We had a wonderful experience from start to finish and I recommend them highly. The tour designer from the tour company provided us with a fantastic itinerary that hit everything we were hoping to see and do - from guided tours through Tokyo and Kyoto, to views of Mt. Fuji and hot springs in Hakone, to fabulous meals and cultural experiences. Our detailed itinerary, rail passes, and pocket wifi made it very easy for us to navigate through Japan and all of our accommodations were great.
We really liked each day and locale for different reasons - whether it was the history and culture, the food, the people, the beautiful scenery. Hakone was really fun - we took a boat across a lake, then a gondola up the mountain, then a funicular down....seeing Mt. Fuji on the way which was breathtaking. Kyoto is really wonderful and it was great fun to wander the streets of downtown, Nishiki market, Gion. We had a spectacular meal at a restaurant in Gion. There were only 6 seats and the meal was served with a great amount of precision and passion. There was no passing on the slightly scary dishes (like the roe and inside of a snow crab) for risk of offending the chef, but we realized that it was all very delicious and were glad our squeamishness didn't limit us. Everyone should take the bullet train - that was a super cool experience! I also loved Tokyo in all it's modernity and colorfulness. We had a fantastic sushi meal at a fish market in Tokyo. We did the Shubuya shuffle. One of my favorite experiences was buying Japanese knives at a store in Osaka, where one of the craftsman carved my name in the blade in Japanese.
The only thing that we would reconsider is our accommodations in Kyoto. We stayed in a traditional house rather than a hotel, which gave us a chance to be in a real community and experience how the Japanese live. The challenge was that we arrived after a long day of travel and activity - starting in Hakone, traveling several hours by train to Kyoto, and going straight to a 3-1/2 hour cooking class (which was really fun too) - and I had fractured my rib (kind of a freak accident - I fell and just hit it on something). I was tired and uncomfortable and when we got to the house, we had trouble getting the door open and then we had to figure everything out - like how to work the heat/air. The pillows were traditional hull-filled. I was cranky and wishing I could just fall into a western bed with western pillows and watch some western tv. The house was right next to Toji Temple, but a bit far from the "main action" and we had to walk a fair distance to the train. That said, we really ended up enjoying the house and it's lovely bathroom and kitchenette. I think it's a great choice for the right traveler and the tour designer did explain this to me before we booked, but given the circumstances, I may have been better off in a hotel.
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