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Meet the InsideJapan Tours' UK Team!

The internet is a wonderful thing but it can be a little anonymous and sometimes it is nice to know who you are dealing with, especially when planning something as important as a holiday! This page is where you can read about who we are. If you wish to visit us at our office in Bristol (UK) we would be delighted to welcome you - we are open for personal callers 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 11am to 4pm on Saturdays.


Simon King
Call: 0117 370 9731

It is Simon who can perhaps be credited with the spark of inspiration that led from the outer reaches of the Siberian wilderness to the creation of InsideJapan Tours. Simon taught English in Japan for three years before going on to found the company with university friend and co-Director Alastair. Like Alastair, Simon seemingly shares a passion for disappointment and holds a season ticket for Bristol City. However, having become a father for the first time in June 2011 his new pride and joy is little Florence who certainly helps keep him on his toes and by the looks of it, up all night as well! If you want to find him on a weekend you are best looking down the allotment these days rather than down the pub although he has been rumoured to be seen at the odd real ale festival.

A strong Japanese speaker, Simon is in charge of the day-to-day running of InsideJapan Tours helping ensure that the three company offices are all operating smoothly. Across three continents and 16 time zones this is no mean feat! Simon also takes responsibility for the Group Tours department as well as overseeing all new product development.

Alastair Donnelly
Call: 0117 370 9732

Alastair's interest in Japan dates back to his university days when he took a paper in Japanese history for his finals. After graduating and a series of part time jobs, an opportunity then arose to join his friend Simon out in Toyota City and thus began an ongoing love affair with Japan. Alastair is a solid speaker of Japanese and in the early days of IJT brought a laid-back approach to leading tours. In addition to his day-to-day office duties Alastair plays a key role in the design and upkeep of the web-site and in the production of all advertising and printed material.

As IT manager he is also a little too keen to discuss the intricacies of WANs and LANs and scheduled packets and server configurations with anyone who will listen (and often those who won't!). In the non-virtual world, Alastair has a passion for food and loves to take any available opportunity to visit a new restaurant or try a new recipe. He can also be seen speeding around town on his Specialized road bike and down Ashton Gate of a Saturday afternoon cheering on the mighty Bristol City.

In addition to all things technical Alastair also plays the leading role in business development helping to take the company in new directions and helping ensure IJT remains the very best company for travel to Japan.

James Mundy 
PR Manager
Call: 0117 370 9733

PR Manager Jim has three passions in life - Japan, the claret and blue shirts of West Ham United FC and his toddler Max. Following the Hammers is always frustrating but at least since joining the InsideJapan team in April 2005 Jim can share his passion for Japan on a daily basis! Jim's experience of Japan is extensive having spent 3 years working in Junior High Schools in the back and beyond of rural Gunma Prefecture before following this up with a year teaching English in Tokyo for a year - two very different experiences of life in Japan.

After returning to the UK in the summer of 2003 Jim worked for a Japanese engineering company before deciding to make sharing his love of all things Japan more than just a way of annoying his friends! He has travelled extensively throughout Japan and speaks excellent Japanese, some of it perhaps not quite what your grandmother would want to hear! When he's not injured, Jim is also a dangerous midfield man but never quite made it to pulling on one of those beloved shirts. You can follow the musings of Jim on the company Twitter feed @insidejapan

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Harry Sargant
Sales Manager
Call: 0117 370 9734

After three fun-filled years in Niigata teaching some of Japanís youngest English students, Harry returned to the UK and immediately started work with IJT. Harry shares his colleaguesí passion for good food and can be relied upon to find the right restaurant whatever the required cuisine. His search for Japanís Best Gyoza continues each time he returns to the country and he will happily introduce you to these delicious little treats (but mind the garlic!). He is a big fan of Japanese 'matsuri' (festivals) and can advise you on the best time and place to catch local events and celebrations. Harry has always been very sporty and has, at various stages been a keen player of football, rugby, water polo and squash; Heís even worked as a trampoline coach! He has travelled extensively throughout Japan and enjoys collecting visa stamps from elsewhere in the world whenever possible.

Harry is Sales Manager and helps ensure that InsideJapan Tours continue to deliver holidays unrivalled in the quality of experience and variety options available.

Ruth Hubbard
Travel Consultant
Call: 0117 370 9737

Hailing from the small village of West Coker in Somerset (just outside Yeovil), Ruth came to InsideJapan Tours fresh from life in Kyoto as an English teacher on the JET scheme. In her two years in Japan's historic capital she got to know the city inside out and whether you are after the best temples and shrines, the most delicious Kyoto cuisine, or the cheapest beer in the city, Ruth is the perfect person to advise you. Having studied German and Italian at Bath University, Ruth is an exceptional linguist and tries to keep up her Japanese up to scratch. A year spent at Bosch in Germany also means she has something of a reputation as a power tools specialist! Perhaps most significant of all though is her status as InsideJapan's champion cake baker - a sure fire way to keep her colleagues happy. Ruth can also be seen on the netball court for a local side and in 2011 joined several of the IJT team in running Bristol half-marathon.

At InsideJapan Tours Ruth is one of our expert travel consultants, putting her passion for all things Japanese into beautifully crafted tailor-made itineraries. She also has responsibility for the company's Sustainable Tourism strategies and manages IJT's fund raising activities.

Jocelyn Knightly Brown
Travel Consultant
Call: 0117 370 9738

Jocelyn Knightly Brown - Travel Consultant

After heading to Japan on a vague whim after university, lured by the crazy culture and opportunity to travel, Jocelyn found herself in a small beachside town in Shizuoka Prefecture, in view of the magnificent Mount Fuji. The friendly people, relaxed way of life and regular karaoke persuaded her to stay for two years, teaching at a lively high school surrounded by green tea fields. Jocelyn travelled through much of Japan whilst living there, citing a school trip to Okinawa amongst her highlights, though even her extensive love of souvenir shopping was stretched to the limits by the stamina of her Japanese colleagues! She also rocked out two years in a row to the sounds of her favourite bands at Fuji Rock Festival and intends to persuade her bosses it is imperative she return soon to track the changes.

Jocelyn continues to compare the awesome festivals, beautiful weather and mouth-watering food of Japan against their weaker English counterparts whilst also enjoying the chance to ride her horse again at weekends and turning out rain or shine for her netball team. She is also a real show stopper at karaoke!

Jocelyn brings a wide range of new itinerary ideas and unusual Japan experiences to her role as expert travel consultant. She also looks after our growing schools department arranging life changing trips to Japan for UK school students.

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Naomi Rogalska
Financial Controller
Call: 0117 370 9735 

Naomi joined InsideJapan Tours in February of 2008 as our first non-Japan recruit. Naomi brings years of financial and accounts experience to the company helping to ensure that the company maintains its strong financial position as well as making sure we never run out of fruit in the office! Hard to pin down for a photo, we recently snapped her with her newest arrival, baby Eloise.

Naomi  has a history in the travel business having worked for several years at the Hyde Park Hilton in London, where she met her partner Seb, a top class French chef! Before coming to InsideJapan Naomi was helping the homeless of Bristol as financial controller at the Big Issue magazine.

When not at work or looking after Alice at home, Naomi enjoys a glass of wine and has been seen shaking her thang on the dance floors of Bristol. She also, unsurprisingly, enjoys eating in - food courtesy  of Seb of course!

With her immaculate eye for detail and healthy obsession with accuracy, Naomi is an invaluable member of the InsideJapan Tours' team.
Matt Spiller
Travel Consultant
Call: 0117 370 9739

After graduating University, Matt flew to Japan to teach English as part of the JET Programme with no real knowledge of the country. Luckily, he found his feet in the historic seaside town of Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and fell in love with the country, its people and culture. After spending three years as a teacher in Hagiís Senior High and Elementary schools, Matt returned to the UK taking up a position at IJT. One of Mattís favourite aspects of Japanese culture is the huge variety of festivals, with the Aio Shrimp Catching Festival and the Saijo Sake Festival at the top of his list. The most bizarre festival Matt has taken part in is definitely the Okayama Naked Man Festival and, despite claiming once was enough, he foolishly went back a second time. Being a keen snowboarder, Matt wants to return to Japan and experience the Sapporo Snow Festival at some point in the future.

Along side planning tailored itineraries, Matt looks after IJT's relationships with travel agencies, organising events and introducing Japan to travel professionals across the UK.

Mark Johnson
Travel Consultant
Call: 0117 370 9744

Markís interest in Japan was first sparked by two quintessential elements of Japanese culture: Sumo wrestling - as seen on Channel 4 - and the mesmerizing classic animation film, Akira. It wasn't until 2005 that he finally made it to Japan, embarking on a two month solo backpacking trip. Bitten by the Japan bug, he quickly returned, signing up for a three year stint teaching English in Yamaguchi prefecture (southwest Japan). With spare weekends spent exploring the country, Mark has travelled extensively from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the far south. But with no place like home, his favourite prefecture is still Yamaguchi! Between travel adventures, Mark also managed to find time for regular karaoke (a must for any member of the IJT team) and to study calligraphy.

Not content with returning to UK the conventional way, in summer 2009 Mark followed in the footsteps of company directors Alastair and Simon, embarking on a one month overland adventure (despite his passion for travel Mark is embarrassed to admit he has a slight fear of flying!) which included the epic Trans-Mongolian Railway from Beijing to Moscow.

On arrival back in the UK Mark sought a job combining his love of Japan and his previous experience in tourism and found both with a position at IJT! In 2011 Mark permanently cemented his Japan bond with his marriage to Rie, who also works at IJT as an Admin Assistant

As well as his role planning tailored holidays, Mark is occasionally called into action as a tour leader giving him the chance to share his love of all things Japanese directly with our clients on the ground.

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Ilona Michalska
Accounts Assistant
Call: 0117 370 9736


Stemming from the small UNESCO town of Torun in Poland, Ilona has always had a tendency to explore, hitch-hiking across Europe at the tender age of 16. She spent a year working in Boston before studying a Bachelors in Travel and Hospitality back home. Soon after she came to the UK looking for work experience and never went back. Realising she had a particular interest in accounting while working at a hotel, she started a part-time course as an accounting technician as well as joining the ever-expanding IJT team!

Despite having never travelled to Japan, she is constantly learning about the wonderful food and places the country has to offer, and is quickly becoming quite the expert in theory (someday also in practice!). She dedicates most of her free time to the love of her life: her dog Roxy, as well as her husband Martin. When not with this duo, she can be found tramplng in the countryside or stuck behind a good biographical novel.

Rie Fujimoto-Johnson
Call: 0117 370 9747


Rie joined InsideJapan Tours as an Admin Assistant in February 2012 and is the only native Japanese member of staff in the UK office. Rie mainly sells Japan Rail Passes, helps the team read difficult kanji, intercepts in tricky Japanese phone conversations and makes accommodation reservations.

After graduating from College in the US, Rie moved to the UK to stalk her now husband Mark who also works at IJT. They met in Rieís hometown in Yamaguchi, Southwest Japan.

Before moving to the UK Rie worked at an English language school assisting teachers and then at the local airport where she enjoyed wearing the uniform and pointing celebrities in the right direction! Rie fell in love with UK when she read an article about British afternoon tea at Junior High School. She dreamed about seeing the Royal family, meeting real gentlemen and wandering amongst historic buildings. Soon after settling in Bristol Rie came to love cider, blue cheese, haggis, cottage pie, scones and clotted cream as well as watching Master Chef on TV. Rieís favourite place in the UK is Bath with Bristol a close second!

Rie loves performing Japanese tea ceremony (a bit difficult in the UK) and ballroom dancing in her spare time. She also loves traveling, and she has been to Hawaii, South Africa, Canada and several countries in Europe. She enjoyed traveling in Kagoshima (southern Kyushu) and Naoshima (famous for Arts) when she went back to Japan last time. Rie misses 24 hour super clean convenience stores, Japanese service, high-tech toilets, kakinotane (persimmonís seed shaped rice crackers), onsen (hot spring bath), karaoke until 5am and her family.

Vivienne Boyack
Travel Consultant

Call: 0117 370 9754

Vivienne joined IJT as a Travel Consultant in November 2012, fresh from a two year stint teaching English to Japanese primary and secondary pupils at the southern tip of Japan. Vivienne headed to Japan straight after university knowing very little about the country or its culture but soon fell in love with the place, its people and its food.

With a degree in French and History, Vivienne was keen to learn Japanese - luckily, it turned out, when she arrived in her new rural home in Ibusuki, Kagoshima prefecture and was fully immersed right from day one. She became a huge fan of sand baths, sweet potato shochu and the local specialities of black pork and raw chicken (yes, actually raw). In her spare time, she took up Hawaiian hula dancing with the locals. Vivienne loves monkeys and highly recommends a trip to Yudanaka Onsen to see the snow monkeys bathing in the outdoor hot spring!

At InsideJapan Tours Vivienne is putting all that Japan experience to good use designing fabulous tailor-made holidays and advising clients on the very best things to see and do - especially in the far flung climes of deepest Kyushu.


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Karen Tomney
Travel Consultant
Call: 0117 370 9753

Lured to Japan by the promise of adventure and delicious food, Karen landed in the rural prefecture of Ishikawa in 2009. Ishikawa is a world away from the busy, bright lights of Tokyo and big city life. However, what it lacks in urban culture, it more than makes up for with tradition, history, natural beauty and fantastic festivals.

Karen travelled extensively around Japan, indulging her love of skiing and hiking both in Hokkaido and the Japan Alps. Perhaps her most memorable and challenging day was spent climbing Tsurigi-Dake, a neighbor of the better known Tateyama. Chains, ladders and ropes were necessary to reach the peak of this spectacular mountain.

When not up mountains, Karen was most likely to be found playing football (a love ironically discovered in Japan) or eating! Ishikawa is famed for its fresh seafood which Karen took full advantage of. Back in Britain, she has tried to re-create some of Japanís delicacies but with limited success so far.

Karen is a travel consultant, applying her love and experience of Japan to planning exciting itineraries.

Ester de Roij
Administration & Design
Call: 0117 370 9755

Originally from Belgium, and after finishing a degree in biology in London, she decided to pursue her lifelong dream: travel around the world. After 8 months of seeing Africa, Austrasia and India, she went on to teach in Japan as a way of combining travel and making money. Living in urban, yet untouristy, Nagoya, she immersed herself in the culture and quickly picked up the language. During her time working as a junior high school and elementary school teacher, she travelled the country extensively from Okinawa and Yakushima to Saporro. Ester has even been seen performing on the violin with her local Junior High School. She was there for the earthquake in March 2011, and spent a week volunteering in Ishinomaki, a month after the disaster struck.

2 years on, she decided it was time to return to the UK to study a Masters degree in biological photography & imaging, her dissertation for which she returned to Japan to the far east of Hokkaido to document the nature and wildlife out there. Being a student meant keeping it cheap, and hitch-hiking reminded her of the relentless Japanese hospitality. Among other experiences, an encounter with a wild brown bear at 4 in the morning meant this trip was one for the memory books. It was her knowledge of Japan, combined with her skills in media and design, that lead her to InsideJapan Tours.

When she's not studying one of her languages, Ester loves to trample around the countryside with her camera in search of wildlife, cook up a storm with some unheard-of vegetable or can be seen running along the Avon Gorge.


Ali Muskett
Travel Consultant
Call: 0117 370 9746

Ali first went to Japan in 2006, armed with a Japan Rail Pass, hoping to fit as much as possible into a two-week trip. Those two weeks were the most exciting adventure she had ever had, with experiences ranging from a night in a temple to a coming face-to-face with deer and monkeys, and inspired her to visit Japan again the following year. After two trips she was sold, and in 2008 she moved to Japan to work for a private English language school.

Living in Nagoya for two years and Hamamatsu (Shizuoka) for one year, Ali was lucky to be centrally located for travelling around Japan - which she did at every opportunity! Aliís love for food and photography drove most of her travel planning, taking her as far north as Sapporo for the Snow Festival, chocolate-covered crisps, and even a real, operational chocolate factory! Living in Nagoya and Hamamatsu, Ali became quite partial to the taste of eel (unagi) and has been known to wait more than an hour to get into the best unagi restaurant in Nagoya.

Ali spends most of her free time blogging and tweeting, and when she takes a break from the screen itís usually to read historical romantic fiction set in Japan. At night she dreams of samurai and sushi.



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Ben Morrow
Travel Consultant
Call: 0117 370 9748

Native to the sunny pastures of Devon, Ben is a graduate of Japanese Studies and spent a year of his course at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo. The city was quite a contrast to his sleepy seaside town of Exmouth, but he enjoyed every minute of it and his stay there reaffirmed his love for Japan. During this time, he was also lucky enough to be able to travel around extensively and gain a strong ability in JapaneseĖ which he put to good use in sushi restaurants across the country! After finishing his placement year, Ben took a year out of university to work at a think tank in Tokyo, and he also worked as an intern at the British embassy assisting British businesses in the Japanese market. Having now graduated, Ben is delighted to be back in the southwest of England, and he puts his knowledge and passion for Japan into creating the best possible experiences for our customers as one of our expert travel consultants.

In his free time, Ben is a keen snowboarder and likes nothing better than tearing up the slopes in Nagano prefecture. He also enjoys making his favourite Japanese snack, takoyaki, although the ingredients are rather tricky to get hold of in the UK!

Matthew Wilkinson 
Travel Consultant
Call: 0117 370 9755

Matthewís interest in Japan was sparked after visiting Yamakashi on an exchange in 2006 when he came to love the quirky but welcoming culture of Japan. He then went on to study Japanese at the University of Leeds, and as part of his studies spent a year living in the in castle town of Kumamoto, on the west coast of Kyushu. During his time in Japan Matthew shelved his interest in Japanís international politics and spent much of his time exploring everything Kyushu has to offer, especially the onsen of what is Japanís most volcanically active island. He also took up kyudo (Japanese style archery) and spent many evenings perfecting one of Japanís innumerable martial arts. As well as having travelled much of Honshu Matthew was lucky enough to spend some time in the southern idle of Okinawa where he fell in love with the island chainís fascinating history and mix of Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese culture.

Now back in England Matthew can be found spending weekends keeping up with the cricket, following the grand prix, or taking walks in the local countryside around his home town of Bristol.

Katharina Held
Travel Consultant
Call: 0117 370 9756

Originally from the small town of Bamberg, Germany, Katharina used her hometownís connections to organise a 6 week homestay in Nagaoka, Niigata, aged 18. Following this experience her mind was set on studying Japanese studies at university during which she spent a year as an exchange student at Utsunomiya University in Tochigi-ken.

Throughout her stay Katharina used every opportunity to travel the country covering much of Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa with the temples of Nikko one of her favourite spots.
Her number one passion is wildlife. Just exploring the mountains surrounding her home city of Utsunomiya, she could find everything from praying mantises, cicadas, stag beetles and herons to deer and even monkeys. Her highlight in Japan occurred when she came head to head with wild sea turtles while snorkelling near Zamami (Okinawa).

When she wasnít out and about stalking wildlife, she was on the hunt for her second passion: anime/manga figures. Always looking to expand her collection, she could often be seen on the weekend in Akihabara, immersing herself in Japanese pop culture and looking into the latest trends and merchandise.

This year in June she found her way to Bristol where she enjoys walks along the Avon Gorge and exploring the Somerset area at the weekends.


Inside Japan Tours - Independent British Travel Awards 2011 - Best Tour Operator To East and Central Asia
The Guardian, The Observer - Travel Awards 2010 Winner - Best tour operator (small)
Inside Japan Tours - Silver at the British Travel Awards 2009