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On our Cultural Immersion Packages you would be part of a small group (maximum of 16 tour members) and would travel around Japan with the full-time service of a tour leader and tour guides. These trips have set start dates throughout the year.
On an Independent Package you would travel independently, not as part of a group and without a tour leader. You can take a self-guided trip at any time of year, around dates that suit you. Your tour would be built around one of the packages defined on our web site.
If none of the packages listed on our web site fit your preferences or interests, we can create an itinerary from scratch for you. Or, if you already have something in mind, we can help you with the entire logistics of the tour or just a portion of it. Maybe you need some help with guides, you need to make lodging reservations or you just need someone to purchase baseball or sumo tickets. You decide how much or how little of our services to use. Whatever you have in mind we can make it possible.
The absolute best times are the spring and November. In late March and early April, the famous cherry trees are blooming everywhere around Japan. In November, the Japanese Maples are turning a beautiful bright red. The weather is usually the best during these times as well. In exchange for these benefits, however, most of the tourist attractions will be more crowded. During the rest of the year, you will enjoy fewer crowds and cheaper airfare.
Japan is very much a cash society. Cards are generally accepted at major department stores and in upmarket restaurants, but you will have trouble using your cards in smaller shops and restaurants. We encourage you to carry cash 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), at certain major banks and at 7-Eleven convenience stores. It’s a good idea to let your bank at home know in advance that you will be using your card in Japan and to verify your bank’s international usage fees. ATMs have instructions in English, so you won’t have any problems.
Foreign currency exchange and travelers check exchange is available at the larger post offices, banks, department stores and some of the larger western-style hotels, but be warned the process can be a little time consuming – up to 45 minutes. There are money exchange offices at the airports, however, the exchange rates at these facilities are lower. We recommend making sure you have sufficient funds in cash before leaving large cities and traveling to more rural areas.
Electrical sockets are the flat two-pin type identical to North American sockets. However, if your electrical device has a three-prong plug, you will need to bring an adapter.
The current in Japan is 100V, as opposed to the 120V in North America. Any electrical devices that work in North America will work in Japan, but because of the lower voltage, they will sometimes operate a little slower. So, for instance, it may take more time for you to dry your hair.
Traveling in Japan is very safe. As a matter of fact, Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. Violent crime, as well as robbery or pickpocketing, is virtually non-existent. (On a per-capita basis, for every one murder committed in Tokyo, there are 400 murders committed in New York City.) However, Samurai Tours recommends the use of a money belt for storing money, credit cards, passports, and any other items that would be difficult to replace.
While it’s not necessary to be fluent, it is nice to master a few survival basics such as, “Please,” “Thank You,” and, “Where is the toilet?” It’s amazing how far you can go with just 50 words of Japanese.
The Japanese will obviously recognize you as a foreigner and will not expect you to know or follow every one of their etiquette rules. The two items they will not tolerate is wearing shoes where you should not and improper preparations in the public Japanese-style baths.
Because of our small group size, it is difficult for us to negotiate consequential discounts with the airlines. Also, we have found many of our tour members want to use frequent-flyer miles, or they wish to arrive before the tour or stay in Japan after the tour and our customers visit Japan from all over the world. We can help with searching for the lowest airfare for you if you don’t have the time. We charge a $50 fee per person only if you end up purchasing the airfare through us.
Payments can be made using Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express. To make a payment using a credit card, call us, toll-free, at 1-866-316-7268 and we will send you a credit card authorization form and a link to our secure, online payment form on our web site. Payments can also be made with checks (personal, business, or cashier), money orders or PayPal.
Traveling in Japan is a joy. The public transportation system in Japan is one of the best, if not the best in the world. All of the trains, subways, buses, taxis, ferries, etc. are fast, efficient, clean and punctual and will take you just about everywhere you want to go. The Japanese are almost universally polite and helpful, and they will often go out of their way to assist foreign travelers. Most visitors who had concerns about finding their way around Japan comment on their return about how simple it really was. And almost everyone returns from Japan with a story of how a local went way out of their way to help them.
If you keep your travels to the popular destinations for foreigners such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, etc., there are enough signs in English and people who, while not fluent in English, can speak enough English to be helpful. If you venture outside of the typical destinations, there will be fewer English signs and fewer English speakers however. Some restaurants will have English menus, but many of them have picture menus or plastic food displays in front of the restaurants.
It needn’t be. While it is certainly possible to spend a month’s salary at one of Kyoto’s most exclusive restaurants or buy a square watermelon for $100, it is equally possible to get an excellent dinner for less than $15 or lunch for less than $10. Day-to-day expenses for traveling 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.
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 local transportation is also inexpensive. (The highest fare on the Tokyo subway is just 310 yen.) Entrance fees to shrines, temples and museums are also very reasonable, with most between 300-600 yen.
As a rough guide we recommend you budget $25 to $35 per day per person on our escorted tours, and $35 to $50 per day per person on an Independent package. This should cover your meals, drinks, local transportation and any entrance fees. It won’t cover souvenirs and other purchases you may wish to make. Beer, sake and other alcoholic drinks can add up very quickly however, so if you want to imbibe, you will need to budget a bit more.
For the most part there is no tipping in Japan. If you leave change behind on a restaurant table or at the cash register, the staff may chase you down to return your “lost property”. However, tipping is customary in a few instances. 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. 1000 yen in a small envelope is customary (up to 3000 when staying consecutive nights), although a small gift from one’s country or another location in Japan is 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. If you hire a driver for the day then a tip of 2500-5000 yen is customary.
Despite claims of many global communications companies, most non-Japanese phones will not work in Japan. The situation is changing, so be sure to check with your provider if you wish to use your own phone. Our customers are entitled to a discounted rate with rental phone provider MyJapanPhone if you would like to rent a phone while you are in Japan. Please click here for more details.
With today’s smartphones, it is becoming easier and easier to stay in contact with home. If you can find a Wifi connection, you can use a VOIP service such as Skype to make and receive phone calls. However, it can be difficult at times to find a free Wifi connection in Japan. It is not as common as it is in other countries.
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 relatively easy 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.
There are 6 major sumo tournaments each year running for the middle or last 2 weeks of January, March, May, July, September and November. (View the Sumo Tournament Schedule) We can get tickets for you if you would like to attend a tournament. The cheapest tickets start about 3000 yen. During the periods between the tournaments, we can arrange for you to visit a Sumo stable to observe a morning practice session.
We include travel insurance with all of our Escorted Tour Packages, however for those who will be traveling to Japan on one of our Independent Packages or using our Custom Travel Services, we are an authorized seller of Travelex and Travel Guard insurances, two of the world’s largest providers of travel insurance. Please contact us for a quote.