ESPRIT STAFF

Esprit Travel’s cultural tours started with a simple vision: To give participants an authentic experience of the culture of Japan in all its richness and beauty. Our motivation was equally simple. We were completely enchanted with the artistry, culture, people and life of Japan and wanted to share it with travelers seeking a genuine experience of another culture.

It had been the good fortune of many of us at Esprit to live, work, study and explore throughout Japan. We had each, in our own way, entered into the life and the heart of Japan and felt sure we could share that with fellow adventurers. From the start, we saw that simply riding around Japan on a tour bus and getting off to see famous government buildings and major sites would not reveal the Japan we had come to know and love. It would not allow our travelers to experience the way one is intoxicated, even seduced, by a wonderful new world. So, we set out to plan and lead cultural tours that transcend mere travel.

Today, it is our pleasure to lead travel experiences that unfold like a beautiful story you never want to end. Because our tours are carefully crafted to open many windows into a culture, each participant has a uniquely meaningful experience. Perhaps you will always remember the way the maples glowed at sunrise as gongs rang and monks chanted, or the Kabuki actors explaining their art to you, or the artisan showing you the stoneware tea bowls, dripping with glaze, that he hand crafts in his workshop. Someone else many treasure the time spent soaking in a mountain hot spring, contemplating the wonders of the day. Whatever the moments are that resonate and enlighten, our goal is to make sure you have the chance to experience them.

STAFF BIO'S

Steve Beimel: Founder

Steve is the founder of our Japan tours and currently living and working in Kyoto.  “The most fulfilling part of my Japan-related life is working with so many amazing and talented men and women. It has been a great privilege for me to introduce our tour participants to these people, in a true spirit of cultural exchange.”

Elaine Baran: President

Elaine Baran has been involved with Esprit Travel for more than 20 years. She manages the business and marketing operations as well as provides custom travel services for individuals and private groups. She has an MBA from the University of Chicago, lives in Las Vegas, NV and travels to Japan with her own samurai, David (seen here).

Nancy Craft: Tour Planning Director

Nancy lived in Kyoto for six years where she studied Japanese textiles and related arts. Every year since 2003 Nancy has been named by Condé Nast Traveler Magazine as a Top Travel Specialist for Japan. She now lives in Colorado.

Andy Bender: Tour Leader

Santa Monica-based Andy Bender is a food and travel writer who also serves as a tour leader for Esprit.  He lived and studied in Japan for three years and he is fluent in Japanese.  “I’m a guide with Esprit because I love helping visitors discover the same fascination I have for the country.”

Ron Beimel: Tour Leader

Ron Beimel is a Japanese-to-English translator based in Los Angeles with an international roster of clients. His interest in the culture of Japan stems from his life in a bi-cultural and bi-lingual household in LA with a  Japanese mother and American father. When he is not working he can be found hiking mountain trails, taking photographs, and making music.

Chizuko Waller: Senior Tour Guide – Tokyo

Chizuko’s interest in travel goes back to high school, when she attended the Traveling High School in Odawara, a specialized school.   After living in both Southern and Northern California she returned to Japan with her family and now works as a local guide in Tokyo, showing travelers the special places she knows.

Keiko Kamei: Senior Tour Guide – Tokyo

Keiko Kamei, MA, has a background in gallery management and art museum education and has worked with a number of galleries in the Tokyo area. She has a MA with a concentration in art museum education from New York University. Keiko works as a freelance art consultant and guide.

Miyuki Aihara: Tour Guide – Tokyo

Miyuki was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. She attend Waseda University in her hometown of Tokyo where she majored in English. After graduating, she lived near Kyoto she had many opportunities to show famous paces to overseas neighbors. She enjoyed the experience so much that she decided to become a professional guide.

Masa Fujiwara: Tour Guide – Kyoto

Masa studied in Japan before moving to the US, where he studied solar house design and construction and lived and worked for nine years.  He returned to Kyoto to establish an architectural firm specializing in combining Japanese construction techniques with western innovation.

Tomoko Kisaka: Tour Guide – Kyoto

Tomoko was born and grew up in Kyoto. She has a B.A.degree in Child Psychology from the Kyoto University of Education. Tomoko travels throughout Japan as a tour guide but says she likes Kyoto the most. “That’s because Kyoto always makes its visitors want to return time and time again.”

Kenzo Sato: Tour Guide – Kyoto

Kenzo Sato was born and raised in a rural area of Kyoto. He now lives and guides in Kyoto after studying economics at university. He has guided cycling tours and rafting and river hiking tours in the area.

Fujio Nakagawa: Tour Guide – Kanazawa

Fujio has lived and worked in Kanazawa most of his life, working in the export business for a major loom maker for 38 years. Upon retirement in 2000 he started sharing his love of his hometown using the language abilities he had honed during his many years of working with westerners.

Hideaki Takamatsu: Tokyo Staff & Support

Takamatsu san provides staff and technical support in our Kyoto office.  Train tickets, special events, hotels, cars and even sumo tickets are artfully handled from his office.

 

 

Yuko Nishakawa: Kyoto Staff & Emergency Contact

Kuko runs a small restaurant in eastern Kyoto. She is an important part of Esprit’s staff as well as filling the role of emergency contact for Esprit’s clients while in country. Yuko also teaches personalized cooking lessons. She spends spring, summer and fall in Kyoto – though winters she can be found in Nagano, exercising her passion for skiing.

Danielle Jardine: Travel Assistant to Elaine Baran, Travel Consultant in Training, Social Media

Danielle has always been fascinated with Japan and its’ beautiful culture. She has only been working for Esprit since January 2017, but has loved every minute of it. Working for Esprit and learning the travel business has opened up incredible opportunities; along with allowing her to learn more about Japan. Danielle assists Elaine with providing custom travel services for individuals and private groups, along with handling the social media operations.

Carol Dix: Travel Planning Assistant to Nancy Craft

Carol has been working with Nancy since 2010, and her knowledge of Japan’s culture, visual beauty, arts, and delights has expanded exponentially. She helps out in the office with details, paperwork, and correspondence for tours and custom trips.
When Carol is not in the office she enjoys the great outdoors in her hometown, Telluride, Colorado, and beyond.