Japan has been on “the list” for years. We wanted to experience a society that feels mysterious, and the juxtaposing of modern and ancient drew us in. When we decided to do a big trip, Japan was it. We would finally get to see this amazing country first hand.
Now what to do with 8 days in a country that offers a tourist so much to experience? From Sapporo in the north down to Yonaguni in the south, each city, each island, each prefecture, has its own personality and attractions. Eight days didn’t feel like enough, but we wanted to see as much as we could while setting our own schedule. Narrowing down what to do was difficult, but for our first (because there will be a next time!) trip to Japan, we focused on Tokyo, Hakone, and Kyoto.
We landed in Tokyo in the early evening, our driver-in full suit and white gloves (we would soon find this was standard for taxi and transfers) was waiting for us with our name on a sign board. The journey to the hotel was about an hour and a half, we flew into Narita Airport, which is further from the city than Haneda, but our flight
options were better into Narita. When we arrived at the Hilton Tokyo, in Shinjuku we decided to take a nap then go to dinner. We didn’t wake up until the next day.
We woke up obnoxiously early the next day and went to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market (it opens at 5AM and you should go before 9AM to see the bustling of the market). It was overwhelming how perfectly the chaos was organized. There were people on carts taking the morning catches to the vendors, locals doing their shopping, and wares and fish I didn’t recognize. We wandered and watched and then had sushi for breakfast, although we passed on having a beer with our breakfast like many of locals were doing.
From the Fish Market, we hopped on the subway and ambled down Takeshita Street. This street is full of Japan’s latest fashions. Young adults and tourists were popping in and out of the many clothing shops and themed cafes. The street is famous for their crepes-we had to stop and have one.
Just a few blocks from Takeshita is the Meji Shrine. As the path to the shrine rambled on, we stopped in our tracks upon seeing the first tori gate welcoming us, and it hit us-we were in Japan. Hours ago, we meandered through a district that is a pop-culture bellwether and crossed the street to a shrine that was built in 1920. At the Shrine, we sauntered through the grounds and the gardens. The gardens were so tranquil, we had no inkling we were in the middle of a metropolis larger than New York City.
From the Shrine, we ventured to one of Tokyo’s most photographed areas- Shibuya Crossing. Even though we were there before evening rush hour, it was packed. We observed this perfectly orchestrated bedlam before doing a few crossings ourselves. There is a Starbucks that overlooks the crossing for an elevated view.
Our last day in Tokyo, we started our sightseeing at Hamarikyo Garden. This is well planned garden, where the flower species are staggered so there are blooms all year long. The garden is full of lakes and teahouses and even a duck-hunting blinds built in the late 1700s. After admiring the gardens and having a bit of serenity before getting back into the city, we boarding a boat to take us north to Asakusa. The hour-long boat ride was a great way to see Tokyo from a different perspective. You could see how the neighborhoods changed from sky-rise buildings to smaller homes. We even got to see where the ships dock at the fish market.
A few blocks from the dock is the Sensoji Temple. The complex is huge, with building and shopping everywhere you turn. Walking into the main hall feels otherworldly and the five storied pagoda looms over you. After taking in all we could at the Temple, we took a short subway ride to Skytree. Although very touristy, I’m glad we fit this into our itinerary. Skytree is hard to miss, it’s 2,080 feet high and you can go to the top observation deck, overlooking Tokyo at 1,480 feet. On a clear day, you can see Mt Fuji. This could be an all-day experience, there is tons of shopping from chopsticks to Pokémon and the views are absolutely stunning. It’s hard to imagine how massive Tokyo really is until you’re at the top seeing nothing but urban landscape.
Hakone is a onsen (hot spring) town about an hour and a half from Tokyo for locals and tourists alike. It feels very rural compared to Tokyo and while it would take three days to see everything, but we only had one. On our way to Hakone, we stopped at Odawara Castle. This was one of my favorite stops in Japan. It’s beautiful and the town feels sleepy. The museum at the Castle was full of ancient armor and relics. After touring the castle, we walked back to the train station and after a short ride, we were in Hakone.
Trains and gondolas are the way to get around in Hakone. At each stop, there’s a little village with shopping, restaurants, and hotels. We only had time to explore one and we chose the Owakudani Station. What’s interesting about this stop, is that you go over a volcanic area with sulfur vents. The smell is overwhelming and the landscape is eerie. There is hiking you can do in the area and even eat a hard-boiled egg that cooked in the steam of the vents that turn the egg shells black. After exploring, we got back on the gondola and took it to our ryokan.
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn dating back to the 8th century. There are all kinds you can book, but this was our splurge. Upon arrival, we left our shoes at the door as the floors were covered in tatami mats. We were seated in the bar and given a welcome drink as were checked in. When we arrived to our room, our hostess showed us how to dress in the provided yukata (bathing clothes). Then we were left to relax in our private onsen on the balcony of our room overlooking the mountains until dinner. This was a welcomed treat as were averaging 12 miles a day on foot. We would soak until we were too hot, cool down with a beer, then get back into the onsen until dinner time. If you would like to experience a public onsen there are a lot of etiquette rules that I’d be ecstatic to share.
Dinner was served in our room, and each of the 9 courses were better than the last-even if we didn’t recognize what we were eating. After dinner and another soak, we slept on traditional futons. The next morning, we were served a traditional Japanese breakfast in our room, then said goodbye to Hakone and the wonderful ryokan. Our stay marked one of the best cultural experiences we’ve had to date. We were off to Kyoto by bullet train. We spent the evening in Kyoto and had the best tonkotsu I’ve ever tried.
It was an early morning as met our driver at our hotel to take us to Miyajima Island Hiroshima. We arrived via bullet train to Hiroshima, then ferried to Miyajima Island where the Tori Gate in the water welcomed us. This is another place I wish we had all day to explore, as the water receded, you could walk right up to the gate. The town had so many specialties restaurants-we had oysters-and there was so much more to explore and so many deer to pet.
After our time on the Island, we went to the A-Bomb Dome and began our tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The A-Bomb Dome is sobering. As our guide let us take in the magnitude of which were seeing, she led us to the Children's Peace Monument, then the Museum. This day was certainly thought provoking and was wholeheartedly different then the wide-eyed days had already spent in Japan, I am fortunate we were able to absorb part of the history.
The next day, back in Kyoto, we took the train to Fushimi Inari. Stone foxes dominated the shrine, and everywhere you looked, there were orange tori gates-one after another- leading you to another part of the shrine. As we climbed up the mountain, there were offshoots of smaller shrines. The tori gates and shrines went all the way up the mountain. That evening, we were picked up from the hotel and taken to a restaurant across the city in the mountain foothills. The opened-air restaurant was situated next to the river, and after we were served another multi course meal, met two Maikos and watched them preform.
On our last full day, we ventured to Ryōan-ji Temple, dating back to 1450. We were there early-before the other tourists and school children, and it was so serine. You can wander the temple grounds, which takes you to a perfectly manicured rock garden. There are 15 rocks in this garden, and only 14 are viewable at any angle.
From Ryōan-ji Temple, we taxied to Arashiyama, which is just west of Kyoto. Arashiyama is an outdoor district where bicycling is popular. We began this part of our journey walking the paths of the bamboo forest and popping into the local shops that line the entrance and exists. From there, we found an amazing, small sushi restaurant for lunch. When my husband ordered the fatty tuna, the chef held the fish us for us to admire before slicing it. This was the best sushi we have ever tried and it took us months to have sushi after we came home-we were ruined.
It’s a good thing we had a solid lunch, because we then ventured to Monkey Park. You literally have to climb a mountain to get there. But when we made it to the summit, over 100 Japanese macaques were there to greet us. You can feed them from a building in the middle of the park but keep your distance when wondering the grounds! This is their home and they take no issue with running in front of you. Between being fascinated by the monkeys and the stunning views of Kyoto from the top of the mountain, the hike was worth it. We relaxed by the Togetsu-kyō Bridge taking in the gorgeous scenery until we made our way back to the hotel.
That evening, we wanted Kobe beef for dinner, and wanted to do it right. The hotel made us reservations (and delivered a package to our room with our reservation time, the address of the restaurant, and the best way to get there) at one of the best Kobe restaurants in Kyoto. The restaurant itself was very small-only seating about 15 guests. As the chef prepared our meal at the teppanyaki grill in front of us, he joked that he doesn’t catch eggs in his hat like the chefs in America.
The next morning was our last, and since our transfer wasn’t until the afternoon, we had time to explore Nijō Castle. We saw the shogun’s receiving rooms and gardens, then climbed the defense towers to get one last look at Kyoto before our flight home.
Our visit to Japan was one of our best trips yet. The culture, the people, the food, has left us wanting more. This didn’t feel like a vacation, it felt like we were transported to another world. We were able to come into contact with the ancient and modern of this country-happening all within the same day. Japan-we will see you again!
Carrie has many more stories to share of her journey to Japan! Contact her to learn more and begin planning your next bucket-list trip:
Send Carrie an email
'Valentin Imperial Riviera Maya was incredible. Upon our arrival they offered an upgrade to the ocean front Imperial Suites. We took it and were so glad we did! Our rooms were on the 1st floor and walked straight out to the beach. We also liked that they were in a very quiet area and we felt we got a great deal.
We spent most of our days at the main pool. There were constant activities and you could choose to do as many as you wanted. The swim up bars were terrific and had top shelf liquor available. No one even thought of leaving the property of this all-inclusive resort.
The restaurants were amazing! They had great nightly entertainment and you could go to more than one restaurant a night if you wanted. We did appetizers at one place and main meal at another.
Everything involved with this trip was so smooth! Frontier Airlines was great and the Cancun airport has been totally renovated and was awesome. Transportation to the resort and back was also seamless.
A big thanks to our Travel Consultant Sue Deibel for everything. Highly recommended and we will return!'
Clients Steve and Patricia D. just returned this past weekend from their Star Clippers cruise and couldn't wait to share amazing pictures with their Travel Consultant Ashley Curry. Their two-week journey on the Royal Clipper whisked them away to several picturesque islands including Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and the Grenadines.
A voyage on a Star Clippers tall-ship is truly a unique travel experience. Think of it a as yacht-meets-sailboat cruise that’s guaranteed to provide you with luxury, comfort, adventure and indulgence all on the same trip. The 'informal elegance' is perfect for any traveler looking to enjoy the best of the Caribbean!
'Stacey Hoehne was amazing planning our honeymoon! She presented us with a ton of options prior to choosing St Lucia. She delivered information throughout our booking process and even made us a vacation cheat sheet folder. She picked amazing seats for us on our flight to and from St Lucia. I would have not changed a thing about our recent booking with Brentwood Travel!
Thanks so much Stacey for everything!'
Contact Stacey at 314-439-5700 ext. 128 or email her to start planning your honeymoon!
Did you know that Brentwood Travel offers a Honeymoon Registry? Click here to learn how your family and friends can help make your Honeymoon dreams come true!
"Booking our trip to Mexico with Stacey Hoehne was really easy. I gave her a couple dates and a price and she got exactly what we wanted. It was even a little under budget!
We stayed at Secrets Capri in Cancun. We really liked that it was a smaller resort and there was always plenty of space by the pool and on the beach. There was rarely a wait for any restaurants or the bar and all the employees were extremely helpful.
Stacey answered all my questions leading up to our trip and provided valuable information and advice we needed for our first trip to Mexico.'
Contact Stacey at 314-439-5700 ext. 128 or email her and start planning an all-inclusive vacation to paradise!
Our first step was finding the right company to do this with. There are only 500 trail permits admitted each day for the trail so you need a licensed guide for the trek. G Adventures was the right choice for us because we wanted a small group tour that was reputable and fit our needs. After about 50 trips to REI, I had all of the right gear to hike but I still needed the support of a great company to get me there.
I was more than impressed with how amazing the porters, cooks, and guides were along the trek. I still am not sure how the 5 ft tall porters could break down camp, pack up our tents, carry their body weight on their back, run past me on the trail, and have the next camp set up all before I arrived after carrying about 5 lbs on my back! The cooks prepared some delicious meals and even a cake for a Honeymoon couple on our trip!
Hiking the Inca Trail was truly an incredible experience for me. I know that this is not everyone's style of traveling so G Adventures also offers trips in more of a comfort level such as trips for younger travelers only, itineraries paired with National Geographic, family options and even Marine cruises.
What I enjoyed most about traveling with G Adventures was the small group experience and the special local touches. We visited the Ccaccaccollo Community and Women's Weaving Co-op where we saw the traditional ways of clothing making. We also had a beyond delicious lunch at the Parwa Community Restaurant in the Sacred Valley. These places were unexpected highlights made possible by G Adventures!
Part 2: Emily's G Adventure to Costa Rica
"Cathy Robinson put together a FABULOUS Alaskan experience for Elaine and me (Bruce).
We did the 11 day Alaskan tour, with four days on land and a seven day Inland Passage cruise on the Coral Princess. Upon arrival in Fairbanks, we were greeted by Princess staff and received our welcome packet. We were surprised by the “Meet Me Onboard” request to send a suitcase ahead to the ship. We did NOT pack a separate bag for this, so we spent a lot of time ‘repacking’ one of our suitcases. That was a minor inconvenience, as the remainder of the trip was trouble free! Our luggage was delivered to our rooms by the time we arrived at the hotels/ship.
The Discovery III riverboat cruise was the best excursion of the trip. The ship was equipped with a great sound system and video monitors, so all onboard could see and hear all narration. There were fascinating bits of information. Iditarod training camp and fishing village info was easy to hear and see. We really enjoyed that.
The Tundra Wilderness Tour was awe inspiring! The vastness of Alaska was prominently displayed and we got to see several species of wildlife – from afar. We also got to see all of Mt. Denali. We joined the 30% club of visitors that got to see the entire mountain top.
The two Princess lodges were beautiful. They were rustic looking and very accommodating. We purchased the on land food package and certainly got our money’s worth. We could order anything on the menus, with no exceptions. All the food tasted great. The bus drivers for excursions were all courteous and explained in detail what we were seeing and some history of the area. Despite the rain, the train ride to Whittier was entertaining and visually stunning.
The Coral Princess was clean and the staff was VERY friendly and again, the food was really delicious. We did purchase the ‘all beverage’ package on the ship and that worked out well. We had no questions on any drink we could order including call drinks.
There was a lot of notice of invo-virus and signs to wash hands frequently. There were Purell hand sanitizers by all restaurants, shops, elevator lobbies and stairwells. However, they were not ‘forcing’ you to sanitize before entering restaurants – especially the buffet (sanitizing was mandatory on other cruise lines we have sailed). We recommend sanitizing hands before and after dining
They brought naturalists on board to discuss what we were seeing in Glacier Bay and as we entered and cruised the Inland Waterway. They were very informative and helped all to view humpback whales, sea otters and Orca killer whales during our journey.
The shore excursion disembarkments were well coordinated. We had no delays leaving or re-entering the ship. The meeting points on shore were well marked. Bus drivers to and from the excursions were informative and very helpful with participants with disabilities, or problems getting on/off the buses.
Our three shore excursions were:
This was our first trip to Alaska and our first time on Princess Cruise Line. We will not hesitate to recommend Brentwood Travel to our friends and we will have them coordinate our next major travel event."
Start planning your Alaska adventure by emailing Cathy or contact her at 314-439-5700 Ext. 114.
"Cynthia Friedenberg's attention to the needs of her customers is outstanding. Last year I mentioned a desire to combine some time in London and cruise the Norwegian fjords. Months after that conversation, she contacted me with news of the perfect cruise to meet my travel desires.
Oceania had introduced a new 11-day itinerary, including five days visiting the fjords, departing from Southampton and returning to Southampton. My husband and I happily booked the trip.
Transfers went smoothly, our hotel in London was in a good location and lovely. The Oceana Marina offered a superior shipboard experience.
Thanks to the planning of Ms. Friedenberg, an outstanding travel agent, our entire trip was perfect."
Brentwood Travel clients Bob and Mary Jo worked with travel consultant Ashley Curry and traveled with Globus Tours to explore several National Parks by coach, raft, and even by helicopter. We asked them to share their amazing pictures to inspire fellow travelers to plan their own journey to these treasured places.
My wife and I have been fortunate to travel extensively worldwide for the past 50 years, but we never visited a group of National Parks. We were referred by our friends after they took the 14-day "Parks & Canyons Spectacular" through Globus Tours. They booked their trip through Brentwood Travel and Ashley and highly recommended all three.
We and a couple we have traveled with for years were delighted with all aspects of the tour. It satisfied several bucket list items: Mount Rushmore, Old Faithful and Grand Canyon.
The wildlife in Yellowstone was fantastic. We even saw a black bear mother and her cubs, one of which climbed a tree. The Grand Tetons were the most spectacular range. We toured the Grand Canyon by helicopter and took a float trip down the Snake River.
But the surprising highlight of the tour was a walk through Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ. The views and vistas created by the light seeping into the canyon were spectacular.
Our accommodations, food and coach were first class, as were our guide Daryl and driver John.
We highly recommend Globus, Brentwood Travel, and Ashley.
Start your National Parks adventure by emailing Ashley or contact her at 314-439-5700 Ext. 127.
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