“ Wonderful Trip to Japan made even better with Yoshi's help ”
Traveling to a foreign country for the first time is challenging, no matter how seasoned of a traveler is. The language, the climate, and simply navigating your way around can be daunting. Even with the best planning, unless you have lot's of time to spare and don't mind getting lost. Plus the fact that there are simply details of where to go and HOW to get there is usually best left to someone local.
This is why for our first trip to Japan, we choose to bring on a local tour guide. Not saying you couldn't find one from a blog or craigslist, we just felt better and secure knowing what we were getting upfront.
Yoshihisa (or Yoshi), as he preferred to be called, was an incredible asset and local tour guide for our time in Kyoto. We scheduled for a full day in Kyoto and didn't want to spend time figuring out where and how to get around, Yoshi asked what our goals were and had an itinerary down perfectly.
We were able to visit a total of 7 heritage sites and including a traditional Japanese lunch at one of the parks. Locations included, Nijo Park, Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), Ryoanji Temple (had a traditional yudofu soup), Bamboo Park near the Nonomiya Shrine, Tenryuji Temple, Togetsu-kyo Bridge and finishing at the Fushima Inari-Taisha Shrine.
We parted ways at the Inari station which was conveniently located right next to our last tour site.
Enough about the where, a little bit about the what. Yoshi was very knowledgeable of the history of each site we visited. Although we saw there were plenty of local tour guides, Yoshi lead us to unique spots and shared trivia or history that not many other tour guides were providing. A big plus in our book to get the "inside scoop" on Japanese history.
If you are reading this review, most likely you are looking for an English speaking tour guide. In our opinion, this is where Yoshi really shined. Yes, he does have a Japanese accent. He is a local resident after all. It wasn't that heavy and we understood everything he explained. Here's a tidbit if you are trying to decide on which guide to choose, Yoshi is a retired Senior High School English teacher!
At one part of the tour, Yoshi quizzed us about a tour site to see if we remembered what he shared. I guess once a teacher, always a teacher! :)
PROS: Made navigating Kyoto historical sites simple and easy. Got to learn of some uncommon details of Japanese history. Made very good use of our limited sight seeing time. Yoshi has a great command of the English language, even when trying to explain parts of Japanese history that sometimes doesn't have direct translations.
CONS: While we had ample time to visit each heritage site, there wasn't too much time to "soak in" the atmosphere. We visited Japan during Cherry Blossom Festival / Hanami - Sakura and this is a very popular time of year for visitors. Plus it was Spring Break for the local schools. So every where we went, it was crowded. Not the fault of our tour guide but this does cramp the allowed time. So with that you mileage may vary.
OVERALL: If you are planning a visit Kyoto and want to tour the Heritage Sites, I recommend booking Yoshihisa as your local tour guide. Having one is well worth the investment, as the experience will be much more stress-free and enjoyable. Now isn't this why we go on vacation?