Japan: One of the Bucket List Destinations

Michelle Julia Linda Imperial Palace 1
Michelle, Julia, and Linda in the Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan.

For Many Women, Japan is Atop their Travel Bucket List

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

In recent years, Japan’s Tourism officials were pleased to report a big surge in visitors from the US traveling to their country. While among the most insular of modern countries, especially when it comes to foreign languages, Japan remains an exotic bucket list destination to many Americans.

In 2019, more than 1,375,000 U.S. citizens visited Japan, and overall the country had 31 million overseas visitors in 2019, a record number.

Why Japan?

Why is Japan such an up-and-coming destination? We asked several women who visited Japan recently about what they were hoping to experience on the trip and what it was like going there.

Linda Pirard of Halifax, Nova Scotia, selected the women’s travel company Sights and Soul for this trip because she had traveled with them before and found the quality of their trips perfect. “Good company, great hotels, good food, and very interesting experiences. I like to stay in only a couple of places and take day trips so that I do not feel like I am living out of a suitcase. Also, there is a perfect mixture

Japan Map

of group activities and time for individual activity. In addition, the small size of the group is important to the ability to see things in a more intimate way,” she said.

Japan was a bucket list destination for her, so who better than S&S to take her there. “I had never been to Japan before, but it was on my list of places to see.” Like all of Sights and Soul’s trips, their journey to Japan is open to women only.

A 12-person Group

But Pirard said that the trip’s itinerary would also work as well for couples, but restricting the group size to a dozen people might be more difficult and surely the group dynamics would change.

Zen garden in Kyoto.
Zen garden in Kyoto.

“Traveling with a group of women is really very relaxing,” Pirard said. And a group of just twelve is a lot more pleasant for many than a 40-person delegation in a huge motorcoach.

“It is very difficult to pick one specific item from a trip that was filled with special moments, Pirard said. “I loved the intimacy of meeting artisans in their home/studio environments and the photos I have chosen reflect my interest in the people we met. However, if I had to pick a special time, it would be our visit to a traditional ryokan.

The Japan of Old

“I had such beautiful accommodations there that felt like I was living in Japan of old. A traditional hot tub bath, wonderful healthy Japanese food served beautifully, entertainment by geishas…….what more could a person ask for? I felt like I had died and gone to Japanese heaven!”

Gold Leaf Artist Garden Kyoto 1
Gold Leaf Artist Garden in Kyoto

A Long Voyage

Flights to Japan are a long ordeal, and at a certain point, it becomes very worth it to get an upgrade to premium economy or business class. A lie-flat bed makes the trip an overnight snooze instead of a slog.

Business Class Flight

“I was fortunate to travel business class so the trip was very manageable, however, I would advise people if you are traveling on day flights that you try not to take any more than a short nap so that if you arrive in the evening you can go to bed early and get right into the routine of the new time zone.

“This seems to help with jet lag at least for me,” Pirard said. “If I fly to Japan again. I will upgrade to business class.”It pays to be well-rested, said Carolyn McLeod, who also visited Japan last year.

Advance Materials Helpful

The advance material that was sent by the tour operator was very helpful in preparing for the trip and the cultural differences that should be respected, Pirard said. “I would suggest that as you are constantly removing your shoes to enter various venues, that comfortable shoes that can still be slipped on and off easily are a very good choice.”

Marilee gave this advice about the long airplane trip: “I wore comfortable workout pants. I had a neck pillow and a sweater. I watched a bunch of movies. It is important to get up and move around frequently. Try to get an aisle seat.”

“I don’t believe that there was anything extraordinary that you need on this trip that was not mentioned in the material that was sent in advance.” People would be well advised to learn the few Japanese expressions of politeness that were shared by the company, Pirard added.

flute player
The flute player in Kyoto.

Shosuitei Tea House

Carolyn McLeod reflected on the highlights of her trip to Japan last year. She is a painter who lives in Reno, NV.

“I think the highlight of our trip was the morning and early afternoon that we spent at Shosuitei, a sukiya-style tea house located on the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

We were given a flute and Ikebana demonstration and also shown how to wear a kimono. The setting was beautiful and our lunch was very good.”

She also especially enjoyed the visit to the Saiho-ji (Moss Temple) and garden in Kyoto. Marilee, from Georgia, said she was impressed when she called Sights and Soul after an internet search and spoke directly with owner Yolanta Barnes. “I was quite pleased with her enthusiasm and commitment to providing a unique Japan travel experience, especially for first-time visitors.”

The Language is Tough

McLeod went to China in 1976 and she said she wished at the time that she had also gone to Japan. In college, she studied Japanese art, history, and language. During the past year, she resumed her Japanese studies. Just knowing a few words was helpful, she said. “One word I used a great deal was “sumimasen” (excuse me).”

Moss Garden Basket 1
Moss Garden Basket

Pirard agreed that language can be a big barrier. “If you are on your own, English is not something you should expect people to speak and not many signs are printed in English. On the tour it is no problem as you have a translator at all times,” she said. Marilee agreed that it’s not that common for Japanese to automatically speak English. “It was not common for locals we met to speak English. Our guides did a lot of translating,” she said.

“I’m sure there would have been some different selections on tours, etc. if this wasn’t a women-only trip. This was focused on experiences that would appeal to women. I was recently widowed, and did not want to travel with a tour of mainly couples,” she explained.

The Artisans of Japan

For Marilee, the trip’s highlight was meeting the artisans of Japan.

“All of the artisans were a pleasure. It’s hard to pick just one, but I have to go with the calligrapher. He actually worked with some of the abstract expressionists, and I am familiar with their work and could see the influences, especially Franz Kline,” she said.

Do you have any advice about visiting Japan that would have been helpful to know ahead of time that you can share?

“Don’t plan on unpacking your suitcase – there is no room. I would have arranged things differently.” Are there any items that people might not think to bring with them on this trip? “I wish I had brought disposable face cleaners. Washcloths weren’t provided. Otherwise, I was fine,” said Marilee.

“The very small groups give a feeling of intimacy. There was a real camaraderie. Many of the women had traveled with them before. I am already booked for my next two trips with the company.”

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