Japan-Not on a Shoestring! Contributed by Danelle Storm Rosati

We are thrilled to share a post from Danelle Storm Rosati who recently traveled to Japan with her husband, Mario, and their close friends; ostensibly, for Chery Blossom Festival, but as we all know, Japan is so much more than April Cherry Blossoms. We will add second post with her fabulous photos soon. Please enjoy, and thank you to Danelle. 

If you have been considering a trip to Japan, I recommend it wholeheartedly and with no hesitation.  We had thought of traveling to this seemingly far off land for almost 20 years. (In reality, it is a mere eight to nine hours flight time).  A close friend of ours is from Kyoto and has lived in the U.S. for about 50 years.  She is also a docent at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.  So, she knows her stuff and was willing to be our guide as long as I did the planning, mostly of hotels, restaurants and transportation.

IMG_0968Because I knew next to nothing about the Land of the Rising Sun, I naturally picked up the usual guidebooks, Fodors and DK Eyewitness Travel.  Both are chock full of great information and beautiful photos.  But, as I started to consider just the hotels in Tokyo, I knew I needed help.  I could not sort out even where these various hotels were located and which locations were the best.  Beyond this, the exercise became even more complicated.

So, fortunately, I had met Gwen Books, a luxury travel consultant serving the Silicon Valley, about a year earlier through another mutual friend.  She had talked about her own travels to assess hotels in India, Africa and elsewhere.  The types of excursions she described sounded delicious.  When I advised my fellow travelers about my intent to contact Gwen, they were all swiftly in agreement.

Friends traveling to JapanOur two-week trip to Tokyo, Nikko, Kyoto and Naoshima could not have been more grand, comfortable, awe-inspiring.  The Imperial Hotel, our initial stop, obviously, near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, was centrally located and welcoming-yet, still very Japanese, quite elegant.  Our first night, we dined at one of the many hotel restaurants.  While the prices were over the top-not valued oriented as my husband would quietly remark, the experience of a lovely kimono clad woman preparing and serving our meal of seared Kobi beef and vegetables, was an exquisite way to be introduced to Japanese style dining.

The first morning, at the exact time as previously planned, our tour guide showed up at the front lobby.  In a spacious and comfortable van with a safe driver, off we went immediately to tour Tokyo-its many shrines, temples, gardens, famous shopping areas, etc.  Over the course of the next few days we visited Meiji Shrine, Shinjuku-gyoen garden, Mt. Fuji, Hakone, Kamakura, including the Kenchoji Temple, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kotoky-in Temple, among other stunning sites. And, we did not neglect to shop at the indescribable, Mitsukoshi department store. You will never find such flawless fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish-at not so perfect prices!

Every day was a long one with eight hours dedicated to touring.  At the end of our fifth day, we were ready to head off via train to Nikko, a small village to the north west of Tokyo.

The hotel there was an older one with breathtaking views of the river, mountains and Japanese architecture from our bedroom window.  Here, our friend and a childhood friend of hers, who lives in the village, became our guides.  Luckily, we had warm sunny weather and the historical Yayoi Matsuri Festival took place; this old world festival brings the entire community together for a day-long event.  Additionally, we had private tours of the Toshogu Shinto Shrine and the Rinnoji Temple, the latter guided by a Rinnoji priest.

By bullet train, our next stop was Kyoto-the childhood home of our dear friend.  Aided by a highly competent driver/tour guide, we saw more shrines, temples, and gardens than one could have anticipated-and surely had expected to enjoy.  (We barely scratched the surface of the 1,800 sites present in this one region).  It would be difficult to say which sites represented the highlights; all were extraordinary and all completely exceeded our expectations.  Here are just a few, Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) Buddhist Temple, Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) Buddhist Temple, Heian Shrine where we witnessed a Japanese style wedding, Kasuga Shinto Shrine, Todaiji Buddhist Temple with the Colossal Buddha, Nijo Castle, Tenryuji Buddhist Temple, Byodo.  In the evenings, we were treated to a variety of Japanese, Japanese-Italian fusion and Italian meals.

Five days later, we sailed to a quiet, unassuming island, Naoshima in the inner Japanese sea.  This locale is home of the Bennesse House Museum and Hotel.  I think it would be hard to adequately describe this heavenly place.  Suffice it to say, you must visit here.  After almost two weeks of solid day-long excursions, this was a restful respite.  Our particular room was right on the edge of seashore where the water lapped ashore quietly and repetitively.  We did some viewing of the museums, but our joy here was the peace and the beauty of the island.

As I said at the outset, this is a multi-faceted and astonishing country.  After nearly 75 years of U.S. presence, the peoples here are themselves.  They revere their history, their language, their cuisine, their historical garments, their families.  At the same time, they are kind and gracious.  You will never find a cleaner place where everything runs on time.   But, the biggest joy for all of us was the heritage that we were able to barely glimpse.  The trip was perfect in all ways.

Thank you, Gwen, for allowing us to sit back, enjoy-and now reminisce.

DSC02722To Be Continued…with additional photos.

Photos Courtesy of Danelle Storm Rosati