Please sign in to post.

Tour Company for Japan

I am thinking of branching out of Europe (Have been to Turkey) in 2024. I would want to go with a tour group. I would love to hear from anyone with personal experience and recommendations.

Posted by
6788 posts

Agree than Japan is super easy (and fun) to do on your own, just in case you are not completely sold on a tour. "Language barrier" is pretty much non-existant. Friendly, welcoming and unbelievably polite people there make things more than easy. If you can manage Turkey on your own, I think Japan's no more difficult.

Japan-guide.com is the place to do your research.
Very useful content (where to go, what to see, how to do it, sample itineraries, travel tips, really well done), and a very active and useful forum.

Easy Peasey Japanesee

Posted by
3363 posts

Check out Samurai tours or Inside Japan. We are using Inside Japan to plan a private, customized itinerary. I can send it to you via email if you want. I briefly considered a tour, but in my research decided we can do it on our own ( with support from a knowledgeable tour company). I have been very please with Inside Japan, even had a video conference to talk.

Posted by
16926 posts

For Japan in 20@9, we did a mix of small group tour with an adventure travel company and independent travel, using resources like those mentioned above. We are booked to do the same mix next year, with the same travel company, adding 4 nights in Kyoto on the front end and 4 nights near Tokyo visiting a friend on the other end.

The tour we did was an active one, with walking each day at distances of 2-9 miles. There were only 7 of us, plus the guide, and we stayed in lovely small inns in the rural areas we walked through, and nice hotels in Kyoto and Tokyo. The food was amazing. We enjoyed cultural experiences as well as the walking; we spent a night in Buddhist temple lodging at Mt. Kona; two nights in an upscale ryokan with a lovely onsen for bathing; had lunch at a “make your own sushi” place, another where the innkeeper sang to us after lunch, experienced a sake tasting and a tea ceremony . . .and more.

https://www.mtsobek.com/trips/asia/japan/japan-kyoto-to-tokyo-walking/

It is pricier than the Odyssey’s Unlimited tour but very different—much smaller group, more intimate experiences. We never felt we were following a guide around the tourist sites with 20: other people; instead it was like traveling with a small group of friends, one of whom made all the arrangements, and provided lots of insight on the local culture and history.

Be careful when you look at tour dates and pricing. The Odyssey’s tour “Insiders Japan”: says 13 days, but that includes 3 travel days (airfare is included in the cost, and you lose a calendar day crossing the dateline). You are actually seeing Japan for 10 days, not 13. But you do get 11 nights lodging. The MTS tour we did says 11 days, but they also include arrival and departure days. So ther actual tour activities encompass 9 days and 10 nights lodging. This way of counting tour days is pretty much the standard, but you need to be aware when comparing pricing.

Posted by
44 posts

As Rick Steves travelers know, a tour has many advantages. In the case of Japan, I would suggest independent travel, with possible support from a knowledgeable (emphasis knowledgeable about Japan) travel agent who can recommend reasonably priced lodging. Don't let yourself be stuck in a multi-star cocoon. Tour operators are much more expensive in Japan, in part because the traveling public doesn't know how easy and fun it is to travel there. If you have time for some research, do your trip independently. Why? More room for serendipity. Less expensive. Travelers are treated very, very well - just look confused in a train station and someone is sure to help. A rail pass gets you all over Japan on reliable, efficient trains. If you're on a train that doesn't leave at the posted time, I'd say hop off - you somehow got on the wrong train. Lots of English signage and younger people can help - all have some level of English from mandatory schooling. Food at all price points is really good. No issues about public safety. I could go on and on. And, I'm guessing that it will probably be obvious that you are not Japanese, so you will be treated like a guest. My recommendations are based on numerous trips to Japan over multiple decades. Enjoy!

Posted by
1536 posts

Yes, I see that I am getting good advice. I haven't found any escorted tours that fit the bill.
I will definitely consider an agency supported independent trip.

Posted by
16926 posts

I agree with most of what happytravel said, but I don’t think that independent travel in Japan is all that easy for the first-timer. Maybe their first trip went smoothly, but mine 25 years ago did not. Lots of mistakes, lots of wasted time and missed connections. And yes, some serendipity thanks to the kind and helpful Japanese, but still frustrating.

So for my second trip, in 2019, I booked the guided hiking tour I mentioned above, but started with time in Kyoto on our own. That was 90%wonderful, but still there were glitches, arising from not understanding how things worked. Yes the Shinkansen trains are fast, on time, and well-organized. But we found it difficult to figure out, upon arrival at Tokyo’s Narita airport, and then at the huge Shinagawa station, where and how to buy tickets for the next day’s train to Kyoto. Not pleasant when one has arrived, jet-lagged, after an overseas flight. After standing in at least 3 different lines that each seemed to be the right ones to buy tickets, only to find the tickets were not available in advance in that line, we gave up and decided to try and figure it out the next day. That worked much better. Apparently our Europe travel wisdom about buying train tix in advance does not apply in Japan. Why would it? The system is totally different. Once we accepted that and started letting go of assumptions, things went much better.

We loved that trip—one of our all time favorites—and we are planning another one for next November (prime koyo season). We will still mix some independent time with a guided segment (walking the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path) because we know we will see and experience things we could not find on our own, and we will learn lot about local culture and history from our guide.

I found the TripAdvisor Japan forum to offer a wealth of information and advice. The people there are very knowledgeable and helpful with details.

Posted by
15710 posts

Whichever way you decide to go, research some of the "rules" regarding customs in Japan. Additionally, many rules have changed since the pandemic. (Example...new baggage rules on some Shinkansen (Bullet trains.))

Make sure you have cash. While Japan is going more contactless, there are still businesses that are cash only.

A quick Google or Youtube search and you'll find all the info you need.

Look into getting a Suica card. It can be used to pay for local transportation in many cities as well as at convenience stores. BTW, convenience stores in Japan are a whole lot more than what we have in the US.

Posted by
930 posts

I would recommend Laurus Travel out of Vancouver. We used them in China, but they are very good in other parts of the Far East too.

With respect to cash, you need to use the ATMs at the Post Office and 7-11s. Foreign ATM cards usually do not work at Japanese Banks.

Posted by
16926 posts

Thanks for the reminder about ATMs at the 7-11, Ed. I am starting to think about our trip next November and realized I have forgotten everything I knew about logistics in Japan.

Posted by
4003 posts

We are also looking at taking a private tour with Inside Japan. Thinking 2024, possibly April. When we go will depend on our cruise up the coast of Norway. Waiting for the cruises for 2024 on Holland America to be posted. Right now it is only 2 couples but a few more may decide to join us. We will go to Japan no matter what, not getting any younger!

Posted by
4600 posts

A Lawsons or a 7-11 in Japan will kinda blow your mind, it's more like a supermarket. And it's an easy way to get a takeaway pre-made meal, along with an adult beverage or two.

You should watch some travel vlogs to see what you're getting into, you might be reassured to see that almost every sign in Japan is also in English. Especially in well-touristed areas, it would be hard to take a wrong turn.

The country is also quite large, and you'll need to put some thought into what you want to see so you're in the right area. The traditional "big three" is Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka but for outdoorsy stuff, you might need to head more north past Nikko (which is a great daytrip BTW). I've always been disappointed by Tokyo but I need to go back and investigate more parts of it.

Posted by
11368 posts

We are also looking at either a guided tour or self guided tour with Inside Japan.

Posted by
15710 posts

More about the convenience stores.....many will heat up your food for you and have places you can sit and eat. Don't think "corn dogs" think rice and noodle bowls with fresh vegetables.

Most products in 7-11, lesser in Lawsons, have English on them to tell you what they are.

And then there are the vending machines....where else can you buy beer, cold soft drinks (mostly green tea based) and hot coffee all from one machine? Or hot food? (different machine.) In most cases, you can use your transit card to pay. (Supposedly, and I was told this by a friend from Japan, that at one of the biggest amusement parks, when you come off the scariest roller coaster there is a vending machine selling underwear. I have not been able to confirm this.)

But do not walk and eat and drink at the same time. This is considered rude. You can either consume your food near the vending machine or at the convenience store or take it somewhere you can sit with it.

As stated, watch youtube videos to learn the "rules" including on pubic transport.

Speaking of public transport....don't be late or you will miss your train. On one bullet train we were one minute behind schedule. Every announcement included an apology for being late. One minute.

The big takeaway I got from my time in Japan is that the locals are respectful of each other. And very clean.

Posted by
1594 posts

I think you don't need to join a tour group. However, if you want, you can hire a local guide for the first 2-3 days to get used to public transit and finding directions. I don't have recommendations though.

Posted by
105 posts

I've traveled with Pac Set Tours based out of Southern California twice (once to Hokkaido, one to Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe). I'm considering traveling with them again to Okinawa sometime in the future.

Posted by
1536 posts

Thank you for all of the comments.

I am looking at a 17 day Rhoad Scholar guided tour and I have contacted Inside Japan about an independent, supported trip. I have some dates picked out and have started putting virtual pins on my Google Maps.

Posted by
1536 posts

Thanks to diveloonie aka Tammy, I am in contact with a TA from Inside Japan. We will make our own itinerary and travel on our own with help from Inside Japan. Let the research begin!

Posted by
1536 posts

So far thinking: Kyoto, Jigokudani Yaen Koen, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Hiroshima in 15 days plus 2 for flights. Something will likely have to be cut out depending on time for transportation.

Posted by
1536 posts

Good news! My older son and his partner have accepted an invitation to accompany Luke and I to Japan. Traveling with four will be a new experience. I will be covering cost, sans flights and spending money, so will schedule some extra work days : ).

Nate was so excited, he rattled off a bunch of things he wants to do. He wants to spend a lot of time in Tokyo to get to know all of the "neighborhoods" and have time to wander and get lost. He wants to take a ferry to an Island where Ainu live(ed). He wants to see every shrine and temple. He wants to see the nature of Hokkaido and Kyushu. He wants to Eat (with a capital E).

In reference to another thread started by douglas, I can just imagine the replies Nate would have gotten as a first time poster. : )

I told him that as the bank, I would be making the final decisions on the itinerary and I promised him that he will have a spectacular trip. I will try to make his wishes come true within reason!

I will be working with Karin from Inside Japan. Even more than a year out, she has been very helpful already.

I am in my happy spot. Three trips in the works. One in 11 weeks, one in September and Japan next May. Hooray!

Posted by
3363 posts

Thats great your other son wants to go as well. You are going to have a fantastic time and I can’t wait to read all about it! And I hear ya about trip planning, almost as much fun as the trip!!