Cultural and scenic honshu, Japan - Oct 21 - Nov 4, 2018
Firstly, Kana (who you've asked us to rate above) initially handled our booking but we were then changed to Shakira when Kana went on maternity leave and then had no one specifically for the last week when Shakira went to Japan herself. These changes did not cause any problems but were a bit disconcerting. Obviously dealing with one consultant all the way through would be preferable.
And certainly one of the things we really liked was your responsiveness when we had a query, including one when we were in Japan. This was excellent.
Overall the trip was great and everything went very smoothly. The only hiccup was on Day 20. Because of flooding our train from Kii-Katsuura was 4 hrs late getting to Nagoya which meant we well and truly missed our connecting train to Tokyo. However JR were very efficient in getting us on to another train once we had arrived in Nagoya.
Your organisation was excellent. All of our train and bus journeys, our accommodation and pre-arranged guides and events happened exactly as planned. The accommodation you booked for us included traditional ryokans as we had requested and these were a great experience. Your advice re on-forwarding of luggage proved to be spot on and we ended up really appreciating not having to lug it all around all the time. All our guides and pre-arranged experiences (e.g. tea ceremony, Kyoto bike ride) were excellent.
Your documentation was really excellent, very comprehensive. The key Itinerary document was comprehensive, well laid out and very useful. The booklets for each location (Tokyo, Kyoto etc) were also really comprehensive and useful.
There are a few comments etc we would like to make, not necessarily in any order.
Your book said the Daiwa Roynet in Kanazawa might not want to assist with filling out of Takkyubin forms. In fact they could not have been more helpful. Maybe they have had a change of attitude.
Your documentation suggests tipping in Ryokans. This seems to be at odds with other advice, e.g. from Japan Tourism who say no. This needs some clarification.
The map and location description for our Minshuku in Tsumago were hopelessly inadequate. A much more detailed map and description are needed. Noting that it is very close to the Tourist Information Centre would be a good start. We only found it after enquiring there.
The itinerary said to get to our hotel in Kyoto to take exit 22 from Shijo station. There is no exit 22. This should read exit 2.
The itinerary says the train from Shin-Osaka to Kii-Tanabe is "as scenic ride along the coast for nearly the whole route". That's a bit misleading. In fact it is nowhere near the coast for most of the journey and you really only get the odd glimpse of coast.
The information on Shirakawago is a bit misleading if you take the public bus from Kanazawa as we did. The Shirakawago booklet implies that the public bus stops adjacent to the open air museum at the south end of town and talks about immediately crossing the suspension bridge. This is where all the tourist buses stop but not the public bus which stops at the information centre at the north end of town, nowhere near the suspension bridge.
We would suggest changing how you organise the Nakasendo walk section - days 9 and 10 of our itinerary. You had us taking a limited express train from Matsumoto to Nakatsugawa then a local train back up the line to Nagiso then walking from Nagiso to Tsumago that afternoon. Next day walking to Magome and catching a bus to Nakatsugawa. After reviewing this a day or so before day 9 I decided we would do it the other way around. Thus on day 9 we took the train to Nakatsugawa, then took the bus to Magome (there was a bus essentially immediately) and then walked to Tsumago. On Day 10 we walked Tsumago to Nagiso, took a local train to Nakatsugawa and then continued on as originally planned. I think this works better for a couple of reasons. Firstly it gives you all afternoon to walk to Tsumago without any time pressure due to having to catch a bus. The other way around you are under time pressure to get to the Magome bus in time, and in fact we met another couple organised by Inside Japan Australia who did it the way you planned and due to reasons associated with their accommodation had to really hurry to get the Magome bus. Secondly, doing it Magome to Tsumago is easier in that it is more downhill than uphill. Doing it this way then makes for a very leisurely walk to Nagiso on the second day and plenty of time to explore Tsumago if needed and Nagiso. There is a bit of wait in Nagiso to catch a local train to Nakatsugawa but there are things to see there - the historic wooden suspension bridge, impressive river and an excellent park on the other side of the river. Overall I was very happy that we switched this around and would recommend that you consider doing so yourselves in future.
Having the pre-organised shuttle bus to get from Narita to our hotel on arrival was a good thing but for the return journey to Narita on departure I would suggest that you offer catching the train as an option. By this stage we were very familiar with how the trains worked etc and this would have been an easy and quicker (and presumably less expensive) option than the shuttle bus.
So what did we really like? Everything! The Japanese people are so friendly, efficient and helpful. The food was a great experience although Japanese food for breakfast was not really to our liking! The language was challenging but we always coped with a mix of Google translate (having a translate app on our phone was very useful), signs and what little language each of us had. The autumn colours up around Takayama and Matsumoto and other places were spectacular. We loved all the gardens and the temples, shrines and castles are amazing. We thought Kanazawa was fabulous with so many and varied things to do, We thought that Arashiyama was a better place than Nara - we did the Hozu River boat ride and that was a real highlight - thoroughly recommend it. Although you did not organise it, the five day trek along the Kumano Kodo trail was also a highlight for us. We loved it. We don't know if you offer that as an option but if not we would highly recommend that you do for appropriate (fit and healthy - it's quite challenging!) clients.
Would we recommend Inside Japan to others? Absolutely.