DESTINATION FOCUS • September 2019
Need a change of scenery from tries and conversions at the Rugby World Cup kicking off this month across Japan? Escape the capital and hop on the Shinkansen bullet train to see another side to the Land of the Rising Sun. Food and travel writer Angela Hui picks her five favourite nearby spots that are just a hop, skip and train ride away
Get up close and personal with Bambi himself and see thousands of wild sika deer (pictured above) roam freely at Nara Park. Legend has it that the cute furry residents are the messengers of Shinto gods. Buy deer biscuits from vendors, then watch the deer politely bow for food and reward their efforts with a treat or two. While you’re in Nara, see the world’s largest bronze Buddha at Tōdai-ji temple, bask in the glory of the famous Kasuga-taisha Shinto shrine, or stroll around the beautiful Isuien Garden inside the Neiraku Museum to round off a wholesome day trip that’s just an hour or less from Kyoto and Osaka.
Do as the Japanese do and strip down for a dip in a traditional onsen (Japanese hot spring). A little farther from the capital, but easily accessible and only two and a half hours by train from Kyoto, is Kinosaki – the mother of all hot-spring destinations. This picturesque resort town on the coast boasts seven public hot springs and more than 80 ryokans (traditional inns), all with specially built bathhouses inside. At 150 years old, beautifully landscaped Nishimuraya Honkan is one of the oldest ryokans around, and even features a private Japanese garden complete with koi pond.
Two hours outside of Tokyo and you can get a slice of natural green haven filled with breathtaking vistas, scenic mountain landscapes from Nikkō National Park, Japan’s highest waterfall, The Kegon Falls, and numerous hiking trails. Besides being a World Heritage Site since 1999 and an Area of Outstanding Beauty, there are plenty of historical shrines and colourful temples along the way. Highlights include Tōshō-gū shrine, home to the famous ‘see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil’ three monkeys carving (pictured above); Taiyuinbyo, the lavish grave of the third Shogun (military governor) of the Tokugawa dynasty; and the eighth-century Buddhist Rinnoji Temple that brought Buddhism to the masses. It’s said that Nikkō used to be the sacred land of mountain worship, and visitors often feel that there’s a distinctive mystical atmosphere…
Prepare to wear stretchy trousers as you indulge in dainty and decadent Japanese fine dining. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course dinner, consisting of six to 15 intricately presented seasonal dishes. It won’t be the cheapest meal you’ve ever had, but you can guarantee it will be memorable, with only the highest-quality ingredients and the best service. Two-Michelin-starred Zeniya is one of the oldest ryōtei (traditional Japanese fine-dining restaurant) and is known for a signature abalone steak dish and pairing food with antique regional ceramics (pictured above). For the veggies and vegans out there, Kotobukiya offers two and a half hours of mind-blowing shojin ryori (Japanese Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) in a superb traditional Japanese building. Itadakimasu!
Tick off a must-see sight in Japan by heading to Kawaguchiko for the best views of one of the most famous mountains in the world, Mount Fuji (pictured above). A two-hour journey from Tokyo, the surrounding lakes, caves, parks, lavender fields and hiking trails make it an ideal day trip to get back in touch with nature. Prefer something more leisurely? The cable car up to Tenjoyama Park offers a prime viewing spot of the iconic mountain, or why not poke about in one of the kitschy rabbit and tanuki-themed shrines? If you need recharging, head to Itchiku Kubota Art Museum where there’s an entrance to hidden ancient ruins and a small waterfall with nearby benches to take a break.
As of this spring, British Airways – official airline partner to England Rugby – resumed direct flights to Osaka, perfect for any sports fans looking to attend the Rugby World Cup being held in various cities across Japan. To plan your trip, click here