We believe that your trip to Japan should be the best it possibly can be and that takes careful planning both by us and by you. There are several things to consider when you start planning a trip to Japan.
When do you want to travel?
The first thing to think about is the time of year you would like to visit Japan. Each season has its charms. Spring is extremely popular with its temperate weather and of course, the beautiful cherry blossoms that are such a symbol of this season. Summer is hot and humid, but the northern regions of the country and mountains are cooler. The mountains are fantastic places to go hiking during the summer and this season is marked by a proliferation of local festivals and firework displays. Autumn is perhaps when Japan is at its most beautiful as the maple leaves change color and the mountains and hillsides are a sea of reds, golds and browns. Winter has a charm all of its own as much of the high country is covered in a blanket of snow. The lower elevations are cold, but seldom cold enough to snow. This is the least crowded time of the year, and the cold weather only improves the simple pleasures of a hot bowl of noodles, hot sake and a hot bath.
How long do you want to spend in Japan?
It’s a great help to us in planning your trip if you have an idea of the length of time you would like to spend in Japan. We try to make all our itineraries wide-ranging and full without being too hectic, allowing you time to relax and enjoy Japan. After all, it is supposed to be a vacation!
Which places do you want to visit?
There are so many places to see in Japan and so much to do that it can be difficult to narrow things down. However, we find most people usually have a few places they have always wanted to see. If you could let us know what these are, it is very helpful.
How much do you want to spend?
Budget is always a difficult issue, but it is really helpful for us if you could let us know either the rough budget you have available for the trip or the standard of accommodation you have in mind. We always offer the best value we possibly can, but our accommodation recommendations are of course largely dependent on budget. We can arrange customized trips to suit nearly any budget.
You will need to think about what type of lodging you will want. You don’t need to stay in the same type of lodging for the entire trip. As a matter of fact, we feel it is best to mix and match. But any information on the type of lodging you will require will be very helpful.
There are six basic types of lodging in Japan:
Generally simple and reasonably-priced, these establishments are for the many salarymen (Japanese businessmen) who travel every day for meetings with clients and business associates. Functionality is the key at business hotels. They rarely have any additional facilities such as an in-house bar or room service, although a simple coffee shop serving snacks and breakfast is not unusual. They are simply clean and comfortable places to sleep, thus making them ideal for travelers on a budget. You’ll always have an attached bathroom, air conditioning, a TV (often with satellite channels) and direct dial phones. To make up for the lack of restaurants and a bar, food and drink is usually available from vending machines located in the hotel. Soap, shampoo, a hair dryer and towels are also normally provided, so there is no need to worry about carrying your own toiletries. Increasingly business hotels are also providing internet facilities by furnishing LAN in the rooms, terminals in the lobby and Wifi in the rooms or lobby.
However, to make up for the lack of some amenities, business hotels will often have other amenities that even the most expensive hotels in Japan don’t offer. For example, many business hotels will have coin laundry facilities. And many also have Japanese-style baths. The baths are an important experience that should not be missed during a visit to Japan.
Tourist Class and Luxury Hotels
Japan has its fair share of tourist class hotels catering mainly to the millions of Japanese who vacation every year in Japan as well as western tourists. Most of these fall into the categories of 3 or 4 star standard and they have all the facilities you’d expect of this level of hotel. However, where Japan excels is with its luxury hotels (5 star hotels). Some of the finest hotels in the world are in Japan, and if you have the money to spend then there can be few better places to treat yourself to something really special.
Ryokan and Minshuku – Traditional style accommodation
Just as hotels come in all shapes and sizes, so do ryokans (traditional Japanese inns). A widely held misconception is that ryokans are prohibitively expensive and only available to the traveler with a bottomless wallet. This is simply not the case. If you would like to experience some nights traditional style (and in our opinion a trip to Japan is not complete without this experience) then we are sure to have something to suit your budget.
Ryokans are a reminder of what Japanese homes were once like. The interiors are nearly always of wood and the rooms feature sliding screens. The floors are covered with tatami mats made of woven reeds. These act as great insulators in the winter and keep the rooms cool in summer. Guests sleep on futon mattresses laid out on the floor by the ryokan staff. Usually these will be put out at night and then returned to their closet in the morning. The traditional rooms are something all ryokan have in common, but the similarities stop there. Ryokans can be as luxurious as the finest 5-star hotels or as budget and basic as youth hostels.
Lower cost ryokan and Minshuku give you the chance to have the Japanese experience without the high expense. Admittedly the finer aspects are sacrificed, but the attraction of living for a while as the Japanese do still makes this a very appealing option. Minshuku are a great option for travellers on a budget. Similar in style to ryokans, minshuku are always family run (The word “Minshuku” literally translates to people turning their homes into inns.) with just a few rooms. Rooms are basic traditional style and bathing facilties are almost always shared.
If you would prefer to experience first-hand how the Japanese live today, we can arrange for an apartment in Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto. Most of these apartments will be smaller studio apartments, but 1 and 2 bedroom units are available. Meals are not included of course, but all of the apartments will include the necessary pots, pans and tableware to allow you to prepare and eat your own meals in the apartment.
The Machiya architectural style, dating back hundreds of years, can be found everywhere in Japan. However Kyomachiya (Machiya style buildings located in Kyoto) are the best representatives of this style. These traditional-style buildings are a perfect way to experience the Japan of the past. They range in size from smaller homes accommodating 2 to 4 people up to larger homes accommodating up to 16 people. Meals are not included of course, but all of the Kyomachiya will include the necessary pots, pans and tableware to allow you to prepare and eat your own meals.
Shukubo is the Japanese word for Buddhist Temple lodging. Shukubo allow you to experience the culture and history of Japan, while calming the mind and enjoying unexpectedly flavorful and healthy vegetarian meals. While the rooms will normally be very simple and the bath and toilet facilities are normally shared, the rooms will have everything you need. Buddhist vegetarian meals will be provided, and you will be invited to join the morning prayer services. While Shukubo can be found all over Japan, the best place to savor this experience is Koya-san, a remote Buddhist retreat established in the 9th century.
Are there any cultural activities you would like to participate in?
Over the years, the Japanese have developed many disciplines and arts that are very unique to Japan. These include, but are not limited to, tea ceremony, ikebana (flower arranging), calligraphy, zen meditation, cooking and geishas. The list could go on and on. We feel it is important that while you are in Japan, that you participate in some of these activities. By doing so, it will give you another view to Japan. And many of these activities will give you an opportunity to meet and interact with the Japanese on a personal level. When thinking about your trip to Japan, you should also think about what cultural activities you might want to include. We can work with you to include these and stay within your budget.