Domestic Travel Tours
While it might seem silly to use a tour company to travel Japan, there are times when it actually makes the most sense. Japanese tours booked at any travel agency have package deals that save you money while taking you to the cultural highlights off the beaten trail that locals like to visit. Other English tours make navigating around big urban areas like Kyoto and Tokyo much more manageable, particularly if you are not confident in your Japanese (or if you are traveling with peopl -for example parents- who aren`t confident in your Japanese).
Japanese Tour Companies
There are tour agencies literally everywhere, particularly around train stations. Most tour agencies put out seasonal pamphlets highlighting different package deals to various locations. The prices vary depending on the day, type of hotel you want, and number of people in your group (group rates are always cheaper, usually to a max of 6 people per group). All these package deals include airfare and lodging. Lodgings even in the lowest tier still tend to be decent business class hotels. As always, traveling during peak times like Golden Week or Winter Break or to peak travel locations like Okinawa or the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri can be pricey and fill up quickly. However off-season deals can actually be very cheap!
Tour packages from all tour agencies fall into two basic categories:
- Free Plan (フリープラン / パック): offers airfare and lodging only
- Course (コース): offers airfare, lodging, tour guide, bus transportation, most meals, entrance fee to advertised events and locations.
In places where transportation is difficult to come by or expensive (like Hokkaido), Course tours are the way to go. Sure, you will find yourself surrounded many eldery Japanese (the ones most likely to book these tours), following around the archtypical guide with flag, and making long stops at omiyage stores or rest stops. But the adavantage is you’ll likely be visiting places off the beaten (foreign) tourist track. These are the little-known cultural heritage sites that the Japanese know and love that foriegners perhaps don’t even know exist. It’s also a great way to put those language skills to practice and make friends.
There are countless tour companies to choose from – here are a couple of suggestions.
http://www.jtb.co.jp/ (Japanese only)
JTB is probably Japan’s most well-known travel agency (they also have several overseas offices). Look for the red and white banner. JTB offers a wide range of free plans and course tours every season. They also specialize for the region they are located in. For example, the Matsuyama JTB will only offer tours that depart from Matsuyama. However, if you have a information for a tour that leaves from another city, then Matsuyama JTB can book it for you.
This little known travel agency is located near Matsuyama Shieki station. This place is worth mentioning because they specialize in incredibly cheap 1-3 day bus tours. This is the place to go if you want to make day trips to famous festivals like the Yosokoi Festival in Kochi, the Awa Odori in Tokushima, or the Kobe Luminarie.
English Tour Companies
If you want to get the main highlights of Japan with as little as hassle as possible, then there is no reason you can’t go with an English tour. They’re particularly beneficial if you have friends or relatives visiting from overseas who want to maximize their vacation time. There are also many volunteer guide associations that offer free tours for English speakers. Google ‘goodwill guides’ and you’ll find loads. While there are many services, we’ll just list a few highlights. Most of these places offer easy on-line booking (in English of course!).
Please note that these are in-Japan tours. None of these companies offer airfare.
- Intrepid Travel (http://www.intrepidtravel.com/) – private as well as longer 1-2 week tours. Intrepid tours offer many scripted activities as well as lots of free time to explore on your own.
- JTB Sunrise Tours (http://www.jtb-sunrisetours.jp/) - a subsidiary of Japan’s number one travel agency, JTB Sunrise Tours specialize in a vareity of group and private tours to everywhere in Japan.
- Hato Bus (http://www.hatobus.com/en/) - a big bus tour company running some multilingual tours.
- Imaginative Traveller (http://www.imaginative-traveller.com/) - small group and family adventures.
- World Expeditions (http://www.worldexpeditions.com/au/index.php) – trekking and adventure holidays.