Local Insight: Tips from our Japanese Tour Directors
Posted April 22, 2019
Our first Local Insight column brought us to the Galapagos, and now we travel across the Pacific to Japan. A fascinating mixture of ancient and modern, this diverse island nation offers an incredible wealth of travel treasures.
We’ve enlisted Sumiyo Terai and Makiko Kumazawa (pictured below), tour directors on our Insider’s Japan small group tour, to divulge some of their wisdom for you. Read on for a wealth of insider knowledge, including some of Japan’s better off-the-beaten-path experiences, the best type of footwear to sport on tour, and a few helpful hints about traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun.
We enjoy many small-group highlights on this tour, which are all detailed in this blog post. Makiko mentions a number of these personal experiences as some of the best parts of our trip.
“Guests are so interested in Japanese Kanji (ideogram) letters,” she says, “one of three Japanese alphabets, which they [learn] during the wonderful Calligraphy demonstration by renowned Calligrapher Koshun Masunaga…by the end of the tour, quite a few guests became Kanji Masters!!”
Makiko also says, “All the guests had a great time in finding 6 attributes unique to ‘Kenroku Garden,’ or the Garden of Six Attributes, one of the three best traditional Japanese gardens. As a result, a sense of oneness was shared by all of them regardless any age groups and such a nice chemistry was created and lasted up to the end of the tour.”
And Makiko even offers a few suggestions for free time in Tokyo, including “a wide range of small-scale but very interesting art galleries and museums such as Team Lab Digital Art Museum, Hokusai Museum and Yayoi Kusama museum.”
Sumiyo mentions that guests on this tour “love to shop Japanese contemporary art and fashion designers’ clothes, and also love to visit museums to appreciate exhibits and architecture.” Truly a melding of modern and ancient customs.
Footwear in Japan
You might not think of this when packing for your tour, but Japan has very important customs when it comes to footwear, and specifically, when to remove and put on your shoes.
“There will be a lot of opportunities to take shoes off and put them on, so slip-on type shoes are more convenient to wear,” says Sumiyo. Makiko echoes that statement, noting, “There are many places where people have to take off shoes to go inside; such as tea ceremony rooms, Buddhist temples and Japanese style hotel called ‘Ryokan’. This is very indispensable in Japan to have no entry of dust and contamination in the house and keep rooms clean and comfortable.”
So there you have it! When in doubt, pack an extra pair of slip-ons.
Japanese Travel Tips and Insight
When traveling to Japan, it’s crucial to have some insider knowledge. Here are a few tips from both TDs.
Japan is one of the safest and cleanest countries in the world.
Japan uses cash more than most other world powers, so it is important to carry enough yen for your daily purchases, as some retailers may not accept cards.
The tap water in Japan is safe, both in and outside of major cities.
Restaurants can be inflexible in their menus, so if you have dietary restrictions it’s best to have your tour director ask the restaurant to help accommodate you, or to bring some snacks for yourself.
Some parting travel inspiration
Before we go, enjoy this heartwarming story from Sumiyo about a guest on her very first Odysseys tour. These are the kinds of small-world, touching moments that travel can bring.
“It was my very first Insider’s Japan tour. I talked about Japanese people who did remarkable things in the past. I referred to Chiune Sugihara, who saved more than six thousand Jewish people by issuing transit visas in Lithuania despite the order not to issue any for them by the Japanese government during WW II. Then one of the guests raised his hand with tears in his eyes and said, ‘My granddad was saved by him.’ We were all surprised and impressed.”