Japan is one of the most popular destinations on the planet right now, and the cities of Kyoto and Tokyo are just two of its hotspots.

Sure, you could go and just tick off the classic sights – from the highly Instagrammable Fushimi-Inari Taisha shrine to Tokyo’s Imperial Palace – but with a little research, you can get under the skin of a rich and diverse culture. That’s why we partnered with ANA to bring you an alternative guide to two incredibly beautiful cities, from what to do to where to stay and eat.

Discover a peaceful side to the city

Japan’s cities are renowned for their relentless, buzzing energy, but for a much-needed dose of serenity make a beeline for the ancient temples tucked away behind the high walls of Kyoto.

Another way to get away from it all is to explore the city’s Gion district at sunrise, when you’ll be able to beat the crowds and get uninterrupted views of the traditional wooden machiya town houses, ochaya townhouses, and maybe even catch a glimpse of a geisha in the early morning light.

Find a unique souvenir

Aside from the rest, relaxtion and seeing incredible sights, everyone knows that one of the best parts of the holiday is shopping for souvenirs and gifts to bring home with you, so make sure you make time to dive into the local markets that open at sunrise outside Japan’s shrines. You’ll have to do your research, though – they only open their gates on certain days each month, making the reward of finding authentic antiques and freshly cooked street food all the sweeter.

Dedicate some time to finding the world’s smallest Ukiyo-e museum

Stay in a one-of-a-kind hotel

If you’re a fan of a bedtime story, unusual hotel group Book and Bed offers visitors to the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto or Fukuoka the chance to sleep among the bookshelves. Each hotel is home to more than 3,000 books specially chosen by Tokyo favourite Shibuya Publishing & Bookseller, and guests can bed down and cosy up for the night in one of 34 cute cabins hidden behind the library shelves. For the full effect, you can buy (and wear) a set of pyjamas designed for the hotel group, too. Just don’t stay up all night reading…

SEE a microcosm of Japan

Japan is well-known for its incredible art, from the modern-day manga craze to the ancient art of Ukiyo-e woodblock printing. Get off the beaten track and dedicate some time to finding the world’s smallest Ukiyo-e museum, tucked away in Kyoto’s Gion district. Set up in an extension of famous artist Ichimura Mamoru’s home, the miniature museum is the epitome of humble Japanese efficiency, displaying a select number of traditional prints for visitors. It’s an amazing in-depth insight into an ancient tradition that’s not to be missed.

Concept restaurant Suigian is one of the best places for sushi

Refuel at a Japanese coffee shop

When you’re exploring a new city on the hoof, it’s important to make time to unwind and refuel, too. Kyoto craftsmen Kaikado have a newly opened café just minutes from their workshop, offering in-the-know customers the perfect combination of café, bar, and show space. Every last detail of Kaikado’s tranquil shop is uniquely Japanese: there’s beautiful tableware made by local craftsmen and cups crafted by ceramicists Asahiyaki, as well as locally sourced coffee and cakes to revive visitors who are after a much-needed break.

Eat expertly made sushi

You can’t visit Tokyo without eating plenty of sushi, and concept restaurant Suigian is one of the best places to do just that. It promises to delight the senses by serving some of the city’s best sushi whilst entertaining diners with traditional noh theatre – one of Japan’s oldest and most revered art forms.

The restaurant itself was specially designed by innovative artist Hidetomo Kimura to have sunken tables surrounding the stage that give diners the perfect view, as well as secluded chashitzu tea rooms for private parties. With many Japanese people having never experienced noh theatre before, Hidetomo hopes that Suigian will reignite passions for an important tradition before it’s too late, as well as introduce new visitors to an incredible art form. ■

In 2018, ANA was awarded Skytrax’s highest accolade for the sixth consecutive year, and is Japan’s largest 5-Star airline* . With direct daily flights to Tokyo from Europe and North America, no matter what experiences you seek, ANA takes you there. Discover Japan’s unique destinations, ancient traditions, and best-kept secrets with We Are Japan, ANA’s insight into the ideal escape.