A country of fascinating contrasts, where ancient traditions exist in unison with fast-paced modern life, the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ is one of our favorite travel destinations.
Connect with a traditional way of life in Kyoto, see the iconic cityscape of Tokyo, the insanity that is the robot restaurant or incredible hiking, quiet temples, serene nature and imperial spa-resort towns like Nasu – all of which can be found in the mountains that make up over two-thirds of the country. There are myriad options for delicious and unusual food, 24-hour drinking in the cities and plenty of history to discover.
That’s before we even start on the spectacular cherry blossom in spring time! To really get the best of it, we couldn’t recommend an organized tour more.
It’s an ideal way to see Japan.
Why? There are so many hidden treasures to find in the country and a tour is the way to help you find them. Expert tour guides are the best people to help you find out more about the places you visit because they know them so well and are excited to tell you more about them.
It’s also a great opportunity to get to know other people. Tours are always sociable, full of people who love traveling as much as you do. You’ll be amazed by how many people you stay in touch with, still reminiscing about your trip to Japan.
So this all sounds great, right? Before you dive straight in with both feet, remember it’s important to choose the right tour company. You want something staffed with people who know their stuff, who are passionate and keen to help you experience more.
Let’s look at some of the best Japan tour companies we’ve come across.
This great tour is all about exploring Japan without it costing the Earth and getting to know other adventurers along the way. From Tokyo to Osaka you’ll experience some of the highlights of both modern-day and traditional Japan, and with an age range of 18 to 39 you know that everyone you meet will be on your wavelength.
It’s a train and rail tour so you can get to know Japan the way locals would – no being shut away on coaches here! Start by exploring the buzzing capital city where you’ve got plenty to check out, from Shibuya Crossing to Asakusa shrine; or you can just café hop!
From here you’ll head to the old town of Takayama via bullet train, spending a night here before going to the historic city of Kyoto. Here you’ll experience plenty of culture with myriad temples and teahouses.
Hiroshima offers you more history in the form of the sobering Peace Park, while the sacred island of Miyajima is an opportunity for an outdoors hike. You’ll end in foodie paradise Osaka. It seems incredible that you can pack so much into 11 days, but the tour feels chilled, with plenty of independent exploration time.
The real value is in the expert, Japanese-speaking guides who make transport so much easier and can tell you lots about the places you visit. Definitely a small group tour for those who want to get to know Japan but are on a budget!
As the name might suggest, One Life Adventures is one of the best Japan tour companies because it’s definitely aimed at those of us who want to make the most of our one life by soaking up as much adventure as we can.
This option also starts in Tokyo and ends in Osaka, but manages to squeeze in even more to 10 days. It’s an adventure option and is really one of the best ways to get a taste of Japan and its incredibly diverse culture. Highlights include a sushi making class in Tokyo and a trip to the famously weird and wonderful Robot Restaurant; in Kyoto, you’ll have the option to see a Geisha performance.
If you’re more into the outdoors, then you’ll love the trip to see the iconic Mount Fuji and the bamboo forest in the Arashiyama district, not to mention the climb up Monkey Mountain. Sure, there are some early mornings, but they’re worth it to see places without the crowds.
There are also some late nights, especially the last night with an all-you-can-drink karaoke evening – this is best left to the last night so you’ll have bonded with fellow 18 to 39-year-olds before singing in front of them!
The guides are patient and fun-loving, always happy to help you experience more. The result is a memorable travel experience that will leave you wanting even more.
If you want a more in-depth cultural tour, then this Intrepid Travel one is a great choice for you. It’s both longer and more wide-ranging than the ones we’ve looked at so far, with an age range from 15 to 99 and a length of 13 days. We love this because you’ve got more time to explore the country and you’ll get to meet a diverse group of people.
You’ll visit six destinations in almost 2 weeks and the different things you see will astound you. From the glorious chaos of Tokyo to the spectacular temples of Kyoto, the tour is basically highlights from beginning to end! There’s a great balance between city and country.
We love that there’s time to spend in the lake and mountain region of Hakone, where you can go hiking in the national park or visit boiling sulfur springs.
There are plenty of opportunities to taste Japanese cuisine, from local dishes in a Ryokan (a traditional inn) in Takayama to seasonal vegetables in high-altitude markets. You’ll also learn more about Japanese history, both modern and looking further back.
Intrepid travel believes that the important thing is participants share a positive attitude rather than age and the guides are all genuinely excited about helping travelers experience the country in the best way possible.
With a whopping 12 destinations in 14 days, this whistle-stop tour does exactly what the name says it will: gives travelers an exhilarating taste of both ancient and modern Japan. One of the best Japan tour companies, Exodus Travel caters to 16 to 80-year-olds and combines well-planned itineraries with enthusiastic tour guides.
Every moment in Japan is a surprise and Exodus helps you navigate this to find the delight in the discovery. This tour starts in Kyoto and ends in Tokyo; along the way you’ll discover rarely-seen mountain castles and spas, soothing shrines and UNESCO temples. Moments like seeing the red gates of Totukuji temple in Kyoto wind up the hill, or witnessing the floating tori (Shinto gate) on the island of Miyajima, are moments that you will never forget.
One of the things we love about this tour is that it takes you off the beaten track. Visiting a medieval village, Tsumago, enroute from Takayama to Matsumoto is a chance to see what a post town in the Edo period would have been like. Matsumoto castle itself is another high point (quite literally, with its 6-story stronghold!).
After experiencing some of Japans history, you’ll finish up in the futuristic cityscape of Tokyo, where you can visit some of the quirkier places the city has to offer – Cat Café, anyone? – before saying goodbye to your fellow adventurers with a wild karaoke night.
This is very much a tour of discovery, taking in some of the busiest and the most peaceful places in this multifaceted country. It’s another Japan tour company that wants to include as many people as possible with an age range from 18 to 65.
We love that this tour feels like it moves at a slower pace even with 6 destinations in 10 days. Expert and enthusiastic guides will introduce you to places that you might not discover if you were on your own. Tucan Travel promises to help you see the evolution of the country, from the ancient imperial palaces of Kyoto to a moving visit to the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima to the fast-paced modernity of Tokyo.
Other points of interest include the port city of Nagasaki, another place where the horror of war and a commitment to peace is memorialized; the UNESCO-protected Kamo Shrines in Kyoto and the beach and hot springs (‘onsens’) in Fukuoka.
This adventurous tour is the best way to see that Japan is more than just the clichés. Sure, you’ll see the neon lights of Tokyo and the teahouses of Kyoto, but you’ll also get to see the often-overlooked outdoor scenery and aspects of daily life in Japan. One of the best Japan tour companies, Tucan Travel is all about adventure and passion – so, enjoy!
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Many budget travelers (including me) indulge in worldwide airport lounge access, so we can experience luxury while still slumming it in economy. Naturally, we would never leave home without a more a more general travel guide since we couldn’t possibly cover everything here!
Just add an adventurous attitude and plenty of smiles - they go a long way - and that about covers it all! Now go out, find your own path and don't forget to share your best inspiration stories with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram...I'd love to hear from you!