This is Part 2 of the Japanese trip report written by my son Dennis, 16.
For the first three days of the trip, the family group (Dennis and his grandparents) explored Tokyo on their own (and with a private tour guide), and on day 4 they have joined Globus tour.
A Note on Globus Tour Group.
Our Globus tour group was comprised of people from all over United States, Canada and Australia – I had plenty of great company. We were all provided with portable listening devices so we could listen to the tour guide at every location, which came very handy.
DAY 6. More of Mount Fuji. On to Matsumoto and Takayama. Karaoke “Bar”.
Thankfully the skies cleared up this morning as we woke up in our hotel on lake Kawaguchi and my prayers were rewarded: Mt. Fuji was – however vaguely – visible! We stopped at a small town across the lake for a few hours of photo opportunity.
There was a nice farmers’ market nearby where I browsed the produce. From there we continued onwards to a town of Matsumoto with its authentically recreated Matsumoto Castle that was a glee to behold.
I even posed with some resident samurai and ninjas!
The inside of the Garrison featured interesting displays telling the story of the samurai who fought in the castle. Watch your footing: the stairs are very steep, and as someone who is 6”1’ and towers above the average Japanese person I felt out of my element. A nearby Matsumoto City Museum had many fascinating pieces of Japanese history on display.
Finally, it was time to hit the road again to our next town and hotel to unwind. This prefecture, Takayama, is renowned for its beef dishes.
I decided to go for a run – and rediscovered the reason why I recommend running in foreign lands: no tourists were milling about, and the sun illuminated the rustic town in a warm glow. I ran along the river and even discovered an empty shrine high up in the hills!
Later that day, for dinner, my grandparents and I walked until we found a nice Italian-inspired diner, where we discovered other members from our group. I enjoyed a very delectable steak and spaghetti. However, my night was just beginning: I was eager to go try my hand at some Karaoke with a fellow teen in our group.
After asking at the hotel for the nearest Karaoke Bar and a quick walk, we arrived at our destination. Now to clarify: although called a “Bar”, Karaoke locations are simply a collection of private Karaoke-equipped rooms that you rent hourly; you can order beverages and snacks over an intercom. The song selection was sufficiently varied and there were plenty of American songs: Japanese people really love their Michael Jackson! After singing until my vocal chords blew out, we made our way back to the hotel to get ready for our early morning adventures.
DAY 8. More of Takayama.
Rising early at the behest of our group guide, we made our way to the Takayama’s morning market. The streets worth of stores offering every sort of product under the sun were on display, with samples of teas and local snacks offered up at every turn.
Unable to restrain myself I purchased a bag of wasabi tea, Sake cups, and a wooden samurai sword, all at affordable prices.
We marched on to see some interesting locations: first, the temple of 1000 Buddhas. This magnificent temple has an atmosphere of solemnity, and while no photographs were allowed inside the temple, take my word that this was a temple you cannot afford to miss.
Next, we continued to a Hachiken-Machi, a building used for imperial offices in Edo Period (1692-1868).
We then returned to the hotel where I set off an another run, this time accidentally running into a pole as I crossed the entire town from top to bottom.
We joined our tour group for a special group dinner at the hotel, where we all came dressed in kimono, which I found very comfortable.
DAY 9. Shirakawa. Kanazawa.
After a bus ride through the Japanese Alps, we began our sightseeing day by visiting remote town of Shirakawa, home to several Unesco World Heritage sites. This beautiful village is relatively untouched by modernity; the houses here are of unique ancient Japanese style called Gassho-Zukuri (“joined hands”) that could be only found here. You feel as if you are in a storybook (at least until you find yourself in one of the many gift shops).
Natural beauty of this place got me completely enchanted as we walked around the town before continuing to our next destination of the day, Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa, dating to 1670s.
This park is serene and tranquil and I enjoyed it immensely (despite the intense heat!).
We continued to our next planned activity, which was a fun trip to a specialty shop where we added our own designs to traditional Bento Boxes. (For those that don’t know: Bento Boxes are essentially Japanese lunch boxes).
We arrived at our hotel in Kanazawa where I spent the rest of the day shopping at a local mall, managing to secure a very cheap tank top that seemed to be the only appropriate clothing for the scorching temperatures.
DAY 10. On to Kyoto.
In the morning we traveled along the Sea of Japan to an amazing Fushimi-ku area in the city of Kyoto, where a majestic temple and a glorious mountain path laid in store.
I managed to climb only halfway up but the trek was too long to do in the time limit our group imposed. I managed to snag some nice gifts in the form of fans in the many shops that were in the surrounding area. We continued our tour with an excursion to the Geisha district of Gion.
Geishas are a very interesting part of Japanese history and I highly recommend reading “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden for an in-depth insight on the topic. My grandparents and I found dinner in a small restaurant with very good food, and despite language barriers we were able to order and eat our fill.
For a full list of what to do in Kyoto, check this Get Your Guide site.
DAY 11. Kita-ku. Nara.
We started our most intensive sightseeing day in Japan by heading to Kita-ku, an unperturbed park with a magnificent castle and an ancient tree that has been alive for hundreds of years.
A stop for lunch quickly followed, but with a twist: we made the food! At a cooking class we made our own sushi, beef stir-fry, and other traditional dishes.
We continued onwards to Nara, an oldest capital of Japan also known for its reverence for deer. As we explored the city and its temples I took many photos with deer and almost started a brawl with a particularly rambunctious herd.
We ended our day by stopping at the major mall at the Kyoto Train Station with my newfound tour group friends – for some nice shopping and exploration of this futuristic mall/train station structure.
DAY 12. Free day in Kyoto.
Today was a free day, which after intense sightseeing of the last couple of days, my grandparents and I decided to spend shopping.
We ended our tour with a group dinner at the hotel that was enjoyed by all. We said our goodbyes and all continued on our separate paths in life come morning.
My grandparents and I really enjoyed exploring Japan with the group tour. We were able to see many different (some very remote) areas that would have been quite difficult, if not impossible, to reach on our own, and I made new friends.