If you’re a fan of Japan it’s time to plan.

For more than two years, the nation was effectively impossible visit Japan. Its borders were shut.

Now, the Japanese government is hinting that all will change next month — although exact details remain fuzzy (check Travel Japan for updates). But, locals are gearing up for the return of “Lost in Translation” moments.

“It’s an exciting time — a fresh start for tourism and an appropriate time to start welcoming back overseas visitors,” said Rachel Davies, an expat Brit who runs Storied magazine and lives in Kyoto.

She notes the challenges her adoptive hometown was facing, mostly from overtourism, before the pandemic hit.

“It gave many of us, in country, a chance to see Japan in a way few people would have in the last decade, devoid of tourists, tranquil and beautiful,” she said.

Come to Kyoto now, and you’ll get a glimpse of what Davies enjoyed — especially if you book one of the converted machiya, or traditional wooden houses, that Maana Homes operates in city (co-owner Hana Tsukamoto is an erstwhile New Yorker). It’s adding a third site, the three-unit Maana Kiyomizu, this summer (doubles from $300).

Interior of Kyoto's Maana hotel.
Rooms at the paper-doored Maana hotel in Kyoto start at $300 per night.
Maana Houses

Meanwhile, the delicately flavored Ki No Bi gin, made in the heart of the city just opened its first official visitor center, the House of Ki No Bi, for seminars and tastings and take-home bottles.

Local conglomerate Kyocera just underwrote the radical refurbishment of the local art museum here, Japan’s oldest dating back to 1928, in exchange for naming rights. The Kyoto City Kyocera Museum of Art duly reopened in May after a three-year gut redo.

Keep going southwest past Kyoto — and you can, more speedily than ever, thanks to a new bullet train line, Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen, which opens this fall — and you’ll reach Kyushu.

A close up of Japan's new Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen bullet train.
All aboard! A new bullet train line, Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen, opens this fall.
Kyodo News via Getty Images

This region is anchored by Nagasaki, but there’s more to it than simply memorials to the atrocity of the atomic bomb. It’s a relaxed, countrified hideaway, with great beaches and terrific natural hot springs. Take a dip in one at the soon-to-open, 45-room Hoshino Resort Yufuin, designed by Kengo Kuma who helmed the Summer Olympic stadium (doubles from $538), or head to the Goto Retreat Ray, a wellness resort just off the farthest western tip of the prefecture.

Japan, of course, is a country of islands — almost 7,000 total, in fact. One luxe standout is Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea, where an eccentric Bond villain-like billionaire Soichiro Fukutake has installed his haul of blue-chip art (think Monet’s “Water Lilies”).

Exterior of a colorful art piece at Benesse House Museum.
Lovers of playful art should check out the expanded Benesse House Museum.
Corbis via Getty Images

This year marks the 30th anniversary of his first museum, Benesse House Museum, but Fukutake just paid for another splashy space to be built on-island — the ninth building there by starchitect Tadao Ando.

As the island’s grown in popularity among the arterati, the biggest problem has been securing one of the few rooms at the Benesse-operated hotel; that issue’s been eased by the arrival of not one, but two new crash pads.

“It’s an exciting time — a fresh start for tourism and an appropriate time to start welcoming back overseas visitors.”

Storied magazine’s Rachel Davies

Ryokan Rokasumi is an 11-suite inn that’s an upscale riff on traditional Japanese hospitality (doubles from $340), fittingly decorated with contemporary art.

Meanwhile the inventor of Aman, soon-to-be-90-year old Adrian Zecha, has created a new brand, Azumi, and its first, 22-room site just debuted the island of Ikuchijima in the Seto Inland sea (doubles from $540).

For an added incentive: the Setouchi Triennale art fest, which brings pop-up shows to the island cluster, is slated for later this year, running for several months starting in August.

Another of Japan’s islands is often unfairly overlooked by visitors: Okinawa.

A goat at the Treehouse EcoResort.
It’s the GOAT:
Talk about penthouse views — the Treeful Treehouse Resort is a sustainable way to enjoy Japan.
©Treeful Treehouse EcoResort
Aerial of the Halekulani resort.
Explore Okinawa’s new UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site from the five-star .
Halekulani Okinawa

Stay at the five-star Halekulani here, a sister spot to the Waikiki original (doubles from $321) or the entirely solar-powered Treeful Treehouse Sustainable Resort (nightly rates from $928 for three people) and explore the newly minted UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site on Okinawa, just the fifth in the country.

Yanbaru National Park forms part of that designation, which recognizes the unique flora and fauna found here, including the Iriomote leopard cat.

Try stream climbing, or sawanobori, with a naturalist — equal parts wading and swimming through the pools and rivers that quilt the old-growth forest.

It’s an only-in-Japan adventure — and one you can finally experience first-hand again.


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