Japan Spring Tour 2015 Remembered
A group of 20 golfers and partners recently returned from Go Golfing’s tour to Japan. The tour was timed to coincide with Cherry Blossom season and right on cue they bloomed on the day our guests arrived.
The cherry blossoms add rich colour to the landscape and made the golf courses postcard perfect. Lunch with Sumo wrestlers, dinner with exotic Geisha, Ninja demonstrations, a lesson in the art of Bonsai – you won’t find a tour with such diversity in any travel agency. And when our final round was cancelled because it was snowing (first time in 90 years it has snowed in April) we pulled some strings to arrange a French degustation in the restaurant of the original Iron Chef (tv series), Hiroyuki Sakai.
Escorting Go Golfing tours for more than 10 years it’s fair to say that my passport has more stamps than most. Japan was still on my bucket list, so I jumped at the chance to host Go Golfing’s tour to Japan. And the experience was delightful.
After a comfortable flight on a Boeing-787-Dreamliner we arrived in Kobe for the start of our 15 day tour. Go Golfing arranged private transfers to the centrally located and luxurious Oriental Hotel. This hotel has reception on the 17th floor overlooking the waterfront. The staff were welcoming and this hotels has all the mod-cons, even a warming seat on the loo.
Japan is only one hour behind the east coast of Australia, so jet-lag was not an issue. Following breakfast our first get-together was a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony performed by a seventh generation tea master who’s ancestry dated back over 300 years. Tea ceremonies are reserved for special occasions, and what could be more special than the start of our Go Golfing spring tour.
Etsuki our local Japanese guide took us on a walking tour through the city centre of Kobe with the historic Ikuta Shrine a highlight. A relaxing brunch followed where we got to know each other and as we do on all Go Golfing group tours we laid out some ground rules in the interest of everyone’s enjoyment.
Our guided tour of Kobe continued to the waterfront which was decimated by an earthquake in 1995 causing $100 billion in damage. We were in awe of how they have rebuilt this sea port which is now the 4th busiest in Japan. China town, the 19th century Yamate Hachibankan museum and finishing at a Sake brewery completed the tour.
This evening we dine on their famous Kobe Beef. Here the beef cattle are pampered, massaged and have a daily ration of beer. No complaints here, the meat was tender and flavoursome.
Our first round of golf at the highly acclaimed ABC course. Now this is a course with pristine fairways, manicured greens and capable and endearing caddies. A sumptuous lunch in the clubhouse was included. This was an awesome start to the golf.
Four non-golfers were treated to a day of Japanese culture – the architectural splendour of a traditional castle, a stroll through a secret garden, and a tour of the Enryakuji Zen Temple where scenes of “The Last Samurai” were filmed.
We travelled at over 300km per hour on a first class bullet train to Hiroshima. On 6 August 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on the city centre. Our visit to the Peace Memorial Museum was sombre, while their spirit to rebuild a city that was flattened was so uplifting.
Lunch was a traditional speciality “okonomiyaki” a hybrid pizza-omelette. It included a cooking lesson before our do-it-yourself preparation of this local cuisine – great fun!
We continued by coach and ferry to Miyajima Island and a narration of the sacred “Shrine of the Sea” one of Japan’s most memorable images. While Japan hasn’t constructed pyramids or great walls, it is most evident that its people are the country’s greatest asset. Polite and considerate, we were a little embarrassed with the lengths they go to please. As a seasoned traveller, the lavish attention was a refreshing reminder of just how good service can be.
A golfing highlight at the private Rokko Kokusai Golf Club – where this year’s Japan Open will be played. Again the course and caddies were immaculate. Remote controlled golf carts chaperoned us around the course. Yes, that’s right, no pedals or steering, just a button to start and stop. The fairways were lined with cherry blossoms in full bloom. A stop at half way for lunch had us in good spirits to tackle the back 9.
On a good day for scoring Paul Roffey (Belmont, NSW) and Derek Van Der Kley (The Grand, QLD) are leading the men’s division, while in the ladies, Jill Meuthen (Pymble, NSW) is one point ahead of Calsie Ransford (Barwon Heads,VIC). We will be tuning in to watch the pro’s tackle this course in the Japan Open.
Non- golfers toured Nara and Osaka with blooming cherry blossoms the highlight. Religion is an important part of Japanese culture and insights into Buddhism and Shinto were shared.
After golf we all returned to Osaka to view Hideyoshi’s Castle and downtown to Dotombori district where eateries and neon signs dominate. The cherry blossoms are making everything postcard perfect.
Today we toured Kyoto, the most significant historical and cultural city of Japan with 17 world heritage sites. It is home to over 1700 Buddhist Temples and 300 Shinto shrines. The Kiyomizu “pure water” temple was a remarkable collection of historic structures. The 400 year old Nijo castle and the Golden Pavilion completely clad with gold leaf is amazing.
After a traditional Japanese lunch it was a high speed train to Kanazawa for 3 nights at the very plush Nikko Hotel.
Akira our enthusiastic and interesting guide was keen to show us around his home city of Kanazawa. Golfers travelled to Noto Country Club for our third round of golf. Wide tree-lined fairways gave us a false sense of security, while the subtle undulations on the greens were testing. Another golf lunch fit for a king.
Non-golfers were suitably entertained with a visit to the Samurai district of Kanazawa.The 300 year old Omicho Market sold everything, even things you have never heard of.
After another lavish breakfast we travelled to the Shirakawago World Heritage Village in the central Japanese mountains. Large houses with steep-pitched thatched roofs have been preserved. Given their altitude, the streets were covered in snow.
We then toured a Geisha district where the talents of the women extend beyond musical instruments and dancing. I’ll leave that to your imagination. Next stop was the Kenrokuen Garden, the finest garden in Japan and we can attest to that. Our cameras hardly stopped clicking as we marvelled at the many fauna and flora features of the garden.
A bullet train had us arriving at Odawara for an overnight stay at the luxurious Odawara Hilton. Before checking in we had a cruise on Lake Ashi followed by a cable car to the top of Owakudani. The weather gods were not smiling on us and our views of the crater and Mt Fuji were not great.
Our spirits were quickly restored on checking in to the Hilton. Palatial – hot spas, bowling alley and indoor driving range were just some of the features. A traditional Japanese dinner tonight with sake tasting and geisha entertainment – loads of fun.
After trawling the breakfast buffet it was off to Dai Hakone, host venue for Japan’s most revered tournaments. Scoring today was vastly improved with Paul Gill (Carnarvon,NSW) and Sary Van Der Kley (The Grand,QLD) our best.
Non-golfers visited the 500 year old Odawara Castle with a fine collection of armoury and weapons before visiting Hakone National Park, showcasing Japan’s finest collection of sculpture and a pavilion dedicated to the works of Picasso. Oh and of course a spot of shopping.
We all travelled together to Tokyo and checked into ANA Intercontinental – these hotels just seem to get grander and grander. Tonight’s highlight was dinner at a Ninja restaurant. After completing our Ninja training a 10 course banquet followed with spellbinding Ninja magic.
It was a long but scenic drive to golf today at the private Musashi Country Club. The weather was a little misty and there was little run so the course played longer than usual. Again, cherry blossom lined fairways held us in awe of the course presentation. Wendy Scott (Ipswich, Qld) and Ian Faulkner (Nelson Bay, NSW) were the best today.
Rikugien, the ‘6 poems garden’ is widely regarded as Tokyo’s finest Japanese landscape garden and has a collection of Bonsai, with trees over 800-years old. Here, we enjoyed lessons in Bonsai cutting – no auditions for the next Karate Kid movie. Then followed by a visit to Kotokuin Temple to see the Great Buddha standing over 13 metres.
A good meal with new friends at a local restaurant rounded out another great day.
Today we travelled to the other side of Tokyo Bay for our final round at Camellia Hills Country Club. Arriving at the course, the heavens opened, it was SNOW. Snow in April is a phenomena that hasn’t happened in 90 years. Unfortunately the course was closed.
We visited the Master of Origami, Kazuo Kobayashi, who created a small memento for each of us and we could not resist purchasing the delicate paper. Grand Master Kunio gave us a lesson in Bonsai and then our own 10 year tree to practice the craft.
In lieu of golf the group were treated to dinner at La Rochelle, a French restaurant owned by chef Hiroyuki Sakai, the original “IRON CHEF” from the TV series. The specially prepared 7-course meal with all drinks included well and truly made up for the snowed-out golf round.
Our last two days in Tokyo were spent sightseeing, including an interesting training session of one of Japan’s favourite sports – Sumo wrestling. It’s surprising how supple and fit these giants are.
No tour to Tokyo would be complete without a visit the Edo Tokyo Museum founded in 1993 as a facility to preserve and display the historical heritage of Tokyo. The Museum takes visitors on a journey from the roots of the old settlement of Edo, through the closed-country Tokugawa/Edo period, through the modernising Meiji era to present day Tokyo, a global Metropolis. The best museum I have ever visited.
Continuing the Sumo theme, we lunched on a traditional Sumo Wrestlers’ meal of ‘Chanko’, a very tasty, protein-packed stew, followed by birthday cake for Murray Scott.
We continued to the historic Asakusa district, Sensoji Temple, Nakamise Street Market and Kaminari Gate, before riding in traditional rickshaws dashing thru the backstreets of old Tokyo. We finished the day with a cooking lesson in the art of sashimi. We dined on our creations, accompanied by peach wine and tea.
Our last day included a visit to Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market where Tuna Auctions are famous. We strolled through the jam packed stalls to discover over 450 fish and seafood products.
The Meiji Shrine is one of Japan’s most important Shinto Shrines, completed in 1920, as the spiritual resting place of the Emperor Meiji, who presided over Japan’s first trysts with the modern West in the late 19th Century. It is also a popular venue for weddings – photo bombing is not encouraged!
We travelled up Tokyo Tower for a panoramic view of the cityscape before a shopping tour of Harajuku which had something for everyone. Its main street, a veritable avenue, wide and lined by trees, is often referred to as Tokyo’s Champs Elysees, and just a minute away lies the intense and totally off-beat Takeshita Street, one of Tokyo’s most eclectic thoroughfares, and a ‘must-see’ spot for visitors with bargains galore.
There’s was time to freshen up at the hotel before pre-dinner drinks at the exclusive top floor bar at Roppongi Hills Club. The private room at the world-renowned Ryotei Restaurant Botan was a great venue for our farewell and presentation dinner. Stunning kimono dress attendants greeted us and continually pampered us throughout the evening as we dined on a magnificently presented 8 course dinner with beers and fine wines.
Ladies – 1st Calsie Ransford (Barwon Heads, Vic); 2nd Jill Meuthen (Pymble, NSW).
Men – 1st Paul Roffey (Belmont, NSW) and Derek Van Der Kley (The Grand,QLD)
Team Green won the Team Comp – Derek, Calsie and Paul Gill played consistent golf and were rewarded with first place.
Sayounara from Japan – Terry McCarthy