We worked with Scott Gilman to plan a two week trip to Japan for ourselves and our kids (17 and 20). Scott helped us plan a great trip that balanced all of our different interests, and set us up with a wonderful local guide who couldn’t have been better company or more responsive to our questions and interests. The itinerary was really well paced, and included some special and worthwhile experiences — i.e. tea ceremony, meditation session. All of our bookings for local travel — across trains, cars, boats and planes — were flawless and the recommendations for restaurants and hotels were all very good to excellent. We definitely hope to go back to Japan in the years ahead and will be calling Scott to help with that as soon as we’re ready!
We visited Japan in November 2019, and contacted Scott very late in the game. We were traveling to Tokyo for work, and added on days to tour the area. We booked our airfare and hotels separately.
We asked Scott to prepare a three day itinerary with full days. Scott also arranged for pick-up and drop-off at the airport. Scott also helped arrange reservations for two dinners prior to our trip.
We had the same guide for all three days. She was lovely, very knowledgeable, and her English was quite good. This was my fourth time using someone from the WOW List. The guides that have been arranged for us have been uniformly excellent. While I think this guide was also very good, she was probably a shade below the rest (an A- or B+ grade instead of the usual A grade). That said, she was sick and the culture is quite different. Certainly, we would recommend her and use her again.
Turning to the tour itself, on our first day we were taken to the Meiji Shrine and a few gardens and a walk through the Ayoma district. We stopped at a local noodle shop for lunch, which was terrific. That said, though we had requested full days, the touring was over by 2:00 PM.
The second day we also toured gardens, Senso-ji Temple and then walked through some of Tokyo’s older neighborhoods and saw the beautiful Nezu-jina Shrine. We walked about 8 miles. Because the touring was over at about 3;00 PM, we asked the guide to take us to Shibuya crossing, which was not on our tour. She gladly did, and then took us through the subway system.
The final day was a trip to Kamakura, with the same guide and a car hired for the day. We visited the shrines and statues in the area, as well as a bamboo forest behind temple, and then walked through the town a bit. We returned to the hotel a little before 4:00 PM.
As stated, the tour guide that Scott arranged for was excellent, as were his restaurant recommendations.
The complaints I have is that the days were really not that full, as evidenced by the fact that we returned quite early each day, notwithstanding very leisurely lunches. Also, the cost seems excessive in retrospect. We were charged $8,800 for the foregoing; it did not include any meals (even the lunches with the tour guide). Because we booked late and had such a short time horizon, we were willing to pay more and said we would do so. That said, we did not visit any place that was difficult to enter (i.e. no lines, other than at temples and shrines). Admission to the various gardens and shrines seemed to be a bit under $100 in the aggregate, and we mostly toured places that were open to the public and had no admission cost. I have no real basis for comparison of the costs other than discussions with colleagues at the same convention, who also had booked tours (and in some cases did a bit more) and paid significantly less for comparable experiences. This is a very small sample size, of course, but that is my main criticism: it seemed we paid quite a bit to see the highlights of the area.
We read the fabulous reviews Scott received and wondered whether we would have the same experience. The short answer is an unequivocal “yes.” We have enjoyed using many (over 15 at last count) of Wendy’s TTEs over the years but this experience has to rate at or close to the top of our “trips of a lifetime.” Thank you Wendy and team.
Scott listened to our interests and the items we wished to downplay or avoid. He quickly outlined a fabulous 4 week itinerary that enabled us to experience many of the highlights in Japan. Expensive? Yes, but worth every cent. Scott booked us into excellent hotels situated in outstanding locations. He secured a wonderful guide (Emiko Sakaoka) who ensured we saw and did everything worth doing. She answered our questions which helped us to learn a great deal about the Japanese culture. While we aren’t fans of sushi we managed to eat very well. Every restaurant recommendation recognized our food interests and the special birthday dinner for Linda was a real treat.
We are grateful to Philip (the firm’s co-founder and located in Japan) for altering our itinerary to avoid the impact of Typhoon Hagibis. As the storm shut down the Tokyo airport and headed north Philip quickly and seamlessly arranged for us to travel south via the train. Alternate accommodations were excellent and the touring continued without skipping a beat.
As for trip highlights there are many. They include the friendly & interesting people we met, the exciting food markets we toured, the beautiful parks &/gardens we walked through, the huge castles we toured, the inspiring temples & shrines we visited, the many and varied museums we saw, the efficient transportation system we used, the peacefulness of a stay in a ryokan or a Buddhist Temple we experienced. Yes, we loved the private dinner with the geishas, the private tour and/discussion with the multi-generational lacquerware owner and the kimono maker, a private origami-making session, the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery Tour, the Mt. Koya cemetery walk/experience and the Sumo practice session. However, our lasting memory will be of the marvelous and unusual Japanese culture and the gracious people we met.
Our thanks to Scott, Philip, Miho, Emiko and the many folks behind the scenes who made our memorable trip possible….Linda & Joe Rothman – Stamford, Ct.
Working with Scott and his staff was fantastic. From the very start, Scott was incredibly responsive to my questions, gave appropriate feedback on drafting our itinerary to our needs and set our expectations with what we’d experience in Japan (language barriers, helpful tips to consider, etc.). When we received the first draft of our itinerary, we were blown away – and it progressively became better when we added his restaurant recommendations (which were perfect for us). Every private experience that he organized for us was nothing short of incredible and worth the price. In addition to the itinerary, Scott set us up with a perfect guide for us, Sako, She was on time daily, listened to our needs and went above and beyond for us. We were extremely lucky to have her with us for our two weeks we were there and it was tough for us to say goodbye to her!
If we didn’t work with Scott and actually did this on our own, it would have been a different trip – most likely one of frustration and a lack of understanding of the culture and history. The language barrier alone is tough if you’re not a native speaker and having a private guide helped us understand Japan more vividly. Granted, the price tag of the trip is steep – but well worth the cost – and we plan to use Scott again when we go back to Japan to explore more areas. I can’t thank him and his team enough for giving us a trip of a lifetime.
We were in Japan during the 2019 typhoon. The travel specialists switched up our itinerary so we were hardly impacted by this major storm.
The special experiences, especially those in private homes, were not only delightful but gave us real insight into the culture.
I was planning a trip for myself, my mom and my partner on pretty short notice. Jason found us great hotels, got most of our requests in and coordinated with our guide to make sure I had a vegan meal option during our trip in all but one place.
We picked Jason from Scott Gilman’s team out of 3 planners. We felt he took the time on our first 2 phone calls to ask questions and get to know our travel needs which we felt went above what the other planners did. The majority of the ryokan/hotel selections, our guide, our drivers and the care we received was indeed exceptional.
We had a fantastic time. Our guide spent the entire two weeks with us traveling around Japan and I simply cannot say enough good things about her. She was warm, patient, organized, planned everything according to weather and packed our days full of everything we wanted to see or do. We covered a lot of ground and got to have some really unique and special experiences (private dinner with a geiko and maiko, visit a whiskmakers studio, take part in a private tea ceremony and see how kimonos are made in an artisan’s workshop… to name a few). He also organized for JAL (the airline we arrived on) to have a greeter escort us through an expedited customs line and all of our luggage transfers were included in the trip price and handled by our guide.
Jason was good, but his trip was expensive. It was almost double the next most expensive estimate (and that next estimate had us booked in all but one of the same hotels). I decided to move forward with Jason because I felt like he took the time to understand our travel wishes, would plan every detail of our trip and ensure it would go seamlessly. Given that I was traveling with my mother (who is in her 70s and can be a bit of a nervous traveler) I felt the extra expense guaranteed a worry-free trip. The trip was indeed seamless, worry-free and thoroughly enjoyed by all three of us traveling.
We recently completed a five-day post-cruise stay in and around Tokyo planned by Scott Gilman.
Scott was perfect at every phase of our trip: integrating our preferences, hopes and limitations into the tentative plan months ahead; fine tuning and revising the plan relative to our observations; responding almost immediately to all queries; picking essentially ideal lodging, sites and guides for our style; and arranging excellent private experiences, including a fabulous cooking lesson and dinner that we’ll long remember.
Scott’s administrators on the ground in Tokyo were responsive and effective; all guides and drivers arrived at or before the appointed time. And the extensive experience of our very knowledgeable Tokyo guide allowed her to make appropriate itinerary changes on the fly when, for example, the President of the United States (and the logistical nightmare he creates) happened to arrive in Tokyo coincident with our trip…with presidential lodging, site and restaurant visits within blocks of those that Scott had planned for us. Examples of the skill/prowess of our Tokyo guide include the fact that we’d chosen a special, five-seat restaurant in Tokyo (that was not on Scott’s list of recommended restaurants) and, because it was in a residential neighborhood and virtually without signage, was almost impossible to find: our guide got out of the car and prowled the neighborhood with us until we were able to locate the restaurant; she also shifted one of our outings to include, at our request, an impromptu visit to a fascinating Tokyo knife store, and was able to keep us on schedule for other events/sites despite ubiquitous presidential road blocks.
We will definitely use Scott in the future, and I would highly recommend him for anyone interested in visiting Tokyo and wider Japan.
What an absolutely sensational time we had on the trip. It was indeed everything we hoped for and more!
Starting with Scott’s representative who met us at the airport and ensured we got the right bus into the city, everything went off without a hitch. (We did have one moment of concern, however, getting from our flat to Tokyo station on our own the day we left for Nasu, but everything otherwise clicked flawlessly together). Our stay the first three nights in Tokyo was wonderful. Wandering thru the Minamiazabu neighborhood that first evening we found a terrific little ramen place and scoped out a coffee shop for the next morning. The coffee shop proved rather providential as when we arrived the next morning, our guide, Sako, was there getting her own breakfast. Everything went tremendously from there!
Sako was such a pleasure. We couldn’t imagine having a better time. From the start of our sightseeing at Tsukji Market, all the way through Senso-ji and the Meji Shrine and the Omotesando Hills the next day, she was knowledgeable of all the sights and remarkably adept at meeting our interests in the places and experiences. We especially appreciated the department store dining spots she led us to for lunches and the extra effort she made to find a bike shop with a Japan-only bike jersey. We count ourselves very fortunate that she was our guide.
For an experience of the countryside and the highlands, we can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed Art Biotop in the Nasu Highlands. The garden, for anyone interested in landscape design, really is a wonder to behold. And the resort itself we throughly enjoyed. Dinner was like a kaiseki meal, one of the highlights of the trip. The staff and the accommodations were likewise wonderful. Bill’s Ride Experience was one of his most satisfying experiences of the whole trip. The ride through the countryside was stunning and the service and equipment they provided was exceptional even compared to some similar services he’s used in the US. We also enjoyed a visit to the Nasu Kohgen brewery where we delighted in a variety of first-rate craft beers, something we know a bit about living in Asheville.
Kanazawa was yet another highlight. Our guide Junko was indefatigable in ensuring we got a wide range of experiences. The Omicho Market was of course another highlight but so was the castle park and Kenroku-en garden. Everywhere Junko took us, she was extremely knowledgeable about the history, culture and other aspects of those locations. The D.J. Suzuki and Noh Theater Museums were extraordinary examples of contemplative spaces. With the crowds being as large as they were given our holiday week timing, we were extremely grateful for Junko knowing that the multi-museum passes she got us at the smaller venues allowed us to skip the huge lines at the larger institutions such as the Contemporary Art museum. Appreciating art as we do, that museum was phenomenal. The range of works and the design of the museum itself was nothing short of tremendous.
The next day in Shirakawa-go was yet another amazing experience. Thanks to our early start on the day, we were able to beat much of the rush even though by the time we got there, we still ended up walking the last half mile or so into the village from where the line of cars in had all but ground to a halt (on the way out of town a few hours later the line was backed up all the much further). Junko was again as knowledgeable and full of insights into the culture and history of the place as we could imagine.
We would also note what a wonderful time we had that evening for diner at Cottage. The proprietors were just delightful and for a singular break from Japanese food, the pizza and lasagna were excellent. Likewise, we enjoyed the hotel. As an interlude from our private accommodations, it was as luxurious as any hotel we’ve experienced and the local and western breakfast options they offered were superb. Of course, for us the Japanese breakfast took the cake!
Our stay in Kyoto, among so many of the outstanding experiences we had, was possibly the most joyous. For Pat getting to reconnect with her beloved homestay family was the joy of a lifetime, particularly given that 90 year-old Mama-san is still alive and thriving. We enjoyed not only one family dinner with the practically the whole family, but at Mama-san’s insistence the next evening, a second more intimate gathering with just the immediate family. As a still active calligraphy teacher, she also created for us some scrolls which we will frame. With Pat’s homestay sister Yuki leading the way, our three days in Kyoto were delightful. Our visits to Fushimi Inari, Arashiyama and other sites were sensational. Kyoto Bike Tours, though not as entirely well equipped as Ride Experience, did provide Bill with another memorable outing and would also thoroughly recommend their service as well. Another highlight though, among many, was our visit to Takehashi Toku. Our 45 minute tour turned into an almost 2 hour long immersion into this traditional art form and aesthetic.
We can’t say enough about Nashoima and Kurashiki. Visiting the museums and other installations on the island was phenomenal. And experiencing the ryokan was perhaps the most pleasant stay of the entire trip. The kaiseki menu we were provided with each night was practically breathtaking in its presentation and enjoyment.
A final thrill for us was on our Shinkansen back to Tokyo, we were rewarded with a stunning view of Fuji-san. Pat had been fortunate to see it years ago but not nearly as close up as we did from the train.
All in all, this trip was the experience of a lifetime. The service Scott provided enabled us to enjoy it more than we could imagine and we will be recommending him to everyone we know considering a visit to Japan.
Scott knows and loves Japan! He arranged every detail of a two week tour of Japan that gave not only cultural insights into the country, but also included experiences of the day to day life. In Tokyo, we visited the food market, rode the subways, explored department stores and also went to sporting events. With limited time; Scott arranged an evening baseball game of the home town favorites Giants vs. Tigers and an early morning visit to a Sumo Stable to see up close the wrestlers in their practice. In Kyoto, we had two special private experiences one with a monk showing us meditation techniques in a Buddhist Temple and a second touring ceramic studios outside the city, with a well known expert in this field. But, what really made this trip most special was the guide that Scott arranged for us. She was the most experienced and professional guide we have ever had and we saw Japan through her lovely and smiling eyes! Scott planned every detail perfectly from the guide, the hotels, the sights, the experiences and all with precision! I would highly recommend anyone planning a unique and personal trip to Japan to contact Scott Gilman. Best, Kathy Drew
Scott arranged a trip to Japan for Robin and I two years ago. This time we went with friends, and he was conscious of our not repeating our earlier trip. We had a wonderful time, as did our friends. Our guide, MASAKO, was just excellent. Everything we could have hoped for and more. The food of Japan was important to us and she picked great and varied spots for us to eat. Her recommendations for dinner were perfect for us. She rearranged our itinerary to suit our needs/wants at the time (and because it was Golden Week and just days before the new era started). We added a visit to TEAMLAB – recommend it. We were a bit questioning of the trip to the “arts islands”, but it was a very interesting and enjoyable part of the trip.
10 wonderful days in Japan. 3 Fabulous hotels including a special experience in a Ryokan/Onsen (Japanese inn with Hot Springs) in the small towns of central Japan. A number of unique experiences including a Japanese cooking class with a chef at her home in Tokyo. A visit with an exclusive Kimono maker in Kyoto. Top-flight restaurants suggested and reserved in all locations with a variety of culinary experiences. Every day was with one of 3 professionals to guide us through all regions. Lots of the usual stuff with Shrines, Gardens, Temples, Museums and tailored shopping to our tastes. All planned and discussed/tailored in advance.
Scott did exactly what we asked him to do and tried to tailor all to our needs and wants. My only slight concern was the length of time in Kyoto which could have been cut back by a day. Too many temples, shrines, and Shogun homes at that point. We were a bit burned out on that. However, the guide was flexible and rearranged the planned agenda to shift to arts, museums, and shopping. His tailored experiences were excellent and unique. Things that we could not have arranged on our own. His restaurant picks with our input were also right on and ones we could have never picked on our own.
My husband and I just returned from a wonderful trip to Japan. We have worked with many travel specialists and can easily say that Scott Gilman and his team were the most professional, responsive and helpful. Responses to questions or for changes came quickly. He listened to what was important to us and had interesting suggestions. Our guide, Narumi, was great. Our meditation session with a Buddhist monk and the tea ceremony in Kyoto were memorable. There were no glitches in any of our transfers and, sometimes, the separate transfers of our luggage. Scott’s dining suggestions were all excellent and varied. Scott was a pleasure to work with and our trip to Japan was outstanding.
Scott arranged the most memorable private moments for our family. One of our favorite experiences in Japan was attending a sumo wrestler practice, sitting within arms reach of the athletes. The photos are amazing! We also loved creating a new family memory with our kids (18, 21, 25) during a taiko drumming lesson. Since our family loves music, it was a great way to experience local culture and laugh together! Other private experiences that we would never have been able to appreciate without Scott’s expertise included a 5-hour cooking class and dinner in the home of a local Japanese chef. We loved learning about Buddhism and meditating with a monk. All of these were possible thanks to our unbelievable guide, Kiko-san, who also interpreted for us. She was kind, patient, knowledgeable and respectful of our family dynamic.
Traveled to Japan, visiting Tokyo, Takayama, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Mt. Koya, and Osaka. Scott helped me create an itinerary that specifically catered to my family’s interests. He helped me choose cities to visit, the length of time in each destination as well as advise restaurants, accommodations, sites, and activities in each place. Scott arranged for the most amazing guides and drivers as well as unique experiences that were only available to us due to his amazing connections within Japan. Along with his partner Philip Rosenfeld, Scott thought of everything and our whole two-week vacation ran incredibly smoothly. We had one of the most exciting and stress-free family adventures ever. We look forward to planning another trip with him in the future.
Scott and his team did a superb job of understanding who we are and what we wanted to see and do. We had a lot of unique experiences. To mention just a few: intimate sumo experience, time with Buddhist leaders, overnight in the monastery, etc were all terrific. The whole trip was well paced and always the option to do something else if the going became too strenuous.
Our guide Narumi was amazing. Every time we expressed a new interest, she found a way to meet it in the near future.
We would highly recommend Scott and his team, for any trip.
The hotels planned for us were spot-on. We were lucky to be upgraded to a suite at the Conrad Tokyo that was absolutely gorgeous. The hotel was nicely situated close to transportation to get us around the city while on our own too. The Four Seasons in Kyoto was such a nice oasis and the Yoshikawa Inn was lovely with our room having direct garden access. It was so relaxing to go to sleep to the sounds of the stream outside.
Scott’s restaurant suggestions were all very good, particularly in Kyoto. We would never have found these places on our own and I don’t think we had a bad meal while we were there.
Keiko, our local guide, was the best! She fit in more stops that weren’t even on our itinerary according to our interests, such as the 21st Century Art Museum in Kanazawa that were so much fun. We’re convinced we saw at least 50% more than what we would have ever seen if on our own. And she was very helpful in giving us detailed information for our days on our own in Nara and Tokyo.
We loved Japan. Both the people and places filled us with amazement and joy.
We had an excellent trip planning experience with Scott to create a very special holiday for my husband (Bob), 12 year old daughter, 10 year old son and I. Scott wanted to understand our priorities and interests. He had excellent suggestions and was incredibly responsive. Other than Bob unexpectedly getting the flu before our trip and delayed arrival, everything went as planned. Our guide for the week (Sako) was an invaluable resource to us and made the trip incredibly special. We appreciated her flexibility, knowledge, and sensitivity to what appealed to each member of our family. She had many wonderful suggestions and even called a restaurant we were eating at one night to make sure everything was going ok because she knew the menu was only in Japanese and my verbal skills are very basic. It would have been a very different trip without her.
Our trip highlights included:
•watching the Swallows beat the Giants!
•the animal cafes (hedgehogs, otters, and chinchillas)
•visiting the Snow monkeys
•a family Taiko drumming lesson
•participating in a traditional tea ceremony
•the beautiful Kenrokuen Gardens
•visiting the Fushimi Inari shrine and Golden Pavilion
•attend a private Sumo practice!
•trying roasted tea flavor Kit Kat
•staying at a traditional Japanese Ryokan and enjoying the hot springs
It was definitely one of our best family adventures ever.
Scott planned a fantastic trip for us. I wanted to take my youngest daughter to Japan to celebrate her high school graduation. We didn’t have so many days. Scott planned a fabulous and varied itinerary, which we never would have done without him. Our guides were fantastic: They were enthusiastic to show us their beautiful country and were very flexible to accommodate our interests and our energy levels. They were very understanding of how a teenager would like to travel, and my daughter and I enjoyed the time with our guides very much.
Scott arranged several special experiences based on the relationships he has formed. We had a cooking lesson with an amazing woman in her home, a fascinating dinner at a club with geishas, and a calligraphy lesson with an excellent teacher. We both loved Studio Ghibli and the Monkey Park. We took different trains and car rides, and every driver was fantastic and every transfer was smooth.
His choice of hotels was wonderful. Every room was well appointed, clean, safe and quiet. We slept so well every night, particularly at our ryokan. The Mandarin Oriental serves a fantastic breakfast buffet. The Ritz-Carlton was very luxurious (and yes – we did see Leonardo Di Caprio there). It was a very special trip and I felt very pampered and taken care of and I had absolutely no worries. We were particularly fortunate that the cherry blossoms came out when we got there and we got to experience the beauty of the season.
Throughout the trip, I was able to sit back and relax and enjoy everything because of Scott’s careful planning and knowledge of Japan. I would absolutely use him again and recommend him. I have been a fan of Wendy’s since her Conde Nast days. This is now my second special trip with her experts, and I plan on more. The level of professionalism is exceptional.
Scott did a fantastic job of planning a unique trip for our family. He tailored the trip to expose us to beautiful and cultural attributes of Japan. We had a wonderful time from the moment we landed to the moment we took off. We felt welcomed and learned much about the culture, history, and art of the country. We have much more to learn and upon our return, we will request Scott’s help again. Thanks.
Overall, I thought the trip planning was excellent. Because of price considerations, I ended up only doing one full day of tours/accommodations and a mix of public and private transportation. Everything was perfectly timed with people helping us transfer between trains, and accommodating staff. – December 2017, Tokyo/Hakone, Japan.
We enjoyed the trip immensely and felt the service we received from Scott Gilman was outstanding! The guides provided were not only extremely knowledgeable, they were lovely people and very enjoyable to spend time with. The accommodations we had at each location, were superb and we couldn’t ask for anything better. The private events we did were the highlight of the trip for each family member. From the cooking class to the drumming lesson to meditation with a monk — all were outstanding and quite memorable. We were able to cover a great deal of ground because of a well-coordinated process and appreciated having prompt and reliable drivers throughout the journey. We were also extremely impressed with the Japanese people and their culture – vowing to go back again.
Kyoto, Nara, Takayama, Kanazawa, Shimane, Tokyo and a brief stop in Osaka
We really enjoyed our trip to Japan. I can’t believe we didn’t do that sooner.
We decided to go to Japan on quite short notice. We called Scott and after some discussion about us and our preferences, he was able to make arrangements very quickly and everything went very smoothly. Tomo was a great guide – fun to be with and very accommodating.
I am glad that Scott was able to engage her on such short notice.
I really enjoyed our visits with Kimono makers, paper makers, and the zen meditation visit. The indigo dyeing visit was great. He is such an entertaining instructor.
Tomo was able to take me to lovely “craft” shops everywhere we visited. And of course, the leaves cooperated, with spectacular colours.
Taking taxis was the right choice. They were efficient, plentiful and all had very friendly drivers.
In fact, we found everyone in Japan very friendly, as well as efficient and polite.
Scott planned a perfect trip for us for our first visit to Japan. The hotels were great, his restaurant recommendations were terrific, and most importantly we had a terrific guide, Junko, who traveled with us. Not only was Junko extremely knowledgeable, she was a pleasure to spend time with each day. We visited all the major sites in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Naoshima as well as cities and towns in the Japanese Alps so we were exposed to small villages as well as large cities. We would definitely use Scott to plan another trip to Japan.
We had a fabulous time! Scott made sure to organize an absolutely lovely, and most important, authentic, trip for us. He spent hours on the front end talking with me since I’m so specific about what well be spending time on. Scott went above and beyond in explaining all of my different options of sightseeing and locations in Japan to visit, given my lack of familiarity with the country.
And our guide who Scott set us up with, Sako, truly made it an amazing experience – I can’t say enough about her. When we told her we were foodies, Sako showed us all of her secret / favorite restaurants and bars, which were our favorites actually! And, she went above and beyond when we wanted to change the schedule – go to Matsumoto a day early to do the hike, since it was supposed to rain on the day we were scheduled to do so, taking us to local massage parlors, etc. Also, just overall, she was a kind, fun person who we loved having accompany us throughout our trip.
Scott had every little detail covered, down to having a porter waiting at the airport to help us with our luggage at departure time.
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.