Travelers: Robyn and Leonard Stewart and their sons Hamilton (age 6) and Isaiah (5), who attend the International Montessori School of Beijing (MSB).
Destinations: Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan
Travel dates: August 2014
Travel plans: The Stewart family flew from Beijing to Tokyo Narita Airpot with JAL (Japan Airlines). They stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott Tokyo Station in Tokyo and the New
Miyako Hotel in Kyoto. They used BCD travel agency to book their airline tickets and hotel.
Cost: Flights cost RMB 17,000 and tickets on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto were RMB 4,000. Hotel rooms came to
RMB 8,400, tours were RMB 3,600, and food was RMB 4,800.
Of all the countries that we have visited, Japan ranks as the cleanest and most organized of them all. The Japanese people take cleanliness very seriously and it was evident everywhere we visited, from the hotels to the bathrooms on the bullet train.
In Tokyo we spent our first full day at Disneyland. The next day, we visited Tsukiji fish market, where we had an amazingly fresh sushi lunch, and afterwards ascended Tokyo Tower. We covered most of the sights in Tokyo the following day on an all-day tour with Sunrise Tours, seeing the Meiji Shrine, Asukusa Temple, Imperial Palace, and taking a cruise along Tokyo Bay.
We traveled onward to Kyoto by high-speed train on the Shinkansen line. Our first trip took us to the picturesque Arashiyama area, where we hiked to Monkey Park Iwatayama and took in stunning views of Kyoto. We explored the magnificent bamboo forest and boarded the Sagano Romantic Train for an amazing cruise along the Hozugawa River, where we saw the natural beauty of western Kyoto.
The following day, we hiked through thousands of beautiful red tori gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine. This was the most charming place in Kyoto and the best part of the trip. The temples are perfectly landscaped and tranquil, and majestic in atmosphere and beauty.
At Samurai Kembu Theater, we dressed as samurai and took a course where we learned the basics of the art before a delicious steak dinner at Hafuu Honten restaurant. The Kembu Theater is perhaps the most underrated of all the attractions we visited. We had an intimate, front row view of Japanese samurai culture by dressing in traditional samurai costume and interacting with the samurai up close and personal while receiving a lesson on combat moves.
The worst part of the trip was the restaurants recommended by our hotel concierge. In fact, a few of the restaurants we were recommended, especially in Kyoto, were inconsistent with our expectations. The best restaurant of the entire vacation, in terms of quality and service, was one that we found on our own via TripAdvisor (Hafuu Honten).
- At the end of summer, the weather can be very unpredictable in Japan and your plans need to be flexible. Our original itinerary included a one-day trip to Mount Fuji to take a cruise along the base of the mountain. But due to the strong winds and choppy water, all cruises were canceled. Fortunately, we had alternate activities that saved us from losing an entire day of our vacation.
- Japanese national holidays (such as Obon) can also affect plans at the end of the summer. Several days of our vacation were affected; many organized tours were unavailable because several of the attractions were closed for the holidays.
- The proximity of our hotels relative to Kyoto Station and Tokyo Station made it very easy to get to all the activities we planned at a reasonable cost. Another benefit of being close to transportation is that the stations are like shopping malls; inside you can find eateries, souvenirs shops, grocery stores, and international ATMs.
This article originally appeared on p34-35 in the January 2015 issue of beijingkids. To view it online for free, click here. To find out how you can obtain your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org