Somewhere in Japan
Photographed by Giselle Go and Lukian Wiedie
If you’re a regular here, you probably noticed that in conversations with creatives featured in our Stories, we often ask how they begin and unwind each day; which rituals are cultivated within busy urban lives to carve out that space needed for inspiration to flow in and fuel the day.
This question is no coincidence: I’m curious about grounding rituals because it’s something I’ve been trying to perfect on my own. Over the years, I learned to create personal habits to clear my mind: Breathing techniques and self-acupressure are great for a five-minute gap during the day; after-work Pilates plus the subsequent dinner date at a neighborhood place work wonders to break up our week; and day trips or weekends away (depending on what our schedule permits) allow us to get out of the city and recharge in an environment surrounded by nature – an ideal way for us to maintain mental well-being (incidentally, I’m so happy that the conversation around wellness including mental health has opened up of late and is now being documented in publications such as this).
For this, I feel lucky to call Japan home. A respite by the sea or amidst the mountains is easily accessible with just a couple of hours’ drive. Philippe and I frequent a cliffside spot in an old portside town few people know of in Japan. Here, we get fresh tuna from the fisherman’s market, pair it with some avocados and Japanese rice for lunch, put on some music (reggae seems to have a good effect here), have tea on a porch overlooking a 180-degree view of the sea, and allow the salty air to fill our lungs and clear our minds. Daydreams, imagined conversations, brainstorming sessions – it’s here that we try to manifest things we want to happen and make plans for how we will get there.
When we’re luckier enough to have a long weekend (bank holidays are sacred or we’ll plan in advance for special occasions), we’ll travel a few more hours by car. The shinkansen is efficient but we prefer the freedom of road trips where we set our own pace and see more of the scenery. This time, we went to visit the mountainous town of Takayama. We left early on a Friday morning, broke up the four-hour drive with lunch at Kobuchizawa (another favorite weekend place) on our way to our ryokan in Takayama. Once there, we deposited our bags in the room and explored the city. With koyo in full bloom, small alleyways were framed with red maple and trees burnt orange or tinged pink. Dinner was an izakaya affair paired with a good bottle of red to celebrate a birthday. We followed it up with a late-night visit to the onsen, where hot springs softened our skin and prepped us for a deep slumber.
The next day, we stopped by the farmers’ market to stock up for the week. We then moved on from Takayama for another hour-long drive further up into the mountains of Shirakawago, a Japanese settlement in what was once a wild and unexplored region, northwest of Gifu Prefecture. Because of the area’s high mountains and snowfall (some of the heaviest in Japan), interaction with neighboring regions was limited, creating the conditions for unique cultural practices. This UNESCO World Heritage site features traditional Japanese houses with thick thatched roofs surrounded by the rural beauty of mountains. We spent the day visiting the village and watching the sunset from its peak before heading back to our ryokan for dinner in our tatami-lined room.
On Sunday, we started early so we can leisurely make our way back to Tokyo the same way we came. We had a pre-breakfast dip at the onsen before having our last meal at the ryokan. We then set off for the road, breaking up the trip with lunch at a favorite Nepalese restaturant back in Kobuchizawa and a visit at our regular farmers’ market in the area. The drive was punctuated with mountain ranges peppered in nature’s autumnal patchwork – trees in red, sienna, ochre, emerald, pink, and burnt orange abounded. Seeing the fiery saturation of this foliage was so rejuvenating, we came back to the city feeling revived and ready to breathe new life into our dreams.
If you’re curious about any detail from this itinerary, there are more pictures up on our Instagram Stories or feel free to comment below for questions or feedback!