Tohoku off the beaten track and Tokyo adventure
Japan | May 15 - May 28, 2024

laurie
laurie w.
Westfield, NJ | Reviewed on Jun 03, 2024

I cannot say enough about the level of service, patience, detail and organization that Sandy, our contact at KimKim and Odynovo, provided. I changed my mind and plans so many times in the planning process and she always responded with cheer and a desire to help me achieve our goals. We had an extremely seamless vacation experience in Japan, and I credit this to her and her team's incredible organizational skills. We never had an issue checking into a hotel, meeting a guide, with a reservation or anything. I didn't realize until we got there how much arranging they had done in terms of reserving a time for us to canoe; meet our guides; planning out trains; etc. Sandy checked in on us many times during our stay in Japan and always wanted to make sure we were having the best experience. I am so pleased we worked with them. Some of our desires may have been difficult to achieve since we were travelling in a less touristed region but they made it happen. There are too many great details of our trip to list all, but I will add some highlights and then a few things that we (or mostly I) would do slightly differently next time. I do want to go back soon and I would definitely use KimKim and Odynovo again.
Highlights- our guides Kohmin, Tomoko and Chie were all so interesting and knowledgeable, and gave us so much insight into local culture and history. Chie in particular is a riot and very personable. We really enjoyed the tuna auction and fish market in Shiogama; those were very different and uncrowded experiences I can't imagine that most tourists get to experience. Matsushima was beautiful and we loved going to the little tea house with Kohmin and Tomoko. With Chie, we explored Yamadera, which is a beautiful mountaintop shrine where we climbed up for gorgeous views and we had a fun local lunch with her and took local trains. One of our most memorable stays that Odynovo booked for us was in the ryokan in Tendo; what a beautiful, soothing and fancy cultural experience with gorgeously served meals I will never forget. I would have liked a little more time in this area. Kakunodate was also very memorable; we loved the samurai district tours with Koh and he also took us to a nearby waterfall. We went back ourselves the next day before leaving for Tokyo and were going to go on a hike up the hill for a view of the town but there were bears in the area! Instead we walked around this lovely town more, had coffee in a little and interesting local place and lunch in the hotel. It would be amazing at cherry blossom time, I'm sure and is quite famous for that. I had found a farm stay called Midori No Kaze but couldn't get in touch with them; Sandy did and booked that for us. It isn't for everyone - very rustic and basic, just 2 roooms in a couple's house, but we really enjoyed being outside the town and walking around their rice fields. They are incredibly hospitable. From the reviews online I had thought we could participate in some farm activities; though that didn't happen, we still had a great time just staying over there. Kazuko, the owner, is Internet savvy and books guests from all over who want something a little different. We really liked her and she even was happy to speak very simple slow Japanese with me so that I could practice! Our other favorite activity which Odynovo booked for us was canoeing in a group in the submerged forest in Lake Ishikawa, an opportunity that only comes along a couple of months a year in the spring when the snows from Mt. Ide melt. A very unique opportunity and fun to be the only foreigners in the group at a beautiful spot. The guides always called ahead to let various activities and hotels know we were coming and make us feel welcome.
The only things I would have done differently are more my responsibility. For example, I would have liked more time to just wander by ourselves through some of the towns. Ginbekei Gorge was a disappointment and I should have read more about it before hand- I was mixing it up in my head with another gorge in the area. At Ginbekei, I thought we could hike and walk around a lot but there are no trails. The "flying dango" were fun to see but I could have skipped this place altogether if I had known more about it, and would have preferred doing something else outdoors in a more expansive natural area. I think that KimKim may want to let people know if a particular activity is not necessarily the best use of their time, but of course again this is something that I should have been aware of myself. The only other thing I would have done differently is upgrade my hotel in Tokyo to one with a slightly bigger room since we were there 5 days. The Knot staff is absolutely lovely, and breakfasts were delicious, and it is opposite a really nice park, so it was fine. The staff also helped me arrange a reservation at a local jazz club one night. However, while Japanese hotel rooms can be small, I know, the KNot's are REALLY small with no place to put our clothes during a longer stay. Also, had I researched it a bit more, while it is good to be near the station, but Shinjuku is really crowded and huge and a little exhausting, so next time I would maybe stay in a slightly quieter area such as Asakusa, or rent an Air BnB if I'm going to be somewhere for more than a few nights.
In Tokyo, Odynovo arranged a fabulous tea ceremony demonstration for us with Mariko, and we were the only people besides one other Japanese woman and we had the BEST time. Thank you! So interesting to learn about. It is right next to the Kabuki Theater so we bought tickets to a performance there ourselves. On our own, we took the bus to Lake Kawaguchi one day to see views of Mt. Fuji and walk around, and that was also a great experience and awe-inspiring. W

I'd also like to be able to speak on the phone with the agency more at the beginning of the planning stage next time although email/ KimKim platforms works very well. Sandy is incredibly responsive, knowledgeable and diplomatic and I really credit her with making our trip such an easy and memorable one!!! She is amazing.

Hotel Reviews
Hotel Metropolitan Sendai East
Sendai

Great location, nice staff, amazing breakfast selections (Japanese and western). We enjoyed being above the lively and convenient station in Sendai. The room was very tiny, which is not unusual for hotels in Japanese cities though.

Authenticity & Character
Location
Staff
Cleanliness & Comfort
Tsunagi Onsen Hotel Shion

We really enjoyed it but it's a little different. Feels kind of like a Japanese version of a Catskills hotel. There is a large banquet room for meals (food is great!). People go around the whole hotel in their yukatas. Mostly older people or families with young children. We were the only foreigners at the time which was enjoyable for us! Staff is very nice. There are some stores in the lobby and there was a dance show after dinner that we enjoyed. Beautiful view of the lake. We loved the futons and our tatami room which was really comfortable.

Authenticity & Character
Location
Very pretty view of the lake. Hotel is outside Morioka. We didn't find Morioka all that interesting since it is after cherry blossom season.
Staff
Cleanliness & Comfort
Activity Reviews
Tuna Auction & Fish Market Breakfast in Shiogama
Tuna Auction & Fish Market Breakfast in Shiogama
Sendai
Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
Encounter Splendid Nature: Matsushima Bay Cruise and Zuiganji Temple
Encounter Splendid Nature: Matsushima Bay Cruise and Zuiganji Temple
Matsushima

Beautiful views of the bay and islands. Our guides were great in figuring out the best place to take the boat from and also took us to a lovely tea house in Matsushima.

Visit Yamadera, a Historic Mountain Temple
Visit Yamadera, a Historic Mountain Temple
Yamagata

One of the highlights of our trip. It is a moderate climb up the mountain on steps and you get incredible views. Our intrepid and fun guide, Chie, also told us many great anecdotes and information about what we were seeing.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
We took local trains. We had our luggage with us, and while I was at first dismayed I had not arranged for luggage transport or been advised to do so earlier, Chie helped us figure out where to store our luggage in the train stations and it was very easy. I was glad we just had carry on size bags too. Not a problem.
Lake Shirakawa
Lake Shirakawa
Zao Onsen

Beautiful lake area! I would have liked to spend time hiking in this area but I didn't fully research it before going. The views from the lake of the Mt. Iwate are stunning and we had so much fun canoeing with a group in the submerged forest.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
Discover Hiraizumi: Chusonji Temple, Motsuji Temple, and Genbikei Gorge
Discover Hiraizumi: Chusonji Temple, Motsuji Temple, and Genbikei Gorge
Hiraizumi

Gorge was disappointing - no place to really hike or do much - it's pretty but limited - see main review. I could have spent this time elsewhere.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
A little far for what we ended up doing there. The town seems kind of sad as well.
Delve into Samurai Culture in Kakunodate: Samurai Quarter and Sake Brewery Visit
Delve into Samurai Culture in Kakunodate: Samurai Quarter and Sake Brewery Visit
Kakunodate machi

We loved Kakunodate - a lovely small town and it was great to just stroll the streets and learn about the bygone culture.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
Learn about Miso and Soy Sauce Making: Ando Jozo Brewery Honten
Learn about Miso and Soy Sauce Making: Ando Jozo Brewery Honten
Kakunodate machi

We ended up skipping these as we had already been to a whisky and sake factory and I thought this would be too much of the same. In general next time I would incorporate more free time to just walk around interesting towns or spend more time in nature walking or hiking. (Only gave the one star since we didn't do this)

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
Just gave those
Tea Ceremony in Tokyo
Tea Ceremony in Tokyo
Tokyo

A wonderful and interesting activity! Very intimate and enjoyable and Odynovo gave us great directions to get there.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
Transport
We got there easily by public transportation.
Local specialist: Sandy Ren
Sandy
Sandy Ren
Local specialist in Japan | Replied on Jun 04, 2024
Dear laurie, Hope you are doing fantastic.Thank you so much for sharing your overall´╝îconsiderate feedback and enjoyable experience with us.From arranging unique experiences like the tuna auction and fish market in Shiogama to booking memorable stays at ryokans and coordinating activities like canoeing in Lake Ishikawa,it's our great honor and pleasure to make your vacation in Japan unforgettable.Your highlights of the trip, from the insightful guides to the charming towns and awe-inspiring... Read more

Dear laurie,

Hope you are doing fantastic.Thank you so much for sharing your overall´╝îconsiderate feedback and enjoyable experience with us.From arranging unique experiences like the tuna auction and fish market in Shiogama to booking memorable stays at ryokans and coordinating activities like canoeing in Lake Ishikawa,it's our great honor and pleasure to make your vacation in Japan unforgettable.Your highlights of the trip, from the insightful guides to the charming towns and awe-inspiring natural beauty, paint a vivid picture of the incredible journey you had.Our guides' humour, knowledge, and personality clearly left a lasting impression and they made your trip easy and memorable. It's great to know this.

Your constructive feedback is also greatly appreciated. It's valuable to hear your thoughts on areas for improvement, such as providing more information about certain activities and offering options for quieter accommodations in Tokyo. Your suggestions will undoubtedly help enhance the experience for future travelers.Thank you so much for your kindness and understanding.

It's wonderful to hear that you're already considering returning to Japan and using KimKim and Odynovo again for your future adventures. Here's too many more amazing journeys ahead, with my team at KimKim and Odynovo by your side.Wait for you back to Japan again in the future.

Warmest regards,
Sandy