REVIEW OF ESSENCE OF JAPAN, APRIL 2107

We were on the The Essence of Japan journey that began on April 23, 2017. This was our 4th Tauck tour and though overall our trip was wonderful…in part because of our independent adventures…and the other fellow travelers lovely, warm, and engaging, there were some issues and problems that tainted our experience and will now make us reconsider future travel with Tauck. I know this is long, but read on…..

• Upon our arrival in Tokyo’s Narita Airport on April 17, we were supposed to be met and transferred to our hotel by a Tauck representative. No one was there and we were left, exhausted from our long flights, to ‘punt’. I called the emergency number for Tauck and spoke with their on-call Tauck Representative, who said that she would see what the issue was and call me back. She didn’t. About an hour or so later, a lovely, apologetic woman arrived and transferred us to our hotel. For sure, the Tauck Rep should have been there on time to meet us and given the screw up, she should have had the decency to call us back. As an aside, we did receive compensation from Tauck for the tardiness in our transfer and though that was the right thing to do and appreciated, it does not negate the impact of being ‘forgotten’ at the start of the trip in a foreign country with a major language barrier.

• For one week prior to joining our Tauck group, we independently traveled to Hiroshima and Naoshima…and are we ever so grateful for doing the research and listening to the recommendations of others who pointed us there! These were truly highlights of our journey and I am, quite honestly, astonished that Tauck does not include Hiroshima for its historical nature and Naoshima for its artistic bent. Both of these destinations surely warrant being included on the itinerary.


Our Tauck Tour’s ‘lowlights’:

o Tour Guide Booklet: Our Tour Director provided us with a booklet of the day-to-day itinerary. This was all well and good, but it didn’t provide any history of the location, shopping, options for free time, etc. On past Tauck tours, we received daily printouts with that information and much preferred that approach.

o Surcharges for ‘an extra salad’ and Pellegrino: It’s a long story, but a friend traveling with us was charged 600 Yen when she requested an additional salad for lunch instead of a rather inferior main course. I was also told that requesting Pellegrino at breakfast or lunch would be surcharged as well. Our Tour Director said that this is policy in Japan and though he did subsequently pick up the charges for the Pellegrino, this was ridiculous, ‘not in Tauck style’, and should not happen.

o The Tokyu Hotel substitution for The Nikko: The Nikko was listed on all our paperwork, as well as the tour booklet that our Tour Director distributed on Day 1. The Nikko is rated the top hotel in Kanazawa, while the Tokyu is way down the list. It was only a day or so prior that we were told that there was an error on the printout and that we were staying in the Tokyu instead of The Nikko and also told that sometimes the group stays at one hotel or the other. First of all, the Tokyu was not listed anywhere on Tauck’s website or in print as an optional hotel in Kanazawa. Secondly, if this change was made, we should have been notified sooner. And third, and above all, the Tokyu is not comparable, to say the least, to The Nikko, but is more in keeping with a substandard Holiday Inn.

o Hand Sanitizers on the buses: On all other Tauck trips, there were hand sanitizers on the buses, but not on this trip. As it turns out, one of the travelers came down with an awful cold and it pretty much ran through the tour group. I’m not sure that the sanitizer would have helped prevent some from catching the cold, but certainly it wouldn’t have hurt.

o Meals: With a few of exceptions (Nobu, lunch at Jardin Paul Bocuse, Shabu Shabu at Shabuzen, and the dinner at Tobira Onsen), the lunches and dinners were inferior. The last dinner, at Ueno Park, which consisted of disgusting canapés, watered down wine, and an inedible dinner, was simply horrible, so much so that I ate nothing and munched on rice crackers back in my room. In Japan, a country rich with wonderful restaurants, incredible chefs, and delicious food, this should not happen. I can only assume, however sadly, that the choice of meals and food is financially based to give Tauck, not us, the best bang for the buck.

o Food Choices: Japan has many ‘must try’ dishes and regional specialties…Tendon, Teppanyaki, Yakitori, Okonomiyaki, Gyoza, Donburi, just to name a few….and though we did have some sushi, a shabu shabu lunch, and several kaiseki meals, we would have hoped to have been able to try some of the more traditional Japanese specialties.

o Sumo Wrestlers: Sumo is something not to be missed in Japan….BUT to thrust two, sweaty, gross wrestlers literally in our faces during our meal, was repulsive. Also, the Sumo Wrestlers were merely a demonstration and we all were looking forward and expecting a real Sumo Wrestling Match.

o Departure: We were provided with a transfer to the airport but NO assistance once there because we left two days after the tour ended. The travelers who left at the conclusion of the tour had assistance at the airport and though I know it might be tough to accommodate later departures, I believe that this is something Tauck should endeavor to provide to all travelers.

o Tokyo Itinerary: The sushi making lunch at Egami Cooking School, Day 2, was substandard. Perhaps it was a bit of fun to see and try to make a sushi roll, but the roll was our lunch...mine was not good…and it was accompanied by pita bread and lettuce on the table. Such a weird combination of food, none of which was very good.

o Tokyo Itinerary: Taiko Drumming Lesson, Day 2, took 1.5 hours. If we had many days in Tokyo this might make some sense, but given all the fabulous things to do and see in Tokyo, we should not have spent it beating a drum. I felt that this was childlike and used as a ‘filler’.

o Tokyo Itinerary: Edo Museum. Simply…a waste of everyone’s time. Again, Tokyo has so much more to offer and we remain perplexed at this inclusion on the itinerary as well.

o Tokyo Opportunities: We had one day in Tokyo prior to the tour and then stayed on a couple of extra days. Had we not allocated this extra time, we would have gone home missing the truly spectacular and interesting areas of Tokyo. On our own, we toured the Tsukiji Fish Market, Daikanyama, Shibuya, Omotesando, Ginza, and Harajuku, and cannot understand why Tauck chooses to take its travelers to the Edo Museum, Sushi Making, and Drumming lessons instead of visiting and exploring some of these areas. In my opinion, Tauck ‘missed the mark’, site-wise and food-wise, and diminishing the Tauck travelers’ Japanese experience.

o Wine/Beer with meals: In all honesty, I’ve never quite comprehended Tauck’s policy of ‘no wine, no beer included’ at most meals. Most of us truly enjoy a glass of wine with our meals, especially while on vacation, and I, as well as my husband, don’t quite understand why Tauck does not include wine and beer at lunch and dinner. For a tour that is high-end and high-priced, this should be a no-brainer inclusion.


Our Tauck Tour ‘highlights’:
o Our Tour Director: Funny, cordial, and professional.
o The Mandarin Hotel, Tokyo
o The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto
o Lake Ashi Cruise: Great weather day, too!
o Hakone Open Air Museum
o Traditional Tea Ceremony in Kyoto
o Sanjusangendo Temple in Kyoto


The Best of Japan….for me, at least…on our own:
o Traditional, authentic Ryokan in Hiroshima
o Hiroshima
o Naoshima and staying at The Benesse House
o Attending a Yomuri Giants Baseball Game
o Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo
o Exploring Tokyo on our own: Daikanyama, Shibuya, Omotesando, Ginza, and Harajuku
o Kyoto on our own: Philosopher’s Walk
o Meals eaten ‘on our own’ and off of the Tour



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Comments

  • edited July 2017
    It is good to get a detailed account of your tour. Having been twice to Japan, quite a while ago now, I really would like to go again and sometimes look at the Tauck tour. It has recently changed and does not include as much as previously. I can understand your disappointment, I would not like to be near two sweaty wrestlers, being shown how to make sushi would not be on my list either., I eat it so often, it's not exactly rocket science to see how it is made, although I am sure the freshness of the fish in the US is far inferior and why it all gets spiced here when it does not in Japan, I think it is just to hide its inferior freshness.
    Thankfully, we have never had a Tauck rep forget to pick us up from the airport, but sometimes they have been hard to find and sometimes we have had to wait for stragglers who have been on the same flight as us.
    As far as food, I suppose Tauck have to be middle of the road for those people who do not eat Japanese type food. Alcohol inclusion, I am one of those who strongly objects to inclusive prices for alcohol. I do drink, but know so many people who given free range of alcoholic drinks just guzzle it down and I don't see why i should pay for those types of people. The Pellagrino thing, I guess was sorted.
    I have only ever seen hand sanitizer on one bus on all our tours, so I guess you have been lucky on your previous tours. I think it is a great idea to have it by the door.
    Some tour directors provide booklets, some provide daily paperwork. We have only once been annoyed by a very late change of plan and that was an almost pre dawn departure from one of the best hotels in the world where we we told and given paperwork that said we would 'enjoy the day' at the hotel before we departed. My husband sent a nice note to Tauck saying how disappointed we were and to our delight they sent us a generous refund. I note that there is another thread on the Japan forum that mentions a changed hotel from the planned one, at the same town I believe, there must be a problem there with hotels that is probably out of Tauck's hands and maybe they will eliminate the stop from their itinerary.
    If everyone else had the same opinion about the tour, then I guess Tauck will change it, though that doesn't help you.
    Japan is a great and safe country( barring natural disasters of course) to do a longer pre or post stay and see more on your own.
  • I find that I must post somewhat of a rebuttal to this review, so that readers who are considering this tour have a different viewpoint. First, let me say that I am sorry that you were not picked up at the airport. I am happy, however, that you were compensated for the disruption.

    Except for the "lunch" provided at the sushi demonstration (which I agree was horrible), we felt the rest of our meals were wonderful. ( I ended up gaining my usual 5 pounds at the end of the trip.)

    We never felt that the sumo wrestlers were "in our faces." In fact, we just summed it up to one type of good entertainment.

    After studying the itinerary before we booked the tour, we realized that we would need extra days in Tokyo, so we planned our trip accordingly. There were others in our group who did the same. I can't fault Tauck for that. Others in our tour group were eager to get home, even after such an exciting trip.

    On vacation, we drink alcohol with dinner. There were quite a few dinners and cocktail hours where it was provided free of charge on this trip. We didn't mind paying for it when it wasn't.

    We gave this trip a 5-star review. However, like you, our hotel in Kanazawa was changed to an inferior hotel (which included hotel meals). Unlike you, we were only told about an hour before we arrived and were given no apologies. I even wrote to customer service about our extreme disappointment, and again, we received no follow-up and no reply. As customers who have taken 10 trips with Tauck, we would have liked to have received an apology and have been compensated on a future trip in some way, as our family back home did not have the new hotel and phone number in case of an emergency, etc. This is so unlike our past situations and customer service from Tauck. It has left a bad taste in our mouths.

  • edited July 2017
    jteiii wrote:
    I find that I must post somewhat of a rebuttal to this review, so that readers who are considering this tour have a different viewpoint. First, let me say that I am sorry that you were not picked up at the airport. I am happy, however, that you were compensated for the disruption.

    Except for the "lunch" provided at the sushi demonstration (which I agree was horrible), we felt the rest of our meals were wonderful. ( I ended up gaining my usual 5 pounds at the end of the trip.)

    We never felt that the sumo wrestlers were "in our faces." In fact, we just summed it up to one type of good entertainment.

    After studying the itinerary before we booked the tour, we realized that we would need extra days in Tokyo, so we planned our trip accordingly. There were others in our group who did the same. I can't fault Tauck for that. Others in our tour group were eager to get home, even after such an exciting trip.

    On vacation, we drink alcohol with dinner. There were quite a few dinners and cocktail hours where it was provided free of charge on this trip. We didn't mind paying for it when it wasn't.

    We gave this trip a 5-star review. However, like you, our hotel in Kanazawa was changed to an inferior hotel (which included hotel meals). Unlike you, we were only told about an hour before we arrived and were given no apologies. I even wrote to customer service about our extreme disappointment, and again, we received no follow-up and no reply. As customers who have taken 10 trips with Tauck, we would have liked to have received an apology and have been compensated on a future trip in some way, as our family back home did not have the new hotel and phone number in case of an emergency, etc. This is so unlike our past situations and customer service from Tauck. It has left a bad taste in our mouths.
    This just shows how hard it must be for any tour company to get the correct balance to please the majority of it's customers. And how weird that no one else has chimed in to this review apart from me. I'm here a lot, not the least because it's a great way to fill in the gaps when I am jet lagged or going through one of my awake at night phases. Right now I'm staying in a luxurious hotel and my pillow is horrible but it's not ruining my trip, I am so lucky. Of course, if I was on a Tauck tour right now, I would not be still in bed at this 'late hour' I'd likely be on the bus.
    Like you , I am a Tauck veteran and had certainly taken more than ten tours when on the tour I mentioned in my above comments. Maybe it was because my husband wrote to Dan Mahar (ah, note on reviewing this it won't print his name, I mean the Tauck CEO) that we got a more positive response, we certainly profit his company enough on a yearly basis. I do hope that if my family neeeded us in an emergency and could not get hold of us, that they would know to call Tauck directly for help, I must remind them again before our next tour. I hope that never happens.
    Doesn't anyone out there know what the deal is with the late hotel switch, apart from the fact that traveling in April in Japan is probably the busiest time.
  • Oh goodness, my fiance and I are traveling to Japan in early September......I feel we have paid an extraordinary amount money for this trip and this will be only my 2nd trip with Tauck. Some of these blog posts are leaving me a bit bummed out ie changing of hotels with no warning, touristy sushi making/sumo wrestling but not a real match?, missing more important sites. Well, we are in for the haul now and I am a positive person so we will make the best of whatever comes our way. I could certainly use some reassurance that this truly is a worthwhile adventure. Thank goodness we have 1 extra day in advance so thanks to you travelers with some suggestions of sites to see on our own.
    If there are other opinions are information from recent travelers, please post.
  • edited July 2017
    TamTam32,
    Please do not worry about enjoying a trip to Japan as there are many different perspectives on experiences offered. We did the Land of the Rising Sun land/ship tour in late March/early April, and I wrote an extensive review of that trip on that thread. We loved the places we visited and the itinerary, but we were VERY unhappy with the organization of the tour itself. This was our 15th Tauck tour, and my review generated a lot of conversation. I was impressed with Tauck's response, and after so many trips, expect nothing less than that. It is one of the reasons we have traveled so much with Tauck. I think you should embrace the opportunities this trip offers, and, if you have the time, try to do some activities on your own, especially in Tokyo.
    Festive1 was smart to go in early and do Hiroshima and Naoshima! Festive1, how was the Benesse Hotel??? We visited the museum (wonderful experience) and envied those staying at the hotel!
    I, personally, loved the Taiko drumming (see how different people view each experience). However, we had ours in Kyoto (along with a calligraphy lesson, which I failed miserably, and the tea ceremony...lovely). Our drummers did a final song for us, lasting about 5 minutes, that I video recorded and actually play with some frequency! The performance is rhythmic as well as athletic.
    Sumo wrestling...not sure if the land tour also does it in Tokyo...our organizational experience that evening was a horror (late arrival, outdoor cocktail hour, freezing cold, seating far away from the demonstration, etc.), but we thought the demonstration itself was a lot of fun! It is a demonstration, and the matches are for show (sort of like wrestling in the USA). A funny note...I had left my seat to video the wrestlers, and when one was driven off the mat he went running to the back and sat in my seat (oh, my). My husband laughingly put his arm around him, hoping I would snap a photo. Sadly, I was so doubled over laughing, I missed the shot of the century! Guess that whole thing will just become a family myth!
    Here is an example of differing opinions...Festive1 thought the Edo Museum was a waste of time, we loved it! Perhaps, since it was at the end of our tour and the beginning of theirs, we saw it differently. Also, it was after a ship departure, lunch in Kyoto, and a bullet train ride to Tokyo...I might have been worn down!
    About hotel changes...we have had a number of those on trips, some great, some horrible! A trip to France took us from staying at some chateau to a Holiday Inn type place, for two nights! Very unhappy! Then again, in India, it resulted in a phenomenal stay at the Taj Lake Palace!! I understand the discontent with last minute hotel changes. Tauck needs to work hard to mitigate the discontent with such occurrences.
    About the airport...Early in the 2000's on our third tour with Tauck, we, too, were abandoned at the airport arrival. It was very disconcerting, but we congratulated ourselves that we were not first time travelers, and after scouring the airport for the guy with the green jacket (that was a must in those days), we hopped on an airport shuttle and got to the hotel. It was a bad way to start a trip, and we, too, felt our TD was not sorry enough! About the drop-offs...we always seem to leave later, so we are accustomed to no assistance at the airport. I am sort of of the belief that Tauck's responsibility ends at the end of the trip. I am thrilled that they take those staying later to the airport.
    We found Japan to have such a rich culture and such unique experiences! I know you will find so many interesting things to see and do. And, how interesting that you are going in September. We were there in Spring, for the cherry blossoms blooming, but everyone talked about how spectacular the Fall season is in Japan with the turning of the leaves. And, from the photos that we saw, it was quite spectacular!! You should have a wonderful trip!
    Joyce
  • My wife and I will be taking the Essence of Japan tour beginning October 15, 2017. We will be staying in Tokyo for 3 days after the tour ends on October 27. We are thinking of going to Hiroshima, presumably by bullet train and either doing it in 1 day or staying overnight in Hiroshima. Do previous travelers have any recommendations as to which approach would be better? In addition, I have seen posts suggesting that Nara and Nashima should also be visited. Is that practical? Can we do this on our own or is it recommended that we hire guides, possibly from Tours by Locals for our extra days in Tokyo or in Hiroshima? Lastly, is there anyone else planning to go on this tour that might be interested in traveling to these destinations and sharing a guide?
  • I can't answer most of the questions you ask. However, I can comment on a side trip to Nara. We arranged a full day in Nara ( we were on " The Land of the Rising Sun" tour) prior to our tour. We left from Kyoto, took the train and did two walking tours with Narawalks! We did the Classic tour in the morning and the Old Town Stroll in the afternoon. They were nothing short of fabulous! Nara is a very special place...not to be missed. If you have extra time in Tokyo, I would suggest checking out the Yanaka area. It is a part of old Tokyo that has not yet been enveloped by development. To do a stroll through the area ( do some research on what to see) is very special.
  • joycesw wrote:
    I can't answer most of the questions you ask. However, I can comment on a side trip to Nara. We arranged a full day in Nara ( we were on " The Land of the Rising Sun" tour) prior to our tour. We left from Kyoto, took the train and did two walking tours with Narawalks! We did the Classic tour in the morning and the Old Town Stroll in the afternoon. They were nothing short of fabulous! Nara is a very special place...not to be missed. If you have extra time in Tokyo, I would suggest checking out the Yanaka area. It is a part of old Tokyo that has not yet been enveloped by development. To do a stroll through the area ( do some research on what to see) is very special.

    Hi Joyce, Thanks for all your info. I wondered if you could tell me more abut The Land of the Rising Sun tour. I did a search and there are a lot of companies who have coined that name for their tour. Do you recall who runs the tour? Thanks
  • This is a Tauck tour (north and southbound) that runs primarily in March and April. It is a land/ small ship tour. We were one of four groups (next year there will be six) on a Le Ponant ship (Le Austral). I wrote an extensive review of our trip on the thread for that tour on this Forum. I loved the itinerary and experiences but was most dissatisfied with the organization of the trip. Tauck was quick to respond, and I am sure there will be some modifications for next year's tours. Both of the sites I mentioned (Nara and Yanaka) were done on our own before and after the trip.
  • BCCanada wrote:
    Hi Joyce, Thanks for all your info. I wondered if you could tell me more abut The Land of the Rising Sun tour. I did a search and there are a lot of companies who have coined that name for their tour. Do you recall who runs the tour? Thanks
    My apologies Joyce. I read it but somehow misunderstood your comment about the Land of the Rising sun tour. Thanks for taking the time to respond to me in spite of my error. You are probably still shaking your head. :)
  • Not shaking my head at all! Often these threads get a bit confusing! Bottom line is that we loved our experience in Japan, and you should definitely explore options for a tour!
  • I have signed up for the Oct. 15 Japan tour and am already disappointed and feeling ripped off. Two hotels have already been changed. While we were given a refund for one, I want the hotel, not the refund. Now because of the posts above I'm getting concerned about hotels being changed mid-trip.

    I'm arriving in Tokyo one day early and would like to take a half-day overview excursion of the city. Does anyone have any suggestions or is that easily arranged at the hotel upon arrival?

    Thanks
  • Phyllis, I was on this trip last year and stayed over a day in Tokyo. I booked a tour with Tours by Locals. I have used them many times. Just go to their website and enter the city and you can pull up available tours. There guides are all registered locally. Many of the tour guides will adapt to your interests.
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