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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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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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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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Contemporary art & timeless hospitality

Japan has a rich contemporary art and design scene. Famous names include architects Tadao Ando and Kengo Kuma, and artists such as Yayoi Kusama and the manga-inspired Takashi Murakami.

The country’s offering of art museums is world-class – and not just in Tokyo. Some of the most spectacular architecture and collections are situated in smaller towns against a backdrop of forests and mountains.

What better way to explore Japan’s dynamic art scene than by staying in a designer ryokan?

Hoshino-Resorts-KAI-Sengokuhara_Suite-Room's-Hot-Spring-(Autumn)

Take your pick from 3 luxury ryokans, all featuring contemporary aesthetics and all close-by to world-class museums.

Cutting-edge Tokyo

HOSHINOYA Tokyo is a striking 18-storey luxury ryokan designed by Azuma Architect & Associates. Inside, ryokan tradition fuses seamlessly with state-of-the-art design.

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Resort booking banner HOSHINOYA TOKYO

The sliding entrance doors are made from 300-year old hiba wood; tatami mats extend to the floor of the elevator; and the top-floor features open-air hot spring baths, sourced from 1,500 metres underground.

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From HOSHINOYA Tokyo, it’s a 25-minute subway ride to Roppongi Hills, Tokyo’s prime destination for art and architecture.

At the Mori Art Museum, two principles guide the exhibitions: ‘contemporary’ and ‘international’. Blockbuster shows have included Yayoi Kusama, Ai Weiwei, and a showcase for young Japanese talent.

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Beyond the art, the venue offers spectacular city views thanks to its location on the 52nd and 53rd floor of the Mori Tower.

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Opposite, the smaller Mori Arts Center Gallery explores contemporary culture, with recent exhibitions covering everything from manga art to the science behind Pixar.

Also in Roppongi, is 21_21 Design Sight, a Tadao Ando building featuring his trademark exposed concrete and a ‘folded-over’ steel roof. With every new exhibition, the furniture changes to match the theme of the art.

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Also nearby, the National Art Center is housed in a striking undulating structure designed by Kisho Kurokawa.

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It is one of the country’s biggest showcases for contemporary art.

Outdoor in Hakone

At Hoshino Resorts KAI Sengokuhara, art is omnipresent. Opened in 2018, this elegant ryokan is just 90 minutes from Tokyo by train, and sits alongside some of the country’s best art museums.

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The ryokan itself features mesmerizing abstract canvases in the entrance. Many of the rooms have original works on the walls, created by artists who stayed in that very room. And in the evenings, art workshops are organized for guests.

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A 10-minute drive away, the Hakone Open-Air Museum is a sprawling park dotted with 120 large-scale sculptures by the likes of Rodin, Miro, Henry Moore and Niki de Saint Phalle, as well as Japanese talent.

picasso

open-air

Many more works are housed in 5 exhibition halls, and the park includes a giant play area for kids.

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The Pola Museum of Art is even closer. Designed to blend harmoniously with the surrounding 300-year-old beech forest, the building is largely underground, with a glass-heavy top level letting in plenty of natural light.

It houses temporary exhibitions organized around its large collection of Japanese and Western paintings, ceramics and glass works.

Pola-museum

Karuizawa: inviting nature in

Around an hour from Tokyo by train, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa is a hot spring resort made up of individual villas in a vast park. The design concept by architect Rie Azuma focuses on connecting interior and exterior spaces, inviting nature into the villas.

karuizawa

karuizawa-room

Resort booking banner EN HOSHINOYA Karuizawa

Given Karuizawa’s location in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, it is no surprise that man’s relationship with nature is a recurrent theme in local architecture. The Karuizawa New Art Museum is a glass-fronted structure supported inside and outside by white pillars representing the local forests.

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The museum’s collection focuses on Japanese art from post-war to the modern day.

Pritzker Prize-winner Ryue Nishizawa is the architect behind the Hiroshi Senju museum. The building is set in a garden featuring 150 types of coloured leaf plants, and its floor space follows the contours of the land outside.

Hiroshi-Senju-Museum-2

Hiroshi-Senju-Museum

Plants from the garden creep into the interior space through a series of interior courtyards surrounded by large, curvaceous windows. The museum showcases the work of local artist Senju, known for his immersive waterfall paintings.

Finally, check out the Sezon Museum of Modern Art, which boasts a breath-taking setting near the Sengataki Falls and a collection including big names like Kandinsky, Miro, Pollock and Kiefer.

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Sezon-Museum-of-Modern-Art


Photo credits:

pedrosimoes7 / CC BY

y_phog / CC BY-NC-ND

Philip Bussmann / CC BY-NC-ND

skidsk / CC BY-NC-ND

Karuizawa New Art Museum

Karuizawa New Art Museum

Iwan Baan

Sezon Museum of Modern Art

Sezon Museum of Modern Art

24 hours at Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone




2.30pm

From Tokyo, it’s an hour by train to Hakone-Yumoto station. Take a taxi up a winding road and, a few minutes later, you’ll arrive at Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone, tucked away among lush woodland.

3pm

The ryokan is situated within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and nature envelops you the moment you step in the lobby. On two sides, floor-to-ceiling windows open up onto the verdant hillsides of Mt. Yusaka with the busy waters of river Sukumo babbling below.

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Admire the scenery over a welcome drink of local citrus fruit before being guided to your room.

3.30pm

The 32 rooms are divided into two buildings connected by gangways with giant bamboos planted in between, their top leaves reaching as high as the fourth floor. Inside your room, nature continues to be omnipresent. You’ll have a river view and tatami mats lining the floor.

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The minimalist style is completed by bamboo furnishings and parquetry decorations made from local wood.

4pm

Time to relax into the ryokan experience. How about a massage in your room? Or a revitalizing soak in the public hot spring baths?

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Lie back in the cedar bathtub, immersing your body in Hakone’s famed warm waters and contemplate the mountain scenery outside.

7pm

The restaurant serves a multi-course kaiseki menu filled with seasonal mountain flavours. The presentation is exceptional, with sashimi served in a beautiful locally-crafted parquetry box and accompanied by sauces of plum and amazake (a sweet fermented rice drink).

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For the main dish, why not treat yourself to the speciality Meiji Gyunabe, a local beef hotpot?

Meiji-Gyunabe

9pm

Head to the lobby for a short demonstration about parquetry. The local version of this artform is known as yoseki zaiku. It consists of creating mosaic patterns by shaping and gluing together different coloured woods, naturally sourced from the surrounding forests.

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wood

You’ll have a chance to play with a himitsubako, a handcrafted puzzle box that can only be opened by sliding movable strips in a unique sequence!

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And why not try your hand at making your own parquetry mosaic?




8am

Today is all about exploring local history. Just outside the resort lies the old Tokaido highway, an ancient travel route that once linked Edo (modern day Tokyo) and Kyoto. In the Edo era, Hakone was an important stop-off along the route, where travellers would fuel up.

At Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone, breakfast is a nod to those days with a hearty spread of steamed fish and rice cakes, plus a glass of energy-filled amazake.

9am

Take a bus from outside the ryokan and head up to Moto-Hakone, a 20-minute ride away.

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This pleasant town is bordered by the vast expanse of the caldera lake, Ashinoko. Start with a walk on its shores.

10am

Head into Onshi Hakone Park, a peninsula with landscaped gardens that was once the summer retreat of the Imperial family. On a clear day, the Lakeside Observation Building provides the best photo opportunities of the lake, with Mt. Fuji looming large in the background.

Onshi-Hakone-park

Back along the shore, take a look inside the reconstructed Hakone Checkpoint, which features gates, a prison, and lodging for soldiers. This was where travellers had to check in during the Edo period as they made their way between Edo and Kyoto.

11am

From town, follow the path that heads into a thick forest up stairs lined with red lanterns to the Hakone Shrine.

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This is said to be a “power spot” that brings good fortune to lovers. Don’t miss the huge, atmospheric red torii planted in the waters of Lake Ashi.

12pm

Back in town, a path leads into the forest to the old Tokaido highway.

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Tokaido-highway

Walking on huge, misshapen cobblestones through dense pine trees, you’ll be following in the footsteps of Japanese traders and travellers from 400 years ago. It’s extremely atmospheric and nearly all downhill.

1pm

A mile in, you’ll come across Amazake Chaya, a thatched teahouse where you can fuel up on amazake and mochi cakes, just as travellers did in this very same place 350 years ago.

2pm

The old path comes out in the small town of Hatajuku, a hothouse for Hakone parquetry and a great place to find a gift. From here, it’s a 10-minute bus ride back down to Hoshino Resort KAI Hakone. The hot spring baths await you!

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Atami: a family destination with a bang

The Japanese love their fireworks displays. Every summer, hundreds of shows light up the skies all over the country, featuring thousands of fireworks culminating in a pyrotechnic crescendo of eye-popping proportions.

The biggest displays, such as the Sumida River Fireworks Festival in Tokyo, attract a million spectators, and the most extravagant last up to two hours.

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One of the most famed fireworks venues is the coastal city of Atami, less than an hour south-west of Tokyo by train. Surrounded by mountains on three sides, the bay forms a natural stadium where the sound reverberates across the city and the skylines are reflected in the ocean below.

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Stay at hilltop Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Atami and you’ll have the perfect vantage point to admire the spectacle in all its glory while sipping a cocktail in the top-floor beach café or simply lying back in your room.

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As a bonus, Atami makes for a welcome coastal break from the summer heat of Tokyo, offering activities aplenty for all the family.

Atami Fireworks Fair on the Sea

Atami is best-known as an ocean getaway for Tokyoites and a thriving geisha city – and its spectacular fireworks displays are also a major pull. The tradition dates back over 60 years and, unlike most cities, shows are held a dozen times a year, during every season. In late July and August, there’s a show every few days.

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Each display features a continuous stream of some 5000 fireworks. And the grand finale, known as “Sky Niagara Falls”, combines countless simultaneous fireworks to create a mesmerizing curtain of light reflected in the flickering waters of Sagami bay.

Rooms with a view

At Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Atami, every room has an ocean view, offering a panoramic perspective on the fireworks. And with no room smaller than 65 square meters, you’ll have plenty of space to enjoy the show.

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Thanks to its hilltop setting, the hotel has no shortage of sweeping vistas. The main lounge is encircled by expansive windows, allowing you to contemplate the vast Pacific Ocean with the peninsulas of Boso and Miura on the horizon.

Total relaxation

One of the best places to enjoy the fireworks is the 11th-floor SORANO Beach Books & Café. You’re guaranteed first-rate views thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows, and the chilled atmosphere is perfect for kicking back and gazing skywards.

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The entire café floor is covered with white sand and decked out with boardwalks and recliners to resemble a beach. Make sure you arrive early to order yourself an Atami speciality, such as a smoothie of local citrus fruit or a green tea latte.

If you reserve in advance, you may be lucky enough to get the two chairs on the café’s private balcony – perhaps the best seats in town for the show!

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There’s just one place that can claim to be a more relaxing vantage point: the hotel’s semi-outdoor hot spring baths.

Here, you can immerse yourself in the soothing warmth of Atami’s hot spring waters while gazing out onto the ethereal beauty of what the locals call hanabi (literally “fire flowers”).

Exploring Atami

If you’re visiting with children, Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Atami offers plenty of extras like a giant climbing wall in the entrance and an acrobranch course in the garden. And the region of Atami is equally well-suited to kids and adults alike.

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Within the city, Atami Sun Beach is the locals’ place of choice for sunbathing and taking an ocean dip.

Down at the port, how about a spot of ocean fishing?

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Rods and lifejackets can be rented – and the staff are happy to offer up angling tips. Depending on the season, you might hook rockfish, horse mackerel or blackfish. If you do land a big catch, you can eat it for dinner: many local restaurants will cook your fish for you!

Beyond the city

If surfing is your thing, head to Yugawara beach. Just 10 minutes north of Atami, it’s renowned as a top spot for surf debutants, with its gentle swell ideal for building up your confidence.

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Or how about diving among shoals of colorful cherry bass, chicken grunt and cardinalfish? Beginners can sign up for a trip to nearby Hatsushima Island, while experienced divers can explore the 130-foot long Kosaga cave or swim inside the wreckage of a nearby sunken gravel transport ship.

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In the summer months, the thrills of Atami are as much under the ocean as they are in the sky!

Encounters with bears and flying squirrels

The popular image of Japan is one of soaring skyscrapers, urban buzz and ultra-modernity. Yet over 70% of the country is uninhabited by humans, dominated by thick forests and snow-capped mountains – and populated by an astonishing array of wildlife. The country boasts a rich biodiversity accommodating over 90,000 animal species, from the Yezo Brown Bear of sub-arctic Hokkaido to the Habu snake of sub-tropical Okinawa.

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Getting up close to Japan’s wildlife doesn’t require you to wander too far off the beaten track. Situated just over an hour from Tokyo by shinkansen, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa lies in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, overlooked by mighty Mt. Asama and bordered by forests dominated by larches and water oaks.

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In partnership with the Picchio Wildlife Research Center, the resort offers guests a wide range of ecotours, taking you to the heart of Japan’s wilderness. From flying squirrels to the native mountain serow, you’ll encounter animals you may never even have heard of!

Mountain retreat

HOSHINOYA Karuizawa is a hot spring resort set in expansive gardens complete with rivers, falls and colourful footbridges. From your private villa, you’ll be able to contemplate this classic Japanese landscape.

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This is a place where tradition is seamlessly intertwined with modern comfort, where you can leave behind the stresses of everyday life, and where nature reigns supreme.

Within the resort’s park, you can treat yourself to exquisite kaiseki dining, pamper yourself with a massage, or soak your body in the natural hot spring baths.

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Outside the resort, forest trails lead you into stunning Alpine scenery.

The Picchio Visitor Center is located just opposite the main entrance to HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, within a National Wild Bird Sanctuary. Walking circuits are marked to let you get a feel for the forest and even spot some local birds.

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But the best way to seek out the wildlife and understand it is by signing up for one of Picchio’s organized tours.

Flying squirrel

One of the most popular tours is an outing to spot the Japanese giant flying squirrel. Officially named musasabi, these extraordinary animals are native to Japan and are among the largest flying squirrels in the world. As they are nocturnal, the tour begins at dusk.

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The Picchio team has built wooden houses for the local musasabi population. As the sun starts to fade, you’ll see them poking their heads out – and then suddenly leaping into the void, opening out their “wings” (a membrane between their front and back legs) and gliding elegantly through the sky.

It’s a unique spectacle and Picchio reckons you have more than a 90% of seeing the squirrels in action.

Serow sighting

In autumn, the conditions are ripe for spotting the Japanese serow, a protected species often described as a “goat-antelope”. Your Picchio guide will lead you deep into forest trails on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Asama, where you’ll reach Kamoshika-daira, a plateau reputed as one of the best local spots to view serows.

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Positioned at an altitude of 1900 metres, you’ll have a view of rocks and grasslands – the preferred terrains of serows, who pass their time climbing and munching grass.

Bear patrol

The Asian black bear roams this part of Honshu – and, while you’re relatively unlikely to bump into a bear, Picchio can tell you if any are nearby. The Center runs a bear management program to promote the safe coexistence of bears and humans in the area.

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Bears that venture near the city are captured and tagged with a radio-collar so their movements can be tracked. Specially-trained dogs then chase off the bears with loud barking to dissuade them from returning. The dogs can also scent the migratory paths of the bears, helping Picchio to further reduce potential conflict between bears and humans.

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If you take a Wildlife Night Drive with Picchio, you’re likely to spot sika deer, Japanese hares or red foxes – and your guide may well bring out a radio antenna to track any bears in the vicinity.

Tours for all tastes

Other Picchio tours include an outing to spot some of the 80 species of birds in the sanctuary, including the native Japanese Green Woodpecker and Copper pheasant. Or how about a mountain bike tour to the Ryugaeshi Falls?

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However you choose to experience the Karuizawa forest, Picchio and HOSHINOYA Karuizawa will ensure you do it in the very best conditions and have every chance of coming face-to-face with the unique local wildlife.

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

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

Update: contest is now closed, results available below.

➡️ All our new contests ⬅️
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Total package:

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

– Excluded dates for:

Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Atami: July 14th to September 1st, Saturdays and Sundays, September 15th, September 22nd, October 13th, November 22nd, December 27th to January 8th,  February 23rd, March 20th to March 31st, April 29th to May 6th.


Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake: Saturdays, July 14th – August 31st, September 15th, September 22nd, October 13th, November 22nd, December 21st to January 4th,  January 12th to January 23rd, February 23rd, March 20th to March 31st, April 29th to May 6th.

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

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

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

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Ready for an exceptional stay in Japan?

To participate, fill out the short form below, and share the contest with your friends. It’s as easy as it sounds!

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

We are pleased to announce that the winner of the contest is Laurel McWilliam
(from UK). 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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Green tea trip of discovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea-themed stay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First-to-cup richness

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

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

Sincha stay

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

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

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

Relax in tea

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

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

Spring euphoria in Aomori

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

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

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

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

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

Sublime setting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sake and crab

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

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

Aomori reawakens

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

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

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

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

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

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