Can anyone recommend any tours of Japan
PacSet tours is a California-based tour company that caters to various kinds of Japan itineraries, from fall foliage sights to anime conventions. I toured with them to Hokkaido and to Tokyo/Kobe/Kyoto during Christmas.
Although I have not actually managed to take a tour with them, Samurai Tours located in Denver do seem to have it all together. Nothing but good reviews from those I know who have used them. They have a variety of tours for Japan.
What attracted me to them is they seem to have a similar philosophy on tours that RS does -- stay in small family run places, take public transit when possible, eat in small family run restaurants, dedicated tour guide always with the group, small groups. And I was impressed with their level of knowledge answering all the questions I had.
Thanks so much
We had a wonderful trip to Japan in 2015. We flew into Tokyo several days prior to our cruise and visited Kyoto and Nara on a tour that I purchased through Viator. Also, purchased tours from Tokyo of Nikko and other Tokyo sites prior to going to Kyoto. Then we did a cruise that ended in Hong Kong.
Here is my detailed review of our trip:
Japan and a little bit of China
There is an "ala carte" solution if you're willing to consider it: booking your flight to/from Tokyo is pretty straightforward - no need to have a travel agent do that for you. Once in Tokyo there are a host of one day and multi-day tour options that you can book yourselves according to your particular interests. Would no doubt save you a lot of money doing it that way rather than relying on an agent to book everything from the US.
Getting around via the train system in Japan is likewise pretty straightforward - not nearly as daunting as you may suppose.
You might also consider booking an open jaw flight plan, ie flying into Narita and then returning from Osaka after spending a couple of days exploring the beautiful city of Kyoto. Wouldn't have to backtrack by doing it that way, thus saving you most of a full day of travel just making your way back to Tokyo for the flight home.
You can craft a pretty comprehensive itinerary for yourself without too much drama and save yourself a lot of money in the process.
I'm taking a Gate 1 small group tour in June. I'll be posting about it here a little bit and covering it in depth on my blog, which is in my bio on this site.
I chose the Gate 1 after looking at tons of companies...Samurai, Smartours, Intrepid and Inside Japan. They were the right combination of group size, itinerary (staying in Kyoto and Tokyo for longer) and included sites. Also - their price was very good. I added on 3 days in Tokyo and 3 days in Kyoto and feel like I'll get a good sampling for a first visit. This is the tour I booked: https://www.discovery-tours.com/small-groups/small-group/2019/small-groups-japan-12djp19.aspx?SessID=
No company I looked at had everything I wanted. A lot of the hotels were poorly located in Tokyo and I really wanted to position myself well in Tokyo.
Thank you to everyone who has posted ideas. You all have been very helpful
I haven't taken them but probably will next spring.
We just came back from a 19 day trip of Japan flying into Osaka and out of Tokyo. We arranged everything ourselves using Lonely Planet as our main guide book. Travel using the train was easy including a few bus trips which the train didn’t cover. We didn’t bother with a general rail pass but did buy specific passes for Koyasan and Hakone. We even arranged our own walking routes in the Nakasendo. We loved the food - the most memorable experiences were little hole in the wall bars and diners! And 7-Eleven came to the rescue for a few lunches. We mainly used booking.com but did book directly with a few small wonderful ryokan places.
We were lucky to be there during cherry blossom season.
Our rough trip outline was Kyoto 5 nights with 1 day side trip to Nara/Osaka, Koyasan 1 night, Kanazawa and Takayama 2 nights each, 3 nights exploring the Nakasendo from Magome to Matsumoto and 4 nights in Tokyo and 1 night in Hakone.
We used the luggage forwarding services a couple of times which worked great making travel much easier.
No matter how you do Japan you’ll enjoy the experience.
We took this tour with Road Scholar: https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure/19725/the-cultural-highlights-of-japan
There are more Japan tours on their website.
We flew into Kyoto about a week before the tour and did activities on our own that were not listed on the tour. Then took the bullet train (an amazing experience) to Tokyo for a few days on our own, then joined the tour. The tour ended in Kyoto where we flew out.
Besides a group leader who took care of the logistics, we also had a retired PhD historian as our lecturer. We had individual listening devices. On the bus, the lecturer would answer questions submitted by the group via the device, so we had the option to listen or go to sleep. On various topics - how we got into WW II, housing, young girls self-image, mental health, etc.
Of course, you can plan a trip on your own. It is easy to get around in Japan, but I think you will get more out of it if you go with Road Scholar.
October is a good month to go. There are no major Japanese holidays, monsoon season is over, and the weather is pretty nice.
Japan Airlines is partner with American. We booked on the American website, but flew JAL which is another amazing experience. The level of service was incredible. And the food was good.
Thanks everyone for all your helpful information.
I will preface that I haven't been personally, but am on another travel forum for some years and another regular (who's advice I pay attention to) has used Inside Japan Tours 6 times for private bespoke travel. They arrange her logistics and she does the trip. Her last visit was in January where she had a medical emergency. They were very helpful and organized everything down to the packing of her possessions in the hotel room so she could fly home for recovery.
She states it isn't a high end or expensive company and they work with what budget you set. What stands them apart is the inclusion of your personal interests and out of the way places.
Forgot one important suggestion - make liberal use of the many volunteer guiding organizations in Japan that offer excellent free tours. Think Toastmasters - people wanting to meet foreigners, practice language etc.
We had private tours of the Matsumoto castle and the Edo-Tokyo museum. Both were free (no tipping even), 1.5 hours given by very informative ‘elders’. We unfortunately were too disorganized and didn’t book early enough for general tours in Kyoto and Tokyo. Lonely Planet lists a number of these by area.
Thank you very much for your information
Kyoto is the cultural and spiritual capital of Japan, a must see in Japan. It was spared from US bombing in WW2, thus one of the few cities that was not burned to the ground and still has historical structures (although they've had their troubles with temples burning down over the centuries).
There are also "free guides" throughout Japan. If you are interested I am happy to refer you to a website where you can find one for you. These are NOT like the "free guides" in Europe that Rick Steves talks about. In Japan, these guides tend to be middle aged people who want to practice their English. Some may even be English teachers. They likely won't accept tips. We took two of these types of tours. One was in Tokyo, where I think it works really well. You only pay their transportation cost and they'll spend the entire day with you.
In Kyoto we took a paid tour through a guide in his private car. It was one of the best experiences we've ever had traveling. Let me know if you are interested in that too.
Japan is a wonderful country, which I can't say enough good things about. Enjoy!
The Shinkansen ( high speed trains) are amazing, always on time to the minute. Luggage forwarding seemed to be used by most passengers as there was little luggage brought on board. Fabulous service. Clean . Passengers are responsible for taking their own trash, including newspapers, off the train.
We flew in and out of Tokyo, went as far north as Kanazawa and Takayama and south to Hiroshima. Kyoto was amazing.
... make liberal use of the many volunteer guiding organizations in Japan that offer excellent free tours.
Is this the organization?
In Japan, these guides tend to be middle aged people who want to practice their English.
Some commented in another forum that even professional tour guides in Japan can be lacking in their English skill. How were these volunteers?
Yes, that is the list of volunteer guide services. I took two-- one in Tokyo and one in Nikko. In both cases the guide's English was just fine. One was an English teacher in Narita and the other was retired but used to work in the US. They weren't as good as the professional guide I hired in Kyoto, but for $30 dollars a day, it was well worth it.
Check the itineraries carefully before booking a tour. How many days? Which destinations in Japan? Is there any extension offered? Many tours do not include Takayama or Hiroshima, two excellent stops.
We found Odysseys Unlimited Japan tour excellent although only two nights in most places except for more in Tokyo. We added on independent travel before and after the tour and were so glad we did that. Japan is very easy to navigate. Odysseys uses trains except for one short bus trip. It was one reason we chose Odysseys Unlimited as we do not take bus trips.
Thank you to everyone for all your great ideas
We have traveled with Tauck Tours, and we find they are very high-end and inclusive. We have not traveled to Japan on a Tauck Tour, but others who have have given it high marks.
Tauck's hotels are very, very nice, but often with great local character, too. Usually the rooms have the very best views and are among the nicest a hotel has.
Word-of-mouth tends to be how Tauck tour goers first hear about Tauck...that's how we heard about them. Now my sisters and their families(after hearing glowing reviews from us) have probably taken 10-12 different trips with them, some with their adult children, and the adult children have each taken some solo trips with them, too.
We loved the two Rick Steves' tours we took, but changed to Tauck when, at the time, Rick's company did not offer one-week trips to places we wanted to visit. Once we switched to Tauck, we just seemed to stay with them (or National Geographic) for trips much longer than one week, too. But, I do need to say, that while some of those trips were in Europe, many were to other continents.
Both Tauck and National Geographic provide special access for after-hours visits and/or the opportunity to meet truly special speakers (often world known).
Hope to make it to Japan someday. Enjoy your trip!
You can do Japan on your own and on a budget. To get the Japan train pass you must buy it ahead while in the USA, I had a three week pass and went solo to several different regions of Japan. I felt safe and well cared for . Favorite stops: Hakone and Kyoto. Take time to meet locals at the Izakai type drinking and snack places scattered everywhere it seems. You can always arrange a day tour once you are settled at your destination' I stayed in budget Japanese Inns - sometimes the rate included English breakfast or Japanese breakfast. The convenient stores have great snacks and lunch items. Vending machines will supply you with a myriad of drink choices. I spent a night in a hostel and other guests were helpful and respectful even though I was so much older !
Enjoy your travels~~~
Japan - it is basically impossible to make suggestions. There is so extremely much to see and to do, depending on preferences, interests, season and willingness to overcome (mainly language)-challenges. Having traveled to Japan some 30 or more times my basic recommendation would be:
- Spend at least 2 weeks (and be prepared to come back again)
- See a few of the famous and well known sights - basically this will be Tokyo and Kyoto (+perhaps Nara) - but do not "overdo" it with temples and shrines.
- Plan some time off the beaten track - This is a hard and challenging part due to often extreme language issues: But if you manage to e.g. hire a rental car (International Driving Licence required) for traveling one of the endless list of phantastic Japanese landscapes and islands, enjoy rough mountains, steep coasts, green slopes, endless lonely mountains, hidden shrines, waves at the shore, sunset in hot springs (Onsen - but note: in Onsens there are no Tattoos allowed), the hospitality of true Ryokans, unbelievable delicious food, swimming in the warm ocean in summer, skiing the slopes of vulcanoes in winter .... - just to name a few possibilities. You now may understand that you almost certainly will run out of time, but you will discover another beautiful Japan which is so much different from the tourist spots.
Ganbatte kudasai! Good luck!
Another vote for Inside Japan. I used them for our first trip to Japan a few years back and was very impressed. It was so well executed and so immersive and the guide so knowledgeable and involved that it didn't even feel like a "tour group" in the traditional sense. It helped that their groups are small (no more than 15 ppl) like most premium tour operators are and that we went with one of their more affordable tiered trips, which required the use of ONLY public transportation (no tour buses), so trains, bullet trains, city buses, walking, metro, and even taxi's (our guide would split us into several smaller groups, and give us a pouch with some money put us in a taxi and instruct the driver where to take us). Not once were we ever taken shopping and we were always given the option not to participate in group activities. If we opted not to participate, the guide would ask us what we'd like to do instead and provide us with all the information needed to do it on our own. We never ate in any pre-arranged/pre-booked tourist restaurants. Instead, the guide took us to his own favorite places and sometimes they were small and our group would just split up into various tables and dine as anyone else would. Of course, Inside Japan does have higher end tours where you can be whisked about in relatively luxury on a motor coach, but our tour was on the lower end and so the experience was a bit more close to the ground. And, unlike huge 50-person bus tours, the guide did everything we did, hung out with us, ate with us, etc. If I were to join a tour again I would definitely use them.
Can anyone recommend good ryokans and a good well-located but not too expensive hotel in Tokyo?
Hi - it's not a ryokan but we liked Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku. It's not expensive, a 2m walk from Shinjuku station-- a key transportation hub in the city-- clean and functional, and they have a great breakfast buffet option of both Japanese and Western foods. They're also a stop for one of the shuttle buses that go to the airport.
To clarify there is another Sunroute Shinjuku called Higashi. I am not referring to that one. Either way just keep in mind that many Japanese hotel rooms are incredibly small. For us it was irrelevant but some people may be surprised by this.
Enjoy your trip!