The era of ‘always-on-call’ technology has meant an evolution on business travel: the dawn of ‘bleisure’. This pantomime horse of a term – the front end of the word ‘business’, the rear ‘leisure’ – means a merging of the two; a burgeoning trend. The mindset of the business traveller has shifted, with six out of ten of us now adding leisure days to our business trips, while another 20 per cent would like to do so.

There have been behavioural shifts in recent years, too. For one thing, most of us go out of our way to spend more time with our families, not less. So if we have to travel, why not take them with us? The upside of flying becoming a more prosaic experience is the low-cost airlines have boomed, making it affordable for your partner and kids to join you.

Sixty-six percent of travellers agree that destination matters. If a business meeting takes place in a city in a traveller’s personal must-see list, he or she will extend a trip for an extra couple of days. When travelling internationally and for long distances people expect to immerse in a different culture.

Japan is still a major business destinations for Westerners, and there are increasing opportunities here for Bleisure, from urban stays over weekends to extended tours to often fascinating local regions. Unique Tokyo destinations include Akihabara for amime, Harajuku for street fashion, Ginza for shopping and Tsukiji market for Sushi lovers –something for everyone. Venturing further afield choices include staying in Ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) and soaking in natural hot springs at such beautiful countryside locations such as Hakone or Ise-shima. Ancient Kyoto and Nara offer temples and shrines steeped in history, whist Shirakawa-Go provides traditional private-house stays.

Now let’s explore abundant options available for you to consider!

14 cool, hidden and unusual Bleisure destinations to visit or stay at in Japan

  1. Cat Island (Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Tohoku)

On the island of Tashirojima, cats are king and outnumber people, the people like it that way.

It’s no accident that the cats who inhabit Tashirojima Island, or what has become known as “Cat Island” in Japan have come to be the island’s primary residents. Cats have long been thought by the locals to represent luck and good fortune, and doubly so if you feed and care for them. Thus, the cats are treated like kings, and although most are feral because keeping them as “pets” is generally considered inappropriate, they are well-fed and well-cared for.

Currently dogs are not allowed on the island to protect the well-being of the cats – and presumably any dog foolish enough to venture onto an island full of feral cats will be very dog-eared. The cats may end up bringing luck after all, however. Tourism has been picking up as the island has become an attraction for curious travellers, thanks to all of those top cats.

Bleisure destination in Japan
Japan’s cat island where cats outnumber people in population. The residents on Taishojima are so serious about the care and welfare of the cats that they do not allow dogs on the island.
  1. Mediation at the natural setting at Sagano Bamboo Forest or within ancient Ryoan-ji Temple (Kyoto)

The sound of swaying stalks in this stunning grove has been voted as unique Japanese musicality.

Only 30 minutes or so from the bustling Kyoto city centre, the towering bamboo forest is an almost astounding contrast to the urbanity surrounding it. Wooden paths weave through the dense thicket of tall bamboo stalks that project many metres skyward, creating a cathedral-like green canopy. The absolutely gorgeous forest of skinny bamboo trunks is the heroin chic of wooded glades. As the wind rustles through the thousands of thin bamboos its natural sound becomes a truly mediative experience. This wind symphony is deemed so lovely that Japan’s Ministry of the Environment voted the location’s aural pleasures as one of the country’s “100 Soundscapes of Japan”, an initiative designed to get the local population to get out and appreciate Japans’ wonders of sound.

Bleisure destination in Japan
Only 30 minutes or so from the bustling Kyoto city centre, the towering bamboo forest is an almost shocking contrast to the urbanity surrounding it.

The tradition of the meditative rock garden is a staple of Japanese culture but very few of the peaceful temples have survived as long or as perfectly preserved as the zen garden of Ryoan-ji Temple.

While Ryoan-ji (The Temple of the Dragon at Peace) is actually the name of the entire temple complex which surrounds the almost 3,000 square foot rock garden, or kare-sansui in Japanese. While the large boulders in the garden appear to have been placed at random, scholars have both philosophically and scientifically attempted to divine the design of the space. While some say that the rocks are placed in such a way as to draw attention to the architectural flourishes of the building, or that their placement hides some underlying message, most guests agree that so long as you can find personal meaning in the quiet natural order of the garden, you have found the meaning of Ryoan-ji.

Bleisure destination in Japan
The design of the Zen garden is very deliberate. The garden itself has 15 large stones and it was designed so that only 14 stones will ever be visible at once.
  1. View the famous wild snow monkeys in Onsen at Jigokudani Monkey Park (Yamamouchi, Nagano Prefecture)

Visit the hot springs monkey spa in the middle of Hell’s Valley. The park is most famous for its population of Japanese Macaques, also known as Snow Monkeys, the most northern living non-human primates.

Sometime in the early 1960s these clever monkeys decided to test the waters of this natural hot spring, and they’ve descended from the forest to warm up. They have been doing so for the last almost 60 years of winter. Some of the hot springs even reach temperatures above 122 degrees Fahrenheit, which is perfect for warming monkeys along with visitors to the region.

Although not technically a religious site the Snow Monkeys are popular in Japanese fables and are believed to be messengers of the Shinto mountain gods and rivers. The Japanese monkey god is well known in the Japanese TV series called Monkey. Although the region is remote, there is no doubt that seeing monkeys enjoying spa retreat is probably a surreal and spiritual experience all on its own.

Bleisure destination in Japan
Watch these beautiful Japanese macaques at Wild Snow Monkey Park who have truly mastered the fine art of relaxation
  1. Stay at the world’s oldest hotel at Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan (Yamanashi Prefecture)

The oldest hotel in the world has been operated by the same family for over 1,300 years, specifically catering to samurai. Nestled among a number of picturesque hot springs in the a remote alpine region, the traditionally-styled Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan in the Yamanashi Prefecture about 2 hours drive north-west from Tokyo. The hotel was is recognized as the world’s oldest surviving inn, and possibly even the world’s oldest continuous business, having catered to both the most ancient samurai to today’s modern tourists for over a thousand years.

Originally established in 705 AD, the traditional “onsen” or “hot spring” was the brainchild of the son of the reigning emperor’s aid. The natural hot springs in the area allowed for the creation of a number of healing baths that drew visitors and military men from all around Japan to come and relax. Among these early patrons were a number of famed samurai and shogun, lending the facility a level of prestige.

From its inception the Keiunkan onsen has been passed down within the original family through the centuries. 52 different generations of descendants have cared for and operated the inn, growing the space and modernizing it slowly with each passing epoch.

Today the site is considerably larger than it was over a thousand years ago, but both the look and feel of the inn have remained surprisingly unchanged. Despite modern amenities, the simple, calming design of the spaces and the towering mountains surrounding them give it a timeless appeal as though it is still 705. Keiunkan currently holds the Guinness World Record for oldest hotel and is now aiming for another, world’s most productive hot spring, thanks to their new bath that pumps over a thousand litres of naturally heated water per minute.

  1. Snowmobiling Japanese style (Niseko, Hokkaido)

When you think of Japan, snowmobiling probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. There is a lot more to this island nation than temples, kimonos and cheery blossoms – all the images that most people would identify with. Snowmobiling is now part of the winter culture in Japan.

Japan is a country of extremes, with southern Japan being in the subtropical climate zone and northern Japan being in the subarctic. The greater part of Japan is also made up of mountains so when the constant cold air mass that blows in from Siberia crashes into the Japanese alps, the outcome is paradise for snow lovers. Japan’s unique climate conditions produce the most beloved powder snow in the world.

The best ski resorts and snow conditions are reportedly found on Hokkaido, which is the northernmost island in the Japanese archipelago. The region offers full-throttle, deep powder Japan snowmobiling for guests of all levels of ability, from a beginners’ tour to adrenalin-pumping advanced backcountry snowmobiling, the later being for the sheer hell of it of for sled-accessed skiing or snowboarding.

The location is ideal for snowmobiling with open, on-and-off track terrain. There are a few specialised companies, offering small group sizes only (max 4:1 client:guide ratio) along with qualified guides.

  1. A remote island with stunning architecture and modern art (Naoshima Island, Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku)

Some 3,000 islands dot the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, which separates three of the four main islands of Japan – Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. While many of those islands remain quiet and uninhabited, Naoshima has been turned into one of the most remarkable art and architecture destinations in the world. From the moment visitors get off the ferry on Naoshima Island, they are likely to encounter a work of art. One of the most iconic works on display is Yayoi Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin.

Naoshima’s history, even when summarized probably a bit too concisely, is inspiring. In the 1980’s the chairman of Fukutake Publishing began looking for a home for their corporate art collection. Rather than build a museum in Tokyo the chairman wondered if the island he remembered from his youth might benefit from the influx of an artistic economy. Mineral resources, once the lifeblood of the island, were no longer profitable and the islands’ youth were leaving in droves and leaving behind the traditional jobs as fishermen and moving to bigger cities. For the island obviously this culminated in a severely depressed economy and the breakdown of the island’s social infrastructure. Luckily a mayor from the island region reached out to the chairman and, over time, a plan evolved.

To kick start the artistic revolution in the area, the great architect Tadao Ando was contracted to design the beginnings of a complex of museums that were quite dramatic on the inside, but surprisingly subtle on the outside, partially concealed by the surrounding land. This high profile project led to new commissions of site-specific works, especially in the town of Naoshima. The corporation, now known as Bennesse, created a foundation that has turned this small island town into a living modern art gallery.

The centre of the project is considered to be the Tadao Ando designed museum and hotel that make up the Bennesse complex. There are certain pieces and experiences designed for hotel guests only, but there is much more that is open to all. Special attention should be paid to the fisherman’s houses in the port area, the sculptures on the grounds of the Bessesse Museum/Hotel and the Chichu Art Meseum, dedicated to three different artists including legendary Claude Monet Space and the famous American land artist Walter de Maria. “They’ve managed to create a perfect balance of light, sound, space, colour and proportion, which makes the experience transcendent and unforgettable,” says Rhea Karam, a New York-based fine arts photographer at work on a project inspired by Naoshima. Karam found the Claude Monet Space a shock. “Growing up in Paris, I was very familiar with Monet’s work and accustomed to seeing it everywhere to the point that I wasn’t particularly interested when I heard he was displayed in the Chrichu Art Museum,” says Karam. “Unbelievable, almost holistic presentation of Monet’s Water Lily paintings made me see them in a new light that I had never before experienced.”

Bleisure destination in Japan
Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama – Once a fishing town in decline, Naoshima island is now a thriving Contemporary Art Hub where architecture, nature and art come together to create a surreal landscape.
  1. Watch Sumo wresting, the world’s oldest organized sport (Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka)

Sumo wrestling is the national sport of Japan and a must see for visitors. Once patronized by the Japanese emperors Sumo’s origins go back at least 1,500 years and thus is the world’s oldest organised sport. Originally Sumo was performed as a way of honouring the deities or spirits known as kami so as to ensure a bountiful harvest and protection from the Gods. Sumo was basically a Shinto fertility ritual closely linked to the agricultural calendar and was originally performed on the grounds of a shrine or temple. Today there are major arenas devoted specifically to this cultural icon.

The best way to see sumo is to attend a sumo tournament. Tickets are sold for each day of the 15-day tournaments. They can be purchased in advance through official ticketing site for Ground Sumo Tournament. The Japan Sumo Association (JSA), which is supervised by the Japanese Ministry of Education, sponsors six major tournaments per year, known as bashos (‘grand sumo tournaments’): three times in Tokyo and once each in Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka.

If you miss the sumo tournament, there is an even better way to experience sumo. You can visit a sumo stable and watch the morning training session known as asageiko. This can be organized through a guided tour or with a bit of preparation you can arrange your own visit to a stable and watch the action entirely free.

When sumo wrestlers retire from the sport, some become actors, some pop stars, and some open chanko-nabe restaurants. Lots of former sumo wrestlers open up restaurants that specialize in chanko-nabe because after all, they had years of experience making the stuff.

These restaurants are usually around the Ryogoku area of Tokyo, the Mecca of sumo wrestling that includes a huge sumo stadium and many sumo stables. For example, located near the sumo stadium known as the Ryogoku Kokugikan, Hananomai Sumo Themed Restaurant offers all you can drink and eat, within a set menu format. In the middle of the restaurant lies a real sumo ring or dohyo. Performers, musicians, singers and retired sumo wrestlers use the ring to entertain diners. The menu is sumo inspired, specialising in their own rendition of chanko-nabe.

Hananomaki takes visitors back to the Edo Period when sumo culture flourished. The décor includes sliding screens and antique-styled storefronts with tiled roofs, and artwork made in the Japanese woodblock print style.

Bleisure destination in Japan
Sumo wrestling is the national sport of Japan and a must see for visitors. The best way to see sumo is to attend a sumo tournament.
  1. A magical museum dedicated to the legendary Ghibli film studio – often called “Japan’s Disney” (Mitaka, Tokyo)

Situated in the suburbs of Mitaka in western Tokyo, the Ghibli Museum is both a showcase for the famed animation studio and a playground for children of any age.

Known in the west for its films such as “My Neighbour Totoro”, “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke”, the museum’s design was informed by cofounder and director of Studio Ghibile, Hayao Miyazaki’s personal vision. He didn’t want it to become yet another boring pile of exhibits. Instead, he “put it together as if it were a film,” creating a series of rooms with motifs from every piece of animation he had produced or found interesting, visitable in any order. The result is like stepping into the wizard’s cottage whilst he is away, with artist’s materials, animation cells, and sketchbooks preserved alongside overflowing astrays and cardboard boxes filled with reusable pencil stubs. The motifs begin when you step off the yellow bus – the bus stop is in the shape of the studio’s mascot, Totoro.

One particular delight is the room that showcases different methods of animation, which draws your gaze from the zoetrope near the entrance, on past the moving wooden figures, pausing to see the stop-motion carousel spin up, then stopping dead at the Heath Robinson-like film projector in a glass case to view the “evolution of man” movie at different points in the projection. Another, sadly for under-12s only, is the playroom that holds a plush Catbus from “My Neighbour Totoro” complete with chuckable Soot Sprites.

The main attraction is the short films that can only be seen in the Museum’s tiny theatre. On a monthly rotation, they are in Japanese (without subtitles), though it is often easy enough to follow regardless.

There is also a café, gift shop, and bookshop inside, and a picnic park outside where families can sit under the cherry blossoms in March/April. Access is strictly limited ­– only 200 admissions per day for overseas visitors. Tickets must be purchased in advance; there is no ticket office at the museum. Tickets go on sales on the web the 10th of each month (at 10:00am Japan Standard Time) for the following month and sell out quickly, within days – http://www. ghibli-museum.jp/en/ticket-information/ Tickets can be also purchased in Japan at Lawson convenience stores in person, or via their online ticket platform if you’re outside of Japan.

Bleisure destination in Japan
Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan is a tribute to Studio Ghibli’s many creations, and the technical & creative process of animation. It’s also one of the top tourist spots in Tokyo.
  1. Where do you find world’s best whisky (Yamazaki, Kyoto Prefecture)

The first thing you notice is the smell: rich, deep and mysterious – and somehow both fresh and musty at the same time. It’s a scent that immediately arouses your curiosity.

When you visit Japan’s oldest whisky distillery just outside Kyoto you learn about a spirit that was named the best in the world in 2014. The Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, made by beverage giant Suntory, took home top honours in Jim Murray’s “Whisky Bible”. The whisky guru referred to it as “near indescribable genius.” Scotch didn’t even make the top three.

While Japanese whisky has been taking home awards for over a decade, this was a first. And standing in the cellar piled high with oak casks, some American, some Spanish, and some Japanese, you get the sense that its success around the globe has only just begun.

Suntory’s Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo is responsible for every bottle of whisky that leaves the 90-year-old distillery. Shinji is adamant that his whisky is not called Scotch! While the Scotland-trained Fukuyo is modest about taking home the top title, he is clearly proud of what Japanese whisky has achieved. The secret, he says, is not boldness, but balance. Perhaps it’s the purity of the water, which Fukuyo says makes a gentle spirit. Or may be it’s because the whiskey is exposed to Japan’s dry, cold winters and hot, humid summers as it matures inside those casks. Or maybe it’s about the blending. The whisky industry in Japan has more than 100 distilleries, so blenders can choose from each distillery. Fukuyo however points out: “But we have only two malt distilleries, one grain distillery. That’s why we have to make different types of whiskey even in one distillery. It’s our challenge.”

Formulas of the most popular labels can change up to two dozen times a year, Fukuyo says, because no two casks are exactly the same. Change one ingredient in the blend and that precious balance is no more. It’s a challenge that seems even more daunting when we learn some products use 15 or 20 different types of whiskey. Even single malt contains whiskey from about ten casks, the says, although all from a single distillery to quality for the single-malt moniker. As for that best-in-the-world whiskey? You can’t get it in Japan, Fukuyo says. Only 3,000 bottles were released, and they were all exported.

Bleisure destination in Japan
The distillery tour shows how the whiskey inside the barrels over time, goes through chemical changes from reddish wine-like colour (Right – for years) to a much darker appearance and concentration (Left – twelve years) as time passes.
  1. Shimanami Kaido Bikeway is a road cyclists dream (Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture)

The gorgeous views of the Seto Inland Sea are a feature of this 43-mile route across six islands.

About 45 minutes from Hiroshima city is the quaint port of Onomichi known for its beautiful temples and sloping seaside hills. It’s the starting point of this unique attraction, the Shimanami Kaiko bikeway.

Shimanami Kaido, which translates to the “Island-Wave-Sea,” is wonderfully and aptly named. It connects Japan’s main island, Honshu, with the island of Shikoku, traversing six islands along the way which are connected by one of the world’s longest series of suspension bridges.

While it’s actually an expressway (also called Nishiseto Expressway), it’s unique for being only land route between Honshu and Shikoku that can be traversed on foot or by bicycle. with separate bike and pedestrian lanes. Long bridges over bright blue water are interspersed with lush island greenery and small traditional towns.

Experienced cyclists can ride the entire route in a day for. Most people start in Onomichi and head south to the town of Imabari on Shikoku Island, returning either by bus or ferry. En route cyclists there are plenty of attractions such as museums, temples, castles and stands of cherry blossoms.

For the start of this adventure there is the cycling-themed hotel Cycle in the Onomichi U2 building. There are numerous bike rentals such as Giant and smaller rental and mechanic shops along the route.

Blesiure destination in Japan
Take a leisurely island-hopping bicycle tour. The true charm of the Shimanami Kaido lies hidden in the artistic scenery weaving among the many islands and bridges. People can connect with others and with nature while enjoying the Shimanami daily life where time passes gently by.
  1. An Island of natural wonders (Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture)

Revered by the Japanese for its hiking, hot spring and cedar trees, Yakushima also provided the inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s amime hit “Princess Mononoke”. Now foreign visitors are uncovering this island delight.

Nestling in the warm, sub-tropical waters 60km (37 miles) south of Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island, the towering mountains and ancient forests of Yakushima make it a secluded and largely unspoilt paradise, which feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of Japan’s megacities. It was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993, with the island long revered by the Japanese as one of the country’s natural wanders. It is only in recent years that foreign visitors have started to discover Yakushima’s secrets.

This small, round island has an incredibly mountainous interior, but at only 27km (17 miles) wide, it is possible to see all of the main sights and get a good taste of island life in just a few days. Yakushima is best known for the extensive and hauntingly beautiful forests that cover most of the island, home to Japanese cedar trees (known as Yakusugi), some of which are thousands of years old. Walking through these temperate rainforests, full of fairytale-like trees with twisted moss-covered roots, it is no surprise to learn that the island was the inspiration for acclaimed Studio Ghibli animation Princess Mononoke, directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

The extremely wet climate means crystal-clear rivers tumble down from the high peaks, resulting in spectacular waterfalls that carve their way through granite bedrock. Lavish green, dense foliage provides the perfect home for the Yakushima macaque and the Yaku deer, both of which are smaller than their mainland counterparts but less timid. They can be easily spotted foraging near roadsides and along hiking trails.

In the summer months, endangered loggerhead turtles make their nests on Yakushima’s beaches, while tropical fish and corals can be found in the shallow and warm coastal waters. Geothermal hot springs (onsen) are everywhere, as they are in most of Japan, and some of the island’s best are right on the beach.

Outdoor activities are high on the agenda for most visitors to Yakushima, and the steep mountains and pristine forests attract hikers from all over Japan, with trails to suit all abilities. Yakusugi in its entirety is nature park with numerous easy hikes ranging from 30 minutes to three hours. Crossing the island’s interior hikers pass such landmarks as Wilson’s Stump (the hollow remains of a long-felled giant cedar) and the oddly-shaped granite outcrops that characterise the high mountain tops.

For those who love soaking in hot springs, the unique Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen on the south coast is a must. It’s right on the rocky shoreline and so can only be accessed twice a day, when the tide is low. Pop 100 yen into the honesty box, strip down (a small towel can be used to protect your modesty) and be sure to follow local etiquette by rinsing yourself before entering the pools.

Bleisure destination in Japan
Thick tree and moss growth in the Yakushima woodlands – Jomon Cedar is the oldest and biggest among Yaku cedars of thousands years old.
  1. Hiking Japan’s equivalent the Santiago de Compostela in Spain and France. Kumano Kodo is Japan’s ancient pilgrimage route (Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture)

One of Japan’s most remote and rewarding journeys, the Kumano Kodo hiking route weaves through the mountainous Kii Peninsula south of Osaka. Once a sacred pilgrimage reserved for emperors and samurai, the ‘Kumano Old Road’ is today open to all modern-day seekers and wanderers.

Over the years Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines have been erected along the route. In 2004 the Kumano Kodo and its sacred sites were given World Heritage status – one of only two pilgrimage routes recongnised by UNESCO (the other is the Santiago de Compostela in Spain and France).

The Kumano Kodo is actually not one route but a network of trails through the deeply forested mountains, with no official start and end point and no prescribed order for approaching a hike. There are moderate to strenuous hiking options lasting a few hours to several days, taking in some of Japan’s top ‘power spots’ – temples, forests and waterfalls that are thought to enrich the soul.

Historically, pilgrims would visit the Kumano Sanzan – the three grand shines of Kumano (Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha and Nachi Taisha) – which are cornerstones of the Nakahechi route (aka the Imperial Route), the most historically significant route through the region.

On the Kii Peninsula’s west coast, Tanabe is the gateway to Kumano, offering one last micro-glimpse of the modern world to hikers before they set out. The route starts at the Shinto shrine Takijiri-oji, reached by a 40-minute bus ride east from Tanabe. Fit hikers can cover the next 21.5km in about 8 hours, via isolated villages, forest trails and an inspirational lookout point to Kumano Hongu Taisha, first for the three grand shrines, perched over a tree-cover ridge. Near the shrine is the very modern Kumano Hongu Heritage Centre, providing museum-quality descriptions in English about the route and World Heritage sites. Look for Japan’s largest torii (shrine gate), nearly 40m tall, behind the centre.

Midway though the next 27.5km (about 1.5 days) is the toughest part of hike. The reward is a view of Nachi-no-taki, Japan’s tallest waterfall (133m), which appears in countless travel photos as the backdrop to the brilliant orange pagoda across the valley. The waterfall is kami (god) enshrined at the adjacent Kumano Nachi Taisha, the second of the grand shrines of the area.

To reach Kumano Hayatama Taisha, the last of the three shrines, traditionally pilgrims would travel from the Hongu area down the river Kumano-gawa to where it empties into the vast Pacific at the town of Shingu. Today’s travellers can still make the journey by traditional flat-bottomed boat, though kayaking and motorised boats are also available. At the shrine, taking a moment to gaze at the 800-year-od pine tree – itself considered sacred – makes a fitting end to the Kumano experience.

Bleisure destination in Japan
One of only two UNESCO heritage treks in the world, the Kumano Kodo is located in the mountainous Kii Peninsula of the Kumano region, often credited with embodying the spiritual culture of Japan.
  1. Tropical holiday Japanese style (Okinawa Prefecture)

If this isn’t your first trip to Japan, or you’re keen to explore a less visited area, you could include the blinding white sands and turquoise seas of Okinawa. A collection of over 160 islands including 49 inhabited, this archipelago is temperate year-around, but best visited between May and September. Activities include snorkelling with manterays and visiting Star Sand Beach, so called because of the shape of its grains of sand. Okinawa is a relaxing place to spend three or four nights at the end of your trip and is a mainstay on the Japanese family holiday circuit, particularly the southern cluster of islands.

One the area’s biggest attractions is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Naha. It is the largest aquarium in Japan and the second largest in the world after the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta (USA). Home to a massive collection local and exotic fish, visiting this mega aqua park is probably the closest you can get to actually diving deep underwater.

Okinawa Prefecture has a sea area that extends approx. 1,000km (621 miles) from east to west and 400km (248 miles) from north to south. The islands of Okinawa are generally classified into the four areas surrounding the main island of Okinawa. Each area has its own culture, and each island has its own individual personalities. This diversity is one of the key attractions of the Okinawa archipelago. These islands can be reached by air or ferry from Naha, the capital city of Okinawa Prefecture.

Kume Island – gentle slopes leading from the mountains to the coast give this island the title of “the Island of Kumi” in Okinawan, meaning “most beautiful”.

Yaeyama Islands – These 11 islands include Yabu, where you can journey via oxcart at low tide, or Taketomi with traditional village of red-roofed streets, and Iri-omote where you can experience subtropical jungles on an adventure of cruising and kayaking.

Miyako Island – picturesque beaches and Japan’s southernmost hot springs – has three of the top 10 beaches on TripAdvisor’s “Japan’s Best Beaches 2016” list. The island also has hot springs such as “Shigira Ougon no Yu” which is famous for golden-colours.

Kerama Island – where the surrounding sea is among the clearest in the world and known as “Kerama Blue”. There are 248 kinds of coral with myriad colourful tropical fish and sea turtles making it home. It’s a must-visit for divers.

Bleisure destination in Japan
The Miyako Islands are a group of islands situated about 300 kilometers southeast of mainland Okinawa. One place you should definitely check out is Higashi-hennazaki, a cape about 2km long, at the eastern side of the island.
  1. Universal Studio Japan (Osaka)

As the theme park rivalry goes, Tokyo may have Disney but Osaka has Universal Studios. Opening in 2001, Universal Studios Japan, also known as ‘USJ’ to the locals was the first Universal theme park to be built in Asia and is the second most visited theme park in the country after Tokyo Disney.

The park features ten worlds: Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Minion Park, Waterworld, Amity Village, Universal Wonderland, Super Nintendo World and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the last being arguably its biggest drawcard. With a huge array of rides and other more low key attractions it definitely doesn’t disappoint. The area was modelled on the areas of the same name at Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Unlike its parent theme park in Hollywood Osaka’s Universal Studio offers a unique Japanese flavour. Every Universal Studio has its unique elements. This theme park offers attractions that are not available in the U.S. such as Black Lake and Hogwarts Express Photo. The attractions in the Cool Japan section of the park are all based on iconic anime, video games, music and manga titles produced in Japan. They change seasonally so there is always something new to see. It’s no surprise to find Hello Kitty here! She is everywhere in the park, from a life-size character you can meet and take photos with, to shops, merchandise and a design studio.

Travelling with the family can prove something of a challenge. Despite its reputation for crowds and manic city life, Japan is actually an incredibly family-friendly destination with something for everyone.

Bleisure destination in Japan
For many travelling families a trip to Japan’s Universal Studios (USJ) is a once in a lifetime experience. USJ is divided into 9 areas each with its own themes and attractions, shows and ride. The Park covers a land mass of 54 hectares (108 acres) so make sure to bring comfortable walking shoes!

Bleisure for after hours

In some instances when on bleisure one does not necessarily extend their stay but spend time outside the normal working hours of 9 to 5pm on the destination they are visiting. At 5pm after a day of meetings and negotiations In Japan its called ‘Suntory Time’. For those who watched the 2003 hilarious movie. Lost in Translation, staring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, one can easily relate to the Suntory Time.

I run a hotel and tourism marketing consultancy and have travelled to Japan on business with my Aussie clients on more than 30 occasions. I know what works and what does not in terms of bleisure activities. One of the most popular leisure activities during the business trip is a dinner option and Japan offers many choices when it comes to what to eat. Instead of sticking to one eatery where you may not like the food, ambience or service, I always take them on a progressive dinner or Izakaya (Japanese pub hopping). We normally start with a couple of Yakitori (chicken skewers) with a beer as appetizer, move on to a seafood restaurant for fresh sashimi with a sip of sake. Next is yet another Izakaya for more substantial food and of course more drink. This way, you can learn about local foods, people and culture fairly quickly. Most importantly it offers my clients an opportunity to experience Japanese culture casually as well as to observe Japanese people at leisure – often the same people that you are going to do business with.

Bleisure destination in Japan
Izakaya is a Japanese style gastropub where people enjoy drinking and eating. The lively streets of Tokyo’s through the hidden bars in the back alleys. Enjoy eating Japanese local food and drinks in the alleys of Shinjuku, Shimbashi, Ebisu, Ueno or Akasaka.

Japan’s key attraction for foreign tourists remains its cultural authenticity. For Aussies Japan represents a cultural adventure in both traditional as well as modern aspects of its bustling society. That makes Japan one of the most ideal and desired destinations for international bleisure travellers.

This list of 14 experiences above is what I deem my own personal bucket list when undertaking bleisure.

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