In the January issue of Recommend, we gave you four of our favorite city picks that illustrate both the hip and traditional sides of Japan. G Adventures offers two itineraries to explore this picturesque country filled with anime culture and vast traditions. Our associate editor, Michelle Marie Arean, had a chance to chat with Alistair Butchers, innovation manager for G Adventures, and Tim Chan, G Adventures’ public relations manager, on what are some hidden gems your clients should take in.
Michelle Marie Arean (MMA): Tell us a little about the itineraries to Japan.
Alistair Butchers (AB): Discover Japan [$4,499 pp for 14 days] visits Kanazawa, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Takayama—places people don’t know so much about. The main attraction in Kanazawa is the temple—it has walls built that didn’t go anywhere, hidden rooms—you can get lost in them for a day. In Kanazawa the castles are a major attraction. [The city’s] ninja temple was designed to be a sanctuary. Ninjas were assasins to major clans…they’d go to this temple to hide out. Many temples have hidden passages and doorways to get out and avoid attacks.
[Travelers can take also in the] white castles and the romantic imagery of Japan, like Samuri. People think of Tokyo as the main area like a fishing market, or shopping [district]…The areas I really enjoy are more off-the-beaten-path. In Asakusa, there’s a temple that most people visit, a street away from the temple is a place where people make plastic food—there are lots of areas of Japan where people display plastic food instead of the real food.
On our tour we also visit Hiroshima, one of most fascinating cities in the world. It’s a really green city with lots of parks…off the coast of Hiroshima is an island called Miyajima Island, which has a red gateway around shrines, etc. in the middle of the bay…you can see it in the middle of the temple. It’s one of top three most beautiful sites in Japan.
Kyoto is very famous for its temples, some are very iconic structures like the gold temple and silver temple. The space between them, called “pholosophous path,” is where guests can visit a zen garden along the way. The path is a great way to see the history of Kyoto—the path runs from north to the east.
Kyoto’s Gion is another famous area—it kept the more traditional way of life. People go there to train to be Geishas. You can see Geishas walking around in full makeup; it’s a different side of Japan that you normally see in Tokyo. G Adventures spends three days in this area. The Geisha viewing isn’t part of the tour, but can be included as part of the trip.
You can spend three days just visiting the temples. It’s also famous for the food like Kyo-Ryori, which is a multi-course meal. All are different, small plates of food that are [eaten at] a traditional dining style at low table—it’s a full-meal experience.
Tim Chan (TC): Foodies definitely won’t be disappointed when visiting Kyoto. Food is a big part of the experience.
AB: The Backroads of Japan [$3,599 pp for 12 days] itinerary visits Kurashiki, Nagano, Takayama, Kyoto and Tokyo. We see the same type of areas in Tokyo, but keep some free time in Tokyo so guests can explore for themselves.
We also visit different areas like the Japanese tradition of hot springs that can be found in Matsumoto in Jigokudani Park, which is a monkey park. Monkeys use it to keep warm in winter [and can be seen in the hot springs]. Matsumoto has lots of pine trees, lots of mountains, and there’s also lots of time to wander around and see a more traditional way of life in Takayama. Guests can also visit a traditional saki brewery.
MMA: Do you have any family-friendly itineraries to Japan?
AB: The minimum age is 12 for these trips. I would’ve been fascinated by Japan at that age…I was 29 when I first went.
MMA: What are some unique/hip things travelers should see or do when in in Japan?
AB: In Nara, beers. Just wander around Beer Park-The Nara Park.
In Tokyo, go around Harajuku on a Sunday. Teenagers dress up…hang out at the entrance to the major shrine in strange customes. They hang around in groups in costumes from goth culture to anime characters, colorful wigs, bows in the hair; it’s the anime version of the Harajuku style. Sumo wrestling in Toyko is interesting to see. It’s Japan’s major sport. Sumo wrestlers are as famous as a sports person here [in the U.S.].
MMA: Who is booking tours to Japan? Where is the traveler visiting? What’s the demographic?
AB: All ages. Japan appeals to everyone. People who are fascinated with culture and history, or people who want to experience the country. It’s an easy country to travel around. People are looking for experiences they can’t necessarily have by themselves.
MMA: Do you see many second-time travelers to Japan? If so, what are travelers seeking on their second visit to the area? What are they looking to see or do the second time around?
AB: It’s such a varied country and so much to see. We do see people coming back for more than one visit. A lot of people go to see Tokyo and Kyoto. The two itineraries let travelers see different parts of the country, like going to the mountains and seeing a Japanese house versus seeing a more urbanized side of Japan.
For more on Japan, don’t miss our feature in the January 2015 issue, Hip and Traditional Japan.