Shunkaen Bonsai Museum, Tokyo.
JAPAN IS A COUNTRY steeped in history, and the best way to understand that is by joining two millenium-old traditions in one inspiring trip. From the 1,000-year old bonsai at the Shunkaen Bonsai Museum in Tokyo to the 1,000 years of cultivating life in the Matsudai area of Niigata, the past beguiles the present.
Begin your trip with a mindful meditation at the Shunkaen Bonsai Museum, where bonsai master Kunio Kobayashi has won the Prime Minister’s Award four times. This special place exemplifies the longevity and austerity of nature. You’ll find it a fascinating contrast with trendy Shibuya, home of the famous intersection and the origin of youth culture. After you’ve gotten a good dose of hip in the shops and cafés, take a breather with a stroll along the treelined streets of Daikanyama, and have an upscale dinner in a cosmopolitan setting.
A Yayoi Kusama sculpture “Tsumari in Bloom” at Matsudai Nohbutai, Niigata. PHOTO BY OSAMU NAKAMURA
The Shinkansen bullet train ride from Tokyo Station to Niigata Station is only approximately two hours, but transports you to a timeless land. To immerse yourself in its wonders, head to Matsudai Nohbutai, a field museum that fuses art with the traditional satoyama mountain living. It is mesmerizing to experience how people in this snow country have coexisted with nature over the centuries.
Village of Uonuma.
Sample a delicious facet of snow country in Uonuma no Sato, where the traditional sake producers at Hakkaisan Yukimuro use mountain snow to chill their warehouse year-round. Niigata vegetables are also said to taste especially sweet after a month in this natural refrigerator, and you can enjoy such local produce at nearby restaurants. Before saying goodbye, walk off your immersive drinking and dining experience with forest bathing in the peaceful surrounding nature.
Another exemplar of Niigata’s culture can be found in Murakami, the northernmost tea-growing district in Japan. The connection to mother earth courses through the rivers that flow through the city—particularly in the form of the salmon for which they are famous. Top off your immersive holiday with a Gotokuya Jube photoshoot, where you can dress up like a Geisha in luxurious kimonos. It’ll be an enchanting memory to take with you on the train back to Tokyo… and home.