Find Adventure with Me on My Amazing Tour of Japan

tour of Japan
Under the 1,000 torii gates.

A tour of Japan and so much more.

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo. It is the busiest intersection in the world. 2,000 people cross the street at every light.

Where is my favorite destination? I often get asked this question and truthfully this is nearly impossible to answer! We travel to many extraordinary places, so I usually answer with whatever place I have just returned from! So today, my favorite place in the world is Japan. Seriously it is. My recent tour of Japan, Cultural Treasures of Japan by Collette Travel, allowed me to dive in to a culture and experience things I never knew existed!

tour of Japan
Traveling from Tokyo through the rocky mountains was an incredible experience. Have you ever seen colors like this?

Japan is Mount Fuji, advanced technology, pristine streets, tiny cars, packs of pedestrians, snowy mountains, warm noodles, respect, elegance and inspiration. The country is filled with grand, ancient temples, bright vermilion bridges, sticky rice and freshly caught fish. Phenomenal shopping, bountiful restaurants and diverse architecture can be found everywhere and there is so much more.

tour of Japan
Vermillion bridge – Takayama. The bridge is painted this brilliant shade of red in order to ward off evil spirits.

Honestly, a tour is a must.

I am not saying this because Collette Travel invited me to experience the Cultural Treasures of Japan Tour, but because I can say unequivocally, I could have never planned a trip like this. Even if I researched for weeks, there were so many unique opportunities and nuances that were impossible to duplicate.

The word  “authentic” certainly describes our tour experience, but it’s more than that. It was personal, intimate and enlightening. Combining Japan’s long and unique history with an expert guide, can be a powerful duo! Our delightful guide Kazumi was our personal liaison and she made sure that every detail was accomplished and her expert commentating created the perfect travel scenario.

tour of Japan
Enjoying the day with Kazumi and tour mate Josie.
tour of Japan
The group in Tokyo

In addition, I met nineteen fantastic individuals from four different countries! We got to know each other and for me, my tour was greatly enhanced because of all of them. Everything was planned for us, but there was still a little wiggle room for me to go and meander on my own. No worries, no confusion, all handled seamlessly. That is the way to travel to a country that is especially complicated and oh so foreign to me.

Tokyo is off the charts amazing.

tour of Japan
It was still a little early in the season to see many cherry blossoms, but we did find a few blooming

Move over Sydney, Tokyo has become my new favorite city in the world. That is a tall order, but this city impressed me. A lot. It is sophisticated, elegant, fashionable, delicious, stylish, vibrant, clean and exciting. It is a perfect mix of fashion-forward and ancient architecture. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning!

tour of Japan
A very friendly vendor at the Tokyo Fish Market

I started to make a list of all of the unique experiences and the places we visited, but as the number was climbing past twenty-five, I realized in order not to write a book, I must just hit the highlights. But to be clear, that list of twenty-five was just for our time in Tokyo! Imagine! I will come back and write a post specifically dedicated to Tokyo as well as some other adventures that require a more detailed look. Japan is far too amazing and complex not to revisit on the blog several times.

Temples, Bridges &  Landscapes – Oh My!

tour of Japan
Golden Pavilion, Kyoto. The top two floors are covered in gold leaf.
tour of Japan
Senso-ji Temple
tour of Japan
Lantern at Senso-ji Temple

 

Delicious dishes for every food lover as well as the prettiest plates!

What I loved most about the food of Japan was the creativity. They can make a bowl of broth and some noodles seem like a feast. We were so fortunate to devour meal after meal of fresh sushi, veggie and shrimp tempura, grilled Hida beef (like Kobe), yakatori, and MORE!

tour of Japan
This might be everyone’s favorite dinner. A set menu of local Hida beef and veggies that we cooked on our own personal grill in Takayama.

The presentation of every dish was worthy of applause! The service is kind and doting and we never had to think twice about it. At every stop we visited a local establishment, sampled the local specialty and engaged with the people there. You could not have asked for a more immersive foodie adventure! Look for an upcoming post about the details of my meals! You know how I love my food photography!

tour of Japan
Looks like art. Very pretty first course on our final evening in Kyoto

 

Experience the Culture

 

In each big city and small village, Kazumi would give us the back story and history of the area and touch on the uniqueness of the architecture and art. We walked through houses in Shirakawago, another UNESCO site, where each roof was thatched and made of three-foot thick pampas grass. A tradition that has been in this village for hundreds of years.

We walked through exquisite Japanese gardens, climbed high into ancient black castles, strolled through old samurai villages, tasted sake and discovered beautiful rock gardens. We even took the Shinkansen (The Bullet Train) to Kyoto.

tour of Japan
The design of the roof is called gassho-zukuri-style (resembling two hands joined in prayer).
tour of Japan
One more spectacular temple in Kyoto
Tour of Japan
On a rainy day, we climbed all the way up inside the ancient Matsumoto Castle, known as the “Crow Castle” because of the black exterior.

There was just enough of a history lesson to complete the excursions but not too much where you felt like you were in school. The balance was just perfect. Everyone loved it. We learned about hand painting kimono fabric and the gold leaf process in Kanazawa. I even decorated my own bento box with gold leaf!

tour of Japan
The magnificent bamboo forest, just north of Kyoto.
tour of Japan
The lovely Japanese garden in Kanazawa
tour of Japan
Decorating a bento box in gold leaf in Kanazawa

 

The people are so special.

tour of Japan
These young ladies were dressed in traditional kimonos. They were so beautiful and sweet.

If I had to narrow down my long list of “loves” of Japan, my top love would have to be the people. They greet  you with huge smiles even when we don’t share the same language. Always considerate, bowing to let us pass first, our comfort was important to them. Very often the local people wanted to learn where we were from and we met so many friendly folks every single day!

tour of Japan
Students in Kyoto on a scavenger hunt! My favorite photo.

On this day we went to visit the extraordinary bamboo forest and as I was walking along the street a group of high school students stopped me to ask if I would take a photo with them. My first reaction was “Oh they want to take a photo with an American!” No, they were on a scavenger hunt and needed to take a photo with someone with a Canon camera with a larger lens. I happened to be walking with Kazumi and she interpreted for me.

She told them I was a blogger and they thought that was super cool and they loved my cartoon on my Adventures of Empty Nesters business card. I love this photo. It is was such genuine experience.

tour of Japan
In Takayama, the hotel staff came out to wave goodbye and stayed waving until our bus was out of sight!

 

P.S. – Don’t forget the shopping!

tour of Japan
Takeshita Street in the Harajuku District, Tokyo

 

Japan has many unique shopping districts like the crazy crowded Harajuku Neighborhood in Tokyo, that Gwen Stefani sang about, the Ginza, the Gion and Shibuya, just to name a few! My favorite store of all was in Tokyo in the Ginza and was called Itoya – A twelve-story home and stationery store that would blow your mind. I have never seen such specialized, laser cut, 3-D, rainbow-inspired products anywhere in the world.

Final thoughts of my tour of Japan ~

The Cultural Treasures of Japan tour exceeded every expectation! This insider’s itinerary included so many delights and it was such a treat to experience what every traveler would want to see, but never knew existed. The colors, the beauty, the incredible culinary feasts were all part of my magical adventure in Japan. I will dream of this trip for a very long time and lucky for me I can revisit this tour every time I am on my blog! I hope you will consider moving Japan to the top spot of your “Adventure List”, you will not be disappointed.

Please visit here later this week for some detailed stories of my Japan foodie adventures! Make sure you don’t miss a post, by leaving your email in the box to the right, to receive our posts every time we publish them.

Hope you enjoyed it!


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19 Responses to Find Adventure with Me on My Amazing Tour of Japan

  1. Love! Looks like you had a wonderful trip. I love Japan as you well know and look forward to returning some day. Our Aussie travelmates already have. Terrific post.
    XO
    Angela

  2. Suzanne, I love all your photos in this article! And I completely agree that an organized tour is ideal for Japan. I visited Tokyo for a few days and planned everything myself–it was not easy. I often got lost and felt like I was wasting time just trying to get from place to place. I promised myself that when I return I will do so with a tour group so that I can better appreciate this beautiful country and culture.

    • Thanks for your comment Wendy – It was a magical trip and I am so thrilled that someone else like Collette created it for me!

    • Ha Ha – Nakita is nice, but it doesnt quite have the magic that the rest of the country has! I hope you get to Japan soon, I know you will love it!

  3. Suzanne, this article was so well done and the photos just popped. It was wonderful being on the tour with you and I agree with everything you wrote. Hope to do another tour with you, but I would like to go back to Japan.

  4. Suzanne, your article was so well written and I agree with all that you said. Your photos just popped and were so fabulous. It was lovely traveling on this tour with you. Hope to do another with you.

    • Thank you for the compliments! It was quite the most amazing tour and even better traveling with lovely people like you!

    • Yes Pascal, we can continue to relive this incredible adventure, right here on the blog! Thanks for reading and for your comments. Meeting you and Laure was a highlight for me!

    • Thank you so much Judy!It looks like you had a great trip on a Viking Cruise, I look forward to reading all about it on your blog!

  5. Yea Japan must be amazing. I love their culture and arhitecture. I also heard that it is expensive. Did you find it expensive? Well, at the end it is worth visiting for sure.

    • That is a really great question, I guess I need to write about that. No, I did not find it nearly as expensive as I was prepared for. To me is seemed to be as expensive as going to New York City. I am not saying that it is cheap, but definitely worth visiting on any budget!

  6. Sounds like you had an amazing time. japan always fascinated me with their culture and traditional dress kimonos. pictures are looking so beautiful thanks for sharing this post with us.

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