Can we achieve our
or will there be cuts?
So, despite realising we had selected the busiest and most expensive time to visit Japan, I went online and found a number of likely recipients to advise on and quote for our trip. I emailed the draft itinerary to three specialist Japan tour companies and to the Japan National Tourism Organization’s office in London. I asked them to take a look to see whether they thought our plan was do-able at all and if so what sort of budget we’d be looking at. All were extremely helpful – three were extremely doubtful. The JNTO advice came free and offered me the chance of going in to discuss it. The tour operators all suggested the budget we’d tentatively set ourselves was about half of what was required. They also warned us that we had opted to travel at the most expensive and busy time and that making bookings at all would be difficult and where possible, expensive. I had mentioned that I was aware of this in my covering letter but that because of work commitments, this was sadly the only period this year when we are free to travel.
We had some Avios (Airmiles as was) which would cover the flights to Tokyo with British Airways. So we picked our dates, clicked confirm and Bingo! Stage one the flight out was booked. Except not – the checkout basket kept asking me for credit card details and a significant sum of money. So we abandoned that bit until I could call Avios next day to check it. We continued refining the trip so that we could include as many of the Murakami places, the gardens, ukiyo-e galleries and general tourist sites as possible. I had managed to make it to Kamakura and Nikko on my previous visits – Nikko most notably with overnight ryokan style accommodation in a school staff dormitory, callisthenics with the pupils to a nationally broadcast radio routine at six in the morning as the sun rose followed by a miso soup and pickles breakfast. And yes I still want to go back.
After observing, commenting on and demonstrating practical activities, we did finish relatively early in the school in Nikko and managed to take lunch at a restaurant on Lake Chuzenji which consisted of some of the most delicious freshly caught trout I’ve ever eaten – hope they’ve still got some and haven’t overfished the lake. So that’s another must for the list – to go back and see how much it’s changed – as if I can really remember.
Websites are wonderful things but looking at hotels on them can be very confusing. Booking.com and Agoda.com have settings where you can set prices in GBP and not have to have the calculator to hand. But the very good Japan based sites Rakuten and Jalan only show prices in ¥ per person per night and JapanIcan.com kept freezing on me so I gave up on that. However that first Sunday afternoon we had decided on the E Hotel in Shinjuku for our first two nights in Japan so that at least we had something booked. And at £60 per night for both of us it led us to believe the whole thing might be a reality not just a possibility. We folded the map, put away the guidebooks and shut down the laptop in an optimistic frame of mind.
Next morning did bring something of a shock however when my call to Avios confirmed that while our accumulated miles would indeed buy the tickets to Tokyo they wouldn’t cover the taxes. On reflection and after my initial indignation, this is an understandable Avios policy since fuel surcharges, airport fees and government taxes change all too frequently. So what we’d seen as a free flight is now going to cost us £343.75 each just for taxes. Ah well, as always for most of us there’s no way of avoiding taxes.