The best new things to do in Japan
With Japan opening its doors without restrictions from October 11, there is renewed interest in everything within its borders. The hot springs, temples, and neon-lit towns remain as enchanting as ever, but a lot has changed in 2.5 years.
While the world has waited patiently to return and experience the country’s famous Omotenashi hospitality and culture, locals have been busy adding the finishing touches to a rich tapestry of new additions. The results speak for themselves.
Cool hotels, adventurous theme parks and unique experiences that transport you to the past and bring a vision of the future to the present are just some of the new things to discover.
Here is our selection of the best.
Hotels worth visiting
As the main point of entry for most visitors, Tokyo offers a captivating mix of suitable hotels, including luxurious options such as The Peninsula and Aman.
One notable debut is Tokyo EDITION Toranomon, which opened its grand golden doors in late 2020 and has already garnered a legion of local fans.
Boasting mesmerizing skyline views, not to mention a stylish restaurant and bar from Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens, this is the complete package. The location is also perfect, with access to Kamiyacho, Roppongi-Itchome and Toranomon subway stations.
Other additions include the AC Hotel Tokyo Ginza, with a chic rooftop overlooking the famed Ginza shopping district below, and the edgy Kimpton Shinjuku, described as “Tokyo meets Manhattan.”
Both offer the right mix of style and comfort.
Further afield is the Ritz-Carlton Nikko: an exquisite hotel in the mountainous region of Tochigi, just two hours by bullet train from Tokyo. Located on the shores of Lake Chuzenji, it boasts a minimalist design and a private onsen, all close to the UNESCO-listed Toshogu Shrine.
Not to be outdone, the former imperial capital Kyoto now has the colorful and quirky Ace Hotel – a sibling to the new Sydney outpost – in addition to Fauchon L’Hotel Kyoto, infused with sweet delights thanks to its home Parisian mother, the Fauchon pastry.
For those wishing to experience the joy of a traditional Japanese ryokan with a modern twist, there is Azumi Setoda, a newly renovated Japanese ryokan on Ikuchijima Island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.
In recent years, the area has become synonymous with off-the-beaten-track travel, including islands of art, such as Naoshima in the east, and the Shimanami Kaido cycle route in the west.
If the 2023 Japan ski season is calling you, the five-star InterContinental Appi Kogen Resort in Tohoku, an area known for having the heaviest snowfall in the country, and the all-inclusive Club Med Kiroro Peak Hokkaido further north are for you. you.
Both hotels offer premium rooms, access to powder slopes, and plenty of onsen and après-ski opportunities.
Bars and restaurants to dazzle the senses
Speaking of delicious, there is a veritable abundance of bars and restaurants waiting for you to stop, sip and savor a while. One even features the world’s first automated pasta robot.
The first is the aforementioned Tokyo Toranomon edition’s Gold Bar – a very social space with a flamboyant and atmospheric black and gold interior. It shines almost enough to require sunglasses indoors. Try the Nippon Pale Ale cocktail.
Other standout bars include Swrl in Shibuya, a laid-back Brooklyn-inspired space that shakes up an array of wine-infused cocktails, and speakeasy A10 in Ebisa, hidden behind a faux wall of lockers and accessible via an underground staircase.
Bringing a Peruvian touch to Tokyo, Michelin-starred chefs Virgilio Martinez and Santiago Fernandez unveiled their latest venture, Maz, in the city’s financial district. As the duo behind Central in Lima, voted #4 Best Restaurants in South America 2021, it’s fair to say it’s an experience worth savoring.
Italian chef Massimo Bottura also brought his signature style to town, unveiling Gucci Osteria in Ginza. The menu is a fusion of refined Italian cuisine and local products, including a “Parmigiana that wants to be a ramen”.
For something quick and easy, head to E Vino Spaghetti at Tokyo Station. Designed for those short on time, an automated pasta robot uses AI-based image recognition technology to understand the status of pasta ingredients, preparing a tasty meal in just 45 seconds.
The robot prepares up to 90 meals per hour and even washes pots on its own.
Continuing the high-tech theme, Cafe Dawn, where people who have difficulty getting out, such as the severely disabled, remotely use the robot alter ego to serve customers.
Best new things to do in Japan
Known for its dazzling immersive projections, “teamLab Borderless” was a huge hit at Odaiba in Tokyo. Although it’s now closed in preparation for a new location launching in 2023, visitors can experience the same vibrant, technicolor fantasy at the neighboring “Planets Tokyo” teamLab.
Due to popular demand, the exhibition has been extended until the end of next year
If you prefer the wonders of the outside world, get a ticket for Shiki-shima, JR East’s most luxurious train. The 10-car sleeper train is designed to feel like a high-end car or luxury yacht, with stunning accommodations and an equally impressive observation car.
After nearly 30 years of planning, the Nakanoshima Museum of Art in Osaka finally opened its doors this year. Within the dramatic, jet-black exterior, the museum houses one of Japan’s largest collections, including works by Dali and Magritte, and Japanese painter Jiro Yoshihara.
Nearby Universal Studios Osaka is the impressive new Super Nintendo World, allowing visitors to step into the world of Nintendo, complete with rides, characters and life-size recreations of iconic video game settings.
Park Ghibli, an official theme park based on beloved Studio Ghibli animations including Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro, will open in Aichi Prefecture in November.
And that only scratches the surface of what awaits us when the borders reopen. The best advice? Pack a sense of adventure, a healthy appetite and a good pair of walking shores and let the vacation sway you.