1. What is the best time to travel?
Just as in Europe, Japan has 4 seasons. The spring (March, April and May) and autumn (September, October and November) are the most popular times to travel through Japan. The spring because of the famous cherry blossoms and autumn because of the beautiful fall colours. The temperature is comfortable in both periods.
The summer months are sweltering hot, but during that period then you have unique summer festivals.
2. What are the best festivals and when do they take place?
The main event in Japan is New Year (o-Shogatsu). All shops and businesses close between the first and third January. New Year is a celebration when all of the family get together and therefore many families visit their ancestral home. At midnight on 31 december, special noodles are eaten (which promise a long life) and then one goes to the local temple or shrine to pray for prosperity in the new year. On 1 January, a special breakfast is served, children receive money from their parents and family and everyone looks forward to greeting cards arriving in the New Year's morning delivery.
Another very important holiday is O-bon, celebrated around August 15th. O-bon is all about honoring the spirits of ones' ancestors. Houses and tombstones are cleaned and special food is left as an offering to the spirits. Furthermore, throughout the area and around the home lanterns are hung to lead the spirits into the house. There are also large parties given with special dances and fireworks.
There are a number of parties in Japan, especially for children. On 3 March, is the puppet festival (Hinamatsuri). May 5th is the day of the children and is primarily a festival for boys. All houses with boys in the family will hang carp streamers (Koinobori). The carp is the symbol of strength and so for every man or boy in the family a pennant is hung.
On 7 July, the festival Tanabata (Star Festival) is celebrated. It's about an old legend about two lovers, symbolized by two stars, separated by the Milky Way, who meet together each year on this evening.
On 15 November, is a festival where girls from 3 to 7 years and boys aged 5 years are taken to a temple to pray for good health.
Throughout the year there are also numerous local festivals, or Matsuri, celebrated. The larger of these attract thousands of spectators.
3. Can I pre-book transfers and extra nights?
Yes you can. Your international flight arrangements are your own responsibility of course but you can add extra nights to the beginning/end of your trip in the same destination. You can also add a transfer upon arrival. A transfer back to the airport after the conclusion of the trip cannot be pre-booked- you instead need to arrange this locally with your tour leader. You will see the prices for the transfer on arrival and pre/post tour nights listed on the booking form.
4. What about my passport?
You need a passport that is valid for at least 6 months from the date of your departure. You are responsible for having a valid passport and visa when you travel.
5. Do I need a visa?
You are responsible for having a valid passport and visa (if necessary) when you travel. As things stand, many European citizens do not require a visa for entry into Japan for this trip but you can confirm the current situation by clicking here. Make sure you inquire at least a month before departure to avoid any potential time problems.
6. Do I need vaccinations or malaria tablets?
Please click here for questions regarding vaccinations or malaria tablets for this country and then contact your GP or a specialised health centre to make an appointment to get your injections and pills. Please make sure that you arrange an appointment at least six weeks before you travel to give you time for a full program of injections. Two weeks should suffice for people who already have had a few injections. You are responsible for having the right protection when going on tour.
7. What is the recommended currency for Japan?
In each post office there are ATMs where you can use your bank card (with Cirrus symbol) to get money. Upon arrival at the airport in Fukuoka, you will find ATM's straight away. It is always best to bring some cash as well, just incase an ATM is not working. The excursions you can pay in euros.
8. What kind of luggage should I take?
Do not bring too much luggage. As a rule, we do not think you will need more than 12 kg of luggage. This should preferably be packed in an overnight bag or frameless backpack. Solid suitcases are difficult to carry and hard to stow on buses.
9. What is the situation with electricity?
Please click here to check what voltage and plugs are in use in Japan. You could consider taking a universal electric adaptor.
10. What is the accommodation like?
You'll spend most time in simple middle class hotels with private facilities, except Sandankyo where you sleep in a traditional ryokan minshuku.
In the ryokan you sleep on a futon (thin mattress) in a tatami room. A futon is fairly thin, but in the wardrobe you will always find extra mattresses and bedding. Normally you lie under a sort of light duvet, but during the summer months an ordinary sheet should be sufficient.
In the ryokan, you use common bathrooms and toilets. And not just a bathroom anyway, because the ryokan has its own onsen (natural hot spring)!
Participants who book individually will share a room with another participant. It is possible when booking to pay a single supplement for your own room but on the night in the ryokan a single room is not possible.
11. How is accommodation arranged if I book alone?
If you book alone you will share your room with a fellow traveller ( from the same sex when possible ) unless you have booked a single room.
12. Do they cater for vegetarians in Japan?
If you still eat fish, there is plenty of choice, otherwise it can often take a while to find a dish without meat/fish. There are many bakeries with all kinds of sandwiches without meat and fish and in the food departments of big department stores for example, you can buy sushi without meat or fish.
13. What kind of transportation is used?
You travel with a private bus, so you can stop often to take pictures or to visit villages. Only on the last transfer day from Kyoto to Tokyo is this different; you travel instead with a so-called highway bus. This takes about 8 hours to make the 500-kilometer ride. If you prefer, you can arrive much sooner in Tokyo. We can book a seat on the shinkansen (bullet train) for you at an attractive price (please see the excursion list). With this high speed train you will be in Tokyo in around 3 hours. Included in this offer, we send your luggage (1 suitcase per person) by express mail to the hotel in Tokyo. You need to indicate if you would like this when making the booking.
14. Is Japan expensive?
It's not so bad. It is especially expensive compared with other countries in Asia, but not compared with the European prices. Prices for eating out are, for instance on the same level as many European countries. In department stores you can also eat well for a very reasonable price. Entrees range between 3 and 5 euros a time.
15. How are communications in Japan?
Japan is a highly developed country with easy access to the internet (particularly in the major cities) and to telephones. The international dialling code for calls into Japan is 0081. Japanese mobile phone providers do not support GSM and 2G so these mobile phones cannot be used in Japan. However, if you have a 3G (UMTS) phone, then chances are that you can use your phone in Japan.
16. What is the time difference?
Please check the World Clock in order to find out the exact time difference.