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Japan, A new Riviera
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Japan, A new Riviera

Tristan Rutherford for Camper & Nicholsons
22nd April 2020

The Japanese archipelago enjoyed centuries of solitude. Now its 30,000km coastline - a littoral four times longer than Italy - is welcoming luxury yachts for the first time. With 7,000 islands there’s a lot to take in. Start in subtropical Okinawa, then plot a course for living art islands and Michelin-starred sushi.

Each year Japanese residents follow the cherry blossom forecast, or sakura-zensen, across their nation’s 7,000 islands. The floral march begins in January on the sub-tropical Okinawa. On the same latitude as Mexico and Dubai, these islands are a sun-kissed Arcadia of rainforest and powder sand. By March the cherry blossoms, or hana, have reached Tokyo. The Japanese capital is a beguiling dreamscape where izakaya pubs, sushi bars and pachinko salons coexist with manicured gardens and Shinto shrines. In May the blossom colours the northern island of Hokkaido like a rose-tinted cloud. Here visitors may indulge in skiing, sashimi or soaking in onsen spas at East Asia’s most alluring extreme.

The Japan archipelago is uniquely beguiling for good reason. It was literally off-limits for centuries. The 3,000km-long island chain, which dazzles the distance between Norway and Sicily, was closed to foreign shipping during the Tokugawa Shogunate. Until an American fleet sailed into the Bay of Tokyo in 1853, Japan enjoyed 200 years of solitude. The nation’s traditions, from bento picnics under blossom trees to Sad? tea ceremonies, were passed between generations. Japan’s maritime highlights, including the golden beaches at Yonaha Maehama and the coral reefs off Amami ?shima Island, thrived in isolation.

Sailors may now discover an island kingdom far removed from traditional cruising grounds. In 2019 the Japan Times predicted up to a 100% rise in superyachts sailing Japan’s 29,750km shores. By most calcuations this coastline is the 6th-longest in the world, some four times greater than Italy or Croatia. This year the Japanese government announced a consultation to deregulate laws in order to welcome superyachts sailing north from the Philippines or Hong Kong. Several cities, like Yokohama, have created custom piers for luxury yachts to dock. Other regions have gone one step further. Kanagawa Prefecture has arranged visits from high net worth individuals to the coastline’s marinas and resorts.

Riviera Group, one of Japan’s premium marina operations and hospitality companies, employs a proactive approach to attracting superyachts. Since 2001 the firm sallied into the luxury yacht world with the opening of two marinas. Riviera recently organised a system to collaborate with local governments to welcome yachts of over 80m. The group also operates an exclusive members club known as the Riviera Country Club as far afield as Los Angeles, plus a luxury restaurant in Shanghai.

Riviera’s President and COO Akio Kobayashi believes yachts can sail in tandem with Japanese culture. “We are committed to sustainability projects for the coexistence of people and nature. Therefore we would like to welcome all yachtsmen who expect an amazing experience with the best of Japanese culture, food and hospitality,” said Kobayashi. “Riviera Zushi Marina, one of our two marinas, is ringed by sandy beaches
and is located a one hour drive from central Tokyo. A mere ten minute drive is Kamakura, a stunning historic coastal town which, along with Kyoto, is known as a cultural capital of Japan. There are lots of ancient shrines and temples built in AD740, plus teahouses and restaurants.”

Meanwhile Riviera Seabornia Marina is a shimmering mix of land and sea. The harbour sparkles on the southernmost tip of the Miura Peninsula, pairing views of Mount Fuji with a Mediterranean microclimate. “The seafood is amazing,” attests Kobayashi. “Guests may walk through the Koajiro Forest adjacent to Seabornia Marina, which occupies 70 hectares of wilderness landscape. It hosts 2,000 different animals including 150 threatened species such as native red crabs. White butterflies guard both river and seashore. In Koajiro Bay the water quality is excellent. Rich nutrients promise lots of different fish and shellfish under a beautiful and calm sea.”

Riviera also operates Shimoda Boat Service on the Izu peninsula. This harbour offers access to the Izu Islands for dolphin watching and sport fishing. From here another 30 islands - the sun-sparkled Ogasawara Archipelago - are scattered like Tiffany diamonds 1,000km south of Tokyo. Their population (a mere 3,000 residents) combined with unrivalled biodiversity, has encouraged their nickname ‘the Galapagos of the Orient'. The islands were recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A new yachting partnership with Camper & Nicholsons will allow Riviera to indulge ever greater adventures. Most incoming guests will cross the passerelle at Tokyo. The city is rightly famed for possessing more Michelin stars than Paris. Less publicised are the boutique eateries from upcoming chefs like Yuki Noda (previously at Parisian landmark Le Taillevent) at Kiki Harajuku, and Kan Morieda who operates the seven-seat sampler restaurant Salmon & Trout. Aesthetes will enjoy a day in Nikk?, where Tokugawa era shrines are lost in forests of maple and Mongolian oaks. Teenagers should be deposited at Harajuku, the mind-bending fashion bazaar frequented by cosplay shoppers and digital natives.

Osaka, Japan’s second largest metropolis, dances to a different tune. The wealthy port city is home to castles (like Himeji) and museums (like its acclaimed aquarium). A brave commentator might claim that Japan’s best food comes from Osaka. Those in doubt should try the €70 tasting menu at Franco-Japanese restaurant La Cime. Here dishes are crafted by Yasuhiro Fujio, S.Pellegrino’s Young Chef of the Year. On the avenues of Osaka’s Dotonbori district, sample Japan’s most creative street food including takoyaki octopus balls and deep-fried kushikatsu meat and vegetable skewers. Little wonder the city lives by the expression kuidaore, which translates as "eat until you drop."

Japan’s Inner Sea is its yachting secret. Shielded by Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu - three of the five main islands - a warm breeze cossets 3,000 far smaller islands. The water town of Kurashiki is like a little Venice. Stone bridges cross countless canals, which shelter cafés and ateliers. Kurashiki’s Ohara Museum of Art contains a spellbinding selection of Claude Monet canvasses. Ironically, the French master was influenced by Japanese artist Hokusai, whose ‘Great Wave of Kanagawa’ print held pride of place in his studio in Giverny near Paris. The Inner Sea island of Naoshima is equally arty. Here contemporary installations are scattered within mansions, museums, in forests and along the sea shore. Some artworks are even sited within a converted bathhouse, where a life sized baby elephant hovers above a communal spa.

With so many islands a luxury yacht grants exclusive access to Japan’s greatest sights. Nor does local culture stop when you step onboard. Classes in ikebana flower arrangement and shodo calligraphy can be arranged. A Japanese sake tasting session offers a lesson in Japanese geography as the finest blends hail from Shikoku (the rare Juyondai), Fukushima (the unpasteurised Snow Blossom) and Miyagi (for purer Junmai sake blends). Clear your head on Yakushima Island off the southern tip of Kyushu. Another UNESCO reserve, it’s an emerald gem where cloud forests hide sika deer and red macaques.

There is a second aspect to the relationship between Riviera and Camper & Nicholsons. As Kobayashi explains: “One side is that Japan must be an attractive destination for superyacht owners. The other is that Japanese high net worth individuals would like to explore enriching lifestyles which only luxury yachts can provide.” Despite Japan’s rich maritime history, superyachts have seldom been marketed within the world’s third largest economy. “I think the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and the Asian resorts could be potential destinations for Japanese guests,” says Kobayashi.

Japan also hosts the world’s third-largest shipbuilding industry. Yards owned by Mitsubishi and Nishii Zosen KK have been used to construct large yachts. Other industrial craft are so well built that they have been gifted a second life as a superyacht, like 50m explorer yacht Kudanil, which charters with Camper & Nicholsons in Indonesia. The former Japanese safety standby vessel boasts an unrestricted navigation certificate, which means it can patrol Indonesia’s 17,000 islands with élan.

Arguably the greatest gift to Japanese yachting will be the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Next summer the world’s gaze will behold the XXXII Olympiad as sports including BMX, skateboarding and karate join the roster for the first time. In the latter discipline kata (forms) and kumite (sparring) will add a contemporary twist to the timeless event. A watersports programme will showcase Japan’s ocean spirit, particularly in the surf events on Shidashita Beach. All eight sailing events will be held at Enoshima, a short sail from Riviera’s Zushi and Seabornia marinas.

Of course, the Olympic Games have form in promoting Japan. Back in 1964, when Tokyo first held the tournament, Japan was considered an enigma, little known in the Western world. The viewing public were awed by scenes of shinkansen bullet trains, Sumo wrestling and skyscrapers. Many venues will be reused for the 2020 games. These include the Yoyogi National Gymnasium (for handball), the Nippon Budokan (for karate) and Enoshima (for sailing).

One young man inspired by the 1964 games was Minoru Sait?. The Japanese yachtsman went on to participate in three solo round-the-globe competitions. In 2006 Saito was inducted into the Sailing Hall of Fame alongside single-handed greats Joshua Slocum and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. As a retirement pastime, Sait? completed an additional circumnavigation of the globe at the age of 71. That’s proof, if anything, that Japan can rule the waves.

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