September 04, 2010 A great resource for planning travel in Japan
I had been meaning to plan a vacation with my husband for after we both taught courses at the summer session of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Oita Prefecture. But caught up in work, I left getting the plan together until the last minute. And we wanted to travel right during the busy Obon holiday. The thought of slogging through a zillion websites picking destinations and places to stay, not to mention poring over Japanese train schedules, was daunting even for someone like myself who speaks the language and is familiar with the country. And dealing with a Japanese travel agency, which I have done in the past, wasn’t a particularly appealing option (I find they don’t understand well what non-Japanese are interested in, not to mention the hassle factor.) Seemed like a hopeless situation.
Fortunately, I found the perfect source of assistance. Tipped off by a posting from @barryintokyo on Twitter, I discovered InsideJapan Tours. This U.K.- based company specializes in putting together independent travel itineraries for Japan. On their site they list several pre-planned tours, and they also will create a custom one for you. My interest was the latter, and I wrote them a long email telling them my situation – I wanted to travel back from Kyushu to Tokyo over a 12 day period, I have traveled extensively in Japan but it would be my husband’s first time so needed an itinerary that would appeal to both of us, I wanted to primarily visit places I had not been before but also wanted to do the obligatory visit to Kyoto, and we wanted to fit in a good share of hiking or other time outdoors.
Seemingly unfazed by the short leadtime, within days InsideJapan’s Harry Sargant had put together an excellent itinerary, and was able to find accommodation at all the places we wanted to stay, including the Benesse House in Naoshima and a rental machiya in Kyoto. He was extremely pleasant to work with and responsive to my suggestions and requests.
My package from InsideJapan included all the train and ferry tickets, in chronological order and with helpful explanatory post-it notes, a voucher for each accommodation, and a set of customized information booklets. The booklets were quite well-designed. Printed on letter size paper then folded in half to make booklets, they were just the right size to slip into my purse. The first one was customized for us, and had all the details on each of our accommodations and how to travel from each location to the next. It was very well-thought out and comprehensive, and included helpful maps, train and ferry schedules, and other information.
Then, for each location there was a separate booklet, so that we could just grab the booklet for each location we were in without having to carry around something heavy. These booklets had tips on sightseeing locations, eating, and shopping, as well as area history. They were quite complete, so that no other guidebook was needed (I was happy not to have to schlep one around), and only once during the trip did I feel the need to hop onto the internet to get further information to plan our activities. It’s clear that a lot of work and thought went into putting these booklets together. There was also an overview booklet on traveling in Japan that was more basic than I needed, but I thought it was nicely done and my husband appreciated it.
Everything went extremely smoothly, and I can’t be more pleased with this as a way to plan trips in Japan. I plan to use InsideJapan Tours in the future, and I’m so glad that someone thought to create this type of service!
I’ll be writing more about my trip, including spotlights on some of the specific destinations, in subsequent posts so stay tuned!