All about onsen

As a land of volcanic activity, Japan has plenty of hot springs. In total, there are estimated to be some 30,000 dotted around the country, with around 3,000 transformed into onsen resorts. These facilities offer traditional ryokan-style accommodation, allowing guests to make the most of the bathing experience.

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If you’re looking for a unique insight into Japanese culture – as well as total-body relaxation, a visit to an onsen is a must. But what kind of onsen should you choose? How should you behave in the public baths? And how can you get the most from your hot spring experience?

A long history

In Japan, the official definition of hot springs is any water, steam or gas that originates from underground at a temperature of at least 25C and contains different salts and minerals. Most hot springs are of volcanic origin, with the water heated by magma several kilometres deep into the Earth’s crust and jettisoned to the surface. In onsen facilities, the water temperature is usually around 40C.

Hot springs have long had an important role in Japanese society, closely associated with the ritualistic cleansing of body and soul since the rise of Buddhism in the 6th century.

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And from the early 18th century, they were recognized by the medical community for their curative and restorative powers. Today, numerous hot spring hospitals still offer treatments for everything from rheumatism to post-operation recovery.

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Many towns have forged their reputation on the quality of their onsen. Hakone, home to Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone, is known nationwide for its baths dating back to the 8th century.

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And in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa has a century-old history. It was established in 1914 by Kasuke Hoshino, and has since been transformed into a luxury onsen resort by the 4th generation of the family.

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Mineral benefits

The mineral content of hot springs can vary significantly depending on their source. And each type of hot spring is said to have different effects on the skin and body, with many Japanese people claiming to feel the difference as soon as they enter the water.

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A so-called “simple” hot spring is one that contains only small amounts of minerals and has an alkaline pH of 8.5 or more. These hot springs, which include those at lakeside Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko in the Nikko National Park, are known for reducing fatigue and gently stimulating the skin. The alkalinity also helps to soften collagen and remove sebum, an oily secretion that can cause acne.

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Chloride hot springs, such as Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone, are rich in chloride and sodium, with the salt coating the body and helping to warm and moisturize the skin. Sulfate baths, meanwhile, help hydrate the skin, protecting it from drying out and accelerating the body’s natural healing process.

At Hoshino Resorts KAI Ito on the Izu Peninsula, the sulfate baths are also rich in calcium, giving the skin a smooth, silky glow.

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Private or public

Most onsen offer single-sex public bathing, where visitors must respect a certain etiquette. This involves washing your body and hair at the shower space before you enter the water, tying up long hair and covering any tattoos. And you need to be naked: swimming costumes are not allowed! To optimize the experience, many Japanese use special breathing and stretching exercises to draw minerals into the body and improve the circulation.

At Hoshino Resorts, the onsen feature both indoor and outdoor public baths, usually with a view of nature.

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At Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone, you can bathe while contemplating the verdant hillsides of Mt. Yusaka. And at Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu hotel, the outdoor baths overlook the spectacular Oirase Gorge.

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For an original onsen experience, head to HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, where you can bathe in the dark, or to HOSHINOYA Tokyo, where the roof-top baths are open all through the night, allowing you to gaze up at the stars in the middle of Tokyo.

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And for the ultimate luxury, why not treat yourself to a room with your own private onsen? Many Hoshino Resorts properties offer this service, but perhaps the ultimate setting is at Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso, where each private villa features an expansive terrace with a large hot spring tub, illuminated by a flaming torch at night.

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What better way to loosen your muscles after a day walking in the volcanic wilderness of the surrounding Aso-Kuju National Park?


Now you’ve read the article, test your knowledge with our Onsen Quiz!

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24 hours at Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko

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From Tokyo, it’s just over 2 hours by train to reach Nikko. Set within the mountainous Nikko National Park, this small city is instantly likeable thanks to its laid-back vibe and cool climate.

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If you’re only staying one night at Hoshino Resort KAI Nikko, make the most of your time by heading straight to the city’s must-see Toshogu Shrine. You can leave your luggage in a locker at the station.

1pm

As you approach Toshogu, it feels like you’re walking into a grandiose past. Giant 17th-century cedar trees tower above the wide path before an immense stone torii gate announces the entrance to one of Japan’s most exuberant temples. The site’s vibrantly colored, gold-bedecked buildings sprawl across the forest, a fitting show of opulence for the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo period.

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Must-sees include the Yomeimon Gate, lavishly embellished with 500-plus richly-painted carvings, and the intricate friezes of the Sacred Stable, including the famous “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil” monkeys.

If you have time, there’s plenty more to explore in Nikko, including Rinnoji, an imposing temple housing 3 magnificent gilded statues.

3pm

Take a bus or taxi to Lake Chuzenji, whose shores house Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko. After 30 minutes of steep switchbacks, you’ll arrive at over 1200m altitude, where the land levels out and the lake lies before you.

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Thanks to its setting above the road, Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko offers magnificent panoramas.

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From the reception area, the impressive Mt. Nantai volcano (2486m) looms in the foreground, while forested mountains encircle the lake.

4pm

You’ll be guided to your room via a corridor of tatami – which means socks or bare feet only. In total, some 1,700 tatami mats line the ryokan’s floors, including those of your room.

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Inside, modern comfort (raised mattresses and comfy chairs) fuses with upscale ryokan tradition (shoji sliding doors, complementary yukata robe). And the furnishings feature intricate elements of the local kanuma kumiko latticework.

5pm

Treat yourself to a soak in the hot spring baths. You can choose from indoor or outdoor bathing in the single-sex onsen, and there’s an additional outdoor bath available at different times to men and women.

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Lie back in the naturally warm Chuzenji waters, known for their softness, and feel the stress seeping from your body.

7pm

Every night, Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko holds a special tap-dancing show to celebrate the Nikko geta, a sturdy straw sandal designed to withstand the harsh local climate.

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During the show, you’ll learn all about the geta – and performers will demonstrate its extreme robustness with an energetic routine. Be prepared to don your own pair and join in!

7.30pm

Time to treat your palate to the delights of Nikko cuisine. The restaurant’s multi-course kaiseki menu marries local specialities with creative cuisine and beautiful presentation.

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Yuba (tofu skin) is served in a soy milk hotpot with melt-in-your-mouth wagyu beef. Expect tempura of mountain vegetables and thick slices of fresh sashimi served with aromatic shiso flowers. To accompany the dishes, there’s a wide choice of local sake.

10pm

If it’s a clear night, head to the lounge. With minimal light pollution, Chuzenji offers world-class star-gazing. A great way to ensure a sound night’s sleep.

8am

Start the day with a hearty Japanese breakfast. You’ll need the energy, so fuel up on the likes of fresh yuzu juice, trout from the lake, tofu and mushrooms.

9am

You’re all set to explore the wilderness on your doorstep. Land or lake? It’s up to you.

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If you take to the water, you can choose between a cruise (a great way to admire the autumn colors), stand-up paddle boarding or fishing. And if you prefer to stick to land, the options are endless. How about taking the half-hour bus ride up to Yumoto onsen and walking back down via the old-growth forest of Lake Yunoko, the spectacular falls of Yudaki and Ryuzu and the wildlife-rich marshlands of Senjogahara?

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You can take the bus back at various points depending on how long you want to walk. Hardened hikers can tackle the hilly 25km round-the-lake trail or head up the steep climb to Mt. Nantai. And don’t forget to visit Kegon Falls, one of Japan’s most spectacular – and just a few minutes’ walk from the ryokan.

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At Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko, there is truly a whole world to explore outside your window.

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Taketomi’s Tanadui festival

Situated around 1,200 miles south-west of Tokyo in Okinawa Prefecture, the tiny sub-tropical island of Taketomi has its own unique culture. Every year, it celebrates these time-honored traditions in some 30 different festivals. By far the most important – and most spectacular – of these is the Tanadui festival, held every autumn to pray for a plentiful harvest.

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The festival comprises 10 days of prayers, theatre, dance and music, culminating in 2 days when over 80 lively performances are enacted by exuberant, colourfully-clothed locals.

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As part of its mission to celebrate the island culture, HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island is inviting guests to experience the festival from the inside. Stay at this luxury resort and you’ll be able to participate in a ceremony alongside the islanders, get insights from local guides, and enjoy the culinary treats of one of Okinawa’s most original festivals.

Preserving tradition

Tanadui is held every year in the ninth month of the lunar calendar (14-23 October in 2019). The festival dates back some 600 years and is designated as one of Japan’s Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties. For such a tiny island (Taketomi measures just 1 mile wide and 3 miles long), it’s a major celebration.

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When HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island was established in 2012, its founding principle was to coexist with the island – and the Tanadui festival is an important part of that. The resort is made up of private villas, built in the island’s signature style of wood and red roof tiles, with white sand streets and stacked coral walls perfectly mirroring the style of Taketomi’s three small villages.

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Islanders regularly come to the HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island to demonstrate their culture, arts and cuisine. And, at the entrance to the resort lies a vegetable garden that plays a key role in the Tanadui festival.

Sowing the seeds

While agriculture was once a major part of life on Taketomi island, most locals now make their living by other means, including tourism. In order to preserve the island’s farming traditions, HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island has worked with the older generation to maintain age-old techniques and keep flagship produce growing on the island. Head to the resort’s garden and, alongside rows of Taketomi potato, you’ll find an area reserved for foxtail millet – a key ingredient of the Tanadui festival.

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Millet seeds are sown as part of Tanadui and islanders perform a special dance to win favour with the Gods for a successful crop. Foxtail millet is also a key ingredient in much of the festival’s food – but, for many years, it had to be imported specially for Tanadui. That all changed last year, when the first crop from the resort’s garden was used as an offering for the Gods.

This year, the gardens will again be the site of the ceremonial sowing of millet seeds on the fifth day of the festival, following by Shinto chanting. Guests are welcome to come and see the event for themselves.

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In addition, HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island will be serving a special festival breakfast (1-23 October) featuring dishes such as gokokumai, a mix of rice and foxtail millet, and andansu, made with millet and miso.

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In the afternoons, you’ll be able to sample a traditional festival snack called Iiyachi, a sweet rice cake of millet and red beans. And early evening, you can treat yourself to 3 types of pindako, a Tanadui garlic-and-octopus dish made using recipes from 3 different islanders.

Sing, dance, chant

The festival’s eighth and ninth days (21-22 October) are the liveliest, with some 80 performances staged in honor of the deities. And, thanks to special tours organized by HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island, you’ll be able to experience them to the full.

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On the eve of the eighth day, the locals perform a ceremony known a Yukui, visiting houses in the village while chanting a prayer. Homeowners offer the visitors pindako, along with salt and awamori (Okinawan sake). By signing up with HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island, you can take part in the ceremony, training with staff to practice the chants beforehand: an immersive experience you’ll remember for a long time to come!

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During the climactic two days of performance, you can opt for a guided visit of the festival with a local expert. From the side lines, you’ll hear about the different costumes, music, dances and kyogen (comic theatre sketches) that make Tanadui such an exuberant and memorable moment in the islanders’ year.


Photo Credits:

Tetsushi Kimura / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Kanazawa cuisine

If you’re a fan of Japanese cuisine, the central Honshu city of Kanazawa is one to put on your wish-list. Set between the Sea of Japan and the Japanese Alps, it is blessed with ideal conditions for growing quality rice and a whole range of unique vegetables.

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And thanks to its coastal location between the cool northern and warm southern currents, its fish and seafood are famed throughout Japan. Combine these natural resources with a tradition of culinary knowhow, and you’ll understand why Kanazawa is a foodie favourite.

At Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga, you can sample some of the region’s most famed dishes, from steamed snow crabs to fresh abalone sashimi, in an upscale hot spring ryokan.

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You can easily spend a few days in the area, exploring not just the culinary scene, but also Kanazawa’s rich culture and history.

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Known as “Little Kyoto”, the city boasts wonderfully-preserved geisha and samurai districts, as well as one of Japan’s most celebrated gardens.

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Gourmet tradition

Just 3 hours by train from Tokyo, Kanazawa has a varied food scene, commonly known as “Kaga cuisine”. In the feudal period, the ruling Maeda family brought advanced cooking techniques to the region, and the culinary tradition lives on today.

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Specialities include jibuni, tender duck coated in flour or potato starch and simmered in a soy-based broth, gori-kara-age, crispy deep-fried fish that come bite-sized, and hasu-mushi, lotus root delicately steamed with vegetables, shrimps and seasonal fish. But there is much more to Kaga cuisine.

Fresh catch

One of the great pleasures of a trip to Kanazawa is treating yourself to some of Japan’s freshest and most flavorsome seafood.

Crab season runs from November to March, with the snow crab (zuwaigani) prized as winter’s choice treat.  At Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga, you can sample a particularly creative zuwaigani dish known as shimenawa-mushi, snow crab steamed in a saltwater-soaked rope to make it plumper, juicier and more concentrated in umami.

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You’ll also find crab served throughout the multi-course kaiseki menu: charcoal-grilled, fried, as raw sashimi or in a shabu-shabu hotpot with rice porridge.

Each season brings a new seafood delight. In summer, Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga serves abalone sashimi floating in ice water with a special liver-based or hard tofu sauce.

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In autumn, you can look forward to the much-prized blackthroat seaperch served as a delicate sashimi, or rosy seabass, a fatty white fish accompanied by seasonal vegetables.

All year round, the restaurant uses special crockery, carefully picked out to accentuate the presentation of the food.

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This meticulous marriage of plate and dish is a tradition of Kaga cuisine, inspired by the philosophy of legendary Japanese artist and epicurean Kitaooji Rosanjin, who famously said that “the plate is the kimono of a dish”.

Native vegetables

Thanks to high-quality water from the Hakusan Mountains, the plain of Kaga provides a fertile ground for growing excellent rice (which, in turn, produces top-class sake) and so-called Kaga vegetables.

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Some 15 vegetables are recognised by Kanazawa City Agricultural Association as native Kaga vegetables, each with their own distinct form and colour.

The small heta murasaki eggplant, is delicious in noodle dishes thanks to its thin skin and soft flesh. The satsumaimo sweet potato is baked to heighten its soft, flaky texture, while the kinjiso is a leafy green-and-purple vegetable with a deep flavour when served as tempura.

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For a unique vegetable experience, head to nearby Kaga City to test the Kaga Parfait: a five-layered dessert made by combining Kaga vegetables with sponge cake and jelly.

Must-visit market

Even if you’re not a foodie, make sure you visit the bustling Omicho market, dubbed the “Kitchen of Kanazawa”. Held every day, it’s a hive of activity, with locals shopping around for the freshest fish, stall-holders pushing carts through the maze of alleys, and businessmen queuing up to eat in the numerous restaurants.

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Many stalls prepare and serve seafood dishes in front of you. At Shimada Suisan, you can sample anything from fresh crab to juicy oysters and plump Kuro shrimp. Or head to Shunsai Yaki, where abalone steak is grilled in front of you, served with homemade sauce and butter.

Other highlights include Tofu Shop Futaroku, where you can see tofu being made from the shop’s own homemade soy milk. And, before you leave, take the time to sample at least one of the more than 50 local sakes on sale. Kanazawa is reputed for producing some of Japan’s very best!

Escape the Tokyo heat

Tokyo is a thrilling place in the summer. On top of its regular range of world-class attractions, it offers up an extra dose of estival excitement in the form of spectacular festivals, firework extravaganzas and lively beer gardens.

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But the city can get hot and sticky in summer – and, after all that urban buzz, you may fancy a change of pace and scenery. So why not head out of town to catch some sea breeze or mountain air? Thanks to excellent transport links, the possibilities for day-trips are almost endless.

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If you’re staying at HOSHINOYA Tokyo, the main train station is just a 10-minute walk away. And, after your day out, you’ll be able to luxuriate in the open-air hot spring baths on the ryokan’s top floor.

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Alternatively, book yourself into Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka to discover Tokyo from a local’s perspective.

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Beaches and bathing

There are several beaches within easy reach of the capital. Around an hour by train to the south-west, the Shonan area is a long stretch of coastline that follows Sagami bay. It’s known for its milder climate, long volcanic beaches and as a hotspot for Tokyoite surfers. And on a clear day, you’ll have magisterial views of Mt. Fuji.

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Among the most popular beaches is Zushi, a 60-minute trip on the Yokosuka line. Because it’s easy to get to, the beach quickly gets crowded on hot days. The swell also means it’s a popular destination for surfers, windsurfers and paddle boarders.

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Another crowd-pleaser is the island of Enoshima (1hr 15 by train), connected to the mainland by a bridge. On top of its sandy beaches, it’s home to a famous shrine, an aquarium and the Iwaya Caves, an underground network formed by oceanic erosion.

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Fancy getting away from the crowds? Head to Hayama, a quiet coastal stretch that requires an additional 20-minute bus ride from Zushi. Hayama-Isshiki is a kilometre-long sandy beach surrounded by rolling green hills. The water is clear, the atmosphere laid-back and the sunsets are stunning.

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Hayama

A little further south, Morito beach is overlooked by a torii gate perched on rocks in the sea. The shallow water makes it kid-friendly and a good place for snorkelling.

Nature in Greater Tokyo

Even in the world’s most populous city, verdant surroundings may be closer than you think. Within the Tokyo Metropolis, there are several easy day-trips to immerse yourself in nature.

The Todoroki ravine is just 20 minutes by train from central Tokyo but a world apart in atmosphere. From the station of Todoroki, you’ll walk through a residential neighbourhood, before descending into a valley of greenery.

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A short path follows the Yazawa River over boardwalks and stepping stones, past a waterfall and a temple. There’s even a teahouse where you can try the local speciality, sticky kuzumochi cakes.

Further away – but still within Tokyo’s western boundary – lies Okutama. Around 2 hours by train, this is a region of limestone mountains, verdant forests, lakes and rivers, all set within the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park.

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Keen hikers can set off to conquer Mt. Kumotori, Tokyo’s highest at 2017m, and be rewarded by first-rate views of Mt. Fuji. Casual walkers can follow paths through the Hatonosu Keikoku valley, taking in suspension bridges and waterfalls.

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The area’s limestone rocks offer excellent canyoning, while the Nippara Limestone Cave plunges you underground to admire stalagmites half-a-mile deep into the mountainside. Okutama is also well-known for its wasabi production.

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Keep your eyes peeled and you may spot wild wasabi in the forests.

A shinkansen ride away

Hop on Japan’s famed bullet train, and a world of day-trips open up to you.  Just over an hour away, Karuizawa is a hot spring mountain resort set at 1000m in the foothills of the Japanese Alps. The climate is much cooler than Tokyo, and it’s a great introduction to the mountains.

How about a leisurely hike past the celebrated waterfalls of Shiraito and Ryugaeshi? Or a guided wildlife tour?

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To make the most of this beautiful region, stay the night at HOSHINOYA Kariuzawa.

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Another prime shinkansen outing is the 2-hour trip to Nikko, set in a National Park with easy access to Lake Chuzenji, the Kegon Falls and the exuberant Toshogu Shrine temple complex.

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And if you’re not ready to head back to Tokyo straight away, why not make a weekend of it? Lakeside Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko is the perfect spot to prolong your time in the mountain air.

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Kawadoko: dining on the river

Kyoto can get hot in the summer. The city is set in a valley, and the surrounding Tamba highlands trap in the heat and humidity. This means one of the great pleasures of the summer – al fresco dining – can be a sticky experience. Fortunately, the locals have come up with an ingenious way to cool down during meal time: they dine in the middle of the river!

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From May to September, many Kyoto restaurants set up dining areas on top of the river. The natural coolness of the water can reduce the temperature by several degrees, while the sound of the flowing river underneath provides a serene soundtrack during your meal.

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And, during July and August, you can enjoy more waterside relaxation at HOSHINOYA Kyoto.

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This luxury ryokan, set among forested hills in the west of the city, is organizing a special program to help you unwind while beating the heat, offering everything from floating terrace seats in the garden to meditation sessions by the water.

Kamo river platforms

This year, around 100 Kyoto restaurants are expected to mount water-top terraces known as noryoyuka (“cool breeze platform”) or kawadoko (“floor on the river”). The practice is strictly controlled and requires a permit. Most kawadoko are temporary wooden terraces or decks mounted above the river. Traditionally, the floor is made of tatami mats.

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The main showcase for kawadoko is the mile-and-a-half stretch along the Kamo river between the Nijo and Gojo bridges. While the terraces were originally reserved for traditional Japanese restaurants, you can now enjoy noryoyuka dining in almost any style of international cuisine.

Even if you don’t eat in one of the Kamo river kawadoko, it’s worth taking a stroll in the area after nightfall: with the terraces lit up, the atmosphere is lively and entertaining.

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Closer to nature

If you’re looking for an authentic kawadoko experience out of the city, head to Kibune in the north. Set in a verdant valley, this small mountain town is a 30-minute train ride from central Kyoto, with some local restaurants running free shuttle buses from the station.

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The town is reputed for its spectacular kawadoko perched above the Kibune river. Many of the terraces are dramatically situated above or below frothing waterfalls and the river is so close, you can bend down and touch it. Even on Kyoto’s hottest days, the temperature on Kibune’s kawadoko is a reliable 23 to 24 degrees, making it well worth the trip out of town.

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Most restaurants in Kibune are upscale and serve local Japanese cuisine. At Kibunesou, you can treat yourself to freshly salted and grilled ayu (sweetfish) or to hotpots such as sukiyaki and shabu-shabu.

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A fun option is to test the experience of nagashi somen: thin wheat noodles are sent sliding down a bamboo pipe in front of your table, and you have to catch them with your chopsticks!

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Hirobun restaurant is a good option for nagashi somen. The staff will even offer you a fan to cool yourself down while you wait for a table.

Noryoyuka at your ryokan

For the full kawadoko experience, book yourself into HOSHINOYA Kyoto. This riverside ryokan, set on the outskirts of the historic district of Arashiyama, is organizing a special program of waterside experiences inspired by kawadoko.

The ryokan’s traditional Japanese garden features a waterfall and pond – and during July and August, you can relax on the water thanks to tatami platforms positioned in the pond and accessible via stepping stones.

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With the cool pond underfoot and cascading falls behind you, you’ll feel like you’re floating on water, fully immersed in the ryokan’s natural surroundings.

To add to the mood of tranquil contemplation, a number of original wind chimes (furin) have been dotted around the terrace, crafted by local artists.

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And in the evening, the platforms transform into a stage to host a concert of traditional Japanese music. What better way to enjoy a warm summer evening than by listening to the ethereal plucking of the shamisen against a backdrop of trickling water and chirping cicadas? To complete the experience, you just need a drink in your hand.

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The ryokan’s pop-up Noryo bar serves a range of Japanese whiskeys and original cocktails inspired by the summer.

Before you head to your room, why not join the ryokan’s stretching and breathing activity?

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At the end of the session, you’ll meditate quietly in front of the pond, contemplating the shimmering image of 400-year-old maples reflected in the water.

Digital detox at HOSHINOYA

Imagine spending a few days free of the stresses and pressures of modern life. Cocooned in a luxury ryokan, reflecting on the ocean alone on an island, chanting meditative sutras in a Zen temple, or pampered with a shiatsu body treatment.

You’ll be immersed in a world of contemplative calm and timeless tradition, a chance to reconnect with nature, rejuvenate your mind and rebalance your body.

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This is the experience offered by HOSHINOYA’s luxury ryokans. Dubbed “Digital Detox”, the themed stays are offered all year round and celebrate local culture through activities that promote wellbeing and mindfulness. And each ryokan has its own unique approach, inspired by local history and culture.

Zero digital distractions

Your program will be for 2 or 3 days, depending on the ryokan. Take your pick from 5 locations across Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, Fuji, Karuizawa in the Japanese Alps, or the sub-tropical Taketomi Island in Okinawa.

Wherever you choose, your stay starts the same way. As soon as you step in the ryokan, you’ll be asked to give up your smartphone, laptop and other devices at the entrance. From now on, all that matters is the here and now.

-_0002_【星のや東京】Tokyo Digital Device Box

Tokyo swordsmanship

It may be situated in the heart of Japan’s capital, but HOSHINOYA Tokyo is an oasis of calm. The moment you enter, you’ll feel soothed by the soft rush of tatami mats underfoot.

tatami-tokyo

Resort booking banner HOSHINOYA TOKYO

For the Digital Detox program, you’ll be taught traditional swordsmanship from a dojo master. By learning the essential moves and swinging techniques, you’ll clear your mind, become more aware of your upper body and free up your shoulders from everyday stress.

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sword

Day 2 begins with meditation, where you’ll learn to adjust your breathing, posture and mind. And you’ll also have a chance to try out your new-found skills by slicing bread with a sword!

Finally, you’ll head to the open-air hot spring baths on the ryokan’s top floor to rest your body and contemplate the sky through the open roof.

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Kyoto contemplation

Surrounded by forested hills, HOSHINOYA Kyoto offers a Digital Detox stay that engages all five senses.

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You’ll discover the traditional incense ceremony, learning to appreciate the different fragrances and their calming effects. And you’ll take time to craft your own incense burner.

The next morning begins early, in a Zen temple. Here, you’ll join a small group to chant sutras in a mesmerizing ritual that uses posture and breathing to calm the mind. It’s a unique experience, one that will stay with you for a long time.

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During the 2 days, you’ll also practice stretching and breathing techniques to induce sleep, and you’ll be treated to a contemplative hour-long boat ride on your own along the Katsura river.

-_0010_【星のや京都】Kyoto Digital Detox

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Fuji pilgrimage

The focus of the program at HOSHINOYA Fuji is Rokkon-shojo, a philosophy that purifies the body and mind by rejecting worldly desires. Historically, Rokkon-shojo is closely linked to the worship of Mt. Fuji, and you’ll begin with a short walk to pilgrim lodgings that have served worshippers for over 400 years.

Here, you’ll learn the basics of the philosophy, which you will then practice while trekking in the shadow of Fuji.

-_0006_【星のや富士】Fuji Image

-_0009_【星のや】Fuji Image

The reward for your physical effort is an original menu at HOSHINOYA Fuji celebrating local cuisine. Finish your day around an open fire in the woods overlooking Fuji-san.

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Resort booking banner EN HOSHINOYA Fuji

Okinawan ocean time

Celebrating local Okinawan culture, HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island offers a Digital Detox stay that gives pride of place to the ocean. You’ll board a traditional sabani wooden boat to explore the crystal-clear waters of the Yaeyama sea and fish far from the shore.

-_0004_【星のや竹富島】Taketomi Image(1)

You can then take your catch to be cooked in a tiny restaurant in Taketomi village. During your stay, you’re invited to spend time self-reflecting in solitude on a small white-sand island that only appears at low tide.

-_0005_【星のや竹富島】Taketomi Image(2)

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The perfect place to contemplate the magnificent seascape and timeless charm of this gloriously unaffected part of the world.

Karuizawa nature

The Alpine forests surrounding HOSHINOYA Karuizawa provide the perfect environment for Digital Detox. You’ll begin with a horseback trek through the foothills of Mt. Asama volcano. But first, you’ll take the time to get to know your horse, brushing them and forming a bond before you set off together.

-_0000_【星のや軽井沢】Karuizawa Image

On day 2, you’ll walk through the forest with an analogue camera, taking your time to frame and shoot snippets of nature, images that you will only discover later but memories that you will carry with you for a very long time.

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Resort booking banner EN HOSHINOYA Karuizawa

Your time outdoors is complemented by rejuvenation at the resort’s hot spring baths and spa. Float in the warm waters of a Meditation Bath, be treated to shiatsu and acupuncture treatments. Immerse your body and mind in stress-free relaxation.

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A drive through Hokkaido’s heartland

It’s just over a 2-hour drive from Asahikawa, Hokkaido’s second city, to Tomamu, a mountain resort surrounded by the peaks of the Hidaka. But there is so much glorious nature to see along the way that you could easily spend a day or more travelling through this spectacular part of Japan.

flower-road

ski

From secluded waterfalls and iridescent blue ponds to monumental mountain vistas and fields of flowers, the route showcases Hokkaido’s grandiose landscapes in all their diversity. And in the summer, Japan’s northern island has low humidity, cooler temperatures and no rainy season – unlike much of the rest of the country.

Urban beginning

The starting point for your trip is Asahikawa, a vibrant city lesser-known to most tourists. Stay at Hoshino Resorts OMO7 Asahikawa for an opportunity to sample some authentic Japanese urban culture.

OMO7

OMO7 Asahikawa EN Resort booking banner

Located near the centre, the hotel organizes outings for guests with local experts, allowing you to drink in small izakaya or eat in tiny restaurants you would otherwise never set foot in. Ramen is a speciality, as is the grilled mutton dish jingisukan.

Biei waters

From Asahikawa, it’s just over 30 minutes by car to Biei, a hilltop town surrounded by flowers and fruit trees. Drive through town and take route 966 alongside the Biei River.

You’ll soon arrive at Shirogane Blue Pond, a body of water that shimmers with a remarkable bright blue glow. While the pond itself is man-made (a tactic to protect Biei from volcanic mudflow), the colour is natural.

It’s thought that aluminium in the water scatters sunlight, and the contrast is heightened by the whiteness of the rocks caused by sulphur and lime minerals. Surrounded by white birch and withered larch trees, the pond is a photographer’s dream.

Biei

Biei-2

A little further along the road, you’ll come across the Shirogane Fudo Falls, where snowmelt from the Tokachi mountains plummets energetically down a 25-metre drop. The site is known as a local “power spot”, lined with 88 stone Buddhas.

Shirogane-falls

A mile or so upstream, the Shirahige Falls features several strands of water tumbling down a 30-metre cliff and coming together in a cobalt blue pond at the bottom.

白ひげの滝---Shirahige-Falls

The colour is all the more spectacular when set against a white blanket of snow in the winter.

Further along route 966, you’ll hit a turn-off for Mount Tokachi Observatory. With its prime location overlooking the Daisetsu and Tokachi mountain ranges, this panoramic platform offers breathtaking views of an area known by the indigenous Ainu as Kamuimintara (garden where the Gods play).

Mount-Tokachi-Observatory-2

Mount-Tokachi-Observatory

The belching fumes of Mt. Tokachi are straight ahead, with the Daisetsuzan chain stretching out to the north, including Hokkaido’s highest peak, Mt. Asahi (2291m).

Furano flowers

Drive back down the same road to pick up route 824 towards the Miyama Pass Outlook Terrace, another 360-degree viewpoint on the imposing Daisetsuzan National Park.

Miyama-Pass-Outlook-Terrace

The nearby Miyama Art Park includes a large Ferris wheel, allowing you to gain more height for yet more sumptuous vistas.

Continue on to Furano along route 237, Hokkaido’s famous Flower Road. Running from Biei to Furano, this 20-mile stretch is lined with an astonishing array of colourful tulips, pink moss phlox, lavender, and more.

flowers

Have your camera at the ready!

Towards Tomamu

The same road leads to Kanayama, where you should head east along route 465. You’ll soon come across Lake Kanayama, a reservoir surrounded by thickly forested mountains.

Lake-Kanayama

In summer, the hillsides by the shore are covered with deep purple lavender. A recreation center organizes activities such as fishing, canoeing and jet skiing, and the intrepid can go canyoning along the Sorachi river.

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canoe

In winter, the whole lake freezes over, a chance to try your hand at ice fishing for smelt.

From the lake, it’s a 40-minute drive to the all-season resort of Tomamu, where Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Tomamu awaits you. Every room has a private sauna and jet bath, plus dramatic views of the birch wood forests and surrounding peaks.

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Tomamu EN risonare Resort booking banner

While winter promises world-class skiing, there’s plenty to enjoy here in the summer. The Unkai Terrace, for example, capitalizes on a local climatic phenomenon that regularly see thick layers of clouds forming, resembling waves in the sky.

terrace

unkai-terrace

Situated at 1088m and accessible via gondola, the terrace is perched over a cliff edge. When the conditions are right, it feels like you’re walking in the clouds. Yet another remarkable natural phenomenon in a day filled with them!

Izu Peninsula summer guide

Just two hours south-west of Tokyo by train or car, the Izu Peninsula is a rugged area of breathtaking natural beauty. Its coastline is dotted with dramatic rock formations, craggy capes and pristine beaches.

izu

Its interior is filled with scenic mountains and dormant volcanoes. And it has something for everyone, from surfers and sunbathers to hikers and families.

mountain

What’s more, the area is famed for its world-class hot spring baths.

Ito, your Izu base

Easily accessible from Tokyo, the town of Ito is a traditional fishing port on the east coast of the peninsula. Thanks to its rail and road links, it makes the perfect base for exploring Izu.

ito

Handily situated between the station and the center, Hoshino Resorts KAI Ito is a great option if you’re looking for modern comfort combined with traditional Japanese hospitality. The ryokan was fully refurbished at the end of 2018 and reimagined to maximize the relaxation experience for guests.

kai-ito

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Wander around the expansive garden, soak your feet in the hot spring foot bath, or chill in the 20-metre outdoor pool.

And, of course, Ito’s famed onsen are a must. Just take your pick from the ryokan’s spacious indoor tub in hinoki wood or the outdoor bathing pond in natural rock.

Beaches for every activity

From Hoshino Resorts KAI Ito, you’re within easy reach of numerous beaches. Ito has its own Orange Beach, characterized by volcanic sand and set in a bay where the water warms up quickly. It’s handy for a cooling dip and a lie-back in the sun, but the best beaches are further south.

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ito-orange-beach

Around an hour by car from Ito, Shirahama beach is a picture-book expanse of white sand extending almost a kilometre along the coast, with a red Tori gate perched atop a nearby rock. The water is crystal clear, with waves making it a popular surfing spot.

shirahama-beach

Surfers are even better served further south, where Shimoda provides the most reliable waves.

For world-class snorkelling, head to Hirizo beach. Set among spectacular rugged cliffs, this stony beach can only be accessed via a 5-minute ferry ride and has no facilities on site, so make sure you take everything you need.

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You’ll be rewarded by emerald green waters and shoals of brightly-coloured fish of all shapes and sizes flitting energetically among the rocky outcrops.

Coastal discoveries

One of the joys of Izu is its stunning coastline, a collection of craggy cliffs and windswept landscapes offering sweeping vistas onto far-off islands and fishing boats.

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Just 20 minutes by car or train from Hoshino Resorts KAI Ito, the Jogasaki coast is a great spot to explore Izu’s hugely varied terrain. Here, a well-marked trail hugs the coast for around 6 miles. Even a short stroll around the Kadowakizaki Suspension Bridge will give you a flavour of the region as you clamber over dark volcanic rocks, climb a lighthouse, and cross a 23m-deep gorge on the bridge.

Kadowakizaki-bridge

Hikers can enjoy the quieter paths further south, where the ocean has eroded the cliff face into long columns resembling organ pipes and neat hexagonal shapes.

Jogasaki-coast

On the peninsula’s southern tip, Cape Irozaki is another slice of raw coastal wilderness. A path leads to the very tip of the cape, from where there are spectacular views of the jagged coastline and the unsettled ocean, dotted with tiny islands as far as the eye can see.

Irozaki

There are more walking trails further east at Cape Tarai, and the nearby Ryugu-Kutsu is a well-known local “power spot”, where crashing waves have carved out a heart shape in the ceiling of a cave.

Ryugu-Kutsu

On Izu’s west coast – which frequently offers picture-postcard views of Mt. FujiDogashima is an area where the ocean has sculpted out a dramatic network of caves. Take a boat trip to tunnel into Tensodo Cave, where sunlight spectacularly pierces through a naturally-eroded skylight.

Nearby, the Futo Coast boasts a phenomenon known as magmatic dikes, a series of impressive rocky mounds formed by solidifying magma.

Family-friendly

If you’re visiting with children, how about taking a chair lift to the top of the photogenic volcano Omuroyama?

OMUROYAMA

Walking along its crater, you’ll have stunning views of Mt. Fuji and Izu Oshima Island.

Mt.-Omuro

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Or hiking the kilometer-long 7-waterfall trail along the Kawazu river?

kawazu-seven-waterfalls

And, if you’re staying in Ito in August, make a date with the Anjin Festival. What better climax to your stay than a pyrotechnic extravaganza featuring some 10,000 fireworks exploding over the grandiose Ito coastline?

anjin-fireworks

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Photo credits:

bvalium / CC BY-SA

bvalium / CC BY-SA

kushii / CC BY-ND

kushii / CC BY-ND

Japan’s top estival festivals

Planning a summer trip to Japan? Then why not sample the unique atmosphere of one of its many sun-soaked festivals?

Some of the biggest and best-known matsuri (shrine festivals) are held in July and August. Spectacular firework shows light up the sky all over the country.

anjin-firework-from-onsen

anjin-firework

And outdoor music festivals attract some of the best rock and pop bands in the world.

Many festivals are easily accessible from Tokyo and Kyoto, while others are worth a trip in their own right.

Tokyo: take your pick

Tokyo is a great base for exploring numerous summertime festivals. Among the most famous is the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, held on the last Saturday of July.

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Sumida-River-Fireworks-Festival

Over 20,000 fireworks are launched, and around a million spectators crowd Sumida park, the nearby bridges and surrounding area to gaze at a 90-minute extravaganza of bangs and bright lights over the Tokyo skyline.

Sumida-park

sumida-river-night

The atmosphere is electric, the show mesmerizing, and it’s worth planning your trip around this event alone.

If rock music is more your style, head to eastern Tokyo for Summer Sonic, a 3-day multi-stage festival in mid-August. The event is held simultaneously in Tokyo and Osaka, with bands playing both venues on different days. Previous headliners have included Coldplay, Radiohead and The Black Eyed Peas.

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This year, the main stage welcomes Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Chainsmokers and The 1975. Overlooking Tokyo Bay, the venue features an immense main stage and attracts 40,000 festival-goers daily.

A more quirky event is Asagaya Tanabata Matsuri in early August. For 5 days, the shopping arcades of western Asagaya are adorned with huge papier-mâché likenesses of cartoon figures and celebrities.

Asagaya-Tanabata

Asagaya-Tanabata-2

While classic Disney and Ghibli characters are assured a place, many figures are topical, with the likes of Donald Trump, Johnny Depp and Spiderman recently honoured with a pulped paper reincarnation.

Where to based yourself for these festivals?

Check into HOSHINOYA Tokyo for authentic ryokan hospitality combined with luxury comfort and a prime city centre location.

hoshinoya-tokyo

Resort booking banner FR HOSHINOYA TOKYO

Alternatively, head to Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka for a unique urban experience, with local guides taking you places most visitors never get to see.

OMO5-ranger-tour

Kyoto: monumental matsuri

From Kyoto, you’ll have easy access to several world-class festivals, including the Osaka version of Summer Sonic.

Also in Osaka is the spectacular Tenjin Matsuri, held every year on July 24-25. Proceedings kick off with a parade honouring Sugawara Michizane, the deity of scholarship. On day 2, the streets are taken over by a procession featuring costumed drummers, bunraku puppets, umbrella dancers, and much more.

Tenjin-Matsuri

Tenjin-Matsuri-2

At around 6pm, the procession reaches the Okawa River and the entire cavalcade takes to the water on a series of boats, many of them lit with flaming oil fires. The grand finale is a frenetic firework show set against fiery boats, all spectacularly reflected in the river.

Back in Kyoto, the famed Gion Matsuri runs for the entire month of July. The centrepiece is Yamaboko Junko, a grand procession of lavishly-decorated, monumental floats.

Gion-Matsuri

On several evenings, Kyoto’s centre is closed to traffic and transformed into a big street party. The festival is also a chance to visit private residences, with many owners opening up their homes.

From Kyoto, you also have easy access to the Lake Biwa Great Fireworks Festival, a 10,000-firework extravaganza played out against water fountains.


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Where to base yourself for Kyoto and Osaka festivals?

HOSHINOYA Kyoto, where forested hills and river views make the perfect place to relax after festival frenzy.

HOSHINOYA-Kyoto-Floating-Tea-Room-6

Beyond Tokyo and Kyoto

In the north of Honshu, the world-famous Nebuta Festival is held August 2 to 7. The centrepiece is a parade of exuberant floats depicting mythical characters, all expertly crafted in painted washi paper and spectacularly lit up at night.

Taiko drummers and flute players add plenty of atmosphere, while hundreds of haneto dancers energetically strut their stuff. The festival is a great excuse to explore this beautiful coastal region.

aomoriya

aomoriya-room

Book yourself into Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya to experience ryokan luxury and sample the famed local hospitality.

Finally, Fuji Rock is one of Japan’s biggest rock festivals. This huge multi-stage event has an impressive line-up for 2019, including The Cure, Thom Yorke and The Chemical Brothers.

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Despite its name, it’s held at the Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture, hours from Mt. Fuji. It’s just over a 3-hour drive from Tokyo or you can book into the mountain calm of HOSHINOYA Karuizawa to explore the surrounding area.

karuizawa


Photo credits:

Fuji Rock Festival

Fuji Rock Festival

Summer Sonic

Summer Sonic

ajari / CC BY

whatidoinkrjp / CC BY-NC-ND

elmimmo / CC BY

elmimmo / CC BY

Chi (in Oz) / CC BY-NC-ND

Fuji Rock Festival