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.


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.

Rosalind Sassoon: Tour Planner

As a young adult Rosalind immigrated to North America from England. She has worked in the travel industry for over 20 years.  Having traveled extensively her favorite aspect of travel is cultural immersion. “It is crucial to understand different cultures in order to move towards world peace“.   The Japanese ethos holds a very special place for her. She is passionate about delivering the best possible experiential Japanese vacation based on her clients’ interests.

Danielle Jardine: Travel Planner, Japan Dream Weddings, Social Media

Danielle has always been fascinated with Japan and its beautiful culture. She has been involved with Esprit since January 2017. Working for Esprit and learning the travel business has opened up incredible opportunities; along with allowing her to learn more about Japan.  After a short time specializing in Japan for a traditional travel agency, Danielle has returned to Esprit to focus on custom travel services for our wedding division, assisting families and couples to experience their dream Japan wedding.

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.”

Matt Schultz: Senior Tour Guide – Kyoto

Matt Schultz was born in Kyoto and moved to the United States at the age of 13. Matt began cultivating an interest in pottery while still in high school. Though he later went on to study Spanish and Business at the University of Oregon, he continued to explore pottery. After graduating from university in 2009, Matt returned to Japan.  In 2011, Matt enrolled in Kyoto Prefectural Ceramics Technical Institute for continued study in pottery.

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 one of our senior guides in Tokyo, showing travelers the special places she knows and loves.

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 attended Waseda University in her hometown of Tokyo, where she majored in English. After graduating, she lived near Kyoto and had many opportunities to show some of Kyoto’s famous places to overseas neighbors. She enjoyed the experience so much that she decided to become a professional guide.  In addition to helping people to know Japan and its culture, she loves learning about other countries through her interactions with our guests.

Tomoko Kisaka: Tour Guide – Kyoto

Tomoko was born and grew up in Kyoto. She has a 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 Tokyo office.  Train tickets, special events, hotels, cars and even sumo tickets are artfully handled from his office. If you are traveling independently, you will usually find a hand-signed letter from him upon your arrival in Japan.

Yuko Nishakawa: Kyoto Staff & Emergency Contact

Yuko runs a small restaurant in eastern Kyoto and is Esprit’s emergency contact in addition to teaching personalized cooking lessons for our guests.  While spring, summer and fall are in Kyoto – winter finds her in Nagano, exercising her her passion for skiing.

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.

Carrie Podhirny: Travel Planning Assistant to Elaine Baran

Carrie provides administrative support from the Las Vegas office. She grew up in Virginia and South Carolina and has spent the last 20 years laying down roots in Nevada. Carrie is captivated by the colorful and beautifully rich culture of Japan.