A dream come true for many, alas so much to see and – no matter how long your stay – so little time! Japan is absolutely brimming with unique experiences, from bustling, futuristic Tokyo to traditional Kyoto, full of temples and palaces from hundreds of years ago.
So, how to get the most out of your stay? On a tour, of course! I’ve done it myself, so I’ve got four adventures and three ‘in the know’ tips that will guarantee your Japanese adventure is catered to you and the best attractions, top sights, and best eats!
Why a tour is the way to go?
As fascinating as this country is, it can also present a bit of a challenge! There’s a language barrier and different alphabets, making it tricky to make your own arrangements. You’ll get much more out of your trip on. a tour for a number of reasons. Speaking from experience, I can really let you in on the perks of a tour:
Be in the know
While many Japanese speak English, they are notoriously as reserved as they are friendly, so striking up a conversation or simply asking for directions may prove challenging. With a tour, you have a local guide to add extra value; answer any questions you have, fill you in on the do’s and don’ts, and help with added arrangements. You don’t want to miss out on your dream ‘izakaya’ – the Japanese equivalent of a pub- because making the dinner reservation in English proved challenging!
Less time wasted, more value won
With a tour, you have transport arranged which guarantees you won’t waste time lost at a train station or researching how to get from point A to B. Been there, done that, no need to repeat and. I don’t recommend it. You’ll also get to visit places that would otherwise be difficult to reach. The Tokyo metro is a challenge in its own right, but visiting a picturesque countryside village like Takayama, relying on public and regional transport would be a plight! Compare that to comfortably gliding by in your airconditioned tour bus going straight to the location while having a nap or chit-chatting with your guide or other group members.
Create memories while making friends
The third and final point – you’ll be making discoveries with like-minded Japan aficionados! On my guided adventure to Japan, we had so much fun together! It was great to share what kick-started each of our fascination with Japan. The tours will have both scheduled activities and free time. That’s your moment to take a soothing bath in a hot spring, round up the fun-loving people for karaoke, or an impromptu bar-hop!
A Tour for every flair
We’re featuring four tours with G Adventures, so you can choose an itinerary that fits your dream Japanese adventure. Here are their best tours, all including the must-sees Tokyo and Kyoto, but otherwise vary in age group, length, and experiences — here we go!
1. Japan: Tokyo Nights and Kyoto Temples
For the visitor wanting to pack a lot of Japan in little time, this 6-day tour is perfect for those who want to get a lot of Japan in little time! Go from sprawling Tokyo on the iconic Shinkansen bullet train to picturesque Takayama village with traditional houses and shops where a bathhouse with hot springs is waiting to welcome you. Finally, ending in Kyoto, with its many temples and palaces for you to explore or perhaps take a calligraphy class. With free time to explore both by day and night, this tour suits the fun-loving, younger crowd. My tip is to add an extra night or two in Tokyo to really get the most out of your trip. I’m sure you’ll want to return to Tokyo, but it may be a while, so make your visit worthwhile.
- Age group: 18 to 39
- Vibe: Fun-loving with a lot of free time
- Highlight: Stay at a traditional inn with hot springs
2. Japan Express: Osaka to Tokyo
This 9-day adventure is packed with unique experiences! Just imagine waking up in a temple atop the 800m high Mt. Koya as the Buddhist monks do their morning prayers. Learn about the fascinating yet somber impact of the Hiroshima bombing and discover the secrets of the atmospheric alleys in the Geisha district, Gion, in Kyoto. A visit to the emblematic Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto is also a must! On my tour, one visit was included, but I had to go back for another stroll under the red torii-gates! After that, you’ll take the Shinkansen bullet train to Tokyo for your final night. If you didn’t have your fill of Japanese treats and sights yet, again, staying another night or two in Tokyo, again, would be my tip. Visit the Tokyo Sky Tree or Tskuji fish market, where you can pick up unique snacks and get free tastings!
- Age group: 12- 99
- Vibe: In-depth Cultural
- Highlights: Temple stay in Koyasan and the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto
3. Epic Japan: Speed Trains & Street Food
This 11-day adventure goes from Tokyo via Takayama and Kyoto all the way to Hiroshima before ending in Osaka. In Tokyo, admire the magnificent Asakusa shrine, and participate in the famous Shibuya Crossing before discovering the nightlife. As already mentioned, Kyoto has many temples to enchant any visitor before the Shinkansen takes you to Hiroshima for some history and a day trip to the beautiful Miyajima torii-gate, standing tall in the scenic bay. Finally, you’ll experience all the fun-loving vibe and exotic street food that Dotonbori in Osaka has to offer, with the local specialty okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) being the must-dry dish. I’ve had it, so I can personally recommend it, and even seeing it being prepared is a pleasure!
- Age group: 18- 39
- Vibe: Fun-loving, with a lot of free time.
- Highlights: Stay at a traditional inn with hot springs, visit Miyajima shrine and savor Osaka’s food scene.
4. Discover Japan
Finally, for those who want to go all in on Japan, this 14-day tour will give you the complete experience. With an initial night in Tokyo, you are whisked to the historic village of Kanazawa where you get to discover the old Nagamachi samurai district. It’s a unique atmosphere of days long past. Then on to picturesque Takayama, where the country’s feudal history can still be felt, before taking the Shinkansen train to Hiroshima for the war museum and heritage sites. After that, the treasures of Kyoto await; the hundreds of torii-gates at the Fushimi Inari shrine and the fantastical Golden Pavillion in a scenic garden. And when you think you’ve had your fill of photo-ops, you’ll continue to the breathtaking Fuji mountain at Lake Kawaguchi. Admiring its white-clad peak, you truly feel like you are in the presence of an entity of nature!
- Age group: 12- 99
- Vibe: In-depth Cultural
- Highlights: Nagamachi samurai district, visit Miyajima shrine, Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Lake Kawaguchi near Fuji mountain
Oftentimes a Japan trip is something you’ve looked forward to for a long time, and both with regards to planning and budget, something of an endeavor. Taking a tour takes care of some of that, but here are some bonus tips for you to consider.
- When to visit? Temperature and humidity vary a lot over the seasons and from north to south across the country. Tokyo often sees as much as °F 85 / °C 30 in summer, so you may want to avoid the summer months so you can explore the city comfortably. Peak seasons for visiting Japan are November for the autumn foliage and, of course, late March, April, and early May for cherry blossom season, with an official forecast being made every year. It’s the priciest time to visit, but may be worth it if you want to experience Japan at its finest.
- Money matters: Japan is a notoriously expensive country with prices close to or above those in the US or European Union. You’ll save on tipping, however; it’s not the custom at all in Japan, and it can actually make your waiter or bartender uncomfortable if you try to do it. For cash, you’ll want to visit a post office or any ‘konbini’ – convenience stores like 7Eleven or FamilyMart. Credit cards are widely accepted, and cashiers will often receive your card carefully, with both hands and a slight bow.
- Customs to consider: Respect is important in Japanese culture. Taking your shoes off whenever you enter someone’s home or any traditional house, many hotels, resorts, and even dressing rooms is paramount. Cleanliness is also a big thing in Japan, and yet you will have a hard time finding any trash cans around, and people carry their trash with them until they find one. Smokers will even have a personal mini-ashtray with them, making sure no cigarette butts end up on the ground.
This article was created in partnership with the operator G Adventures.