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Our tip for enjoying Japan best

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.

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! 

Bonsai, a miniature tree art at Omiya Bonsai Museum in Japan


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 Discovery. For more specific accommodation information of each category, please refer to Tour Type page.

We use smaller, more personal local accommodation and often their room configurations vary. The rooms we book for a group may be different in design and configuration, but they are approximately of the same value. Rooms are allocated by us on a ‘first come first served’ basis.

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.

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.

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.


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).

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.

Restaurants, food and Beverage

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,

  1. 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.
  2. 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,

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Mobility & Fitness

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 ‘Discovery’ 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.

** PLEASE NOTE our small group tours are not suitable for those who require a wheel chair, the routes and transport make it impractical. However, a private tour can easily accommodate the need for a wheel chair, please let us know from the outset and we will plan accordingly.

Luggage and Laundry

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 (transported by road). For example, if you leave your 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. Your luggage always arrives before hotel check-in time (2 or 3pm).

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.

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 hair dryer, shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, robe, slippers in most hotels.

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 cuppa in your room, we recommend you pack a few tea bags.

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.

Tours questions

Our full Terms and Conditions are set out at the following link: Terms and Conditions

The most common questions (and short answers) are:

  1. 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.
  2. Is the deposit refundable? – No, the deposit (and tour design fee for a private tour) is not refundable. Please read Terms and Conditions for more details.  
  3. 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).
  4. Is the price fixed? – Yes with the proviso that if the exchange rate goes outside our limits we may ask for a contribution.
  5. Is your tour guaranteed to proceed? – When we do not reach the minimum number, we contact those who booked on the tour and discuss options including an option to run the tour as a private tour with price and content adjustments.  

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.

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

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 try booking 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.

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.

 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

Get in touch and book your next trip with Journey to the East