Essence of Japan
We took this wonderful trip in April 2016. I did a trip review then, but this is better-more room and more opportunity for a truthful overview.
1 tip: Go in late March to maximize your cherry blossom viewing if this is your desired trip. There are sites that project when the best dates will be—but since you need to reserve 1+ years ahead, these sites can come too late. You could book even earlier—especially if you want blossoms in Kyoto. It’s not exact. Good luck! The Tokyo and Kanazawa stops were just overwhelmingly magical, and this with some peek-a-boo sightings of Fuji-San were perhaps the high points of the trip.
The cherry blossom viewing season makes every stop extremely crowded with locals and tourist-from around the world. Having the bus for delivery to each stop is priceless. This was our first ever tour anywhere—having always put our rips together on our own, but it was impossible to do on our own with the language barrier. We read reviews when Tauck still had them available, and they all seemed to be too good to be true. We found out they were indeed all that people glowed about-and so much more. Certainly there were some areas that were less than agreeable, but this is due mainly to the number of people in any one place at any one time.
2 tip-how to get from one place to the other. When confronted with walls of people-just get in and go. There is no time or room for stepping out of someone’s way—you only get in the way of someone else. Just go, its a dance you will soon get the feeling for. We arrived early for the tour and took the subway everywhere - we hugged the right side of every escalator to allow for the those in a real hurry, and came to appreciate how well the Japanese manage to live in such tight quarters. We never saw/heard / or experienced a discouraging word/look/action.
3 tip-remember how to get back to the bus, set your watch and go exploring on your own if/when the headset for the guide’s narration is not clear and/or you just want to do your thing trying to get some alone time.
4 tip—bring a small cloth for bathroom hand drying. I thought we could pick them up-but were well into the trip before the opportunity arose. A must-have!
Hiroshima wasn’t available on our trip, but we had been there in the 70’s. The Peace Park/museum was difficult and sobering.
Not to be flippant, but having the side trip to Miyajima provides poignant relief.
I don’t see the charming dinner with the Maiko and the fun drinking game she conducted—-too bad if it’s been dropped, and too bad the “quasi” Sumo wrestlers have been kept for your send-off dinner! Perhaps the Maiko visit is in the itinerary and I missed it—-but if its not—-trust me, I’d hound the tour director from day 1 to get it put in somewhere—-a much better finale than the inaccurate, abbreviated and just plain sad wrestling display.
Final tip—wear a mask on the flight over and back. I didn’t—and I suffered the first week with what the doctor said was a result of the recycled airplane air giving me an old rummy’s cough. It passed, I was lucky, but now will never travel without a mask.
This was a trip of a lifetime—-I’d love to go again, and might, after we see new things.