Written and Travelled by Stephanie Douglass
Earlier this year, I had the amazing opportunity to travel throughout the heart of Japan for 12 days with my mother, my dear friend Patricia and our daughters. Inspired by an earlier trip to China ten years before, we were fulfilling a promise to bring our girls to Asia when they were old enough to appreciate and learn about this fascinating, ancient culture.
We had a round trip direct flight NY-Tokyo, with 12 days on the ground. Tokyo, Kyoto, and Naoshima Island (aka "the art island) were our three must-see destinations. With the help of Indagare, we fanned out our itinerary to include parts lesser known like the scenic mountain gorges of the Iya Valley, and a stay at an authentic ryokan in Kanazawa, which is now fast becoming a popular destination with its burgeoning foodie culture.
We had three nights and two days here to recover from jet lag and visit the most revered spiritual, cultural and historical sites. The girls found it bewildering and thrilling to get in step with the crowds that swarm like bees and flow with disciplined precision.
Bustling Takeshita Street
The Shinto shrine gates that line the paths on the hillside above Nezu shrine
Leaving wishes and words of gratitude at the Meiji Shrine
Takeshita boutique finds
The Iya Valley is a remote mountainous region known for it's centuries old vine bridges, scenic gorges and natural hot springs.
From the Iya Valley we drove to Takamatsu to visit the Ritsurin Garden-
one of Japan's most historic gardens known for it's almost 400 yr old perfectly trimmed pines.
Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu
This could be one the most magical places on earth. Naoshima Island is surreal art haven reminiscent of a James Bond villain's lair. The Island's Chichu museum (home to breathtaking James Turrell installations and several Monet masterworks) and the Benesse art site hotel, were both designed by celebrated Japanese architect Tadao Ando. A treasure trove of art installations and venues curated by Art House Project are nestled in Honmura, a small fishing village also on the island.
Kusama's yellow pumpkin has become the island's iconic installation
George Rickey "Three Vertical Squares Diagonal"
Revered as the "soul" of Japan, Kyoto served as Japan's imperial capital for more than a millennium until 1868, which left the city with a collection of some of the world's most incredible historical and cultural treasures- entrancing at every turn. Restaurant suggestions in the Gion district include: Manzara, Itoh, and in downtown Kyoto Apollo
Saiho-ji "moss temple" where visitors chant sutras from Buddhist texts before touring the revered moss garden.
Batik Dyeing at Roketsu in Kyoto
Just one hour south of Kyoto, Nara served as the imperial capital of Japan from 710-794AD-and is home to scores of Japan's most treasured temples and shrines, including the Todai-ji temple which houses the largest bronze Buddha in the world. Deer are quite tame and roam freely in Nara as, according to Shintu mythology, deer are sacred messengers of the Gods.
Todai-ji temple- the world's largest wooden structure- originally built in 752. The structure as it exists today was rebuilt in 1709
From Kyoto we took a 1.5 hr trip on the fast train to the capital city of the Ishikawa district bordering the Sea of Japan. Kanazawa (literally translated "marsh of gold) is historically known for it's gold leaf craftsmanship, for it's expansive, almost 300 yr old Omicho food market- and is also known as the birth place of Samurai swordsmanship. Here, we had our sublime ryokan experience at Kayotei
Traditional accommodations at Ryokan Kayotei
A multi course "Kaiseki" dinner at Kayotei
Each course was intricately beautiful - we made the girls try everything!
What to Pack
We packed prepared to be on the move with casual comfortable layers (temps average in the 50s in March): Uniqlo puffers, comfy sweaters, jeans, sneakers, flats and fun tops for dinner.