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Augusta’s Japan: My top 40 highlights on revisiting the Japanese archipelago

Augusta’s Japan: My top 40 highlights on revisiting the Japanese archipelago

I moved back home to England after studying for a year in Tokyo, and after a while I was longing to go back and immerse myself in Japan’s incredible culture, scenery and food. I’d missed the fantastically smooth order in which everything runs and the generous people that make everyday interactions a pleasure… I was especially excited to be returning in autumn, for the renowned multi-coloured leaves that light up every corner of the cities and make for unbelievable views in the rural areas!

On this research trip, I managed to re-visit some of my favourite places – the scenic Hakone, the cultural capital of Kyoto, the unique art island of Naoshima and the phoenix city of Hiroshima – but what thrilled me most was discovering the more offbeat locations I hadn’t had a chance to visit before.

There were many memorable moments – seeing the snow monkeys in Yudanaka, feeling as though I’d gone back in time in the traditional Bikan canal area of Kurashiki and walking the historic streets of Takayama – but the most striking experiences for me were visiting Miyajima and Nikko. Miyajima’s floating torii gate is rightfully recognised as a UNESCO landmark, and is well worth the short ferry ride across from Hiroshima, as it is extraordinary, especially during sunset.

Nikko makes for an ideal day trip from Tokyo – I couldn’t believe that I’d missed it before! As soon as I stepped out of the station to be greeted by a mountain view, I was bowled over by the completely unspoiled nature. Such untouched surroundings add to the beauty of the historic temples that lie scattered around this small city, and Lake Chuzenji is particularly pretty, with its remarkably still, shimmering water. Up here in the alpine air, the impressive Kegon waterfall is a short walk away and Futarasan shrine is a real highlight – I was lucky enough to visit just as the monks were paying their respects by performing a morning bowing ritual.

Returning to Japan exceeded my expectations; I am constantly surprised by this unique and enigmatic island nation, which is why it captures my spirit and keeps me wanting to go back for more. Read on for my top 40 highlights…


1. Waking up to Tokyo’s endless and impressive skyline

2. Exploring ‘Yakotori’ alley under the train tracks in the fashionable district of Ginza

3Browsing through the hidden and ancient gems in Oedo Antique Market

4Witnessing a Shinto wedding procession at Meiji shrine


5Flying over Mount Fuji for a breathtaking bird’s eye view

6Visiting Hiroshima’s poignant Peace Memorial Park

7Miyajima’s floating torii gate, just across from Hiroshima, standing in all its glory

8Miyajima torii at dusk


9Gliding down the picturesque Bikan canal of Kurashiki

10Beautifully displayed kaiseki sushi, courtesy of Ryokan Kurashiki


11. Yayoi Kusama’s iconic Pumpkin at sunrise on Naoshima Island

12Experiencing Tadao Ando’s sleek and minimalist architecture in the Chichu Art Museum


13Admiring the iconic Daigoji Temple, an important temple of Japanese Buddhism, and a designated world heritage site

14Glimpsing geisha flitting down the narrow and atmospheric alley of Pontocho

15Touring Katsura Imperial Villa and the beautiful Japanese gardens 

16Exploring the bustling and lively Nishiki Market, also known as 'Kyoto's Kitchen' specialising in all things food

17. The Ritz Carlton's rooms have some of the most incredible views in town

18Marvelling at the soaring stalks of the Arashiyama Bamboo grove

19Enjoying a cup of matcha tea in the beautiful Okochi Sanso tea house


20Visiting Kanazawa’s 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa

21Travelling back in time to Nagamachi, a former samurai district located at the foot of Kanazawa Castle

22. Watching the Japanese cranes in Kenroku-en Garden


23With Mrs Tanabe, owner of the wonderfully traditional ryokan, Tanabe Ryokan

24Sake barrels in the historic streets of Takayama


25Braving pufferfish (‘fugu’) at Gora Kadan

26One of Gora Kadan’s many beautifully crafted private bathtubs with a scenic view

27Fresh sashimi – just one course of the wonderful kaiseki dinner

28Henry Moore at Hakone Open-Air Museum

29Pablo Picasso at Hakone Open-Air Museum

30On board the scenic boat ride on Lake Ashi, catching the best view of Hakone shinto shrine


31The renowned dry landscape garden of Adachi Museum of Art in Matsue, consistently ranked the best landscape garden in Japan


32. A beautifully snow covered shrine in Yudanaka

33En route to the Jigokudani Monkey Park

34Mother and baby monkey keeping warm on a steaming hot spring


35Hakuba Ski Resort, home to the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics


36The sacred Shinkyo Bridge, constructed in 1636

37The Toshogu Shrine Pagoda

38. The incredibly beautiful Lake Chuzenji in Nikko National Park

39. Monks performing their morning bowing ritual at Futarasan Shrine

40Kegon Falls, arguably one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan

For more information or to start planning your tailor-made holiday to Japan please contact us: // +44 (0) 207 819 9770

I thought the Ampersand team was outstanding. We couldn’t have hoped for anything more.
- Mr Geoffrey Johnson, India
Ampersand’s details preparation, attention to detail and interaction before and during our trip show exactly why good travel agents have a role in today’s internet/direct booking age. Shalmali was a delight to work with – before and during our trip.
- Mr David Wallace, North India
We had a wonderful holiday - everything was perfect. Thank you for helping us to make a thoughtful plan to enjoy and make most out of our trip. The places we visited, the guides, the transportation and driver, the hotels selected... Everything was great!
- Jaime Benitez, South India
Without question, you put together the best trip I have ever taken. We were shown around like visiting dignitaries, the hotels were fantastic and the itinerary was just right. Everybody I know will hear about how amazing Ampersand is!
- Leslie Siben, India
I had a very lovely time and was looked after splendidly. My first visit to India could not have been better, save for being longer! But I shall return at some point and I shall look to you to make the arrangements.
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Everything you did for us whilst we were away was hugely appreciated, and Ampersand has been exemplary in every way. I'll always recommend you!
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka
So many highlights to choose from! The hotels were amazing but Maya Villa was a highlight… I loved just hanging out in the hammock reading my book and watching the peacocks chase the cows!
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Difficult to articulate just how good the service from you and your team really was. We know you will continue to do well and hope we have the chance to seek your assistance again before long.
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India

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