Soft beds, nice views, good location; sure, these are all important factors when choosing a hotel, but what really makes a hotel, or even a trip, memorable is the food, more specifically, the breakfast.
Everyone needs a good breakfast to start their day, so why not eat the best of the best? Next time you’re in the area, you should probably check out one of the Japanese hotels with the most delicious breakfasts.
When you think back to the last hotel you stayed at, does your memory automatically cut to what you ate for breakfast there? Do soggy eggs or undercooked bacon ring a bell? Even if it was a pretty good meal that left you with fond memories, prepare yourself, because you may never look at hotel breakfasts again. You may also be finding yourself booking hotels just to try the breakfasts.
The TripAdvisor Japanwebsite compiled the 2014 opinions and scores of hotels (and their breakfasts) posted on the site in order to create this 2015 ranking of “Hotels with Delicious Breakfasts.”
While many of the hotels have managed to hang on to their 2014 spots in the top 20, there are plenty of newcomers on the list too.
Holding first place for three consecutive years is kind of a big deal, but after hearing about their buffet breakfast spread, you’ll understand how they’ve managed to pull it off.
To start off with, there is the sweets section filled with all-you-can-eat, freshly made pastries, like seasonal fruit tarts and strawberry shortcake. If you’re more of a fan of savory breakfasts though, there is also a selection of traditional French-style breakfast items and, of course, traditional Japanese breakfast foods. All dishes are made from the freshest and highest quality ingredients you could ask for and being in Kobe, expect some breakfast steak too! To wash it all down, there is a drink bar of coffees and teas from a variety of specialty shops.
Usually, the breakfast itself costs 2,200 yen (US$18.50) per person, you can sometimes find deals for a room and breakfast for under 10,000 yen ($85).
2nd Place: La Vista Hakodate Bay Hotel (Hakodate, Hokkaido)
Hotel Piena’s closest rival has held their spot at second for another year and they offer some stiff competition. Their breakfast spread offers fish and vegetables grilled before your eyes, a plethora of fresh Hokkaido seafood, and a healthy selection of well-prepared Western-style breakfast options.
3rd Place: Sapporo Grand Hotel (Sapporo, Hokkaido)
These guys have their eyes on the prize, rising 9 spots since last year’s ranking. The Sapporo Grand Hotel offers three different breakfast venues for their morning diners. One location offers a Western-style breakfast with an on-sight bakery and cooked-to-order eggs. At another site, you can choose from three traditional Japanese-style set breakfasts, overflowing with delicious seasonal dishes. Finally, there is the buffet of grilled meat and veggies, as well as their famous creation, “ramen salad.”
4th: Hotel Keihan Sapporo (Sapporo, Hokkaido)
5th: Hakodate Kokusai Hotel (Hakodate, Hokkaido)
6th: Century Royal Hotel (Sapporo, Hokkaido)
[2014: Not Ranked]
7th: Hotel Shiroyama (Kagoshima City)
8th: Hotel Rocore Naha (Naha, Okinawa)
9th: Hotel Nikko Alivila (Yomitan, Okinawa)
10th: Asahikawa Grand Hotel (Asahikawa, Hokkaido)
[2014: Not Ranked]
11th: Mitsui Garden Hotel Okayama (Okayama City)
[2014: Not Ranked]
12th: Rihga Royal Hotel Osaka (Osaka)
13th: Richmond Hotel Yamagata Station (Yamagata City)
14th: Hotel Nikko Kanazawa (Kanazawa City)
15th: Sheraton Grand Tokyo Bay (Urayasu, Chiba)
16th: Hotel Okura Tokyo Bay (Urayasu, Chiba)
[2014: Not Ranked]
17th: Daiwa Roynet Hotel Naha Kokusaidori (Naha, Okinawa)
[2014: Not Ranked]
18th: JR Tower Hotel Sapporo (Sapporo, Hokkaido)
19th: Laguna Garden Hotel (Ginowan, Okinawa)
[2014: Not Ranked]
20th: Dormy Inn Premium Otaru (Otaru, Hokkaido)
[2014: Not Ranked]
Apparently, Hokkaido hotels are proving that they are not a force to be reckoned with, as they settled into nearly half of all spots in the top 20 and took six of the top ten spots! It must be all of that fresh seafood and dairy! On the other side of the country, Okinawa held its own this year too with four on the list. While it’s easy for us to give Honshu hotels a hard time, since they are few and far between in the rankings, we can’t forget that Hotel Piena Kobe has won three years in a row! That food must be out of this world!
In the never-ending debate as to whether cats or dogs are the superior animal, it’s pretty safe to say felines have the edge as far as tranquility is concerned. For example, an island full of stray dogs is likely to be visited by animal control, whereas an island covered in cats instead gets visited by tons of tourists.
This ability to live in general harmony with the human population means that Japan is filled with places that have earned the nickname “Nekojima,” or “Cat Island.”Today, we take a whirlwind photo tour of 11 of them.
For residents and visitors to Tokyo, the closest isle worthy of the Cat Island designation lies in Kanagawa Prefecture, the capital’s neighbor to the south. Enoshima, which can be walked onto from a bridge across the street from Katase Enoshima Station, is most famous for its shrine located inside a cave and the connected legend of a dragon that fell in love with a beautiful maiden. The area’s beaches also make it a popular summertime destination for surfers, sunbathers, and partiers.
Stop by Enoshima on an offseason weekday afternoon, though and you’re likely to run into as many cats as people as you stroll up the path that winds to the top of the island.
Not every Nekojima is on the ocean, though, as Okishima is actually a floating island in the middle of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater depository in Japan. With just 350 residents, the fishing community is small enough that bicycles are the main mode of transportation on the island, meaning its feline inhabitants to live without fear f being hit by a car.
This is the one of several Cat Islands located in the Inland Sea, which is dotted with fishing settlements and blessed with a temperate climate. Sanagishima lies of the coast of Kagawa, Japan’s smallest prefecture which makes up the northeast corner of the island of Shikoku.
Moving west, we come to Ehime Prefecture, which is also a part of Shikoku. Aoshima might be the most sparsely populated of Japan’s Cat Islands, with just 15 permanent residents compared to several times as many felines.
This is strictly a day-trip destination, though. The advanced age of most of the community’s members mean that on Aoshima you won’t be able to find a hotel to spend the night, a restaurant to have dinner in, or, shockingly for Japan, even a vending machine to buy a drink from (make sure to stock up on supplies before you get on the boat).
5. Muzukijima, Ehime Prefecture
While many Cat Islands are home to fishing communities, Muzukijima instead is covered with citrus groves, keeping with Ehime’s popular image as growing the best oranges in Japan.
31 kilometers (19 miles) off the coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu, Manabeshima’s isolation has helped preserve its natural beauty, which along with its warm climate has made the island a historically popular choice for film crews (and, yes, cats).
Our last stop in the Inland Sea, visitors arrive at Iwaishima at the end of a stretch of island hopping that begins at the port in the historic town of Yanai.
8. Aijima Fukuoka Prefecture Nearest port: Kokura
Moving to the country’s opposite coastline, we come to Aijima, on the Sea of Japan. Aijima is one of the easiest Cat Islands for busy travelers to get to, as the Shinkansen bullet train stops just a few minutes’ walk from where visitors can catch a boat at Kokura Port.
Also in Fukuoka, the name of vaguely heart-shaped Aishima is, sadly, not written with the same kanji character as ai, or “love.” Nonetheless, the island’s romantic geography does seem to be having an influence on its feline population, if these photos taken there are anything to go by.
10. Genkaishima, Fukuoka Prefecture Nearest port: Hakata
Another easy to access Cat Island, Genkaishima can be reached from Hakata Port, which is located in Fukuoka City the prefectural capital and largest city in the region.
Genkaishima was home to Japan’s largest island-based cat population until the community was hit hard by an earthquake in 2005, although its number of felines is now said to be on the rise once again.
Finally, we come to Kadarashima. Legend holds that long ago, a dog earned the wrath of the deity of the Kadarashima’s Yasakajinja Shrine, and the species was driven from the island, which today is completely absent of canines.
With their bitter rivals gone, will the local cats be able to redirect their energies into unlocking their true mental, and, dare we say it, cultural potential? Could Kadarashima be the starting point of a new phase of feline evolution, where cats learn from, and begin to emulate, their human neighbors, such as the elderly gentleman pictured above?
While the vast majority of Japan’s population is crammed onto its four largest islands, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido, the country’s territories extend much farther out to sea. For example, if you head about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of downtown Tokyo, you’ll come to the Ogasawara Islands, one of Japan’s most remote settlements.
We’ve talked about the Ogasawaras before, and how their beautiful ocean scenery has been helping to attract tourists, to the archipelago. Recently, though, the islands have been seeing an increasing number of extremely unwelcome visitors, in the form of ship coming from China to poach coral.
Japanese authorities and Chinese fishing fleets regularly butt heads in the disputed Senkaku Islands. Things are usually a lot more peaceful, however, in the Ogasawaras, which presumably have less strategic importance due to their greater distance from mainland Asia and Taiwan.
The Japanese media has a lot more eyes on the ordinarily low-profile Ogasawaras these days, though, with reports of groups of as many as 200 Chinese vessels gathering to harvest red coral, which is then transported back to China for sale. Xiapu County, a district of Ningde City on the coast of the East China Sea, is said to be the base of operations for many of the poachers.
In order to recoup the fuel and labor costs for their voyage to Japan, some of the poaching vessels spend two months out of port, employing techniques such as camouflaging their Chinese markingsin to avoid arousing suspicion. The coral they gather is then sold illicitly sold in Xiapu, and with more product available than what’s needed to supply local demand, buyers also come from Shanghai to purchase large quantities to resell in other markets that are more lucrative still.
Japanese fishermen in the Ogasawara complain that the poaching activities are already disrupting their catches. Environmentalists and tourism promoters are likewise angry over the illegal practice, given that the slow speed at which coral develops makes any damage an ecological tragedy.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement denouncing the illegal gathering of red coral, and has expressed its intentions to work with its Japanese counterparts in addressing the problem. At least a portion of the Xiapu public is unhappy with the poachers as well, as illustrated by an interior goods shop with a notice posted reminding customers that, “Recent poaching of red coral on the open seas has been staining our town’s image.”
The authorities have also offered rewards of up to 10,000 yuan (US$1,640) for information regarding poaching activities, and anecdotal evidence points to black market sellers becoming less brazen and open in the trafficking of their ill-gotten goods. Here’s hoping the countermeasures continue to be effective, giving the Ogasawara Islands’ coral the earliest possible start on its healing process.
At 10am on 1 October 1964, with less than a week and a half to go before the start of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the two inaugural Hikari Super Express Shinkansen, or “bullet trains,” arrived at their destinations, Tokyo and Osaka. They were precisely on time. Hundreds of people had waited overnight in each terminal to witness this historic event, which, like the Olympics, heralded not just Japan’s recovery from the destruction of the second world war, but the beginning of what would be Japan’s stratospheric rise as an economic superpower. The journey between Japan’s two biggest cities by train had previously taken close to seven hours. The Shinkansen had made the trip in four.
The world’s first high-speed commercial train line, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Wednesday, was built along the Tokaido, one of the five routes that connected the Japanese hinterland to Edo, the city that in the mid-1800s became Tokyo. Though train lines crisscrossed the country, they were inadequate to postwar Japan’s newborn ambitions. The term “shinkansen” literally means “new trunk line”: symbolically, it lay at the very centre of the huge reconstruction effort. All previous railways were designed to serve regions. The purpose of the Tokaido Shinkansen, true to its name, was to bring people to the capital.
A couple say goodbye as he leaves on the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo.
After the war Tokyo was in ruins, but its rebuilding progressed without any master plan. As industries gravitated to the city, young people flocked to Tokyo to work; and as they started families they were encouraged to buy homes. The only land they could afford, however, was outside the already densely populated city. Property prices skyrocketed in the 1970s, and even more during the “bubble era” of the 1980s, forcing newer families even further from the city centre. Tokyo swelled to elephantine proportions. The Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, composed of four prefectures, became the world’s pre-eminent megalopolis – some 35 million people by 2010, or 27% of Japan’s total population. It isn’t unusual for commuters to spend two hours getting to work every day on trains that exceed 150% of capacity.
This “rush hour hell” has been made famous worldwide by images of station employees stuffing stragglers into packed train cars – potent symbols of the superhuman forbearance of the Japanese worker, but also the dogged efficiency of Japan’s railways. All foreign visitors to Japan invariably ride the trains and come away with the same impression: Japan’s public transportation is the cleanest, most courteous in the world, run by uniformed, be-gloved men and women who still epitomise a hallowed Japanese work ethic that most companies struggle to maintain in an economy that has remained sluggish for two decades.
Crown prince Naruhito on board a Shinkansen bullet train in 1968.
But the most vital aspect of this efficiency is that trains run on time, all the time. This is not just a point of pride. It is a necessity, given the huge number of people that have to be moved. Transfers are timed to the split second, and the slightest delay has the butterfly effect of delaying connections. The Shinkansen is no exception, as exemplified by the “angels”: teams of pink-attired women who descend on a train as soon as it arrives at its terminal and in five minutes leave it spotless for the return trip.
The first Shinkansen skirted the Pacific coast through the huge industrial corridor that links the capital with Osaka. This is a nearly unbroken stretch of urbanisation: it has few parallels on the planet. By the early 1950s the conventional train that ran on this route was crammed. Taking a hint from the private Odakyu Electric Railway, which launched a train that could reach speeds of 145km/hr, Japan National Railways (JNR) decided to develop an even faster train, and in April 1959 construction of the Tokaido Shinkansen commenced with an initial budget of ¥200bn (£1.1bn), though the eventual cost would be double that.
The high-speed network now reaches all the way west to the island of Kyushu and north to Akita, at the northern tip of the main island, Honshu. Next March, the Hokuriku Shinkansenwill be extended to Kanazawa near the Japan Sea; there are plans to build a new line connecting Honshu to the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Each line is under the authority of one of four JR (Japan Railways) companies that formed when JNR was privatised in 1987. But the central government has overseen the construction of all new Shinkansen lines, usually covering 35% of the cost (JR companies pay 50% and local governments 15%). That means the construction ministry makes the relevant decisions about where lines go, or which cities get stations.
In an interview in the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper last week, Takashi Hara, a political scholar and expert on Japanese railroads, said the policy of extending the Shinkansen was promulgated by Kakuei Tanaka, Japan’s prime minister from 1972 to 1974. “The purpose was to connect regional areas to Tokyo,” Hara said. “And that led to the current situation of a national Shinkansen network, which completely changed the face of Japan. Travel times were shortened and vibration was alleviated, making it possible for more convenient business and pleasure trips, but I have to say that the project just made all the [connecting] cities part of Tokyo.”
And where the Shinkansen’s long tentacles go, other services shrivel. Local governments in Japan rely heavily on the central government for funds and public works – it’s how the central government keeps them in line. Politicians actively court high-speed railways since they believe they attract money, jobs and tourists. In the early 1990s, a new Shinkansen was built to connect Tokyo to Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. The train ran along a similar route as the Shinetsu Honsen, one of the most romanticised railroads in Japan, beloved of train buffs the world over for its amazing scenery – but also considered redundant by operators JR East because, as with almost all rural train lines in Japan, it lost money. There were only two profitable stations on the line – Nagano and the resort community of Karuizawa – and both would be served by the new Shinkansen. A large portion of the Shinetsu Honsen closed down; local residents who relied on it had to use cars or buses.
Meanwhile, the bullet train has sucked the country’s workforce into Tokyo, rendering an increasingly huge part of the country little more than a bedroom community for the capital. One reason for this is a quirk of Japan’s famously paternalistic corporations: namely, employers pay their workers’ commuting costs. Tax authorities don’t consider it income if it’s less than ¥100,000 a month – so Shinkansen commutes of up to two hours don’t sound so bad. New housing subdivisions filled with Tokyo salarymen subsequently sprang up along the Nagano Shinkansen route and established Shinkansen lines, bringing more people from further away into the capital.
The Shinkansen’s focus on Tokyo, and the subsequent emphasis on profitability over service, has also accelerated flight from the countryside. It’s often easier to get from a regional capital to Tokyo than to the nearest neighbouring city. Except for sections of the Tohoku Shinkansen, which serves northeastern Japan, local train lines don’t always accommodate Shinkansen rolling stock, so there are often no direct transfer points between local lines and Shinkansen lines. The Tokaido Shinkansen alone now operates 323 trains a day, taking 140 million fares a year, dwarfing local lines. This has had a crucial effect on the physical shape of the city. As a result of this funnelling, Tokyo is becoming even denser and more vertical – not just upward, but downward. With more Shinkansen passengers coming into the capital, JR East has to dig ever deeper under Tokyo Station to create more platforms.
Deepest of all is the new Tokyo terminal for the latest incarnation of the bullet train – the maglev, or Chuo (“central”) Shinkansen, which is supposed to connect Tokyo to Nagoya by 2027 and is being built 40m underground. The maglev is the next technological stage in the evolution of high-speed rail travel. It is meant to be a morale booster for Japan’s railway industry, which no longer boasts the fastest trains or the biggest ridership in the world, distinctions that now belong to Japan’s huge neighbour to the west.
A passenger in traditional dress on board a Japanese Hikari Shinkansen bullet train in 1965.
It is being built by JR Tokai, the company that runs the original super-profitable Tokaido Shinkansen, though experts assume the central government will eventually have to contribute money due to snowballing costs. The Chuo Shinkansen will cut the time it takes to get to Nagoya to 40 minutes, theoretically putting the central Japanese capital within commuting distance of Tokyo – in much the same way that the proposed HS2 will make Birmingham a bedroom community of London. “The Chuo Shinkansen will make Nagoya feel like a suburb of Tokyo,” said Hara.
If you have any doubt about that, consider that the maglev – short for “magnetic-levitation”, and known in Japanese as “linear motor car” – has to move in as straight and as level a line as possible in order to reach the speeds that will make it the fastest train on Earth. But since Japan’s topography is mostly mountainous, 86% of the journey will be underground. (The technology probably makes more sense on a flat, open terrain, and JR Tokai is trying to sell it abroad.) In other words, the maglev will essentially be a very long subway ride. Certainly few tourists will find it appealing.
Plans are to extend the maglev to Osaka by 2045, by which time potential ridership will have declined by a third, due to Japan’s shrinking population and more efficient air travel due to new regional airports. The Shinkansen is expensive; with the rise of low-cost carriers, any train trip that takes more than two hours from Tokyo is less cost-effective than flying. The development of the Shinkansen can’t be separated from geography. China’s faster, vaster high-speed rail service isn’t all focused on Beijing, because the country itself is huge; in Japan, however, until recently the Shinkansen was the best way to get to Tokyo from almost anywhere. Like the first Shinkansen, the maglev is a national project, even if the central government hasn’t spent any money on it (yet), but national priorities aren’t as clear as they were in the 1950s. Tokyo can’t get any bigger. Other areas of Japan are barely hanging on. Japan’s high-speed rail system may end up being the victim of its own success.
For the past few decades, getting around Japan has been a snap using the extremely efficient rail network that crisscrosses the country. Even better, in just a few years, not only will you be able to go anywhere on the main island of Honshu by train, but you’ll be able to do it in style, thanks to luxurious new trains servicing the Chugoku, Kanto, and Tohoku regions.
Hokuriku, the part of Japan running along the central northern coast of Honshu, isn’t about to be left out though, and its upcoming train may be the most opulent of all, with an interior decorated with traditional lacquer and gold leaf.
Compared to the other new trains listed above, Hokuriku’s initially seems like a much more modest travel option. The Tohoku train is an ultra-fast Shinkansen model, and Kanto’s and Chugoku’s are sleeper trains. In contrast, the new train for the Hokuriku area, which will run between Kanazawa and the Wakura Onsen hot spring resort in Ishikawa Prefecture, is neither, plus only two cars long with seats for just 52 passengers.
The small scale doesn’t mean any less effort is going into the aesthetics, though, as revealed by concept renderings recently released by Japan railways.
The design cues for the project are “beauty,” and “Japanese tradition,” and plenty of both are apparent in this early artwork. Ever since gold was discovered in the surrounding area centuries ago, Kanazawa has been associated with the precious metal, and the city remains Japan’s most famous producer of gold leaf handicrafts. Lacquerware from the town of Wajima, also located in Ishikawa, is similarly prized, and both elements are prominently featured in the interior of the train’s carriages.
The exterior also gives a nod to Hokuriku’s traditional culture, with imagery evocative of the patterns that grace Ishikawa’s Kaga-Yuzen kimono.
Inside, travelers can snack on Japanese-style desserts or sample a selection of Hokuriku sake. There’s even a stage for folk music performances in one car, which is then relayed by monitor to passengers riding in the other.
Hokuriku’s snazzy new train has its first run tentatively scheduled for October of 2015.
The Shinkansen is already a pretty cool way to get around Japan, as it whisks travelers from the country’s cosmopolitan urban centers to its more traditional rural locales.
But what if you want to experience a bit of authentic Japanese culture while you’re zipping across Japan at 200 miles per hour? Fear not, Japan Railway has just the thing: a bullet train with tatami reed flooring and a Japanese-style foot bath.
When the Yamagata Shinkansen Line began operations in 1992, it not only provided citizens of the Tohoku region easy access to Tokyo, it also made it possible for residents of the capital to travel quickly to the northern reaches of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Even in a country that loves its nostalgia, the Tohoku region is particularly traditional, and many still lead the bucolic lifestyles that were the norm in Japan before the surges of urbanization that came in the early and mid-20th century.
JR East is looking to capitalize on this appeal by sprucing up the bullet trains on the Yamagata Line. Heading up the design side of the project is the Yamagata-born, California-educated Kiyoyuki Okuyama, who also goes by the name given name Ken in his international professional dealings. Okuyama served as creative director of Italian automobile design firm Pininfarina from 2004 to 2006, and his designs have been used for Ferrari’s exotic sports cars, as well as other Shinkansen coaches.
Among the overhauls many points is a new paintjob which replaces the current subdued silver ad green tones.
The new scheme is much more colorful, not to mention meaningful.
The colors are officially known as mandarin duck purple, safflower yellow, safflower red, and Zao bianco, in reference to Yamagata’s Prefectural bird and flower, plus the snowy landscape of Mt. Zao, which sits on the border between Yamagata and neighboring Miyagi Prefecture.
Insignias placed on the outside of the train advertise the renowned produce and natural beauty of Yamagata throughout the year, with apples and rice for fall, ice-covered trees for winter, cherry blossoms for spring, and cherries themselves along with blooming safflowers symbolizing summer.
More dramatic artistic flourishes are found inside, where the passenger coaches’ ceilings and seatbacks are decorated with reliefs once again representing the bounty of Yamagata’s harvest.
Things start to get really special with the tatami lounge, however. Featuring the traditional reed flooring which can contradictorily be found in both high-class manors and low-rent apartments in Japan, passengers can sit and relax at tables carved from the wood of Japan’s famed sakura cherry trees. Cut-outs in the floor below the tables mean that your rump can enjoy the feel of tatami without the danger of your feet falling asleep from having to kneel Japanese-style and fold them under yourself.
Best of all though, is the new Shinkansen’s foot bath. Featuring two stone-lined tubs, this is a great way to literally dip your toes into Japan’s bathing culture, without having to disrobe for a communal hot spring soak.
The new Shinkansen carriages are scheduled to be gradually phased into service on the Yamagata Line starting next month. This means they’ll be just in time for Yamagata’s comparatively late cherry blossom season, and with its onsite bath facilities, travelers can look forward to arriving at their destination with their feet actually feeling better than before they started their journey hundreds of miles away.
Home to many landmarks in Japanese culture – which includes a 7th century Buddhist temple – Nagano is a relatively well-sized area in the central part of Honshu. After being commissioned for a residential project near the city, Kidosaki Architects Studio decided to honor Nagano’s majestic natural beauty.
The House in Yatsugatake is nestled on a steep slope at the foot of the Yatsugatake Mountains, a minimalist and expansive structure. Two diagonal bracing steel cylinders support the hanging living room, giving a dramatic floating effect that celebrates the vast surrounding area. The use of wood, unpainted concrete and marble in the space only serve to reinforce the flow of the home.
Enjoy a look through the house, then head over to Kidosaki Architects Studio’s website to learn more about the firm.