The history of Japan reveals a seesaw battle of power between the east and west areas of the country. The Imperial court moved from Kyoto in the west to present day Tokyo in the east. The rivalry between Osaka, western Japan’s major city, and Tokyo, the eastern capital, fumes to this day although never rising anywhere near fisticuffs. Located in the middle is Gifu Prefecture, the heart of central Japan. The Nakasendo Road and other trade routes between east and west Japan had passed through here. It is a strategic area that samurai lords always valued. In Gifu’s Takayama city lies Wanosato, a lovely and luxurious ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. I recently experienced a most soothing stay at Wanosato far beyond the warfare and tension of the past. The property charmed me with its excellent service, beautiful scenery and art, and delectable meals.
Hidden within the mountains of Izu rests Arcana Izu (the hotel writes it arcana izu all in lowercase letters), a small luxury Japanese hotel that bills itself as an auberge resort with a French influence. The inn, ensconced between the Mount Amagi forest and the Kano River, was designed as an interpretation of the ryokan (a traditional Japanese hotel) concept with modern and Western twists. During my stay, I bathed in an outdoor hot spring within the comfort of my spacious room, and later indulged in some of the finest French cuisine I have sampled in Japan at the hotel’s Lumiere restaurant.
My first impression of the Raffles Amrita Spa was early one morning when I went for a workout (I was a guest at the hotel where the spa is located). The spa and fitness center had a common reception area and shared a building fronting the pool area of the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap. The attendant was friendly, welcoming and helpful. She made sure I had everything I needed for my work out and checked on me midway to see if there was anything I required. I found that same warm welcome early every morning when I went work out and on the days I went for spa treatments.
This well managed hotel, built around a heritage building and former hotel (dating back to 1932), had much to offer. My first and last impressions were very telling. When I arrived at the airport, two uniformed staff were there to pick me up (and drop me off on my late night departure) in a comfortable air conditioned classic model BMW.
I arrived in Cambodia following many hours of travel, several changes of flight and layovers crumpled and tired. My flight landed late in the evening nearly two days after I departed from the United States. As soon as I exited customs and immigration I noticed the humid hot air. I immediately saw a uniformed driver from the Raffles Le Royal, my hotel for the next three nights, and released a breath I had not been aware I was holding. He drove me in air conditioned comfort to the quiet city hotel. Smiling staff welcomed me to the flower scented lobby where, after about 20 minutes checking in, I was escorted up one level to my first floor room.
Thinking of Japan as a travel destination, Osaka is often overshadowed by Tokyo, a global trendsetting capital and Kyoto, the exemplar of Japan’s rich cultural traditions. However, as locals here will argue, and boast quite loudly, Osaka stands toe-to-toe with not only other Japanese cities but also with other international destinations. Despite its image as a gritty city, Osaka boasts world-class events and exhibitions, distinctive culinary options, a rich history, and a friendly and forthcoming people.