Japan is, without question, one of the world's most luxurious travel destinations.
Its unrivaled hospitality and attention to detail provide the best in high-class accommodation, craftsmanship and cultural experiences. Tokyo consistently ranks as the city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, with fellow Japanese cities Kyoto and Osaka not far behind.
From remote island beach resorts and exclusive cultural encounters to traditional hot spring retreats offering unparalleled relaxation, Japan is a must-visit location for those seeking the ultimate in luxury travel.
Japan's world-renowned hospitality is best understood through the concept of omotenashi. This word is slightly tricky to translate, but at its core omotenashi means taking care of your guests wholeheartedly. It can be felt in almost every aspect of Japanese service, and embodies the idea of not just providing guests with what they want, but anticipating and fulfilling those needs before the guest is even aware of them. This is the key to what makes Japanese hospitality so outstanding.
The roots of omotenashi are thought to date back to the traditional tea ceremony, and the concept is now inextricably woven into the fabric of Japanese society. Indeed the country prides itself on having the best hospitality in the world. The only way to truly understand omotenashi though is to experience it for yourself. The extraordinary care and attention to detail simply cannot be matched.
Luxury gourmet experiences
Japanese cuisine is known around the world for its high quality and regional variety. Thus it comes as no surprise that food is one of the defining characteristics of luxury travel in Japan. From Michelin-starred restaurants to high-end whiskey, there's a luxury culinary experience here to suit every palate.
When you think of Japanese food, sushi probably comes to mind. High-end restaurants are good places to sample this seemingly-infinite variety of bite-sized dishes. If you're looking for an exceptional dining experience, opt for omakase-style in which you give your chef complete creative freedom over your meal. The reward is a one-of-a-kind meal made using the finest ingredients available.
While sushi is famous worldwide, Japan is also home to a wide range of gourmet delights rarely seen outside its borders. One of the most notable of these is kaiseki ryori . Usually served in private rooms at specialist restaurants and top-class hotels, kaiseki ryori is a traditional, elaborate multi-course dining experience. It consists of a succession of beautifully presented small dishes, each of which is made using the freshest seasonal ingredients. The intricacy and diversity of this artistic cuisine will astound you.
Alternatively, try kappo ryori, a more casual version of kaiseki in which diners are seated close to the chef to create a more intimate dining experience. Vegans and vegetarians should look out for shojin ryori, which offers the same multi-course extravaganza but without any animal ingredients. And remember that although Japan has a phenomenal number of Michelin-star restaurants, there are plenty of restaurants without the accolade that are also of an exceptionally high standard.
Your culinary experiences in Japan are not limited simply to eating. It's also possible to take part in exclusive private cooking classes with Japanese chefs, in which you can learn how to create some of your favorite dishes and bring the taste of Japan back home with you.
If you're looking for some liquid refreshment, nihonshu—better known abroad as sake—has to be top of your list. To learn more about this Japanese rice wine, try a tasting with a professional sake sommelier and find out exactly which varieties hit the spot. For a truly indulgent affair, have an evening of sake pairing with your choice of Japanese or Western food.
One of Japan's other favorite beverages is whisky, and there are a considerable number of high-end, intimate whisky bars concealed down narrow streets where you can sip your way through some of the world's best.
Where to stay
In keeping with the concept of omotenashi, Japan offers travelers world-class luxury accommodation, both in cities and in rural areas. These range from five-star hotels to beautiful machiya homes and traditional Japanese inns known as ryokan.
Ryokan are most commonly found in hot spring areas and are far more than just somewhere to sleep. With tatami flooring, futon bedding and local, seasonal kaiseki cuisine served in your room, ryokan offer visitors the chance to experience Japanese hospitality at its best. Make time to check out the on-site onsen (hot spring baths) to unwind.
A luxury five-star hotel is a more modern option, and there are plenty to choose from in Japan. Seamlessly blending traditional Japanese-inspired design and decor with global standard amenities and service, they provide the ultimate in relaxation and grandeur.
Renting out a machiya is a fantastic option for larger groups or long-term stays. These refurbished Japanese townhouses offer a bit more room and freedom than a hotel or ryokan without sacrificing creature comforts or authentic style.
Craft and culture
One of the most exclusive cultural events you can attend is an evening with a geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha). The embodiment of traditional Japan, geisha play musical instruments and dance while guests enjoy a kaiseki ryori feast. Another essential cultural experience is the Japanese tea ceremony , in which you are served matcha tea and small sweets in a ritual steeped in history that dates back to the 8th century. With an emphasis on aesthetics as well as taste, it's the perfect example of omotenashi in action.
The extraordinary level of care present in Japanese hospitality is also readily apparent in the country's traditional crafts. In many areas, it's possible to not only purchase these creations but also to watch the artisans themselves at work. Some of the highlights to look out for include Wajima's durable lacquerware, the delicate and intricately designed Edo-kiriko cut glass and Arita's vibrant ceramics. For the most beautiful accessories, keep an eye out for the beautiful Mikimoto pearls—the first in the world to be cultured—and Kyotango's chirimen, silk crepe used to make kimono, purses and wrapping cloth.
Traveling in style
With all these experiences to be had, you won't want to restrict yourself to staying in just one city or prefecture. Luckily, there are plenty of options for traveling across the country in comfort, too.
Japan's most famous mode of transportation is the shinkansen (bullet train), which will transport you between all the major cities at speeds of up to 320 km/h. The shinkansen's Gran Class cars provide the ultimate in luxury travel, featuring spacious, comfortable seating, a host of amenities and attentive service. For shorter journeys, you have the option of hiring a private car or taxi, with English-speaking chauffeurs available.
There are also more laid-back luxury train journeys to indulge in, such as Japans first luxury sleeper train, the Seven Stars in Kyushu Cruise Train (advance bookings essential), and JR West's Twilight Express Mizukaze (Western Japan). Both sleeper trains offer one-of-a-kind designs more akin to a hotel, from which you can enjoy fine dining, unwind and appreciate the beauty of the passing landscape, as well as off-board excursions.
Applications to travel on the Seven Stars in Kyushu Cruise Train can be made through the following site: www.cruisetrain-sevenstars.jp
If you're after something more efficient, modern and flashy, helicopter tours are available in most major cities, including Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama, and will give you unbeatable views of the cityscapes below.
Japan's top luxury locations
Just about anywhere in Japan can be a luxury destination, as world-class hospitality, gourmet cuisine and stylish accommodation is found throughout the country. There are a few places in particular, however, that stand out as leading locations to immerse yourself in luxury.
Kyoto's rich history makes it the best location for classic ryokan and high-end kaiseki ryori, as well as exclusive cultural encounters such as traditional tea ceremonies. For a closer look at Japan's heritage, Kanazawa is unsurpassed. It's renowned for its exquisite craftsmanship and gold leaf-decorated lacquerware, and is also a prime spot for geisha entertainment.
For something more rural, the northernmost island of Hokkaido is perfect. Full of rustic charm and untouched natural beauty, it offers a wide range of privately-guided outdoor activities such as fishing, skiing and hiking, as well as once-in-a-lifetime encounters with wildlife such as whales, Yezo deer, red foxes and rare birds. Finally, the southern island chain of Okinawa is a favorite luxury beach destination, with exclusive resorts, expansive golf courses, remote island getaways and world-class diving locations.
All information is correct as of March 2019.