From coast to countryside, new for 2024 and beyond, bespoke travel specialist, Audley Travel has introduced two contrasting Japanese destinations – Tohoku and Kyoto-by-the-Sea.
Tohoku is located in the rugged, rural most northern region of the mainland, where the cherry blossoms bloom into April, later than the Golden Route season, extending the window of opportunity for visitors to experience the iconic scenes. Whereas Kyoto-by-the-Sea in Kyoto Prefecture is a hub of the world’s top artisans nestled between the mountains and the sea, and the village of Ine is said to be one of the rarest in the world, made up of over 200 funaya ‘boat houses’ which frame the bay.
David Peat, Senior Product Executive at Audley Travel said, “For many, Japan is a bucket-list destination, and as well as helping clients tick-off those big icons, we specialize in inspiring them to find authentic experiences, including in the lesser-known gems across the country.
“For example, visitors to Japan often believe that the chance to see the iconic cherry blossom is limited but by heading north to Tohoku, where it blooms later in the year, this period is expanded and therefore so are the opportunities to explore more. Whereas a visit to Kyoto-by-the-Sea in the south presents an opportunity to visit a truly unique setting which contributes directly back to the community.“
“It is this type of destination knowledge that helps clients of Audley make the most of the time they have on their trip, and in Japan that means the ability to not only see the major sights of Tokyo, but also tour the coast, and rural, mountainous north and all of the culturally-rich experiences they offer.”
Dramatic landscapes and mountainous terrain make Tohoku’s major gateways must-visit destinations. Sendai, the region’s largest city and site of the Osaki Hachimangu Shinto shrine, is neighbored by beautiful Matsushima, the city’s island-dotted bay considered one of Japan’s most scenic places. A short journey north takes clients to Kakunodate, the scenic backbone of the country and a town known for its samurai history. Here, clients have the rare opportunity to spend the night in a luxuriously converted and restored former samurai residence, many of which are maintained as homes or museums. Circling back to the iconic flora and fauna of Japan, Hirosaki is home to Hirosaki Castle park, one of the most visually stunning cherry blossom spots in the whole country. Each of these locations are well connected by train and air travel, allowing for a more efficient trip in terms of time and the opportunity to fit more in.
For an authentic and luxurious experience in Japanese cuisine, Audley’s specialists recommend a visit to the city of Yuzawa in Akita, where the need to preserve food during the snowy winter has led to a diverse fermented food culture. The traditional setting of The Yamamo Miso and Soy Sauce Brewery hosts a unique full pairing menu, with all items crafted using their patented fermentation techniques. Visitors can learn through tasting sensory experiences and workshops about the brewing techniques for miso and soy sauce, as well as having the chance to take a stroll down the beautiful, historic Masuda preserved street front.
Whilst the cherry blossom can be enjoyed into April, October is the month where the vivid colors of Fall come to life, earlier than the main tourist spots, meaning Tohoku truly is a wondrous place to experience these iconic seasons without the crowds.
Kyoto is the Japan of the imagination: a city of grand palaces, Shinto shrines and exquisite gardens, whilst Kyoto-by-the-Sea offers something quite exclusive in contrast to this modern city. Clients can stay in a traditional ryokan and visit the village of Ine, which is made up of 230 funaya boathouses built along the bay. The experience has been carefully designed to ensure visitors engage with the community, thereby contributing to the local economy.
Tours focus on Amanohashidate, including taking in the view of the iconic sea bridge from the top of Kasamatsu Park and visiting Motoise Kono Shrine (said to be where sake was first offered to the gods). Clients take a sea taxi around Ine, learning about the history of the village and its innovative sustainable fishing process, including how to prepare traditional sashimi and choose a walking or e-bike tour to explore the local area.