The first-ever Tatler Travel experience was a whole-hearted celebration of Japan's autumn season and culinary treasures

While ethereal cherry blossoms are a sight to behold, autumn in Japan is just as enthralling and a season that curious travellers shouldn't miss. That's why for the very first Tatler Travel departure, a collaboration with Japan Airlines, we decided to embark on a culinary journey centred on the bounty of fall. The four-day immersion in November brought guests to Tokyo and Karuizawa to experience koyo—a word used to describe the way the Japanese pay reverence to the changing colour of the leaves.

Up in the air

A small group of travellers hailing from Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines joined Tatler Travel's maiden trip. All of the guests flew business class aboard Japan Airlines (JAL), which allowed them to experience the national flag carrier's exceptional in-flight dining experience first-hand.

The dishes on the in-flight menu are made by notable names like chef Hideki Ishikawa of the three-Michelin star kaiseki restaurant Ishikawa Kagurazaka; these creations are paired with prestige wines and champagnes. Food journalist Cheryl Tiu was certainly satisfied and said, "Japan Airlines always serves beautiful champagne and a great selection of red and white wines. On this particular flight, they were very excited to introduce the just released Beaujolais Nouveau."

Cindy Huang, a television presenter from Taiwan, was also impressed with the food, noting that "even the seafood was served with great freshness" during her journey from Taipei to Tokyo. The premium cabins are also a class act in terms of hardware. Jane Heng, an entrepreneur from Singapore, commented that the business class seat was so comfortable that she was able to fall into a deep sleep—a rarity for this frequent flyer. 

Another notable point is the service, which is a prime example of omotenashi. "The hospitality on Japan Airlines is excellent," said Asky Febrianti, a fashion designer from Indonesia, who added that the cabin crew was extremely friendly. Jay Spencer, a property developer from Thailand, was surprised when the crew welcomed him with a note wishing him congratulations on his newborn baby—this illustrates the lengths that JAL would go in order to make guests feel extra special. 

(Related: How Japan Airlines Is Pushing For Gender Equality Within And Beyond Its Walls)

Tokyo calling

Tatler Travel's mantra is to create enriching luxury travel experiences that offer an authentic insight into a destination. As such, we chose Hoshinoya Tokyo, the sole "urban ryokan" in the city as our first home base. 

The serene hotel features interiors that cleverly combine the warmth of a home with a streamlined design. Shoji screens, tatami flooring and other minimalist touches delight in the bedrooms, which are some of the largest suites in Tokyo. Upon arrival, Tatler Travel guests relaxed at the "ochanoma" lounge, a cosy communal space with books and snacks, while others went straight to the hotel's breathtaking rooftop onsen. 

Before dinner on the first night, some enjoyed the complimentary sake tasting and performance at the lobby. The next morning, just as the sunshine streamed into the washi windows, everyone savoured Hoshinoya Tokyo's exquisite breakfast bento in the privacy of their own rooms—perhaps the best way to start the day in the Japanese capital.

(Related: Is This The Most Creative Kaiseki In Tokyo?)

Chef's table

Every Tatler Travel experience features carefully curated itineraries led by inspiring individuals, known as Tatler Ambassadors. As Autumn on a Plate was conceived as a gastronomic adventure, we enlisted chefs Thomas Frebel and Yoshihiro Narisawa to provide a unique perspective on the culinary flavours of fall. 

The welcome dinner was held at Inua, a newly-minted two-Michelin star restaurant by chef Thomas Frebel. Instead of going straight to the dining room, guests were brought to a secret floor off-limits to the public, which houses Inua's office-laboratory. This is a place where creativity reigns—chefs experiment with new ingredients and techniques that may eventually land on the main menu.

Over champagne, guests listened to chef Frebel speak about how Inua invests in discovering new Japanese produce, not surprising as he spent a decade as Noma's research and development head. We tried creations like "vegan cheese"—aged tofu that actually tastes like camembert cheese—and spoke to other team members on their singular approach to food. After passing a wall lined with ingredients in various states of fermentation, guests sat down to enjoy a bespoke tasting course that featured Inua's signature dishes. 

The next morning was spent with acclaimed chef Yoshihiro Narisawa, one of the country's most well-known and well-respected purveyors of contemporary Japanese cuisine. He welcomed everyone into Bees Bar, an 18-month old bar close to his restaurant, where he spoke about his "Innovative Satoyama" philosophy. He also gave guests a sneak peek of his first book published by Taschen before it's released in stores this month.  

Tatler Travel guests, hosted by Akira Mitsumasu, Japan Airlines' vice-president of global marketing, had the best seats the house—right next to the restaurant's open kitchen. After a brief visit inside the kitchen, chef Narisawa himself prepared a lunch menu designed especially for the group, including signature dishes such as Satoyama Scenery, Temari, and the visually stunning Bread of the Forest (see slideshow above).

Autumn break

We then headed to Karuizawa for the weekend, one of the best places to experience fall foliage in Japan. The newly opened boutique hotel Shishi-Iwa House designed by Shigeru Ban was our home for two nights, which was closed exclusively for Tatler Travel.

The founder of Shishi-Iwa House was on hand to host the group, who shared his personal restaurant and activity recommendations. From a calming walk to the Shiraito Waterfall to a stroll around Lake Kumoba, guests were able to revel in koyo and the natural scenery Karuizawa is known for.

The final evening included a delicious farm-to-table dinner followed by a whiskey tasting featuring the coveted, ultra-rare Karuizawa whiskey (which is no longer produced and in limited supply). All in all, guests personally noted that the Tatler Travel x Japan Airlines experience was truly memorable and showed them a different side of Japan. Find out more in the video below:

(Related: This Boutique Hotel In Japan Is A Must-Visit For Nature Lovers)

Sweet ending

Before everyone said goodbye to new friends, we gathered for a final feast at the Japan Airlines first class lounge at Narita Airport. The food menu features freshly baked bread by Maison Kayser, soup by Soup Stock Tokyo and cookies by Qu’il Fait Bon, as well as the airline’s popular beef curry—a hit among JAL's frequent flyers.

Guests enjoyed freshly prepared sushi from the dedicated Tsurutei sushi bar, as well as bowls of steaming Afuri ramen, created a la minute. The food was complemented by equally stellar drinks such as Hasegawa sake and Laurent-Perrier champagne. No guest left hungry, except, perhaps for another exclusive experience in Japan. 

  • WordsKissa Castañeda
  • VideographyNicola Ng
  • PhotographyMusashi Sakazaki (Karuizawa), Jason Loucas (Inua)
  • ImagesBees Bar, Hoshinoya Tokyo, Inua, Japan Airlines, Narisawa, Shishi-Iwa House