24 hours at Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru

2.45pm

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


3pm

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

Matazou-Kayama

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

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

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outside

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


3.15pm

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

kai-tsugaru_0004_Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru Corridor

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

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


4pm

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

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


5pm

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

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


7.30pm

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

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


9pm

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

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

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


9.30pm

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

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8am

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

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9.30am

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

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

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

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

The new Emperor’s parade

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

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

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

Historical handover

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

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

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

Public procession

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

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

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

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

Sights along the route

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

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


HOSHINOYA Tokyo

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Resort booking banner HOSHINOYA TOKYO


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

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

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

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Hibiya-Park

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

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

Imperial hospitality

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

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


Photo credits:

WikipediaCC BY-SA 4.0

A day out in Hirosaki

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

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

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

Local insights

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

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

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

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

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Moving castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic landscaping

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

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

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

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

Feudal past

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

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

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

Craft showcase

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

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

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

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


Photo credit:

masato_saito / CC BY-NC-ND

shinyai / CC BY-NC

shinyai / CC BY-NC

shinyai / CC BY-NC

24 hours at Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel

1.15pm

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


3pm

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

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

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


3.15pm

Time to settle in.

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

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


4pm

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

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

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

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

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winter


4.30pm

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

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

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

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


5pm

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

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


7pm

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

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

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


9pm

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

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How about a Japanese whisky to round off the evening?




8am

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

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


10am

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

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

Choshi-Otaki

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

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

Try to win a Japanese wellness kit

Update: contest is now closed, results available below.

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This month’s prize bundle comes from HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island, a small village famed for its sublime beaches.

beach

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A haven of peace, Taketomi Island is like taking a step back in time. You can explore traditional Okinawan landscapes by bike or by water buffalo cart. And you’ll be able to experience the island’s unique festivals and exceptional snorkelling.

Fresh from the island, our prize bundle is composed of relaxing local bath herbs and a special lotion for perfect skin care.

herbs

oil

It’s the ideal way to promote relaxation and wellbeing, just like on the paradise beaches of HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island!


Update: The contest is now over. Thank you to everyone who entered!

We are pleased to announce that the winner of the contest is Marie-Cerise Sollance (from France). Congratulations!

If you are not the lucky winner this time, please keep reading our webzine to discover two new articles every week about Japanese lifestyle experiences. And follow us on social media to take part in our next contest!

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Tattooed in Japan

Japan has a famously complicated relationship with tattoos. If you have visible tattoos, you may find yourself banned from certain traditional institutions, such as ryokan inns and hot spring baths (onsen). But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out.

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Some onsen, including those at Hoshino Resorts, welcome guests who cover their tattoos with stickers, and, by planning ahead, you should be able to avoid negative reactions to your inked art. What’s more, young people are increasingly open, and tattoos won’t raise too many eyebrows in contemporary environments, including most big cities.

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But why are many Japanese mistrustful of tattoos? What is the history of inked art in Japan? And how can tattooed travellers make the most of their visit while remaining respectful of local culture?

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We investigate the history and culture of tattoos in Japan.

A complex history

You may have heard that tattoos are associated with the yakuza (Japanese mafia). And, while that is true, the Japanese suspicion of tattoos is much more deep-rooted than that.

Despite the relative rarity of tattoos in Japan, the country actually has a long tradition of the art form and played an important role in their worldwide development. It is thought that Neolithic people used to tattoo their faces, and there is written evidence of people in Japan being tattooed for decorative and tribal purposes from the 3rd century.

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Over time, the image of tattoos changed, and by the 18th century, the art form came to be seen in a dim light, associated with the lower classes and with criminals, who were tattooed as part of their punishment.

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By the end of the 19th century, the Meiji government had banned tattoos for Japanese people, although foreign sailors continued to be tattooed and helped spread the popularity of Japanese-style tattoos around the world.

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It wasn’t until 1948, under American occupation, that tattoos were relegalized – but the negative connotations remained. And their image was further worsened by the adoption of tattoos by the yakuza.

Attitudes today

While attitudes are slowly changing, especially among the younger generation, tattoos are still banned in most places where you are required to display your body, such as onsen, pools and gyms. Many companies also require employees to cover their tattoos during working hours.

The art form itself has an unclear legal status, as it is not licenced or regulated. One tattooist in Osaka was famously prosecuted in 2015 under an obscure law requiring a medical licence for anyone using a needle to pierce skin.

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And yet, Japan’s current crop of tattoo artists are highly regarded, especially those practicing traditional tebori irezumi, a time-consuming style that involves tattooing by hand using a wooden rod with a metal needle. Artists such as Horiyoshi III have found fame exhibiting their work internationally.


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Une publication partagée par Horiyoshi_3 (@horiyoshi_3) le


Voir cette publication sur Instagram

Une publication partagée par Horiyoshi_3 (@horiyoshi_3) le

Tips for tattooed travellers

If you’re visiting Japan with tattoos, there are a few precautions you can take to make sure you make the most of your stay and don’t upset anyone.

If you need to temporarily cover up your tattoo, clothing accessories are your best option. Keep a lightweight scarf, long-sleeve top or arm covers in your bag so you can slip them on when necessary. It’s a handy solution when visiting a temple, for example.

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Planning to visit a ryokan or onsen? Then check ahead, as many have a complete ban on tattoos. Fortunately, a number of ryokan and onsen will accept guests that cover their inked art.

Hoshino Resorts revised its policy several years ago, enabling guests to stay at Japanese-style ryokans such as Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko and enjoy the public hot spring baths if they cover their tattoos with complimentary stickers.

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You can choose from a range of different-sized “foundation tape” stickers to cover your inked art, with the largest measuring 95 x 140mm. No more than 4 stickers can be used, but if you have full-body tattoos, you can still enjoy the hot spring experience by reserving a private onsen.

Many resorts offer rooms with a private onsen. On the Izu peninsula, for example, Hoshino Resorts KAI Ito is a recently-renovated ryokan with rooms adjoined by hot springs on a private wooden terrace or a private garden.

Hoshino Resorts KAI Ito

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Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso

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As a tattooed traveller in Japan, you may have to think ahead a little, but by respecting the local culture and being prepared to cover up occasionally, you’ll find that you get even more from your stay.


Photo credits:

gullevek / CC BY-NC-ND

niko.chan / CC BY-NC-ND

National Museum of Denmark / No known copyright restrictions

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Young sake season

Autumn is eagerly awaited in Japan. For nature-lovers, it means momijigari, a chance to admire the colourful, ever-changing landscape of the country’s varied forests, mountains and parks.

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For foodies, it brings shokuyoku no aki, a diverse glut of delicious seasonal dishes. And for sake lovers, it’s all about hiyaoroshi, the young autumnal sake that offers a vibrant, mellow taste and is the perfect accompaniment to fatty Fall foods.

Every autumn in the Karuizawa Hoshino Area, a special Sake Terrace is organized to celebrate the arrival of hiyaoroshi. Stay at nearby HOSHINOYA Karuizawa and you’ll be able to sample a wide range of local hiyaoroshi paired with seasonal smoked food – with the vibrant colours of the Japanese Alps as your backdrop.

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A singular sake

The smooth flavour of hiyaoroshi is one of the great pleasures of the autumn. Its distinct taste is a result of both its young age and the unique brewing process. While most sake is pasteurized twice, once after filtering and again before bottling, hiyaoroshi is pasteurized just once.

The tradition is thought to date back to the Edo Period, when the cooler temperatures of autumn neutralized the threat of lactic bacteria, making a second pasteurization unnecessary. Pressed in the winter, then matured over the summer, hiyaoroshi is ready for consumption in autumn.

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Today, the release of hiyaoroshi is eagerly awaited by sake enthusiasts. Much like France’s Beaujolais Nouveau, there has been a recent drive to establish an official release date (September 9th), even if it is not strictly respected by every brewery. If you’re new to sake, hiyaoroshi is a great starting point thanks to its refreshing smoothness and deep, well-balanced flavour.

And, for connoisseurs, one of the key attractions of hiyaoroshi is that its character changes over the autumn months.

Autumn transformation

When first released in September, hiyaoroshi has a young, soft flavour that is easy to drink. But, as the autumn advances, the sake continues to age, becoming richer and more complex. Such are the differences in flavour that many breweries release their hiyaoroshi under a different name every month.

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Drink hiyaoroshi in September, and you’ll be sipping nagoshizake, usually served chilled or at room temperature to bring out its refreshing smoothness. Because it is mild and highly drinkable, nahoshizake goes well with light foods such as tofu, pickles or plain mushrooms.

tofu

In October, nagoshizake gives way to akidashi-ichibanzake. By now, the ageing process has perfectly balanced the flavour and aroma, bringing a deeper taste with a soft edge. Drink it cold to appreciate its sharpness or warm to bring out its sweetness.

The perfect pairing? Oden hotpot or fresh saury fish.

oden

Finally, the November release of hiyaoroshi is known as banshu-umazake. It becomes thicker, with a mature taste packed with richness and umami. Served warm to bring out its comforting mellowness, banshu-umazake is the ideal tipple for strong-flavoured food. Take your pick from salted fish, miso dishes or anything with soy sauce.

Full fall experience

The best way to experience hiyaoroshi is by heading to a sake-producing area like Karuizawa, around an hour from Tokyo by train. Thanks to its setting in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, this small city offers a plentiful supply of pristine water, an essential ingredient for making sake.

karuizawa

Located outside the centre and surrounded by forested hills, Sonmin-Shokudo restaurant in the Karuizawa Hoshino Area organizes a special Sake Terrace every autumn to celebrate hiyaoroshi season.

This year, the ninth edition takes place from September 9th to October 6th, a chance to sample a range of autumn sake from some of the thirteen local breweries.

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Staff are on hand to explain the different varieties and guide your choices. And to accompany the mellow tones of seasonal sake, what better accompaniment than freshly-smoked food?

Help yourself to smoked cheese, fish, Nozawana turnips and much more – all grilled inside large sake barrels and smoked using lees from the sake-making process.

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For the ultimate autumn experience, combine the Sake Terrace with a night at nearby HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, where you’ll stay in a large tree-filled park crisscrossed with rivers and red footbridges. And you’ll have plenty of time to admire the vibrant colours of the tranquil forests surrounding the nearby volcano, Mt. Asama.

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ice-skating


Photo credits: Kurand.jp

Agritourism experience

This November, Japan’s first agritourism resort will open in the foothills of the Nasu mountains, a vast forested area where you can enjoy the spoils of the land through organized activities and the chef’s creative Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.

The concept of agritourism – which invites guests to discover rural culture and farming techniques by staying in rustic settings – is just arriving in Japan.

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And, while the new Nasu resort is the first entirely dedicated to agritourism, several other hotels allow you to sample local farming traditions and enjoy fresh produce farmed onsite.

Nasu nature

Located around 3 hours north of Tokyo in Tochigi Prefecture, the new Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Nasu has been designed to immerse guests in the magnificent surroundings of this north-western corner of Nikko National Park. Set in the foothills of the Mount Nasu volcanoes, the hotel’s immediate environment is bubbling mountain streams, thick forests and flooded paddy fields.

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This bucolic scene provides the perfect place for admiring the seasonal changes that are so distinct in Japan, from colourful falling leaves to thick falling snow.

Each room at Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Nasu has been designed to offer optimal views of the surroundings, helping guests reconnect with nature. The large rooms in the main building are on 2 floors, with beds upstairs and a generous sitting downstairs.

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In the annex building, the MINAMO rooms overlook the resort’s water garden from the living room, with forest views from the bedroom.

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At night, moonlight shimmers between the trees, imbuing rooms with an ethereal light.

As a guest, you’ll have access to the resort’s hot spring baths, crafted in Oya stone. This porous rock, formed naturally from lava and ash, has a calming effect on the skin. Soaking in the warm waters, you’ll be able to contemplate the surrounding forest by day and by night.

Fresh from the garden

As part of the agritourism concept at Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Nasu, you can tend to and pick produce and herbs from the surrounding land.

The resort’s Agri-Garden is stocked with seasonal crops and herbs that are used as ingredients in the resort’s 2 restaurants, and you’re welcome to pick herbs to make yourself a refreshing herbal tea.

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Or why not sign up for a hands-on workshop that will take you into the greenhouses and fields to learn about seasonal herbs and crops?

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The resort also offers a fun pizza-making activity where you’ll use fresh vegetables to bake your own pizza in a stone oven.

Farm-to-table

Seasonally, locally-sourced produce is at the heart of the resort’s culinary offer. Tochigi Prefecture is known for its agriculture, with rice, vegetables, strawberries and mushrooms among its most prized products.

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At the buffet restaurant SHAKI SHAKI, you can taste a vast range of seasonal produce, including plump red tomatoes, crisp leafy vegetables and moist root vegetables.

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The chef uses local ingredients creatively to highlight the different textures of vegetables and bring out their just-picked freshness.

The resort’s other restaurant, OTTO SETTE NASU, fuses Italian-inspired cuisine with choice ingredients, hand-picked by the chef from a range of local producers.

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Each dish is married with wine for the perfect pairing.

From Hokkaido to Okinawa

While Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Nasu has been specially designed for agritourism, other resorts also give pride of place to local produce and farming traditions.

In Hokkaido, Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Tomamu has created a small farm to produce dairy products. Set among white birch forests, the resort extends over a large area and is a top ski destination in winter.

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Many years ago, the land was used for farming, and the tradition has recently been revived, with the grassy expanses opened up to grazing cows, sheep, goats and horses in summer.

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Today, the farm produces milk served at the buffet restaurant, and also crafts its own ice cream and butter.

At the other extreme of Japan, in Okinawa, HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island is also reviving ancient agricultural practices. Locals on this tiny sub-tropical island used to farm as a way of life before tourism gained ground.

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Resort booking banner HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island

Today, HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island has cultivated its own vegetable garden and, by consulting the older generation of islanders, is keeping alive traditional farming methods, producing rows of Taketomi potato, foxtail millet and the local soybean kumomami, used as ingredients to create locally-inspired dishes in the resort’s restaurant.

Try to win an exceptional stay in Japan!

Experience Japan’s unique lifestyle at 3 remarkable KAI properties. Our KAI Hotels are perfect for blissful bathing and dining !

Update: contest is now closed, results available below.

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Total package:

– 3 nights for 2 people in 1 room: 1 night (breakfast included) at Hoshino Resorts KAI Kawaji, 1 night (breakfast included) at Hoshino Resorts KAI Kinugawa, 1 night (breakfast included) at Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru.
– 1 dinner for 2 people* at Hoshino Resorts KAI Kawaji. (*drinks excluded)
– 1 dinner for 2 people* at Hoshino Resorts KAI Kinugawa. (*drinks excluded)
– 1 dinner for 2 people* at Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru. (*drinks excluded)
– Available from September 1st, 2019 to June 30th, 2020

– Excluded dates for:

Hoshino Resorts KAI Kawaji

Fridays, Saturdays, Day before national holidays, Closed period,
2019/10/5 to 2019/11/16, 2019/12/27 to 2020/1/4, 2020/4/29 to 2020/5/6.

Hoshino Resorts KAI Kinugawa

Fridays, Saturdays, Day before national holidays, Closed period,
2019/11/1 to 2019/11/16, 2019/12/27 to 2020/1/4, 2020/4/29 to 2020/5/6.

Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru

Fridays, Saturdays, Day before national holidays, Closed period,
2019/10/4 to 2019/11/3, 2019/12/28 to 2020/1/4, 2020/3/20, 2020/4/18 to 2020/5/6.


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

Located in Tochigi Prefecture some 100 miles north of Tokyo, Hoshino Resorts KAI Kawaji is the perfect contrast to the buzz and bustle of Japan’s capital.

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What can you expect from your stay at Hoshino Resorts KAI Kinugawa? Unique gastronomic experiences, hot springs rejuvenation, and relaxation in the lush gardens.

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And discover Tsugaru’s national parks, ancient settlements and moving castle while relaxing in a revamped ryokan: Hoshino Resorts KAI Tsugaru.

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Update: The contest is now over. Thank you to everyone who entered!

We are pleased to announce that the winner of the contest is Rebecca Hockfield
(from USA). Congratulations!

If you are not the lucky winner this time, please keep reading our webzine to discover two new articles every week about Japanese lifestyle experiences. And follow us on social media to take part in our next contest!

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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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