Why you need to spend your summer in Japan (and stop saying ‘bucket list’ in 2018.)

by Alyssa Daniells
mount fuji summer in japan blue sky peaceful mountain reflected in water

A children’s book heroine. A promise to a father. And a lesson learned from a six-pack of beer. What in the world are we talking about? Read on!

summer night in japan, people eating street food at night from a vendor

Forget that proverbial bucket list. I want to see Japan long before I am anywhere near kicking the bucket.

Now that it’s 2018, I am closer to that prospect than ever. (I mean seeing Japan, not the death part. Although I suppose both are true.) I want to scale Mount Fuji! I want to climb those soaring shrines! I want to knock back sake in Kyoto! I want to take in the futuristic feel of Tokyo — while I still have a future!

Many people hold back from visiting Japan for fear of being Lost in Translation, to reference the acclaimed Bill Murray film set in Tokyo. I realize not knowing the Japanese language nor cultural cues was something I worried about, too.

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Thanks to an enterprising travel agent and an award-winning adventure company, now travel to Japan from Canada will be easier, more in-depth and definitely fun.

Your Summer in Japan Travel Guide, Colin McKenna

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I caught up with Flight Centre’s Colin McKenna, a Japan expert, who masterminded Intrepid Travel‘s new tour, Summer in Japan.

What: Summer in Japan
Who: Colin McKenna & local Japanese guides
When: August 4, 2018 to Aug 17, 2018
Where: Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kawaguchiko, Mt. Fuji, Shimoda & Tokyo
Why: Because Japan is incredible and this tour runs only two weeks!
How:  Contact Colin McKenna in-store at Flight Centre Fairview Mall at  1.866.581.7765 (Toll-free) or +1.416.490.1225, email at colin.mckenna@flightcentre.ca or Instagram: @flywithmeyyz

Colin drew upon his three years of living in Japan to craft this itinerary of his adopted homeland. He thoughtfully curated his favourite must-dos and must-sees in Japan, into 14 fulfilling days.

sushi on the summer in japan tour intrepid travel and colin mckenna flight centre travel agent

Colin, how did your love affair with Japan come to be?

It began at the tender age of 10. My grade 5 teacher read us Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes. I was mesmerized by how different the character Sadako’s life was from mine, even though we were the same age. I was intrigued by the details of her life which were so foreign to mine, from her day at school to her favourite meal of bean soup (which I learned later was miso soup) and folding up her bed each night.

Years later, when my Dad dropped me off for my final year of university, he asked what I was going to do after I graduated. With no actual plan in place, I just said, “I’ll teach English in Japan!” As the date approached, I figured I’d better put that plan in place. Five days after my last exam, I got a job in Toronto teaching English and three months later, I was living in Japan.

Kashiwa, Japan. Many of my clients ask where my favourite place that I have visited is. Japan in April would undoubtedly be it. The cherry blossom (Sakura) season coincides with the end of the school year, and the start of many new careers. So while the sakura are objectively beautiful, delicate and fleeting, imagine having that tied up with the feelings of nostalgia for your old school days, or watching your children change as the trees do. It’s a busy time in Japan but not to be missed. This week, to coincide with 10 years back from Japan, I will profile my last trip through the Fuji Go-Ko region and the Izu Peninsula. With my help, perhaps you’ll get to experience a wonderful journey like this too. #nrt #hnd #tyo #aircanada #liveintrepid #flightielife #flighties #flightcentre #japan #nippon #sakura #goldenweek #hanami #cherryblossom #gorgeous #beautiful #openmyworld #tailormadetour

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How long did you live and teach in Japan?

I was there for three years, from 2004 to 2007. I was mainly in Kashiwa, about 30 minutes from the Tokyo city centre. During that time, I was immersed in the Japanese culture. When I taught English in Toronto, I was only with students for 40-minute intervals. Teaching in Japan, I was with them inside and outside of the classroom. I ate lunch with the kids and got involved in their sports days and other recreational activities.

Sounds like you are a bonafide Japan expert. Why do you recommend a guided tour of Japan?

There are so many different cultural nuances, having a local guide or someone who knows Japan makes the Intrepid tour invaluable. Sure, the transportation is modern and many of the stations feature English, but there are so many rules and customs that if you aren’t familiar with them, could lead to embarrassment or you miss out on essential experiences. I say that from experience myself. A guided tour encourages you to explore and expose you to places you may otherwise not see— which is hard or impossible to do on your own. Intrepid Travel, who is operating this tour I designed, will also have local guides and all our transportation is taken care of, so you have more time to enjoy the trip and fewer hassles.

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I’m sure we’d all love to hear any embarrassing moments– no pressure of course!

There were several, but over time I learned how to avoid them. However, as a tourist when you visit Japan, you don’t have that luxury of time. In the early days of living there, my brother came to visit me one summer in Japan. We walked into our Kyoto hotel room and there was no bed! We didn’t realize that the Japanese use tatamis, which are made up at night and put away during the day so we had to ask the front desk! Oh and the two of us hiking to the Mt. Fuji summit with only shorts on and a six-pack of beer, because it was blazing hot, but by nightfall, it was cold, so that wasn’t too smart. With a guide, we’d have known to bring warmer layers of clothing and that a six-pack of beer wasn’t going to cut it for hydration!

Are there other Japan points of interest you think would benefit from a guide?

Any Japan travel experience is enhanced by someone who knows the country and culture. My brother and I missed out on the traditional onsen (Japanese communal baths) which are a cultural cornerstone. We didn’t know how to do it, not to mention with our Western discomfort about being next to strangers bathing! A guide would have helped get us out our comfort zone and we wouldn’t have missed out on this essential Japanese experience.

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Is summer the best time to visit Japan?

Every season has its charms, but I think summer in Japan offers the most travel opportunities. Among the many Summer in Japan tour highlights is participating in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony. This annual event takes place in the summer and commemorates the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during WWII.

Incidentally, there is a famous statue of Sadako, the heroine of the childhood book that inspired my love of Japan. When I visited Hiroshima that summer in Japan with my brother, seeing it really made it all come full circle.

That’s lovely! Speaking of your own summer in Japan tour with your brother, does one need a high fitness level for the 2018 Japan tour?

In short, no, but I would recommend some light training. I started the 12-Week Challenge, an effective exercise and nutrition program open to those who work for Flight Centre. That’s one of the great employee benefits we have. On the tour, we hike overnight to see the spectacular Fuji sunrise, but you actually don’t need physical prowess for that, myself included. After learning from my experience climbing it the first time, in July we will have tiered timing, including a stay with a local guide. Walking sticks are useful. This time around, I plan to buy a branded stick they sell, I always regretted not getting one as a memento.

sunrise over mount fuji summer in japan tour

Japan isn’t called the Land of the Rising Sun for nothing! The spectacular Mt. Fuji sunrise is just one of the many once-in-a-lifetime sights to see on Intrepid’s Summer in Japan tour.

Who is the Summer in Japan tour for?

It’s perfect for anyone who has always wanted to visit Japan and have a well-rounded experience. It’s truly a unique Japan trip, and it’s only offered these two weeks in August.

There you have it, folks, there’s no time like the present to book the quintessential and best tour of Japan you’ll see this summer.

Visit Toronto travel agent and team leader Colin at the Fairview Mall Flight Centre store, or if you’re elsewhere in the country, call toll-free at  1.866.581.7765 or email colin.mckenna@flightcentre.ca. For more information about Japan travel, you may also call 1 877 967 5302. 

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