Turning Japanese

Suzanne Barney on 20 May 2012
I flew into Japan with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong and was one of the first people to experience the new premium economy seats which have been operating since the beginning of May. I even did some celebrity spotting on board as rapper Nikki Minaj (complete with green wig) and her entourage were on board the flight to Osaka.

Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan and is known as the cultural capital, with a population of 1.5 million and 2000 temples. We stayed at the Westin Miyako Kyoto which was on the outskirts of the city but very comfortable. Despite being out of town we could still just cross the road and come across the Nanzenji temple. The Japanese are very polite & hospitable people - our welcome meal was amazing and consisted of a box of different appetisers and then chef stations across the room, each preparing fresh food such as tempura, noodles and the most gorgeous beef.

For the next two days we immersed ourselves in Japanese culture starting with a bit of Zen Buddhist meditation at the Shunko-in temple. We were given a tour of one of the food markets followed by a cooking lesson teaching us how to make sushi which ended up as our lunch, washed down with healthy green tea (yum yum). We also visited the Ando Japanese Doll shop which is very famous in Japan for its handmade dolls but not cheap at between £500- £40,000 each! I also had the opportunity to dress up in a kimono, visit a samurai film studio and have a meal assisted by real Geishas, so never a dull moment.

We didn’t do many temples in Kyoto but on our last day we visited the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) and it was absolutely stunning, located by a lake with really pretty gardens. However we did share this experience with several hundred school children. We mostly ate vegan style food with chop sticks which believe me is a great way to lose weight. Alcohol can be very expensive in the hotels (£8 for a beer, £20 for a spirit) so a great place to detox in general.

The hospitality of the Japanese was second to none... so well mannered and everywhere was so clean, despite the large population of people. The standard of hotels is very high though you do pay a premium - we stayed at the St Regis in Osaka which had the real wow factor with the best shower ever created and amazing views of the city. Unforgettable.