Winter food & drink

If you’re heading to Japan this winter, prepare your palate for some memorable epicurean moments. Seafood is a seasonal speciality, with the arrival of fatty fish and the highly-anticipated snow crab.

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In sub-tropical Okinawa, you’ll be treated to winter fare of a different variety: sweet kuruma prawns, succulent sweet potatoes and nuchigusa herbs.

Or how about a seasonal fish hotpot accompanied by traditional sake?

This winter, a number of Hoshino Resorts properties are offering gourmet experiences around seasonal dishes – from a 9-course Okinawan feast to a creative snow crab set menu. And the colder temperatures are also a chance to warm yourself up with sake at a special 2-day tasting and discovery program at HOSHINOYA Tokyo.

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Celebrating the snow crab

One of winter’s choice treats in Japan is the zuwaigani snow crab, which can only be fished between November and March. Known for its slim shape, long legs and succulent flavour, it inhabits the coldest reaches of the Sea of Japan.

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This winter, you can sample the zuwaigani prepared in 8 different ways at Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga and Hoshino Resorts KAI Izumo – both located in prime snow crab territory on the north coast of Honshu. Each ryokan has its own take on the snow crab, combining the chef’s creativity with local culinary traditions.

At Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga, the centrepiece is the shimenawa-mushi, snow crab steamed in a saltwater-soaked rope to make it plumper, juicier and more concentrated in umami.

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To whet your appetite before the main dish, you‘ll be served crab in a variety of styles, including charcoal-grilled, fried, and as raw sashimi. And the snow crab hotpot is the ultimate winter warmer: dunk crab’s legs in a kombu broth laden with hearty winter vegetables.

Hotpot

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Little wonder that the resort’s crab cuisine has been featured in the local edition of the Michelin guide.

Located near the famed Izumo Taisha shrine, Hoshino Resorts KAI Izumo serves only the local Matsuba variety of crabs, reputed for their strong flavour, elegant sweetness and soft texture.

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The signature dish is crab steamed in Japanese paper to maintain the juices and then placed between cedar boards to infuse the crab with a woody fragrance. The grandiose presentation resembles an offering to the Gods, a nod to the celebrated shrine.

Sub-tropical island treat

Looking to escape the winter cold?

HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island is located some 1200 miles south-west of Tokyo in the East China Sea – and enjoys an average winter temperature of 18°C.

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From December to March, the resort is offering a special “Island Terroir” dinner, celebrating the seasonal fare produced by its unique climate, soil and terrain.

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Despite its tiny 6-mile perimeter, the island has a terroir all of its own. The entire landmass is formed by a coral reef rising above the waterline and, while the soil is not fit for all crops, it receives plenty of sun and is well-suited to grains and sweet potatoes. In winter, herbs, okra and the cucumber-like hechima thrive here while mainland farmers have to wait until spring.

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Furthermore, the pristine emerald-green sea is awash with excellent-quality seaweed, sea lettuce, and octopus.

At HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island, you can opt for the 9-course winter dining menu inspired by local crops and culinary traditions. Expect an aperitif of Okinawan Seaweed Biscuits and Gazam Crab with Island Tofu, followed by kuruma shrimp steamed over hot coral in front of you, and 3 different arrangements of akane sweet potato.

Akane Sweet Potato

Winter food never tasted so estival!

Warming sake workshop

At HOSHINOYA Tokyo, winter is all about warming yourself from the inside – with a sake-themed stay. This luxury ryokan, situated just minutes by foot from the Imperial Palace, is offering a 2-day program for you to learn about, taste, and even bathe in the famous rice wine.

All sake in the program is provided by the Toshimaya Corporation, a 400-year-old brewery in Tokyo’s Kanda district.

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sake

In the evening, you’ll be served seasonal vegetables and anglerfish in a sake soup stock, while breakfast includes sweet and savoury dishes flavoured with sake lees.

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Other original experiences include a tasting session with a prize-winning sake sommelier and a chance to warm your body in a sake bath. Proof, if any was needed, that there are multiple ways to appreciate Japanese gastronomy in the winter months!

24 hours at Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya

2.30pm

From Tokyo, it’s a 3-hour ride by shinkansen to Hachinohe City. Here, on the east coast of Honshu’s northernmost Prefecture, a shuttle bus will take you directly to Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya.

3pm

After passing the small town of Misawa, you’ll arrive at the entrance to the resort. The 180-acre grounds are dotted with historical buildings typical of the Aomori region, many of them set around the resort’s large lake.

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3.05pm

Time to check in. There are some 235 rooms in 3 different buildings, all connected by an underground passageway – a welcome comfort during Aomori Prefecture’s harsh winters.

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Most rooms are modern Japanese-style with tatami mats and generous mattress beds. If you fancy a treat, why not opt for a private hot spring tub overlooking the grounds?

3.30pm

There’s plenty to explore at Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya. Just around the corner from reception, a traditional irori sunken hearth is the centrepiece for the lounge area.

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Head downstairs to discover the resort’s most lively area. This basement complex is where Aomori’s boisterous side comes to life. There’s a games arcade, an izakaya-style bar serving tempura, sushi and sake, a stage for nightly music performances, and a shop proffering local specialities.

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Everything is inspired by the region’s summertime festivals, famed throughout Japan for their liveliness.

Near the stage, you’ll find a small store renting exuberant yukata. Wearing one of these colourful summer kimonos is part of the resort’s experience – especially if you’re attending the evening show at the Michinoku Matsuriya restaurant.

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Treat yourself to the design of your choice and set your chosen yukata aside for tonight.

4.30pm

Before you get ready to live it up, take time to wind down in the resort’s sumptuous hot spring baths. The large indoor baths are crafted in Aomori Hinoki cypress, known for its calming and cleansing effects. Once you’ve acclimatized to the 42C temperature, head to the outdoor baths.

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_0035_Hoshino Resort Aomoriya Ukiyu inside bath

Overlooked by a waterfall and thickets of pine trees, the circular outdoor tub is raised ever so slightly above a large pond. Lie back and you’ll feel like you’re bathing in an outdoor lake.

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Even better, come back in the late evening to star-gaze in the natural warm waters.

6pm

The Michinoku Matsuriya restaurant and show is the resort’s must-do experience. Seated at your own table in front of a colourful stage, you’ll be immersed in the atmosphere of Aomori’s 4 major summer festivals. The stage is bedecked with the festivals’ trademark giant paper lanterns sculpted in the form of mythical creatures, waitstaff are elaborately costumed, and audience cheering is encouraged.

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Onstage, the performances begin with traditional shamisen and folk singing before a riotous festival atmosphere takes hold, complete with rhythmic taiko drumming, clashing cymbals and energetic dancing. The meal itself is a series of culinary Aomori treats including senbei rice cracker soup and an assortment of 5 steamed dishes.

8.45pm

If you’re still feeling festive, you can catch the free Jawamegu Show in the basement. Expect more infectious shamisen and folk music.

Then head out towards the calm of the resort’s lake. Just a few minutes’ walk along the water is the Yawatauma Lounge, a thatched-roof cottage that now serves as a bar.

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Order a Japanese sake and lie back on the terrace contemplating the water.

9.30pm

On your way back, stop off at the lakeside foot bath. Soak your feet in the natural hot spring water while gazing up at the stars. What better way to ensure a sound night’s sleep?




8am

Start the day with a lavish breakfast at Nanbu Magariya, a traditional thatched farmhouse lined with tatami mats. In the lakeside dining room, you’ll be treated to a spread of Aomori specialities, including charcoal-grilled fish, egg cooked with scallop in its shell, and miso soup with succulent clams.

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The restaurant also serves a memorable multi-course kaiseki menu in the evenings, including 7 kinds of fish roe and a host of creative seafood treats.

9.30am

How about riding around the lake in a wooden carriage drawn by horses from the resort’s ranch? Or starting the day with a massage? Alternatively, you can head out to nearby Hachinohe City to explore the fascinating fish market or take a hike on the wild Tanesashi Coast.

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At Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya, there’s no end of possibilities for exploring the rich culture and unique experiences of Aomori Prefecture.

Fuji in winter: peak viewing

Winter is reputed as the best season to view Mt. Fuji. The cold, clear weather means you’re less likely to experience disappointing cloud cover and more than likely to see the peak submerged in snow.

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Don’t let the cold put you off: at HOSHINOYA Fuji, you’ll not only have first-rate views of the mountain from your room; you’ll also be able to take part in outdoor activities that make the most of the clear skies while keeping you snug and warm.

Fuji unobscured

When you’ve travelled thousands of miles to see Fuji, there’s no greater disappointment than finding it shrouded in cloud. In summer, this happens a lot. Statistics from 2017 show that Japan’s most celebrated mountain was not visible at all for 27 days in July. In December, that figure went down to just a single day. Stay during winter and the numbers are on your side.

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And if you book yourself into HOSHINOYA Fuji, you’ll have the mountain as your constant backdrop. The resort is set above Lake Kawaguchi, offering stunning unobstructed views of Mt. Fuji reflected in the water.

What’s more, every single room is a luxury cabin centred on this view, with huge south-facing windows and a large balcony (complete with kotatsu heated table) designed to let you fully appreciate the panorama.

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Resort booking banner EN HOSHINOYA Fuji

Embracing winter

As a guest at HOSHINOYA Fuji, you’ll have a wealth of winter activities to choose from. The resort prides itself on its glamping experience, combining a taste of the great outdoors with luxury rooms, cuisine and comfort.

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How about treating yourself to an outdoor dinner of freshly-prepared game while snuggling up under a kotatsu table?

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Or smoking your own food over a wood fire? Alternatively, you can leave behind the stresses of the modern world and go Digital Detox during your entire stay.

Technology-free

The aim of the Digital Detox program is to reconnect with nature, refocus on timeless traditions, and rejuvenate your body and mind.

How?

By banishing all things digital. Choose this program and you’ll be asked to give up your smartphone, laptop and other devices as soon as you arrive at HOSHINOYA Fuji.

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For the rest of your stay, all that matters is the here and now – and there could be few better places to embrace the present moment than HOSHINOYA Fuji.

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Set in a forest in the northern foothills of Fuji, the resort is spread over terraced levels linked by stairs.

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In this natural environment, you’ll rediscover the simple pleasure of chopping wood and making a bonfire under the guidance of the resort’s “Glamping Masters”.

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Your guide will tell you about the different types of firewood and how to smoke meat over an open fire.

And at night, you’ll be driven to a secluded spot on the banks of nearby Lake Saiko to put your outdoor skills into practice: stoking a fire, cooking meat and enjoying hot soup and whisky while your guide tells you about the planets and constellations in the star-filled sky.

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Winter wining & dining

If you’d prefer to stay onsite at HOSHINOYA Fuji, you can sign up for a food smoking workshop. Choose from a range of wood chips to flavour your smoked food, including local whisky barrels and Fuji cherry blossoms.

A Glamping Master will then guide you to smoke the likes of local fish, deer-meat sausages, nuts and dried fruit. And you’ll be invited to wash it all down with a Japanese whisky.

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Or how about al fresco dining in the forest, with your legs warming under that most Japanese of inventions: the kotatsu heated table? At the resort’s Forest Kitchen, you’ll be seated at a table surrounded by trees.

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Using a gas stove, you’ll cook your own gourmet dinner with the help of staff. Or you can recreate the hunter’s lifestyle of yore, gathering around a bonfire to eat venison and winter vegetables cooked in a pot over the flames.

Cloud Terrace

Whether you choose Digital Detox, a smoking workshop or the hunter’s meal, the best way to finish the day is at the resort’s Cloud Terrace. Sit down around the bonfire and gaze up at the cloudless sky or pick up a board game to play under a kotatsu while sipping a warm cocktail.

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Then head back to your cabin for a last glimpse of Mt. Fuji by night – before waking up to the same unforgettable view the next morning.

Try to win an exceptional “HOSHINOYA” stay in Japan!

Experience Japan’s unique lifestyle at HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, a secluded moutainside ryokan resort with natural hot springs!

⬇️ Contest form ⬇️
↪️ Answer available here ↩️

Total package:
– 2 nights for 2 people in 1 room at HOSHINOYA Karuizawa
– Dinner for 2 people* at Kasuke included for 1 night (*drinks apply charges)
– Breakfasts at Kasuke included for 2 nights
– Available from: January 17th, 2020 to January 8th, 2021
– Excluding dates: 2020/5/2 to 2020/5/5 & 2020/8/8 to 2020/8/15

Still not convinced? Here’s more about the prizes:

HOSHINOYA Karuizawa is built like a little town, with everything to make it a paradise on earth. The rooms are centred around a water feature that contributes to the magic of the place, especially at nightfall, when the candles spread out across the water light up.

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In the middle of the day, you can stop for a moment on the garden terrace to sample a Dango kebab, delicious rice balls skewered on sticks and coated with sweet soy sauce.
Later in the day, it’s time to enjoy a glass of champagne before your meal, so you can fully appreciate the sunset.

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HOSHINOYA Karuizawa serves a very high standard of kaiseki cuisine in its restaurant (Kasuke). This cuisine, called Yama-no-kaiseki, is based on local ingredients sourced from the nearby mountains, rivers and fields.

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_0004_HOSHINOYA Karuizawa Dinner Image

Ready to go in Japan? Try your luck!

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↪️ Answer available here ↩️

Hachinohe city: hidden gem

Located in the north of Honshu, Hachinohe City is Aomori Prefecture’s second biggest city. Chances are you’ve never heard of it. Or, at best, it’s a place where you once changed trains. And yet, it has plenty to offer.

You’d be hard pressed to find a better street food experience than the city’s extraordinary Tatehana Wharf Morning Market.

Or to find a more varied and unspoiled coastal path than the beautiful Tanesashi Coast. On top of that, the city is known for its bustling nightlife and vast indoor fish market. Where better to experience urban Japan at its most authentic?

Immersive stay

Getting to Hachinohe City is simple thanks to its well-connected railway station. There’s a direct shinkansen line to Tokyo (3 hours) and the station is also just 20 minutes from Misawa station, near to Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya.

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This hot spring resort makes a great base for exploring Hachinohe City on a day-trip.

Aomoriya

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Set in a lakeside park dotted with typical thatched-roof houses, the resort celebrates local Aomori culture through its cuisine, horse ranch and lively performances recreating the exuberant Nebuta festival.

Early morning market

If your schedule is flexible, head to Hachinohe City very early on a Sunday.

Why?

Because one of the absolute highlights is the Tatehana Wharf Morning Market, held every Sunday mid-March to late December. The market gets going at dawn, and by 6am, thousands of people are queuing at the 300-plus stalls for freshly-cooked gourmet food. This is Japan’s biggest morning market, attracting over 10,000 people on a single Sunday.

Tatehana-Wharf-Morning-Market

By 9am, the whole market shuts down – so it’s well worth the effort of coming early to soak up the atmosphere and treat your taste buds to a spectacular breakfast. Unsurprisingly for a port city, seafood is a speciality.

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Locals flock to the Sakana Kobo Katsura stall, where sticks laden with seafood are charcoal-grilled on a rotating sunken hearth. Other stalls serve the likes of oshizushi (pressed sushi) croquettes, deep-fried mackerel, and Hachinohe Senbei-Jiru, a soy sauce-based soup packed with mushrooms, chicken and chewy senbei rice crackers.

Senbei-Jiru

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You can wash it all down with a cup of speciality black garlic coffee!

All-day fresh fish

If you’re not an early riser or you’re a dedicated foodie, Hachinohe City’s other must-taste experience is the indoor Hasshoku Center. Located 6 miles from the port, the Center can be reached by local bus.

The complex features more than 60 stalls proffering Hachinohe culinary specialities.

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Fresh seafood dominates, with many stalls offering stand-up eating areas to sample sweet shrimp, oysters and more. Alternatively, head to one of the restaurants for sushi, noodles and Senbei-Jiru.

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At Shichirin-mura, you can ask for your freshly-purchased fish or meat to be prepared for you. The Center is also great for gift-hunting, especially if you’re a sake connoisseur. Upstairs, there’s a vast play area for kids.

Coastal escape

Surprisingly for a big city, Hachinohe’s other must-see spot is a coastal path with spectacular ocean views, epic beaches and flower-strewn grasslands.

Stretching 7.5 miles along a rugged section of the Pacific Coast, the Tanesashi Coast is easily reached by local train.

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The Information Center at Tanesashi Kaigan (35 minutes from Hachinohe station) is a good starting point to explore the trail on foot or by the Umineko bus, which stops at the main points of interest.

Walking from Tanesashi Kaigan back into town shortens the trail to around 5 miles. You’ll start at the vast grasslands of the Tanesashi Natural Lawn before heading into the 100-year-old Yodo-no-Matsubara pine grove and crossing the vast Osuka beach. Expect sweeping views of craggy ocean-swept islands and colourful flowers blanketing the cliffs and hillsides: more than 650 varieties are said to grow here.

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Hamanasu

The trail ends at Kabushima Island. From March to August, this tiny rocky island is awash with black-tailed gulls. Around 30,000 of them come here to nest every year – and the noise is deafening! The gulls are known for their monogamy and, appropriately enough, the island’s shrine is dedicated to relationships and matchmaking.

Kabushima-Island

black-tailed-gulls

Back in town, why not reward yourself with a drink?

The city’s Miroku Yokocho street is home to some 26 tiny restaurants and drinking holes, the perfect place to discover another facet of this surprising city.


Photo credits:

APTINET.AOMORI Prefectural Government

bryan… / CC BY-SA

bryan… / CC BY-SA

bryan… / CC BY-SA

Roberto Maxwell / CC BY-NC-SA

The ultimate guide to ramen

You probably know ramen as the affordable noodle soup dish that’s popular all over Japan. But do you know the subtle differences? Can you distinguish a shoyu broth from a shio broth? A Tokyo noodle from its Sapporo counterpart? And what about the vast range of toppings?

We guide you through the culture of ramen – and offer some tips on how to get the most from your next visit to a ramen-ya restaurant.

Essential ingredients

Ramen is a dish of wheat noodles in a flavoured meat- or fish-based broth, sprinkled with generous toppings of sliced pork, nori seaweed, bamboo shoots and much more. In recent decades, it has become one of Japan’s most popular dishes.

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The broth or soup base comes in four main varieties. Shoyu is soy sauce-based, producing a light brown broth typically made from chicken stock. Popular in Kyushu, cloudy tonkotsu stock is made of boiled-down pork bones.

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Shio, meanwhile, is dominated by salt seasoning.

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Finally, miso ramen derives its thick brown broth from fermented soybean paste.

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It originates from Hokkaido, where its hearty flavours are appreciated during the long winters.

Ramen noodles are made from wheat flour, water, salt and kansui, an alkaline solution that gives them a yellowish tint and elastic mouthfeel. Again, there are regional variations: Kitakata noodles are thick and springy, while the Hakata variety is thin and straight.

Kitakata-ramen

Hakata-ramen

At many ramen-ya restaurants, you can personalize the thickness and firmness of your noodles.

Finally, ramen dishes vary according to their toppings. Some of the favourite ingredients include fatty slices of chashu pork, negi green onions or leeks, menma bamboo shoots and tamago boiled, raw or marinated eggs.

Hokkaido, ramen capital

Throughout Japan, the northern island of Hokkaido is reputed for its ramen. Sapporo, the Prefecture’s capital, boasts an excellent miso-based ramen complete with exquisite seasonal seafood.

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Hakodate offers up a much lighter shio broth with thin noodles and copious toppings.

Hakodate

And Asahikawa serves the ultimate shoyu soy ramen, often featuring an oily layer of lard that traps in the steam and prevents the soup from cooling down.

Asahikawa

Fancy sampling the Hokkaido scene for yourself?

At Hoshino Resorts OMO7 Asahikawa, you can stay in the heart of the island’s second city and take an insider’s tour of some of the most quintessential ramen restaurants.

Ramen-hopping tour

Opened in 2018, Hoshino Resorts OMO7 Asahikawa is a hotel with a contemporary urban vibe, handily positioned for day trips to Furano and Biei.

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The hotel’s OMO Rangers are local guides offering you the chance to discover the city as an insider – and from December 2019 until the end of February 2020, they’re offering a special tour of local ramen restaurants.

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The Ramen-hopping tour is a great way to experience an authentic slice of Japanese life, with your guide taking you places you would probably never dare go – including tiny eateries with Japanese-only menus.

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During the tour, you’ll sample small “half-ramen” portions in three different restaurants. Each place has its own specialty and unique flavours, and your guide will serve as interpreter so you can chat with the owners.

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You’re likely to be treated to the thin, crinkled noodles that are a specialty in Asahikawa. Pork is also a favourite thanks to the region’s pig farming tradition. You may well get to sample a “double soup”, made with two types of broth such as pork bone and seafood.

And, while soy sauce-based soups are typical, your guide will probably give you a chance to taste salt or miso ramen for a complete experience.

Taketomi and Tokyo

Not planning to be in Hokkaido? There are plenty of other ramen experiences you can choose from!

At HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island in Okinawa, the local version of ramen is Yaeyama soba noodles, made from wheat flour. They’re served in a clear broth of skipjack tuna, pork bone and seaweed. Head to the local village to try them at Takenoko restaurant, which adds its own Kuchu spice made from island chili peppers.

Takenoko-taketomi

Or simply stay at HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island and order a lunch of Yaeyama soba at the restaurant.

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If you’re in Tokyo, how about treating yourself to Michelin-star ramen? Japan’s capital now boasts three ramen restaurants with a Michelin star, with Tsuta in northern Sugamo first accorded the honour back in 2016.

Its speciality?

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Ramen infused with black truffle oil. An original spin that clearly tickled the fancy of the Michelin reviewers.


Photo credits:

Takenoko restaurant

Tsuta Restaurant

24 hours at Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru

2.45pm

By shinkansen from Tokyo, it’s a 3-hour journey north to Shin-Aomori. From here, a local train will take you via rice fields and the region’s famed apple orchards to the hot spring town of Owani. Take the shuttle bus for the 5-minute ride to Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru.


3pm

The moment you step into the ryokan’s spacious main hall, you’ll be struck by the immense mural filling the wall opposite.

Matazou-Kayama

Created by prize-winning painter Matazo Kayama in the classic Nihonga style, it depicts the four seasons that are so marked here in Aomori Prefecture: the cherry blossom of spring, the red leaves of autumn, the restless waves of winter, and the full moon and clear skies of summer.

Outside the large windows, water surrounds this side of the building, with rocks rising out of the surface, housing a thicket of spindly trees growing at impossible angles.

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outside

You can admire this classically Japanese scene, created as part of the ryokan’s recent renovations, from a comfy chair on the suspended wooden terrace.


3.15pm

After your welcome drink (local apple juice, of course), you’ll be guided to your room. Most rooms are Japanese-style with tatami-lined floors, raised beds and comfy sofas.

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Following the ryokan’s reopening in April 2019, all rooms now feature touches of Tsugaru koginzashi needlework. This regional art form consists of weaving yarn through multiple layers of indigo-dyed linen cloth, and was originally used to strengthen clothes against the region’s harsh winters.

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Working with local artist Iemasa Yamahata, Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru has put a contemporary spin on the craft, and you’ll find diamond-shaped kogin patterns on the table runners, cushion covers, and shoji paper screens of your room.


4pm

Down in the Travel Library, you can enjoy a brief introduction to Owani’s hot springs in the form of a kamishibai, a storytelling technique that uses multiple picture cards.

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You’ll learn about the long history of Owani onsen – and why it is reputed as one of the best in the country.


5pm

Time to test the onsen. In autumn and winter, you’ll find apples bobbing in the baths. The rest of the year, the bobbing is done by wooden apples made of Aomori hiba (Japanese cypress). Both the natural and wooden variety infuse the water with natural nutrients.

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Slowly lower your body into the warm waters, then relax while taking in the view of the water gardens.


7.30pm

Overlooking the omnipresent water gardens, the restaurant serves multi-course kaiseki menus. If you’re a fan of tuna, you’re in for a treat: Oma tuna from the Tsugarau channel is reputed as Japan’s best, with sushi owners sometimes paying millions for its perfectly-balanced fat content.

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Other local specialities include garlic, the particularly sweet Dake Kimi corn and, of course, apple. Expect spectacular presentation and inventive combinations.


9pm

Every night, the Tsugaru shamisen takes centre stage. Unlike the traditional shamisen, the local version of this Japanese lute is thwacked rather than strummed, creating a raw sound that is much more dynamic.

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After a short outdoor concert from a boat, the main concert follows indoors with performances from award-winning musicians.

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Forget any preconceptions you may have about the shamisen being archaic: the sound here is decidedly contemporary, an exhilarating vibe that will have you tapping your toes.


9.30pm

Before heading to bed, treat yourself to a drink of local cider or sake on the terrace, served in speckled coloured glassware, typical of the Tsugaru vidro style.

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8am

For breakfast, you can look forward to the likes of scallop, miso soup and egg in soy sauce. The miso and soy are made using the local onsen as a heat source.

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9.30am

Time to discover the region. Just 10 minutes away by train, the city of Hirosaki has plenty to fill a day. Visit the immaculately-kept Japanese gardens of Fujita, stroll through the grounds of the castle.

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Then head to Neputa village, a hands-on museum celebrating all things local. With craftsmen creating their work in front of you, it’s a great place to pick up a gift.

If you’re looking for sweeping vistas, Tsugaru has plenty, from craggy coastlines to expansive wetlands and the volcanic slopes of Mt. Iwaki.

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And because each season brings changes and transforms the landscape, this is a region you’ll want to come back to again and again.

The new Emperor’s parade

On October 22, 2019, Japan celebrates the ascension to the throne of Emperor Naruhito. An official ceremony will be held at the Imperial Palace followed by a procession in the heart of Tokyo, with the new Emperor and his wife waving to crowds from a car.

During the 3-mile drive to Akasaka Palace, the motorcade will take in some of central Tokyo’s most impressive sights.

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To celebrate this day, we investigate the route, the history and the festivities so you can relive the journey yourself. The route is easily walkable: follow it on your next trip to Tokyo, and you’ll be stepping in the Emperor’s wake!

Historical handover

Emperor Naruhito officially succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, 2019 after his father Emperor Akihito became the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in over 200 years. Citing his advancing years, the 85-year-old passed the reins to his eldest son in an official handover ceremony held behind closed doors.

At this time, the Heisei era finished and the new Reiwa era began under Emperor Naruhito.

The name Reiwa, meaning “beautiful harmony, was the result of months of secret meetings by a panel of nine experts and was announced live on television to great fanfare earlier in the year.

Public procession

On October 22, 2019, the new Emperor publicly proclaims his ascension to the throne. This is the occasion to introduce him to the world. Some 2,500 guests from 195 countries will be invited to the Imperial Palace for Sokui-Reiseiden-no-gi, an enthronement ritual during which Naruhito will sit on an immense canopied throne and proclaim himself Emperor.

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This is followed by the much-awaited Shukuga-Onretsu-no-gi – a procession to greet the public in an open-top car.

The vehicle chosen for the parade? A convertible Toyota Century luxury sedan, customized with gold Imperial seal on the front bumper.

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Some 100,000 people are expected to line the roads on what has been declared a national holiday – a chance to glimpse the new Emperor and his wife Empress Masako.

Sights along the route

The motorcade will pass by numerous important monuments and places of interest along its 3-mile route – offering up a readymade circuit for tourists looking to recreate the royal journey in the future.

If you’re staying at HOSHINOYA Tokyo, you’ll only have to walk a few minutes to reach the starting point of the parade, the Imperial Palace.


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Resort booking banner HOSHINOYA TOKYO


Home to the Emperor and his family, the palace is surrounded by extensive grounds, wide moats and impressive stone walls. Most of the complex is off-limits to tourists, but you can sign up on the official website for twice-daily guided tours in English.

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The East Gardens are also open to the public most days, a chance to see the ruins of the original 17th-century Edo Castle and stroll around the pleasant Japanese gardens.

From the Imperial Palace, the procession will head in the direction of Tokyo Station before skirting around Hibiya Park, former feudal grounds that became Tokyo’s first Western-style park in the early 20th century. Complete with flower gardens, ponds and restaurants, the park is home to a ginkgo tree estimated to be as old as 500 years. It also hosts the popular Oktoberfest and Christmas market.

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Hibiya-Park

Next up, the Emperor’s car will drive by the National Diet Building, Japan’s centre of political activity. The imposing pillared concrete-and-granite building was completed in 1936. You can sign up on the official website for a guided tour of the House of Representatives in English.

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Visits of the House of Councillors are only available in Japanese, and both tours take in the public galley, Imperial waiting rooms, gardens, and the grandiose Central Hall.

Imperial hospitality

Finally, the point of arrival of the parade is Akasaka Palace or Geihinkan, the state guest house. Formerly an Imperial residence, it was transformed into a place to receive visitors of the Emperor in 1974. The main building is modelled on European-style palaces and houses multiple rooms bedecked with hanging chandeliers, vast mirrors and walls embossed with gold motifs.

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Reserve ahead on the official website and, even if you’re only visiting as a tourist, you’ll still get an intriguing insight into what the Emperor’s guests will experience on that historical day of October 22.


Photo credits:

WikipediaCC BY-SA 4.0

A day out in Hirosaki

Situated in the Tsugaru region of northern Honshu, the small town of Hirosaki is off many tourists’ radar – yet it has plenty to offer.

Most Japanese know it for the picture-postcard cherry trees surrounding its 17th-century castle. But there’s much more to Hirosaki.

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Like the sublimely-landscaped Fujita Memorial Garden, the impressive complex of 33 temples, and an excellent hands-on museum where local craftsmen create original works in front of you.

Local insights

The Tsugaru region covers the western peninsula of Honshu’s Aomori Prefecture. Within this remote part of Japan, Hirosaki is a major hub – and yet its population is less than 180,000. The town has a pleasantly laid-back feel and, as an Edo-era regional capital, it offers plenty of history and cultural riches.

If you’re staying at Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru, Hirosaki is just a 10-minute train ride from nearby Owani station. And the ryokan is a great place to begin your discovery of the Tsugaru region.

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As a guest, you’ll be able to experience the local shamisen through nightly concerts. You’ll sample the best of the region’s cuisine, including melt-in-your-mouth Oma tuna.

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And you’ll learn all about the intricate art of kogin needlework, a regional tradition celebrated in the ryokan’s décor.

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Moving castle

On arrival at Hirosaki station, make a beeline for the Castle Park. It’s best reached via a short bus ride or a 30-minute walk.

This large, leafy park is dotted with imposing wooden entrance gates, numerous traditional red arched bridges, and a network of deep moats. It is celebrated for its 2,600 sakura trees, which attract a staggering two million visitors during the springtime Cherry Blossom Festival.

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For this 2-week period, that park is a photographer’s dream, famed for its “tunnel” of cherry trees on either side of the west moat. When blossom starts to fall, it covers every inch of the water with floating pink flowers.

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Hirosaki Castle was originally built in 1611, but all that remains today is a three-storey keep perched atop the motte.

In 2015, the keep was moved some 70 metres from its original position for renovation on the supporting walls.

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Moving the 400-ton tower took 3 months using hydraulic jacks and a dolly system. You can learn about this extraordinary feat of engineering in an exhibition inside the keep.

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From here, you’ll have an excellent view of Mt. Iwaki, the local volcanic giant that looms majestically above the Tsugaru Plain.

Classic landscaping

On the south-west side of the park, the Fujita Memorial Garden is an exquisite example of a traditional Japanese garden.

Separated into an upper section with tatami-lined house and a lower garden around a pond, it boasts beautiful, aesthetic landscaping.

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Trees lean at impossible angles, their lower branches supported by strategically-placed pillars. A waterfall cascades over an arched red bridge, and irises and azaleas spread dashes of colour around the immaculately-kept lawns.

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Stop for lunch or coffee at the tearoom, built in grandiose Western style like many early 20th-century buildings in Hirosaki.

Feudal past

From the Fujita Memorial Garden, it’s a 10-minute walk to Hirosaski’s Zen temple area, a collection of 33 temples gathered here in the early 17th-century to form a spiritual hub for the town.

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The most impressive is Chosho-ji, the temple of the Tsugaru family, with its 16-metre high main gate dominating the district.

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If you have time, head back to the northern side of the Castle Park, where the former Samurai District offers an insight into life under feudal lords. You can visit the residences of 3 samurai who served the Tsugaru clan in the 17th century. The most grandiose is the Ito Residence, home to the clan’s doctor.

Craft showcase

A couple of minutes’ walk away is Neputa-mura, an excellent museum celebrating all things local. The focus is the town’s famous Neputa festival. Held in early August, Neputa features immense intricately-painted lanterns made from washi paper in creative shapes and forms.

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A dark high-ceilinged room presents an array of these illuminated lanterns – and you’ll have a chance to bang the traditional drums used during the festival.

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Beyond the main hall, a former rice brewery has been transformed into a production studio and showcase for local crafts. Here, you can watch artisans creating traditional kokeshi dolls, kogin clothes, goldfish neputa and a range of children’s wooden toys, including the region’s unique zuguri spinning tops.

Where better to buy an original gift? Something unique to remember your day out in Hirosaki.


Photo credit:

masato_saito / CC BY-NC-ND

shinyai / CC BY-NC

shinyai / CC BY-NC

shinyai / CC BY-NC

24 hours at Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel

1.15pm

Shin-Aomori may be some 700kms north of Tokyo, but it takes just 3 hours to reach by shinkansen. At the station, you’ll board a shuttle bus bound for Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel.


3pm

The journey on winding, thickly-forested mountain roads comes to an end at the tiny village of Yakeyama. Here, within the Towada-Hachimantai National Park, lies Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel, the only hotel located directly on the banks of the picturesque Oirase Keiryu stream.

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Yakeyama is the starting point for both the Oirase Gorge and a spectacular 8.5-mile trail that follows the ebbs and flows of the stream through the forest to its source, mighty Lake Towada.

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Whether you’re planning to hike, fish or admire the numerous waterfalls along the way, you’ll be at the heart of nature during your stay.


3.15pm

Time to settle in.

You room features tatami mats, a comfortable raised mattress and generous sofas.

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For a special treat, opt for your own private hot spring bath overlooking the stream.


4pm

Before you head downstairs, why not slip into your complementary yukata and sandals? It’s all part of the Japanese hotel experience!

Each of the hotel’s wings has a spacious central lounge dominated by a towering suspended chimney sculpted by avant-garde artist Tako Okamoto. Both feature floor-to-ceiling windows, transporting you into the forest and making the seasons an integral part of the décor.

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In spring and summer, sunlight penetrates through a forest of lush greens. In autumn, the panorama is picture-book pretty, with crisp orange, golden yellows and deep reds crowding the trees.

Winter brings a blanket of snow, weighing down branches and transforming nearby waterfalls into glistening walls of layered ice.

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4.30pm

At the Activity Desk in the west lobby, you can peruse your many options to explore the National Park. Outside snow season, the choices are endless, encompassing everything from fly fishing to firefly watching.

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For an authentically Japanese experience, sign up for one of the many moss-related experiences.

The Japanese are fascinated by moss, with the Oirase Gorge home to some 300 different varieties. Choose the morning Moss Watching Tour to get a closer look, armed with your complementary magnifying glass!

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In winter, activities turn to snowshoeing and tours of the beautiful frozen waterfalls.


5pm

Take a towel from your room and head to the hotel’s onsen. There are 2 indoor pools, but the real pull is the rounded outdoor bath set above the stream.

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Lie back in the warm waters, sourced from nearby Mount Hakkoda, and listen to the soothing sounds of the babbling stream.


7pm

For dinner, indulge yourself in the high-class French cuisine of Sonore restaurant, with a pre-dinner aperitif on the stream-side terrace.

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Or opt for the Aomori Ringo Kitchen, an immense buffet of freshly-prepared Japanese and Western dishes.

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Take a 9-compartment tray to sample a little of everything from sashimi to seafood bake, mochi rice cake to apple (“ringo”) pie. Then come back for more!


9pm

Head to the bar to cosy up on a chaise-longue sofa with views of the illuminated forest.

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How about a Japanese whisky to round off the evening?




8am

There’s another lavish breakfast buffet at the Aomori Ringo Kitchen. Take your pick from eggs and bacon, croissant and jam, or fish and miso.

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Alternatively, you can start the day on the stream-side terrace with a generous bento box.


10am

Time to explore the Oirase Gorge. If you’ve not signed up for an activity, lace up your walking shoes and head out on your own. The trail to Lake Towada takes around 4 to 5 hours, but you can easily shorten the distance by taking the hotel’s free shuttle bus or the local bus to different points along the route.

Along the way, you’ll pass 14 waterfalls, including the impressively wide Choshi Otaki and the roaring two-tiered Kumoi no Taki.

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The path climbs gently, staying close to the stream until you arrive at Lake Towada, an impressive double caldera expanse, known for its clear waters. From here, you can take a boat trip to the small town of Yasumiya, a chance to admire the seemingly endless wilderness that encircles the lake.

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Yasumiya has a pleasant, laid-back feel. It’s the perfect place to end the day, wandering along the beach, visiting the hilltop Towada shrine, and sampling street food such as yakitori or shioyaki (fish on a stick). From here, you can take a bus back for a well-earned hot spring bath at Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel.