We met up with Pawel Sewera of JTB USA, specialists in travel to Japan, for tips and insight on visiting this unique country.
Q: How would you describe Japan to those considering a vacation there?
Japan is one of the most fascinating destinations in the world, a dazzling mixture of the old and new. Visitors can immerse themselves in a fascinating mix of past and present: ultra-modern technology; traditional temples; tranquil gardens and pulsing neon signs.
Q: Is Japan a year round destination?
Visiting Japan can be enjoyable at any time of the year; however, Spring (March to May) and Autumn (October and November) are the best times to visit the country. For price-conscious travelers, as well as those trying to escape crowds of tourists, visiting Japan in Winter (December to March) or Summer (June to August) can also be considered. The peak holiday seasons are very popular for domestic travel. These are Golden Week – late April to early May - the Mid-August O-Bon Festival of the Dead and the New Year period.
Q: What are the best ways to travel around Japan?
Japan has an extensive and very modern transport system. The most efficient way to travel around most of the country is by train, including the famous shinkansen (bullet train). Japanese trains are very modern, comfortable and clean. Visitors to Japan can also travel by plane, bus, and ferry.
Q: What are the places first time visitors should include in their itinerary?
First time visitors should definitely see Tokyo, Nikko, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima. I would also recommend including visits to Kanazawa, Shirakawago and Takayama. We offer a number of itineraries for visitors to most of the country.
Q: What do you consider to be the highlights, not to be missed?
Visiting Kyoto (former capital of Japan) with over 2,000 temples and shrines, and 17 World Heritage sites, experiencing traditional accommodation at a Japanese inn, soaking in a natural hot spring called onsen in Japanese.
Q: What is a Ryokan and what is it like to stay at one?
Ryokans are Japanese-style inns. They have been part of Japanese culture for centuries. A Ryokan is for travelers who wish to experience Japanese culture and enjoy the traditional service and hospitality. Ryokans range from the ultra luxurious to the modest and basic. Most Ryokans have simple and serene guest rooms with sliding paper screen doors separating sitting and sleeping areas, tatami mats, low tables and closets to hide the bedding. Guests are expected to follow certain customs during their stay, and the procedures are the same at all ryokans. For example, upon entering a Ryokan guests are expected to remove their shoes in the indicated area, and slip on the slippers that have been provided.
Q: For dining, what dishes do you recommend people try?
Japan is a gourmet paradise thanks to the variety and richness of Japanese cuisine. Most travelers are familiar with sushi and tempura, but there is much more to Japanese cuisine. Sukiyaki and shabu-shabu are both healthy and great dishes to eat as a group since they are cooked in a pot at your own table. Noodle lovers should try udon (thick white noodles made from wheat flour), soba (buckwheat noodles) or ramen (Chinese noodles). Kaiseki-ryouri is an elegant full-course meal that allows one to sample many dishes that make Japanese cuisine special all in one sitting. Only freshest seasonal ingredients are used and great care is taken to arrange the food decoratively on the serving dishes.
An interesting fact; in 2010 Tokyo surpassed Paris as the city with the most Michelin-starred rated establishments!
Q: Do you have a favorite restaurant?
One of my most memorable dining experiences in Japan was an exquisite dinner at Kanga-an in Kyoto. Kanga-an is a beautifully maintained little temple with a beautiful garden and is also home to an excellent vegetarian restaurant (it even has a bar).
Q: Is it possible to take a Japanese cooking class?
Yes, we offer numerous culinary experiences in Japan. A good example is a Special Sushi experience in Tokyo. Clients who participate in this unique experience will visit a local Sushi restaurant at Tsukiji fish market (the biggest wholesale fish and seafood markets in the world) and will learn from an experienced chef about the sushi making process and how to properly cut the fish. This experience is limited to 4 guests.
Q: Tell us about some of your other exclusive programs in Japan?
Here are some other programs:
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