Try to win an exceptional 4-night stay in Japan!

Experience Japan’s unique lifestyle at 2 remarkable RISONARE properties. Our RISONARE Hotels have a refined design, and a wide variety of activities!

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

Total package:

– 4 nights for 2 people in 1 room: 2 nights (breakfast included) at Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Atami, 2 nights (breakfast included) at Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake.
– 1 dinner for 2 people at Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Atami.
– 1 dinner for 2 people at Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake.
– Value date: May 15, 2020.

⬇️ Contest form below ⬇️

Revitalize your mind at Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Atami, a front row center for ocean views.

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Then discover Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake, a wine resort that lets you enjoy the nature’s gift at Yatsugatake with elegance!

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Ready for an exceptional stay in Japan?

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Green tea trip of discovery

Some 200km south-west of Tokyo, Shizuoka Prefecture stretches out along the Pacific coast, a varied landscape of towering volcanic mountains and fertile farmland.

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The region’s temperate climate, high rainfall and excellent water quality make it ideal for growing green tea, and the local tea, Shizuoka-cha, is prized throughout Japan for its exceptional flavour.

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Around 40% of Japan’s tea is produced here. Plantations are dotted around the Prefecture, giving rise to a rich range of flavours. Take your pick from the light, aromatic softness of Shimizu-cha, the rich notes of Kawane-cha, or the famous long-steamed fukamushi-cha of Makinohara City.

Located in the west of the region on the shores of Lake Hamana, Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu is at the heart of Japan’s tea country. If you want to experience green tea in all its facets, this is the place to stay.

How about learning the art of infusing the perfect cup of green tea? Relaxing your body in tea-infused hot spring baths?

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Or sampling the crème de la crème of green tea, the first-harvest of the season known as shincha?

Tea-themed stay

At Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu, you can expect authentic ryokan hospitality combined with modern convenience. All rooms come with shoji sliding doors, low beds and lakeside views. Many feature tatami mats and some offer the luxury of a private open-air hot spring bath.

And, of course, you’ll be provided with your own complimentary Japanese tea set.

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Tea is a central part of the experience at Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu. The resort has its own tea plantation overlooking the lake, where guests are free to wander. And, every evening, you can take part in organized tea tastings, learning about the local varieties of green tea from local experts.

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During the workshop, your host is likely to teach you the perfect way to make green tea by transferring boiling water from cup to cup until it reaches 70°C. You may learn how to combine different teas to make your own original blend.

And you’ll probably get to try your hand at whisking matcha. Keep an open mind if you’re invited to eat used sencha tea leaves with sweet soy sauce: it’s actually a surprisingly tasty treat!

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Other activities vary with the seasons. In autumn, you’ll learn to cook genmai tea leaves and blend them with autumn jukusei, a type of sencha. In summer, you’ll discover the art of making Matcha Ice. And in spring, you’ll sample different spring-like sencha teas.

Best of all, from late May until the end of June, you can enjoy a special experience revolving around the prestigious first-harvest tea known as shincha.

First-to-cup richness

Every year, the first harvest from local plantations is eagerly anticipated by sencha connoisseurs. These first sprouts of the year are packed with rich nutrients such as amino acids, stored up by the tea bush over the winter and concentrated in the youngest buds. The resulting tea is sweeter, smoother – and highly sought-after.

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Subsequent harvests each have their own personality, from the sweet first-picked icihbancha to the summertime nibancha (second-picked) and the milder end-of-season sanbancha (third-picked). But none are as revered as shincha.

Sincha stay

During the shincha period, Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu hosts a number of special events. Every morning, you can sample 3 different types of shincha from Shizuoka Prefecture. Drip-brewed, each shincha is served in a wine glass so you can appreciate the fragrant aroma, vibrant colour and refreshing flavour that is so characteristic of the first-to-cup experience.

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For dinner, treat yourself to a Shincha Tasting Set. Different dishes from your multi-course kaiseki menu are paired with different types of shincha using hot and cold water extraction to perfectly complement the food.

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And what better way to round off your evening than with a shincha cocktail? The hotel’s bar serves up an original creation combining shincha with a herbal gin, offering a deliciously bitter nightcap.

Relax in tea

For the complete experience, head to the resort’s hot spring baths. There, you’ll find one of the indoor tubs features wicker baskets of green tea leaves floating on the surface. Why? Because the vitamins and antioxidants from the leaves are released in the water, helping to rejuvenate and soften your skin.

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At Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu, you’ll get to know green tea like never before – with new pleasures you may never have expected.

Spring euphoria in Aomori

Aomori is the most northern of all Honshu’s Prefectures. Jutting out on the tip of Japan’s main island, it lies between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean with the Ōu mountains running down the middle. Winters here can be long, with some of the heaviest snowfall in Japan.

When spring finally makes itself felt, it’s often late April. Only then do the trees begin blossoming and flowers start opening.

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After such a long wait, it’s no surprise that locals embrace hanami (flower-viewing) as a major celebration, a chance to reconnect with the world so long hidden under deep snow.

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In the east of the Prefecture, Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya provides guests with an authentic Aomori spring party. This is a chance to experience local culture and traditions, sample the region’s famed seafood, and partake in the general euphoria associated with the coming of spring.

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You’ll also be able to explore one of Japan’s most rugged and beautiful regions, a landscape of dramatically cliffed coastlines, shimmering streams and stunning snowy peaks. And all this is just 3 hours from Tokyo by shinkansen.

Sublime setting

Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya is a modern hot springs resort in the classic ryokan style. Most guest rooms feature tatami mats, shoji sliding doors and a TOTO washlet. The main lounge is centred on a traditional irori-style hearth. And the indoor baths are sculpted from sweet-smelling Aomori Hinoki cypress wood, with the outdoor onsen set in the middle of a large pond overlooking a waterfall and thickets of pine trees.

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All of this is enclosed within an extensive 180-acre (72-hectare) park, complete with a large lake and dotted with historical landmarks such as the former residence of Eiichi Shibusawa, who spearheaded Japan’s economic rise in the late 19th century. Or the thatched-roof Nanbu Magariya, an old farmhouse that now houses a restaurant.

There’s even a ranch that organizes horseback outings for guests.

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In April and May, the resort’s park is the site of the Tange Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration of spring colours feted as only the locals know how. “Tange” means “to the full” in Aomori dialect.

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During the 2-month festival, the park is decked out with local crafts and special events are held to mark spring’s arrival. How about riding through the park in a horse-drawn carriage painstakingly hand-decorated with the flecked patterns of local Tsugaru lacquer? Dining on sweet crab and caviar at a seasonal banquet?

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Or snuggling up under a kotatsu heated table and taking in the magnificent blooms of cherry and apple trees, magnolias and daffodils in the park.

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Many paths are decorated using objects and techniques inspired by the region’s world-famous Nebuta Festival. The centerpiece of this summertime festival is a parade of illuminated floats – and the iridescent elegance of this artform is given a springtime makeover at Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya.

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Illuminated paper parasols and intricately-patterned lanterns line the park’s paths, creating an atmosphere of ethereal beauty when dark falls.

Sake and crab

During the festival, you can also experience Hanami no Jikan, a banquet held in Aomori to mark the end of the winter. The centrepiece of the menu? Togekuri crab, a particularly succulent variety that comes into season just as local flowers begin to bloom (hence its nickname “hanami crab”).

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It’s best served accompanied by caviar, or boiled in salt water and wrapped in omelet. Pair it with one of the Prefecture’s famed sake for a spring meal to remember.

Aomori reawakens

Outside the resort, the melting snow offers possibilities aplenty for sightseeing.

Among the top springtime destinations is the snow corridor at Mt. Hakkoda, where the white walls along the road can reach up to 10 metres. Look out for “frost trees”, local conifers whose ice-coated branches glisten in the sun.

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For spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, take a trip on the Hakkoda Ropeway. On a clear day, you’ll see as far as the Shimokita peninsula to the north and the Tsugaru peninsula to the west.

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Head further south into the Towada Hachimantai National Park to view the gushing Jogakura mountain stream. And to enjoy simple walks through marshlands or long hikes with sweeping vistas of volcanoes and Lake Towada.

In Aomori, spring is a time to explore and to celebrate. And to delight in the optimism, the expectations and the opportunities of a brand new season.

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A new-look ryokan on the north tip of Honshu

The northernmost tip of Honshu is one of the country’s most untouched regions, characterized by sumptuous national parks, craggy coastlines and a unique cultural heritage. It’s known nationwide for its colourful festivals and for having 4 distinct seasons, with plenty of snow in the winter.

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In the west of this far-flung corner along the Sea of Japan lies Tsugaru, a place with a strong regional identity, where the locals are proud of their reputation for agricultural excellence, for expert craftmanship and cultural diversity.

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It is this unique identity that is celebrated in the recent redesign of Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru, a ryokan located in the hot spring area of Owani at the foot of the mountains.

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If you’re looking to get off the beaten track or you want to discover another side of Japan, this is the perfect destination.

Celebrating the local

Reopened on April 1, 2019, Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru has been reimagined inside and outside. By interweaving regional craft traditions with contemporary comfort and design, the ryokan offers a slice of local life in an upscale setting.

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All 41 rooms have been redesigned to feature touches of Tsugaru koginzashi needlework. Consisting of weaving yarn through multiple layers of indigo-dyed linen cloth, this local craft was developed some 300 years ago to strengthen clothes against the region’s harsh winters.

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At Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru, koginzashi becomes an art form. Local artisan Iemasa Yamabata has put a contemporary spin on the craft, using digitization techniques to create original designs using diamond-shaped kogin patterns on the walls, doors and furniture.

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You’ll find koginzashi craftmanship on the table runners, cushion covers, and shoji paper screens of your room.

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Local art is also a central part of the resort’s new water garden, with Tsugaru koginzashi lanterns floating on the ponds. Illuminated in the evenings, they lend the garden an ethereal glow at nightfall.

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Other local artworks are dotted around the outside space, including colourful Tsugaru vidro glassware made using an ancient free-blowing technique.

The water gardens are the ryokan’s relaxation area, a place to sample seasonal treats in the day and sit back with a celebrated local sake from the Yugari Lounge in the evening. It’s the perfect spot for lying back after a rejuvenating soak in the hot spring baths or after dining on the chef’s Tsugaru-inspired menu, featuring a platter of local sashimi seasoned in 8 different ways.

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The garden is also the venue for a nightly concert of the Tsugaru shamisen. Unlike the classic shamisen, the local version of this Japanese lute is thwacked rather than strummed, creating a raw sound that is more vivid and dynamic.

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Concerts are regularly performed by national shamisen champion Kohei Shibuya.

Natural splendor

Outside the ryokan, there’s plenty to discover. Sweeping landscapes and grandiose historical sites are in generous supply in this part of Japan.

Less than an hour away by car is one of Japan’s 4 World Heritage sites: the vast expanse of Shirakami-Sanchi. This magnificent mountain range is home to the country’s last virgin beech forest, which once covered much of northern Japan.

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The hiking trails here are an invitation to discover the Japanese wilderness first-hand, from the 90-minute Anmon Falls walk to the day-long trek up the highest peak, Mount Shirakamidake.

Other scenic spots include the pretty paths along the Oirase stream, a must in autumn, and Lake Towada, the largest caldera lake in Honshu.

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Not to mention the spectacular coastline.

Experience the past

This is also a region where Japanese history can be traced back a long way. At the Sannai Maruyama Archaeological Site, you can visit the remains of an ancient settlement from the Jōmon Period (c.10,500-300 BC), featuring pit-dwellings, burial pits and reconstructions of long houses.

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Nearby Hirosaki Castle is an impressive three-storey fort originally built in 1611. Renovation work is currently underway on the stone walls that support the tower – which necessitated moving the entire castle keep some 70 metres! You can see the castle at its new site until 2021, when work is due to finish – and it will be moved back again.

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And, if you’re visiting Tsugaru in the spring, the castle is a must. Thanks to some 2,600 cherry trees, its grounds are justifiably reputed as one of the country’s very best spots for admiring the flowering blooms of pink sakura.

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24 hours at HOSHINOYA Fuji




2.30pm

From the town of Kawaguchiko, it’s a short bus or taxi ride to HOSHINOYA Fuji’s lakeside reception area. Here, you’ll be given everything you need for the resort’s signature glamping experience: a headlamp, binoculars and a flask.

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Choose your style of backpack, and you’re good to go! A jeep will lead you up a steep road into the forest.

3pm

HOSHINOYA Fuji is set on a tree-lined hillside, spread over terraced levels linked by stairs. At the main desk, you’ll be served a welcome drink before being guided down to your “cabin”: a simple yet luxurious room with bed, bathroom and a few extras that put the glam into glamping (Bluetooth radio, mini-bar, etc.).

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The “wow” factor begins the moment you step into your room. Mt. Fuji is right there, towering above Lake Kawaguchi in all its grandiose glory, a picture-postcard image dominating your cabin through the huge south-facing window. The entire cabin is centred on this view, including the bath.

Your large balcony is fitted with a sofa long enough to lie down on: perfect for watching the sun rise or set over Japan’s highest mountain.

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3.30pm

Time to get into the swing of things – quite literally, as you’ll be swinging an axe to chop wood! HOSHINOYA Fuji offers a number of fun activities that are all about the great outdoors. Even kids can have a go at log-chopping by hammering wood through a protected blade.

4pm

Gather up your chopped wood and throw it on the bonfire on the Cloud Terrace platform, just a flight of stairs away. The bonfire crackles away here all day from 7am to 10pm.

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You’re free to roast marshmallows or help yourself to coffee from the adjoining Library Café. There’s even a selection of coffee table books in English.

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Why not help yourself to some seasonal sweet treats from the afternoon snack table, such as cherry blossom jam in the spring or chestnuts in autumn.

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And then relax in one of the hammocks strung up between the trees or lie back on a chaise-longue sofa. At night, these are prime spots for some outstanding star-gazing.

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If you’re in the mood for pre-meal nibbles, you can smoke your own nuts, sausage or fish.

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Choose from a range of woods chips to flavour your smoked food and then wash it all down with a Japanese whisky.

6.30pm

You’re in for an exquisite outdoor dining experience at the Forest Kitchen. No need to worry about the cold: if the mercury’s dipping, you’ll cosy up under a kotatsu heated table. Using a gas stove, a “Glamping Master” (member of staff) will help you cook your own gourmet dinner.

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Expect several courses, all with hearty mountain ingredients, such as venison, wild boar and seasonal vegetables served up in fusion style (smoked salmon and gyojya garlic, venison with sansho pepper).

You’re in Japanese wine country here, so why not opt for a trio of local Yamanashi wines, each perfectly paired with a dish?

9pm

Back up to the Cloud Terrace for a concert: half an hour of live music from a different performer every night.

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Tempted by a nightcap around the bonfire? Then choose from a wide range of Japanese whiskies at the popup TAKIBI bar.




6.50am

Yes, it’s an early rise, but the morning is the best time to catch Fuji cloud-free. You’ll be driven down to Lake Kawaguchi to take to the water in a canoe.

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And with a little luck, you’ll get to contemplate the mythical image of Fuji reflected in the water!

9am

Back in your room, breakfast is served on your balcony. Under the gaze of Fuji, you’ll fuel up on freshly-baked bread, seasonal jams, yoghurt, omelette and sausage.

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10am

Time to discover your surroundings!

How about a stroll in Oishi Park, a flower-lined promenade at the foot of HOSHINOYA Fuji. The lakeside promenade here is amass with cherry trees, making it a must in spring.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can trek through the foothills of Fuji on horseback. From the Aokigahara Jukai forest, you’ll ride up to 1165m (3822 ft), where the plateau of Koyodai offers commanding views of Fuji-san.

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If hiking is your thing, you’re spoiled for choice. From just near the resort, a forest path leads up endless switchbacks to the Shindou Pass, where you’ll be rewarded by stunning vistas of Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi.

Alternatively, simply relax at the resort. Make your own pizza lunch at the Cloud Kitchen, an outdoor space among the trees complete with a wood-burning stove.

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Then lie back and linger over the picture-perfect views of Japan’s most iconic mountain.

The sakura experience at HOSHINOYA hotels

Picture yourself at a top-end ryokan. Soaking your muscles in a steaming hot spring bath, treating your senses to the seasonal cuisine of an award-winning chef, or contemplating a panoramic lakeside view from your room. Outside the ryokan, Japan is in its most celebrated season, a festival of burgeoning blossoms in assorted shades of pink and white.

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This is spring at its most immersive, a quintessentially Japanese experience where wellbeing and nature co-exist in splendid harmony. And this is precisely what you can expect at HOSHINOYA hotels.

If you’re looking for inspiration for a cherry blossom vacation, take your pick from any of Honshu’s 4 HOSHINOYA destinations.

Tokyo: floating in blossom

The most urban of the 4 resorts is HOSHINOYA Tokyo, where luxury and restfulness inside the ryokan blend with city-centre activity and discovery just outside your door.

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The hotel is just a 5-minute walk from one of Tokyo’s most iconic sites, the Imperial Palace.

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And, in early April, the city’s must-see sight is the mass of cherry trees huddled over the palace moat, forming thickets of pink petals stretching down to the water.

The best place to appreciate this seasonal show of majestic colour?

From the moat itself. Small row boats are available for hire on the north-east edge of the palace grounds. Known as the Chidorigafuchi moat, this is reputed as Tokyo’s most romantic hanami (flower viewing) spot. For the locals, it’s a hotspot for marriage proposals.

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It’s certainly a memorable experience as you row under low-hanging Yoshino trees and find yourself beneath a blanket of blossom. The effect is even more spectacular when the water is filled with pink petals.

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Make sure you get to the rental place early – preferably well before it opens at 9.30am, as queues can get very lengthy. While you’re in Tokyo, don’t miss out on the festive atmosphere of its parks during sakura season, including the partygoers’ favourite, Ueno Park!

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Karuizawa: sakura and samurai

Nestled at the foothills of the Japanese Alps, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa is famed for its hot spring baths. Japanese-style serenity reigns supreme at this resort, where private villas are dotted around a large terraced park composed of rivulets, bridges and colourful trees.

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The area’s must-see sight of the spring?

The Ueda Castle Senbon Sakura (1000 Cherry Trees) Festival. In and around the grounds of the castle, swathes of sakura form a tapestry of luminescent colour. Wander around the castle park and you’ll encounter cherry blossom of all descriptions, from the wild varieties Yamazakura and Edohigan to the remarkable weeping cherry trees Shidarezakura and Higanzakura.

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The castle itself was the 16th-century stronghold of the powerful Sanada clan, with Sanada Yukimura celebrated as one of Japan’s great samurai leaders. The festival’s program includes samurai dances, concerts, and a chance to try on the clan’s distinctive red armour for yourself.

Fuji: iconic photo opportunities

If you’re looking for the ultimate springtime room with a view, head to HOSHINOYA Fuji. From your private glamping cabin, you’re guaranteed a picture-postcard view of Mt. Fuji reflected in Lake Kawaguchi – and, with a little luck, framed by the blossoms of cherry trees growing in the resort’s grounds.

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The resort is set on a forested hillside and offers up unique outdoor experiences like smoking your own food or roasting marshmallows over a crackling campfire. But walk just a few minutes downhill and you’ll arrive at the promenade along the lake’s northern shore – the setting for the Fuji Kawaguchiko Cherry Blossom Festival.

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For around a kilometre, the banks of Lake Kawaguchi are lined with some 300 Yoshino cherry trees, providing opportunities aplenty to snap shots of Fuji-san framed by the heavily-laden branches of blossoming cherry trees. During the festival, stalls offer up local food, drink and handicraft items. At sunset, the cherry trees are lit up to spectacular effect.

Kyoto: remote river trip

The final luxury destination for your springtime vacation?

Riverside HOSHINOYA Kyoto, where a private house-boat will take you through bucolic hillsides thick with seasonal sakura. This is just one of a number of memorable seasonal experiences you’ll be able to discover in and around the resort.

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And, if you’ve missed the boat this spring, it’s never too early to start planning for next year!


Photo credits:
©舟遊びみづは
Hoshino Resorts

Getting to know Japanese wine

Japan has long been one of the wine industry’s best-kept secrets – and its reputation is growing rapidly. The national grape Koshu has been garnering increasing attention and awards, the Japanese Chardonnay is noted for its freshness and the local Merlot is particularly appreciated for its fruitiness.

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Koshu-fruit

The heart of wine country is Yamanashi Prefecture, where the mountains form a barrier to harsh weather, sunshine is plentiful, and pure water nourishes the land.

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Yatsugatake

This is the location of Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake, a relaxed, family-friendly resort built around experiencing the local wine scene to the full. You’ll be able to sample different grape varieties, meet local producers, and discover the art of pairing with Japanese food.

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And if you come this spring, you can enjoy the resort’s special Vino e Verdura course menu, which marries the freshness of spring cuisine with light, fruity wines.

Understand the terroir

Thanks to its partnership with local winery Domaine Mie Ikeno and regular events hosted by other producers, Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake offers a real insight into Japanese wine-making.

Among the unique activities on offer is a walking tour of the local vineyards and wineries. There’s no better way to introduce Japanese wine and understand the terroir.

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Koshu grapes have been cultivated in Yamanashi for over 1000 years – and the wine they produce is known for its refreshing lightness with citric notes and low alcohol content.

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During the walking tour, you’ll discover the secret to area’s successful grape-growing: generous sunshine, relatively dry conditions and a climate with big temperature differences. You’ll learn the subtle differences in soil and exposure that give each wine its own personality. And at the wineries, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes peek at the vinification process.

From beginners to connoisseurs

In addition to the walking tour, Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake organizes a twice-daily Wine School, introducing you to wines from Yamanashi and neighbouring Nagano Prefecture, which together account for over half of Japan’s wine production.

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Oenophiles can also reserve a spot at the monthly Makers’ Dinner, a chance to hear a local producer opening up about their methods.

And every day, you can taste and compare wines from the wine shop, which stocks 24 local varieties. A self-service system allows you to sample different tipples and, armed with a handbook, detect the differences.

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Winemaker Mie Ikeno, the resort’s partner, is particularly skilled at bringing out the natural sweetness and lack of acidity that characterize Yatsugatake grapes.

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She studied her art in France and uses no herbicide, minimum pesticide and a “Gravity Flow System” that allows the squeezed juices and fermented wine to flow naturally downwards without pumps.

Look out for her excellent Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Spring pairings

During spring, Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake is offering a special pairing menu with fresh seasonal fare. Spring brings a glut of new ingredients to Japanese cuisine, and you’ll be treated to the perfect pairings with local wines.

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How about an appetizer of asparagus, boiled to retain its vivid colour and crunchy texture and served with fresh mushrooms?

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It’s paired with a Rue de Vin Sauvignon Blanc from Togi City, Nagano, with the wine’s hint of fresh herbs and rich fruitiness perfectly complementing the bitterness of asparagus.

You’ll also taste Japan’s famed spring takenoko (bamboo shoots) in a risotto with plenty of vegetable umami, wrapped in a paste of bamboo charcoal and squid ink.

A refreshing Domaine Oyamada BOW! Blanc from Koshu City, Yamanashi delivers citric notes to bring out the flavours of the paste and a sweetness to complement the takenoko.

If you’re feeling inspired, you can sign up for a pairing course with one of the resort’s sommeliers.

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Each season lends itself to different combinations, with spring cuisine particularly adapted to rosé wines made using lightly fermented black grapes and orange wines produced by pickling the skins of grapes used for white wine.

Relax with wine

The final ingredient of your stay?

A relaxing session at the resort’s VINO SPA, where you can choose from a body scrub using Merlot grapes or a grape seed oil treatment.

spa

At Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake, you get to experience Japanese wine in all its facets!

2 alternative spring destinations

Imagine walking through fresh green pastures on volcanic hillsides, a magnificent carpet of pale pink azalea at your feet and views of wispy smoke rising from conical peaks in the distance. Or sailing down a river lined on both sides with pink sakura from the comfort of a traditional hand-paddled houseboat.

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Easily accessible from Tokyo by plane or train, the regions of Aso and Kaga offer an alternative take on spring rejuvenation, closer to nature and far from the seasonal crowds.

Rampant reawakening in Aso

Spring is one of the most fascinating times to visit the region of Aso in Kyushu, Japan’s southern island. The area’s volcanic landscapes transform from golden grasslands to black wastelands following the grass-burning tradition of noyaki, and then quickly take on fresh green hues dotted with swathes of ebullient Alpine flowers.

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aso-volcano

Nestled in the heart of the Aso-Kuju National Park, Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso offers a prime location to experience this seasonal transformation.

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kai-aso

This luxury ryokan is composed of stylish private villas, each with its own outdoor hot spring bath, and stands just 3 miles from a major trailhead – the starting point for exploring the stunning scenery of this beautifully-preserved wilderness.

Shrouded in pink blooms

One of the most iconic images of Kyushu in the spring is the tapestry of fresh pink and purple flowers weaved into green hillsides. These are Kyushu azaleas, a unique variety of the shrub known as miyamakirishima in Japanese, meaning “azalea that blooms high in the mountains.”

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kyushu-azalées-2

The peak time to admire these vibrant flowers is mid-May to early June, with Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso organizing special outings during this period to guide guests to the best spots. And if hiking is not your thing, staff can organize a horseback trip, even for novice riders.

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Nature on a grand scale

From the dining room of Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso, you can admire the craggy peaks of mighty Mt. Aso. If you’re a hiker, you’ll want to clamber on its rocky slopes. But the must-visit site for all is the Daikanbo observation point, which offers a dramatic vantage point on Aso’s enormous caldera, a 15-mile crater dug out by a volcanic eruption some 90,000 years ago.

Daikanbo

Further south, the Takachiho Gorge is a spectacularly deep chasm that can be navigated in a rental row boat or hiked from above.

Takachiho

Minainotaki

Either way, you’ll see the 17-meter high Minainotaki waterfall surrounded by the young foliage of spring.

Kaga: a brief history of Japan

Looking for another idea for your spring trip?

Nestled between the Sea of Japan and the towering peaks of the Hakusan National Park, Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga is just 3 hours by train from Tokyo.

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This hot spring ryokan features architectural elements from the 4th century – combined with contemporary comforts like large terraces and private onsens in many rooms.

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kai-kaga-terrace

One of the most famed spring attractions in the Kaga area is the view along the Daishoji River, where Yoshino cherry trees flaunt their photogenic pink blossoms, huddled up in lines at the edge of the water. During peak sakura season, Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga offers guests a private chartered houseboat along the river, steered by a local boatman.

river-cruise

As you cruise gently along the water, you’ll be offered the local roasted green tea, Boucha, with wagashi sweet cake. Away from the crowds, there are few better ways to appreciate the ephemeral beauty of spring.

Spring specialities

Some of Japan’s most celebrated sights are close to Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga. The Kenrokuen Garden, a free shuttle bus away, is known as one of Japan’s 3 most beautiful landscape gardens – and spring is one of the best periods to admire its flowering expanses.

Kenrokuen

Kenrokuen-garden

At night, the sakura are lit up to magical effect.

A little further out, the remote mountain regions of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are famed for their thatched, sloping-roofed farmhouses, a style known as gassho-zukuri. Surrounded by rice fields and dominated by forested hills, the villages come to life in spring after the snowy winter, embellished by budding horsetails, lilies and cherry blossoms.

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Shirakawa-go-2

And don’t forget to visit the nearby city of Kanazawa, where you can discover historical districts once known for their geisha and samurai, not to mention Myoryu-ji, an Edo Period complex built in ninja style with hidden floors and secret staircases.

kanazawa-castle

sakura

And, of course, you’ll be able to admire cherry blossoms aplenty as you wander the city’s streets.

Like to enjoy this kind of experience yourself?

Book yourself into Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga, a hot springs ryokan where immersive relaxation and gourmet Japanese dining make for a memorable experience.

Understanding Japan’s drinking culture

Did you know you should never refill your own sake cup? That it’s frowned upon to take a sip before everyone has a drink in their hand? Or that the art of drinking is seen as an essential communication tool for advancing careers?

In Japan, having a drink is a unique chance to get to know people outside formal relationships – especially for work colleagues, who engage in less workplace chit-chat than in the West.

champagne

If you’re looking to build closer links with Japanese business partners or you’d simply like to get to know the locals, you’ll need to master the art of nominication. This hybrid word combines the Japanese word for drinking “nomu” and the English word “communication” and it’s viewed as a precious skill in Japan!

First-hand experience

This spring, Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka is offering guests a special insider’s introduction to nominication, with a local guide offering you tips and advice as you tour different drinking joints in the northern Tokyo neighborhood of Otsuka.

Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka

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Guided by your OMO Ranger, you’ll enter local bars unknown to most tourists, learn the subtleties of social drinking, and have plenty of opportunities to practice your new-found communications skills with locals!

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Drinking with others

So, what are the rules of thumb you need to respect when drinking with Japanese people?

Most importantly, it’s considered impolite to fill up your own glass. In Japan, drinks such as sake or even beer are often served in a big bottle or jug and each individual is given their own small cup or glass.

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It’s customary to pour a drink for others in your group but never pour your own. If you’d like a refill, simply offer to pour for your neighbor, who will reciprocate by filling your cup. If you don’t want to drink anymore, leave your cup topped up, although it’s polite to take a small sip if your neighbor insists. Another tip: a senior person within the group (such as your boss) will expect you to fill their cup first.

Other faux-pas to avoid? Make sure you wait until everyone has been served before you take your first sip. It’s traditional to kick off the evening with a toast of “kampai” and for everyone to take their first drink together.

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Note that the Western toast “chin-chin” is to be avoided at all costs as it’s a euphemism for male genitalia in Japanese!

A range of drinking dens

When you sign up for the nominication tour at Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka, you’ll learn more than Japanese drinking etiquette; you’ll also get an insight into the different types of drinking establishments in Japan.

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Otsuka is one of Tokyo’s best-kept secrets, a place of narrow streets lined with small bars, sake joints and craft beer specialists. Throughout the evening, you’ll discover 3 different places, including a tachinomiya, a stand-up bar where drinking takes precedence over sitting down, and a typical Japanese izakaya pub.

The latter are famed in Japan for their nomihodai, 2 to 3-hour sessions during which you can drink as much as you like for a set price – although you won’t have time to sample these on your guided tour!

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In most izakaya, alcohol is accompanied by light snacks. These are the Japanese equivalent of tapas, with common dishes including wasabi green peas, surume dried shredded squid and spicy edamame soy beans.

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Alcohol in all its forms

During your tour, you can also taste a range of different Japanese alcohols. Why not start with a beer? While the lagers Kirin, Sapporo and Asahi are household names, Japan has a burgeoning craft beer scene, and you’ll be able to sample the like of dark ale, bitter and IPA.

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No drinking night would be complete without sampling sake, better-known as nihonshu in Japan. The famed rice-wine can be served warm or chilled. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not order shochu, a distilled liquor often made from sweet potato or barley. Or how about umeshu plum wine or a Japanese whisky?

Spring season

OMO Rangers will be running the nominication tour at Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka until the end of May to coincide with spring, the season when Japanese people traditionally begin careers or change jobs. It’s a unique chance to sample Japan’s drinking culture from the inside.

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If you can’t make it, you can still experience insider tours of the local bars, sake joints and restaurants any time of the year by signing up with an OMO Ranger.

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The concept at the heart of Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka is to let you discover Tokyo as only the locals know it!

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The ultimate sakura experience in Kyoto

A spring visit to Kyoto is on many people’s bucket lists. The city’s famed temples are even more photogenic framed against the ephemeral whites and pinks of cherry blossoms. It’s a period when you can get up-close to Kyoto’s exclusive geisha thanks to a series of annual dances open to the public.

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What’s more, spring brings exciting new ingredients to Kyoto’s world-renowned kaiseki cuisine.

But spring also brings tourists in their hundreds of thousands. Which is why a little inside knowledge can help you beat the crowds and make the most of your stay.

How about getting off the beaten track with a boat ride down a valley overlooked by swathes of ancient cherry trees? Or an exclusive springtime meal on a private riverside terrace with views of cherry blossom lit up at night?

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This spring, HOSHINOYA Kyoto is offering both experiences to its guests. And because it’s located in a wooded area in western Arashiyama, this traditional ryokan is a great place to get away from the bustle of sakura-season Kyoto.

Flower-viewing in nature

The boat tour from HOSHINOYA Kyoto is certainly the most peaceful way to contemplate the cherry blossom.

river

From your ryokan, you’ll take a private house-boat, following the meanders of the Oi river through bucolic hillsides thick with seasonal sakura. The slopes on either side of the river are home to around 1500 cherry trees, including yoshino and yamazakura varieties that are said to date back to the beginning of the 13th century.

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As part of your boat trip, you’ll be offered a hanami (flower-viewing) bento lunchbox, containing seasonal treats, plus a trio of green teas.

Kyoto’s top cherry blossom spots

While the boat trip is contemplative, Kyoto’s city centre is buzzing in springtime. But there are also are a number of excellent sakura spots less frequented by tourists.

Start in Arashiyama, the leafy district of HOSHINOYA Kyoto. You’ll find cherry blossom aplenty in the lavish gardens of Tenryu-ji, a monumental Zen temple founded in 1339. Just a short walk away, Kameyama-koen park rises up to a panoramic viewpoint with sakura lining its paths.

Tenryu-ji-Temple

Temple-Tenryu-ji

In central Kyoto, it’s worth braving the inevitable crowds at the Imperial Palace Park for the stunning weeping cherry trees (shidare-zakura). Perhaps most popular of all is Maruyama Park with its showcase shidare-zakura lit up at night. Come with your own picnic, as it’s a great spot for a hanami party, as are the banks of the Kamo river.

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Maruyama

You can expect lighter crowds on Philosopher’s Path, a canal-side walkway lined with hundreds of sakura trees on both sides of the water. Hillside Shinyo-do temple is also off most tourists’ radar and boasts spectacular cherry tree-filled grounds.

Shinyo-do-Temple

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During sakura season, many parts of Kyoto are illuminated at night so you can carry on appreciating the cherry blossom even when it’s dark. Highlights include the world-famed Kiyomizu-dera and Kodai-ji temples, as well as Nijo Castle.

Gourmet spring

The arrival of spring brings exciting new ingredients to Kyoto cuisine. Chief among them is takenoko bamboo shoots. It’s a Japanese tradition to eat these young shoots in spring when they are at their most crisp, succulent and juicy. And Kyoto is famed nationwide for its exceptional production.

The best way to sample takenoko is as part of a multi-course kaiseki menu, a Kyoto speciality. And this is precisely what HOSHINOYA Kyoto offers during sakura season – with the added bonus of a private table on an outdoor terrace with views of illuminated yamazakura cherry blossom.

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Overlooking the Oi river, you’ll dine on a seasonal menu specially created by award-winning chef Ichiro Kubota. You can expect spring greens, ghost shrimp with wild vegetables, Spanish mackerel roasted with rapeseed and, of course, takenoko rice, the purest way to appreciate the natural meatiness and soft texture of young bamboo shoots.

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spring-soup

This is Kyoto’s spring at its most delectable and romantic.

Geisha dance

The final ingredient of your springtime stay in Kyoto? A ticket to see geisha, known locally as geiko, performing traditional dance and music.

Spring is a unique opportunity to admire Kyoto’s famed geiko up-close at the Miyako Odori and Kyo Odori, daily shows held at local theatres to celebrate the coming of spring. Make sure you book your tickets well in advance!

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kyoto-geiko

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