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Pamela Appleby

Beverly Hills, California Travel Agent

Finding Your Personal Japan

Japan seems to be on everyone’s wish list these days, and it is not surprising. Everything about Japan is different, from the architecture and food to the people. Simply being in Japan is a treat, especially in spring, when the delicate cherry blossom trees are in bloom. 

I always suggest art enthusiasts visit Naoshima, an entire island devoted to art and design. Here, you can stay in a luxury hotel, Benesse House, that is an actual museum of contemporary art, stroll along the coast to see sculptures in natural settings, and unwind in a bathhouse that is also a modern art museum. Also unusual is the Chichu Art Museum, which displays five paintings from the Water Lilies series by Claude Monet and cultivates a garden inspired by Monet’s Garden in Giverny.

A very Japanese thing to do is to stay at a ryokan, a typical Japanese inn. Some of these are quite upscale, but not to most Westerners’ taste because your bed will be a plush futon that is rolled out onto tatami mats in your room each night. They are comfortable and spotlessly clean. However, since many travelers do not like getting up from a mattress on the floor, some ryokans also offer several rooms with U.S.-style beds. 

Many ryokans are located at “onsens” or hot springs, where you can relax and soak in the waters, and enjoy massages and other rituals that vary by locale. For example, people go to Ibusuki for its hot healing sands, and many are in natural settings with wonderful hiking trails. Onsen bath can also be found at some deluxe five-star hotels, including the Four Seasons Tokyo at Marunouchi

A fun twist for families and Hello Kitty fans are the themed rooms at the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo. One is designed like a royal retreat; another has a fun pop art feel; both carry the theme through everything from carpeting to water bottles. Also popular with tourists and residents of all ages are the cat cafés, where you can feed and play with the resident kitties. Each cat café has its own style; some have exotic breeds, and some are so trendy that you need to make reservations. 

Luxury travelers also have many ways to engage with the culture. I can set up a dinner with a geisha, a visit to a Sumo wrestling training camp, or a kimono fitting. You can also attend a traditional tea ceremony with a guide who will explain all the symbolic aspects. Or, I can arrange group or private classes where you learn calligraphy or other ancient arts. Foodies will enjoy going to the fish market to see local chefs buying the ingredients for that night’s dinner, or taking classes in sushi-making and other traditional foods.  

A nice thing about Japan is that the bullet train makes it easy and luxurious to get from city to city. One of the most popular destinations is the former capital, Kyoto, less than 2.5 hours from Tokyo.  

Wherever you go in Japan, you will be greeted with a warm welcome because hospitality is part of the Japanese way. And whether you are a foodie or an art connoisseur, an active adventure seeker or looking to discover the real Japan, I would love to help map out your perfect itinerary through this fascinating land.

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