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A Dream Trip to Japan

Explore's Head of Customer Relations and Governance Margaret McEwan recently had the chance to fulfil a lifelong dream to visit Japan. Here she sums up her experience.

"I have always wanted to visit Japan. From the moment I first saw a photo of a stunning zen garden many, many years ago I knew this was somewhere I had to see for myself one day.  

Fast forward twenty years and I was given the wonderful opportunity to join our Japan Highlights trip. Needless to say I jumped at the chance!

Travelling at the beginning of April we were fortunate to catch the tail end of the cherry blossom season - a truly beautiful sight.

We covered a phenomenal distance in a short time - about 2000 miles in a week - and we visited some absolutely stunning places. All made possible by the effortless efficiency and speed of the famous Japanese Shinkansen bullet trains.  

Japan is a fabulous country of contrasts. One day we marvelled at the crazy chaos of Tokyo with its neon lights and railway stations heaving with rush hour commuters. The next we enjoyed a charming and relaxing tea ceremony served by the most beautiful delicate Japanese ladies dressed in stunning kimonos.

As we slipped off our shoes and entered our traditional Ryokan guesthouse for our overnight stay in Kanazawa, we knew we were about to have a very special experience that most visitors to Japan don't get to see. Donning a kimono to wander down to the communal bath in the Onsen, then enjoying a wonderful Japanese breakfast after a restful sleep on a comfy futon we felt as if we had stepped back in time.

My lasting memory of Kyoto will be a night time visit to Kodai-ji Temple to view the stunning sound and light show followed by an amazing walk through the floodlit bamboo forest. With no other visitors present, we had the place to ourselves and it was a magical experience never to be forgotten.

After an enjoyable morning wandering the island of Miyajima with its stunning temples and playful deer we took the train to Hiroshima. The Peace Memorial Museum was a sobering experience and truly brought home the horrors of the Nuclear Holocaust. We ended our day with a poignant visit to the iconic Hiroshima Peace Dome, the only building to survive the A-bomb. There were very few words spoken as we watched the sun set on this visually shocking reminder of nuclear war. Ringing the Peace Bell with optimism of a better future, we boarded our train for our final stop: Himeji.

Pretty as a picture, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Himeji Castle sits perched on a hill surrounded by stunning blossom trees. We were very lucky to be some of the first visitors to have the opportunity to see inside this beautiful building which has only recently opened after a six-year restoration.
Our final evening saw us enjoying a traditional Japanese meal where our Explore Leader showed us how to cook our delicious food at the table on little stoves. The night was rounded off with an opportunity to partake of a lively karaoke session.

So did Japan live up to my expectations? Absolutely! And then some! This is the perfect trip for anyone wanting a quick taster of a beautiful and complex country. We crammed so much into a short space of time. It is fantastic value for money. Eating delicious Japanese food in traditional Japanese restaurants meant that it is easy to do the trip on a budget, especially as quite a few evening meals are included in the trip price. Spring departures will mean stunning views of the cherry blossoms but travelling at the end of the year will reward you with magnificent autumn colours as the maples turn red. And then there are the omnipresent Japanese musical heated toilet seats - what's not to love!"

Margaret travelled on Japan Highlights.

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