I have always wanted to travel to Japan as I have sent many clients there and love the Asia cultures. After researching several escorted tours, I decided to book Tauck Tours “Essence of Japan.” I have sent many clients on Tauck Tours and all have come back with rave reviews and ready to book again.
Our adventure began in Osaka, where we were greeted and escorted to the beautiful St. Regis hotel for three nights. We had a day to get over our jet lag before a wonderful and very long day to the holy Shinto site of Miyajima Island and a very emotional visit to Hiroshima.
We traveled by bullet train which was a unique and fun experience. We then spent the next four nights in Kyoto, founded in the 7th century and the early capital of Japan. We visited Kinkaku-ji temple. This Golden Pavillion is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We experienced a traditional tea ceremony and had a “hands on” lesson in the art of Origami (I have a long way to go). One of the highlights of our stay in Kyoto was an evening performance with a Geisha and Maiko (Geisha in training), and the opportunity to ask questions about their lifestyle.
We visited Kyoto’s Sanjusangendo Temple, home to 1,001 wooden cypress statues dating back to the 13th century and reminiscent of the Xian Warriors. We visited Nara which is close to Kyoto and saw the Great Buddha (largest in Japan). We learned that the Japanese believe they are born Shinto and die a Buddhist… very interesting culture.
With just an overnight bag we headed (again by train) to Kanazawa on the Noto Peninsula, home to gardens and Samurai residences. Then continued on to Wakura Onsen (a hot springs resort town) where we spent the night at a Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn). We dressed in Yukatas (traditional Japanese robes), experienced the Onsen baths, slept on mats and had a traditional Kaiseki dinner, which is presented so beautifully you don’t want to eat it, but we did.
We traveled on to Sherakawa, another World Heritage site, well known for its villages of of thatched gassho-zukuri (praying hands) farmhouses. We were fortunate enough to visit a 300-year-old family home. Next stop was the mountain resort of Takayama, where traditions go back to the 9th century. We visited a sake brewery and became “experts” in the brewing and the sampling of sake!
We spent an incredible day in the Japanese Alps visiting a rice farm and helping the farmers plant their crop. Following farming we visited the Itchiku Kubota Museum, a showcase highlighting Japanese textiles and beautiful kimonos, each takes a year to complete, dyed using centuries-old tsujighana technique. Kubota is the only foreign artist every to be exhibited at the Smithsonian.
On our way to the hot springs town of Hakone we were fortunate to have beautiful views of a clear Mt. Fuji. Here we stayed at the beautiful Hyatt Regency, a true gem in a lovely hot springs town. We again tried the Onsen baths. Sadly we had to leave Hakone for Tokyo, but not before making a wonderful stop at the Hakone Open-Air-Museum, home to view sculptures by Rodin and art by Picasso, Renoir and Miro.
We had a wonderful three-night stay at the Mandarin Oriental which is very close the Ginza district. We had a Taiko drum lesson (great exercise) and learned how to make sushi and, of course, ate lots of it! A highlight in Tokyo was the Edo Museum, which shows the historical heritage of Edo (Tokyo). In Tokyo we were treated to a wonderful dinner and a sumo wrestling demonstration. We had plenty of free time to visit the famous Tsukiji market and tour the Yanaka neighborhood for a look at how Tokyo was before the war and its massive expansion.
Japan is the cleanest countriy I have every visited. In two weeks I never saw a piece of paper on the street. The Japanese people believe that everything has a spirit (ground included) and should not be harmed by trash. The people are friendly and always helpful. We experienced wonderful food (both Japanese and Western), great hotels and learned so much about the Japanese way of life. Tauck Tours, one of our preferred suppliers, does a great job of putting it together and make it a relaxing wonderful experience.