Interview with the Expert: Japan
Japan has been our most requested destination in recent memory. And when our guests talk, we listen. With that said, we are delighted to announce our newest and most anticipated tour – Japan! Tales of Samurai and Shoguns. Gleaming bullet trains and tranquil country ryokans. Boisterous Karaoke and mystical twang of the shamisen. Japan is a land where ancient tradition and modernity blend and blur into an unforgettable and utterly unique cultural experience. With a country filled with endless beauty, robust history and intriguing traditions, it’s helpful to have a Japan expert on staff. Prior to her career at Classic Journeys, Kristin Frick, our Senior Guest Services Coordinator, lived in Japan for three years while teaching English and exploring all that Japan has to offer. Kristin sat down and shared with us her love for this captivating country, and revealed how and why she designed this exhilarating Classic Journey.
Why did you move to Japan?
I moved to Japan without knowing anything about it. I’d been living in France and wanted to experience another part of the world. I started looking at Assistant Language Teacher programs in Japan, where they bring native-speaking English speakers into classrooms and teach kids English, exposing them to foreign cultures. I ended up moving there thinking I would stay for six months or a year, but I ended up staying for three years! Every day for three years was an adventure.
Did you enjoy living in Japan?
Japan can be an insular society, so moving there without knowing anyone or how to communicate (beyond playing a modified form of charades) was a bit overwhelming. I tried to absorb everything I could that first year. It was exciting and exhausting, but after a year (filled with many firsts – my first tea ceremony, first cherry blossom festival, first time seeing Mt. Fuji, first time walking the ancient streets of Kyoto) I felt like I finally started to get a feel for Japan.
After three years of living in Japan, I can definitely say I fell in love with the country and its people. It’s such a fascinating place – rich in culture and history. They are one of the most welcoming cultures, with impeccable manners. Everyone is overly thoughtful about making sure you are comfortable. No one litters – the streets of Tokyo are immaculate. If you happen to have a tiny cold, you wear a mask so as not to accidentally get anyone else sick. No one talks on the phone in trains – they wouldn’t dream of it – it would be impolite.
I got to know the people and culture very well through teaching English. Since my Japanese was limited, I had to find other ways to communicate with people. My day to day job was teaching kids, but what really sticks out in my mind were my private tutoring lessons with four Japanese adults – all nearing 80 years old. Once a week, we would meet and I would read the newspaper to them while sharing tea and Japanese sweets (delicious and often beautiful creations). It was fascinating to hear their stories from when they were kids and how much Japan has changed since the beginning of the 20th century.
How did your experiences influence Classic Journeys’ Japan trips?
As a whole, I found that people in Japan can be reserved. So much is unsaid in Japan. As a foreigner, you can miss a lot of the subtleties that make Japan’s culture so rich. And those subtleties – the understated elegance of Japan – is what makes it such an incredible place. Peeling back the layers, there is so much to discover if you have the right guide. You need that native insight. If you go on your own, you’ll only get a cursory glance. I wanted to make sure the local aspect was reflected in our trip.
I also want people to see both sides of Japan – the bright lights of Tokyo and the serenity of Kyoto. I want our guests to understand how these two opposite scenes epitomize Japan. In a week, my hope is for people to feel like they’ve seen and experienced the essentials of Japan.
The Japan tour includes a lot of the highlights you won’t want to miss. It also incorporates some unique experiences I did when I was there – like going to generations-old tea plantations. The trip also goes to Tokyo Sky Tree, which is one of the tallest buildings in the world – right there you can see the two dichotomies of Japan, old and new. Nowhere else that I’ve been can you see these two cultures in such stark comparison – it’s this old society with traditions and history but also hyper new, with bright lights, big cities and a wild and crazy urban energy. Both are important sides of Japan and I wanted to make sure our travelers experience both.
Why did Classic Journeys start tours in Japan?
It’s something we’d been tossing around for a while. Another colleague of mine had also taught English in Japan, and was interested in developing it, too, but it just hadn’t been the right time until recently. The yen was strong for a long time while the dollar wasn’t, so it just didn’t make sense until recently as we want to add value while getting good prices for our clients. The dollar has been getting stronger as has the interest in Americans visiting locations outside the country that are also very safe, so we felt now was the perfect time to launch Japan trips.
Why should people visit Japan?
Even though it is far away, it’s very easy to travel there. There are new nonstop flights added from American cities every year. It’s clean, it’s safe, it has a really interesting mix of modern and traditional, a compelling history that ties in with our own here in the United States. They have art, architecture and food on a level that’s higher than anywhere else. The food, in particular, is incredible. Tokyo has more Michelin starred restaurants than any other city in the world! They take everything to the next level in terms of quality and presentation.
What does Classic Journeys provide that travelers can’t get anywhere else?
We’re taking a different approach to the Japan tour. We have a base tour that explores Tokyo, the base of Mount Fuji and Kyoto. We visit Hakone, renown for it’s hot spring hotels and views of Mount Fuji – I mean, what could be better than that? Talk about iconic. And Kyoto is a more traditional city, the perfect destination to have side by side with ultra-modern Tokyo.
We also have an add-on post-tour option, which brings guests down to Hiroshima, a pre-tour itinerary for Tokyo and a mid-tour hike up Mount Fuji. You can really add on, take off and tailor it to make as long and short as you like. We don’t do that with our other tours, so we are giving more customization options with this particular destination. We think of it as a “bento box”: everything is high quality, pre-designed and easy, and you can pick and choose what you like.