Kathy and Clynt were introduced to me a few years ago by my fabulous client, Ian. They are very well travelled and always want me to find them something a little bit different, being especially keen to learn as much as they can about the destinations they visit.
They had not previously been to Japan and having been intrigued by what they had seen on TV, they were keen for an authentic cultural experience and I knew the perfect tour for them.
Kathy kindly shared how they got on...
When we started considering Japan for a potential holiday, we knew that Susan would have some great ideas and help us piece together something memorable.
She was immediately keen to hear our views on the Japanese attitude to bathing and our thoughts about sleeping on futons in some hotels. She explained the relevance in helping to determine the right choices for us and this is where Susan excels, as it is the difference between what we may have looked at ourselves and what her wealth of experience directed us to. She was able to dispel any uncertainties, provide total reassurance and confidence, and allow us to enjoy an exceptional trip.
We were keen to embrace all that Japan had to offer and cram in as much as we possibly could in just over two weeks, so Susan had arranged a small group escorted tour with a totally mixed itinerary encompassing traditional Japanese villages as well as modern-day Tokyo, and including an absorbing range of authentic activities and adventures.
Nothing disappointed, everything was just fabulous and so different from a typical tour. We were an international group of 13 with ages ranging from mid-20s to mid-70s; everybody got on well, and Robert our guide was fantastic. He had moved to Japan several years previously and was full of enthusiasm, energy, patience and humour and unquestionably contributed to the success of the trip for everybody.
Although we had heard about how clean the streets are, how organised and efficiently things run, and how charming and welcoming the Japanese would be, we were still extremely impressed. The streets were indeed spotless and yet we didn’t see a litter bin; it seems everybody takes their rubbish home with them.
We had never seen so many vending machines - they are on virtually every street corner and are replenished several times daily.
Everybody we met was friendly and helpful - one local gentleman on a bicycle actually stopped to enquire if we needed assistance because we were looking at a map. Fortunately, he did because we were planning to walk the completely wrong way!
There were way too many highlights to do justice to capturing everything, some of our favourites included:
Bathing in the onsens (hot pools) up in the mountains in Nagano was a wonderful and totally unique experience. We were the only non-Japanese people there.
In Matsumoto, we made a very early visit to the temple for a Shinto service, before travelling to see the snow monkeys in the hot springs. Outside temperatures were a little too warm for them so unfortunately, they’d moved further up the mountains though it was still a fun visit. In the evening, we were taken to visit a spectacular floodlit wooden castle on the water.
We visited the vibrant open-air local market in Takayama where we bought some spices, and Robert took us for an evening visit (not on the itinerary) to the brilliant Desolation Row, a music fan’s dream and regarded on TripAdvisor as the best bar in Japan. We wouldn’t disagree - we had a fantastic time.
In Kanazawa, we found the museum of traditional products and crafts fascinating and it was amazing to watch a traditional kimono being delicately hand-painted.
Hiroshima is now a bustling city but it's an incredibly reflective and emotional place to visit because of its history and is a visual testament to the worst and best of mankind.
We’ve all been in museums but the one in Kurashiki was a little different and a totally Japanese experience. We had a ball attempting stilt walking and trying on kimonos.
We expected to be impressed by the Imperial Palace in the old capital Kyoto but to get to watch local drummers competing in the park was quite something and unlike anything, we would see at home.
Green tea ice cream
Being introduced to green tea ice cream was, without a doubt, our culinary highlight. It’s a revelation.
Cycling through the rice fields
Having the opportunity to take a cycle ride through the rice fields was outstanding. It was off the beaten track so very safe and we had the privilege to meet members of the local cooperative and help with the rice harvest followed by lunching with them - a thoroughly lovely and fun experience.
Our accommodation throughout was pleasantly mixed, from modern international style hotels to small family-run establishments, and even a temple.
In some, we stayed on futons and used the communal bathing facilities (men and women bathe separately) and ate food traditionally, on our knees and beautifully presented in individual Bento boxes.
The itinerary made full use of public transport, including the famous bullet train, and with Robert on hand to sort tickets and organise things, everything went very smoothly.
We were able to get a feel for daily life. Unsurprisingly, everything ran efficiently and to the timetable, and consequently no time was wasted hanging around for buses.
Sometimes, for ease or to save time, we shared taxis with other group members. Travelling on the bullet train was fascinating. Everybody lines up, within the lines marked on the floor, very politely and orderly until it’s time to get on, with the cleaning crew boarding before the passengers. The guard then checks the train and bows to the passengers who then get on - all very smooth, comfortable and an enjoyable experience.
The whole adventure was quite exceptional.
The tour certainly didn’t feel like a typical package, more a ‘tailor-made’ one, and we thoroughly felt that we’d experienced the real Japan.
If you like trying different things and having fun, but want to be secure, comfortable and totally engaged with the activities and locations, then we cannot recommend this trip more highly, as we did to friends who had an equally brilliant time.
Thank you, Susan. Top drawer.
Kathy & Clynt Brewster