Andres Zuleta, a Condé Nast Traveler 2020 Top Travel Specialist, founded Boutique Japan to introduce experienced travelers to a deeper side of Japan.

He first landed in the travel industry after a fateful conversation with Japanese surfers at a Tokyo tequila bar, who persuaded him to launch a business helping surfers from Japan navigate California and Mexico.

While the surf business never took off, they led Andres into the travel industry — where he soon discovered the value of his extensive travel and Japan-specific expertise.

Andres’ experience with Japan dates back to his university days. It all began when he fortuitously signed up for a Japanese literature class while studying at Columbia University in New York.

He ended up loving Japanese literature so much that he decided to study the Japanese language, which ultimately became a lifelong passion. As he tells it:

A Life-Changing Introduction to Japan

I fell in love with Japan almost by accident.

Growing up, I never had a special interest in Japan, but in college I signed up for a class on Japanese literature. I ended up loving it so much (my favorite book remains Essays in Idleness) that I decided to enroll in Japanese language classes, which ended up being even more fascinating!

I will always remember my first Japanese teacher, Eguchi-sensei. As soon as we began learning the most basic of the Japanese writing systems, hiragana, I was hooked.

Andres Zuleta Boutique Japan

In 2005, I moved from New York City to Tokyo to fully immerse myself in the Japanese culture and language.

While living in Tokyo, my explorations of Japan began. On days off I would hop on my bicycle or the Tokyo Metro to explore hidden corners of the city, and during holidays I’d take the train to distant parts of the country.

Of course, my classroom studies hadn’t fully prepared me for the actual experience of living in Japan, and in my first couple of years I struggled to communicate well. On weekends I would spend hours studying grammar, and painstakingly handwriting hundreds of beautiful yet convoluted kanji characters.

Admittedly, it took a while, but in 2009 I was fortunate enough to pass the most advanced level of the official Japanese-Language Proficiency Test.

I’ve had the chance to live in Tokyo and Kyoto and travel throughout the country, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and today continue to explore every corner of this amazing country. Living in Japan changed my life, and inspired me to dedicate my life to helping others experience Japan the way I have been able to do so.

In 2013, I founded Boutique Japan to share my passion and enthusiasm for Japan, and over the years I have had the opportunity to help hundreds of wonderful travelers from around the world experience Japan in a truly personal and immersive way.

Articles and Insights By Andres Zuleta

Andres is the lead writer and content curator behind the Boutique Japan blog, which is packed with information and resources for travelers to Japan. Here are three of his favorite (and most informative) posts: