If our FAQ doesn’t give you the information you need please use the ‘contact us’ box at the top of this page and ask a question. We will come back to you. Please also note that private tours often vary from the answers below because they are custom-made specifically to meet the clients requests.
Our tip for enjoying Japan best
Have awareness that Japan is a DIFFERENT country to where you come from. Although it may look very modern and westernised, Japan has thousands of years history and traditions, on which today’s way of life is based. Since you have gone to the trouble of of travelling all the way to Japan, we set out to showcase these unique experiences ( including the basics such as sleeping, sitting, eating and travelling), specially for you to enjoy those differences!
A: There are wide ranging types of accommodation available in Japan. Following are the main ones.
Western style hotel – Size and standard vary from 5-star large international chains to regional small business hotels. Generally, in Japan twin rooms (two single beds) are more common than double rooms (one double bed), and some hotels in regional cities only have twin rooms. Room sizes are generally smaller in cities. Also beds and pillows tend to be firmer than those in western countries.
Ryokan is a Japanese style accommodation, mostly consists of Japanese style rooms with tatami matt floor and futon bedding, and private ensuite. Some ryokans have a western style room with beds. A Japanese style room always has a low table and flat cushions to sit on, but the room may or may not have chairs. Most ryokans have an additional large public bath for guests and includes kaiseki style dinner. Breakfast can be Japanese style (rice, miso soup, fish etc.) or western style buffet.
Minshuku – Equivalent of guesthouse where you will have a private room, but bathrooms are often shared. Rooms are in Japanese style (tatami matt floor and futon bedding) and sometimes only divided by fusuma (thick solid paper panels) sliding doors with no lock. Often a host serves home cooked dinner and breakfast.
Shukubo (temple lodging) – The vast majority have Japanese style rooms and shared bathroom although there are limited number of temples with a western bedroom with ensuite. The stay at shukubo includes Buddhist vegetarian dinner and breakfast. Dinners are served early, around 5pm. They are run by monks, and facility and services are basic. Guests can attend morning service in the main hall.
A: Generally we like to select the smaller more boutique accommodation.
We take advantage of our extra small group size, and generally use more intimate accommodation where we can avoid the masses of tour buses. Where possible, we use locally owned and operated boutique accommodation that matches the character of the locality. The focus is on cleanliness and comfort, convenient location and character, and our preference is for the equivalent of 3.5 - 4+ star accommodation. By mixing different types of accommodation (such as Western style, resort style and Japanese style, large and small) we try to give you variety in your experience. Importantly, we look for rooms with private Western style toilet and helpful staff. Our group tours are categorised into three types; Signature, Comfort and Active. For more specific accommodation information of each category, please refer to Tour Type page.
A: Yes, however there is a 'proviso'
As is mentioned above, generally speaking, there are more twin (bed) rooms in Japan than double (bed) rooms, and twin rooms are usually larger. This impacts our room selection. Therefore, although we ask your preferred room type (ie twin or double) at the time of booking, it is subject to availability at the time reservations are made and we cannot guarantee to accommodate the requests. Please refer to our Terms and Conditions.
Because our Small Group Tours are pre-planned and pre-arranged, we will not take an individual request for room standard variation (e.g. upgrading room). You can however have a room of your choice for your pre or post tour accommodation you book with us.
If you would like a guarantee of particular room types including non-smoking rooms, we recommend a private tour.
A: We book non-Smoking rooms whenever available as a preference.
As a rule, Journey to the East always tries our best to use non-smoking premises wherever possible. However, in rural and remote locations, the only available accommodation is small properties which allow smoking in the rooms. In these instances, we always ask the room deodorised before our arrival.
A law to ban smoking in restaurants has been passed and is to be introduced in April 2020, however, this does not apply to hotels and ryokans and they can provide smoking rooms.
A: Similar to most international destinations.
Check-in and check-out times in Japan are similar to those of other countries ie 14:00 or 15:00 for check-in and 10:00 or 11:00 for check-out. If you are arriving early, we can make a request for early check-in, however, it is subject to availability and not guaranteed unless extra night rate is paid for. Late check-out is usually available on a per hour basis until around 15:00.
A: Our small group tours are partially escorted
Our small group tours are limited to just 8 people and not designed to have a full-time tour leader accompanying the group. Most of the time you will be accompanied by a qualified local guide who can easily look after 8 people. Our guides will help you get around with ease (although they are not expected to carry your luggage). Our guides’ aim is to provide you with better insights and historical background information, especially to answer your questions about the things you see around you as well as the culture and way of life.
Generally speaking, a guide will escort you at all times except:
- During free time
- Evenings after dinner
- When you are travelling between major destinations (e.g. Tokyo to Kyoto by bullet train).
A: Only experienced fully government accredited local guides are used
Our qualified guides are hand-picked for their unrivalled knowledge of the destination and their passion for showing the best of their country to visitors. The extra small group size enables the experienced English-speaking guides to better cater for your comfort, safety and enjoyment. Although each day has an agenda, the guides are experienced enough to ‘read’ the group and tailor the day to best reflect the needs and interests of the group.
Highly experienced guides are in great demand and they are booked as early as 12 months in advance.
Transfers and Transport
A: The following are Japan’s main international entry points, all of which are well serviced by public airport shuttle bus, train and taxi.
Tokyo: Narita Airport is about a 1.5-hour trip by express train or airport shuttle bus, or 2 hours by private vehicle, to central Tokyo. Haneda Airport is Tokyo’s smaller international airport and about 30-45 minutes by train, airport shuttle bus or taxi to central Tokyo.
Osaka: Kansai International Airport (KIX) is the main international airport for Osaka and the greater Kansai region (i.e., Kyoto, Nara and Kobe), and is about 30-45 minutes by train or airport shuttle bus to central Osaka and 90 minutes to Kyoto. Osaka (Itami) Airport is Osaka’s main airport for domestic flights. It takes about 30-60 minutes by train or airport shuttle bus to get to central Osaka, or 70-90 minutes to Kyoto.
Fukuoka (Kyushu): Fukuoka International Airport is the main entry point for travellers to western Japan, with connections to other parts of Asia as well as frequent domestic flights. It’s less than a 15-minute by subway or taxi to the city centre.
Sapporo (Hokkaido): New Chitose Airport is about 30 minutes by train or 60 minutes by shuttle bus to central Sapporo.
A: Guests on Journey to the East tours will be welcomed upon arrival at their entry airport to Japan by one of our friendly escorts.
The escorts will take you to our tour hotel by either public transport (train or coach) or private vehicle depending on a tour.
A: Yes, definitely.
And our escort will take you to the hotel if you have booked pre-tour night/s with us. (N.B. If you have booked your own pre-tour accommodation, we may not be able to escort you to the hotel because we have no control over the distance or cost of transport from airport to your hotel.)
A: We do not include an escorted transfer to your departure airport at the end of our Small Group Tours.
This is because we found most of our guests spend additional time in Japan after their tour. We will, however, always assist our guests to transfer to their next destination and eventually to their exit airport by providing detailed direction in their itinerary and reserving train seats whenever feasible.
If you prefer an escorted transfer, we can arrange that for you.
A: When possible we use the excellent public transport systems.
Transport is part of the experience. That is why we use the high quality clean Japanese public transport to give you a feel for the life at destination. We recommend you pack light because there are a lot of escalators/stairs at the Japanese rail stations. (There are usually lifts too although not always very conveniently placed.)
We also use a private minivan or minibus at locations when not conveniently serviced by public transport, or if it is a better choice for comfort and time efficiency. The small size of our group tours enables us to access out-of-the-way sites which may be restricted for large coaches.
If you are planning a private tour with us, we can arrange public or private transport to suit your preference and budget.
Restaurants, Food and Beverage
A: Wide variety but it is seafood heavy
In large cities, you can find all kinds of cuisines and food products from sushi, tempura, noodles, Italian, Indian, French, burgers, sandwiches, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, etc. Ubiquitous convenient stores are a great source of snacks and drinks including coffee and alcohol.
However, regional and remote areas are a different story. You will find more traditional Japanese food than western food, and the meals usually consist of plenty of seafood including raw fish (sashimi). Especially if you stay at a ryokan or minshuku, their meals are quite seafood heavy.
A: Wide variety in terms of range, quality and price.
By far, the most common alcoholic drinks are beer, sake and shochu (Japanese original spirit made of sweet potato, buckwheat or wheat). Wine, spirits such as whiskey, gin, brandy etc. and cocktails can be found in mostly western restaurants and hotel bars. It is useful to bear in mind that Japanese people started drinking wine casually only in recent years, and volume of consumption is still limited, which is reflected in the quality and price. You may find that in rural areas where wine is not commonly drunk, it is fairly pricey and only sold by the bottle (and of subjective quality).
Non-alcoholic drinks are readily available at vending machines, convenience stores and restaurants. You can find bottles of water, green tea, black tea, coffee, juices and soft drinks.
A: We can offer a limited level of assistance
Generally special diet such as vegetarian, vegan and gluten free are not widely catered for in Japan. We do not own or operate any food outlets and therefor have no control over those businesses. We also have no claim or ability to measure the suitability of meals for your diet.
In the case of our Small Group Tours,
- We will ask the restaurants and accommodation we have selected if they can offer meals that meet your needs. However, even when the restaurants agree to offer an alternative, as per above, we will not be able to validate or guarantee that the alternative meal meets your dietary needs.
- Our group tours try to showcase great variety of Japanese food including traditional kaiseki cuisine featuring raw and cooked seafood, wagyu beef, pork, local specialities and street food. Some speciality restaurants such as tempura, beef teppanyaki and sushi do not offer alternative meals. Therefore, our group tours may not suite people with strong food preference or severe allergies. If you have any concerns, please talk to JttE staff before making your booking.
In the case of private (custom made) tours,
- Provided we are advised before the tour is agreed with the client, we will do our best to identify restaurants that indicate they can assist with your dietary needs.
- Even when suggested restaurants purport to offer suitable meals, as per the point above, we will not be able to validate or guarantee that those meals meet your dietary needs.
A: Not necessarily.
Although increasing numbers of eateries are becoming non-smoking or at least having separate smoking area, it is not yet a legal requirement in Japan. The non-smoking law was recently amended and is to be introduced in April 2020, however, small businesses are exempt in the initial period. So, it is still possible that when you visit small restaurants and bars, you will see other patrons smoking. The law does not apply to hotels and ryokans and they can provide smoking rooms.
At Journey to the East we try our best to select non-smoking restaurants wherever possible. However, in rural and remote locations, it may not be always possible.
Western restaurants and cafes in cities mostly have tables and chairs. If you go to Japanese restaurants, you will sometimes see tatami matt floor rooms. Some of those rooms only have a low table and flat cushions (zabuton) around, where people sit with folded knees or cross legged. The other type of tatami floor seating is called “horigotatsu” which has a hole under the low table where you can put your legs down. Horigotatsu is easier to sit compared to sitting directly on the floor, popular and common for small parties at Japanese restaurants. We do not select the zabuton type of tatami floor seating for our tours, however we use the latter type (horigotatsu) sometimes.
Mobility and Fitness
A: A basic level of fitness is required as minimum for all our tours.
We have three types of group tours with different fitness level requirements. Please refer to the Tour Types page of our website for details.
Although none of our group tours are designed as an adventure tour, a basic level of fitness is necessary on all our tours. That is because we include parks, large temple complexes, museums and galleries, where you would be on your feet for 2-3 hours with opportunities for rest. In addition, some sites and most of train stations have stairs.
Also all travellers need to be able to pull their own luggage at arrival and departure between airport and their hotel. During the tour, while we utilise Japan’s efficient luggage transfer service between cities on most transfers, not all hotels we use have porter service and travellers need to take their luggage up to their room after the luggage arrival.
Basic fitness - Our Comfort Tours require this level of fitness. You will need to be able to walk for a few hours at a gentle pace, remain standing in museums and galleries, get on and off taxis, buses, trains and boats unassisted.
Average fitness – Our Signature Tours require this level of fitness. You will need all the requirements above plus extra fitness. Signature Tours sometimes take you off the beaten tourist path into the backstreets or scenic walks and guests on this style of tour need to be fit enough to comfortably cover 5-8 km over the course of a day. Signature Tours are also faster paced than Comfort Tours and you need to have good mobility and aerobic fitness.
Good fitness - If you select one of our 'Active' style tours you will need a higher level of mobility and fitness. Typically, such tours go on walks of 8-12 km in total over the course of a day, and there may be hills and uneven terrains.
If you are concerned about your mobility, we recommend you choose our custom-made private tour. We will create a tour to suit your fitness level and preferred pace.
Luggage and Laundry
A: It is an overnight courier service
We use a wonderful service from a Japanese courier company where we can send our large suitcases to our next destination so that we don’t have to carry them with us during train travel. With this service the luggage will travel overnight. For example, if you leave you luggage with the hotel concierge in the morning, it will travel overnight and arrive at tomorrow’s destination (not to tonight’s’ destination). So you need to keep your personal items you require for tonight and the next day.
This great service means you can travel comfortably on the likes of the bullet train without having to man-handle luggage up and down station stairs.
A: The smaller the better
Our tours are not door-to-door limousine or bus tours. We use public transport such as Japan’s iconic bullet trains. Even though we use the excellent luggage transfer service, there are some occasions such as at arrival and departure, where you have to carry (pull) your suitcases through escalators and lifts. Therefore, it is easier if you have smaller luggage. You will find amenities such as hairdryer, shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, robe, slippers in most hotels.
A: You must pack rain gear and slip on shoes
It rains a lot in Japan, so good waterproof shoes and raincoat will be very handy. Weather can be changeable especially during spring and autumn, so bringing a range of clothes from a half-sleeve shirt to a sweater and laying is a good idea. A folding umbrella is a good idea too.
Often you need to take shoes off at temples and other buildings, so slip-on shoes (rather than with laces) will be easier.
Many hotel rooms provide green tea in a room, but not black tea bags or coffee, so if you would like to enjoy a cupper in your room, we recommend you pack a few tea bags.
A: Most hotels we use have laundry service
If you hand over your laundry in the morning it is usually ready by the evening. Small number of hotels have coin-operated guest laundry machines too. Laundromats are not so easily located, so if you think you need one during the tour, please ask us in advance.
A: Our full Terms and Conditions are set out at the following link: Terms and Conditions
The most common questions (and short answers) are:
- How much is deposit? - Deposit for a tour is 10% of the total price per person fare. A tour design fee will also be charged for custom-made private tours at the time of booking. The balance is due 90 days from departure.
- How can I pay? - Payment method is by credit card or bank transfer. Credit card payments will incur the service provider's fee of 1.75%-2.2% (If you wish to pay your balance with a non-Australian credit card we will ask that you cover the service provider's overseas transaction fee which is up to an additional 1.15% of the transaction).
- Is the price fixed? – Yes with the proviso that if the exchange rate goes outside our limits we may ask for a contribution.
- Is your tour guaranteed to proceed? – Although we mention minimum number for each tour, we have always proceeded with our tours when we have 2 or more people booked on that tour. When we do not reach the minimum number, we contact those who booked on the tour and discuss options. To date we have run every small group tour we have offered.
A: We design and operate all our tours
We have extensive knowledge of our destinations and have our own staff on the ground, we arrange all of our tours directly. We do not typically use DMCs (Destination Management Company), except some local specialist companies where we think guests will benefit from their specific local knowledge. In this way, we have total control of every step of your tour.
A: Full service from arrival to departure
We have extensive knowledge of our destinations and have our own staff the ground in Japan. As a full-service tour operator we offer our guests;-
- Dedicated client support officer to answer your questions
- Comprehensive Handbook
- Personalised airport meet & greet and transfer to your hotel on arrival
- Booking of accommodation, guide, transport, restaurants and activities directly with the vendors
- Liaising with the vendors about your dietary requirements and other requests
- Confirmation of bookings directly with the vendors (no nasty surprises or vouchers)
- Liaising with private guides to implement the agreed itinerary and we provide comprehensive notes to guides
- Arranging luggage transfers with hotels, preparing address labels and tracking your luggage to make sure its safe arrival on time
- Final itinerary with details of your accommodation, guides, transport, activities and meals
- Japan Rail Pass activation (when pass is used) and train seat reservations
In addition, if you ask us to plan your private tour, you will receive;
- Experts advise on where to go and what to do to suit your interests
- Design customised itinerary in discussion with the client
- Draft itinerary with confirmed accommodation and daily program suggestions, that gives you opportunities for making adjustments
- Comprehensive Tour Proposal with quotation
A: Yes, definitely!
Many guests of our Small Group Tours arrive one or more days earlier than the start date. All of our Small Group Tours are designed to start from the morning of Day 2 giving you the chance of a good night’s rest after arriving anytime on Day 1. However, many guests benefit from having extra time to adjust their body clock and orientate themselves before their tour (especially if they only arrive in Japan in the late afternoon or early evening). We can book you into the same hotel/room as you will use on your tour.
Post tour extensions are very popular and highly recommended. After having spent a couple of weeks with guides and group, you will be confident to travel further afield to pursue your personal interest.
We are more than happy to plan and arrange your extension. Please talk to us before or after you made a booking on our Small Group Tour.
A: Maximum of 8 people on our regular small group tours
Our small group tours are generally capped at 8 travellers. This means you share your guide amongst a fewer people to get maximum benefit. The size also allows access to boutique accommodation, restaurants and authentic cultural sites that are often off-limits to large groups.
A: Some things to look at
There are a lot of tours to Japan, and each tour operator presents their tours differently. To compare apples with apples and ensure you are getting the best value for money, pay attention to the following areas.
- Does the price include international airfare? JttE tours -no.
- How big is a group size? - JttE's small group tours are normally capped at 8 people.
- What do past guests think of the tours. JttE regularly posts clients comments to help intended clients assess if JttE tour are suitable for them. See the comments on our reviews pages
- How many meals are included? What quality are they? JttE - typically a higher percentage of high-quality meals are included as we aim to demonstrate the variety of food available in Japan. For these reason we minimise generic meals such as buffets.
- Is the standard of accommodation comparable? JttE -3.5 to 4+ star equivalent boutique accommodation.
- Is the tour fully escorted (i.e. a full-time tour leader with you all the time from departure to return)? JttE – no, we use local guides who are qualified in each city. Please see the FAQ specifically on Guides.
- During the guided tours, does your group have its own private guide or you are put on someone else’s large day-tours where you share a guide with bus load of other tourists? JttE – our tours always have your own private guide. We do not use third party tours.
- Does the tour have interesting visits and activities rather than just following regular tourist trails? JttE – often takes tourists to the same cities as other tours but offers special experiences off the regular tourist trails – this is an aspect most commonly referred to by our clients.
- The price may vary depending on departure date and room arrangement (eg. twin-share, with private facilities). Make sure you understand the correct price for your preferred departure date and room requirements. JttE – each tour is individually priced and the price is stated for the nominated departure date.
- How much time you spend in transit? Some tours spend far too much time travelling from one place to another and not much at the destinations. Apparently to cover a greater number of sites. JttE – our objective is to spend more time at destinations (less time travelling). We achieve this by selecting most efficient itinerary and choice of transport using our exceptional local knowledge.
- You may also find our blog: Choosing the right tour
Japan in General
A: The best time to visit Japan is anytime
Japan has four very distinct seasons, and each season has its own beauties and attractions. Well known seasonal features include cherry blossom of spring (March-April), highland hiking in summer (June-September), autumn colours (October-early December) and winter snow wonderland (December-February). This means you can visit the same place in different seasons and get a completely different experience. Japan is also geographically and climatically diverse and you can find good places to visit at any time of the year.
You may also find our Blog ‘when is the best time to visit Japan’ of value.
A: Tipping is not generally expected.
Tipping is not customary and not expected in Japan although some people leave a few coins on the pillow in hotel rooms for housekeepers, as well as handing over a gratuity in a little envelope to ryokan staff who look after their room. Other service providers such as tour guides and drivers will also appreciate your gesture as a sign of your satisfaction but it is not an expectation as in other parts of the world.
A: Less than most other destinations in Asia.
You will see some signs and menus written in English in large cities, however, English is not an official language and not everybody speaks English. Apart from tour guides (who should obviously speak English), if you are mentally prepared for travelling in a non-English speaking country with different customs then it is a bonus (rather than expectation) to find an English-speaking person or English documents; you will also naturally be less frustrated.
A: We do not offer International or domestic airline tickets
Because our guests come from all over the world, we are not set up to offer airline tickets. We are very happy to talk to you about other client experiences (and any specials we hear about from time to time) so please feel free to contact us. However, we cannot offer you tickets and our information should be verified before you make a decision. We also have the names of travel agents who know our tours and offer a good service if you get stuck.