Explore a hand-picked selection of our favourite journeys, articles, experiences and special places to stay in Japan. Not one to be read in a rush, it’s time to grab a cuppa, and see where it takes you…
The anticipation of a community coming together, the warmth of lantern-light from food stalls and shrines, getting caught up in the party atmosphere: whenever you visit Japan, you can feel the buzz of shared celebrations. Alongside the major national holidays, such as those around Setsubun, cherry blossom season, and lunar new year, most towns and villages have unique matsuri festivals which highlight their history, heart and soul.
Welcome to Ghibli’s paradise. Set 37 miles south of Kyushu, Yakushima is a famously rainy, subtropical island that feels eons away from the incessant rush of Japan’s big cities. Many travellers recall profound moments when they’ve realised just how far they are from home, and this will almost certainly occur on this otherworldly island.
It’s tempting to think of home-country analogies when travelling (“If Tokyo is London then Osaka is...”) but Osaka has its own flavour. It’s home to what many would agree is Japan’s most delicious street food, and is the place for a really fun night out. Few would describe Osaka as beautiful, and it hasn’t got the aesthetics of Kyoto or the scale and sights of Tokyo, but it does have its own distinctive bite; a perceptible edginess. At Selective Asia it is probably our favourite city in Japan. Soak it up and breathe it in.
Unique is a terribly overused word in travel. We try to only ever use it when the circumstances demand it. So, welcome to the utterly charming, delightfully unique Benesse House.
Our boat came around the island into Myanoura port, where even before disembarking you are treated to a view of Japanese pop artist Yayaoi Kusama’s Red Pumpkin (Akakabocha) and a stunning white structure looking beautiful against the blue sky. We were extremely fortunate to be staying at the Benesse House Hotel - not least because we had access to the hotel bus, which we could leave our luggage on while we hired electric bikes from the port office and went off on our adventure. (If you're just going for the day, there are luggage lockers at the port).
After a quick look at the map, we decided to head across the island to the Honmura Art House Project Area, a small village and port. The houses here were built over 400 years ago, and the project involves the restoration of vacant properties by artists who transform them into artworks.
Showcasing the entire breadth of Japan in one trip means making some tricky choices. There’s a temptation to try and do everything (there’s a reason those top sights are so well loved - they often feel utterly unmissable) or alternatively to take a completely different route, away from all the headline highlights. However, neither option really hits the mark. This itinerary mixes a selection of high-profile moments with hidden gems, allowing you real insight and making you hungry for a return trip.