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Review: Hidden Japan

Escorted Tour - Rail

Culture shock

  • By SilverTraveller henbane

    2 reviews

  • Nov 2011
  • Partner

131 people found this review helpful

The blurb for this tour described it as "a unique tour … for those who wish to see the main cities but also delve a little deeper into rural Japan. It is a great opportunity to see a Japan rarely seen by most visitors". It certainly lived up to the description. We visited Tokyo, Hakone, Miyajima, Matsuyama, Kotahira, Nara, Koyasan, Kyoto and back to Tokyo. Although there were plenty of tourists about, most seemed to be from within Japan; except in the cities and at Hiroshima Westerners were rare. The cities, as expected, were an exciting mix of traditional & modern styles. The visit to Hiroshima was a very moving experience, particularly for someone of my age who grew up with CND in the shadow of potential nuclear war. We spent half a day going round the peace museum. We also saw temples, pagodas & shrines, gardens and beauty spots but it wasn't just the historic sites & scenery that made this holiday so interesting. Japanese culture, customs and even cuisine are quite alien to most Europeans. We had plenty of opportunity to sample the latter as 5 banquet meals were included, including a delicious vegetarian one at lodgings in a Buddhist temple in Koyasan. By the end of the tour I was a convert to Japanese food. It's a pity that Japanese restaurants are scarce over here so apart from sushi & sashimi I probably won't have another chance to enjoy it. I even grew to like tofu – well, some of it. Japanese baths were another interesting feature, bath house etiquette being an unnerving experience in itself. We had the chance to visit Dogo Onsen, the oldest hot spring baths in Japan. The famous bath house here was reputedly the inspiration for the one featured in the film "Spirited Away". Black sesame icecream was a real treat. The zen gardens were fascinating, particularly where a monk explained the significance of the various elements to us. The bullet trains were also a highlight – how very different from the Rail Network at home! The tour is suitable for any age group and no particular level of fitness is required – two of us had difficulty with long flights of steps and on one or two occasions opted out of entering shrines for this reason but this didn't cause any problems. Tour guide Liam was knowledgeable and witty and fortunately unflappable. British mobile phones don't work in Japan but internet access was readily available at almost all hotels, usually free, so if you need to stay in touch it is easy to arrange. Although holidays in Japan are pricey, we spent far less than we'd expected once we were there, partly because so many meals were included. I'd recommend this holiday to anyone wanting a taster of Japan – I loved it, and it's one of the few countries I've been to which I would really like to revisit.

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