Japan: Land of Cherry Blossoms, Festivals, and More…

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Japan: Land of Cherry Blossoms, Festivals, and More…

I was invited to travel to Japan last February by Goway and our ground suppliers, and I agreed in a heartbeat. I had always wanted to visit Japan, and had seemingly missed opportunities during my travel career to visit the land of cherry blossoms, festivals, and more…

My trip focused only on the main island of Honshu, and as we travelled in winter, our itinerary focused on the many winter and snow themed festivals occurring in Japan during February.

My journey began in Tokyo, where we immediately headed north to the Nikko Toshogu Shrine. Nikko is the former capital during the reign of the Shoguns, and the temple a living monument to that time. Here one finds the famous three monkeys sculpture, “see no, speak no, hear no evil,” adorning temple columns. After lunch at the vintage Nikko Kanaya Hotel, we continued to a traditional sake brewery to taste quality Japanese sake, then onto strawberry picking (and eating), and happily back on to the coach to nearby Kinugawa Onsen – a hot spring resort. It was the place of my first “ryokan” experience and “kaiseki” traditional Japanese dinner!

John McGonigle in Japan - Enjoying a Traditional Kaiseki Dinner at Kinugawa Onsen, Japan
Enjoying a traditional Kaiseki dinner

After a well-needed night’s sleep, we were off the next day to explore Ninja life entertainingly highlighted at Edo Wonderland. It is sort of a “Plimoth Plantation” recreation of life, back in the day of Edo culture from the 1600s to 1800s – ancient Ninja times. Apparently wherever one finds Ninjas, one finds Geisha girls… never one to avoid the spotlight. I was captured by Ninjas (ok, my tour leaders) and thrust onto the stage of Wakamatsu-ya, the traditional Japanese theatre recreation at Edo Wonderland. Not knowing the language was a plus. I became the central character (comic relief) in the day’s play, earning the attention of the fascinating beauty, Oiran, the star Geisha girl. Well, let me tell you, she and I… nah, you’d have to buy the book or watch my webinar!

John McGonigle in Japan - Taking Part in a Traditional Japanese Theatre Production at Edo Wonderland, Japan
John taking part in a traditional Japanese theatre production at Edo Wonderland

I cooled off later by visiting the Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival (or, Yunishigawa Snow House Festival) at the Yunishigawa Onsen. Somehow snow and hot springs make for a very relaxing evening while we awaited darkness to view the glowing candles within thousands of snow domes placed along a river bed. This amazing sight was warmed by the local frothy sake available from a roadside stand. Our evening finished up with traditional dinner over an indoor firepit, at a small local hotel across a suspension bridge and through a forest of massive icicles. This visual frozen fantasy was accompanied by friendly Japanese hospitality and the warmth of the restaurant.

Continuing north still, our journey took us to yet another snow festival, Tokamachi, in, at, and around the Echigo-Tsumari Satoyama Museum of Contemporary Art, Kinare and local town. Locals and visitor alike spend days here in February, enjoying the snow sculptures and even a traditional tea ceremony held outdoors in a life-size tea house made of snow! That evening we stayed at the NASPA Resort, one of the closest ski fields to Tokyo… just in case we didn’t get our snow fix earlier.

John McGonigle in Japan - Prepping for the Upcoming Doll Festival, Izu Peninsula, Japan
Prepping for the upcoming doll festival

Near the NASPA Resort, the following morning we boarded a bullet train back to Tokyo and connected with another bullet bringing us to Kawazu on the Izu Peninsula. Just steps outside the rail station we found ourselves in the midst of the Sakura Festival, featuring the natural beauty of the Kawazu-zakura, or cherry blossom – the earliest blooming variety of the national flower.

On our final day, we explored the Izu Peninsula, which, with warmer temps and palm trees even in February, seemed more like the South Pacific than the snow festivals of the north. Our final festival, Hina Matsuri, which celebrates the health and happiness of daughters, was featuring displays of “Kazari Bina” or Japanese dolls arrayed in miniature traditional dress, at several museums surrounding the Kawazu harbour.

Wonderful sights, sounds, and tastes await you on a Japan vacation. Let Goway be your guide as you explore, experience, and enjoy our wonderful world.

For travel ideas to Japan, please visit us at www.goway.com.


John McGonigleJohn has been telling stories about his travel experiences for more than thirty years as a featured speaker at various industry trade shows, conferences, and the occasional mirror. His personal travel stories are a result of over 25 African safaris, more than 20 journeys to the South Pacific, and many other destinations worldwide. John enjoys quiet moments, long walks on the beach…and empowering travel professionals and his sales team to promote their story to potential clients, via their passion and own travel experiences.