For classic Japan - the Japan we imagine from story books and travel blogs - spring is the time to visit. There are cherry blossoms for one thing. From late March to mid-April, or even early May, the iconic sakura are in bloom, creating gorgeous pink froth above and a delicate carpet of petals underfoot. But it is more than that. Springtime in Japan seems to embody the country’s famous Zen spirit, where the smallest moments are cherished, new shoots are pushing forth, and time spent exploring the country’s rich traditions can leave visitors feeling fresh and renewed.
If Japan is a country that has always intrigued you, read on for help to plan your visit…
Kyoto’s Zen temples
Incredible temples, deep natural colours, a golden pavilion, and the mysterious beauty of a passing geisha – Kyoto is such a feast for the senses that it could be overwhelming. But it’s not. In fact, this city of constant sights and views and scents and experiences can feel deeply calming, almost meditative. Kyoto is the place where the historic culture and traditions of Japan live on, they are part of its heartbeat. The best travel experiences let you not just see them from a distance, but to experience them all fully, and gain an understanding life and beauty that you can always carry with you.
Some of Kyoto's finest Zen temples are normally closed to the public, but with our local guides, you can go beyond the doors to discover the serenity within. Seek enlightenment from the monks inside, spend some time just sitting and breathing in the essence of Zen Buddhism, and talk to the people who live it. Our expert guides can teach you the practice of Zazen meditation, talk you through the history, and enrich you with an understanding that will last a lifetime.
One of the most important parts of Japanese culture is about a person’s relationship with nature – hearing the birds, the waterfalls, eating seasonal foods, and spending time outside. As part of your Japanese adventure with us, you will stay in a traditional thatched farmhouse in the mountains and enjoy an extraordinary kaiseki meal, crafted from ingredients foraged from the surrounding forests, rivers, and meadows.
Kaiseki, which loosely translated means ‘wholehearted hospitality’, is a meal of multiple courses - generally starting with a sakizuke, or an appetizer served with sake, then a nimono, or simmered dish, followed by sashimi, a seasonal dish, a grilled course and then a rice dish. The whole, long mealtime is about time and place, understanding what you are eating and how it relates to where you are, right there and then.
The traditional tea ceremony is another must-have experience for visitors wanting to understand the depth of ancient Japanese culture and ritual. The care, the observation of each moment, each sound and taste, and the art of waiting – it is all part of the layered experience of a tea ceremony. We can arrange your own private ceremony, off the beaten tourist track and deep into the historic old streets of Kyoto. Watch the masters at work and experience service and care like no other.
Then feeling energised, refreshed, and calm, follow our guide to a traditional Zen Garden. Speak to the gardener who designed it, learn the philosophy behind these beautiful spaces, and then spend time there listening, looking, and just being.
Follow in the footsteps of the samurai
Hiking through the ancient cedar forests of the Kumano Kodo trail feels like walking through history. This old pilgrimage route weaves through the mountains of the Kii Peninsula, just south of Osaka. The winding paths, dotted with temples and shrines, create a mythical, otherworldly feeling. You can spend hours strolling through thick forest to emerge, all of a sudden, at a dramatic waterfall, or a lake, or an ornate temple with a famous curving roof. There are different paths to choose from, so let our experts guide you along the route that suits you.
Then after a day of walking, rest your weary muscles in an onsen bath at one of Japan's most traditional ryokans. Sink into the deep, mineral-rich, hot spring water and practice your new meditation skills. Then experience Japanese hospitality at its finest at the ryokan (or a traditional ‘inn’). Relax with a cool beer, a glass of sake or a reviving green tea before sitting down for a delicious evening meal, prepared by expert chefs who will showcase all the best local produce.
Next stop is beautiful Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, known for its volcanoes, natural onsen and mountains. We can take you to the Kushiro marshlands – a haven for wildlife, with broad views full of lush green scenery and a long and winding river snaking through it all. In springtime the flowers in Hokkaido are just beginning to bloom, brushing off a long cold winter in favour of soft colours and gentle movement. This is the perfect place to witness the changing of the seasons, but we think that spring is a particularly perfect time. Watch the spectacular courtship dance of the rare Japanese, red-crowned crane, often seen feeding here along the water’s edge. Also, you can try to catch a glimpse of the impressive Steller's sea eagle, with its distinctive yellow beak and three-metre wingspan. Our guide can point them all out, so you don’t miss a thing.
And all of that is just a tiny portion of this majestic country. There’s Tokyo of course, where all the ancient traditions converge with hyper-modern culture, and the powder-rich mountains of Hokkaido, perfect for skiing, and Mount Fuji and its surrounding lakes and forests. Japan is a country of never-ending gifts.
To plan your trip to Japan and talk through your perfect travel itinerary, give us a call on +44(0) 207 523 5858 or contact us through our website.