From a bullet train in Kyoto, where we snacked on fresh KitKats, to an airport on the small, southern island of Amami Ōshima and ultimately through Tokyo DesignArt Week, members of COOL HUNTING’s editorial team explored Japan for our annual hosted excursion. Each year, we select a destination that embodies our love of craft, hospitality and travel off the beaten path; then we invite select readers to join along and explore as we ourselves do. To outline the steps along the way, as we do below, barely touches upon the depth of each moment—and the relationships forged along the way between each traveler and destination.
This Japan trips represents years of dedication to the nation’s unique wares, cultural interests and cuisine. It was designed for travelers who’ve been two or three times before and includes obsession-worthy experiences others simply cannot access. Beginning on Amami Ōshima, we learned the history of Tsumugi fabric from craftspeople keeping its historic processes alive. We kayaked among the mangroves before mud-dyeing beside a den of silk worms.
Another island specialty is making kokuto shochu—shochu made with brown sugar. This variety of shochu can only be made on a handful of islands in the Amami Oshima archipelago, and we learned how it is made by visiting Yayoi Shochu, one of our favorite island distilleries. Each night, we returned to Nest at Amami Beach Villas, a waterside respite and design-forward hotel that’s among the first to target foreign tourists looking for stylish boutique properties.
For three nights in Kyoto we stayed in the country’s first-ever art hotel, the BnA Alter Museum—featuring breakfasts by Lorimer Kyoto. Eschewing the touristic, we spent our days with artisans including 16th-generation ceramicist Hosai Matsubayashi, woodworker Shuji Nakagawa and metal wire weaver Kanaami Tsuji. In their eagerness to share their stories with our guests, these individuals passed along their passion for Japanese craft.
At the heart of the adventure, we sailed the Seto Inland Sea on the floating ryokan guntû, stopping for a private blessing at the Itsukushima Shrine and then at Okamoto Shoyu, a generations old artisinal soy sauce brewery. Guests were greeted by a bottle of Dom Pérignon in their suites. Gentle waters and uncommon vistas sharpened in beauty with the setting sun. It was undeniably a unique experience.
From there, we ventured to the Noguchi Museum in Takamatsu City and then Tokushima’s acclaimed washi-producing Awagami Factory, one of the last handmade paper companies in Japan, where we made and decorated our own sheets of paper. For relaxation, we ventured up into the remote mountains of the Iya Valley, nestled among the cliffside trees with incredible views. At Hotel Iya Onsen, a funicular descended to the traditional onsen beside the river below.
Our return to Tokyo brought guests to our very own Tokyo DesignArt Week pop-up exhibition and immersive experiences like the must-visit TeamLab Planets and Google’s Comma exhibit. Our guests were provided with the latest Lexus LS sedans and chauffeurs to whisk them around Tokyo and From our hotels (the Trunk and Koe) to our carefully planned dinners (one dedicated to Suntory whisky and Roku gin cocktails at Bees Bar by Narisawa and another on the nuance of automotive design at Intersect by Lexus), we lived Japanese design until our departure.
This isn’t a laundry list of accomplishments. Rather, these are strands of memories that activate senses and tease nostalgia. Many of these moments will get dedicated stories because, as is our nature, we encourage anyone who is interested to pursue out of the ordinary experiences around the world.
Images by Josh Rubin