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5 things you’ve probably never done in Japan but should!

In case you didn’t know, I LOVE Japan. I studied the culture extensively in college and grad school, lived there twice, used to travel to Tokyo 1-2 times per year over the course of a decade in my last career, and continue to travel to Japan often. Even after numerous visits, I continue to find new, dynamic experiences to have there. Here are a few of them… 1. Visit Niseko on the island of Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost island) With its gorgeous scenery, the highest quality of food in Japan due to its vast number of farms, and calm feel, Niseko is a hidden secret typically frequented by Japanese residents. After visiting Niseko for the first time in May of 2019, I see the draw locals have to the area and I encourage any visitor to make a stop here if you have the time. The luxury hotel brands have already caught wind that this is an up-and-coming destination, as evidenced by the number of heavy-hitting luxury hotels close to completing construction there. While there, I had a chance to visit the construction site for the Park Hyatt Niseko – set to open soon. This will be a fantastic property; it will have grounds for numerous outdoor activities year-round; and will, of course, have Park Hyatt’s beautiful design and excellent service. Also not to be missed in Niseko is Zaborin. Zaborin offers a contemporary approach to ryokan (traditional, Japanese inn). This is undoubtedly the best place I’ve stayed in all of Japan ever and currently one of my favorite properties in the world! When planning a visit to Niseko, I’d recommend spending a couple of nights enjoying the activities at the Park Hyatt Niseko, followed by two nights of peaceful surroundings, exceptional hospitality, and beyond phenomenal food at Zaborin. P.S. If you’re a skier, you’ll definitely want to visit Niseko as it is known for having the best powder in the world – even according to some avid skiers from Aspen. 2. Take in the art on Naoshima Another Japan first for me was visiting Naoshima in 2017. The island has become famous for its outdoor art installations, galleries, and unique architecture. Artists and architects featured here are the likes of Yayoi Kusama and Tadao Ando. The island’s concept of blending nature with art and creating an atmosphere in which the viewer has more physical interaction with the art has gained in popularity so much that it is starting to be incorporated into communities as far west as Potomac, MD (a community very close to where my own family lives in the Maryland-DC area). In this area you will find Glenstone – a contemporary art museum which marries the art and its surroundings to create a more contemplative experience. If you can’t make it to Japan, Glenstone is worth a visit the next time you are in the DC area. But definitely add Naoshima to your list when you do get to Japan! 3. Stay in Furano in the Summer Furano is at the heart of farm country on Hokkaido. You’ll find the most delicious ice cream, cheese, and beef in this area all coming from the nearby farms. In addition to the food, this part of Hokkaido has some of the beautiful landscapes in the summer… land filled with flowers. A significant number of the flowers grown here are lavender. You’ll find farms making lavender candy, lavender soaps, and even lavender ice cream (which is surprisingly delicious). While in Furano, stay at Furano Resort Orika. Here you can play golf and enjoy hot spring baths overlooking flower fields. 4. Eat ramen and drink beer in Sapporo By now you are most likely familiar with the ramen craze and its close ties to Japan. While you can certainly eat ramen in any number of restaurants around the globe, in big cities in Japan, and even in your home, it’s worth it to eat it in the city of Sapporo, where many Japanese believe ramen is at its best! It’s so delicious and popular in Sapporo that they even have a ramen festival (which we managed to catch while we were there). We were able to squeeze in two bowls of ramen during our one-night Sapporo stay, and it was worth it! Before or after having ramen, visit the Sapporo Beer Museum for a Sapporo Beer tasting. After all, you ARE in Sapporo! 5. Have a cocktail from a cocktail cart in Tokyo Sure, you’ve visited bars and lounges in your hometown and you’ve hit a couple when you’ve traveled too. But have you had cocktails from a cocktail cart (like a food cart)? Shotaro Kamijo has a contemporary, boutique-y-feeling cart named Twillo, which he takes out almost nightly and uses to create a cocktail lounge-like ambiance on the streets of Tokyo. Complete with actual crystal (no plastic cups here), a disco ball, and the company of a mixologist sporting a faux fur coat, you have everything you need for a night cap (as it was for us) or a drink to kick-off your evening. Check Shotaro’s tweets nightly (@twillo0) at approx 10-11pm Tokyo time to determine his location. Tisha Neufville is a Luxury Travel Advisor and Founder of Neufville Travel. Neufville Travel is an independent affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso member. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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  1. The secluded hot-tub with those fantastic views would do the job for me! Must drop into Nisoko for a few days relaxation when I finally get to do my grand tour of Japan. Roll-on retirement. Japan’s going to be part of my “gap year” between full-time work and full-time retirement.

  2. I really get the concepts that they are developing on Naoshima. I’ve done a few outdoor art galleries around the world where the art just blends into the environment, often sort of extrapolating nature into the installation. After you’ve done an external installation going back to traditional indoor galleries can seem quite sterile. People always say, “But what about the weather?” Usually great outdoor art seems all the greater in extreme weather conditions. Also you’ve got less people blocking the views and disrupting your concentration. Definitely like to visit this place.

  3. From my experience lavender is underrated and should be made more of. Pleased to see that they use it in Japan. Recently at some Heston Blumenthal style restaurant with quite an experimental menu I tried lavender ice-cream for the first time. It was delicate and delicious.

    If my garden is anything to go by lavender flourishes anywhere and it seeds itself. Only problem is that you have to do a lot of hard pruning in the autumn.

  4. Twill is an amazing concept. I love the idea of a mobile cocktail bar but will it be there when you want it most? I suppose you’ve got to checkTwitter before setting out.

    1. I’m trying to get my head around the Twillo concept and asking myself whether it would succeed elsewhere. Initially, I thought that you would need a balmy climate for people to linger over their cocktails but then I thought hot cocktails, involving rum and chocolate, would probably be appreciated as winter warmers.
      I could imagine a mobile cocktail stall being a great success in the Caribbean, by the beach, as the sun went down, and then moving to a more urban location later in the evening. However, much will depend on local licensing laws.

  5. I’m afraid that there is a very long list of things that I have never done in Japan as I have never visited. Reading this post makes me realise that not only do I need to visit but I also need to make it a 3 or 4 week visit so that I can fit all of these wonderful activities into what will be the holiday of a lifetime.

  6. I’ve always taken beer very seriously. It’s great that Sapporo has even got a beer museum with free tastings. I hope that more towns open beer museums, especially if they are going to do free tastings.

  7. I’ve always gone to Sapporo during their snow festivals that happens around February. The ice sculptures are amazing and I’m always drawn to these types of art. This is also probably the best time to savour their ramen, something hot and tasty on a cold wintry day.

  8. I’m a little bit jealous, Tisha. Japan was always my ‘dream trip’, that once in a lifetime, bucket list kind of experience I’ve wanted to have since being in my teens. Maybe one day it’ll happen, but in the mean time it’s great to read more about what others get up to! I never knew about the farms in Furano or that they make versions of lavender candy and ice cream, that’s amazing! I wonder why something like lavender ice-cream has never made it across the pond to the UK? I think a lot of consumers would be keen to give it a try. Although I’d probably give skiing in Niseko a miss, as I’ve never skied before, I’d definitely want to check out the art galleries and installations around Naoshima, and plenty of cocktails from a cocktail cart, which is such a sweet idea!

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