How to Plan a Honeymoon in Japan

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A postcard-worthy beach where, if you look closely enough, you’ll notice the teeny grains of sand are actually perfectly minuscule coral stars. A cozy yet monastic white room and fireplace-studded balcony designed expressly to allow its occupants joyous gasps when the clouds melt away and a coy, snowcapped Mt. Fuji appears magically, statuesque, before them. A private hot spring—far superior to your average hot tub—set within a Zen garden. A bamboo forest, dense and uniform, through which kimono-garbed couples are pulled by lean men in human-powered carriages. A nondescript 18-seat restaurant, clad in wood yet decorated with a Michelin star, drawing nightly crowds coming to devour humble plates of handmade gyoza executed flawlessly. 

Japan is no one thing, one landscape, or even one food. Its beauty goes way beyond sushi and past the far-out fantasy world offered by bits of Tokyo. If one thing unites the country, it’s attention to details. And the details are exquisite. To a great degree, the island country offers something for every taste, every interest. And it’s all wrapped up in a great big, super-clean bow, with pristine, on-time public transportation; kind, helpful people, and easy-to-figure-out currency. In other words, it’s a dream destination. It also quickly becomes clear the country has a talent for making almost anything feel memorable and exceedingly special. For these reasons and more, a journey through Japan makes a completely epic honeymoon

Visit Tokyo

Tokyo, of course, is the assumed primary stop, and the capital is more than worthy of some time. You can hit up a themed bar in Shinjuku, take a rickshaw tour, shop for cutesy Japanese souvenirs, and dine on imaginative haute cuisine. For the latter, an unforgettable seasonally driven experience by a French-trained Japanese chef who won the Bocuse d’Or World Finale bronze a few years ago is available to guests of the Edo-inspired Hoshinoya Tokyo. While there are plenty of luxury hotels in Tokyo, this property, opened in 2016, is unique for bringing the ryokan concept (a traditional inn with Japanese architecture, tatami mats, and shoji paper doors) to cosmopolitan life in expansive, intricate rooms. There’s also a hot spring onsen bath on the rooftop, with an opening to the sky and mineral-rich water pumped from 1,500 meters underground. Aman Tokyo—with its luminous modern design, spa, and shockingly authentic Italian restaurant Arva—also makes for a romantic stay. 

See Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto

Ideally, honeymooners would take planes, trains, and buses out of Tokyo to visit the mountains, countryside, and beaches along with cities that don’t really feel like cities. Kyoto is one of those, a cherry blossom–strewn place jammed with intricate temples. History feels tangible and honored, but there are plenty of signs of modernity. See the artisanal Kyoto Gin Distillery, the country’s first; the beloved Suntory Yamazaki Distillery; a handful of cool breweries and coffee houses; and new design hotels, including Japan’s first Ace Hotel (designed by Tokyo Olympic Stadium architect Kengo Kuma), and an Aman.

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Travel Through Arashiyama

It’s not rare to spot Japanese couples dressed in rented kimonos out sightseeing at the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, where Hoshinoya Kyoto is a bit of a glamorous throwback. Comprising of renovated 100-year-old heritage buildings immersed in nature and only reached by boat down the Oi River, it’s the definition of Zen. From that lush hideaway, guests can rise for mellow morning stretch classes done in their provided PJ-like loungewear under impossibly green baby maple leaves; learn the delicate art of an incense or tea ceremony; dine on elaborate, artistic, sake-paired kaiseki courses; and savor prized Japanese whisky in the dark, intimate bar. 

Experience Gion, the Original Geisha District

Another part of Kyoto with seriously palpable ties to the past is Gion, the original geisha district where the hostess profession still flourishes. (Pro tip: Re-read Memoirs of a Geisha before you go). InsideJapan Tours, the led-by–expert locals tour company, offers an illuminating and comprehensive evening stroll in the district, which includes a tea house visit and chance to pick the brain of, drink sake with, and be entertained by (likely via dance or music) a maiko (apprentice geisha).

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Visit Tropical Okinawa

From there, why not change gears completely and fly south to Okinawa, a prefecture best known to Americans for housing the U.S. military after World War II. Quite close to Taiwan, it’s a set of tropical-feeling islands where the people are known for living long, healthy lives. Visit bucolic Taketomi, home to just several hundred residents, where, despite the rest of Okinawa being quite modern, things feel pretty close to how they always have, architecture and transportation (mostly via buffalo-drawn cart, foot, or bicycle) included. Think of an old-school Hawaii. 

Hoshinoya Taketomi Island resort embraces these down-to-earth cultural differences. You can learn to weave fragrant natural plant mats with the hardy, smiling 90-something who first came up with the method over 70 years ago or press hibiscus flowers and other just-picked flora into postcards. The red-roofed cabins are topped with fearsome shisa lions for protection from evil spirits and make for an ideal honeymoon stay, with options for intimate, romantic dinners inside. And island life would not be complete without a few things: visiting the beach with its mind-blowing star sand, going for a peaceful sail or paddle aboard a wooden sabani ship, swimming in the wide oval pool, eating taco rice (an American-fusion dish traditional in the islands), stargazing, and being serenaded in the aforementioned buffalo cart by a driver playing Okinawan guitar and singing the island’s unofficial song about a beautiful local girl who rejected the proposal from a rich Okinawan government man instead choosing her local island love. 

Enjoy the Natural Beauty of Mt. Fuji

Another must-go destination, Mt. Fuji contrasts the mellow island life in some regards, but its serenity and lush natural beauty are easy segues. The snow-coated icon of Japan is magnificent and awe-inspiring—it draws travelers in magnetically, inspiring a host of activities with it in sight. The simplest comes by staying at Hoshinoya Fuji, the first “glamping” resort in Japan, though that’s underselling things a bit. Couples are lent colorful canvas backpacks filled with camp-worthy supplies (think binoculars) upon arrival, with a Jeep Wrangler taking them up to their minimalist “cabin" with a working fire on the balcony oriented to Fuji, visible when the mysterious clouds part like stage curtains revealing the main event. 

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Go Sightseeing Near Lake Kawaguchiko

From there, canoeing on the mirror-like Lake Kawaguchiko is a beautiful way to take Mt. Fuji in, or try a guided tour with InsideJapan of the Oshino Hakkai ponds and lava tubes and authentic, ancient Edo house—the can’t-miss photo op there makes for a classic souvenir. Hiking over lava rock through the mossy forest is also an option in this outdoorsy region as is culture—the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum is a spectacle devoted to the Monet of kimono art’s breathtaking creations. There’s plenty of culinary stimulation, too. Omnivores will approve of the meat-forward cuisine at the resort, especially the melt-in-your-mouth wine beef. The cows are fed grape mash, a specialty found only in the vino-producing surrounds. After dinner in the restaurant or under the trees (interactive meals here include alfresco pizza-making and multi-course Dutch oven extravaganzas), head up to the Cloud Terrace bonfire for live music and roasted marshmallows with, perhaps, a glass of local whisky.  

Try Sake at a Brewery or Izakaya

At breweries like Marumi, one of the oldest in an area known for exceptional water, it’s possible to taste your way through ginjo and daiginjo sakes, learning what to look for and how to distinguish the good from the best. If you don’t make it to a brewery, simply stop by any izakaya, drinking spots that specialize in sake. (Fun fact: The fermented rice-based beverage was originally a key element of Shinto rituals, and it's hundreds of years old.)

Visit a Traditional Ryokan

Afterward, connect with more of Japan’s legacy at a traditional ryokan such as the artistic Kai Matsumoto, where the onsen culture is a focus. The sacred bathing rituals and charming tatami-matted rooms—where a masseuse can deliver soothing pressure-point massages—aren’t the only reason this is a popular destination. Matsumoto is known as a city of music (every summer there’s an international music festival), and each night at Kai, there’s a live concert in its acoustically superior round space. 

This is a country so full of gems it’s hard to see them all through the shimmer. Snowboarders and skiers should check out Kiroro while hikers can tackle self-guided itineraries through InsideJapan Tours that twist past giant cedars, waterfalls, and hot springs in Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps. And art enthusiasts have the islands of Setouchi, where the Setouchi Triennale Art Festival, which runs from late September through early November, includes works by the likes of Yayoi Kusama and James Turrell. Ultimately lovebirds would need months to experience every side of Japan, but with some pointed planning, unimaginable worlds open up, making for one of the most exciting, fascinating, and romantic adventures on Earth. 

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