Dragon boat racing Okinawa-style

Every May and June, the tropical waters of Okinawa welcome a series of dragon boat races known as hari or hare. They’re steeped in history, full of atmosphere and reserve a number of surprises for the uninitiated!

One of the oldest – and most spectacular – is Itoman Hare. Like many hari, it is held on the fourth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar (May 29th in 2017). The festival started over 500 years ago as a way to pray for safe sailing and good catches and, today, competitors still race in age-old fishing boats called sabani.

While the centrepiece is a 1.3-mile race between teams from three fishing villages, there are plenty of activities throughout the day. The most spectacular race? The Kunnukase, which involves crews deliberately capsizing their boat mid-race, clambering back in to bail out water and then paddling home as fast as possible! The wackiest? A duck-hunting race where participants dive into the water to capture the 30 ducks (and balls) released by the organizers. Anyone can take part and win prizes.

Other hari include the popular Naha Hari (May 3-5). This spectacular three-day dragon boat fiesta takes place during Golden Week and features concerts, sumo wrestling and fireworks aplenty.

It may be too late to catch a hari in 2017, but it’s not too early to start planning for next year. Several smaller races are held in the Yaeyama Islands, home to HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island. After the excitement of dragon boat racing, where better to unwind than on this small island, with your feet in the sand and stunning views of the ocean?

(image copyrights courtesy Banner image on top : Hillel Wright / Japan Times – Boats with team : Okinawaclip  – Black team with yellow lady : Copyrights 5thAF )

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Are Geikos what we really think they are?

The term geiko means “a performer of the arts” – gei, meaning an artistic skill and ko, meaning children. According to one theory, these women, whose profession appeared in the 17th century, were only recognised in the 18th century by Shogun Tokugawa’s decree, which officially registered their profession. Although their number is decreasing, the geikos who are still working remain mysterious to us. The question is: What do these women, whose profession continues with the utmost discretion attached to their role, really do?

Geiko in Kyoto

Geisha accessories

Being a geiko is a demanding profession and the path to achieving excellence is long. First of all, the maiko – apprentice geikos – are young women who must learn all the rules of etiquette, behaviour in society, the gestures to adopt, the clothes, the make-up, but above all, they must be very learned. Maiko work on their art from a very young age; they must know how to sing, dance, and play an instrument, know the tea ceremony perfectly, and even master flower arranging (Ikebana).

Geiko ritual objetcs

The role of these women with red lips and faces whitened by rice powder is primarily to entertain. They receive clients who have come to seek pleasant company in private salons called ochaya. Geikos also officiate at banquets and meals for businessmen, where they are in charge of the service and entertainment during the meal. Mainly concentrated in the Gion area in Kyoto, you can try to spot them during your stay at HOSHINOYA Kyoto. Some are willing to be photographed, but it is better to respect the grace and beauty of these women who still continue with one of Japan’s oldest traditions with the utmost discretion.

HOSHINOYA Kyoto room

Take our Private Immersive Tour to Discover HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island in Okinawa

Just a fifteen-minute boat ride from the Ishigaki ferry terminal will carry you to Taketomi Island. The hotel’s shuttle will greet you from the moment you step off the ship. The main road quickly gives way to a narrow, mysterious path that may disorient you, but be patient. Your destination will soon become clear…

Japanese luxury Taketomijima Ryokan

After a few hundred metres, the shuttle takes a right turn onto the path leading to HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island. At first you will not see much more than two rooftops covered in thick red tile. After checking in at the hotel lobby, you will follow your guide to your villa, surrounded by your very own paradise on earth, a place where time stands still.

Veranda design in Japanese style on Taketomijima

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You will first be impressed by the tranquillity and authenticity of this village of 48 villas that are built just like the typical houses on the island, conferring HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island its charm. Taketomi Island in Okinawa Prefecture is an unspoilt place, preserved by building no new homes in the past fifty years. Only existing houses remain and are preserved in the local tradition: built of wood with large bay windows and the thick red roof tiles that are so characteristic of the island.

Luxury Japanese bathroom

While the villas are identical, you will have a choice between two styles of interior design. The first is traditional, in the style of ryokans, with their tatami-covered floors and futon beds, whereas the second is more Western with a shower, bathtub, modern beds, and tatamis only in the bedrooms. Regardless of your choice, each villa is decorated with the sophistication and clean lines characteristic of Japanese style, with dark wood furniture and couches inviting you to total relaxation.

Wander the small winding alleys of this charming village, breathe in the pure air and absorb its unique atmosphere. Take a look around, lift your eyes and you will meet Shisa. This ubiquitous figure will catch your eye immediately. The miniature lion’s menacing demeanour is not intended to scare you, but to protect you by warding off evil spirits.

Swimming pool on Taketomi Island

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The viewing point on the heights of the Resort is the perfect place for summer traditional fireworks contemplation. You will be surrounded by the village on one side and the ocean on the other. You can swim laps or splash around with your children in the huge swimming pool that is almost as large as an Olympic pool, or simply lie down and relax in one of its shallow ends as the water caresses your skin. You will also appreciate the privacy afforded by the pretty blooming bushes surrounding the pool.

French cuisine in Japan

You can relax in the lounge next to the swimming pool, which offers hot drinks, refreshments and all kinds of snacks around the clock. This living space also offers a variety of workshops and entertainment. The Resort takes pride in supporting local craftsmanship.

Sanshin Japanese instrument

Guests can try their hand at artisanal crafts such as wickerwork, or enjoy a daily music and song show during which a local musician will introduce you to the traditional instrument from Okinawa, the sanshin, which resembles a 3-string banjo.

French gastronomy by Tatsurou Nakasu

HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island offers a wide variety of activities to make your stay a rich and fulfilling one. At the end of the day, you can watch the sunset on the eastern coast of the island, which magically transforms the beach into an otherworldly landscape. Afterwards, savour your dinner at the hotel’s restaurant.

The chef, Tatsuo Nakasu is prodigious, creating dishes à la française from local products. His bamboo shoots dish with abalones and garlic butter is an homage to Burgundy cuisine. Each of his dishes, from appetizers to dessert artfully combines finesse and balance. Complete your meal with one of the wines on the menu. The kind attentions of the service staff will make your stay an exceptional experience.

Karakami: the design and elegance of Japanese printed paper

The Japanese are extremely attentive and pay a lot of attention to the details and the accuracy of the skill. In terms of craft, they are masters in the field and have been repeating the same skills for generations, applying the knowledge passed on by their ancestors with the same dedication. Printed paper with the “Karakami” method is one of the most used technique in craft. An art which combines care and accuracy, and which illustrates the considerable knowledge and skill of the Japanese craftsmen.

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karakami definition

The “Karakami” technique is still in use nowadays, and printed papers are an integral part of Japanese interiors. The traditional method remains handworked and consists of using a carved woodblock to print the design on a surface. This technique goes back to the Nara period, when the upper classes used to use it to write letters and poems. Then, during the Heian period, the aristocrats used it for decorating the papers covering internal sliding doors. It became more popular during the Edo period, and Karakami is used nowadays to decorate interiors and print sliding doors, lamps, and printed papers.

Hoshino Resorts Hoshinoya Kyoto karakami room

Hoshino Resorts Hoshinoya Kyoto room

All the rooms at HOSHINOYA Kyoto have been decorated according to this principle with papers printed by old carved woodblocks from 130 years ago. This art remains practised by a craftsman in Kyoto who accurately reproduces the traditional methods passed on by these ancestors. A mixture of pigment is used for the colour, and an application technique that only experience, care, and a great deal of knowledge can master. So why not visit this craftsman during your stay in Kyoto to discover their work exhibited in their gallery called the Karakami Gallery.” 

Discovering Karuizawa’s wildlife and plants

Spring is an ideal time to observe nature, and Karuizawa forest to the North of Tokyo, in the Nagano Prefecture, is the perfect place to explore this unspoilt wilderness, where between 60 and 80 species of birds nest. Why not come and find out for yourself?

Karuizawa's forest blue flower

Spring is the migration season and then Karuizawa forest teems with a host of multi-coloured birds which enchant as much with their vivid colours, as with their melodic “tweet tweet”. The Narcissus Flycatcher and the Blue-and-white Flycatcher are the most popular at this time of year, which is all the more suitable for bird watching as the trees are only covered by a few leaves. Spring is also the breeding season, when the males initially adopt their best singing voice to indicate their presence, but also to seduce the female who will also respond with her most beautiful song.

Calm and luxury hotel in Karuizawa's nature

So why don’t you use a guide to understand this unspoilt wilderness and grasp its subtleties? Picchio will be your guide! For 22 years now, he has been introducing nature lovers and the inquisitive to all the secrets that the forest can reveal. Better still, your guide shares the intimate life of the chicks and their mother with you. In fact, this nature and wildlife lover had the idea of installing a camera in one of the nests for you to share the first moments of the young chicks’ life. A unique experience which blends fun and education!!

However, the 100-hectare Karuizawa forest is not only reserved for birds, it is also a place where all sorts of flowers bloom, whose range of colours and scents awaken the senses. Look down at your feet, admire the primroses, anemones, and chrysosplenium – a perennial, creeping plant with yellow flowers without petals – lift your head up and look at the crowns of the chestnuts, Mongolian oaks, and larches. You might even be surprised by seeing an Asian black bear or a white Japanese serow during your walk; a prospect which should appeal to your children.

Hoshino Resorts Karuizawa HOSHINOYA hotel's guestroom

So after a surprising and rewarding family outing, why not choose to recover in your nest. Choose an extraordinary hotel located on the edge of the forest. HOSHINOYA Karuizawa beckons you into its luxurious settings to benefit from the tranquillity at the heart of the lush forest to enjoy a well-earned rest.

Restaurant in Japanese Alps in Karuizawa's forest

4 reasons to start glamping in Japan

Invented by the Japanese keen on a particular lifestyle, glamping is a newly-coined word and a contraction of glamour and camping. The idea is to combine the simplicity and the fun side of camping with the refinement of a luxury hotel to enjoy a unique experience right in front of Mount Fuji, at HOSHINOYA Fuji.

Here are 4 good reasons to fully experience glamping in Japan:

1 – Enjoy the pleasures of camping without its downsides. The outdoor life in the fresh air : a breath of nature and pure air combined with the benefits of a luxury hotel. Your “cabin” has a simple design, but provides you with comfort and privacy with a fully-equipped bathroom, comfortable bed, and private terrace, which you can take advantage of each morning to quietly have your breakfast, admiring Mount Fuji with the sense of floating above the forest.

The hotel Hoshino Resorts HOSHINOYA Fuji by night

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2 – Let yourself be lulled by the silence of the forest, sleep like a baby, and wake up as fresh as a daisy, happy to admire bountiful nature which plays the chameleon throughout the seasons. A lush forest in summer, red in autumn, brilliant in spring, with the focal point being Lake Kawaguchi, formed after a volcanic eruption, which leaves you free to go canyoning to stimulate yourself during the day.

A hotel room of the Hoshino Resorts HOSHINOYA Fuji, perfect for glamping

3 – Sample the joys of freedom and chic and relaxed camping, listen to the forest breathing, relax, dream, read a book, have a drink or a meal, chat around the camp fire, take time to completely switch off from everyday life by letting go with the friendliness of meals and moments shared around a large dining table on the shared terrace. A place for meetings, family reunions, and meals with friends.

Luxury camping with Japanese food

4 – Rediscover the pleasures of barbecues which here take on a festive air. The chef pays attention to the local environment and takes care to select the best local produce. Vegetables and meats come from the region and are carefully prepared, with the chef focusing on preserving the flavours of each ingredient to provide maximum taste. Guests can choose to dine outside, in the restaurant or on their terrace with their “private” chef.

Japanese food at glamping at Mount Fuji