Each time I visit Japan, I cannot help but be impressed by the care and precision that is put into everything, from the unbelievably efficient public transport system and bullet trains, which average an astonishing 30 second delay over the course of a year, to the intricate dishes served in the cafes and restaurants. Even the taxis are spotless with their drivers immaculately dressed and wearing brilliant white gloves. Everyone takes great pride in their work which makes Japan a absolute pleasure to travel through.
My latest trip to Japan took me its two most important cities: Tokyo and Kyoto.
Tokyo is very much modern Japan and nowhere is this better illustrated than at Shibuya Junction in the heart of the city. Bright neon signs, high tech shops, bullet trains passing by - Shibuya must be the busiest crossing in the world with up to 3,000 pedestrians on the march every time the traffic lights change. Strange as it may sound, you cannot help but be part of this extraordinary phenomenon and I crossed four times!
Of course Tokyo is not all about the bright lights. It is also a gastronomic dream with more Michelin starred restaurants than any other city on earth. However, even the smallest of establishments prepares food worthy of high account. Ukai-tei in the Ginza precinct is one such example, and the precise flair with which the chef at this Teppan-yaki restaurant, directly in front of me on the other side of the hot plate, prepared my choice of wagu beef and fresh stir-fry vegetables was wonderful to watch. And also wonderful to eat!
After a few days soaking up the atmosphere of this megacity, I boarded the bullet train for Kyoto. I had traveled on one before but was still excited by the thought of speeding through the Japanese countryside with fleeting views of Mt Fuji en route. As expected, my train pulled into the railroad station at Kyoto exactly on schedule.
Although Japan is often seen as an entirely modern society, its people are incredibly proud of their heritage and great care is taken in preserving traditions and maintaining historic sites. No more so than in Kyoto, once the imperial capital of Japan and arguably the country's most important cultural center with literally thousands of temples and shrines dotted in and around the city. One could spend weeks here and barely scratch the surface, but make sure that you at least visit Kinkaku-ji or The Temple of the Golden Pavilion which sits in the middle of a lake surrounded by beautiful gardens and forest. It is a real sight to behold and the perfect place to spend a couple of hours.
I stayed at the Ritz Carlton which only opened in February 2014 but is already the best and most stylish hotel in Kyoto with impeccable service and immaculate rooms. My own room looked out over the Kamogawa River to the mountains beyond - the perfect view to wake up to in the morning. The hotel is also well located, only a short walk along the river from Nishiki Market which specialises in all things food and whose charming stores have been run by the same families for generations. Close by the market, and also a short walk from the hotel, is the ancient Gion Precinct, its streets lined with traditional wooden houses. You may well catch sight of a Geiko (Geisha) here on her way to or from an engagement.
I also arranged to have lunch at an Ochaya (tea house), where a Maiko (trainee geisha) will act as your hostess during the meal, entertaining you with light conversation, music and dance. It was a rare glimpse into a fast disappearing tradition and the perfect way to end my short time in the 'Land of the Rising Sun'.
View our vacations to Japan.