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General Questions

In this section we've put together some of the questions we frequently get asked about our tours and about travel in Japan. We have divided this section into 4 areas which relate to the different holidays we offer; General FAQs; Tour FAQs; Self-Guided Adventures FAQs; and Fully tailored trips FAQs. Choose link from above to move between the sections. The questions themselves are in the red box on the left of the screen and all you need to do is click on the link and you will be taken to our answer.

If you have any further questions please e-mail us and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

General FAQs

  1. Small Group Tours, Self-Guided, Tailored – I’m confused! Help!
  2. Who are you? What is InsideJapan Tours?
  3. What about flights?
  4. Is there much English spoken in Japan? What about signs in English?
  5. Is traveling around Japan difficult for non-Japanese speakers?
  6. Do I need a visa to visit Japan?
  7. Isn’t Japan REALLY expensive?
  8. How much money will I need in Japan?
  9. Can I use my credit / debit card in Japan?
  10. What about exchanging money and travellers cheques?
  11. Is tipping expected in Japan?
  12. Can I use my mobile/cell phone in Japan?
  13. I would like to see some kabuki / noh / bunraku while I am in Japan. Is this possible?
  14. We would like to watch some Sumo, is this possible?
  15. Is my money safe? Are you insured against financial failure?
  16. Can you sell me travel insurance?

Small Group Tours, Self-Guided, Tailored – I’m confused! Help!

On our Small Group Tours you will be part of a group of 10-14 people and will travel around Japan with the full-time service of a tour leader. These trips have set start dates throughout the year.

On a Self-Guided Adventure you will travel independently, not as part of a group and without a tour leader. We do usually include a day or two (or more) with a private guide however or we can include day tours. You can take a self-guided trip at any time of year, around dates that suit you.

If you have specific destinations in mind for your trip, or feel that none of our Self-Guided itineraries quite fit your plans we can tailor make a trip itinerary just for you, based on your thoughts and ideas. You might like to base your trip on one of our self-guided itineraries with a few adjustments to take in exactly the elements you are looking for.

Who are you? What is InsideJapan Tours?
Founded in 2000, we are a small independent team of Japan specialists. The company was set up to offer trips to Japan from those who know and love the country, and at a price that needn’t break the bank. We have offices in Bristol (UK), Boulder (USA) and Nagoya (Japan). All of our UK staff have lived, worked and traveled in Japan, and all of our Japan office staff members are English-speakers.

What about flights?
If you are travelling from the UK we would be delighted to arrange international flights for you. We can arrange flights from the UK to Japan with Virgin, BA, Emirates, Cathay Pacific and other airlines. If you would like international flights included please ask us for more details on the options available.

International flights are not included as standard in our packages as we have clients coming to Japan from all over the world and like to give our clients the flexibility to make their own arrangements should this be more convenient. Even if you prefer to book your flights separately we are more than happy to provide advice and even look for where you might find the best fares.

The major airports in Japan are Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT) which is one hour outside of Tokyo and Osaka Kansai Airport (KIX) which is close to Osaka, Nara and Kyoto.

If you are joining a Small Group Tour then you will need to book flights in time to join that tour. For Self Guided Adventures or Fully Tailored you can of course travel whenever you like and we will fit the land arrangements around whichever flights you book.


Is there much English spoken in Japan? What about signs in English?
English is not as widely spoken in Japan as in many other Asian countries. In the major cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto there are more English speakers and in most situations you will usually find someone around who speaks English. However the further away from large urban areas you get the less English you will find spoken, and in rural areas you may struggle to find anyone who understands you! However there are often staff who speak some English at tourist sights and attractions. English (to differing degrees!) is spoken at most of the accommodation options we work with.

Signs in English follow a similar pattern – plenty in the big cities, rather less in smaller towns and rural areas. All but the tiniest train stations are signposted in English, including the whole rail and subway network in Tokyo. English explanations at sights and attractions vary; some have plenty of information in English, some have rather less. Menus in English can be found at some restaurants, again mainly those in the big cities with more regular non-Japanese trade. However, many restaurants that do not have English menus will have picture menus which take a lot of the stress and worry out of ordering!

Is traveling around Japan difficult for non-Japanese speakers?
Traveling in Japan is a joy. Public transport is fast, efficient, clean and punctual. All trains and most buses have sufficient English language signs and announcements, and with your InsideJapan Tours Info-Pack to guide you your adventures through Japan will be remarkably smooth and worry-free! As a further back up we have our own English speaking office in Japan and support is available 24/7.

The Japanese are almost universally polite and helpful. Even in a situation where someone does not speak English they will almost certainly be willing to try and help and people often go out of their way to assist foreign travelers. This is out of genuine care and concern and is not done expecting anything in return! Most visitors who had concerns about finding their way around Japan comment on their return about how simple it really was. Most people also come home with the odd miracle story about the kind helpful person on the bus/train, or at the shop/restaurant who came to their rescue in their moment of need!


Do I need a visa to visit Japan?
Visitors from the UK, US, Australia, Canada and many European countries do not need a visa to visit Japan. You can find a list of countries and regions that have visa exemption arrangements with Japan here:

If your country of residence (or your passport country) does not have an exemption arrangement then you will need to apply for a visa through the Japanese embassy in your country of residence.

A list of embassies can be found here:

It is YOUR responsibility to arrange the visa but we will help you as much as possible.

Regarding the visa application, please note that we CANNOT act as a guarantor. You will therefore need to get a visa to enter Japan for "tourism" as opposed to a visa for "tourism with a travel agency guarantee". Usually this means that rather than getting a guarantee from a travel agency, you need to provide your own evidence that you have sufficient funds to support you whilst in Japan (bank statements etc) and evidence of flight tickets back home. We CAN provide evidence of an itinerary of what you are doing and evidence that accommodation has been booked.

Isn’t Japan REALLY expensive?
It needn’t be. Prices in Japan have been relatively stable for the last decade, while prices elsewhere in the world have been increasing dramatically. While it is certainly possible to go out and spend a month’s salary at one of Kyoto’s most exclusive restaurants, or buy a square watermelon for US$100, it is equally possible to get an excellent meal for less than GBP10/US$15, or get across Tokyo on the subway for less than GBP1.50/US$2.50. Day-to-day expenses for traveling in Japan are no more expensive than in Europe or North America and often less so. Most people come back from Japan pleasantly surprised at how affordable it can be.

How much money will I need in Japan?
This is the $1000 question so to speak! Everybody spends a different amount when they visit. However, nearly everyone finds Japan a lot less expensive than they were expecting. Eating out is very reasonable and as food is one of the biggest expenses (and pleasures!) when travelling, this helps to keep costs down. Local transport, which is generally NOT included in our packages is also inexpensive, with the highest fare on the Tokyo subway being just 310 yen (less than £3/$4.) Entrance fees to shrines, temples and museums are also very reasonable, with most in the region of 200-500 yen. Occasionally you will need to pay as much as 1000 yen, but this is not the norm.

As a rough guide we recommend 80,000 yen per person (approximately £640/ US$1000) as a good amount to cover basic costs on a 2-week trip. This should cover your meals, drinks, local transport and any entrance fees. What this won't cover are souvenirs and other purchases you may wish to make. Beer and drinks can add up very quickly so if you like a tipple of an evening you may need to budget a bit more.


Can I use my credit / debit card in Japan?
Cards are generally accepted at major department stores and in upmarket restaurants. However Japan remains very much a cash-based society and you will have trouble using your cards in smaller shops and restaurants. We encourage our customers to carry cash with them and not to rely on cards for making purchases. You can use your cards to withdraw Japanese Yen from ATMs (cash machines) at all post offices in Japan (large and small) and at 7-Eleven convenience stores. You will need your 4-digit PIN code to make withdrawals and it is a good idea to let your bank at home know in advance that you will be using your card in Japan. ATMs have instructions in English so you won’t have any problems – just make sure you get the 0s right!

What about exchanging money and travellers cheques?
Foreign currency exchange is available at the major airports at reasonable rates and also at major banks and some mid and upper-range western-style hotels. Travellers cheques can also be exchanged at major banks and post offices, but be warned the process can be a little time consuming – up to 45 minutes. We recommend making sure you have sufficient funds in cash before leaving large cities if heading off for more rural areas.

If you wish take Travellers Cheques the best place to exchange them is at the airport when you arrive. If you are taking US Dollar or Sterling travellers cheques you will get a much better exchange rate on these than on the equivalent cash dollars or sterling.

For the definitive guide to buying your currency check out the blog post from InsideJapan Director, Alastair Donnelly.

Is tipping expected in Japan?
For the most part there is no tipping in Japan; leave change behind on a restaurant table or at the cash register and you may find yourself chased down the road by staff deserate to return your 'lost property'. However, tipping is customary in a few instances. A tip properly given at these times will impress the recipient with your cultural awareness. Tipping is common when staying at a ryokan, (Japanese-style inn), in which meals are served in your room. The tip should be handed directly to the server or maid. 1000 yen in a small envelope is customary (up to 3000 when staying consecutive nights), although a small gift from one's country or another location in Japan is acceptable. You can try to let a taxi driver "keep the change" but you may find that the driver at first refuses the tip, and tries to hand it back to you; it may take a couple of goes to get him/her to take it! If you hire a driver for the day then a tip of 500-1000 yen is customary.


Can I use my mobile/cell phone in Japan?
There is a lot of confusion surrounding the use of overseas mobile phones in Japan. Please note that the information given here is intended as a guide only. We cannot be responsible for charges made by operators or rental companies. You will find that charges for using a mobile phone in Japan are expensive and this is especially the case for data (e-mail and internet) - we recommend you turn off roaming on your mobile telephone to avoid a nasty surprise!

One great option is to hire a mobile phone in Japan.

Click to learn about hiring a mobile phone and mobile wi-fi in Japan

The mobile phone network in Japan works on a different system to the rest of the world and until recently no overseas mobile phones would work. However, with the advent of 3G phones this has changed. The rule is basically this: If you have a 3G handset it will work. If you do not have a 3G handset it will not.

Be careful: If you ask your mobile provider they may inform you that your phone will work in Japan if it is tri-band or quad-band. It will not.

BLACKBERRY: If you have a 3G Blackberry it WILL work in Japan. If it is not 3G it will NOT work in Japan.

Please note: some mobile phone contracts do NOT INCLUDE ROAMING. if your contract does not include roaming YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO USE IT IN JAPAN

Another option is to hire a SIM card in Japan and put this into your own mobile phone which you have brought with you from home. Two companies offer this service, Softbank and Mobal Narita (only available at Tokyo Narita Airport). As of September 2010, Softbank is much cheaper for domestic calls within Japan (105 yen per minute). Calls to the US are 200 yen per minute and to the UK 250 yen. The Mobal Narita service is 240 yen for domestic and international calls. SMS (text) messages on Mobal Narita are 140 yen each whilst on Softbank they cost 150 yen. Data charges (internet and e-mail) for both are very high.

Note that the SIM has to be returned and is not pre-pay. You will need to provide credit card details and will then be billed for usage. Your phone will need to be 'unlocked' in order to be able to use the SIM card.

I would like to see some kabuki / noh / bunraku while I am in Japan. Is this possible?
If an event or performance is taking place in Japan, we can usually obtain tickets. However the frequency of these events varies. Kabuki performances are fairly easy to get to, with regular performances in Tokyo. Noh, bunraku and other performing arts can be harder to come by, though we will certainly do our best to find something that fits in with your itinerary.

We would like to watch some Sumo, is this possible?
There are 6 major sumo tournaments (basho) a year running for the middle 2 weeks of January, March, May, July, September and November and we can get tickets for them for you. The cheapest tickets are from about 3000yen. The sumo tournament dates are as follows:

Basho Schedule 2014
Tournament Venue Dates
New Year Tokyo Kokugikan 12th to 26th January
Spring Osaka Municipal Gymnasium 9th to 23rd March
May Tokyo Kokugikan 11th to 25th May
Summer Nagoya Aichi Gymnasium 13th to 27th July
September Tokyo Kokugikan 14th to 28th September
Autumn Fukuoka Kokusai Center 9th to 23rd November
Basho Schedule 2015
Tournament Venue Dates
New Year Tokyo Kokugikan 11th to 25th January
Spring Osaka Municipal Gymnasium 8th to 22nd March
May Tokyo Kokugikan 10th to 24th May
Summer Nagoya Aichi Gymnasium 12th to 26th July
September Tokyo Kokugikan 13th to 27th September
Autumn Fukuoka Kokusai Center 8th to 22nd November

If you are not in Japan during a basho then it may be possible to attend asa-geiko (morning training) in Tokyo. Please contact us for more details.


Is my money safe? Are you insured against financial failure?
InsideJapan Tours Ltd is bonded with ABTOT for your financial protection and peace of mind. Under the terms of the Bond, all monies paid to the Company are secured in favour of ABTOT Trust Ltd. You can, therefore, rest assured that your money is safe. InsideJapan Tours is a member of AITO, The Association of Independent Tour Operators. Established in 1976, the AITO symbol has become the hallmark of good holidays from specialist tour operators. All AITO companies are fully bonded and governed by AITO's independent dispute settlement service which means you are in safe hands when you book with an AITO member.

Can you sell me travel insurance?
One of the conditions under which we accept bookings is that our clients take out travel insurance against medical and personal accident risks and have adequate baggage cover. You may like to consider the companies below for your cover.

Travelling from the UK:

Gold Cover Affiliates Travel Insurance. You can apply on line at: or by telephone by calling 01892 559 530.

Travelling from the Rest of the World:

Insure My Trip – You can apply on line at:

Of course, do feel free to use alternative insurers if you wish.


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