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Travel book and Tour recommendations for Japan

We are beginning our explorations for a vacation in Japan for the summer of 2020.

I would welcome recommendations for travel guides and small group tours for our family (husband and I and are two children 18 and 23).

I’m so accustomed to using Rick’s guidebooks that I’m at a loss of where to start. Thanks.

Posted by
7636 posts

Consult Lonely Planet Guide Books for Asia.
Most public libraries and book stores have a section with multiple publishers of world travel guides besides just the ones by Rick Steves.

Posted by
1540 posts

I went to Japan in September 2017 and used gate1 travel
Check out their website.
We started in Tokyo, I enjoyed the tour , it was a great overview of Japan
and we got to experience so many things.
My only problem was that in Sept. it was very very HOT...
But hotels were wonderful, airconditioned bus, great food.
Our guide was excellent !!
Here is link to the tour I went on:
Japan Tour

Posted by
228 posts

Hard to know where to start....... It's a great place.

Tokyo is almost a given, but not compulsory. One word of caution however: you WILL feel like an itsy-bitsy ant in an enormous anthill. It is mind-bogglingly crowded, though Japanese courtesy and their highly-developed etiquette makes life bearable. If you include Tokyo, the only recommendation I will make - and one that your kids will love - is a visit to the 'Robot Restaurant' in Shinjuku. Completely, utterly bonkers. There simply isn't a more fun way to go deaf.

Beyond Tokyo, consider Kyoto for its culture and history and Miyajima Island for sheer beauty, albeit in a touristy fashion. If you do visit Miyajima, I recommend staying on the island itself for a couple of nights. It is transformed each evening when the visiting tourists all head back to their mainland hotels. Watching the sun go down behind the Torii gate is very special, as is a cable car ride/walk up to the numerous lookouts. Most people combine a visit to the island with a day in Hiroshima, because they are nearby. I found a visit to the Peace Park very, very moving, so it won't be everybody's cup of tea.

Finally, do try to include a trip on the bullet train (Shinkansen). We used it to transfer between Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kyoto. It's another experience the kids might enjoy. No trip on the Shinkansen is complete however, without a bento box lunch on board (best purchased in the station before boarding).

Posted by
23 posts

Sorry if this duplicates, looks like my post got eaten after going back and editing a few times.

My local PBS station rebroadcasts NHK World (on a different channel from the PBS station). Some of the shows are in English or subtitled. The schedule is a little off putting, news on the hour with other shows interlaced. They often have travel shows or general interest. So it might be interesting for you to sit with your family and see some of them. FYI, make sure you know what you are watching they do have documentaries that can be a bit sad. Or if not maybe trying their website, I think they have on demand for various programs
Also not sure when you are going during the summer but that’s the year Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics so that and in various other locations it might be a bit difficult to get hotel rooms.

I have heard before that it’s a huge city with plenty of rooms but the shows news shows, and I have no reason to disbelieve them, say it might be a crunch during this time and they are hoping to get enough places to stay to keep up with demand. While they can be cheaper I doubt you’d want to stay your entire stay in a capsule hotel. Just Google it if you’ve never seen one.

Posted by
14150 posts

Odysses Unlimited has a small group tour of Japan:

Insider's Japan

Of course, a lot may change between now and 2020. That also includes guidebooks.

I was scheduled to take this tour in April of this year in addition to independent travel. I had to cancel due to some customs issues regarding medicition. If you plan to bring in more than a 30 day supply of prescription or over the counter meds, you need to get pre-approval from the Japanese government or possibly risk being denied entry. Due to changes in my health insurance forcing me to change doctors, I wouldn't have been able to get the paperwork done in time.

Posted by
380 posts

I started with Lonely Planet Japan as my first reference to get an overall idea.
You can watch old videos of NHK on YouTube minus the news. I found Trails to Tsukiji to be very informative and interesting.
There are free lessons on language and culture on which I found very helpful, especially the ones on culture.
Since you have plenty of time, you and/or the kids might think about taking a Japanese course at your local university. I did that and the little bit that I learned was helpful. Although, you could wing it without Japanese.
My husband and I took a tour with Road Scholar. We first did 5 days in Kyoto and 3 days in Tokyo on our own.
Other options are Inside Japan Tours and Walk Japan. The latter is a bit more active which might appeal to your kids. Our Road Scholar was subcontracted with Walk Japan.
It is best to avoid the major Japanese holidays. I choose October as the best for us.
Dec - March out because it's cold. April out because I'm not interested in cherry blossoms. May out because of Golden Week holidays. June - August out because hot, humid and rainy. September might be OK but still monsoon season. There was a monsoon at the end of September, 2 days before our departure. November out because we're not interested in Fall Foliage.
Japan is huge and so much to see. Choose one region instead of trying to do it all. Think that you will return to see more.
Other books: I got them all on Amazon
Cool Japan - A Guide to Tokyo, Kyoto, Tohoku and Japanese culture past and present by Sumiko Kajiyama
A Concise History of Japan by Brett L. Walker
Food, Sake Tokyo by Yukari Sakamoto.
The Art of the Japanese Garden by David and Michiko Young
Kyoto, city of Zen by Judith Clancy
Seven Walks in Kyoto. I think that's the title. I don't remember the author.
This is a great website: