Gliding into the forefront of train travel in 1964, the bullet train, or Shinkansen, has continued to wow the world with its blistering speed and soundless stealth ever since. Now linking the very north to the south, the Bullet Train has become the reliable backbone of Japan, joining the rural to the cosmopolitan in the blink of an eye. Snaking its way across Honshu, the largest island in the Japanese archipelago, the bullet train rattles up and down the country at a staggering speed of up to 320km an hour. As synonymous with the Land of the Rising Sun as Mount Fuji, sumo or sushi, the bullet train is arguably the only way to travel in Japan.
Found across Japan, ryokans are traditional Japanese guesthouses which offer the perfect glimpse into Japanese history and culture. Most predominantly located near onsen towns, they are the perfect place to rest travel weary legs along the Nakasendo Way or as an addition to your itinerary on a tour of Japan’s highlights.
Japanese cuisine has taken the world by storm. And whilst sushi bars revolve their way around eateries in cities across the globe, the original home of this deliciously fresh and seasonal delicacy is a culinary force to be reckoned with. With its humble beginnings in street food, sushi has earned its stripes in haute cuisine and now claims many a Michelin star in decadent eateries across Japan and further afield. You only have to watch a sushi master chef in action in Japan to see why. Japanese food is an art form, it is an intrinsic part of the country’s cultural identity and motivation enough to visit.
Japan is abundant in unique experiences. From learning the art of the samurai sword, sushi or sumo, to dressing up as a geisha, discovering the world of anime, visiting a sake brewery or trying your hand at calligraphy, there are so many activities to squeeze into your Japan itinerary.
Hiking in Japan is one of the world’s best kept secrets. Whether its paving the way from village to village in the Japanese Alps, traversing the Big Snow Mountain of Hokkaido, climbing the volcanoes of Kyushu or simply walking in the hills of Kyoto, there is something for everyone to enjoy. We’ve compiled our favourite walking destinations in Japan, ideal for seasoned walkers and wanderers alike.
Best for: Culture History, Hideaway, Honeymoon
Perched on the banks of the Katsura River, Suiran offers a unique blend of Japanese and western styles close to the bamboo groves and temples of Arashiyama and creates an interesting alternative to Kyoto city hotels.
To start planning your tailor-made holiday, call us on (646) 934-8916
Suiran enables guests to stay away from Kyoto's bustling city centre in a more tranquil and scenic environment, while also well located for exploring Kyoto's beautiful western district of Arashiyama. Only 15 minutes by train to Kyoto, the hotel’s position gives its guests the advantage of easy, walkable access to Arashiyama’s major attractions early in the morning and later in the evening, avoiding the majority of tourists who arrive from Kyoto. Further exploration north of the hotel, especially by bicycle, can also uncover far less visited areas, while all of Kyoto's main attractions are also within easy reach.
With just 39 rooms, Suiran creates the atmosphere of a boutique hotel and is designed around principles of Japanese traditional architecture and styles such as contemplation gardens, high ceilings, sliding doors, open-air baths and an abundance of natural light. These are paired with the western comforts of full-sized beds and contemporary fixtures so that guests can experience a combination of traditional Ryokan style accommodation, without forgoing modern luxuries and conveniences. The entry Moderate Rooms have views of the Arashiyama Hills, though upgrading to the Superior Rooms adds an outdoor terrace, which compliments the scenery brilliantly and is well worth considering.
With its riverside setting, Suiran is able to offer spectacular dining at its Japanese Saryo Hassui restaurant which combines panoramic views with hand-made Japanese snacks alongside period artwork and poetry. Fine dining takes guests indoors to the Kyo-Suiran restaurant serving Japanese Teppanyaki and 13 course Kinshu seasonal dinners. Suiran also offers several spa treatments in its two treatment rooms, which are combined with traditional Japanese bathing in the hotel’s open air hot-spring onsen bath.
When to go
The best and most popular times to visit Kyoto are the climatically stable seasons of spring (March to May) and autumn (late September to November). The highlight of spring is the cherry-blossom season, which usually arrives in Kyoto in early April. Bear in mind, though, that the blossoms are notoriously fickle, blooming any time from late March to mid-April. Autumn is an equally good time to travel, with pleasant temperatures and soothing autumn colours, which usually peak between late October and mid-November. Be warned that Kyoto is crowded with domestic and international tourists during the cherry-blossom and autumn-foliage seasons.
Of course, you can visit Kyoto at any time of year, although the summer, from June to August, can be very hot and humid, and winter can be a little chilly for some people’s taste.
To start planning your tailor-made holiday, call us on (646) 934-8916
Things to do
Kyoto Home Visit - Calligraphy
Writing and calligraphy in Japan is an art form in its own right. With roots in china, the characters came to Japan well over a thousand years ago. This lesson will teach you the complex skills of calligraphy and let you try some writing yourself.
Kyoto Traditional Crafts
Kyoto has a rich history in crafts and today you will get to try your hand at both pottery making and also the intricacies of kimono dyeing. This full-day tour also includes stop-offs at several landmarks before ending in the city’s Geisha district.
East Kyoto Cycling
A flat city laid out on a grid system with plenty of back streets to explore, Kyoto is perfectly suited to exploring by bicycle. This guided full-day tour combines off the beaten track exploration with some of the city’s most interesting landmarks.
Ideas for your free time - Arashiyama
Arashiyama is a a beautiful and very green district in Kyoto, and home to the famous bamboo foest, located at the base of Kyoto's western mountains. A comprehensive guide is provided before you travel about what to do in Kyoto and Arashiyama.
Half Day Fushimi Inari Shrine with Sake Tasting
One of Japan’s mist iconic and photogenic highlights, Fushimi Inari Shrine’s 10,000 bright orange Torii Gates are simply a must-see. This half-day tour lets you explore the hills around the temple before an introduction to Sake at a nearby brewery.
Kyoto Cooking Lesson in Machiya Townhouse
When a nation’s cuisine gains UNESCO Intangible Word Heritage status, it is definitely worth learning more about. On either a morning or afternoon lesson, you be invited into a local townhouse to try your hand at one of two essential dishes.
A really fun opportunity to take in some Japanese culture, play dress up and get some great photos. This experience lets you see what it takes for a Geisha or apprentice Maiko to prepare for their work with a photographer on hand to capture it.
Kyoto Home Visit – Origami
Origami is has been associated with Japanese culture for centuries and is often used today as dedications or gifts, especially weddings. You will be welcomed into a Kyoto townhouse to learn the history and basics of this wonderful art form.
Full Day Kyoto Highlights
Taking advantage of Kyoto’s transport network, this full-day guided tour showases some of Kyoto’s architectural and cultural wonders. The city is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and you will discover castles, temples and an historic market.
Kyoto Home Visit - Tea Ceremony
One of the most captivating of Japanese customs, the tea ceremony has a rich history and importance in both past and present Japan. This experience allows you to practise the ceremony yourself in the home of a Kyoto tea-master.
Private Temple Tea Ceremony
The tea ceremony is one of Japan’s most sacred rituals and far more than simply the act of drinking tea. This experience will teach you the importance and symbolism of the practice in the unique setting of a 17th century temple teahouse.
Private Geisha Tea House Experience
The Geisha are one of the most interesting facets of Japanese culture, and often most misunderstood. You will join an acclaimed expert in Geisha culture to explore the streets of Kyoto before meeting a Geisha for drinks and entertainment.
Nishiki Market, Sake Tasting and Cooking Lesson
Three important features of Japanese society come together in this half-day tour. Experiencing Street markets, Sake and Japanese cooking with a private guide make for a fantastic take on modern Japanese life.
Sumo Experience from Kyoto
Sumo has been central to Japanese culture since ancient times and far more than just a wrestling match. This full-day tour takes in the ceremony, tradition and also the combat of Sumo alongside some of neighbouring Nara’s finest temples.
Sword Wielding Experience
A symbol of Japan, the history of the country is intertwined with that of its iconic swords. Today on this full-day tour, you will get the chance to wield a sword and learn some traditional techniques before visiting some of the key temples of Nara.
Visit Nara from Kyoto
The capital of Japan in ancient times, Nara is within easy reach of Kyoto and home to several majestic temples, which collectively form the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which this half-day tour will explore.
Classic Kyoto Tour
Zen Temples, lush palace gardens and engaging walks can all be found in Kyoto and refined this full-day tour takes in some of the finest examples in the city. With the help of your guide, you will discover the contemplative side to Japanese culture.
Kyoto by Night
Kyoto is a charismatic city and really comes into its own in the evening. With a local resident, you will explore some of the charming lantern-lit back streets as you discover the food and drink that Kyotoites like to enjoy after the sun goes down.
The Philosopher’s Path
Once the commute of an acclaimed Japanese philosopher, this pretty walk through Kyoto’s Higashiyama District passes many small temples and shrines. During this half-day tour, your guide will lead you along the path, exploring sights along the way.
Samurai Dance Experience
Fabled warriors, the Samurai are synonymous with Japan. While romanticised in battle with their katana swords, a Samurai’s discipline was built around etiquette and stylised dance. This private lesson will teach you some exciting Samurai movements.
Kyoto Gardens Tour
Japan is a paradise for those with green fingers, and Kyoto brings together some of the finest gardens in the country. Strolling gardens, zen rock gardens, ponds and lakes are all features you will see on this full day tour.
Iga Ninja Experience
Ninjutsu, or the art of stealth has gained near-mythical status in the western world. Originally a form of spying and espionage, this full-day tour takes you into the world of the Shinobi to a Ninja museum and even allows you to practise your skills.
Kyoto Cooking Lesson with Professional Chef
Japanese cuisine is so culturally significant, that it has gained UNESCO Intangible World Heritage Status. Learning the craft can take decades, so a lesson from a profession chef is an invaluable and enlightening experience.
Kyoto Golden Route Cycling Tour
Like many Japanese cities, Kyoto sits perfectly flat between stunning mountain scenery, making it perfect for cycling. This half-day guided tour takes you on a scenic historical road between Kyoto and Arashiyama, taking in sights along the way.
Arashiyama Half Day Tour
Famed for its beautiful bamboo forests, Arashiyama has far more to offer and is a wonderful place to explore, a short distance from Kyoto. This half-day tour takes in the bamboo as well as shrines and temples renowned for their cultural importance.
Kyoto Backstreet Cycling Tour
The backstreets and neighbourhoods of Kyoto are where you can really feel the city’s heritage and while avoiding the landmark sites, means that you can get under its skin. Kyoto’s flat geography make this perfect by bike on this half-day tour.
Private Dinner with a Geisha
This evening lets you have an insight into one of the most fascinating parts of Japanese cultures, the Kyoto Geishas. An expert guide will lead you through Kyoto’s historic Geisha districts, before you sit down for dinner and entertainment.
Ine Fishing Village Excursion
North of Kyoto sit many quaint seaside villages that offer a wonderful break from the city. This full day tour takes you to traditional fishing communities and sake breweries, gets you out on a boat and lets you see one of Japan’s three great views.
Taiko Drum Lesson
The Taiko drums have a long history in Japanese culture and folklore from religious ceremonies, Geisha performances and even wars. This private, hour-long lesson will teach you the origins and rhythms of the Taiko, complete with battle cries!