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  • 1. Take a dramatic road trip through the volcanoes of Kyushu
    • 1. TAKE A DRAMATIC ROAD TRIP THROUGH THE VOLCANOES OF KYUSHU‘Yamanami means “mountain wave” in Japanese and describes how this route undulates through the valleys and uplands of Kyushu – the country’s south-westernmost main island – towards Mount Aso, a massive active volcano near its centre. The topography changes regularly, and the sudden view across Aso’s giant caldera is breathtaking. Start at the hot-spring retreat of Yufuin, spending a night at Sanso Murata, a beautiful inn with incredible food and a wonderful bar. Extend the drive to Kirishima-Kinkowan, a national park with more steaming peaks further south.’GETTY IMAGES
  • 2. Enjoy an ocean escape to Kishi-ke
    • 2. ENJOY AN OCEAN ESCAPE TO KISHI-KE‘At the breakfast bar of Kishi-ke, a stunning, modern single-use ryokan inn in Kamakura, a seaside city south of Tokyo, the chef preparing the morning feast stands before a picture window that frames the Pacific Ocean like a Hiroshi Sugimoto photograph. The owners, Hitomi and Nobu Kishi, act as hosts, cultural teachers and local guides to the city’s crowd of temples, surf shops and bobo bakeries. Supper is optional, so guests can pick a local restaurant and walk back along the beach.’3. STAY AT SEKIYOU RYOKAN IN ODAWARA, WEST OF TOKYO’I loved it – when I visited I felt like I’d finally graduated in Japan, because for so long I wouldn’t have understood the delicate nuances and details, from the towels to the tableware. Nothing is left to chance. Other ryokans are grander or more theatrical, but this one is too classy for fuss. Only for real Japan nuts.’SUKEYASU YAMAGUCHI
  • 4. Get around via the Shinkansen
    • 4. GET AROUND VIA THE SHINKANSEN’Also known as the bullet train (and one of the best train journeys in the world), though speed is the least memorable of its many pleasures. The Green Car – first class, but you can’t say those words in egalitarian Japan – is one of the only rail carriages on earth where my lanky limbs don’t feel crumpled like I’m in an Egon Schiele painting. It’s super-clean and efficient, of course, but it’s the train conductors who turn and bow as they pass through each carriage, and the lovely ladies and occasional gents wheeling service trolleys down the aisles, politely selling cold kan beeru (canned beers) and egg sandwiches, who warm the soul. I’ve always said the pleasure of Japan is less that it’s a glimpse of the future but more a window to the past, and here you get a bit of both.’GETTY IMAGES
  • 5. Dine out in Yoyogi, specifically between the Uehara and Hachiman areas
    • 5. DINE OUT IN YOYOGI, SPECIFICALLY BETWEEN THE UEHARA AND HACHIMAN AREAS‘I can happily live within a 15-minute walk from home in Tokyo, eating almost without pause. Breakfast is near Yoyogi-Hachiman Station at Path, famous for fresh croissants and Dutch pancakes. Next comes coffee from Little Nap, which I take with me on a walk around Yoyogi Park or the adjacent forest surrounding the Meiji Shrine. For a special occasion I’ll treat myself to brunch at the Park Hyatt Tokyo’s New York Grill, about a 30-minute walk north from the shrine – still the city’s best. Otherwise, Ramen Doraku – no-frills but spotlessly clean – always satisfies. In the evening, it’ll be G&Ts at the Fireking Café before yakitori sticks and cold beers at Fuku, a local spot which is no longer a secret but still my favourite.’
  • 6. Visit an island of which one literally may not speak
    • 6. VISIT AN ISLAND OF WHICH ONE LITERALLY MAY NOT SPEAK‘It’s more of a fantasy, but Okinoshima is a sacred Shinto island in the Sea of Japan where only 200 pre-chosen men (only men) are allowed to set foot once a year, on 27 May, and only after a ritual misogi purification ceremony, which can require you to stand almost naked, wearing only a fundoshi loincloth, under a waterfall. The fantasy thickens. The last rule of Okinoshima is: you do not talk about Okinoshima. Once you leave the island, you are forbidden to speak about it. So don’t expect to see a travelogue in Condé Nast Traveller any time soon. In fact, maybe I’ve already been. You’ll never know.’ALAMY
  • 7. Take a day trip to see the Nakamura Keith Haring Collection
    • 7. TAKE A DAY TRIP TO SEE THE NAKAMURA KEITH HARING COLLECTION‘Many people will be surprised to know that one of the most energetic collectors of the legendary pop artist Keith Haring’s work was a Japanese businessman called Kazuo Nakamura. The splendid little museum he built to share the collection is a two-hour train ride west of Tokyo in a nice yet unremarkable city called Hokuto – an odd twist of history for a creative so associated with a particular time and place: New York City in the 1980s. But the punkish young Haring superfans who work here keep the vibe alive.’ALL KEITH HARING ARTWORK © KEITH HARING FOUNDATION COURTESY OF NAKAMURA KEITH HARING COLLECTION.
  • 8. Eat at Sushidokoro Hiroshi, for the fish and the chef
    • 8. EAT AT SUSHIDOKORO HIROSHI, FOR THE FISH AND THE CHEF‘Sushi chefs have often told me that, to them, the quality of the human is even more important than the quality of the fish. They are saying, I think, that a sushi restaurant lives or dies by the character of the chef, his team, and his all-important suppliers. No wonder, then, that this out-of-town restaurant is a favorite. Chef Hiroshi Komatsu is always smiling, always chatty, always informative, and always laughing. If you don’t trust me, trust the quiet old man I sat next to recently who happened to be one of the most important fish traders in the business. Not everyone will want to make the 40-min train journey to Nishi-Ogikubo to get here, but that’s OK with me.’9. SHOP AT NOTA&DESIGN FOR CERAMICS AND RIDE PADDIES‘Nota is an interiors store deep in the countryside of Shiga Prefecture, east of Kyoto. You’ll need a car and GPS to find it – through a random village, beyond the trees, surrounded by rice fields. Every now and then a single carriage putt-putt train totters along the horizon. The young owners found a failing factory and turned it into a cool homeware brand. Kyoto’s new Ace Hotel is a customer, as am I – Nota made the ceramic stools on my balcony. Everything can be shipped internationally. A trip here is easy to pair with a visit to the IM Pei-designed Miho Museum.’
  • 10. Hike to Zenagi, a farmhouse in the Japanese Alps
    • 10. HIKE TO ZENAGI, A FARMHOUSE IN THE JAPANESE ALPS‘Renovating an old Japanese farmhouse has been a dream of mine, so I felt thrilled but also a bit jealous when I stayed at Zenagi, a three-bedroom property in the mountains of Nagano, halfway between Tokyo and Kyoto. The owners stripped the structure down to its original beams and added striking contemporary furnishings. The rooms are up in the eaves and have private bathrooms with massive wooden tubs. Perfect for a well-earned soak after hiking while the in-house chef is preparing supper.’
  • 11. Get in line at Tonki
    • 11. GET IN LINE AT TONKI‘Tonki in Meguro is less a cult restaurant and more a restaurant that feels like a cult, but in a good way. The holy grail here is the tonkatsu, a deep-fried pork cutlet, which is pretty much all they serve. Outside is a line of hungry pilgrims (go after 9pm to be seated quickly). Inside, the chefs work silently in their pure white uniforms and white welly boots, looking rather like Shinto acolytes on loan from the shrine. In line with tradition, the cutlets are served with finely sliced cabbage, rice and miso soup, but the batter uses flour instead of the more common breadcrumbs. It’s an eat-and-leave/pray-and-run situation. Linger too long and the head chef will give you a scowl for the ages.’

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