Skip to main content

Travel Diary: Journey Through Japan

Members discover Japan's intoxicating riches of art and culture on this 11-day Journey of Eastern enlightenment.

Day 1 | Welcome to Japan

Konnichiwa (hello) from Japan! The first Club departure for the 2023 Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hakone Once-in-a-Lifetime Journey started in Tokyo. After traveling halfway across the globe, Members were excited to begin the trip. On the first night, the group gathered for cocktails and appetizers in the Private Aviation Lounge at the Peninsula Tokyo, and everyone enjoyed themselves while taking in the impressive views of the Tokyo skyline.

Day 2 | The Traditions of Tokyo

Members made their way to Taiko Lab to learn about the history of Taiko drumming in Japan before they got their blood flowing with a very fun, hands-on Taiko drumming lesson. Afterward, we enjoyed a professional Taiko drumming performance. The sound of the drums was powerful, and it was easy to see why they were used as an intimidation tactic in battles. 

Next, we made our way to the Tsukiji Fish Market, where Members met a sixth-generation sushi chef who holds two Michelin Stars. He spoke about the history of sushi and taught Members how to make four different types for themselves, with everyone vying for the title of “Exclusive’s Best Sushi Chef.” 

That evening, the group took over a Robatayaki restaurant and enjoyed the traditional Japanese meal with food cooked in front of you over charcoal and served on large paddles. A sake sommelier was brought in to provide a pairing for each course.

The pathways through the Nizu Shrine
Members Jim and Candace Stuart showing off their handmade sushi

Day 3 | Exploring Sensoji Temple and the Neighborhoods of Tokyo

On the third day of the trip, Members began the day exploring the Sensoji Temple, which is one of Tokyo’s most popular Buddhist temples. Once inside Sensoji, the group witnessed a special ceremony performed by the priests, and each received a blessing. We then went to Tokyo Skytree, Japan’s tallest building, to enjoy lunch among the clouds.

Next, the group walked through Yanesen — one of the oldest neighborhoods in Tokyo. We ended the walk at Nezu Shrine, where Members compared this Shinto shrine to the Buddhist temple we visited earlier in the day. Shinto shrines are about appreciating nature, and Members enjoyed a moment of zen together as we listened to the sound of rainfall throughout the beautiful gardens. 

Day 4 | Traveling to Kyoto

Members left Tokyo on a first-class bullet train and made their way to Kyoto: home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 108 Michelin Stars! Once we arrived, we filled our afternoon walking around the beautiful and historic Gion District, home to the legendary geisha. After learning a bit about geisha art and culture, we checked in at Four Seasons Kyoto. The hotel was built around the historic 12th-century Japanese garden of Shakusui-en, and it’s absolutely breathtaking.

After check-in, Members had a bit of time to relax in their rooms or enjoy sake in the gardens before we headed over to Mikaku for a true culinary treat: Kobe beef. It is only served at a very limited number of places outside of Kobe, and we were lucky enough to dine at one of them.

Members in front of Tower Gate at Fushimi Inari
Members walked through the massive Senbon Torii

Day 5 | Visting Fushimi Inari and Exploring Kyoto

To kick off our fifth day, some of the group chose to head to Fushimi Inari early in the morning to beat the crowds. Fushimi Inari is the most visited place in all of Japan, but we went there early enough that we nearly had the whole place to ourselves. There are thousands of Torrey Gates that line the mountain path and it’s truly a sight to behold. It’s said that each gate you walk under removes one sin from your past.

Next, Members explored Sanjusangendo, which is a Buddhist temple surrounded by a peaceful zen garden, and the 1001 Buddhas housed in Tofukuji Temple. After, we headed to Yamamoto, which is a renowned Roketsu cloth-dying studio. Roketsu is a beautiful — but dying — art. The studio had three generations of craftsmen who taught the group how to draw a design using wax on fabric and how to dye the cloth afterward so we could create our own pieces. After the day’s activities, Members enjoyed an evening to themselves and all had reservations at various Michelin-Star restaurants.

Day 6 | Arashiyama and Meeting the Geisha

On the sixth day, the group headed an hour outside of Kyoto to Arashiyama to visit Tenryu-ji, a UNESCO site widely considered one of the most beautiful examples of a Japanese Garden in the country. Afterward, each couple rode by rickshaw around the beautiful bamboo forest.

We then headed to lunch and back to the hotel for some free time before our kimono outfitters arrived! Everyone was fitted in a kimono before we transferred to Gesshin-In for a private meditation and tea ceremony in our traditional attire. The highlight of the evening was dinner at the Sodoh, where we had two geisha to perform and answer questions for us. Many Japanese people will go their whole lives without seeing a real geisha, so this was truly exclusive access for Members!

Members in traditional kimonos with the geisha
The geisha performance

Day 7 | Traveling to Hakone

Members left Kyoto on a first-class bullet train bound for Hakone, renowned for Japan's natural beauty and hot springs, attracting nearly 20 million visitors yearly. Upon arrival, we spent the afternoon at the Hakone Open Air Museum, featuring over 120 sculptures set against dramatic mountain backdrops and 300 pieces of art by Pablo Picasso.

Next, we went to Gora Kadan, our home for the next two evenings. The Gora Kadan is a traditional Japanese Ryokan and is an entirely different experience than the Western-style hotels that the group stayed in for most of the trip. Here, Members donned yukata (informal kimono) and experienced authentic Japanese culture and design, choosing to relax over a cup of green tea in their tatami mat rooms or soak in the onsens (hot springs) that the region is famous for.

Members enjoyed a private kaiseki, or beautiful multi-course Japanese dinner, in their rooms to end the day.

The scenic Lake Ashi
The historical Tokaido Trail

Day 8 | Exploring Owakundani and Lake Ashi

Our day began with a Hakone Ropeway (Gondola) ride to Owakudani, an active volcano heating all the local onsens in the region. Several brave Members purchased the black eggs boiled in the sulfurous waters that bubble up from the mountain. While we were at Owakudani, the clouds parted, and we saw Mt. Fuji in all her glory!

Next, we headed to Lake Ashi to enjoy a scenic boat ride across the lake, followed by a walk on one of the only remaining portions of the Tokaido Trail that historically ran from Kyoto to Tokyo. It was required for the higher-class individuals of the Edo period to walk this trail once a year as they moved their lives from Kyoto to Tokyo and back again the following year.

Afterward, we visited a local artisan that creates “trick boxes.” Each box can only be opened with intricate movements, ranging from easy (5 moves or less) to extremely difficult (35 moves or more). Members had each received one of the trick boxes as a turndown gift the night before, and they enjoyed learning more about the art that goes into putting each one together.

Day 9 | Returning to Tokyo

On the ninth day, we began the journey back to Tokyo. On the way, we stopped in the charming coastal town of Kamakura to take in a few additional sites. First, Members visited Daibutsu: The Great Buddha. This large bronze statue is one of the most recognizable sites in the country and is under consideration to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Next, Members visited Hasadera, a celebrated Buddhist temple. While Hasadera’s main draw is generally considered the large statue of the goddess Kannon, our Members enjoyed the 50,000+ Jizo statues placed in the temple since World War II. Jizo statues are placed in temples by parents mourning the loss of a child, and it’s a powerful juxtaposition between the beauty of the display and the heartache behind it.

Members finished the journey to Tokyo and checked in to the final hotel of the trip, the Edition Hotel.

Members visited Daibutsu: The Great Buddha
Members enjoyed spending their final day exploring Tokyo

Day 10 | The End of the Journey

On the last day, each Member couple had a private guide and driver to curate their ideal day in Tokyo. Many spent time shopping, securing knives, pottery, and matcha. Another group of Members booked tickets to the sumo tournaments in the city and enjoyed that unique sporting experience!

Everyone gathered for a farewell dinner and drinks reception — the end to an amazing Once-in-a-Lifetime Journey through Japan.