First time travelling to Japan? Feeling slightly overwhelmed about it all? Trying to figure out if you should go on a group tour or travel by yourself? Here’s everything you need to know!
Whether travelling to Japan or any other foreign country, planning and adjusting to the local environment can be daunting (and exciting!). You may feel you are not 100% ready to take on your next adventure alone. That is where guided tours can become your new best friend. Tour guides can help ease some of the stress of organising your trip to Japan, ensuring you see everything you want to see while out here.
Joining a group tour in Japan
Joining a group tour can have pros and cons; it all depends on what you’re looking to get out of visiting Japan as a tourist.
Advantages of joining a group tour in Japan
The first advantage of travelling on a guided tour is that you will not need to develop a detailed travel itinerary. Tour guides will have their itineraries ready so that you can be assured that you will visit and experience all the iconic locations, local dishes, traditions, and activities Japan offers, including hidden gems! Sometimes, you won’t even need to worry about what to pack as a travel agency can send you a list of all the necessary clothes and items you will need throughout your travels.
Another advantage is that you can gain knowledge from someone local to the area. With a local guide, you will discover and learn tons of interesting facts and history behind the places you visit. That sounds much easier and fun than finding yourself getting lost in translation with a language app, no? Not only that but sometimes the information you see online may not be accurate, leading to a lot of misinformation about Japan and its culture. This will not be a problem while on a guided tour, with the correct information delivered clearly and concisely.
Finally, tour guides can adjust to all types of travellers, whether you have children or are accompanied by an elderly family member. The tour leader/instructor can adapt to you and your group’s needs and is willing to travel at your own pace and even explain certain aspects in more straightforward terms if you have your little ones with you.
However, you must keep in mind that group tours do have certain drawbacks:
Disadvantages of joining a group tour in Japan
The first one is that it is usually quite expensive to be a part of a guided tour. For example, it costs about 150-250 USD just for a one-day visit to Tokyo, with tours outside of Tokyo costing beyond those rates.
Besides, even though there is a wide variety of tour guides available, you may be paired with one you may not appreciate or who does not fulfil your expectations. This could end up tainting what could have been a positive experience. So make sure to do your research and see if you can meet with a guide that best suits your needs and bucket-list destinations.
Lastly, if you are not a fan of walking a lot/if you are not accustomed to walking a lot, and if you would prefer not to use public transportation systems or require more privacy, then perhaps a guided tour may not be the best fit for you. Not only that, but unfortunately, you will not be able to travel to locations privately, and tours will be more challenging than expected if you are not used to walking a lot regularly.
Solo travelling in Japan
An alternative is to travel solo and have your own customised/private adventure in Japan. A solo trip is recommended for more flexible, independent individuals who value privacy. Like going on a guided tour, however, this comes with its perks and downsides. We have listed these below:
Advantages of solo travelling in Japan
Travelling by yourself grants you more freedom with where you travel in Japan. Alongside this, you may come across some untapped treasure locations you might not have seen whilst on a group tour. You can also take your time to visit different local shops and explore smaller back alleys. With this freedom, you are not restricted to anyone else’s itinerary and discover Japan at your own pace.
You will also find you have the opportunity to choose the perfect accommodation for your needs. This would usually be included in a package deal with tour guides, meaning you may be placed in less than favourable housing during your time in Japan. But this worry is eradicated with solo travelling as you can choose from a wide variety of homes, from capsule hotels to luxury hotels; the choice is yours and yours alone.
Similarly, when travelling solo, you have the freedom to decide what to eat and, in turn, can try some local meals and authentic Japanese dishes. On a group tour, meals will tend to be at restaurants chosen by the guide for their appeal to other travellers and their familiarity with international customers instead of their culinary authenticity. On the other hand, when it comes to solo travel, whether you want to visit a small ramen shop or a yakiniku restaurant, you’ll be spoilt for choice whilst travelling alone.
Disadvantages of solo travelling Japan
A luxury of travelling on a group tour is that you will not have to go through the headache of planning everything and booking accommodation, as the group tour organisers will handle this. These must-do tasks are time-consuming and sometimes stressful, especially when you do not know the local language of the place you visit. Guided tour organisers will make your trip easier; once you have selected your agency of choice, you can sit back and relax, knowing everything is being sorted for you with no hassle on your end.
When travelling solo, you will be solely responsible for carrying your luggage which seems fine until you want to travel between cities or the countryside. If you have bought a lot of luggage, you may find it difficult to haul it along with you from city to city, and when you reach the countryside, public luggage lockers are hard to come by, so make sure you pack lightly. An alternative is that you can book a luggage carrier service to transport your belongings from one place to another. However, this service may not be available in every city, and the prices differ from company to company.
Regarding communication, travelling solo in Japan can be more challenging if you do not speak Japanese, especially in rural areas. The language barrier is a real deal, but you will also find that many Japanese locals will be more than happy to help you during your travels. You can also download some language translation applications on your phone to, for example, be able to read the menu at local restaurants. This hustle will be negated if you are with a tour guide as they can translate for you and give you clear information about locations and more information that may not be found on websites or direction signs.
Joining Experiences in Japan
For those undecided on whether to join a group tour or travel solo, a unique day experience may be for you; with a wide range to choose from, you are bound to find something that tickles your fancy. Again these can come with pros and cons, which we have helpfully listed below:
Advantages of joining experiences in Japan
Day experiences are very broad in what you can do. You may find sushi-making occasions or traditional tea ceremonies; there is always something for everyone and their preferences. You are bound to find at least one unique experience or activity that you will love or at least one that you have never experienced.
Whether you are undecided about a guided tour or solo travel, this is the perfect compromise as these experiences will only last a day, and if you decide it’s not for you, then you have the rest of your trip to travel solo.
Disadvantages of joining experiences in Japan
You may find that you enjoy one of these daily experiences and that you may want to try more. However, with so much to see and do in Japan, repeating the same activity may not be ideal for experiencing all Japan has to offer. Indeed, day experiences are usually short, especially if you are someone who has a huge bucket list of things you want to do, eat and experience in Japan. In that case, it may not be a long-term solution for you.
Not only that, but day experiences can become very expensive, very quickly, with consecutive day experiences totaling more than what it would for a group tour. Along with this, it can be tricky to re-book the same activity twice as first-timers may be put at the top of the waiting list.
Deciding on the perfect way to travel to Japan can be difficult, but hopefully, this article has helped you make the right decision based on your personal needs and wishes. The most important thing is to do your research regardless of your decision. You can always reach out to us here at @flipguidejapan on any one of our social media, and we would be happy to help!