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Staff On Tour: Japan

February 23, 2023

Our staff frequently tour Japan to road test our customers’ fabulous travel experiences, provide on-the-ground feedback and scope out the latest delights. Here, insider tips from the destination experts...

Laura in Japan during autumn foliage season, at Korakuen Garden in Okayama
Laura in Japan during autumn foliage season, at Korakuen Garden in Okayama

Laura, Email Marketing Manager

What is your best Japan travel tip?

As beautiful as Japan’s cherry blossom season is, I travelled during autumn foliage and it was spectacular. I can’t recommend it highly enough! Everywhere we went, the landscape was covered in beautiful reds, oranges and golds. Plus, I even found out that one variety of cherry blossom, fuyuzakura (winter cherry blossom), blooms twice a year — once in spring and then again in autumn. So if you time your trip right, you can actually experience the best of both seasons in one trip!

What do you wish you’d known before your first visit?

I was mostly worried about navigating the language barrier but it was actually far easier than expected! There are information booths and help desks at all major transport hubs, as well as signs in English. Getting from the airport to my hotel using public trains couldn't have been simpler. And the friendliness of the Japanese people hasn't been exaggerated. There was always someone around to help and if they didn't speak English, they'd find a colleague who could.

What’s your one must-see sight or must-do experience?

It's hard to choose but I loved Miyajima Island! We had a great day exploring the island, from the famous 'floating' torii and Itsukushima Shrine, to the Buddhist Daisho-in Temple and Omotesando, the busy shopping street that's filled with open-fronted shops and delicious-smelling food vendors. I also really loved the chance another day to dress up in traditional kimonos. 

Best way to spend a free afternoon in Tokyo?

Jump on the metro and head to ShibuyaSKY! At around 230m above ground, it's the highest point in Shibuya district and you get 360-degree views across Tokyo. It's hard to fathom exactly how spread out Tokyo is until you see stretching out for as far as the eye can see. Regardless of whether you're there in the day or at night, the view from the open-aired rooftop is unbeatable and you can even look down on Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world.

Get there: Laura enjoyed some popular sights found on our Unforgettable Japan tour, an in-depth, fully escorted tour that includes a bullet train ride, a night staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan and incredible sightseeing like Shirakawa-gõ Village and Golden Pavilion.

Ryan's samurai experience in Tokyo
Ryan's samurai experience in Tokyo

Ryan, Product Manager

What is your best Japan travel tip?

One of my tips is to carry cash. It can be hard to find ATMs in Japan and cash is still king. Japan is super safe and I've never had an issue carrying around cash. You can change money before you leave home and find ATMs in convenience shops, too.

What do you wish you’d known before your first visit?

That autumn is the best time to travel. It’s cooler, there are less crowds than in spring and the countryside is a stunning array of oranges, reds and yellows as the trees change. Also, see above re: cash!

What’s your one must-see sight or must-do experience?

Find time to visit Tokyu Hands. It’s hands down (zing) the best shopping experience across Japan. They stock high-quality goods, you can get all your shopping done in one place.

Best way to spend a free afternoon in Tokyo?

I'm a bit obsessed with Japanese record shops. Ive been known to spend whole afternoons (days) digging through tiny record stores across Tokyo. Afterwards, head to the Park Hyatt Tokyo for a cocktail. If you're there Thursday, Friday or Saturday between 5–9pm you can enjoy two hours of drinks with amazing views, for around ¥6,930 (approx. A$75) per person.

Afterwards, if you're ready for an adventure, head out to Golden Gai in Shibuya for real Tokyo nightlife.

Get there: Enjoy free time in Tokyo on our Grand Japan tour, a glorious exploration of Japan’s must-see highlights plus time in northern Japan, zipping around Hokkaido by bullet train. 

 

Brendon enjoyed the chance to don a traditional kimono in his travels around Kyushu, famous for its hot springs
Brendon enjoyed the chance to don a traditional kimono in his travels around Kyushu, famous for its hot springs
Brendon, Head of Travel

What is your best Japan travel tip?

Choose when to go carefully. My best tip is, don’t get caught up in the hype of the more acclaimed seasons. Japan is a year-round destination and truly has something to offer at any time of year.

What do you wish you’d known before your first visit to Japan?

How traveller-friendly it is. It is so easy it is to get around and definitely not as daunting as people make it out to be. Locals are always supremely helpful. 

What’s your one must-see sight or must-do experience?

I was very hesitant to do this the first time but an onsen experience is pretty incredible. It can feel very daunting and it’s not something that Western culture is necessarily comfortable with in general, however, the Japanese don’t care. It’s very much about the cleansing and purifying ritual and it’s a sacred experience deeply rooted in Japanese culture. You can onsen privately if you’re a bit bashful.

Best way to spend a free afternoon in Tokyo?

I’d head to Shinjuku and wander both the main street and alleyways that run off it. We found an amazing samurai museum just off the main street of Shinjuku. There are little eateries along the way and this is an area that is just so classic Tokyo: all that neon signage, one laneway even has Godzilla coming out of the building. I’d finish with dinner in Omoide Yokocho – commonly referred to as Piss Alley – it’s got such a buzz, a real old Japan feel and it’s the perfect place to enjoy a yakitori and Japanese beer.

Get there: Brendon especially enjoyed the otherworldly Hells of Beppu, a firm customer favourite on our best-selling Inspiring Japan fully escorted tour. 

 

Japan was Matt's first post-Covid adventure
Japan was Matt's first post-Covid adventure

Matt McLean, Video Editor

What is your best Japan travel tip?

To wander. My trip across Japan was incredible because of its blend of set activities and free time. It was also so valuable getting private tours to key sights, such as temples and historic districts. Hearing from our guides added such a depth to my understanding and appreciation of the places I was visiting. On the other hand, in my free time I made it a point to explore, without a goal or a destination in mind. An example of this was hiring a bike and riding it down the Kami River in Kyoto for a few hours. It showed me a different side of the city and was just great fun. Additionally, when I was in Arashiyama, an area of Kyoto known for its bamboo grove, I strolled for another hour and found the most beautiful path. It was breathtaking and I never would have known about it otherwise. 

What do you wish you’d known before your first visit?

Don’t be afraid to take a rest. This trip was my first holiday, post-Covid, and because of this I felt a bit precious to make the most of it and constantly explore. After five days, this caught up to me and I decided to spend the next two nights at the hotel and get some more rest. This gave me the energy to keep exploring and appreciate the place I was in. 

What’s your one must-see sight or must-do experience?

There are just so many things I could say! For me, I think staying in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) was such a unique experience. Spending one night, with woven floors and paper doors was such a treat. Experiencing the customary onsen (hot spring) culture, traditional shabu shabu (hot pot) dinner was something I wouldn't have done if it wasn't on Inspiring Vacations' itinerary. 

Get there: Matt loved the cultural pursuits included on our Spectacular Japan tour, plus a visit to top spots including Fushimi Inari Shrine’s seemingly endless red torii gates to the green splendour of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. 

 

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