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May 4, 2017

An Interview with Ashley Isaacs Ganz on Japan

luxury Japan toursArtisans of Leisure founder and CEO Ashley Isaacs Ganz is recognized as one of the world’s leading Japan travel experts. Read more about some of her favorite places she visited and experiences she had on her most recent visit to Japan.

Q: You used to live in Japan and have traveled extensively throughout the country. What took you back this time?
I wanted to return to some of my favorite places so that my sons (ages 8 and 10) could experience Japan in a relaxed yet immersive way.

Japan tours Artisans of LeisureQ: Where did you visit in Japan?
This trip focused mainly on places that I’ve been to many times, such as Tokyo and Kyoto.

Japan tours Artisans of LeisureQ: What do you like to do in Tokyo?
I used to live near Tokyo, so for me it’s about exploring favorite neighborhoods…

luxury Japan tours…to see what’s new–the city is so dynamic and constantly changing.

luxury Japan toursI also love to visit Tokyo’s important temples and shrines to observe centuries-old traditions taking place.

luxury Japan toursTokyo also has amazing markets that I love to browse, including monthly flea markets at temples, department store food halls, Tsukiji fish market, the kitchenware market, and more.Japan toursI also love to visit the city’s many specialty shops that have been around for centuries…

Japan tours…and, of course, to eat incredible Japanese food along the way, including items that are hard to find outside of Japan.

Japan tours

Q: Did you visit any new destinations on this trip?
I’ve visited many pilgrimage destinations in Japan over the years, but I had never been to Koya-san (Mount Koya).

Japan toursOn this trip, we spent a night at a Buddhist temple on Koya-san.

luxury Japan toursExploring sacred Koya-san and its many, many Buddhist temples and the ancient and revered cemetery in the forest was extremely moving and memorable.

Japan toursOne of my sons’ favorite activities – one that they are still talking about – was joining the monks at the temple at 5:00am during their morning chanting. It made quite an impression on them.

Q: What were some other activities that your kids enjoyed the most?
Japan is an amazing family destination. My kids love Japan and are already asking when we can go back.

luxury Japan toursThey loved learning to make sushi themselves…

Japan tours…riding up to the top of Tokyo Skytree…


…and touring the Ghibli Museum–they are big Miyazaki fans.

Japan toursThey also loved the gadgets and futuristic technology…

Tokyo tours…pop culture and youthful neighborhoods…

Japan tours …monkeys and nature… Japan tours…and the cool vending machines selling kawaii (cute) items and gadgets.

Japan tours They had a great time attending a sumo tournament in Osaka.

Japan travel expertThey loved the food in Japan, from bento boxes on the bullet trains…

Japan tours …to street food snacks, like these roasted sweet potato sticks…
Japan tours…to dining in our rooms in the ryokans.

Japan toursThey also loved seeing Mount Fuji.

Japan toursMy kids have become real hotel connoisseurs over the years :) and they especially loved the hotels in Japan, such as the Aman Tokyo.

Japan toursQ: What were your favorite hotels on the trip?
The Aman Tokyo is truly stunning. It is such a pleasure to experience a hotel that has kept the Japanese aesthetic while still being incredibly contemporary and luxurious. The rooms remind me of traditional Japanese ryokans in many ways. The bathrooms overlooking the city are amazing, and the pool is a true urban retreat.
Japan toursWe particularly enjoyed our breakfasts at the hotel which included traditional Japanese cuisine and also amazing homemade French pastries.

I also always try to return to the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which, for me, is so iconic. I love so much about that hotel.

Japan toursThe Ritz-Carlton in Kyoto is also an exceptional property and such a great base for exploring Kyoto.

Japan toursWe also spent some time in Arashiyama, on the edge of Kyoto.

JapanSuiran is a really lovely hotel, just steps from all that Arashiyama offers – the bamboo forest, monkeys, great shopping and dining, and the beautiful river and mountain scenery.

Japan toursIt was also nice to return to the Gora Kadan in Hakone and near Mount Fuji. This time, I had a private tour of the original building’s interiors – everything is still there from when it used to be the Japanese imperial family’s summer retreat.

Japan toursWe all loved experiencing the hot springs, traditional ryokan hospitality, sleeping on futons and dining on elaborate meals in our rooms.

Japan toursQ: Did you have any other favorite dining experiences?
Whenever I travel in Japan, I always make a point of having several vegetarian shojin ryori meals at temples. I love the variety of delicious, seasonal and beautifully presented temple cuisine.

Japan toursI had shojin ryori meals in almost every location on this trip, including Tokyo, Kamakura, Uji, Koya and Kyoto.

Japan toursIt’s always delicious and I crave it when I’m not in Japan.

Japan toursFor me, eating is such a highlight of being in Japan—from street food snacks…

Japan tours…to green tea and cherry blossom ice cream…

luxury Japan tours…to sushi, pickles, chestnuts, sweets and other snacks at markets…

luxury Japan tours…and elaborate kaiseki meals.

luxury Japan toursQ: Did you do any shopping?
Japan is such an amazing shopping destination, and I always find beautiful items. On this trip, I bought some very special pieces of porcelain…
Japan tours…lacquerware…
Japan tours…woodblock prints, incense at temples and other items.

Japan tours I also visited one of Kyoto’s major annual antiques fairs and found some interesting pieces.
luxury Japan toursI always go to my favorite specialty food shops to stock up on items such as tea… luxury Japan tours…and togarashi blend from one of Tokyo’s oldest spice shops.

Japan tours

Q: For first time and repeat visitors, what do you recommend doing in Tokyo?

JapanTokyo is a fascinating blend of old and new.

Japan tours Artisans of LeisureFrom Tokyo’s traditional shitamachi (old town) district…

luxury Japan tours…to favorite neighborhoods filled with contemporary architecture…

Japan…and pop culture.Tokyo toursQ: How about Kyoto?
There is so much to see in Kyoto—you could spend months there and barely scratch the surface.

Kyoto toursOn this trip, I returned to some favorite temples and shrines…

Japan…and also visited many new ones.

Kyoto toursIt was cherry blossom season and everyone was dressed in their traditional best…

Japan travel expert …and many attractions were illuminated at night to show off the blossoms.

JapanKyoto is also a great base for excursions, including…

Kyoto tours..sumo and culinary touring in Osaka…

Japan tours

Japan tours…and rural villages such as Uji, famous for its tea plantations and beautiful gardens and temples.

Kyoto toursKyoto is filled with spectacular traditional architecture…

Japan tours Artisans of Leisure…beautiful interiors….



Japan tours…nature…

Kyoto tours…and shops and studios featuring gorgeous traditional crafts, including ceramics and lacquerware.

Japan toursIt is also one of the best places to experience kaiseki cuisine.

Kyoto toursQ: You mentioned visiting Kamakura. What do you recommend doing there?

Kamakura toursKamakura was an ancient capital, located between Tokyo and Hakone, near Mount Fuji. It’s famous for its giant Buddha, but there are many amazing Zen temples and monasteries scattered among the hills and forests and overlooking the sea.

JapanIt is such a peaceful, spiritual place steeped in history. On this trip, I returned to Kamakura to visit temples and shrines that I had never been to before.

Kamakura toursEach one has its own very unique purpose and history. For example, we visited a shrine deep in a cave that is a pilgrimage site for people praying for financial success.

Kamakura toursWe also visited revered centers of Zen learning…

Kamakura tours…saw ancient temples hidden in forests….Kamakura tours…and toured beautiful gardens.

Japan toursQ: Where do you want to go on your next trip to Japan?
My kids are already asking to go back to Japan for the Olympics in 2020. We will also likely visit some places in the mountains near Kanazawa to experience more off-the-beaten-track ryokans and mountain towns known for their crafts and culture in general. I’d like to go to Okinawa also to see the beautiful seashells. I also would like to return to Naoshima–there are so many new attractions and art installations there and on the surrounding islands.

Japan toursView our private Japan tours.

Japan toursRead more about Artisans of Leisure and Ashley Isaacs Ganz on our press page.

Destinations:  Asia, Japan

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