Traveling can be about so much more than simply taking a break, getting a little more sleep and lying on a beach. Though relaxing pastimes are important and worthwhile, a vacation can also provide the chance to change your routine, to do things and visit places that nourish and rejuvenate not only your body but your mind and soul as well. They say a change is as good as a rest, and where better to discover different cultures, try new foods and experience different ways of life than in Japan. From its high tech, bustling cities with their bullet trains, shiny gadgets and non-stop action to its stunning, otherworldly scenery and fascinating, unfathomable ancient culture, Japan is as unique a destination as it gets.
Embark on a journey to the land of the rising sun and open your mind to spiritual practices, ancient therapies and mind-blowing landscapes, for an effective reset and perhaps the opportunity to pick up a few life-altering new habits or ways of thinking.
There’s no better way to clear the mind and blow away the cobwebs than with outdoor pursuits: the mountainous pistes of Hokkaido await, offering the chance to lose yourself in pure, powdery-driven snow. Take to the central peaks of this region on the north island to breathe the fresh, icy air and exercise your limbs, carving up the long, winding slopes on skis or a snowboard. Explore the beautiful countryside on foot or snowshoe, trek up mountain passes and canoe down the crystal rapids of the Kushiro River.
Alternatively, leave the traffic of your day-to-day life behind and take to two wheels to explore the volcanic landscapes of Kyushu. Free-wheel around the hairpin bends of Mount Aso caldera and Mount Kuju and cruise through the lush green forests of the region’s national parks, cut with rushing rivers and waterfalls that tumble down plunging ravines. Refresh with a dip in a cold mountain creek before soaking in the natural hot spring waters, enriched with minerals in the traditional Japanese onsens, for a truly relaxing experience.
Immerse yourself in culture
Plunge into a different world, see new things and get a new perspective: Kyushu is a land packed with ancient cultures and traditions and here, in Fukuoka, the enormous Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine sprawls over 3,000 acres. The shrine is built over the grave of Japanese poet Sugawara no Michizane, who is worshipped as the god of learning and academia, so you might find a little creative inspiration or mental stimulation during your visit.
Experience Japan’s ethereal festivals for a glimpse of how customs and celebrations are combined with the natural beauty of the landscape. Head to Tokachigawa for the spectacular lights of “Sairinka”, marvel at the fireworks that sparkle in Akan’s frosty sky over the winter lake festival or revel in the Abashiri Winter Ice Festival, where frozen sculptures are lit up at night to create a glittering rainbow.
Meanwhile, equally integral to Japan’s fascinating history and culture is of course its cuisine, so deftly crafted and intricately served at elegant sushi restaurant and tranquil teahouses. Take some time to indulge in the flavors, sights and smells, and edify yourself with fresh ingredients and cleansing brews.
Treat yourself, body and soul
Even in the big city you can ensconce yourself in retreats dedicated to enhancing wellness and promoting peace. At the Aman Tokyo, the spa boasts all the benefits of ancient techniques and remedies including Kampo, which uses natural herbs and emphasizes the principles of balancing mind and body in its sprawling hot baths and steam rooms.
Meanwhile, the new Amanemu, soon to open amid the natural beauty of Ise-Shima National Park in Honshu, is a secluded oasis, surrounded by sacred Shinto shrines and overlooking the pearl divers in Ago Bay. The spa here is themed around water, and the salt-infused onsens offer respite for aching limbs while expert practitioners stretch and mobilize your limbs in the traditional watsu pool. Soak, sauna and steam for a full cleanse or re-align with yoga sessions on the outdoor deck.
In Yamashiro, not far from Kanazawa, enter a state of Zen at the Beniya Mukayu hotel. Designed like a traditional ryokan, your open-air bathroom overlooks an immaculately-pruned Japanese garden and you can take some time to cultivate your skills in relaxation traditions including tea ceremonies with the owner and yoga sessions with his wife. Similarly, located just outside Tokyo in Hakone, Gora Kadan is a peaceful ryokan retreat once favored by the Japanese imperial family. Here you can recline in the garden onsen or reinvigorate your muscles through the expert ministrations of the spa’s therapists.