Quick-fire answers to our most frequently asked 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 3 areas according to the different kinds of holiday we offer: General FAQs, Small Group Tour FAQs, and Self-Guided Adventures FAQs.

If your question is not answered below or if you have any questions about our brand new Exclusive Private Journey concept, please don't hesitate to contact us directly.

General FAQs

  • Small Group Tours, Self-Guided Adventures, Exclusive Private Journeys 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 services 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.

    Our Exclusive Private Journeys represent the very top end of tailored travel in Japan. On an Exclusive Private Journey you'll travel privately and enjoy the services of fantastic guides in every location, highly exclusive experiences, masterclasses with some of the country's most respected experts and artisans, and the very best of first-class travel and five-star accommodation throughout.

    If you have more questions relating to the kinds of trip we offer, have a look at our Self-Guided Adventure FAQs and Small Group Tour FAQs sections - or get in touch with us to find out more about what we can offer.

  • Why travel to Japan?

    Japan is like no other country on earth. It is a place where it is not just the sights that impress and intrigue, but where the whole travelling experience is a joy, from speeding through the countryside on a bullet train, to sampling Japanese cuisine, to meeting friendly locals with a genuine interest in your visit to their country. One could spend a lifetime exploring Japan.

    The cities of Tokyo and Kyoto may grab the headlines, but the country offers so much more, from some of the world's best powder snow in the ski resorts of Hokkaido in the north, to crystal clear tropical waters of Okinawa in the south. At InsideJapan Tours we will make sure that whilst not missing out on the most famous destinations you will also get a chance to see some of the hidden delights of Japan, making the very most out of your time in this very special country.

  • Who are you? What is InsideJapan Tours?

    Founded in 2000, we are an independent team of Japan specialists. The company was set up to offer trips to Japan organised by those who know and love the country, 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 travelled in Japan, and all of our Japan office staff members are English speakers.

    For more information about InsideJapan Tours and what we do, see our About Us section.

  • 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 Exclusive Private Journeys you can of course travel whenever you like and we will fit the land arrangements around whichever flights you book.

    Prices of air fares vary enormously but as a rule if you are paying less than 600 / $1000 then you have got a good price. If you need any help at all researching flights then please do not hesitate to ask. The first choice you have to make is whether to fly direct or via a European or Asian hub. Using a UK departure as an example, direct return flights from London Heathrow to Tokyo Narita start from around 750 per person for an economy class ticket. Non-direct flights on European carriers such as KLM or Air France start from around 550 per person.

  • 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! 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 travelling around Japan difficult for non-Japanese speakers?

    Travelling 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 who are available 24/7 to help you with any unforeseen issues.

    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 to help, and people often go out of their way to assist foreign travellers. 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 later comment about how simple it was in the end. 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 travel to 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:

    http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/short/novisa.html

    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:

    http://www.mofa.go.jp/about/emb_cons/protocol/

    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 to get across Tokyo on the subway for less than GBP1.50/US$2.50.

    Day-to-day expenses for travelling 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 $1,000 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 1,000 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 two-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 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 desperate 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. 1,000 yen in a small envelope is customary (up to 3,000 when staying consecutive nights), although a small gift from one's country or another location in Japan is also 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 500-1,000 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 (email 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.

    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.

    http://www.mobalnarita.com/
    http://www.softbank-rental.jp/en/phones/sim3g.php

  • I would like to see some Kabuki / Noh / Bunraku while 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 that possible?

    There are six major sumo tournaments (basho) every year, running for the middle two weeks of January, March, May, July, September and November, and we can get tickets for them for you. The cheapest tickets are from about 3,000yen. The sumo tournament dates are as follows:

    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 also 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.

  • When should I visit?

    Any time is a good time to visit Japan! Spring and autumn are popular times for visits, with pleasant temperatures and the chance to glimpse Japan's famous sakura cherry blossom or autumn colours.

    Summer is festival time with hundreds of celebrations taking place from local parades to huge city-wide extravaganzas of colour and noise. Winter is a quieter time to visit, with uncrowded sights and clear winter skies. Of course winter is also the time to head to the mountains for winter sports, with a long December to April season available at many resorts.

    For those keen to see the famous sakura cherry blossom late March to mid-April are the times to visit the coastal cities - up in the mountains things bloom a little later. For the autumn colours early to mid-November is the time down at sea level, with the leaves turning a little earlier at higher altitudes.

  • 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:  http://www.insidejapantours.goldcover.net/ or by telephone by calling 01892 559 530.

    Travelling from the Rest of the World:

    Insure My Trip. You can apply on line at:

    http://www.insuremytrip.com?linkID=6646.html

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

  • What is the weather like?

    As mentioned above spring (March to May) and autumn (October and November) are popular for their warm, pleasant days. In summer the temperature rises, as does the humidity, although up in the mountains things remain a few refreshing degrees lower.

    Late June and early July see a brief "rainy season" with a few overcast days and increased precipitation, though this should by no means preclude travelling at this time. Winter is cool at sea level; cold up in the mountains, with heavy snowfall the farther north you go from Tokyo. Rainfall is fairly even throughout the year, with showers possible in any season.

  • Pocket WiFi, phone rental, roaming charges... what's the best way to keep in touch from Japan?

    In these days of facebook, twitter, smart phones and i-Pads access to the internet and keeping in touch with friends and family online has become an important part of many people's holiday experience. However, Japan is surprisingly not the simplest place from which to keep in touch.

    Free Wi-Fi is not readily available in Japan. Many hotels only offer wired internet connections (not much help if you are trying to get online with your i-Phone or Blackberry) and although the cities are covered in Wi-Fi zones they are all for subscribers only and can not be purchased on an ad-hoc basis. Kyoto City has introduced a free Wi-Fi zone in the centre of the city but you will not find this in many other cities. Similarly, although nearly all coffee shops and bars have Wi-Fi, it is nearly always a subscription service.

    Mobile phones also present a bit of a headache and even if your phone does work you are likely to be hit for extremely high "roaming charges" by your provider. Fortunately we have been able to find some solutions to both these problems!

    Please note: If you plan to use your own cell phone then we recommend contacting your phone contract provider in advance to ask about service availability and costs for receiving and making calls whilst in Japan.

    Mobile / Cell phones in Japan and "pocket Wi-Fi"

    You can arrange phone rental on arrival at Tokyo Narita Airport, Tokyo Haneda Airport and Osaka Kansai Airport. Do note that phones are subject to availability and do sometimes run out at the very busiest times.

    PuRuRu Mobile Phone

    If you want to guarantee a mobile phone and / or mobile internet for the duration of you trip we recommend reserving in advance. We have teamed up with PuPuRu mobile phone rental through whom you can arrange mobile phone rental and mobile "pocket Wi-Fi". Please see visit the links below for more information and to book your handsets:

    Mobile / Cell phone rental: http://www.pupuru.com/affiliate/J13/10Pocket Wi-Fi rental: http://www.pupuru.com/affiliate/J13/14

    Travelcell (US only)

    Exclusively for our US clients we have teamed up with Travecell. They can provide a cell phone and mobile Wi-Fi data card for your Japan vacation which can booked in advance and delivered to your address in the US prior to departure.

    Cell Phone / Mobile Wi-Fi Data Card rental: http://www.travelcell.com/tcap.asp?ag=IJT28

    When placing an order either use the custom link above or please mention InsideJapan Tours code (IJT28).

    What it pocket WiFi?

    When you rent a "Pocket Wi-Fi" handset you will receive a smart phone-sized device which acts as a mobile wireless router. It fits comfortably into any pocket or handbag and creates a Wi-Fi zone with a reach of around ten metres. You can wirelessly connect up to ten devices simultaneously so even if you are a family of five all wielding your iPhones you can all still get on line through a single Pocket Wi-Fi device.

    Mobile coverage is very good in Japan meaning you can have Wi-Fi internet with you almost wherever you travel. Of course, some rural areas might not have such a good signal but in the cities you will be connected all the time. Even on the Shinkansen bullet train you will find you are online all the way.