InsideJapan and the Japanese Ministry of Environment

Kirishima Kinkowan National Park

Kirishima Kinkowan National Park is famous for it’s beautiful and otherworldly volcanic scenery.

As a representative of InsideJapan Tours, I’ve been working with the Japanese Ministry of Environment to help them promote overseas tourism in their National Parks. Together with loads of great local people, several of us longtime expat foreigners have been traveling around to various National Parks in Japan to see just what’s on offer. As with my visit to Nikko National Park a few weeks ago, I am beginning to realize that even in places I’ve been to multiple times before, there is still so much more to see.

Friendly people

As is so often the case in Japan, we were met by friendly people every step of the way.

Because InsideJapan Tours believes in getting travelers beneath the surface of Japan when they visit, I’m always happy when I can help find new ways to make that vision become reality. And it’s finding lesser visited destinations like this one that allows one to see the Japan of the past and just what it is that makes the country so special. This week I went to Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park with an amazingly talented group of individuals including the great photographer Everett Brown, the publisher of the fantastic Japanese language travel magazine Kyushu no Mura, the supremely talented Brad Towle – director of the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau, and the fine folks from Umari – one of the coolest operations in Japan that I know of.

Romance and water

Thinking of honeymooning in Japan? How about following the trail of the very first honeymoon couple in Japan. The famous samurai Sakamoto Ryoma came here after his wedding, a long time before he became an instrumental figure in overthrowing the government.

Edo station

This little old train station hasn’t changed much over the years. There’s no ticket machine and there’s no one here to check your ticket even if you had one. But what really makes it special is that a local family sells a bento here with food that is reminiscent of what people were eating 100 years ago. It has been voted the best bento in Kyushu but I will go on the record as saying it is the best bento I’ve had anywhere in Japan!

onsen

At almost every onsen town in Japan you will hear stories about why that onsen is better than onsens in other parts of the country, but if you come to this part of Kagoshima you will find so many varieties of hot spring that there are local people who can recommend you an onsen depending on exactly what ails you. I opted for the hangover onsen.

Land  of the Gods

In Japanese mythology, this area is where it all begins. The true land of the gods. While visiting some of Kirishima’s famous shrines I was struck not only by the elegant Shinto architecture but especially by the beautiful surroundings. Each shrine we visited was more secluded than the last and all of them were beautifully interwoven with the island’s vast natural surroundings.

Ryokan

If you have yet to experience Japanese hospitality, you are in for a treat! Scenes at traditional ryokans – Japanese inns – like this one turn the everyday into the extraordinary.

Pure water

At cleansing stations near the entrance to most shrines and temples in Japan you will find intricately crafted dragons with crystal clear water pouring from their ferocious looking mouths, but I think I like this home made version almost as much.

Food

A twist on traditional Japanese incense, the tea placed on top of this small porcelain lamp gave off just the slightest perfume. The owner of the soba restaurant where I found this explained to me that although traditional incense can overpower the taste of the food, the smell of green tea compliments their dishes. Wonderful!

134 year old direction

What I love best about this 134 year old direction marker is that the carvers chose a hand with its pointer finger extended rather than a simpler arrow to direct travelers (like myself) in the right direction.

Shrines and temples

This shrine was on a big hillside overlooking a couple of mist covered volcanos and a big blue lake. Completely deserted, we took our time to enjoy it’s every last detail.

Duck!

These little ducks acted like they were our best friends… until they realized we didn’t have any food. ;)

Thinkers stream

Just minutes before returning to the airport, Everett and I were looking at a beautiful little stream that was running in between peoples’ houses. At first we thought it was just a regular river born of rain coming down from the surrounding mountains but a local took us up to its source (pictured here) and we learned that it is actually a spring. We could literally see the water gushing up from out of the ground. Everett said it best, “heaven on earth”!

Perfect Honeymoon

Every Honeymoon is special and every Honeymoon is different. Japan is a unique Honeymoon destination; not just a beach break, but a complete cultural adventure across cities, mountains, beaches, meeting all sorts of people combining for an unforgettable experience-rich Honeymoon.

The Honeymooners

Ruth and Tom Poultney took their Honeymoon to Japan back in November 2012 (almost a year ago! – happy anniversary) and loved it. They have 21 days worth of video which they put together combining Tokyo, subtropical Ishigaki Island as well has Hakone national park and Kyoto. I stumbled across the videos again and asked them which was their best part of the Honeymoon and here’s what they said….

We agree that the best day was definitely Hakone Ginyu (ryokan) on days 5 & 6. We chose these days because we started off in a quintessential Japanese metropolis in an awesome hotel, traveled out of the city by romance car getting to see the city fade into countryside and headed into the mountains.

When we got to Hakone Ginyu we were blown away. It was so calm, relaxing, welcoming and friendly. The views were breathe taking and the room was sumptuous. The food, oh my god, the food! The room wasn’t a room. It was an apartment, very private and very comfortable. The private onsen on the open air balcony overlooking the forested mountains was the cherry on top.

The next day was memorable too. It was lightly drizzling outside so the mountains were slick with rain and made everything so vibrant. We headed off on the Shinkansen to Kyoto. We were disappointed to leave the countyside to go back to a city but we had no reason to be. Toyko was a futuristic city whereas Kyoto was much more of a historical city with hidden lanes and alleys with sprawling markets and beautiful temples. The house we stayed in was great because it gave us a taste of day-to-day living in Japan.

So from uber-modern, to utterly pampered, to being up to our elbows in Japanese life. It was the trip of a lifetime!

We are very happy to hear that Tom and Ruth had a great time in Japan and honoured that they shared their trip with us. Happy Anniversary you guys!

Say “Hai” to a Honeymoon in Japan

Japanese Wedding

Whether you have visited before, or it is just somewhere you have always dreamed of going, a honeymoon in Japan is sure to be an adventure that you and your new spouse will never forget. There are things to do and sites to see, no matter what your interests. While all of Japan offers exciting sites for the honeymooning couple, Tokyo is the easiest place for those who do not speak Japanese to get by during their travels. Consider some of these great ideas on how you can spend your time in the Land of the Rising Sun.


Cherry Blossom in Hama-rikyu Gardens

Weather – The weather varies so much. It is perhaps at its best and the cherry blossoms are in bloom in March, April and May. May is often overlooked for the cherry blossom, but the gardens are in full bloom and weather is nice and warm. Summer tends to be hot and humid, but great for festivals. October and November are surprisingly warm (depending on where you are in the country) and dry.

Tokyo Time 065
Activities – There are many things you will want to do on your Tokyo Honeymoon. A must is to admire views of this vast city. The best view in the city is from the Tokyo Skytree – the tallest tower in Japan or take a trip to the top of the Metropolitan Governament Building; Romantic views of across the city to Mt Fuji as the sun begins to go down and the lights come up is the best way to do it. If you are more interested in the great outdoors consider a soak in the hot spring baths on the edge of the city or perhaps a gentle hike up Mt Takao which brings nature to the edge of the Metropolis.

Dining – Dining in Japan is an adventure in itself. Make sure and check out some of the local cuisine. In the United States, we think mainly of sushi and sake, but there are many restaurants of all types around Tokyo. There is all sorts on offer and at affordable prices. A trip to a local Izakaya is a good way to do it. You can try all types of food and will probably get speaking to a couple of locals who will be keen to wish you a warm welcome.

honeymoon japan

Lodging – From high-class resorts to business-level bunks, there is a lodging option for every budget. A must for any Honeymoon couple, is at least a night or two in a traditional ryokanguest house in the mountains. The whole experience is quite romantic in itself. You are greeted by your kimono-wearing hosts, your room has tatami mat floors, you sleep on futons and you wear traditional yukata. You will enjoy a splendid meal and perhaps the relaxation of a hot spring bath (onsen) which maybe inside or outside. Some ryokan also offer private onsen in your rooms where you can enjoy each others company and the surroundings. Bliss!

 

Where – It is not just about Tokyo. As well as the excitement of the city, the bullet train can get you most places in Japan pretty quickly. The country is covered in mountains and forest. There are beautiful beaches and subtropical islands, enabling Honeymooners to combine the classic needs of a Honeymoon with the Japanese cultural adventure for the Honeymoon of a lifetime.

Miyajima Island Sunset

 

 

The 5 Most Beautiful Places in Japan: The Perfect Japanese Honeymoon

Planning a romantic getaway after marriage does not necessarily mean going to traditional favorites. Japan has some of the most scenic and beautiful places in the world, particularly during the spring, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Matsushima Bay

For beach lovers or those who enjoy scenic views, Matsuhima Bay is an excellent place to visit on a honeymoon. The bay offers beautiful ocean views and is known for the pine islets that dot the shores and provide stunning greenery to the backdrop of the ocean.

Tokyo

Tokyo is one of the largest cities in Japan and it offers some of the best attractions for visitors. Take a day to explore the popular shopping areas of Ginza and Shinjuku. Catch a traditional show at a Kabuki Theater. Explore the cultural heritage by visiting the temples at Asakusa.

Tokyo has a wide range of activities to appeal to any honeymoon couple, regardless of personal hobbies or interests.

Kyoto

Kyoto is the former capital of Japan and one of the most beautiful places in Japan. Kyoto features stunning Zen gardens, amazing architectural features and ancient temples that give a peek into the history of the country.

kanagawa japan Kanagawa

Kanagawa is located in the middle of Yokohama and Kamakura prefectures, so it is a short distance away from Tokyo. That distance from the city provides the opportunity to see the beautiful nature and scenic views of Japan while visiting the temple with one of the largest Buddhist statues in the country.

Kanagawa not only features a large Buddhist temple, but also views of Mount Fuji and Hakone, which provides the opportunity to enjoy the hot springs, or onsen.

Shiretoko National Park

Shiretoko National Park is found near Hokkaido. It is an isolated peninsula, which provides the opportunity to see some of the unspoiled land and wild creatures that are native to Japan. Animals that are commonly seen in Shiretoko include bears, fox and deer.

Japan has a wide range of activities and stunning destinations that are perfect for honeymoon couples. The best place to enjoy a honeymoon in Japan will depend on personal interests because it is possible to find everything from shopping and cultural temples to unspoiled land that still has native wildlife.

Runaway Bride

We love Japan. We really do. Some people really really love it though. Sarah and Robbie love Japan so much, that they went and got married there! You may remember last year Sarah did a blog post for us about why she wanted to get married in Japan It wasn’t just words. Sarah and Robbie have recently returned from Japan from what can only be described as an amazing wedding day. People often try and do something a bit different at their wedding, but this is completely different. What is even better, is that Sarah wanted to share her experience with us.  Sarah and her husband look fantastic in their traditional wedding clothes and I am sure that they will never forget this special trip. Anyway, in her own words and pictures, here is how it all went..

My husband and I returned to Kyoto to do what most people find very intriguing. We went to Kyoto for our honeymoon…not that different you might think… We were newly weds yes, but decided to make our marriage extra special by indulging in another one!

We have been together nearly 10 years, not quite childhood but ‘teenage’ sweethearts. Our wedding day in England was very emotional and extremely special as it had been a long time coming!

When planning our honeymoon… (well I say planning. It was going to be Japan all along) I came upon Inside Japan’s wedding package. It was perfect! A wedding in Japan, a country which I have adored since I was a little girl and a place which embraced us so warmly on our first visit 2 years ago.

The wedding package included a three night stay at the Granvia hotel, three nights in a junior suite (overlooking Kyoto Tower by the way) and our breakfast/evening meals.


Our first day at the Granvia hotel involved choosing our wedding attire. I chose a beautiful ivory shiromuku ordained with cranes (the ones you see leaping in the air during the breeding season on the snowy plains of Hokkaido) and I opted for the traditional ‘wataboshi’, a white standing veil/hood which is held up by what can only be described as hair scaffolding. The purpose of the wataboshi is said to hide the horns of jealousy of the bride. Rob wore traditional Japanese groom ‘hakama’ which looks like long pleated skirt and a ‘haori’ a type of coat/jacket.

On the morning of the ceremony we were dressed by the Granvia staff (and you could tell they had done it all before!) The shiromuku I was wearing involved an under dress, several layers and lots of padding! It was very heavy (I had been warned by a Japanese friend of mine so I was prepared!). Before the wataboshi was put in place the hairdresser placed ‘kanzashi’ in my hair, beautiful dangly hair ornaments you often see framing the faces of maiko.

We were driven to the Kamigamo shrine, one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto. After a brief walk-through of the ceremony with one of the priests, we were lead to the shrine where the ceremony was to be held. Several people visiting shouted ‘omedetou gozaimasu’ or congratulations. This made the day extra special as we were being embraced by the Japanese people by having a traditional ceremony in their country.


Before we entered the shrine we did a purification ritual. Water was poured over our hands by the priest while he recited a purification prayer. A purification ritual was then performed by another priest at the shrine. We were then offered ‘Omiki’ or sacred sake. After sipping three times from three cups we exchanged rings (the same ones we exchanged all the way back in England) and offered a Tamagushi or a sacred branch to the alter. During the ceremony beautiful gagaku music was performed by priests (if you haven’t heard gagaku music please google it and watch the hairs on your arms stand up…simply beautiful).

After the ceremony which lasted around 30 minutes we were driven back to the Granvia hotel where we were lead to a large open area in the hotel grounds. A tradition of some Japanese weddings is to ring a large bell…so we did! The staff surrounded us and clapped. I did everything I could not to cry with happiness. That evening, we indulged in a 10 course wedding breakfast which included: sashimi, tempura, miso soup and beautiful tender beef, all brought to us on ornately decorated plates. Oishii!
I would recommend having a wedding ceremony in Japan if, like me, you are fascinated by different cultures or want a special way to exchange vows with the person you love… or you have an insane obsession with Japan in general (like me). The package was worth every penny. From the moment we stepped in to the hotel lobby we were treated like William and Kate and the attention to detail was just out of this world. I am proud to say I got married twice!

To all the staff at Inside Japan and the Granvia Hotel, Kyoto. Thank you so much for allowing Rob and I to share such a beautiful and perfect experience with each other. None of it would have been possible without your knowledge, passion and love for Japan. I look forward to the day we can show our children how beautiful and special Japan is and why I fell in love with a country so far away from a tiny village in Yorkshire.

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I haven’t actually met Rob or Sarah in person, but since their original trip a few years ago, their blog post last year and their wedding, it  has been an absolute pleasure dealing with them. It is great to know that other people love the country and culture that you love too….if not a little more! We were all very excited to see the photos from the wedding and I am sure you will agree that they both look amazing. We wish them all the best for the future . I am sure that this is not the last time that they will be visitng Japan.

Omedetou Gozaimasu!!!

Why I’m getting married in Japan

InsideJapan Tours are pretty proud of how much we know about Japan and we think our passion shows through in what we do. We are very lucky to have been able to open up the door of Japanese discovery to other people and we are happy to say that those people return full of admiration for Japan, having developed a  new found passion for the country and people. Some of our customers are already incredibly drawn to Japan and  have developed a healthy obsession for the place. Sarah Gatecliffe is one of those people and is a huge pleasure to deal with.

Having travelled to Japan in 2010, Sarah and her Fiance will be travelling to Japan in May 2012 to get married – That’s how much it means to them! I asked Sarah as to why they had decided to get married in Japan and here is what she said:

Not content with just having one wedding I have decided to have two, both to the same man I assure you. After a ceremony here in my native England I will be jetting 6000 miles and hopping 9 time zones east to Japan, a country I fell in love with even before I stepped foot off the plane last year.


Ever since I can remember, Japan has had this kind of hold over me, like an itching curiosity that couldn’t be scratched until I saw it with my own eyes. Over the years I have scoured the bookshelves and travel magazines in the hope of reading something I don’t know about Japan, something new, no matter how small.

I don’t know what it is about Japan, but I am completely obsessed! But I’m not alone. When I booked my last trip at least 99.9% of people have replied with the same ‘I’m so jealous, I’ve always wanted to go to Japan’, when being told where I was going next. And I can’t pinpoint why people want to go anymore than I can for myself. We all have an image in our minds of Japan; Tokyo’s circuit board of neon, temples tucked away behind towering skyscrapers or the last remaining geisha of Kyoto flitting between the teahouses of Gion like heavily painted butterflies.

Gion and Geisha

As soon as my fiancé and I started planning our wedding, I knew Japan was going to be our honeymoon destination. But after being together 8 years I wanted to do something special, something which we would remember for the rest of our lives and be a talking point at dinner parties; note: We don’t get invited to dinner parties but just in case we do. After doing some research I discovered that Inside Japan can arrange for couples to have a wedding blessing in Japan. Perfect! Hundreds of couples get married abroad every year; Mexico, Las Vegas and the Caribbean, so why not Japan?

Like most Japanese brides who choose to marry in traditional Shinto ceremonies, I will be wearing a white kimono and the wataboshi, a type of hood which is said to hide the horns of jealousy. Following our ceremony we will have the customary photographs before being whisked away as newly (Japanese) weds for a fantastic wedding dinner at the Granvia hotel where we will be staying. From the ceremony we will continue to explore Japan including the ancient capital Nara, the hauntingly beautiful bamboo groves of Arashiyama and a day trip to Japan’s animation Mecca the Studio Ghibli Museum.


If you have never considered Japan as a holiday destination then I would put those brochures to the Mediterranean away and contact Inside Japan. Even before the tragic events of March 11th Japan did nothing but welcome my fiancé and I with open arms and provide us with the best hospitality. You will never visit such a visually stimulating and fast paced metropolis like Tokyo or sample fresher produce found down Kyoto’s Nishiki dori. Japan is a truly inspirational place and is perfectly safe to visit. Just ask Lady Gaga…

Sarah is definitely up there on our top ten Japanophiles list (we haven’t really got a list, but if we had one, you would be there) and her enthusiasm for the country is obvious to everyone which is fantastic. Sarah has even promised us a review and photos of her Japanese wedding which we will be  really keen to see. Watch this space.

Good luck to you both and thank you for your love of Japan!

Return to unique Japan

Annie and Andy Pezalla (Minnesota, USA) recently returned from their trip to Japan (May 12-19). The couple actually lived in Japan for a while, but were returning to the culture and country that they had come miss back home in the US. This time, they were to visit Tokyo, Hakone national park and Kyoto and took part in a range of experiences along the way. We are happy to report that they loved it.

Our memories of the trip are so vivid–and positive–and we have you to thank for that. The itinerary was perfect for us, from the cities to visit to the activities to experience within them. Hakone was a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and was a nice segue to Kyoto too. I had never been there while I lived in Japan but it is glorious. Taking the various modes of transportation around the city was a particular treat–especially the pirate ship.

The other activities we experienced were great, too. We ended up attending the sumo match in the morning, simply for logistical reasons, since we wanted to be across the city by Saturday afternoon, but even in the relatively empty sumo stadium, the wrestling was still so interesting and entertaining.

The sake tour was another treat. The tour we were given was, shall we say, incredibly thorough. We learned about the most minute details of the traditional inn at which sake had once been crafted, but juuuust when we were beginning to fight the urge to look at our watches, the tour ended and we were treated to an incredible wide array of food, sake and microbrewery beer. Really, both the tour and the sake tasting were great. The folks who ran that inn had spent a lot of time and effort in making us feel welcome, as did any Japanese shop or restaurant owner. It wasn’t uncommon for us to receive a small gift from our hosts, a gesture which seemed to convey a gratitude to us for travelling to Japan, even in the aftermath of the earthquake (whose effects could not have been less apparent).

The other activities were wonderful. Yuriko was such a sweet tour guide for Kyoto, and having her gave us a nice little breather from having to find our way around the city. Last, we had the cooking class, which only reaffirmed our belief in the complexities of Japanese cooking, and impressed upon us the skill required even to scramble an egg properly! All of it was great fun.

Andy and I are accustomed to doing our own thing when we travel, and it was nice to have our trip punctuated with those planned activities and tours. The itinerary books you provided us were such a helpful lifeline too;  Your detailed explanations about public transportation, hot spots around each city, and good restaurants were spot on.

We will wholeheartedly recommend Japan and Inside Japan Tours to our friends and family. Thanks again for making our trip so memorable!

~Annie and Andy

It doesn’t matter how many times you have been to Japan, there will always be something new to experience whether it be a cultural activity, a new place or a random meeting with a local. Each trip to Japan is very different, but it will be uniquely Japanese and full of experiences that you can only experience in Japan…..What a great country!

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