Hustle and Hush: An Alternative Honeymoon in Japan

Hustle and Hush: An Alternative Honeymoon in Japan

Interior designer Sophie Ashby and fashion designer
Charlie Casely-Hayford honeymoon between Japan’s megacities and
their calmer counterparts.


Days 1-3

I’ve been travelling to Tokyo with my fashion brand every six
months for the last decade, but it’s Sophie’s first time and a
chance for me to look at one of my favourite cities with fresh
eyes. As a Londoner,
I experience my hometown in a very two-dimensional way – people
don’t really look up. However, the best gems in Tokyo are often to
be found on the fifth floor or higher, so you either need to keep
your eyes peeled or rely on insider tips.

Something we swiftly learn about Tokyo is that its restaurants’
signs and menus are likely only going to be in Japanese, and that
you either need to book well in advance or take a book with you
because queuing for good food is very much a part of Tokyo life. We
begin our first evening at a traditional soba restaurant on the
fourth floor of a building in Shibuya, Kamakura Matsubara-an
Keyaki. We’re the only foreigners in its bamboo-clad interior as we
tuck into what turns out to be one of the best meals of our
two-week trip. Full of tempura, roast duck, hot soba broth and
pretty much everything else on the menu, we tip our waiter and head
to the door. As we put on our shoes a panicked man runs towards us,
tip in hand, and pushes it back into my palm. It transpires tipping
is not a thing in Japan and can actually be considered
disrespectful. As our trip unfolds and the days turn into weeks, we
learn that respect is truly what defines this nation, more so than
anywhere either of us have travelled.

The Grand Hyatt Tokyo hotel serves as our home in the capital.
Its spa really goes above and beyond – split by gender, it
instantly changes the dynamic of your experience. Sophie eagerly
watches and absorbs the etiquette from the Japanese women around
her. You go in naked, shower between each area you move to and use
the bucket to scoop water out of an ice-cold plunge pool to cool
down your feet, but most importantly leave everything as you found
it. Everything has its place and is done a certain way, without
ever feeling imposing.

Among our trips to wonderful smaller galleries such as the Yayoi
Kusama Museum and 21_21 Design Sight, as well as beautiful gardens
like Shinjuku Gyoen, we seek out some of the city’s quirks.
Meikyoku Kissa Lion is most certainly one – a smoke-filled,
century-old café hidden down a side street in Shibuya, it has a
strict “no talking” policy. Instead, all the seating points towards
an incredible altar-like speaker system that solely plays classical
music. The menu is basic and the service stilted, but as we sit
with only our thoughts and our drinks, taking in Bach on the
surround sound, it forms the perfect respite from the Tokyo buzz

The queue we’re most proud to overcome is at the udon restaurant
Shin Udon. Novice queuers beware: there is a teaser queue just
outside the restaurant, but this is just the warm-up. A waiter will
pop his head outside and lead you around a corner onto the main
road to join a 45-minute line. It’s definitely worth it when you
sit down in the intimate 10-seater venue. The buckwheat udon is
made in-house and the tempura makes the wait seem irrelevant – to
eat and get out quickly seems to be the done thing.

On our way to karaoke, we stop by Nonbei Yokocho – better known
as Drunkards’ Alley – for some Dutch courage. This renowned street
hides in the high-rise landscape of Shibuya under the train tracks,
with a string of miniature, quirky bars that can hold six people
each. At six-foot-six, I could pretty much touch all four walls of
the bars we frequent, which makes the experience all the more
interesting. There’s a lot of limbs and not a lot of space, but
it’s most certainly one of our Tokyo highlights. Such intimacy
forces you to talk to everyone in the room and that’s the real
beauty of the street – it encourages socialising. The red
velvet-lined walls, chandeliers and gilded artworks at Bar Piano
(no piano to be seen), one of the street’s better-known bars, are
really something to behold.


Days 4-6

Our trip to Kanazawa is centred around craft, both modern and
traditional. As creatives we want to immerse ourselves in areas we
know very little about. The boutique travel agency Prior carves out
incredible experiences for us that we otherwise would not have been
able to access. On our first day we visit the house and studio of a
yūzen kimono master. He talks us through the painstaking and
laborious 10-step process of creating a hand-illustrated silk
kimono in the yūzen style. If he makes a mistake the kimono is sent
to one particular artisan; if it needs a repair it goes to

Moving from kimonos to lacquerware, we head to the home of
Akihiko Sugita, one of Japan’s most celebrated young urushi
(lacquer) artists, and his wife Karin. The couple are in their 30s,
around our age, and as we sit having tea, in total awe of their
pure focus, they talk us through how making one piece can involve
up to 124 processes and how they choose to work by candlelight
rather than artificial light to pick up on delicate blemishes.
However, it’s a trip to the studio of Mr Nakamura, a ceramicist,
that truly resonates with Sophie and I’s design aesthetic – his
work links the traditions of 300-year-old kutani (Japanese
porcelain) with a very modern sense of form. All of this is housed
in an extraordinary monolith of a family home and gallery space
designed in concrete, glass, metal and timber. Mr Nakamura and his
wife are aesthetes on every level – he is a third-generation
ceramic artist and works in the same space that his grandfather
once occupied. Being part of a family business myself, I feel a
connection to the story told by Mr Nakamura and his work.

Our time in Kanazawa is brief, but we make sure to seek out the
best food possible. Itaru Honten is a great spot with an electric
atmosphere. There’s a sign outside that reads: “Sorry we are fully
booked, next available table will be in 1.5 hours.” It looks like
it’s there all year round, maybe to scare off those who aren’t
truly committed… thankfully we’re in within 15 minutes. A
straight-talking sushi restaurant, Itaru is exactly the palette
cleanser we need before diving into another day of the arts. On our
final night we book Tempura Koziano, a nine-seat tempura
restaurant. We still dream about this place on a regular basis. The
food, service, design, presentation, ceramics: everything is
exquisite and worked harmoniously. As we finish we ask the chef
about his intricate tableware. He tells us he sources each piece
himself from different parts of Japan and that he likes to change
them seasonally, at which point Sophie nearly faints from elation.
If we could make one restaurant recommendation for anyone going to
Japan, this would be it.


Days 7-9

Kyoto gives us everything we want – tranquillity, vibrancy,
culture and ceramics on tap. We set up base at the Four Seasons
Hotel Kyoto. Situated among an 800-year-old ikeniwa, an ancient
garden, our room overlooks a large pond accented by a traditional
tea house. Despite being right in the centre of the city, as soon
as we walk into the hotel grounds any metropolitan noise falls away
and we love being able to oscillate between the two worlds.

We stop by all the classic tourist spots such as the Kinkaku-ji
Temple with its famed Golden Pavilion and the Nishiki Market, but
it’s the insider secrets we really seek out. After spending an
incredible few hours at the Daitoku-ji Temple with a young tea
master who had solely been practising the art of the tea ceremony
for the last seven years, we’re tipped off about YSM, a discreet
gallery-cum-ceramics concept store. This place is a true gem.
Sophie spends her life travelling around the globe fi ding
interesting and beautiful objects for her clients’ homes, and the
YSM gallery completely takes her breath away with its
sophistication, honesty and curation.


Days 10-12

Our stay in Kurashiki provides an authentic insight into life in
a small Japanese town – with the exception of its Ohara Museum of
Art, which has a collection worthy of a national institute. With
everything from Picasso to Pollock, Calder to Giacometti, Modgliani
to Matisse, it’s one not to be missed. Although not the most
traditionally luxurious accommodation of our travels, Ryokan
Kurashiki is certainly our favourite. The attention to detail,
service and personal touches make us feel like we’re guests at the
house of a very warm host. The labyrinth of sliding rice-paper
screens and low-beamed ceilings mean that as a dozy giant I have to
keep my wits about me, but experiencing this traditional Japanese
inn in such beautiful surroundings makes leaving very difficult.


Days 13-15

For the final part of our trip we travel to the Amanemu hotel in
the forested hills of Ise-Shima National Park, the perfect antidote
to the bustling streets of some of the larger Japanese cities.
Minimalist in aesthetic but strong and definitive in design, the
hotel has the tranquillity of a Buddhist temple. The idea of
visiting anything else becomes a distant memory as we sink into the
steam of the onsen baths and reflect on our time in Japan. A
monoculture from the outside, Japan has educated us in what a
united country truly looks like. As we moved from city to city,
there was always an underlying feeling of “we” as a nation rather
than “I” as an individual, whether respecting oneself, others or
simply our surroundings.