24 Ways to Experience the Best That Japan Has to Offer

Launched in 2015, Omotenashi Selection is a collection of quality Japan-made products conveying the country’s craftsmanship and hospitality (summed up by the word “omotenashi”). This year the project launched its Experiences category, giving visitors to Japan the chance to discover the best the country has to offer in terms of restaurants, accommodation and activities. The following is a selection of 24 venues and activities that have been handpicked by the Omotenashi Selection team. (For more information about the project, visit omotenashinippon.jp/selection/en)

sanjo knife making workshops

Show Off Your Metalworking Skills at a Knife-Making Workshop

Where: Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture

It’s rare to find a facility where you can experience knife-making using traditional manufacturing methods. At Sanjo Blacksmith Training Hall’s workshops, however, you can try out Japanese nail-making, letter opener-making, and knife sharpening with traditional Sanjo techniques. Using a coke forge, steel chopsticks and hammers, you’ll get to experience real metalworking alongside skilled craftsmen. You’ll also leave with a new appreciation of the skill that goes into traditional Japanese monozukuri (manufacturing). kajidojo.com

kanazawa gold leaf

Create Gold Leaf Crafts

Where: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture
Kanazawa is famous for producing nearly all of Japan’s gold leaf, and has been doing so since back in the mid-1500s. Gold Leaf Sakuda was founded in 1919, and has built a reputation for creating high quality gold leaf products using traditional methods, even receiving a nod from the Michelin Blue Guide. At Sakuda’s trial workshops, you can experience making your own gold leaf designs. Choose from a selection of patterns or create your own from scratch. There are different items to choose from such as chopsticks, mini boxes, wooden pendants, and mini cherry boxes. The workshop lasts about one hour and the cost ranges from ¥600 to ¥3,400 depending on the item you choose. goldleaf-sakuda.jp/en

 

samurai warrior training

Train to Become a Samurai Warrior

Where: Tokyo
Yumonoya’s Japan Culture Experience Tours in Asakusa offer a variety of activities, including kimono rental and samurai training. The latter is based on the Takafuji dance company and Kenbu Tachibana itto-ryu style, and teaches you not only swordsmanship but also the manners and mindset of a true samurai warrior. You’ll even get a samurai training certificate to prove you’ve made the grade. As for the kimono rental service, visitors can choose from a selection of beautiful kimono sets made from traditional Japanese fabrics. tokyo-samurai.com

tokyo-rickshaw

Rent a Rickshaw for a Special Occasion

Where: Tokyo and Beyond
Asakusa in Tokyo is known for being a hotspot for rickshaw rides, but with Kurumaya you can also request specific destinations around Tokyo (and all over Japan) for special occasions. For example, perhaps you’d like to treat your other half to a nostalgic trip around a memory-filled area on your anniversary. All staff at Kurumaya work as both rickshaw drivers and craftsmen, and the rickshaws can easily be assembled and disassembled, so drivers can meet you anywhere you want. asakusa4028.com/anywhere

chazen tea ceremony

Find Your Zen at a Traditional Tea Ceremony

Where: Tokyo
Step into a tranquil Japanese tea haven at Chazen & Co. in Ginza. Offering a tea ceremony experience right in the heart of Tokyo, the authentic space was created by an expert tearoom designer and features a nijiriguchi (small door), tatami floor, and other traditional details. Experience the art of the Japanese tea ceremony and feel true omotenashi spirit at this foreigner-friendly program. Reservations required. Top tip: Ask for the Omotenashi Selection Plan, and you’ll receive letter packs that allow you to enjoy the tea ceremony experience at home. chazen-us.com

omotenashi escort service

Treat Your Important Guests to Omotenashi

Where: Tokyo
Take the pressure off special occasions with Four Heart’s Care Escort service. Whether it’s at a wedding or while traveling, Care Escort will look after important guests and ensure that they receive the best treatment. Staff conduct meetings with family members in advance to create a strong relationship with their customers and understand what they are looking for. Staff are trained to serve in different roles – such as care workers or bridal planners – so as to match customers’ needs. To provide the best service for their clients, Care Escort regularly provides training in customer care and social etiquette. care-escort.com

japanese plastic food art classes

Try Your Hand at Creating Plastic Food Art

Where: Osaka
Fascinated by Japan’s food samples whenever you pass by a restaurant? Here’s your chance to experience the art of food sample-making for yourself. From parfaits and tarts to sushi and bento boxes, Design Pocket offers visitors a variety of fake food lessons. If you’re feeling up to the challenge, take on the technical process of making macaroons, which involves coloring the resin and heating the whole thing in an oven to finish it off. Of course there are plenty of food samples available for purchase too. The workshop takes about 40 to 60 minutes and lessons start at ¥2,160; service is provided in English, Chinese and Korean. www.designpocket.net (Japanese), https://tinyurl.com/TWdesignpocket (English)

daigo temple cuisine meals

Eat Sophisticated Buddhist Cuisine at an Inner-City Retreat

Where: Tokyo
Shojin cuisine is a vegetarian meal that originated in Japanese Buddhist temples. At DAIGO, not far from Toranomon Hills, you’ll get to try an elaborate, kaiseki (traditional multicourse meal) version of the food while being immersed in an elegant atmosphere of Japanese gardens, traditional furnishings including hori-kotatsu (low tables over a sunken floor) and tatami, and teahouse-style architecture. The menu changes 20 times a year, allowing you to encounter a variety of different dishes and enjoy seasonal delicacies. atago-daigo.jp

Hifumian Tokyo

Prepare and Eat Seasonal Dishes with a Top Japanese Chef

Where: Tokyo
Hifumian is a Japanese cooking and culture school in Kagurazaka that offers lessons for foreign attendees in local home-style cooking. The menu is centered around traditional festivals, and is planned by matching seasonal ingredients with these special occasions. Those taking part in the class can help with the cooking preparations, and then watch Chef Takamitsu Aihara cook the meals while he explains the history, meaning and traditions behind Japanese festivals. Being a key figure in the world of Japanese culinary arts, Aihara makes sure that the class has a friendly atmosphere and places an emphasis on the joy of cooking. Omotenashi is expressed in the form of the beautiful arrangement of the food, the use of Japanese dishware, and seasonal decorations. en-salon.hifumi-an.com

classica restaurant in omotesando

Dine Amidst a Bamboo Forest in the Center of Tokyo

Where: Tokyo
French chef Stephen Pantel’s concept for The Classica Omotesando’s cuisine is the harmony between Japan and the West, light and shadow, and luxury and intimacy. Born from Pantel’s imagination, the course menu changes four times a year in accordance with the seasons, and guests can watch as food is prepared by talented chefs in the open kitchen. A mini bamboo forest surrounds the venue, making the elegant space feel like a nature-filled escape. Need to plan a wedding or special event? The venue also offers a pretty onsite chapel and banquet hall for the perfect urban celebration. classicaomotesando.jp

awomb sushi restaurant in kyoto

Design Your Own Sushi Roll at a Designer Restaurant

Where: Kyoto
Try out a variety of beautifully arranged Kyoto delicacies at AWOMB, a restaurant with a wabi-sabi vibe that’s housed in a remodeled 80-year-old kyo-machiya (traditional wooden townhouse). Colorful ingredients including kyoyasai (Kyoto’s traditional vegetables with unique shapes and hues), yuba (tofu skin), and seafood decorate the plates, while the dishes are garnished with seasonings such as kuroshichimi (blended black spices) and sansho (Japanese pepper). You can even mix all your favorite ingredients in a temaki hand-roll sushi or teori-sushi, and make the meal your own. The presentation of the ingredients reflects the grid patterns of the streets of Kyoto. awomb.com

royal road premium coach bus

Travel Like a VIP on a Tailormade Tour

Where: Tokyo and beyond
The new, exclusive Royal Road Premium coach is the king of transportation. Travel in style in the chic, luxurious bus, with an itinerary created by tour company JTB, for a one-of-a-kind way to see Japan. The 10 individual leather seats can recline up to 140 degrees so you are ensured a relaxing and comfortable journey. Lots of personal space, a clean restroom, and a wide selection of drinks. What more could you want from a road trip? https://tinyurl.com/TWroyalroad

twilight express mizukaze

Explore the Sanin and Sanyo Regions an a Luxury Sleeper Train

Where: Western Japan coastline
Launched in 2017, JR West’s luxury sleeper excursion train, TWILIGHT EXPRESS MIZUKAZE, is a 10-car train that runs along the gorgeous coastline of western Japan. It carries up to around 30 passengers, and offers three kinds of rooms (“The Suite” which spans one full car, the “Royal Twin” which offers views from both sides of the car, and the “Royal Single” for solo travelers), an exquisite lounge, a spacious dining area, and observation rooms that all contribute to an unforgettable journey. Choose from five courses – the Sanin tours show you the beautiful surroundings of the Sea of Japan coastline, while the Sanyo tours run along the Seto Island Sea – and visit sightseeing spots along the route. The crew members, most of whom trained at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, offer top-class hospitality and professionalism, making your journey through the breathtaking views of southern Honshu a memorable one. twilightexpress-mizukaze.jp/en

Choueikan Ryokan Iwate

Get Away to the Picture-Perfect Scenery of Iwate

Where: Oshuku, Iwate Prefecture
Surround yourself with Iwate’s breathtaking beauty at Choueikan ryokan. Whether it’s from the first-rate guest rooms or from the comfort of the natural hot spring bath, the inn highlights scenes of Tohoku’s gorgeous seasonal beauty. Soak amongst trees in the baths and spoil yourself with the menu, which changes 17 times a year, according to Japan’s 24 micro seasons. https://tinyurl.com/TWchoueikan

ryokan-hakkei

Dip Into Japan’s Famed Riverside Hot Spring at a Mountain Inn

Where: Toyosaka, Okayama Prefecture
Ryokan Hakkei is like a home away from home, except with top quality cuisine (suitable for vegans), hidden hot springs, and the famous suna-ya outdoor onsen on your doorstep. The mixed bathing area is near Yubara Dam, and is called suna-ya (sand bath) because as the hot water gushes out it pushes sand onto the riverbed. It’s open 24 hours a day and is free of charge, and Hakkei provides special bathing wear for women so there’s no need to feel shy. If you’re up for a bit of sightseeing, you can reach Izumo Taisha Shrine, Adachi Museum of Art, the Tottori Sand Dunes, Himeji Castle, and Naoshima within two hours by car. hakkei-yubara.jp

tateshina-kaorukaze nagano

Refresh Your City Soul in Nagano’s Highlands

Where: Tateshina, Nagano Prefecture
Escape the city with a trip to Nagano’s highlands at Tateshina Kaorukaze. Spend the day rejuvenating yourself with activities such as golfing or trekking. In the summer, cool off in the purifying, refreshing breeze of the hills, and in winter, warm yourself up in the fireplace lounge as you listen to the fire crackle. The restaurant’s creative cuisine features the freshest mountain vegetables and the best seasonal local ingredients, such as wild plants and premium beef. Finish off the day with a relaxing dip in the indoor and open-air baths, fed directly from the Mimuro hot springs of Tateshina. kaorukaze.net

Ochiaro-Murakami-ryokan-shizuoka

Feel Like Japanese Royalty at This Historic Ryokan

Where: Shizuoka
For a truly traditional and luxurious Japanese experience, stay at Ochiairo Murakami ryokan, a registered Tangible Cultural Property. The Showa style ryokan takes you back in time, allowing you to appreciate historic Japanese architecture and the artisans’ attention to detail such as in the intricate patterns of the shoji sliding doors. With both Japanese- and Western-style rooms, hot spring baths and superb Japanese meals, this ryokan has all the ingredients to make this an omotenashi-filled experience. ochiairomurakami.com/en-gb

Loisir Spa Tower Naha Churaspa

Spa Your Stress Away

Where: Naha, Okinawa
One of the best experiences at Loisir Spa Tower Naha Churaspa has to be the Ryukyu Ayurveda treatment, which incorporates Okinawan ingredients with Indian remedies, conditioning both the mind and the body. Afterwards, take a dip in the Miegusuku hot spring, sourced from geothermally heated fossil seawater that, unlike volcanic hot springs, contains salt which helps warm the body. The indoor swimming pool is also 70 percent hot spring water, and your Spa Deluxe Twin room has a private bath for perfect moments spent peering out at the views of the Okinawan sea and sky. solarehotels.com/en/hotel/okinawa/spatower

okutsuso-ryokan

Soak in a Rare Hot Spring; Eat Unique Beef Cuisine

Where: Okutsu, Okayama Prefecture
Okutsuso ryokan boasts a rare kind of hot spring known as the kagi-yu (locked bath) of Tadamasa Mori, the lord of Tsuyama domain in the Edo period, who guarded the bath to ensure he had exclusive use of it. Why is it so special? The water wells up directly from the rocks at the bottom of the bath and so is not exposed to air – this means it does not get oxidized and thus is considered uber pure. Out of 35,000 hot spring hotels in Japan, this kind of “natural” onsen is only found in a few dozen. As for the beef cuisine, Okayama has developed its own signature style. Enjoy a nine-course meal, featuring a variety of beef dishes including sozuri nabe (hot pot made with slices of beef pared from the bone) as well as the seasonal blowfish specialty. okutsuso.com/en

Sasayama Castle Town Hotel Nipponia

Experience Life In An Edo-Period Castle Town

Where: Sasayama, Hyogo Prefecture
Sasayama is an old castle town that was established in Hyogo Prefecture in the early 1600s. To allow visitors to experience lifestyles and customs from the Edo and Showa periods, five traditional homes have been carefully restored and grouped together under the name Sasayama Castle Town Hotel Nipponia. Each unit offers modern comforts but maintains its original charm, allowing you to feel like you’re really living in a secluded, Edo period castle town. While enjoying the atmospheric old town, you’ll also get to enjoy state-of-the-art facilities and exquisite French cuisine made with local ingredients. sasayamastay.jp

Ikaho-Onsen

Rejuvenate at a Wellness Retreat in an Onsen Town

Where: Ikaho, Gunma Prefecture
Situated on the slopes of Mount Haruna, Ikaho Onsen is a hot spring town that’s long been favored by Japanese writers and artists as a place of inspiration and relaxation. Kaichoro ryokan builds on this reputation by creating an elegant wellness retreat where you’ll not only experience soul-rejuvenating moments in the exquisite Japanese-style suites (with private gardens and open-air baths) but also relish the mouthwatering meals. The Japanese course menus change every month, and the sommelier offers drink pairing suggestions with both Japanese sake and Western drinks. Surrounded by extraordinary landscapes, you can choose to spend time in nature or being pampered in the high-class spa. kaichoro.jp/english

bettei-sanjuan-minakami-gunma

Admire Traditional and Modern Decor at a Family-Friendly Ryokan

Where: Minakami, Gunma Prefecture
Looking for a child-friendly ryokan for a quick weekend family trip? Just 90 minutes from Tokyo, Bettei Senjuan is the place for you: the philosophy here is that experiencing ryokan from a young age is important, because it means that the culture can be passed on to future generations. The hotel blends traditional and contemporary architecture – the geometric patterns on the walls and ceiling are made using the Japanese paper marbling technique of Edo Suminagashi. As for the cuisine, multi-course dinners are served, featuring freshly sourced local ingredients. senjyuan.jp/e

Katsuura Gyoen Wakayama Prefecture

Stay at a Seaside Ryokan Near the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage

Where: Katsuura, Wakayama Prefecture
How about a quick getaway to a UNESCO site? Katsuura Gyoen is a luxury ryokan in the fishing port town of Katsuura (which lays claim to the highest volume of tuna fish hauls in Japan, so you can imagine the delicious seafood dishes). Overlooking Nachi Bay, the hotel’s “Ten” suites are spacious and feature open-air baths. Some of the rooms even offer views of Nachi-no-Otaki, Japan’s tallest waterfall. Best of all, the area is home to the ancient, UNESCO-registered Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route (www.tb-kumano.jp/en/kumano-kodo). Stretching over the mountainous Kii Peninsula (which is listed on Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2018” list), the route lets you take in the extraordinary landscape and the three Grand Shrines of Kumano, and also feel the spirituality and history that are now an integral part of the Kumano countryside. www.katuuragyoen.co.jp

scapes-the-suite-hayama

Wake Up to Ocean and Mt. Fuji Views Just 90 Minutes from Tokyo

Where: Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture
Neighbor to the more crowded Kamakura, Hayama is a top choice for those seeking a quieter and, shall we say, more mature seaside escape that’s not too far from Tokyo. SCAPES THE SUITE is located right on the beach, offering uninterrupted ocean and Mt. Fuji views from the guestrooms. The hotel prides itself on offering “not a journey, but an escape,” part of which entails them instinctively being able to predict your needs before you’ve even expressed them (this is classic omotenashi). They also pay attention to the basics such as picking local vegetables with rich flavors in the Miura Peninsula each morning to serve delicious, fresh meals. scapes.jp/english/hotel.html

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