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.
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.