Keiro No Hi: Silver Season

Osaka-Japan-Skyline

What we love about Japan is its diversity and unwavering ability to surprise. We love the fact you can ski through thick powder in Niseko before relaxing in tranquil beaches down in Ishigaki. We love the way it balances futuristic cities with a rich, centuries – old culture. We also love Silver Week, a week celebrating the health & wisdom of an aging society. The tradition dates back to 1947, when the village of Nomadani Mura in Hyogo Prefecture (known as the town of Taka – cho) organised an “old folk gathering” under the guidance of the then-mayor Masao Kadowaki. He suggested that the young have much to learn from their seniors if they want to build a stronger village and invited them to sit down and listen. This launched a tradition in the village and the same gathering was organised again the following year. The day’s popularity spread by word of mouth and following a series of negotiations with local governments, this “Old Folks Day” was designated a national holiday in 1966 as Respect for the Aged Day. The date was changed to the third Monday of September in 2003.

During Silver Week, there are numerous events, festivals and fireworks displays held all over Japan. Some of the most popular Silver Week festivals this year include the Huisten Bosch Kyushu Ichi Fireworks Festival in Nagasaki, the rowdy Danjiri Matsuri in Osaka and the Kangestu no Yube at Daikauii Castle in Kyoto.

Where should I go and where is everything?

In Japan we suggest watching the sumo wrestling, you won’t forget the sound and sight of two fleshy bodies colliding in a ring, nor the spray of sand that rises into the air. Sumo, the country’s ultimate and most traditional sport, is an ancient and therefore deeply important part of Japanese culture. It’s been performed for centuries and continues to follow the same ritualism that defines everything from flower arranging to tea ceremonies. Yes, it’s rare we get to say ‘flower’ and ‘flesh’ in the same paragraph. You can soak up all this sumo atmosphere in Tokyo’s Ryogoku district, better known as Sumo town. Even if you miss the beginning of the tournament season itself, the sport doesn’t wind down in winter. We recommend grabbing a bowl of chanko nabe, the warming protein-rich stew eaten by the wrestlers themselves, before visiting the area’s sumo stables and practice rings. Our local guide will be your sumo reporter, giving you unrivalled access and insight into this most Japanese of sports, as well an opportunity to meet the wrestlers themselves. You’re on your own if you want to challenge them to a match, of course.

We all have little rituals when putting the kettle on, but in Japan it’s taken to another level. Imagine curling clouds of steam rising from translucent bone china cups; or the hushed silence as a wooden whisk stirs the brew. Served by kimono-clad geishas, the traditional tea ceremony is as slow as sumo is fast. Chado, the ‘way of tea,’ is the ritual art of serving and enjoying the drink. It’s serious, but relaxing, and we’re keen that you get to experience the real thing.

Prepared in a room decorated with tatami mats and hanging scrolls, Chado is all about hospitality and friendliness. Ultimately, the participants – in ceremonies that can last up to four hours – remove themselves from the noise and cares of the outside world. It’s inner peace in a single cup, and the best way to take a slow breath amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.

Our local guides will take you on exclusive visits to some of Kyoto’s most famous Machiya townhouses, which offer some of the best and most authentic of these experiences. You’ll also be dressed in your own kimono, but you can buy your own across Kyoto’s Gion district, where you can also cross the iconic Tatsumi wooden bridge and catch traditional kyomai dances. If Ryogoku is sumo town, then Gion is geisha town.

Kyoto is one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world.

From eye-twisting avenues of tomato-red Tori (traditional wooden arches) to mighty historic castles, you’ll find it easy to wander off the beaten path. Our exclusive tours of Japan’s former capital will introduce you to the grace and splendour of this historic city.

If it’s something otherworldly you’re after, then we always recommend that travellers head to Kyoto’s Arashiyama bamboo grove – an atmospheric pathway of these stately, green trees that has been officially recognized as part of the ‘soundscape’ of Japan.

Winter is the ideal time to walk among these swaying, green stalks, as the crowds are thinner, and you’ll enjoy something approaching true peace. Moreover, during winter’s early nights the trees are strung with lanterns which shed warm, glowing light onto the swaying shapes. It’s also open 24/7, making it perfect for strolls that last deep into the night.

Doing anything in Japan during cherry blossom season is recommended, however, the beautiful kabuki performance of Miyako Odori in Kyoto’s newly renovated Minamiza (one of the birthplaces of Japan’s traditional kabuki style of theatre) is an experience not to be missed.

The dance itself, first performed in 1872, unfolds across eight gorgeous scenes, with the stunning finale set among cherry blossoms in full bloom at the city’s Daikakuji Temple. This experience runs throughout April and is a perfect cultural introduction to the meaning of sakura and the art of hanami. You can also polish off this slice of traditional Japan with a private geisha-led tea service in Kyoto’s most authentic tea houses.

Electric and eclectic, Tokyo is vast and filled to the brim with surprises. But it’s not all karaoke bars and growling streets, as immortalized in Katsuhiro Otomo’s iconic anime, Akira. The city hosts a multitude of parks, shrines, and temples, offering ample space in which to catch your breath.

Lacking a single centre, Tokyo is a patchwork of fascinating centres – from Asakusa, which plays home to the majestic Sensoji Buddhist temple, to the nightclub district of Ropongi. You can learn how to prepare – and eat – sushi, before spending an afternoon studying the art and spiritualism of the ninja. What’s more, you’ll be staying right on the doorstep of the Imperial Palace.

For a taste of something very different, travel to Hakone – a region famous for its peaceful surroundings and unbeatable traditional haute cuisine (kaiseki), which you can walk off with mountain views and its many art galleries.

With mesmerising culture and fascinating history Japan truly is Asia’s gem.