By Donna & Bryce,
Our first visit to Japan was a wonderful experience due to the planning of Elaine Ikoma Ko and guidance of Shigeki Kajita. This was a tour sponsored by this newspaper and Hokubei Hochi Foundation.
The group of 21 people were able to “hold the rope” putting our fate into the hands of our leaders, but then allowed some free time to be adventurous if we chose to do so.
Japan’s subway and train system is an amazing system, but it can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know how it works, especially during the busy working commute hours. We followed Shigeki who was guiding us through the stations and streets of Japan with a #12 Seattle Seahawks flag. I’m sure we were a sight but we noticed other groups following a flag too. It’s the only way to guide a group within a mass of people.
The people in our group were amazing! Half the group were first timers and the other half were returnees. Nonetheless, everyone was excited to be in Japan.
During our 10-night tour, we were able to visit Tokyo, Takayama, Shirakawa-Go, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nara. When we’ve talked to others who have visited Japan, some have stated they saw so many temples, castles and shrines that it became monotonous after awhile. We saw just the right amount, which were the main attractions of the different cities. Many of the attractions were part of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Prior to the trip, we did some homework on different options for our free time during the late afternoon/evening. In each city, we ventured off discovering the traditional older part of town, alley eateries, local craft and antique stores, and local bars.
It was fun trying different Japanese food, comparing it to what we can get in America. There’s really no comparison but was it just the atmosphere and knowing we were in Japan or the sake? Hmmm, no it was better and the atmosphere made it even better!
Our ventures also included learning about the mysterious lives of Geikos and Maikos of Kyoto, Chado/tea ceremony, Koto/Japanese harp music, Kado/flower arrangement, Gagaku/court music, and Kyogen/ancient comic play.
After the 10-night tour, we went on our own journey for four additional nights. With the assistance of Shigeki, we were able to figure out our first Shinkansen train ride reservation for our visit to Hakone. No more #12 Seattle Seahawks flag!
Hakone was a beautiful area and we were fortunate to have some nice weather but not quite clear enough to see Mt Fuji. After our nice visit to Hakone, including a ryokan stay, we headed off to Yokohama. Our Yokohama visit included a visit to the large Chinatown, a fun sushi-making class, Oktoberfest, and nice walks along the waterfront area.
Overall, we rated the trip a 9.75. Not quite a 10 due only to the two days of rain. The people we had on our tour made our trip very special and we hope to stay in contact with them. Everyone was so genuinely nice, considerate and looked out for each other.
Japan was refreshing. Very kind people, well-run transportation, and a clean environment, even though there are very few garbage/recycle deposit cans. Pocket Wi-Fi, Google translator, and Google maps aren’t necessary but came in very handy.
We highly recommend this tour, especially for first timers and for others who want to just “hold the rope”. Both of us were sad to leave Japan but we realize we were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Japan and we know we will return some day.