Our agent convinced us that we could travel independently. Most of our prior trips were with small group tours. We were a little concerned about it, but after just returning from our trip from Japan, it worked out much better than we expected. We got turned around a little, but being able to spend as much time as we wanted at the sites we wanted to see was the biggest advantage we experienced. I'm glad our agent convinced us that we could do it. She also made great suggestions on sites and cultural activities that we should not miss, while keeping in mind our "want to" list of items. The amount of time and places we stayed at exceeded our expectations. The pace and guides we were provided allowed us to see the important sites and understand why they were important, since the majority of the sites had limited English available. Her ability to listen to our wants and concerns and put together a trip that exceeded our expectations was her best gift to us.
The private guides added a lot to us understanding the cultural significance of the sites we were seeing. They also allowed us to ease into understanding how to get around and manage our time and pace. They also allowed us to see the unique and important sites and not the same things over and over again. The Ryokans they had us stay at became a very important part of our trip. They offered us a great way to meet the local people, culture and food. Also, our agent suggested that we needed to attend a Sumo tournament. We were a little skeptical, but we really enjoyed it and found ourselves watching the sports channel in the following weeks to follow our favorite Sumo's. We enjoyed visiting and getting to know another culture, since we mainly focused on Europe prior to this.
We looked at all of the travel "best of" sites and developed a list of them. Some of the most popular sites were a disappointment compared to some other sites that were recommended. We could have spent a little less time in a couple of cities and spent them in some cities that surprised us. It would have been nice to go when the gardens had a little more in bloom. The little maps provided in the agencies itinerary were useless in respect to distance and we should have researched how to get to places more.
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