Thanks to Scott Gilman, we had a great time in Japan. Mimi, our guide, was fantastic; we really enjoyed her and became friends. Our two favorite restaurants were the tempura restaurant at Yoshikawa Inn and the sushi restaurant the last night in Tokyo. Our favorite temple was the Kinkakuji. We were most taken by the food aspects of our trip; the markets, the kitchen market and the great floors of food in the department stores. We really enjoyed the Zen meditation session both for what we learned and the interesting monk who lead it. We very much liked our ryokan; great setting and nice hot baths. The cooking class was fantastic; really enjoyed the personality of Kyoko and her husband. Hotels were all good, particularly liked Kyoto. Thanks for your help.
Everything went very smoothly. I can honestly say that Makiko was the best guide I have ever had. She was friendly, funny, very smart and knowledgeable, and made sure that we saw and did everything on our list. She found the best places for a quick lunch. Our drivers were also wonderful, especially the driver in Kyoto (I think his name was Hiashi san). He was so considerate and went out of his way to show us where to try the best mochi in Kyoto and to see a gorgeous cherry tree that was in early bloom.
Our hotels were also superb. I am glad that I returned to the Park Hyatt. The service and accommodations were top notch. I am also glad that I returned to the Ritz in Kyoto. It is a wonderful hotel and the staff is very attentive. The Ryokan was another excellent experience. Our onsen and the room were lovely, and we especially enjoyed the town of Shuzenji – very charming.
Even the train transfers at Tokyo station went well, in spite of the mob scene there. Our transfer guide expertly navigated us through multiple halls and elevators. I don’t think we could have managed without her.
We also enjoyed the visit to the Ghibli Museum. My daughter was thrilled to see the notebooks and sketches from the movies and to see how the master worked behind the scenes. He is truly a living legend in Japan. The guide had some interesting anecdotes about him- he can be found in the morning sweeping the streets in his neighborhood!
Eating fresh sushi at Tsukiji was a special treat. The Zen meditation session at Taizoin was unique and I am glad we experienced it and saw the temple. The session put my daughter in a Zen mood for visits to other gardens.
Besides the tea ceremony, which was very nice, we had a special and unexpected tea making session with the funny and friendly tea master at Ipppodo, who has his own techniques for making the best tea.
Thank you to Scott and his team for arranging a wonderful trip. Now if you could only figure out how to eliminate jet lag and get more of those cherry trees to bloom early!
Overall, excellent job on Scott Gilman’s services. We were so impressed with the professionalism and personalities of everyone in Japan. Our guides Izumi and Keiko were fantastic. I think what really makes them superior (and makes Scott’s company superior) is the ability to tailor the trip to our needs. Yes we wanted to see a lot in a short period of time, but we wanted to enjoy it and for us that entailed stopping to take rest breaks every so often. The guides did a nice job picking up on that and altering the itinerary slightly to adjust and at the end of the day we felt much better. We also appreciated some other adjustments during the day on what to see, depending on how things were progressing that day. In other words, the flexibility was a big bonus. Obviously they were skilled to answer all of our questions, or if not they would investigate our queries and get back to us. Much appreciated. Izumi was looking into some special tea my aunt asked about. Keiko into Nikon products.
For us, we enjoyed sampling local restaurants that were not necessarily Michelin starred. We hit a variety of Udon noodles, Ramen, Yakatori, grilled noodles and sushi places. We liked all of it.
The hotels were pretty much exactly what we asked for. As for Japan impressions, you can read about the culture but it’s hard to get a feel for it until you spend a little time there. The attention to detail, pride in the work, and manners, are something that stands out. Also, how quiet it is in Tokyo on the streets and subway for a city of that size is remarkable. We enjoyed the taxi and subway rides to get a feel for how people get around. And especially the super fast bullet train.
I don’t really have any criticisms or improvements on Scott’s service. It was 5 star. Thanks for everything.
The guides I was provided were OUTSTANDING. We had a seamless transition from place to place due to their expertise. Scott was also excellent at getting back to me in a timely fashion when communicating via email due to time zone differences.
Upon returning from a wonderful Japan trip, I offer a heartfelt, enthusiastic recommendation of Scott Gilman. My goals in planning a family trip were to have memorable experiences with our teenagers highlighting Japanese hyper-modern culture and architecture, classic gardens, daily markets and traditional crafts. We often do all our own trip planning and limit the use of guides. However, as non-Japanese speakers who wanted more than a superficial exposure to Japanese culture, we decided to work with a professional to make the most of our limited time.
Scott provided wise counsel every step of the way. From the initial consultation where he listened so carefully through the subsequent detailed planning of the activities and itinerary, Scott not only addressed our requests, but he offered excellent ideas and gently guided us when we didn’t even know what to ask for or had pre-conceptions.
Not having been to Japan, I started out surprised by the high travel costs. After talking with Scott, understanding what was included in the costs, and getting over the sticker shock, I came to think it was well worth it. This is why I thought the charges were fair and a good value:
1. Japan is not an intuitive place to traverse if you don’t speak Japanese. The street numbering is not orderly. Many signs are not legible to English-only readers. And while the subways and trains are extensive and on-time and immaculately clean, they are not always the fastest way to get around. We could have done the navigating ourselves, but using Scott’s guides and drivers, I estimate we saw 30-50% more each day than we could have managed on our own using public transportation/walking/car rental/taxis (i.e. the less expensive option). This was what created the value for me. We had only a limited time for vacation and had travelled such a long distance and didn’t know if we’d ever be back, so to be able to see and do so much more each day was priceless.
2. Once he knew what we were interested in, Scott suggested activities we would not have thought of or read about or been able to access on our own. We had extraordinary access to special experiences through Scott and his business partner Phil’s relationships – a lacquerware workshop visit, a kimono fabric dye-ing workshop, and a wonderful day with a Japanese pottery expert who took us to a famous pottery village to see kilns, a workshop, and a museum. These would not have been possible through a hotel concierge or trying to go on our own. They were educational in focus and there was zero pressure to buy anything.
3. The restaurant recommendations were excellent and not what you could find easily on Yelp or TripAdvisor. They were places your in-the-know local foodie friend would take you to. Sure beats wandering around and guessing.
4. All of the guides were carefully selected and excellent – well-informed, good English skills, knowing how to read us for pacing and type of information to convey, and not rigid in the least. Every van was late-model, clean, and operated by a very professional driver with basic English skills.
5. Every transfer was handled by an English-speaking guide even on days when we were in transit. When we were early to the train station, the guides were able to exchange tickets and get us on earlier trains to the next destination so we didn’t waste time waiting at the station. The greeter at the other end was flexible enough to be able to come meet us early. There was a fair amount of on-the-ground support that we either saw in person or we knew was there to help. Doing the transfers and logistics on our own would have been possible, but stressful.
6. I received a comparable cost estimate from a reputable independent Japan expert for the desired level of service (separate room with real beds for the kids, 5-star hotels where possible, private guides and drivers, first-class trains).
If we had wanted to economize, Scott was willing to work with us on options. Scott’s business partner, Phil Rosenfeld, lives in Tokyo and runs operations in Japan. There was always someone to get back to us immediately whether we were in NYC in Eastern Standard Time or in Japan on Japanese time.
A crucial thing I really appreciated was that my contact was Scott, and he stayed my contact. He never handed me off to a junior person (which is what usually happens). So every question answered, every recommendation came from Scott and that made all the difference in our experiences. Scott and his team were a pleasure to work with and flawless in their execution. We were able to relax, enjoy, and make many happy memories.
Our trip was great! The sights, sounds, tastes, and experiences that Scott organized were exactly what we hoped to have for our first trip to Japan. Everything we had discussed during the planning phase turned out to be as we had understood from our conversations with Scott, but only better in the reality. There were absolutely no problems or disappointments with anything; except now we know we will need to return several more times to see and experience many other parts of the country.
The singular best part of the trip was our guide, Masako Takenaka. She was always smiling as she took care to ensure that every detail was exactly right. Not only did we accomplish all the items Scott had outlined in our itinerary, Masako was able to improvise and add more experiences that further enhanced our trip. The adjustments that she made as the week progressed really made things flow smoothly and took full advantage of the time and place. Our conversations with her really gave us a good feel for the people and customs of Japan.
Following our trip, we were attending our son’s wedding in Hamamatsu, and we wanted to give the traditional wedding gift of money. Masako helped us not only find the proper wedding gift envelope, but she set up a visit to a paper making experience where we made our own note paper. She then helped translate our wedding message onto our paper in Japanese to be included in the envelope. The final gift with these details was truly appreciated by the wedding couple.
Scott did a great job of helping our family have a fantastic journey in Japan. He was terrific in suggesting destination cities, sites and activities that our family of 5 (including 8-year olds and a 12-year old) would really love. The hotels were terrific, the sites were fascinating and beautiful, the guides were excellent and the “added activities” (Taiko drumming, Tea Ceremony, Geisha/Teahouse visit) really added a lot of “insider feel” to the trip and got us a look at some of the cool things behind the normal touristy-sights.
We had a LITTLE BIT of logistics and pricing disconnect early on in our planning — if you book with Scott (which I’d recommend!), definitely get very clear on your expected price-per-day, what your priorities are, etc. I think our planning phase would have gone more smoothly if we’d done that better together.