As the reign of the white empress comes to an end, Mother Earth begins to re-emerge in all its beauty and colour. The weather is getting warmer though hints of the cold winter still return every now and then. Beautiful morning bird song returns once again to gently wake all the living beings, including the pretty sakura (Cherry Blossom trees). Soft pink petals are coming back to decorate their branches like a gorgeous gown. This is not a bedtime story... This is springtime in Japan!
Tokyo • Following Sakura Petals
After almost seven hours riding the wings of Singapore Airlines A380 business class to Japan, I felt not only well rested but also ready to see where these sakura petals were bringing me. First stop, the trail led me to one of the world’s most renowned metropolitan capitals, Tokyo.
As the wind blew, the trails of sakura petals brought me to this serene forest in the city. I passed a giant wooden torii gate before finally see a stunning Meiji Shrine where Shinto people come to pray. Priests, maidens in traditional dress, and world travellers are milling around, praying or just to paying their respects inside this (almost) centuries old shrine.
A handsome looking pair of newlyweds looks amazing in their kimonos, waiting for the priest to bless them when the trails ofsakura petals start moving again. Thinking practically, I joined the sightseeing bus tour to follow the trails without have to exhaust myself from walking around in this big city. Sitting down on the red open-top double-decker bus allowed me to see the best of this great capital.
In front of a contemporary building called Mori Tower, the trails ended and I wondered why they had taken me here. As I explored inside, I found out that this building had a magnificent contemporary art museum that features Japan’s most exciting exhibitions. I was lucky enough to witness an exhibition by one of the biggest Japanese artists, Takashi Murakami. His latest collection of work, ‘The 500 Arhats,’ was his first exhibition in 14 years!
The sakura chasing was fun but I grew weary and needed to rest, so from Mori Tower I went to The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo – my home in Tokyo. Residing in the city’s second tallest building, Midtown Tower, this hotel is definitely one of the most luxurious in town. Located from the 45th floor to the 53rd floor, the exquisite interior design of The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo is the work of the famous Frank Nicholson, who has infused classic European style with Japanese contemporary accents.
The luxurious feel of this hotel is reflected through various elements such as its Michelin Star restaurant (Azure 45), great contemporary artworks by American painter Sam Francis, their US$18,000 diamond martini (with real one carat diamond), to one of the most expensive hotel suites in the world billing at US$ 26,300/night. However, the charm of this hotel also lies in the flawless service which is really in a class of its own.
Kyoto • Following A Geisha
The breezes grew warmer when I decided to continue my journey to the ancient capital of Japan, Kyoto. The scenery seemed to go past in slow motion from the window of shinkansen, which is known as the fastest train in the world (aka the “bullet train”). Picturesque farms, villages and hills are suddenly shrunk in significance as Mount Fuji appeared in the distance in all of its greatness. It was really the highlight of this three and a half hour train ride.
Compared to its metropolitan sister, Kyoto has more historical charm and was trusted by many emperors to be the nation’s capital city since the 8th century. It was that same thought that brought me to arrive at Fushimi Inari Shrine. Sitting at the base of Inari Mountain, this head shrine has existed since the 8th century. I couldn’t help but think about Chiyo Sakamoto from Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha as I entered the famous orange torii path across the mountain. And then just like that, my daydream turned into reality as I saw a real geisha walking elegantly in her embroidered kimono at the end of the torii.
My curiosity grew knowing that, even today, the whole geisha culture is still quite closed and strict. I follow her all the way to this traditional looking ryokan (Japanese inn) called Gion Hatanaka, where I heard beautiful singing accompanied by a shamisen (traditional Japanese three-stringed lute). There I found my geisha! She looked absolutely beautiful wrapped in a dark blue kimono with gold embroidery. With her younger apprentice, they both entertained the visitors of this ryokan while we enjoyed kyo-kaiseki lunch (traditional multi course lunch featuring traditional Kyoto cooking). As a true Indonesian, not only did I ask many questions about their gorgeous attributes but I also ended up having photo with both of them.
After a day of following a geisha around town, it was time for me to return to my tranquil ‘home’ by Kamogawa River called The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto. With design inspired by a traditional town house, this hotel really creates zen by combining traditional concepts with contemporary principals. Peter Remedios Design Studio pays homage to the traditions of Japan with patterned motifs created by local artisans and incorporating Zen gardens including water features.
Putting the great design aside, this hotel is also child-friendly to a point that they have created a ‘Night Safari’ concept where a camping tent with special amenities is provided in the room for children to enjoy an outdoor mood. They can even choose their own scenery, from mountain, river, or sky (which comes with an awesome telescope!). Upon check out, children receive an ‘Explorer Certificate’ for their safari experience. Isn’t that just amazing?!
One Journey, Two Capitals is a package offered by The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo and Kyoto where you can enjoy two nights in deluxe or suite accommodation in each hotel with personalized serviced including one escorted butler transfer to the train station. They will take care everything from your arrival at Tokyo airport to your bullet train transfer to Kyoto as well as the hand picked activities to do like a behind-the-ring-look at sumo wrestling, Japanese whisky tasting with whisky experts and more. For more information: www.ritzcarlton.com
Flying In Style and Comfort
There are many ways to fly to Japan, however the most comfortable and stylish way of going there is by Singapore Airline’s latest A380 business class with its two decks. Located on the upper deck, the new business class has super sleek interior design with what must be the widest seats ever with lots of space for your feet.
There are many perks of travelling in this aircraft, from making the seat into a total flat bed (with a nice matrass for comfort) to the first class service that is given from before take off to arrival. The entertainment screen is bigger and also accompanied with two mini storage spaces where you can plug your phone to charge. The internet on the plane is great for those who need to be connected up in the air.
My highlights started with the flow of Bollinger and continued with the delicious lunch encompassing chicken satay as appetizer followed by cold cuts and mozzarella cheese, a meaty main course and a cheese board to finish. I have often seen happy people coming out from the business class section upon arrival… now I know why!