"Irasshaimase! Welcome! From the moment I discarded my boots at the door and stepped onto the meadow-sweet straw tatami mats I felt at home in Japan."
"Despite Japan's preoccupation with super-computers, robotics and manga comics there is no conflict with the other side of this nation – that of beauty and tradition. Beauty - in the 14 or so small bowls of food, artistically arranged as my dinner, and tradition – in the Kabuki plays, tea ceremonies and wooden houses of Takayama. There is no conflict between the millions of flashing signs in the shopping area of Tokyo's Ginza district and the gentle reflection in the sea of the red tori gate on holy Miya Jima Island. No conflict between the newest earthquake-proof skyscrapers and the cunning defensive features of Himeji Castle. They all exist side by side, equally cherished and respected.
Whenever you visit Japan you're assured of a hearty Irasshaimase! So, in return, raise a glass of sake to a country of enchanting people and a land of infinite contrasts and say "Kampai!" (Cheers!)."
Carol Ashen, Tour Leader – The Imaginative Traveller
Official Language: Japanese (Hyojungo)
Religions: There are two main religions in Japan: Shinto, which is the native religion and Buddhism which was introduced around the 6th Century. Others include Confucianism and Christianity, however it is very difficult to estimate any sort of percentages.
Voltage: 100 Volts AC. To make it more confusing Tokyo and eastern Japan operate at 50Hz while parts of western Japan operate at 60Hz. Electrical items brought from home are unlikely to work reliably. Some North-American items, with plugs that are the flat two pin type, may be an exception.
A 90 day visa is issued free on arrival to visitors from many countries (including the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the US and most European nations). However certain nationalities must acquire a visa in advance. As Japan's visa regulations are subject to change at short notice it is not possible to state which nationalities this applies to.
For the latest information on your specific visa requirements you should contact your nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate close to your planned date of travel.
Note: Japan requires that visitors planning to enter the country on a 90 day short stay visa must possess an onward air or sea ticket.
Please Note: Our Japan tours are ONLY available to travellers with a “Temporary Visitor” status. We regret that this tour is not available to Japanese nationals and travellers with any other visa status (e.g. Student, Working holiday, Business, etc).
The monetary unit in Japan is the Yen (¥). Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 & 500 yen; banknotes come in 1,000, 5,000 & 10,000 yen.
Approximate exchange rates (as at May 2008) are as follows:
At present there are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency that a visitor may bring into Japan however sums over US$5,000 should be declared on arrival.
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
The best way to get money in Japan is with an ATM card as there are now ATM machines at most post offices. The machines are identified with a sticker saying "International ATM Service" and you can opt for instructions in English. They handle cards in nine networks, including Visa, PLUS, Mastercard, Cirrus, American Express and Diners Club; you will need your PIN to make a withdrawal.
In major post offices the ATMs are accessible at weekends and after the counters have closed, though none are open 24 hours.
As this is a new system and there are still some teething troubles it is worth bringing some money in cash / travellers cheques in the case of an emergency. Travellers cheques and cash can be changed between 9am & 3pm at Authorised Foreign Exchange Banks, which are found in cities. You must show your passport when making an exchange and you should be prepared for the transaction to take some time.
It is best to bring US dollar travellers cheques as sterling and other currencies are not always accepted.
Most of the large, luxury hotels are also authorised to change money. If you are unable to change money anywhere else it may be worth asking to use this service.
As our Japan tour commences on a Saturday, you should bring with you (or change at the airport) enough money to last the first couple of days in Tokyo as banks will not be open until Monday morning and you may not be able to find an ATM straight away.
Excess yen can be converted back on departure. It is a good idea to retain the original exchange certificates throughout your stay in Japan.
The Pre-Departure Information that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains general information about organising your spending money. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you on local facilities.
The Pre-Departure Booklet contains general information about the things you will need to consider when budgeting for your holiday. Below are some specific notes relevant to our tour in Japan.
Entrance fees are not included to allow you maximum flexibility on days where there is free time to explore a city or town. If you wish to take optional excursions your Tour Leader will be able to advise you of the possibilities in each area. Approximate costs for popular excursions and activities are shown below:
There are no entrance fees to Shinto Shrines, but entrance fees at Buddhist temples and other sights are generally between US$2 and US$7.
Note: International student cards are no longer accepted for discounts on entrance fees in Japan.
These are not included. Generally, the tour leader will arrange a meal option taking advantage of local specialities. Occasionally there will be a western alternative at breakfast.
Approximate costs for meals and snacks not included are shown below:
For a guide to the type of food you will find in Japan see the Local Food & Drink section of this dossier.
Complementary Japanese green tea and tap water is generally provided with meals in restaurants. All other drinks: bottled water, soft or alcoholic drinks are at your own expense. Approximate costs for drinks bought in a shop in the street are shown below. Note: Prices in restaurants and hotels are usually at least double those specified.
Tap water is perfectly safe to drink in Japan, but is not particularly tasty. Carbonated soft drinks and, to a lesser extent, bottled water and fruit juices, are widely available throughout the country.
The public transport networks within cities, be they train, tram or subway are excellent and not expensive (a single ticket costs approx US$1.5). In each location, your Tour Leader will be able to advise you on the most appropriate method of travel and local variations in tickets and payment systems. In most cases a “one-day travel pass” is most convenient. These usually cost between US$4 and US$10.
For one-off short journeys taxis are not too expensive especially when the cost is shared between 2 or 3 group members. Flagfall is usually approx US$6 and a journey of 3km is generally approx. US$13.
Note: Taxi drivers do not usually speak English. However, your Tour Leader or reception staff will be able to help provide written instructions.
The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. There are certain items of equipment that you will specifically need on tour in Japan. Check your Trip Dossier for these special requirements.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Bring a backpack or easy to carry luggage and travel light! You will have to carry your own luggage frequently – don't let this be an ordeal!
It is particularly important in Japan to travel light. With the exception of trains servicing the airport, there are no special racks for large luggage. On the Shinkansen (Bullet trains), luggage space is limited to a small overhead rack and the legroom in front of your seat, which is sufficient for a small-medium daypack.
We recommend you fit all your belongings into a 40-50 litre backpack (including your daypack and camera bag). It may not sound much, but we have found people can usually get by with this and always benefit from carrying less. If you do find you have forgotten something, you will almost certainly be able to find a replacement locally. A small towel, soap and shampoo are provided in the various business hotels and ryokan, so you need not bring these from home.
You will need only the shoes you wear on arrival and those for climbing Mt. Fuji (selected trips only). You will note from the etiquette section below, that shoes with few or no laces are more convenient.
As a general guideline, clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard-wearing and easily washed. In Japan no matter what time of the year you will need to be prepared for great variations in temperature, so generally it’s best to pack several thin layers rather than one thick layer. Other than that, almost anything goes in Japan! There are several convenient laundry opportunities along the way.
It may be possible, for those who are travelling for an extended period and are carrying additional luggage, to leave a small bag at the ryokan in Tokyo for the duration of the tour.
Clothing for Mount Fuji
Although the climbing season is in the summer months, this is one of the wettest periods and storms can occur. The summit of Mt. Fuji is 3776m above sea level and can experience rapidly changing extremes of weather. It is best to be prepared and we recommend that you bring appropriate clothing for this particular section. This should include a waterproof shell and warm underlayers.
Whilst few of our tours can be described as physically demanding you will find all activities more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit and active. Our tour in Japan, in particular, involves extensive walking at sites and a trek. You also need to be able to carry your luggage while negotiating the various forms of transport, rather large train stations and the short walks to our accommodation.
Naturally Japan has customs and attitudes that you will not be familiar with, however if you respect these customs you will receive a friendly welcome and your visit will be all the more enjoyable.
Don't panic about making a mistake, as the Japanese will almost always understand! If in doubt in a new situation, just follow what others do or the polite modes of your home country. The only social behaviour that will not be forgiven is wearing shoes inside the house, and you should be aware that blowing your nose in public is seen as totally disgusting! There are also many customs associated with ryokans (traditional inns) which are detailed in the accommodation section below.
In order to display respect for local values, and avoid embarrassment, we ask that you follow your Tour Leader's advice at all times.
There are few places that you will ever travel to that are as clean as the majority of Japanese cities There are plenty of recycle bins for bottles, cans and paper, so if you can’t find a bin best hold on to your waste until you find a litterbin or somewhere appropriate to dispose of it.
We DO NOT provide complimentary arrival transfers in Japan as public transport from Tokyo Airport (Narita) to our Meeting Point is so efficient (for details see the 'Making Your Own Way' section below).
Our tour Meeting point is the Hotel Asakusa Sunroute (unless you have been notified otherwise), in the Asakusa district. The hotel address should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers.
Please note: Check in time at the hotel is from 14:00
It is easy to make your way to the meeting point using the excellent public transport network. Tokyo's International airport, Narita, is 60km from the city. For convenience and reasons of economy we recommend against using a taxi or bus for this journey - the train is the way to go!
There are several train lines and train companies operating to the airport. The most convenient and direct method is to take the "Keisei Line Skyliner" service which terminates at Ueno and then change to the city's subway network. From there, take the "Ginza Line" (yellow line) two stops to the "Tawaramachi" station. The accommodation is then a one minute walk.
The Skyliner operates every 30-40 minutes between both Airport Terminals and stops only at Nippori on its way to Keisei Ueno Station. The journey takes approx. 1 hour and costs US$16 (Yen 1,920). Tickets can be bought from the Keisei ticket counters in terminals 1 or 2 after clearing Customs and Immigration. Trains depart from the basement level.
On arrival at "Keisei Ueno" station, clear the ticket barrier and follow the signs left to "Connecting passageway to subway", not the yellow exit signs. At the "Ginza Line" buy a ticket (Approx. US$1.5, Yen 160) and take the train to "Tawaramachi". The journey only takes a few minutes. Once there, leave the station by "Exit 3". The Sunroute Hotel is just down on the opposite side of Asakusa Kokusai-dori Street. Look for the big Jonathon's Restaurant sign as it's on the second floor of the hotel. The walk along Asakusa Kokusai-dori Street to the hotel should only take a minute.
A map of the local area is available on the hotel's website: Sunroute-Asakusa
Japan has a very low crime rate and most travellers find the Japanese to be very friendly and hospitable people. It’s a very safe place and you should feel quite comfortable wandering around day or night. However, as with any country you are not familiar with, it is recommended that you exercise more caution when off the beaten track.
Your Tour Leader's role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our regional manager in China.
Please note that some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
Our main criterion for choosing accommodation is cleanliness, location and often character. In Japan, where accommodation is expensive, we have selected a mix of accommodation that is affordable, practical and interesting.
During the tour you will have the opportunity to stay at traditional Japanese Inns known as Ryokan and Minshuku. These may have private or shared bathroom facilities. Selected trips that climb Mt Fuji will include a night 'dormitory style' rather than twin share. Please bear in mind that all hotels can occasionally suffer from minor problems and technical difficulties.
At each hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex.
Note: There are no single supplements on our tours in Japan. (i.e. we can not offer single travellers their own room).
Ryokan / Minshuki – Traditional Inns
Ryokan are the traditional inns of Japanese culture. In cities some are no longer wooden structures, but all operate along time honoured methods. While futons in the west often have a wooden base, in Japan they are mattresses which are rolled out directly onto the tatami floor covering. When staying at a ryokan it is important to follow some basic rules and practices:
Principles of cleanliness and contamination where footwear is concerned are very important throughout the ryokan and Japanese society.
You must take off your shoes at the entrance of the ryokan and put on the slippers provided. You should step directly out of your shoes and into the slippers (or onto the "clean inside floor" of the ryokan). In particular when taking off your shoes you should avoid stepping on the "dirty outside floor" with your socks or bare feet and then step on the "clean inside floor". When you leave the ryokan the system is reversed. Step from the clean floorboards directly into your shoes and do not step on the dirty floor with your bare feet or socks.
Some ryokan, now offer Japanese and western style rooms and you do not have to take off your shoes until you are well inside the ryokan. Whatever the system, you will recognise when to take off your shoes by the row of slippers.
Inside your room you MUST take off your slippers to walk on tatami mats (straw mat floor). i.e. only bare feet or socks are permitted on tatami though you can of course sit and lie down as you please.
Additionally when you visit the toilet in a ryokan, regardless of whether it is en suite or communal, there will be toilet slippers inside the door. Follow the same rules about contamination and use the toilet slippers in, and only in, the toilet.
Like your shoes, your main luggage is considered to have been in a dirty environment and you should be careful where you place it. Do not put your main luggage directly on tatami mats. Your hosts will show you where it can be stored.
In your room there will be a wall hanging and vase. The vase sits on a low shelf called a tokonoma (alcove). Please do not use this alcove as a storage area for your belongings.
Although Japan now has many western style toilets, you will occasionally come across a squat style toilet. In Japan, these are slightly different to the ones found in other parts of Asia. Generally the biggest difference is that you face the hood or the cistern (with the door behind you). There are often handles attached to the wall to hold on to if you find this position awkward.
Sometimes a ryokan will have a communal bathroom with a hot tub which is for relaxation not cleaning. Depending on the size of the ryokan this may be for one person at a time or there may be separate male and female baths for several people. Using the hot tub has a system which must be followed (and is the same in any bath):
Many ryokan lock their front door at 10 or 11pm. This is because they are generally family run affairs and the owners need their rest too.
Coin operated laundry and drying facilities are convenient in some cities. Your tour leader will advise which. These cost only a few hundred yen (US$2-3). It is better to plan on taking fewer clothes and doing laundry once or twice on tour.
Mention Japanese food and most people think immediately of raw fish and seaweed. These are indeed quintessential Japanese dishes, but Japan also offers a surprising variety of dishes and cooking styles. Western food (including most major fast-food chains) is also available.
Restaurants and bars tend to specialise in one particular type of food. There is seldom a menu in English, but often there are plastic displays in the window of meals and prices. Teishoku (set meals) are common, easy to order and generally good value. Knives, forks and spoons are only provided in western restaurants so you will need to adapt to eating with short chopsticks called hashi. Soup is drunk straight from the bowl.
Sticky rice is such a staple that breakfast, lunch and dinner translates as morning rice, midday rice and evening rice. One bowl meals of rice topped with other ingredients, e.g. a deep-fried pork cutlet (katsu-don) makes a great, filling lunch.
Japanese breakfast can be a bit unappetising to foreigners. It usually consists of a small piece of cooked fish, soup, boiled rice, pickle and tea. Occasionally a western alternative is available from a local bakery or convenience store.
A serving of selected slivers of raw fish is actually called sashimi. Tuna, squid, salmon, prawn, abalone, mackerel, yellow tail and sea urchin are all popular varieties. If prepared and served on a ball of vinegared rice it is called sushi. Tempura is food deep-fried in a light batter; often prawns, fish and vegetables. Yakitori is small skewered pieces of chicken coated in an exquisite sauce and barbecued. Originally a Chinese dish, ramen is a big bowl of very thin noodles served in a chicken stock with vegetables and meat. Also commonly available are thick white flour udon soup noodles and narrow buckwheat soba, which may be served in a hot or cold soup or on its own. On offer at speciality restaurants, shabu-shabu and sukiyaki are thinly sliced beef, tofu and vegetables cooked at your table. O-konomiyaki is a tasty pancake of meat fish and vegetables, which you cook yourself on the built-in hot-plate on your table! Special mention should also be made of o-bento. This is a popular packed meal offered at railway stations (and now often elsewhere too) for eating on the train.
Tea is drunk everywhere in Japan. O-cha, green tea, has a delicate and distinctive flavour. Coffee, hot or iced, is widely available too, but coffee shops are generally looked on as places to meet and sit, and charge accordingly.
A wide range of soft drinks (e.g. Coca-Cola, Pepsi and locally produced alternatives) are available throughout Japan.
Ancient communal and religious practices have made alcohol an integral part of life in Japan. Sake (pronounced O-sa-kay) is a rice wine usually served warm. Shochu is the traditional distilled spirit and should be mixed with water before drinking. Beer is now the most popular alcoholic drink and Japan produces excellent quality light, lager-type beer such as Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo. Imported wine is available but is relatively expensive.
Vegetarians need not be apprehensive about travelling in Japan; a non-meat alternative is always possible. However, vegetarianism is not something Japanese chefs are particularly familiar with, so dishes tend to have a limited variety of vegetables and are not richly flavoured or spiced.
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Nut Allergies – Important Note: People with nut allergies should be aware that a lot of food is cooked in nut oil and avoiding this will be particularly difficult. The choice of dishes may be incredibly restricted and it would be extremely hard to guarantee complete nut avoidance.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
Internet cafes are actually becoming less common in Japan! Nowadays most people have the internet on their mobile phones and hence there is no need for internet cafes. However there is the odd one left and they generally charge US$2.5-4 per hour. There are business centres in most major towns but they tend to be expensive (US$2 for 10 minutes).
The Japanese public telephone system is very reliable. Many public telephones are coin operated while others accept prepaid phone cards which are readily available from shops and kiosks. An international call using a US$10 card will give you approx. 10 minutes. The mobile network in Japan is a “Tri-band” system.
The postal service is good and stamps are available everywhere. An overseas stamp will cost approx. US$0.70.
Generally Japan benefits from a temperate climate with four very distinct seasons. Spring (Mar-May) is warm and sunny, summer (Jun-Aug) hot and humid, with high rainfall. Autumn (Sep-Nov) is mild and pleasant, rainfall is low and days clear. Winter (Dec-Feb) is cold and dry and the mountainous areas and the northern island of Hokkaido experience heavy snowfall.
Overall, spring and autumn are considered the best seasons to travel. However if you are planning to climb Mt Fuji, it is only possible in July and August due to the extreme conditions on the mountain at other times of the year. Please refer to the brochure (or www.imaginative-traveller.com) for specific Mt Fuji departure dates.
The following shows average daytime temperatures (in degrees celsius):
|City / Temp||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|
Secular public holidays, when banks and government offices are closed, are few and many shops remain open even on these days.
Originally matsuri (festivals) stemmed from the Shinto religion and were related to the planting, growing and harvesting of rice. However now the Japanese will host a matsuri for just about anything!
February / May
July / August
Japanese is the official language of Japan and is spoken by all but a few isolated minorities. However, strong regional dialects abound which may make replies difficult to understand.
Standard Japanese is relatively easy to pronounce as it follows rigid rules and is non-tonal.