The natural wonders of... Japan
Michael Pullman recently travelled to Japan and was surprised by the country’s natural beauty. Here he talks about the highlights of his trip.
Japan is a country I had long-wanted to visit. To me it conjured up visions of high-tech cities, traditional temples and geishas. I did experience that side of Japan, but what took me by surprise was the country's stunning natural beauty, from the mountains and forests of Hakone National Park to the gardens of Kyoto.
Kyoto's Temples and Gardens
Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, has over 1,000 temples, most of which are surrounded by beautiful gardens. We visited the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which is an impressive wooden complex sitting on top of a hill overlooking the city.
An excellent example of Kyoto's beautiful gardens can be found at Kodaji Temple. This small temple has a series of typical Japanese doorways looking out onto perfectly-proportioned gardens with running water and carefully-pruned trees.
Hakone National Park
Hakone National Park is a beautiful region of mountains, lakes and forests, about two hour's drive from Tokyo. From Soun-zan we took a 30-minute cable car down to Lake Ashino-ko, a journey which on clear days offers tremendous views of Mount Fuji. Once at the bottom, you can take a ferry ride across the lake for more picturesque views of the mountain the Japanese reverentially refer to as 'Fuji-san'.
A Tea Ceremony in Kyoto
We were lucky enough to attend a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in Kyoto. During a delicious sashimi dinner, we were graciously hosted by two maiko (apprentice geisha, or 'geiko') and one geiko. After dinner, while the elder geiko played a strnged instrument with a long neck, two of the maikos gave an exquisite dance, before we finished the evening playing parlour games such as konpira fune-fune ('slapping-box' game).
The Park Hyatt, Tokyo
The Park Hyatt is one of the finest hotels in the world, and thanks largely to 2003's Lost in Translation, it is also one of the most famous. The hotel begins on the 45th floor, and each luxurious but understated room has enormous windows offering superb views of the Tokyo skyline. The views from the famous New York Grill on the top floor, are even more impressive. Here we were treated to Kobe Beef, and a few drinks at the bar, where we imagined we were Bill Murray watching the live jazz band whilst sipping suntory whisky.
Cox & Kings offers a 10-night Japan's Cultural Treasures group tour taking in Tokyo, Hakone National Park, Kyoto and Nara.