I am so blessed to have found Mari’s services via her website out of the vast number of agencies offering package tours of Japan. I am a lawyer and former assistant film editor and this fall I gave myself the gift of a solo trip to Japan. In order to fulfill a life long dream, my desire was to have an expert design a personalized “grand tour” of Japan (in the 18th century sense of the term). Mari was responsive from my very first inquiry email. From our follow-up phone conversation I got a clear sense that this woman could make my dream trip a reality within the constraints of my chosen budget.
Because Mari was so organized and gave me such a clear sense of process along with many opportunities to give feedback on the plans, I felt safe in investing my money and dream itinerary in her hands. I am beyond thrilled that I made that decision. Mari was keen to get my input. I gave Mari a list of disparate things that I knew and liked about Japanese culture – some very specific things like the films of Akira Kurosawa and the architecture of Tadao Ando and then some very general concepts like “Aikido” and “Zen aesthetics”.
I highlighted very specific buildings I wanted to see and very general impressions I wanted to take in and Mari diligently crafted a plan that touched on every single concept, thought, emotion, feeling and expression that I wanted to experience. Moreover, her plan included enough space for new things and experiences that I had little previous exposure to but came to love. One such example is that I had a Koto lesson by a master teacher and then I got to play a traditional piece on Koto while Mari accompanied me on Shamisen…and that was just in the first few days of my 17-day itinerary!
Her attention to detail and ability to regulate frank feedback all through the journey was incredible. Mari organized an ambitious schedule and brought me in contact with local guides who are as clever, informed, thoughtful and fun as she is.
I learned that she coordinated a discussion group between the guides and herself and, as a group, they always made sure I was giving feedback to Mari and the other guides so I could get what I needed in each future place on the agenda. For instance, the later guides learned from earlier reports that I rarely wanted to slow down for lunch because I was so eager to see and experience as much as humanly possible in a given day. They started preparing for that by showing up with snacks for us, “barbecuing” in a beautiful mountain-side hot-spring or finding just the right tako-yaki stall to stop at for some nutrients and local flavor while on the go from place to place.
So, although I was a solo-traveler, I felt as if I was in the care of a long-lost cousin in each town I encountered: Tokyo, Hakone, Matsumoto, Hida-Takayama, Kyoto, Nara, Koyasan, Kumano-Kodo, Himeji, Okayama, Naoshima Island, Osaka and the beautiful places in between.
I am very grateful to Mari and all the guides for their hard-work and “hustle” on my behalf. My grand tour of central Japan was more than just a vacation: every day was a masterpiece — a living work of art.
I intend to enlist Mari and her team to do it again in the future!