I've been to Japan five times over the last 15 years for business so this trip was for a purely personal adventure.
Traveling to countries where english is not a first language, I've relied on travel tours. Although no one in my social circle had used (you) Zicasso, I found their process, reviews and speed of contact...positive and quick.
My on-line profile was turned over to this to develop my itinerary for Japan. They booked hotel stays in Osaka, Kyoto and Hakone (ryokan) along with travel to same points plus Naoshima. In addition, they provided the bare essentials of an IOC for domestic train travel and a cell phone for local calls along with one day tours of three cities, one home stay in Kameoka, cycling tour in Kyoto and a pickup for my arriving flight in Osaka. With my familiarity of Tokyo and having family/friends there, I booked this last leg of my trip along with my flights.
I shared my wish list and interests with my travel agent who convinced me that he had the expertise to develop an itinerary that a more seasoned traveler to Japan would enjoy. And with an $8000 price tag, I had high expectations for a trip customized and curated for my specific interests and taste level.
My travel agent and his team were friendly, pleasant and informative however the level of experience that the company provided didn't meet my expectations rather it was more appropriate for a new traveler to Japan.
The most enjoyable experience of my trip was to a little town outside of Kyoto called Kameoka, where I stayed a day and a night at the home of a local woman. A total immersion in a traditional home with it's tatami mats, futons, praying at the family shrine, learning ikebana, cooking a traditional Japanese dinner, hiking in nature and eating lunch at the town's sushi bar. It was a fascinating departure from the city experience, I loved it and would highly recommend spending at least two days at her home to learn and experience what a tour doesn't typically offer.
Unfortunately, an experience that I won't forget (one that I wish to forget) was my ryokan stay at the in Hakone where the lobby was dated, dirty and worn to my room which smelt of stale cigarette smoke. The hotel management read my displeasure and promised to disinfect the room of the unpleasant smell. I was shocked and disappointed in the standards of this lodging; there was no way I was staying even if they put me into their top suite, the lobby alone was depressing. Politely and firmly telling the manager to call me a taxi as well as stating that I wouldn't be staying, they were apologetic and professional. Although, the travel team apologized profusely for my difficult experience, they didn't respond as I had expected them to which was equally as disappointing as walking into the Ryokan expecting the best of Hakone only to be disgusted with it's environment
As my agent shared, I was fairly advised (via his travel guidelines that Japan allows smoking in public places) of the potential of unpleasant smells and since I was a single traveler, it was difficult to find a ryokan that could accommodate me. When I questioned him on why he selected the ryokan; he wrote that it was due to Trip Advisor's positive reviews?!
Thankfully, I had stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Gora years ago and was able to book myself a room no thanks to this company.
I wouldn't book a trip with this travel agency.
With $8000, I would book an agency to customize a trip that specializes in single traveler tours who understand and know how to deliver a higher level of experiences in Japan. And I'd book a Hakone ryokan experience at the Gora-Kada Ryokan.
TRAVEL COMPANY'S COMMENTS
We started working with the traveler in February 2017 for her trip to Japan in November. This gave us plenty of time to design and arrange her trip. We presented a number of different itineraries and options for her trip, talked on the phone a number of times and sent her over 50 emails answering her questions and getting her feedback. We finally settled on a unique itinerary that she liked.
We arranged a number of unique experiences that are suitable for seasoned travelers to Japan. These included a stay with a friend of ours in rural Kameoka which the traveler stated, “It was a fascinating departure from the city experience, I loved it and would highly recommend spending at least two days at Ms. Teramachi's home to learn and experience what a tour doesn't typically offer.” We also arranged a day trip to Naoshima, hiking in Hakone, and visit a private pottery gallery. There were also some standard activities like private local guides and cycling tour of Kyoto. All of these together gave her an experience that most new travelers to Japan would not do.
As I mentioned above, we had enough time to design her trip but unfortunately, the traveler did not decide to take this trip until October 2 when she paid her deposit. By this time most ryokan accommodations in Japan were already fully booked as November is high season. With very little time I was impressed that my arrangement team was able to make all of the arrangements including a single room in a hot spring ryokan in Hakone.
In Japan as most traditional ryokans (Japanese inns) do not accept single travelers. This is even more difficult during high season. In Hakone, we work with a number of ryokans and we contacted all of the ones that accept single travelers. Unfortunately, they were already fully booked by the time the traveler paid her deposit. Many popular ryokans like Gora-Kada Ryokan become full 4-6 months in advance. This meant that we had to arrange a ryokan that we never worked with before. We called a large number of new ryokans that looked good and finally found one that would accept the traveler's reservation. When we call a new ryokan our Japanese staff talk to them for a while and ask a number of questions to check their service level and how they treat travelers. We also check online services like TripAdvisor and others to give us the opinions of travelers who have stayed at the ryokan. This is an important step and gives us a clear idea of the quality of the ryokan from the point of view of a large number of traveler. I am sure the traveler also did her research on this ryokan like most of our travelers. All of this gave us a positive image of Shiunso. The only negative thing was this ryokan allows smoking and the traveler's room would be a deodorized smoking room, this was explained to the traveler and she accepted it. I felt bad that the lobby did not meet her expectation.
Of course, we could have arranged for the traveler to stay at Hyatt Regency in the Gora part of Hakone. This would have been very easy as it is a large chain hotel with all of the advantages of a large chain. The traveler asked for a unique experience that is suitable for a seasoned traveler to Japan and staying at a ryokan is part of this experience.
Staying at a Japanese ryokan is not for all travelers as you are going deep into Japanese culture. This was the only ryokan that we arranged for the traveler as all of the other accommodations were chain hotels except for her home-stay in Kameoka. Based on the traveler's comments above it is clear that we should have arranged a chain hotel in Hakone for her as it would have better met her exceptions.
I am sorry that the traveler did not enjoy her stay at a ryokan as I am sure that if she would have given it a chance she would have enjoyed herself. I am glad that she enjoyed the other parts of her trip and especially that she “loved” her time in Kameoka with Ms Teramachi.
Each review is written by a verified traveler who was matched by Zicasso to the reviewed agency. Traveler must have purchased and traveled.
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