The itinerary for our two week trip was 7 days in Tokyo, two days in Hiroshima, one day on Miyajima Island, 3 days in Kyoto, and then an overnight in Narita before catching our flight home. After much research and many visits to tripadvisor.com and other helpful web sites, I confidently booked hotels and fleshed out the itinerary -- hoping to include at least a few highlights for everyone. Baseball at the Tokyo Dome for my Giants fan husband, The Ghibli Museum for the anime-loving kids, and low-stress train travel from place to place for all of us.
When I needed to get rail passes, a web site referred me to JTB (Japan Travel Bureau) USA's San Francisco office. I e-mailed, asking about the pricey two-week rail passes, and a helpful woman named Akiko patiently questioned my itinerary, and then suggested that I not bother with the two-week passes when one-week ones would do -- we'd get them validated when we left Tokyo -- and they were much, much more economical. That win was just the first. Akiko also sent me a seating chart for baseball tickets at the Tokyo Dome, and then arranged to have our baseball tickets delivered to the hotel. They were waiting for us when we checked into our Shinjuku digs.
Lastly, since tickets for the Ghibli Museum are only available by pre-purchase and for set times and dates, Akiko arranged for those too. She threw in a nice little discount and used her magic to ensure we did not have to adhere to a specific time on our ticket date -- which is especially nice when traveling with kids.
I don't know why it surprises me that an agency specializing in Japan is knowledgeable about Japan, but it does. In the past, most of my experiences with agencies have been adversarial. We only used the agency for three tasks, but their approval about what I'd already planned and help with what I hadn't certainly boosted my confidence about the trip. When we return to Japan, I will be sure to pester them for more help and many more suggestions.
If you ever worked with a travel pro expert in a region or subject, please share. Here's the contact info for JTB in SF (check the web site for other locations):
JTB USA, Inc.
685 Market Street, Suite 200, San Francisco, CA. 94105Office Hours: 9:00-17:00, Monday-Friday
Tel: 415-986-4764(Ext 204) Fax: 415-986-3989