The 8 Standards Of Japanese Beauty

Ayase-Haruka-Smiling

One of the great things about being in Japan for as long as I have is that I’ve gotten to have some pretty fascinating discussions about Japan and why certain aspects of the culture are the way they are. A subject that’s been discussed and rehashed, time and time again, is the discussion on what makes a woman beautiful. Before you call me a chauvinist and put my head on a spike, please hear me out. I’ve had these conversations with more Japanese women than I have with Japanese men because it’s intriguing to hear how the conversation on good looks varies from person to person, and how the conversation varies from country to country. Beauty is a topic that pervades every culture and society.

Whenever I overhear, eavesdrop on, Japanese conversations bout aesthetics, my curiosity always gets the better of me. While minor things differ from conversation to conversation, some features, whether it was a man or a woman talking, are mentioned over and over again.

So here’s a list of the most common ones I hear, here list of the 8 Standards of Japanese Beauty:

1. LIGHT/WHITE SKIN

Ayase Haruka Smiling

Ayase Haruka is seen as one of the most beautiful actresses/models in Japan. She is known for having beautiful skin. I think I just drooled a bit…

While smooth, clear skin is considered a fairly universal standard of beauty, in Japan it seems the lighter the skin tone the more beautiful it is.

Where this popularity of lighter skin stems from in Japan is a mystery to me. Could it be historically linked to Japanese geisha? The 19th century, female entertainers who donned kimonos, white makeup and red lipstick accents; the former pinnacle of Japanese beauty and elegance.

Or maybe, in a bygone Japanese era, your skin symbolized they type of family you came from. Darker skin meant you were part of the lower, working class while lighter skin was characteristic of nobility? I am truly guessing here, but anyway…

Regardless of its origin, skin is a HUGE issue for women all over Japan* Pure, white, unblemished skin is extremely coveted here. Donald looks down at the skin on his typing hands… um well, maybe it’s different for guys…
*Not sure how much this standard affects the southernmost areas of Japan i.e.-Okinawa/Kyushu)

If you’ve been here in Japan during the summer, tell me if you can relate to this: You’re walking to the supermarket, it’s 10,000+ degrees outside, and you’re dripping sweat even in your your shorts and tank top. While you’re walking, a Granny Bike Ninja whizzes past you. A Granny Bike Ninja is a slightly older woman (late 40’s/ early 50’s perhaps) who has every piece of exposed skin covered during the summer. She’s wearing gloves that stop at the elbow, pants, sometimes a kerchief/scarf and a giant, black visor…

The reason you see woman so covered up on these hot summer days is primarily for skin protection. You know how tanning in America is considered cool? I don’t think it’s the goal for most women in Japan.

2. THE HIGH-BRIDGED NOSE

I remember having to get a CAT scan once at the Tsukuba University Hospital and as I was about the go in, one of the younger female nurses/trainees got super close to my face and told me “Sugoi! Hana ga takai.” She was admiring the bridge of my nose. I found this pretty interesting because in the U.S. I’ve gotten the occasional “big nose” comment, which I never really minded so much.

What makes a high bridge nose more desirable in Japan? If we just look at Western vs. Eastern cosmetic surgery patterns, we can get a bit of a hint. It’s always fascinating to find out what kind of cosmetic surgery people have done to make themselves more “beautiful.”

It seems that no matter where you go, people want a more “exotic” look. Some people take the word exotic to mean rare, but let’s change the word to “foreign” or “different” in this case. In the U.S. What to people usually have done to their noses? They get a skilled plastic surgeon to hack a their noses to make them smaller while fitting the natural contour of their faces.

In Japan, in Asia, it’s the opposite, and stronger, higher, slightly bigger nose bridge makes you unique, it makes you exotic. I’ve talked to women in Japan who have literally told me that they hate their noses because they’re too small! I guess every society has some type of physical appearance complex to deal with.

3. SMALL/SLIM FACE

After one particular Golden Week holiday (one of the important holidays in Japan), I remember asking a Japanese friend how his vacation was. He had taken a trip to Hokkaido and began to tell me about how good the food was and how beautiful the women were. Curious, I asked him why the women in Hokkaido were so beautiful? “They have beautiful, white skin and slim faces,” he replied. Though it wasn’t an incredibly in-depth discussion about what makes a women pretty here in Japan, I never forgot what said.

The slim/small face comment is one that I’ve heard countless times. So much so, that I would say it ranks as one of the top three beauty comments that I’ve heard.

I remember having a coworker once who I thought was gorgeous, but she was often down on herself because she was slightly heavier than the average Japanese women and had a round face. When anyone would tell her how pretty she was, she would kind of brush it off as something she couldn’t really believe.

4. THIN/PETITE

Do you know the expression “ぼんきゅぼん (Bon Kyu Bon)?” Well in Japanese it’s kind of like onomatopoeia but not exactly. This expression is used when talking about a woman’s body shape. The first “bon” symbolizes a large bust, “kyu” means having a small waist, and “bon” means having a large curve at hips. Bon kyu bon is the Japanese equivalent of an hourglass figure.

In Japan, I think the thin, slim, or petite woman is considered more beautiful the one with amazing curves. Of course there are exceptions and personal preferences, but I think in general this is the case.

This is probably the only standard on this list that’s a bit of a toss-up. I had this conversation with Japanese men and women and it seems that no two people will have the same answer. I recently asked a Japanese friend (woman) “Which is more popular? The hourglass figure? Or the slim/petite one? She said the hourglass figure.

When asking a male Japanese friend the same question, he insisted on the slim/petite physique. It’s kind of hard to tell which is generally more popular.

5. CURLY EYELASHES

Eyelash curler, metal

Every time I see one of these I cringe. I can’t be the only one who thinks it looks like a torture device.How do we know curly eyelashes are a standard of beauty in Japan? Here’s how. One of these days when you’re on the train you may come across a young lady who decides to have a full-blown makeup session on the train ride to work. When she finishes putting on powder, she may pull out a contraption that looks a lot like a torture device. This “device” was made to curl eyelashes into submission.Another thing that I’ve seen (not really a fan, though) is the women wearing the OBVIOUSLY fake eyelashes. Generally it’s younger women who wear them, or who sit on the train and glue them on, but if they look fake, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?

Again some aesthetic features are universal and eyelashes ( are one of them. It’s why women here, women in the U.S., Europe and countless other countries use mascara to make thicker, fuller, curlier lashes.

6. THE DOUBLE EYELID

Since we’re in the eye area, we have to mention pink elephant in the room, probably one of the biggest ones on this entire list, the double eyelid! In Japanese they say “Futae (二重 – ふたえ) or Futae Mabuta (二重まぶた – ふたえまぶた)” and it’s another one of the big ones on this list. “

Why is the double eyelid a biggie? Well I’ve asked about this one, and the best answer I’ve heard was that having a double eyelid make the eye look bigger. I assume bigger eyes are more beautiful here in Japan.

Japanese women go to great lengths to get double eyelids. Many years ago a student of mine told me that she used to poke her eyelids with a spoon! A frickin’ kitchen spoon! There is also tape and double eyelid glue they sell in Japanese stores. And of course the double eyelid surgery is probably one of the more common procedures that Japanese women (Asian women) will have done.

The eyelid thing is one I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand. Personally, I’ve never looked at a woman and been like “Eww! Dude, she’s not cute at all because only has a single eyelid! There’s no way I’m dating her.” Just sounds kind of crazy to me.

7. LONG LEGS

Have you have snuck a peek a Japanese woman standing on train with a pair of amazing legs (it’s okay you can admit it, I won’t tell anybody. Women you can admit it, too). Well I think this is one Japanese women’s best assets. There are Japanese women with great legs!

The way I know great legs are important is because of how many women show them off regardless of the season. I’ve been sitting down, shivering, on the train in the winter and I’ve seen mini skirts short enough to almost show a bit of stockinged butt cheek. Sorry, but you’re not gonna hear me complain about that…not even a little bit :)

8. A POLITE PERSONALITY

They say beauty is only skin deep, but I disagree. A woman with a gorgeous exterior and a rotten core, or an abrasive personality kind of takes her down a few pegs on the ole attractiveness meter.

In Japanese culture, from the outside looking in, it seems as though personality and mannerism play a big role in how “beautiful” you are. An extremely poised/polite/elegant woman (think kimonos, hair pinned up, seiza (sitting on your heels), hands in the lap) is considered to be be more beautiful than say a wild and crazy, or brash one (think party girl, loud, drunk, or even rude).

While these are some of the typical characteristics I’ve heard here in Japan, beauty is relative. What’s attractive to me might not be attractive to you. What’s attractive to you may not be attractive to someone else. How “beautiful” someone is will be a debate that rages on until the end of time.

THE GREEN CAR: JAPAN’S LUXURY RAIL EXPERIENCE

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The Green Car on a Shinkansen is a top-notch travel experience.

The Green Car on a Shinkansen is a top-notch travel experience.

 

The Japan Rail Pass is reasonably priced and can be purchased for either one, two or three week durations. For the price of a round-trip journey by train from Tokyo to Kagoshima, you could buy a three week rail pass valid nationwide (excludes Okinawa). Given that the pass is so reasonable, you might very well consider indulging yourself by getting a “Green Car” ticket. The “Green Car” is Japan’s equivalent of first class, and it provides a truly luxurious touch to your voyages on Japan’s rails. You can purchase it as a supplement to the Japan Rail Pass which allows you to use the Green Car in any train you travel on. If you are just making a single journey, you can buy a single Green Car supplement to your normal ticket as well, giving you full flexibility over how to use it.

Enjoy panoramic views and ample room inside the JR Kyushu Sonic.

Enjoy panoramic views and ample room inside the JR Kyushu Sonic.

 

The benefits of the Green Car are numerous. Firstly, it gives you more legroom than you would find in the business class section of any domestic airline, and a plush seat that has a built in foot rest and reclines up to forty degrees. This will allow you to watch as Japan’s vistas float by your window, or perhaps to catch up on sleep after a busy day of sightseeing. In addition, on scenic routes such as the Sonic, which takes you along the north-eastern coast of Kyushu, the Green Car gives you access to the panoramic viewing windows at the end of the train. Finally, at busy periods such as New Years and the Golden Week holidays in May, Japanese trains often become uncomfortably crowded, especially if you are trying to travel with luggage. The Green Car is an oasis of calm even on the busiest days, allowing you to separate yourselves from the hustle and truly relax and enjoy your vacation. Such is the experience that when the time comes to disembark from the train and do some sightseeing, you may well find yourself reluctant to leave the comfort and class of the Green Car behind. But there is always another journey to be made, and the Green Car will always be available to give your trip an unforgettable note of luxury.

5 Ways to Indulge Kyoto-style

Kyoto, located in the Kinki region of Japan, is arguably the country’s most beautiful and historic city. With much of its original architecture still intact, Kyoto is a place like no other, where history and modernity are naturally integrated with each other, boasting over several thousand religious places while at the same time being a major metropolitan hub of Japan. A luxury vacation in this unique city is a must while in Japan, and these five activities will help you get started planning it.

1)   Stay at a Luxury Ryokan (Japanese Inn)

Kyoto Luxury Rokan

A Kyoto getaway  begins with accommodation. There is no better way to appreciate and immerse yourself in the city than to stay at a ryokan, or Japanese style inn. Visitors indulge in luxury of all senses at these inns which feature traditional Japanese rooms with futons and tatami, views of beautiful Japanese gardens, Japanese baths and delicious kaiseki meals – traditional Japanese multi-course cuisine. Shiraume Ryokan, situated in the heart of Kyoto’s most historic Gion district, is one such example. Shiraume, which began as a teahouse in the Meiji period, is a world famous ryokan known for its hospitality. The inn sits alongside the scenic Shirakawa stream, whose banks transform into cascades of red, white and pink blossoms in the spring. More information on Shiraume Ryokan can be found here.

2)   Stroll in Gion in a Kimono

Gion_Kyoto_Kimono

You can travel back in time in Kyoto by walking into the Gion district. Apart from the plethora of traditional architecture and greenery, Gion was and still is famed for its geisha, female entertainers trained in classical Japanese arts. You can further immerse yourself by exploring Gion while dressed up in kimono, stylized traditional Japanese clothes which came to prominence during the Heian period, which are worn today during special occasions such as weddings and coming of age ceremonies. Information on rentals can be found here.

3)   Participate in a Tea Ceremony

Kyoto_Maccha_tea_ceremony

An excellent way to relax and get in touch with your spiritual side is by participating in a Japanese tea ceremony, called sado. Known as the Way of Tea in Japan, sado is an art form, with heavy influence from practices of Zen Buddhism. The art was further refined by legendary tea master Sen no Rikyu. Powdered matcha, green tea, is used in ceremonies and is accompanied by wagashi, Japanese sweets. An authentic tea ceremony can be experienced at En, details here.

4)   Indulge in Kyoryori

Kyoryori Kaiseki Cuisine

Kyoryori, or Kyoto cuisine, is one of the most refined in all of Japan. It is food not only to be eaten but to be enjoyed by all five senses. This is not surprising, as Kyoto was the emperor’s home for over a millennium. Kyoto cuisine is often considered to be the pinnacle of kaiseki dining. Only the freshest, in-season ingredients are used, and special attention is paid to the dishware which brings out the most appealing aspects of the food. All authentic kyoryori is enjoyed in a multi-course meal served at a ryotei, or traditional Japanese restaurant. This article from Time introduces a couple of places where this special cuisine can be enjoyed.

5)   Souvenirs from Yojiya

Yojiya Kyoto

No trip is complete without unique souvenirs. When in Kyoto, visit the shop of local favorite makeup brand, Yojiya, a Kyoto-based cosmetic company founded in 1904. Yojiya is known for their non-powder oil blotting paper, which gives smoother skin and allows for the easier application of makeup. Other products include lipstick blotting paper and compact soap sheets. Look them up here.

photo credit: _Wookie via photopin cc
photo credit: LOWSPEED via photopin cc

Treat Yourself to a Hakone Weekend Getaway

Hakone is a gorgeous mountainous area in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan. Officially classified as a Geopark by UNESCO, Hakone is famous throughout Japan for its sulfur hot springs, Shinto shrines, and black eggs hard boiled in sulfur. Hakone is just a short train ride from Tokyo, as a result it has become a luxurious tourist town that couples traditional Japanese grace with extravagance and comfort.

Getting There

Odakyu Hakone Romance Car is by far the easiest and most luxurious way to travel to Hakone from Tokyo. This sleek train is shaped like a shinkansen bullet train, with vast windows, and comfortable seating, offering a scenic tour of the countryside. With a top speed of 145 km/h, the Romance Car will get you into Hakone in about an hour and a half.

What to Do

  • Hakone Jinja Shrine is a grand, traditional Japanese Shinto shrine with a vivid red tori gates nestled nearby in the waters of Lake Ashi.
  • Lake Ashi is a 19 km crater lake next to the Hakone Jinja Shrine. On a good day, you can see Mt. Fuji from any of the ferry cruises. If you can, try to get to Lake Ashi early in the morning; the sunrise over the lake, mountains, and nearby shrine is absolutely breathtaking.
  • The Hakone Open-Air Museum is the first and largest open air museum in Japan. With an interactive, 70,000 square meter sculpture garden and works from Picasso, Henry Moore, and Churyo Sato, the Hakone Open-Air Museum is a great place to spend the afternoon.
  • The Great Boiling Valley (Owakudani) is a volcanic valley with sulfur hot springs. It is famous for their kurotamago (black eggs) that are hard-boiled inside the sulfur springs.
Hakone Lake Ashi and Mount Fuji

Lake Ashi with Mount Fuji in the background.

Hot Springs

The Tenzan Tohjikyo hot springs have natural cave formation baths to provide an unique experience for foreigners.

Hakone Hotel Kowakien has both a water park for those that prefer wearing bathing suits and a traditional hot springs for those going au natural. The traditional side has Dead Sea style salt baths with different temperatures and concentrations, while the outdoor section has waterslides and rapid pools.

Hakone Kamon is a more simple and traditional onsen bath house, famous for their indoor and outdoor baths, including baths in large ceramic pots called Tsubo Baths.

Hakone Yuryo has public and private bath rooms for families or couples that wish to bathe together.

Hakone Yuryo Hot Springs

The Hakone Yuryo Hot Springs offer visitors an enticing bath.

What to Eat

Try kinmedai (a local white meat fish with golden eyes) sushi caught from Sagami Bay and kamaboko fish cakes. Eat fresh soba at the Hatsuhana soba shop along the Haya River. Most shops use the crystal-clear river water to cook soba and tofu.

Munch on the mountain brownies in Sagamiya. These freshly made Hakone brownies are popular among tourists.

Try a black egg, kurotamago, from the sulfur springs. Mottled black on the outside and normal on the inside, according to Japanese legend, these eggs will prolong your life by seven years. But the legend cautions not to eat more than 2 1/2 eggs at a time!

Where to Stay

Hakone Ichinoyu Honkan is a gorgeous Japanese styled ryokan luxury hotel with a long established history in the area. With public and private bathrooms, extensive facilities, and a famous beauty salon, Ichinoyu is the essence of tradition and elegance.

Gora Kadan is the former summer villa of the Japanese imperial family. Famous for its luxury, architecture and onsen for promoting smooth skin and good health, the Gora Kadan is a tourist favorite.

Taiseikan is a traditional Japanese ryokan nestled in the river valley. Meals are brought to your room and the outdoor onsen hot springs provides an excellent view of the valley.

Fujiya Hotel is a magnificent and historic Victorian style hotel that blends Western and Japanese styles, creating an area of comfort for visitors.

Boutique Shopping and More in Tokyo’s Jiyugaoka

It’s hard to believe that Jiyugaoka is only ten minutes by train from Shibuya. Walking the calm and sophisticated streets of this leafy residential area, the gaudy neon and Manga inspired mayhem of Shibuya seem a world away.

For the discerning international visitor Jiyugaoka offers a glimpse of an urban Japan rarely seen by other tourists. For Tokyoites, however, this place is no secret and many dream of making a life here. It’s easy to see why as you join young families, dating couples and singles, all out to enjoy the area’s understated, yet creative and classy, shopping and dining scene.

Jiyugaoka is relatively compact and rewards an aimless stroll. Below are some suggestions for spending a half-day in the area.

Shop

There are a wealth of fashion boutiques and home-ware stores here that offer astute shoppers the chance to move away from high-street lines and find something unique. Many collections and pieces balance elements of European and Japanese design.

Jiyugaoka boutique

You’ll want to explore the many unique shops of Jiyugaoka.

Watashi no Heya and Quatre Saisons – Located on Sunset Street, these popular stores have collections of home-ware accessories, tending towards a clean, organic sensibility.

Popeye Camera – Enthusiasts will love this store just north of the station, which sells trinkets with which to deck out your camera along with frames and albums to display your Japan pics. There’s also a delightful collection of vintage cameras.

Luz – A smart little shopping center for Japanese fashion on Suzukake Street which attracts a younger crowd who want urban style without losing sophistication.

Jiyugaoka Department Store – Next to the train station (central exit) this department store harks back to an older era (and an older clientele). It’s an interesting local attraction without being a tourist trap, and a great place for authentic souvenirs.

Eat Cake

Jiyugaoka Cake Shop

Refuel for more exploration with sweets and a coffee.

The Japanese obsession with cake is astonishing given how slim everyone is. (Where does it all go?). Jiyugaoka has an abundance of French inspired boulangerie (French Bakeries) for you to drool over. A local favorite is Pais S’eveille on Hilo Street which sells an exquisite range of cakes, cookies and jams. For a more low-brow experience (yes, Jiyugaoka is capable) Sweets Forrest on Green Street has a whole floor of treats for you to enjoy.

Meet The Locals

Green Street Jiyugaoka

Green Street in Jiyugaoka is a great place to meet the locals.

Green Street, so named for the row of trees running down the center, is one of Jiyugaoka’s main thoroughfares. On the pedestrianized stretch south-east of the train station you’ll meet many locals, visitors and the occasional old-timer hanging out on benches beneath said trees. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a break with your purchase from the boulangerie and watch some beautiful people rocking the latest in tasteful Japan fashion.

Go To Temple

Joshin Temple Jiyugaoka Tokyo

Joshin Temple: A traditional treasure in modern Jiyugaoka.

Follow Green Street west out of town and you’ll arrive at Joshin Temple, also known as Kuhonbutsu. The temple is a mystery. The mystery being how a place so staggeringly beautiful and peaceful, surrounded by some thirty million people, could be so little visited. Founded in 1678, it’s a large complex of amazing buildings, Buddhas, gates and bells, hidden in an area of woodland. People spend days chasing around Kyoto for experiences like this. And it’s free! I almost feel guilty for writing about it.

Dine Al fresco

Jiyugaoka, Tokyo outdoor dining

Al Fresco dining opportunities abound in leafy Jiyugaoka.

Opportunities to dine Al fresco in crowded Japan are limited so take advantage of the charming options in Jiyugaoka to round off your visit. One of the nicest terraces belongs to the Rakeru restaurant on Hillside Street. Surrounded by greenery it offers privacy, peace and fresh air. Although it’s a chain restaurant it’s one of the best places to try an ‘only in Japan’ combination of omelet and rice. Otherwise known as omuraisu!

A visit to the Tsurunoyu Onsen

As our taxi driver missed the entrance and proceeded to do a U-turn in the middle of the road, I thought the gorgeous fall colors enveloping the highway around us might have mesmerized him, but I quickly realize he completely missed the turn that took us to the Tsurunoyu Onsen. We circled back around and turned down a non-descript dirt road with a small sign written in Japanese that even our locally born taxi driver didn’t catch. He nodded and said “daijobu,” or something to the effect that we’re ok and now on the right path towards the famed onsen nestled at the base of Mt. Nyuto-zan in the Towada Hachimantai National Park.

I’ve never traveled in the Akita Prefecture before and only knew the Tohoku region as the area that was struck by the devastating 2011 tsunami. As an American tourist who has visited Japan numerous times, getting away from the hustle of Tokyo can be rewarding but most Western tourists rarely leave the capital and tend to travel exclusively to Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and a few other major cities south. Yet a trip north into the Tohoku region allows travelers experience the real Japanese countryside, the heart of authentic Japan. Skyscrapers give way to endless emerald green rice fields, majestic mountain views, and a Japanese friendliness that escapes those who live in the big cities.

Tsurunoyu Onsen Japanese Hotspring

We left Tokyo taking a three-hour trip north on the Shinkansen train from Tokyo Station to Akita. The bullet fast train dropped us off at Tazawako Station but we were still a distance from Tsurunoyu. According to the Onsen’s English website, visitors need to take an additional bus to the hot spring but Tsurunoyu suggest you call them in advance to let them know your bus departure time so they can arrange transportation to meet you at their bus stop. A walk from the bus stop to the Onsen would take over an hour so that call from the station is crucial.

Although it would cost more money, we opted for the convenience of a taxi, as we were both jet lagged and needed to travel to the next town over after our day trip to the Onsen.

As our taxi continued down the forest road, we were engulfed by fiery fall foliage, as the leaves had not yet shed from the trees. The taxi must have continued for at least another ten minutes until we finally reached what appeared to be a structure built in a different era. Tsurunoyu Onsen sat nestled at the bottom of mountain with the fall colors completely swallowing the property. Yellow reeds and birch trees obscured a water wheel slowly churning over a misty brook and the smell of sulfur signaled the mineral rich waters of the mountains awaiting us in the bath.

Tsurunoyu Hot Springs

 

The onsen was established in the 1600s and was used by the local nobility and samurais of the Akita region. The original thatched roof building still stands on the property. Once frequented exclusively by local visitors in recent times, international travelers have now discovered the onsen’s magical waters. So when we arrived, we rubbed elbows with Taiwanese, Thais, Malaysians, and a few Europeans. The onsen’s isolation also did not ensure us an overnight booking as the ryokan, or guesthouse, was booked solid for weeks. However, Tsurunoyu offers a day pass and we couldn’t miss bathing in the spring’s blue waters.

After arriving and purchasing a day pass, we hit the hot springs. A visit to a Japanese bath can be daunting to many newcomers but it is an experience not to be missed. The ritual of the onsen involves showering in a communal room before entering the hot springs. You shower by squatting on an impossibly low stool that forces your knees upwards towards your ears and bathe under a waist-high showerhead. Shampoos and liquid soaps are provided in your shower stall but they’re never in English, so I always find myself conditioning my feet and body soaping my hair. After washing every inch of your body, you can either rinse off using the showerhead or dump water over your head from a faux wooden bucket that is provided with your “never in English” soaps. Since my mom never let me take a bucket into the shower with me as a child, I always go for the dramatic rinse off.

With only a tiny towel to modestly cover you, you slip through the shower room and into the outdoor bath where you slowly ease into the warm, if not too hot, spring waters. Many novices find it tough at first to get over the no bathing suit issue but after a few minutes the hot bath soothes all those jitters away.

Tsurunoyu Onsen Japanese Hotspring

Fall colors surround you as you sit in the onsen at the base of the mountains. A mist slowly rises off the bluish, milky water that is rich in minerals found at the water’s source. The murkiness obscures any part of your body soaking in the water, so you never feel like you are completely exposed in the bath. Since the water temperature is fairly high, it doesn’t take long for bath to get uncomfortably warm so I found myself constantly getting in and out of the waters. But once I acclimated myself, sitting in the chest deep warmth invigorated my aching body as well as put me at ease.

Since we couldn’t spend the night, we asked if we could tour the property after our baths. The manager graciously obliged and we walked around the ancient grounds. Upon entering the main house where many of the guest rooms are, the smell of cedar and hay embraced us. We slipped off our shoes in exchange for the always-too-small Japanese slippers and slid our way across the polished wooden hallways towards one of the larger guest room. The huge tatami room was continuously held in reserve by a very large Japanese firm. The firm’s executives and guests would arrive unannounced and Tsurunoyu would accommodate them at a moment’s notice.

The reserved room, like much of the property we saw that afternoon, lacked many modern conveniences harking back to a time when visitors once arrived on foot or on horseback. Faded Japanese mountain-scape paintings covered the timeworn sliding doors, and shoji screen windows warmly filtered sunlight across the tatami mats. There was no flat screen TV to distract from the panoramic forest views that dominated the room. An open pit sat in the middle of the floor where an iron pot hung from a large hook over a soon to be lit fire. A small, sliding door led to private hot springs just outside of the grand room.

Tsurunoyu Onsen Japanese Hotspring

Dinner is provided to overnight guests, so we sadly missed out on a feast of river fish, mountain vegetables and other locally sourced ingredients. Luckily we knew of a great restaurant in the next town over that would have a similar menu; however, it was tough not dining in such a historic property.

Luckily our taxi driver understood my bad Japanese and was waiting for us out front and we left the Tsurunoyu property near dusk. I sadly glanced back and saw the property get smaller as we traveled away. I knew it would be tough to return to this far away location but Japan has always driven me back into her arms. I’m positive I’ll visit this onsen again.

by Marco Garcia

Kayotei Country Inn in Ishikawa

By Everett Kennedy Brown

When I first heard of Hokuriku I thought it sounded like a rooster call. When I actually visited the region just two and half hours from Tokyo on the new Shinkansen route (that opens in March 2015), I quickly discovered that it is one of the most scenic regions of Japan.  It is a place I return to again and again to photograph and explore rural villages and rediscover the other side of Japan, the region along the Japan Sea, that is known for great local food and lodgings.

At the foot of the mountains in Ishikawa prefecture is one of my favorite country inns in Japan. In 30 years of global travel as a photographer it is one of the most fulfilling lodging experiences I have ever had. It offers not the luxury of a grand Parisian hotel, or a Balinese beach resort, but the subtle and refined luxury that only Japan has to offer, but taken to a more sublime level.

On my first visit to the country inn Kayotei, I was met at the entrance by three of the staff. They greeted me with a gentle and nostalgic intimacy that gave me the odd impression that I was returning home, to my own private country villa, after a long hiatus. From the start, the whole experience, replete with first class attendants, maids, chefs and décor left a profound impression on the body and spirit. I was hooked from the first day.

Located in the small hot springs village of Yamanaka in Ishikawa prefecture, the village remains much the same as it has for generations. The inn owners are active in promoting the long traditions of the community and are ever ready to escort inn guests to visit the local organic farmers and craftsmen who provide the soul, spirit and sustenance of the community.

Kayotei Ryokan Lodge     Kayotei Ryokan Lodge

Kayotei becomes a showcase for these local artists and craftsmen whose work is displayed amidst the antique furniture, long polished oak tables, hand painted screens and traditional ceramics that adorn the interior, all of which give the inn a feeling of being untouched by time. This atmosphere is also due to the finely nurtured traditional gardens that surround the garden and the ancient and thickly forested hills that rise above the inn’s natural hot spring baths.

Kayotei has only ten suite rooms. Each is designed in a tea pavilion style that provides a remarkable sense of privacy. Japanese traditional meals, using only the best local ingredients of the season are provided in room. A divine vegetarian menu is also available and the breakfasts, are considered the best in Japan by Lonely Planet.

A night or two at Kayotei elevates the perceptions to a higher aesthetic level. It is perhaps my most valued secret for making better photographs when visiting the Hokuriku region.

For more information about Kayotei, visit here. http://www.ryokancollection.com/eng/kayoutei/ryokan_story.htm?ryokan=kayoutei

 

Kyoto is a Magical Journey

image001.jpgKyoto is magical and it is easy to understand why the city received Conde’ Nast Travelers Readers’ Choice Award as the best Asian city of 2011. A journey to Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital is to take a step back in time and to experience the essence of Japanese culture. From ancient temples and shrines where centuries old traditions are carried out before your eyes to the cobblestone alleys of Gion, the city’s historic Geisha quarter, where teahouses are filled each evening with music and laughter, the past comes alive in Kyoto.

No matter what season you experience Kyoto, its cultural refinement and grace, complimented by abundant natural beauty, beckon you to delve first-hand into the wonders and charm that the city has to offer. In summer relax in front of the glistening moss garden of an ancient temple admiring its subtle beauty as others have done before you for hundreds of years. While in fall, meander through the tranquil environs of a solitary temple that comes alive in the glow of autumn leaves where you may try meditation in the company of the friendly temple priest. Winter, perhaps my favorite time of year, brings certain solitude along with a blanket of snow that makes the city’s charm and beauty all the more radiant. As spring bursts forth with a wave of fragrant cherry blossoms that cover the city in a canopy of ephemeral beauty, stroll through the grounds of imperial villas that become like a work of art.

A journey to Kyoto would not be complete without an evening in a ryokan or Japanese inn. From a former Buddhist temple that is now a luxuriously appointed inn located deep in the surrounding mountains to an impeccable inn located in the center of Kyoto, an evening at a ryokan is a holistic experience. A ryokan allows you to enjoy with all of your senses the refinement of Kyoto that has been developed and nurtured over generations. Passing the evening in a simple tatami room of refined elegance while enjoying a delicious kaiseki meal served with understated grace and style is an experience that you will never forget.

By Philip Rosenfeld

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