Tokyo was splashed across our screens in 2021, and while much is happening in the way of redevelopment in Japan’s capital city, it's still only the tip of the iceberg of changes happening across Japan. The wait until reopening has been long and, with it feeling ever more likely to be over soon, we invite you to join us as we take a little look outside of Tokyo and see the best of Japan in 2022, off the beaten track and on the beaten track, post-covid and beyond, once Japan is open for holidays again.
Best of the Bucket List©Izu Panorama Park, ©FUJIKYUKO CO.,LTD.&FUJIKYU HIGHLAND, @tocoro.camp
Kicking us off is Japan's most iconic ambassador, whose summit saw its earliest yearly snow fall in recorded history this year, and the first ever 5G wifi made available during hiking season. In 2022, the ways to enjoy this all-time Japan favourite will be doubling and tripling thanks to a slew of new openings including a state-of-the-art viewing platform and sky walk experience at the Fujiyama Tower in the Fuji-Q highlands theme park, the new TOCORO Mt Fuji Camp & Glamping facility in Yamanashi and a complete refurbishment of the Ao Terrace at the Izu Panorama Park in Shizuoka.
Another mainstay on first-time itineraries is Japan's historic capital of Kyoto, which has wisely used the travel lull to start work on a 2024 large-scale permanent teamLab exhibition space in the south-east area of Kyoto station and finish up repairs on some of the biggest jewels in its cultural crown. Kiyomizudera temple, whose full-scale repairs started in 2017, saw the final scaffolding come down at the end of 2020, while the Kinkakuji Golden Temple took time away for a little facelift patching up some weather damage to its trademark gold leaf. With a lush new plum grove now fully planted at Mimuroto-ji temple in the tea town of Uji, off-season trips to Kyoto in winter have never looked more appealing, as the pink plum blossoms pop against crisp winter skies and the gentle snow drifts blanket the roofs of Kyoto's time-honoured skyline.
©Aichi Prefecture, ©Universal Studios (All Rights Reserved), ©Nintendo TM
If meeting Super Mario or Princess Mononoke wasn't on your list of things to do while on this mortal coil, then it sure is now! Families and solo travellers alike will rejoice at the news that the Studio Ghibli Park is finally due to open its doors in Aichi prefecture in autumn of 2022 with three of its five worlds up and running and a further two to open in 2023. This comes hot off the heels of the long awaited Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan, which recently announced not only long term plans to almost double the size of the current Nintendo offering with a Donkey Kong world, but to add interactive Pokémon attractions into the mix as early as next year. Chuck in a planned Nintendo Museum in Kyoto, and an island theme-park complete with Godzilla and Naruto attractions, and it's never been a more exciting time to be a Japan fan!
Best of the Backcountry*teamLab: Resonating Life in the Acorn Forest*, Saitama © teamLab, © Kadokawa Culture Museum
This unsuspecting town deep in the sprawling suburbs of Tokyo's commuter belt triumphantly became Japan's biggest underdog story when manga giant Kadokawa opened the Kadokawa Culture Museum on the newly founded Sakura Town site. Here, they're offering a mind-bending vertical library and a one-of-a-kind anime hotel, alongside a bookshop and merch store curated by Japan's top manga editors, and structural delights, like the retro-futuristic Musashino Reiwa Shrine, from Olympic architect Kengo Kuma. The choice of location might not be so random - the forests of Tokorozawa were the inspiration for My Neighbour Totoro, whose statues and jingles welcome visitors into the town from the moment they step off the train. This, plus a teamLab exhibition featuring interactive resonating ovoids, a 1960s era retro Japan theme park at Seibu-en, a Moominland facility, and the new arrival of light-up anime manhole covers taken from the pages of history make this 30minute trainride from Tokyo Ikebukuro station maybe the easiest itinerary decision you've ever made.
©GOTO RETREAT Ray, © Kagoshima Prefecture, ©Adobe Stock, ©Kyushu Railway Company, ©Don Design Associates
For many, beating back the lockdown blues wouldn't have been the same without the opportunity to pop on the PS4 and escape into the eye-wateringly beautiful islands around Kyushu's west coast in the popular 2020 videogame franchise, Ghost of Tsushima. With the announcement of the new Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen bullet train line all the way to Nagasaki from Fukuoka, however, we won't have to be travelling from our armchairs in future, as places like the quaint hot spring town of Takeo Onsen and the dazzling new Goto Retreat Ray hotel on the Goto islands suddenly got a whole lot closer. Take the bullet train south from Fukuoka, and you'll also be able to take in not only Kumamoto Castle and the volcanic Mt Aso views from the JR Hohi Line, recently reopened after the 2016 earthquake, but also Kagoshima's sun-drenched Amami Oshima archipelago, sitting pretty with a 2021 UNESCO World Heritage listing firmly under its belt.
(NIPPONIA HOTEL Hakodate Porttown courtesy of ©Value Management Co Ltd, ©Niseko Tourism, ©ONSEN RYOKAN Yuen Sapporo, ©The Pavilions Niseko)
Where Kyushu is sun and sea, Hokkaido is maybe more snow and ski. Up on the other side of Japan, the northern wilds are continuing the transport access trend as the epic Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse (Kamuy Mintar in the indigenous Ainu language) got it's first ever comprehensive English-language summer trail guide (courtesy of the team at Hokkaido Wilds) and the Hanazono area of the world-famous Niseko ski resort added an entirely new set of runs and an accompanying high-tech gondola service. But while you're not hiking the peaks and shredding down the slopes, we expect you'll be wanting to unwind somewhere comfortable. Good news! Hokkaido's hotel scene has been booming like never before, with the arrival of The Pavilions Niseko winter village, the NIPPONIA HOTEL Hakodate Porttown in the heart of Hakodate's historic bay area, and Sapporo's first major piece of onsen opulence at the Onsen Ryokan Yuen Sapporo.
Best of the restEnto by ©Kentauros Yasunaga, ©Away Okinawa Kouri Island Resort, ©LOISIR Terrace & Villas KOURI
With nearly 7000 islands, it's not hard to find a personal oasis of calm in Japan, but a substantial refurbishment to the landmark Ento hotel has placed the Oki Islands squarely on the top of our wishlist. With a dedicated education centre and floor to ceiling windows running the length of the guest rooms with indulgent panorama views over the rugged rocky outcrops of this UNESCO Geopark, the digital detox never looked so good. And if these islets off the coast of Matsue are still too mainland for you, there's also the Away Okinawa Kouri Island Resort and the LOISIR Terrace & Villas KOURI, situated conveniently on Okinawa main island's tropical shores, removing the hassle of getting a connecting flight or ferry to one of the southern island chain's smaller destinations.Shiroiya Hotel by ©Shinya Kigure, House of Light by James Turrell
Art is arguably around every corner in Japan, a country where careful attention is afforded to the minutest of details, but 2022 will be a bonanza blow out for all the art festivals we were cruelly deprived of throughout the pandemic. Spring through autumn will be dominated by the inland sea Setouchi Art Triennale, the art field Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale (including James Turrell's amazing 'House of Light' featured above), the Yamaguchi UBE Biennale and the Hokkaido Hakodate Triennale (TBC). That's not to mention the arrival of the Shiroiya Hotel in Maebashi, just outside of Tokyo - a space renovated by master artsman Sou Fujimoto and oozing creative contributions by various artists out of every pore, topped off with a gravity-defying rooftop garden complex. And if you're still not satisfied, you can swing by the brand new Nakanoshima Museum of Art. A sleek black box sitting in the heart of Osaka, this playful space will house impressive collections by internationally acclaimed artist from all over the world.©ROKA, ©Okura Kyoto Okazaki Bettei, ©ROKU KYOTO, LXR Hotels & Resorts, ©Aman
Whether you're a luxury conaisseur or you're looking for that one big holiday splurge, Japan 2022 has something for you. Kyoto will say hello to the ROKU Kyoto, by Hilton, nestled in the virgin forests between the Takagamine mountains and Kinkakuji Temple, as well as the Hotel Okura Kyoto Okazaki Bettei with mountain villa-themed rooms in Kyoto's Noh theatre district. The Aman brand continues to expand its Japan offering with the addition of the Aman Janu and Aman Residence in the ritzy Toranomon-Azabudai development, as well as helicopter rides over Kyoto from its Aman Kyoto site, while, further off the beaten track, new luxury ryokan ROKA will be stepping onto the shores of Naoshima art island, providing a welcome boost to the island's limited accommodation roster. And for all those looking for a sample size slice, look no further than Chiba's new Porsche experience centre with a variety of test driving courses fit for the world's drifting mecca.
Hopefully, that's given you a good idea of the best places to visit in Japan in 2022!