My family recently got back from a 12 day trip to Japan planned by this tour company. It was a great trip and will be very memorable. The folks at this tour company were incredibly helpful with planning the trip, suggesting fun ideas and then booking everything from hotels, some meals and activities. All guides were on time and we had no problems finding them at the meeting spots. All reservations/tickets for trains, hotels, activities also went well. The highlights of the trip were the various activities planned for us (see below). I would use this company again for other Asia travel, but would probably do more research on my own throughout the process. We had a hard time with some of the hotel recommendations outside of Kyoto and Tokyo and ended up only staying at 3 of the 5 places that we originally had on our itinerary. They were responsive in helping us adjust our hotels, but as per policy we were not fully refunded at one place and not refunded at all at another.
The highlights of the trip were the various activities that were planned for us which were great and very fun. These included: Tokyo: Fish market tour and sushi making class; iaido sword lesson; sumo practice; baseball game (in Tokyo and Hiroshima). Kyoto: tea ceremony; origami lesson; geisha dinner; bike tour. Also, the dinners in Tokyo were great and we loved the time we had exploring the different areas in Tokyo either with guides or on our own. We also loved the day in Kanazawa and had a great guide that really made a difference.
1) Would have more planned restaurants before hand including lunches which were hard for us to find places we liked and only some guides were helpful finding for us (although all tried). This was combo of food and language issues.
2) Would skip Matsumoto as castle was very cool, but art museum was closed as it was Monday and there was really nothing to do in town, and the ryokan we stayed in was not nice (especially since I mentioned to our agent that I liked staying in really nice places on vacation.)
3) The sake museum/brewery tour in Kyoto was not a brewery tour as we thought and was a ton of traffic to get there so probably not worth it for us.
4) Would have tried to ask more questions about guides before hand. I found some of the guides English to be better than others which at times made the day more difficult and less fun than it could have been.
5) Would have gotten a car service in some spots as we were 5 people with guides and often had to take 2 taxis.
Travel Company's Comments
We are delighted to hear Brenda and family had an amazing trip and we thank her for the constructive feedback. On the subject of accommodation, it is important for all visitors to Japan to understand the nuance of what may be considered ‘nice’ or ‘luxury’ accommodation. Machiyas and Ryokans are expensive and often these stays come in at prices comparable to top luxury hotels. Indeed by Japanese standards, a Machiya and certainly a Ryokan stay is considered the epitome of luxury. Because these types of lodging are based on minimalism and simplicity - important aspects of Japanese culture overall - it can sometimes be a letdown for guests who were expecting a more Western interpretation of luxury. We do our best to inform guests in advance of what to expect at a Ryokan or Machiya and we will continue to enhance our documentation and image library, but it is crucial that guests look into proposed accommodation independently as well before a trip.
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