In Japan, high quality is revered in all things. Artisanal craftsmen pore over handmade knives, garment brushes and socks. Shops sell perfectly symmetrical cantaloupes for $500. And, of course, there’s the cuisine. The Japanese are masters at elevating a few simple ingredients into something extraordinary.
With this attention to detail and appreciation for beauty, Japan is a wonderland for the luxury traveler. If you’re seeking a truly exceptional experience, prepare to be dazzled. Here are a few places to start.
1. Drop into the Slopes of Niseko
Pack your skis – Niseko may be the next Aspen. Long known for its perfect powder, the luxury hotel scene is finally catching up. Park Hyatt, Aman and Ritz-Carlton have plans to open in the next few years. In the meantime, take your trip to Niseko over the top with a heli-skiing excursion. Voted the world’s best heli-skiing operator in 2016, Hokkaido Backcountry Club will whisk you to the top of a volcano and let you take on the terrain. Expect steep chutes, open glades and slopes that range from 20-40 degrees. The day’s runs will depend on the weather and, of course, the avalanche conditions.
2. Skiing and Snow Monkeys in Nagano
Niseko is shiny and new, but Nagano is a step back in time. Known for its perfect powder, Nagano hosted the Winter Olympics in 1998. After a long day of runs, settle into Ryokan Sakaya, an inn that has been family-run for 17 generations. While staying here you can expect flawless service, impeccably presented gourmet meals and long soaks in the beautiful onsen hot spring. For a truly unforgettable experience, have a driver bring you to Jigokudani Monkey Park, where Japanese snow monkeys bathe in the hot springs. Surrounded by a fresh blanket of snow, there’s nothing like it.
3. Ride the Rails in Style
Japan has a thing for train travel. If you travel on the Twilight Express Mizukaze, you might fall in love with it, too. Just debuted in 2017, the top suite costs more than $20,000 for a two-night, three-day trip. The suites are classically elegant, with bathtubs, marble floors and private lounges for soaking up views. Along the way, you’ll dine on gourmet French and Japanese cuisine, sip champagne and Japanese whisky and watch the beaches and rice paddies pass.
Another option is the Skiki-Shima Train, a luxury sleeper train with a futuristic design. The Shiki-Shima was designed by Ken Okuyama, who has worked with Maserati, Porsche and Ferrari. Each end of the train has a glass-enclosed observatory car, and suites have glass ceilings so you can see the stars from bed.
4. Freedive with the Ama
Set in the Ise-Shima region, Ago Bay has been home to female freedivers for centuries. Called ama, these women dive deep into the Pacific to collect abalone, sea urchin and pearls. For those looking to get their toes wet, luxury tour operator Remote Lands can arrange a five-day itinerary where you’ll learn to freedive like the ama do. When you’re not diving to the depths, you’ll be soaking in the spa at the sleek Amanemu or dining on roasted abalone and Japanese lobster.
5. Bathe Above Tokyo
In Japan, traditions mingle with modern marvels. Experience Japanese hospitality the billionaire’s way at the Hoshinoya Tokyo, an updated ryokan in the heart of the city. From the moment you step off the hectic streets – and remove your shoes, of course – you enter another world. Guests roam the halls in beautiful yukata, a kimono-like garment. Tatami mats cushion the floors. The highlight is the sleek rooftop baths, filled with hot spring water from 1,500 meters below the ground. There are separate halls for men and women, as Japanese tradition dictates you can’t wear clothes in the springs. The baths are surrounded by towering walls that open up to the sky. It’s hard to believe Tokyo is just outside.
6. Summit Sacred Mountains
If you’re looking to dive into Japanese culture, early August is a perfect time to visit. Remote Lands can arrange a trip through the so-called Three Great Festivals of the Tohoku Region. These vibrant festivals are the Kanto Matsuri in Akita, Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori and Tanabata Matsuri in Sendai. With an expert guide leading the way, you’ll travel up sacred mountains, light lanterns and be blessed at shrines. As Tohoku is known for its excellent seafood, plan to eat plenty of fresh sushi along the way.
7. To the Moon
Once you’ve done everything on the planet, there’s the final frontier: outer space. In 2018, SpaceX announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will be the first passenger to fly on the “Moon loop” in 2023. The 43-year-old founder of Japanese fashion label ZOZO is a passionate art collector. He plans to bring along 6 to 8 artists to see how an up-close look at the moon could inspire their art.
As the moon mission is a few years away, you still have plenty of time to explore Japan. However, once you see how much beauty lies in this country, the moon might not seem so tempting, after all. ■