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It is always nice to hear from our customers; especially if they absolutely love Japan…thankfully, more often than not, they usually find themselves loving it. It is fantastic receiving feedback that is so gushing about Japan and its culture and the services that we provide, we get a warm feeling in the knowledge that we have had a part in converting someone else to the wonders of this beautiful place.
Gemma Scott travelled back in April 2012 on the Spring Elegance group tour which seems a long time ago now, but she was full of praise about the great country and the memories are obvciously very vivid. If she wasn’t before, Gemma is now what you would class as a ‘Japanophile’ I believe. We thought we would ask her expand on her feedback, tell us about the best bits and show us some of her beautiful photos and are glad that she accepted! Here is what she had to say;
I have always been fascinated by Japan, the culture, the lifestyle, the food. After researching into travelling to Japan, I opted for the Spring Elegance tour – Two whole weeks of experiencing one of the most intriguing and beguiling places on Earth.
The tour took me to several different cities and towns, on the main island of Honshu. Tokyo both old (Edo as Tokyo was known as prior to the Meiji period) and modern day with museums, shrines, temples, the contrast of beautiful gardens with a backdrop of the skyscraper district, penetrating the sky.
Matusmoto and its stunning castle (a word or warning – the sets of stairs inside are steep, with one set in particular at a 61 degree incline – complete with a rope to help pull yourself up the stairs with!), with a small side trip to the onsen (hot spring bathhouse) at Asama – a must!
Takayama the home of miso and sake, sitting in one of the many sake shops with the tour group sipping on a sample of sake, was a great way to bond.
The Kenroku-en Gardens in Kanazawa, it is rated as one of the top three gardens in Japan. Considering it is quite simply breathtaking, it is not hard to see why.
Kyoto – the old capital of Japan, before Edo – Tokyo, and the first place that comes to mind when you think of Geisha. Here the Geisha are so proud of who they are and where they are from, that they prefer to be called Geiko, so to be set apart from Geisha from any other part of Japan.
Here I took a day trip to Hiroshima where the first atomic bomb was dropped on 6 August 1945 (a date you will never forget by the time you leave). This was a very sombre day, learning about what had happened before, during and after the bomb has been detonated. It was morbidly fascinatingbut equally spine-chilling.
The penultimate stop was Hakone, home to Mount Fuji. On the day we took a trip round the national park, and saw Mount Fuji, it was a lovely sunny day. We had some spectacular views of Fuji. Her first appearance was on a cable car ride up the side of a volcano, with further opportunities was we took a boat ride around Lake Ashi. Lastly we made our way back to Tokyo, for a one night stay in the modern part of Tokyo before bidding farewell to new friends and boarding the plane homeward bound.
The highlight of the tour is what I have come to call “My Geisha Day” in Kyoto. It all started with a session at a Geisha makeover studio. The session has to be booked in advance, which our tour leader was all to happy to arrange on my behalf. The package I had chosen was the Maiko (an apprentice Geisha) makeover. The whole process from make up, putting on the kimono to photo shoot took 2 hours in total. It was fascinating to watch all the different stages come together. A few of the ladies on my tour joined me having makeover as well, we had great fun choosing the kimono that we were going to wear. Watching each stage come together, the make up – whitening of the face, painting the double or triple “v” on the back of the neck (the neck is considered a very sensual part of the body in Japan, and the “v“ is used to create an illusion to elongate the nape of the neck). The highlighting of the eyes in black and red makeup and the vivid red lips.
The kimono itself is a robe that comes in one size. It has a band of plain material across the middle. This section can be left as it is, or be taken up to shorten the kimono to fit. There are many layers to a kimono outfit. The kimono does make up the bulk of the outfit, but there are under garments, ties, sashes, belts, collars and the obi to be added during the process. Not to mention the wig complete with pins and jewellery (the wigs were put on, already dressed). The visual transformation was amazing to see. The photographs were spectacular. If you are fascinated by Geisha, or are looking for a personalised souvenir, then I would recommend a makeover package. If you go with friends or family from the tour, it’s a great way to spend a good time together.
The rest of the afternoon was spent making our way to Gion Corner to watch the Geisha Spring Dance. As you entered the room for the serving of tea, you were sat down in rows and the tea and a sweet were served to everyone. The type of green tea served is called Matcha and is dark and quite bitter. You do not put sugar in the tea. Therefore a sweet is served alongside the tea. You eat the sweet first, to sweeten your mouth and then drink the tea. It does make a big difference in taste. This part was quite rushed as there were a lot of people waiting, but it was still an experience to watch the Maiko prepare the tea for the room, looking stunning in their full regalia.
The time had come to take our seats and get ready to watch the dance. The stage had catwalks either side, with the seating in the middle. There were curtains set back into the catwalks. The lights turned down and doors opened at the ends of the catwalks. Here a group of Maiko made their entrance, the curtains were drawn, on the left sat Maiko playing percussion (drums) and flute and on the right sat Geisha singing and playing shamisen. The first scene would be a highlight of the dance with about 20 dancers on stage. The following seven would each tell a story, linking itself into the previous scene in some way. They transcend from Spring, to Summer, to Autumn, to Winter and back to Spring for the finale, with about 60 Maiko and Geiko on stage.
The whole performance was lavish, extravagant, beautiful and vibrant. From the incredibly detailed sets – the individual blossoms and leaves on the trees, the hundreds of tiny optic light representing fireflies, to the backdrops which undulated to depict the waves of the sea. The costumes were rich, bold and imaginative from the men that fought brave battles, to the kimono of the Maiko and Geiko twirling as they danced in unison, their hair ornaments twinkling in the stage lights. The music was enchanting and riveting, enhanced by the emotions portrayed in the voices of the singers. They could build the atmosphere between two lovers sorrow as lovers parted ways, the violent storms endured at sea, and dramatic battle scenes that brought death and glory.
Needless to say I was enraptured from start to finish. Which is also true of the whole journey, the experience. I am afraid that I have fallen in love with Japan, even more so, than before I had decided to make the journey and land on Japanese soil. Turning a journey of a lifetime in to what maybe, in time, a home from home.
Welcome to the ‘we went to Japan and fell in love with it and everything about it’ club Gemma. Glad we could help you get there. It sounds as though there will be many other travels to Japan in the future. We are very happy to hear it!