Japan: "It's the kind of place people go to when they've run out of places to go" was something I heard recently. Well, even if those other places were still waiting to be explored, I'd go back to Japan in preference - AND! with Exodus. (We'd even do the same trip - as there's just so much to try and squeeze in, and only so many hours in a day!)
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Going to Hiroshima and seeing the remains of the City Hall (the stone building with the steel remnants of what was the dome on top) I'd wanted to see it since I was 11. When we got there and visited the museum... I felt... dazed.
The Bullet Train (shinkansen) was a sight to behold (I had no idea there were three versions!) If only train travel in the UK could be a tenth as good as the Japanese trains, we'd still fall short of their cleanliness, service, punctuality and sheer enjoyment!
The Tokyo Underground is legendary for people being squished into carriages by chaps wearing caps and white gloves. Well, although we just about missed travelling like that - we did see it! It's all so polite, organised, orderly and well-behaved. Seeing peoples' faces squashed up against the windows was actually quite comical! And as for the jingles on the trains! Go to a website called "Train Melody Paradise" to refresh your memories of a happy holiday.
The food was beyond words. And don't let anyone tell you that Japan is expensive. You can eat a really nice meal (including beers etc) for around £12 a head. We came home with hundreds of £s in unused cash!
Beer, sake, kareoke, geisha, calligraphy, trains, mountains, monkeys, futons, ryokans - Tokyo!
- What did you think of your group leader?
Our guide, Steve Parker, is one of the nicest chaps you could meet: He's the kind of guy you actually want to go out for a beer with, rather than feeling "duty-bound".
His knowledge of the Japanese Railway system is extraordinary and, as for his impromptue Japanese lessons... on the Bullet Train, no less(!) were incredibly useful... and fun! (Itchy knees will never mean the same again, Steve!)
Where he got his energy from, we had no idea, as he was always bright and cheery, ready to go and full of beans... even after we'd been out on the sake the night before ;-)
As most of us had never been to Japan before, having Steve around made us feel a lot more 'reassured' in that somebody could ask (and answer) any questions that we may have had. (When he slipped from Japanese into Italian on a train - I was somewhat impressed - so was she!)
He has a dodgy collection of hats, an annoyingly good singing-voice, and plays the guitar!
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Don't take anywhere near as much clothing as you think you'll need. The hotels at either end of the trip have the most excellent laundry facilities.
Take a lightweight waterproof jacket (our trip was in Sept / Oct and we caught the tail-end of a typhoon!)
Take a small, lightweight bag for the trips to the ryokans: You'll be carrying your own stuff, so pack light!
Umbrellas cost less than a beer (yes, really!) so don't worry if you forget your jacket. (I bought five during my trip)
For videographers: Take extra tapes on top of the extra ones you would normally take. Film everything! Take a small, lightweight tripod (some temples won't allow the use of tripods on the wooden floors) or a monopod. Use the largest batteries you have. Don't forget your charger and, unlike me - remember to lable your tapes as you go along!! Take a large plastic bag to use as a rain-jacket on your camera - it works a treat!
Take cash - don't rely on using plastic.
Have a good supply of coins in your pocket for the drinks-machines on the streets. (Hot AND cold coffee in tins?! Fantastic!)
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
We had the best of all holidays!
In 22 years of marriage, this was, without doubt, the most memorable of all trips. ("What's that, dear? The honeymoon?...Oh, well, naturally....)
During the second day, we'd decided that we didn't want to come back to the UK, we were quite happy where were, thank you very much!
Our group of ten was the perfect size and, since getting back, five of us have met in London for a Japanese meal (what else!!?) (the rest of the group came from Scotland, Yorkshire and Canada, so popping to London for lunch was a bit of a heave!)
Travelling there with Japan Airlines (JAL) was an experience all its own.
Their levels of service far exceed anything By Anyone else... to name no names!
It was a 12-hour flight, and it was just about long enough to watch all the films I wanted to see. I strongly recommend travelling with them.
We are still so totally entralled with the trip, and are boring people rigid with "When I was in Japan..." tales.
Oh, and my video is brilliant, too!