Tag Archive: Japan


We all know Japan is one of the more tradition-rich countries in Asia. For proof, one need look no further than the geisha culture, or how the Japanese go about entering a house. (No shoes, please; only ghosts wear them inside!)

But if you really want to soak up Japanese tradition, there might not be a better way than to visit an authentic onsen, a kind of spa that involves bathing in a hot spring, au naturel.

Onsens have been a part of the Japanese culture for ions. They’re the result of the country’s volcanic activity, are popular for their therapeutic qualities since many Japanese people believe that a good soak in a proper onsen heals aches, pains and diseases and are therefore a big driver of domestic tourism.

“In my opinion, a trip to Japan isn’t complete without a trip to an onsen,” said Hisae Komatsu, a travel specialist in Japan. “Try to make sure you book a hotel or ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) that has its own private onsen. The more traditional the better.”

So what do you most need to know before pampering yourself in a relaxing onsen soak? For starters, wash carefully beforehand and place your towel on your head while in the water.

Learn a few more key tips and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying this bathing ritual at any of the more than 3,000 onsens — including Lonely Planet’s Top 10 — that can be found throughout Japan.

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Toshogu Fall Festival

There are all kinds of reasons to visit Asia. The food is out of this world. The beaches are awesome. The value is off the charts.

But to truly gain an understanding of the cultures in this exotic part of the world, you’ve got to visit during a festival, say those who live there.

In Myanmar, the Elephant Dance Festival trunks – er, trumps – all, says Yangon resident, Ye Thi Ha Thwin.

In the town of Kyauk Se, about 30 miles from Mandalay, locals make elephant figures out of bamboo frames and the skin out of cloth. The statue is decorated with colorful, shiny paper.

A team includes two men who climb into the elephant to perform the dance in front of large crowds.

In Thailand, the best festival could very well be the Naga Fireball Festival, says Pornsurang ‘A’ Siriwandee, a Bangkok resident.

The two-day event takes place in historic Nong Khai, around the full moon of the 11th lunar month.

“It’s going to sound crazy,” A says, “but that’s when unexplained fireballs rise out of the Mekong River with great intensity, shoot into the sky and then disappear.”

The festival also features long-tail boat races and a sound and light show.

“Expect lots of people at festivals in Japan, too,” says Hisae Komatsu, who lives in Tokyo. “The Japanese love their festivals — especially Takayama Autumn Festival, Sapporo Snow Festival and Awa Odori Summer Festival — and plan their holidays according to them. So, hotel bookings must be made way in advance!”

ImageWhether we’ve read it or not, the 1997 novel Memoirs of a Geisha by American author Arthur Golden is a story we’re all familiar with. After all, the book not only became a bestseller, it drew the attention of Rob Marshall, who made it into a motion picture that earned six Academy Award nominations.

What few Westerners know, however, is what the definition of a geisha actually is. According to a review on Amazon.com, it’s a “rigorous” profession. And according to dictionary.com, it’s “a Japanese woman trained as a professional singer, dancer and companion of men.”  

While the geisha culture isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, it does still exist in certain parts of Japan. One such place is beautifully balanced Kyoto, which was the country’s capital for more than 1,000 years.

But think again if you think you can just take it all in by walking around the geisha districts of Kyoto.

“There is no guarantee you will see a geisha,” says Ms. Hisae Komatsu, a travel specialist in Japan, “unless you are with a guide like ours.”

Our guide is one of the foremost Western experts on geisha — a man who has lived in Kyoto for more than 20 years, was married to a former geisha, studies Japanese arts and is a lecturer on Geisha Studies at Kansai University.

“The travelers I’ve talked to are blown away by the elegance and beauty of it all,” says Hisae. “It’s such a unique experience. You not only get to have a conversation with a real geisha, you have access to someone who can answer any question about a geisha’s life.”


There was a time when honeymoons meant a week spent touring romantic Rome, or a beach in the South Pacific. Nowadays, travelers are looking farther afield.

Amanda Statham, travel editor of popular UK wedding magazine You & Your Wedding, recently revealed her ‘2012 Honeymoon Hot List.’ Among the eight trends she identified? Newlyweds’ interest in venturing East.

Who can blame them? There’s a lot to relish about celebrating your nuptials in Asia, from quiet island retreats in Thailand to luxurious ryokans (traditional inns) in Japan.

One of the most popular trips out there is Angkor for Two, which starts at three days in length and features a hot-air balloon ride over the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, a romantic champagne cruise of Tonle Sap Lake, a Buddhist monk blessing ceremony and soothing massages.

For those who’ve always been intrigued by Bali, the Island of the Gods itinerary for twosomes is a must. The adventure includes hands-on cooking classes with an expert local village chef, swimming in the crystal clear waters of secluded Pasir Putih Beach and experiencing a traditional dance performance at Uluwatu Temple.

But accommodation options could be the best part about traveling to an Asian destination as a couple. People want privacy, and in Bali and beyond, it comes in the form of stylish villas with amenities such as plunge pools and butler service.