August 12, 2022

Japan’s islands are calling as the nation reopens to tourists

If you’re a fan of Japan, it’s time to plan.

For more than two years, the nation was effectively unable to visit Japan. Its borders were closed.

Now the Japanese government is hinting that everything will change next month – although the exact details remain unclear (check Japan travel for updates). But, locals are preparing for the return of the “Lost in Translation” moments.

“It’s an exciting time – a fresh start for tourism and a fitting time to start welcoming overseas visitors again,” said Rachel Davies, a British expat who runs Storied magazine and lives in Kyoto.

She notes the challenges her adoptive hometown faced, mostly from overtourism, before the pandemic hit.

“It gave many of us in the country a chance to see Japan in a way that few people have had in the last decade, devoid of tourists, tranquil and beautiful,” he said. she declared.

Come to Kyoto now and you’ll get a taste of what Davies enjoyed – especially if you book one of the converted machiya, or traditional wooden houses, that Maana Homes operates in town (co-owner Hana Tsukamoto is a former New Yorker ) . It’s adding a third site, the three-unit Maana Kiyomizu, this summer (doubles from $300).

Rooms at the Paper Door Maana Hotel in Kyoto start at $300 per night.
Maana Houses

Meanwhile, delicately flavored gin Ki No Bi, made in the heart of the city, has just opened its first official visitor center, the House of Ki No Bi, for seminars and tastings and bottles to go.

Local conglomerate Kyocera has just funded the radical renovation of the local art museum here, the oldest in Japan dating back to 1928, in exchange for naming rights. Kyoto City’s Kyocera Art Museum duly reopened in May after a three-year overhaul.

Continue southwest past Kyoto—and you can, faster than ever, thanks to a new high-speed train line, Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen, opening this fall—and you’ll reach Kyushu.

A close-up of Japan's new Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen bullet train.
All aboard! A new high-speed train line, Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen, opens this fall.
Kyodo News via Getty Images

This area is anchored by Nagasaki, but there are more than just memorials to the atomic bomb atrocity. It’s a relaxed, rural hideaway, with great beaches and great natural hot springs. Dive into one of the soon-to-open 45-room Hoshino Resort Yufuin, designed by Kengo Kuma who helmed the Summer Olympic Stadium (doubles from $538), or head to the Goto Retreat Ray, a wellness center just off the farthest western tip of the prefecture.

Japan, of course, is a country of islands – nearly 7,000 in total, in fact. Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea, where an eccentric Bond villain-like billionaire, Soichiro Fukutake, has installed his share of top-notch artwork (think Monet’s “Water Lilies”).

Exterior of a colorful artwork at the Benesse House Museum.

Fans of playful art should visit the expanded Benesse House Museum.

Corbis via Getty Images

This year marks the 30th anniversary of its first museum, Benesse House Museum, but Fukutake has just paid for the construction of another sensational space on the island – the ninth building by architect Tadao Ando.

As the island grows in popularity among the arterati, the biggest problem has been securing one of the few rooms in the hotel operated by Benesse; this problem has been alleviated by the arrival of not one, but two new crash pads.

“It’s an exciting time – a fresh start for tourism and a fitting time to start welcoming overseas visitors again.”

Rachel Davies of Storied magazine

Ryokan Rokasumi is an 11-suite inn that’s an upscale riff on traditional Japanese hospitality (doubles from $340), beautifully decorated with contemporary art.

Meanwhile, Aman inventor Adrian Zecha, soon to be 90, has created a new brand, Azumi, and his first 22-room site has just debuted on the island of Ikuchijima in the Inland Sea of Seto (doubles from $540).

For added incentive: The Setouchi Triennale arts festival, which brings pop-up performances to the island group, is slated for later this year, running for several months from August.

Another island in Japan is often unfairly overlooked by visitors: Okinawa.

A goat at the Treehouse EcoResort.
It’s the GOAT: Talk about penthouse views – the Treeful Treehouse Resort is a sustainable way to enjoy Japan.
©Treeful Treehouse Eco Resort
Antenna of Halekulani station.

Explore the new UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site of Okinawa from the five-star hotel.

Halekulani Okinawa

Stay at the five-star Halekulani here, a sister spot to the Waikiki original (doubles from $321) or the fully solar-powered Treeful Treehouse Sustainable Resort (nightly rates from $928 for three people) and explore the new UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site on Okinawa, just the fifth in the country.

Yanbaru National Park is part of this designation, which recognizes the unique flora and fauna found here, including the Iriomote leopard cat.

Try stream climbing, or sawanobori, with a naturalist – equal parts wading and swimming in the pools and rivers that blanket the ancient forest.

It’s an adventure unique to Japan – and you can finally experience it again.