tokyo and quiet corners of Japan can be booked through any of our Select Collection offices. 


ADDRESSES
LONDON / MAYFAIR


Erland / March 2014


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