Overall, our Japan travel agency provided everything we needed: lodging, transportation, guides, itinerary of places to see as well as tickets at our hotels for those venues, experts in the areas of expertise we had requested. Being novices in international travel, we were unaware of some procedures that I would think are routine to those who are veterans of such travel. It would have been helpful to have had some of that information before beginning the trip, but it worked out ok. Our guides were knowledgeable about the areas in which they were assigned to help us see. Our main reason for the trip was to see Japanese gardens and learn of the culture of Japan that so influences the design of the gardens. I believe the trip accomplished that goal because we now have a starting place for understanding Japanese people and the many aspects of their culture.
I must say that the trip was rigorous in that understanding the accents of the various guides required full concentration all day every day in addition to the attention we paid to the places we visited as well as the walking, stairs, slopes. (Japan has LOTS of slopes!) Additionally, the 14-hour difference between our home time and the time in Japan took a toll. We probably should have scheduled one full day upon arriving to make the initial change.
Because of my dietary restrictions, we were very concerned about monitoring those throughout the trip. Nearly all of the restaurants in our itinerary knew in advance of those and had made preparations for my safe dining. We only met with difficulty a couple of times and managed to avoid most of the allergens.
All of the accommodations provided extra pillows for my husband's acid reflux sleeping requirements. That was crucial.
Seeing the gardens of Japan that were on our itinerary and the learning sessions we experienced under experts of their artistry, i.e., ikebana flower arranging lesson, bonsai lesson, Japanese garden tutorial by the authority on the subject in Japan with his assistant, and kimono creations by kimono artists. Those were the highlights!
Never stay in ryokan. We have passed the age in which it works, i.e., it is difficult to sleep on such a hard surface as a simple pad on the floor. I had a backache every morning and therefore getting off the floor was painful when we did stay in those inns. Most of the hotel beds were hard but at least they were off the floor.
Take an empty suitcase for the wonderful things we would have liked to bring home but could not for lack of packing space.
Schedule a few more truly Western meals. We needed a break from the traditional Japanese cuisine because it is so different from American food. The few western meals were really items prepared with Japanese seasoning and ingredients so they didn't really fulfill the need for the break.
Stay in each area longer and go to fewer cities, that is, staying longer in each location gives time to acclimate oneself as well as to see more of that place's sights. We could have stayed in Kyoto for 3 full sight-seeing days easily. Of course, one always knows that after the fact!! The 3 days in Kanazawa demonstrated that. We really enjoyed that city.
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