Japan is one of our hottest destinations at the moment and, with a rather large rugby tournament fast approaching in 2019, it's only going to become more popular. Fortunately, we're on hand to make sure you very much catch the worm early doors and our experts can recommend the very best activities and experiences to beat the inevitable crowds. So here we go: a selection of our favourite under the radar, but equally unmissable Japanese holiday experiences...
Take part in a ninja workshop in Tokyo
Particularly fun for families, this interactive half day workshop will see you learning skills used by the traditional Japanese warriors of times gone by. Start by donning a dogi (the traditional training clothes of a ninja) before your ninja master teaches you some signature moves including kujikiri, the practice of using hand gestures to scare off opponents, and how to throw a shuriken, the ninja's traditional star-shaped weapon.
Walk the Kumano Kodo trail
The network of ancient pilgrimage routes linking ancient sacred areas on the Kii Peninsula are referred to as the Kumano Kodo trail and were given UNESCO protection back in 2004. Today they remain some of the most scenic walking trails in the country and are, more importantly, a great way to get in touch with the history and spirituality of the region. The main stopping points along the criss-crossing trails are the scenic shrines, which include the beautiful Kumano Sanzan, Koyasan, Yoshino and Omine.
Relax in a ryokan
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn and staying in one is something we would highly recommend for anyone wanting a taste of authentic Japanese culture. Start your stay by removing your shoes and then get comfortable in a yukata (traditional robe) and a pair of traditional slippers before taking a dip in the steaming onsen, if there is one. Come evening you will then retire to your simple room where your Japanese dinner will be served at a traditionally low table while you sit on a floor cushion. You'll then have the evening to relax and unwind before heading to sleep on your futon beds.
Art lovers need look no further than Naoshima, which is fondly known as Japan's 'art island'. Since the 1980s this unique island in the Seto Inland Sea has become a hub for famous contemporary artists to display their artwork and, as well as the many art galleries, there are numerous quirky art installations along the sandy sea fronts and quiet Mediterranean-style streets. The island is best explored by bike and some of our favourite art locations are the Chichu Art Museum, Yayoi Kusama's 'Pumpkins', James Turrell's 'Minamidera' and the Benesse House complex.
Stay overnight in a temple in Koyasan
High in the Kii Mountains, Koyasan is a mysterious and historic Buddhist temple settlement and, despite dating back over 12 centuries, many of its temples have stood the test of time. While wandering around it's easy to picture the 2,000 beautifully ornate temples that once stood sheltered in the mountains. For the full immersive experience, stay overnight in one of the best preserved temples, where you'll be introduced to the simple lodgings and lifestyle of the resident Buddhist monks.