Trip Report: Discovering Japan with the Newman family

As an adventurous family of four, the Newmans didn’t settle for paths most trodden by international tourists. Their July 2016 tour instead took them to a wide variety of locales across Honshu, discovering the best in Japanese arts, nature and culture. From cycling through the Satoyama countryside to exploring the famous art island, Naoshima, the Newmans experienced Japan at its most elegant.

The Newman family in front of the Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto.

The Newman family in front of the Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. Let’s start with the most important question: how was your trip to Japan?

My family and I had a wonderful time in Japan! I came to Tokyo in 1997 on business but did not have the opportunity to sightsee very much, nor travel to other cities. I’ve held fond memories of my experience in Japan ever since. Now that I’m married with two boys (ages 9 and 10), I wanted to experience Japan again with a different perspective. The people at Into Japan helped us to create a fabulous itinerary that all of us enjoyed. We all have such fond memories of our two weeks in Japan.

How would you rate Japan as a destination for young families? I seem to remember your sons being described as ‘old souls’: did any particular destination really captivate them?

Japan is terrific for kids! We felt very safe while we were there and there is so much to see and do. Planning a two-week trip to another country with children is a little bit challenging, as there has to be enough variety in the activities as well as enough downtime in between them. Being too rushed and scheduled would not have been fun for them. Yes, our boys are very wise for their age but they do have their limits. Into Japan helped to ensure that there was enough time in between planned activities for relaxation and exploring on our own. The whole trip was captivating for the kids. They especially enjoyed learning about the history of the temples and shrines in Kyoto, feeling the vibrant energy of Tokyo and immersing themselves in some of Japan’s rich traditions while staying in the ryokan.

Your tour incorporated a number of hands-on experiences. Which of these did you find the most memorable?

The hands-on experiences were so varied and each of them was terrific. My youngest child loves to create origami in his free time so we made sure to take an origami class while we were in Kyoto. My husband and both boys play the drums at home, so we took a Taiko drumming class that we all enjoyed. We took an enjoyable bike riding tour through Hida Takayama. We fed the monkeys at the Monkey Park in Kyoto, we attended a sumo wrestling match in Nagoya, and we even took a samurai sword class in Tokyo, which was very exciting. It is hard to choose just one experience to be our favourite, as they were all fun and memorable.

Travelling with strict dietary requirements isn’t always easy. Did you find most restaurants accommodating?

Yes, having celiac disease is very challenging in Japan, as I cannot tolerate even a crumb of wheat, rye or barley. Since many items contain or are marinated in soy sauce (which contains wheat) I had to be very careful. Having a breakfast buffet included at our hotel was definitely beneficial. The buffets were all very nice with a wide assortment of foods, so my strategy was to start each day with a large, healthy breakfast. Booking some of our restaurants in advance was also helpful, as we could view menus and determine whether they could accommodate my food restrictions. The pre-printed dietary card that Into Japan translated for me was especially helpful for those restaurants where it was challenging to communicate my needs with the server.

Were you happy with the selection of hotels and ryokan on your trip?

We were very pleased with all of the hotels and the ryokan we stayed at while in Japan. We especially loved The Four Seasons in Tokyo. The rooms were spacious and well appointed, the location was very convenient, and their customer service was fabulous. In fact, they always greeted us by name. I’m not sure how the staff can remember the names of all of their guests, but they did! It made us feel like we were coming home each time we entered the hotel.

Between Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Takayama, you managed to experience the hustle and bustle urban Japan as well as the scenic calm of traditional Japan. Which was a better fit for you, if any?

We liked both experiences. It is wonderful to be able to see the contrast of huge skyscrapers, historic temples, and picturesque mountain landscapes in one trip. We also enjoyed the beauty of Naoshima, the art island. So in my opinion, I think visiting a blend of urban cities, quaint towns, as well as areas off the beaten path is the best way to get a true feel for Japan.

Japan stands as one of the tourist destinations with almost limitless potential. Between the untouched northern expanses of Hokkaido and the tropical beach resorts of Okinawa, there is always more to see and do. Are you already planning you next trip? Don’t feel pressured to say yes!

We would definitely like to visit the other areas of Japan in the near future! We realize that we saw some of the highlights of Japan on our recent vacation, but that the country is vast and offers many more exciting places to explore. The problem I foresee will be deciding where to go! Only speaking for myself, I would like to visit the Kyushu and Okinawa islands. I have heard that the beaches and clear waters of Okinawa are spectacular. My husband scuba dives and the boys and I love to snorkel, so that may be fun! I would also like to visit some castles in that area. We saw the grounds of one castle while on our recent trip, but I would like to see more. Regardless of where our itinerary takes us, we will look forward to our next trip to Japan.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions so thoroughly. We’re very happy to hear you had a fantastic time abroad!