Japan’s Greatest Travel Experiences, From Handmade Soba to Hidden Pilgrimage Routes

How to experience: Stay at Zenagi and opt for this as one of your experiences.

Harvesting Shellfish on Ogijima

Ogijima seen from a ship in the Seto Inland Seaho ura

Naoshima—home to Chichu Art Museum, Benesse House, and Yayoi Kusama’s yellow Pumpkin—is the most famous out of Japan’s art islands, but you’ll find some real experiential gems across some of the others nearby as well. Out on Ogijima, Miyoko Kobayashi runs a small café and lodge on the isle where she teaches her guests about organic farming and a sustainable way of life. When I stopped by for the evening one summer just a few hours before sunset, we quickly made our way down to the shore to learn about different types of shellfish and harvest them for dinner, one of the many components of our meal. Conversation was centered around Kobayashi’s interest in agriculture and the beauty of living on a quiet, rural island. In the morning we walked up to her shop where she serves a delectable breakfast while enjoying the view of the sea before departing.

How to experience: Stay or make a reservation at Dorima no Ue.

Dining at Den

When it comes to Japanese food, seasonality and quality are at the forefront of every chef’s mind. From a soul-warming bowl of noodles prepared by an elderly couple at a small farmer’s market in Morioka to elaborate multi-course meals at luxury ryokans, I’ve had some extraordinary bites while traveling around the country. But what has been the most memorable is Den, where chef Zaiyu Hasegawa puts a modern spin on kaiseki cuisine. He’s most known for a stuffed chicken wing served in a paper box that is reminiscent of what you’d get from KFC, but it’s his salad utilizing over 20 vegetables that’s the true star. Because if you can turn something that is considered to be so mundane into a memorable dish, that’s an automatic win. And for extra bonus points, the majority of his team consists of women—a rare occurrence in the hospitality industry, but especially in Japan—and his spirited Chihuahua can often be found there.