Our travel agent really took our expressed preferences to heart and planned a custom trip that was exactly what we were looking for. Throughout the process, he adjusted our itinerary to take not of different requests, but also was very direct in letting us know when something we were requesting would not be a good fit, would make things too rushed. While our visit did include some iconic sites (which are beautiful but more crowded), he also included many places that felt a bit more removed and special. All of the dining included was wonderful — so many places where we felt we were stepping into someone’s personal dining room. And all of the guides — in Tokyo, and Kanazawa, were fantastic. They were knowledgeable but fun to be with too. While overall their ex-pat experiences allowed us some cross-cultural analysis, it was also valuable for us to have one Japanese guide for a different perspective.
Shirakawa-go was memorable as it felt very unique and a bit off the beaten track. Our vegetarian lunch at the Buddhist Garden in Kyoto on our last day there with our guide was the best meal of the trip. We especially loved the hillside statuary Buddhist temple in the outskirts of Kyoto that same day. Due to the regional flooding and mudslides earlier that week, we were the only people there except for one other couple. Nara was also a highlight, especially the red lantern temple. And I highly recommend including an onsen in the agenda. Non-stop touring can be a bit tiring, and an evening retreat was great. We stayed well beyond the allotted hour at the end of the day and guided our way back. I also loved the vibrant neighborhood where we stayed at first in Tokyo. So much great eating and people watching!
It was nearly perfect. The only place i might change was a different hotel our last night in Tokyo. It was dated, although it was spacious and the breakfast was fantastic. And while we were comfortable doing a couple of our own transfers, some might not be, so including a guide for each one as the default might be good. We also weren’t sure sometimes why we took direct express trains and sometimes local trains and sometimes taxis and sometimes walked, but had the feeling this was left to guide discretion. Mostly it worked out, but there were a couple times where we wanted to stay somewhere a bit longer and take a taxi rather than bus or train, and I think that flexibility should be baked into the plan. Otherwise, I’d do it the same way.
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