General Walking Tour FAQs
1. WALK JAPAN & TOUR LEADERS
Where is your company registered?
Walk Japan Limited is a Hong Kong-registered company and licensed tour operator (License No. 354159). Walk Japan partners with The Japan Travel Company, a Japanese-registered company licensed to operate tours in Japan.
Who do you employ as Tour Leaders?
A typical Walk Japan Tour Leader is aged 30-45, holding, at a minimum, an undergraduate-university degree and speak English at native or very high level. All our Tour Leaders have long experience in Japan and are proficient in the Japanese language. Our Tour Leaders are not professional tour guides in the sense that they do little else besides lead tours: all have successful parallel careers in journalism, translation, teaching, business, media, agriculture, social activity and academia amongst other occupations, adding a great deal to the quality of a Walk Japan tour.
What languages are Walk Japan tours conducted in?
All Walk Japan tours are conducted in English. Our Tour Leaders are either highly proficient in, or native speakers of English.
2. BOOKING & PAYING FOR A TOUR
How do I book a Walk Japan tour?
If you would like to book one of our guided tours, you can either click on the Book Now button found at the top of each page of our website or from the tour page itself by clicking on your preferred tour dates. Once we receive your booking form our office will email an invoice for the deposit that, once paid, secures your place/s on the tour.
Similarly, if you would like to book one of our Wayfarer Self-Guided Tours, you can also book your tour either from the Book Now button at the top of the page or from the tour page itself and select one of our scheduled tour dates. If you would like to book your self-guided tour outside of these dates, please use the contact us form and our customer service team will help you arrange a tour that better fits your schedule, subject to the availability of accommodation. Once we receive your booking either through the form or customer service, our office will email you an invoice for the deposit that, once paid, confirms your booking.
Why is your deposit requirement 25% and non-refundable?
From the perspective of a potential tour participant, one of our most important booking conditions is a 25% non-refundable deposit, with the remaining 75% payment payable one calendar month before the tour start date.
As a tour operator, Walk Japan is quite unusual in having no minimum group size. Once we accept a booking, we guarantee to run the tour, irrespective of group size. We consider this policy to be fair to our customers, many of whom have made other travel arrangements that would be disrupted and inconvenienced by any cancellation on our part. Our deposit and cancellation policy is one of the ways in which we help cover the costs of maintaining this commitment. Our booking conditions, found on our booking form, can also be downloaded here. Please read them carefully, in particular section 13 which deals with cancellation.
How quickly should I book?
We recommend booking as early as possible. Our tours fill quickly, especially during the peak seasons for cherry blossom and autumn leaves when departures may become fully booked approximately 6 months or even a year prior. If you are looking to book a custom tour, please contact us for details.
How long will you hold a booking before I need to commit to it?
We will hold a booking for up to seven days before requiring the deposit to be paid.
How can I pay for my tour?
We accept bank transfers (also known as wire transfers), bank drafts and personal cheques. Invoices issued by Walk Japan will be accompanied by detailed information regarding the transfer process. Most of our customers do not find this onerous, but we are also happy for you to send us a cheque or a bank draft. Please be aware that the latter methods take longer to clear with the bank.
In general, we have found that specialist foreign exchange and payments companies such as OFX offer more transparent and competitive pricing than retail banks.
Your tours are priced in Japanese Yen. Can I pay by bank transfer, cheque or bank draft in another currency?
As Walk Japan’s costs are primarily in Japanese Yen (JPY), we price and charge for our tours in Japanese Yen, and the large majority of Walk Japan customers choose to pay us in JPY via bank transfer.
However, we do accept payment for our tours in USD, AUD, NZD, GBP, CAD, SGD, HKD, and EUR. If you wish to pay in a currency other than JPY, please inform us at your earliest convenience so that we may issue you with an amended invoice.
When issuing an invoice in a currency other than JPY, the exchange rate used is a reflection of:
- The cost of converting your chosen currency into JPY to pay for your tour. Our bank conversion rates favour the bank, rather than the official spot market rate, so we need to account for this in our exchange rate.
- The currency risk of billing in advance in your chosen currency, as it is possible that the exchange rate may change unfavourably between invoicing and receipt, particularly for cheques.
What about credit card payments?
While credit cards offer a convenient method of payment for customers, they can be an expensive way of conducting business because of fees levied on vendors by credit card companies.
Walk Japan is able to process credit card payments in partnership with Trust My Travel (Membership Number TMT51439) a company that specialises in travel payment management and protection. To cover the costs associated with this, a 3% surcharge will be applied to all credit card payments, but if this is an option that you are interested in (we understand that for some customers, the insurance and additional residual benefits of paying by credit card can be significant), please let us know and we will assist.
Can I book international flights through Walk Japan?
Walk Japan is a tour operator, rather than a travel agent, and we do not sell airline tickets for our tour participants. Most, if not all, of the time you should be able to find reasonably priced flights by dealing directly with airlines online. If you are unsure which airports are most convenient for joining a particular tour, we will be happy to advise.
I sent a bank cheque to Walk Japan sometime ago but have yet to receive a receipt. Is my tour place secured?
Walk Japan monitors the status of deposited cheques and confirms their receipt as soon as they are cleared by our bank in Hong Kong. However, for reasons that are unclear, and irrespective of the speed with which they are deposited, some international cheques can take up to four weeks to clear.
Furthermore, errors in completing cheques are not uncommon, and while we work hard to spot these and alert participants before depositing the cheque, occasionally, deposited cheques are subsequently rejected by our bank and must be returned to participants with a request for a new cheque, making the process a lengthy one.
Please be assured, however, that while we are waiting for your cheque to clear, the assumption is that it eventually will do so, and your place on tour is secured.
I have made a last-minute booking and would like to pay for my tour in cash to my tour leader on arrival. Is this possible?
Unfortunately, we are unable to accept cash on arrival, and ask that you make make a bank transfer or credit card payment for last-minute bookings.
I am a single traveller, but do I have to pay the single supplement? I don’t mind sharing a room.
The single supplement is required for all single travellers. We do not pair customers up mainly because most requests from single travellers are for single accommodation every night.
What will I receive after booking my place on a tour and when?
We will send to you a Pre-tour Pack by email approximately two calendar months prior to your tour start date. The Pack contains such information as a clothing checklist, how to travel to the tour meeting point, accommodation details, itinerary, travel advice, and a reading list. Approximately two weeks before the tour start date, your Tour Leader will send a message to you by email introducing themselves and also providing you with any relevant updates, such as the weather forecast.
I notice that insurance is compulsory for your tours. Does Walk Japan provide insurance cover or do you recommend a particular insurance provider?
Travel insurance is mandatory for all tour participants. Walk Japan does not provide any form of travel insurance for tour participants and you must purchase your own travel insurance. We also regret that we are unable to recommend a particular insurance provider.
It is your responsibility to ensure that your insurance is suitable and adequate for your particular needs and it should cover, for example, medical expenses, personal accidents and repatriation in the event of illness, baggage, personal liability as well as loss suffered in the event of tour cancellation for personal reasons.
Please read your policy details carefully and carry the policy documents with you throughout the tour. You will need to provide your insurance details in a manifest form to be presented to your Walk Japan tour leader at the beginning of the tour.
Are you able to guarantee non-smoking accommodation throughout your tours?
We always opt to book non-smoking rooms at Western-style hotels, but not at traditional Japanese accommodation, as frequently no distinction is made between smoking and non-smoking rooms in these establishments. However, traditional Japanese rooms, which have no curtains, carpets and other soft furnishings, do not retain odours in the way that Western-style rooms do, and we are confident that you will have a trouble-free stay in Japanese inns.
I require en-suite accommodation throughout. Are you able to provide this?
En-suite availability varies widely by tour, but all Walk Japan scheduled tours, with the exception of our Kyoto and Tokyo city tours, have at least one night where facilities in Japanese inns are shared. If en-suite accommodation is essential throughout, then instead of a scheduled tour, you may wish to consider a private, custom tour with us.
Generally, the accommodation we use is chosen with as much comfort as possible to provide an interesting and authentic experience of Japan. Many who come on the tours include the inns as a highlight of their tour, not least because of the great meals we enjoy in them. Meals are a treat of Japanese cuisine, and because we are usually deep in rural Japan, ingredients include many locally grown vegetables, morsels foraged in the surrounding mountains and fresh-water fish caught in the nearby streams and rivers.
What is the correct way to bathe at the Japanese inns?
It is not uncommon that toilet and bathroom facilities are shared at Japanese style accommodation. Although many may not be used to this, the facilities are spotless and use is not onerous. Bathing is in typical Japanese style of washing before soaking in a bath. In some cases, baths are designed to be used by one person or one couple at a time, while others are communal and separated by gender. Your Tour Leader will give a full introduction to bathing, in addition to other matters of etiquette, upon arrival at your first inn of the tour — including how to distinguish the “Men” curtain from the “Women” curtain in front of the entrance to the baths! You can also find a useful overview of using communal baths in Japan here.
I have heard that one of the inns you use on the Nakasendo Way tour only has one toilet.
On our tours we try to provide as real and interesting experience of Japan as possible while trying to maintain as much comfort as possible. However, it is true that there is only one toilet at one of the inns we use on this particular tour.
Over the 25 years or so we have been taking clients along the Nakasendo Way, we have always used this inn and few, if any, of our clients have found this the salient memory of their stay. What they do remember is the delightful inn – probably the oldest inn still in use on the Nakasendo – the pleasant hostess, her excellent food and the atmospheric surroundings.
Of more importance perhaps, the inn, which we arrive at and leave on foot, is the only place to stay in the vicinity. Although the inn is in an old Nakasendo Way post-town, this town (now more accurately described as a village) is long since past its heyday and a mere, but pleasant, shadow of its former self with only the one inn remaining.
6. FOOD & DRINK
Are all meals on the tour Japanese?
The majority of the nights on our tours is spent in Japanese accommodation, where meals, especially dinner, are nearly always Japanese. Breakfasts are usually Japanese but, depending on the establishment, a simple, western-style meal may be offered. Most accommodation will also provide coffee and/or English-style tea after a Japanese breakfast. On the nights when we dine out in restaurants, our meals are mostly Japanese but usually more eclectic in nature with the provision of some western-style dishes.
Please note that the actual number of nights in Japanese accommodation varies from tour to tour. Details can be found in each tour’s itinerary section.
Can vegetarian or vegan diets be accommodated on tour?
The concept of vegetarianism and other dietary requirements is, contrary to popular belief, not widely understood in Japan. Specifically, the concept of strict vegetarianism and veganism until previously existed only at Buddhist temples, and this has only started to change recently. Our policy is to inform the accommodations and restaurants, who will then do their utmost to cater to requirements. Sometimes certain items will be substituted for those suitable for vegetarians and vegans, and sometimes this may not be possible. That said, meals on tour are usually very substantial: served in the multi-course style and made up of a large variety of dishes, many of which are suitable for vegetarians and to some extent, vegans.
Almost all stock contains animal products, and vegetables, if prepared as tempura, will be fried in the same oil as meat and fish. Fish features quite heavily in Japanese meals, especially in the form of fish stock, which is used in most soups and sauces, while meat dishes are usually a lesser feature. If you would prefer to avoid eating these dishes, this is not a problem, and indeed not all dishes are not cooked in fish broth. If you are unsure as to what to avoid, your tour leader will be able to advise.
In summary: because of the nature of food provision in Japan, we cannot absolutely guarantee to provide vegetarian, vegan, kosher or other specific meals. However, we do endeavour to cater wherever possible to individual requirements, and previous participants with similar food requirements have professed to have enjoyed our tours and the food on them. If you are particularly concerned about the food on tour, we recommend bringing some supplementary items just in case.
Should I join your tours if I do not like fish?
Almost all our tours can be enjoyed by individuals who do not wish to eat fish. The one exception is our Izu Geo Trail tour, where we spend most nights on the coast and meals are primarily made up of local fish. On all of our other tours, meals consist of a mix of rice, noodles, vegetables, fish and meat. pork, chicken, beef, wild boar and occasionally horse (delicious for those who wish to try it) make an appearance on the various menus we enjoy on our tours.
I have coeliac disease. Can you cater for a gluten-free diet?
In Japan, along with a number of other food-related problems found elsewhere, coeliac disease is not widely understood or catered for.
We provide advance notice to our accommodation providers, and having worked with us for many years and experienced many different dietary requirements, they will strive to not serve you dishes that they are aware contain wheat and there should be still be plenty of food to enjoy. However, it is the case that some processed ingredients used in the kitchen may not have their constituent parts listed. Chefs may not know that a particular ingredient contains gluten, and even if they do, most likely they will not have a gluten-free substitute available for use, for example soy sauce. We strongly recommend that you bring your own gluten-free soy sauce as it is uncommon in Japan.
If you can tolerate small quantities of gluten, then you do not have any major concerns. If you suffer from coeliac disease, however, then there will always be some level of risk with meals in Japan.
Is good coffee available? If espresso coffee is unavailable, will I have access to boiling water to use in a portable coffee maker?
Coffee can be very good in Japan but not always. Outside of the big cities, espresso and similar Italian-style coffee is uncommon. Please feel free to bring your coffee and coffee maker. Hot water will always be provided by our accommodation.
How much should I expect to pay for meals not included in the tour?
Expect to pay between JPY 700–1,500 per person for lunch and JPY 2,500–3,500 for dinner.
7. FELLOW TOUR PARTICIPANTS
Are Walk Japan tours suitable for children?
Our policy for all our tours is that, unless otherwise agreed in writing with Walk Japan, children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian and must be over 12 years of age before departure date. However, many Walk Japan tours are particularly suited to multi-generational groups and many families with young children have joined our tours and profess to have had an excellent time.
Our tours are certainly suitable for young teenagers if they are good walkers. We also welcome international schools on tour in Japan, and the students — who range in age from 12 to 17 — all complete the tour in fine spirits.
It is important to us that everyone who joins us on our tours has an enjoyable time, irrespective of age. The children who have come along on our scheduled tours and school tours in the past have found it a great experience.
I will be joining the tour by myself. Are the tours solo traveler friendly and do many solo travellers join your tours?
Solo travellers are most welcome and indeed, make up a sizeable proportion of Walk Japan participants at approximately 20% of all our customers.
Who are typical Walk Japan tour participants?
Our customers typically include couples and solo travellers ranging in age from mid-30s to mid-70s but also include younger and sometimes older people. They hail from many countries not limited to Australia, the USA, Singapore and the UK. If not retired, their occupations are many and varied. Regardless of the make up of a tour, we find the groups come together very well with plenty of interesting conversations not only about Japan but also on many other topics and many a friendship has been made.
8. COMMUNICATIONS: TELEPHONY & THE INTERNET
Do you recommend that we rent a SIM card or internet device in Japan for use during our tours?
There are a number of call and data plans available for visitors to Japan, and we are unable to recommend any one particular provider. What may be most ideal is dependent upon the length of your stay in Japan and the purposes for which you require it. A comprehensive guide to SIM cards can be found here.
Many providers will send the device to your first night’s accommodation or to your arrival airport for pick-up. It is worth noting that your credit card may be pre-verified for as much as JPY 50,000 until you return the device. In any case we recommend arranging this before you arrive in Japan, as the process will not be convenient by the time you meet your tour leader.
If it is only essential that you are contacted in emergencies, then you can probably do without a rental phone, especially if you have your own smartphone, and WiFi is often available at the accommodations. However, please verify with your provider that your phone will work in Japan and check associated charges before leaving for Japan. You can always be reached through Walk Japan as well (if you have not already been provided with your tour leader’s mobile/cell phone number, this will happen prior to your tour).
Please note, however, that in the Japanese countryside, mobile-phone reception can be variable outside of village, town and city centres.
9. PREPARATION FOR AND WALKING ON TOUR
I am not an avid walker. What level of tour is suitable for me?
We regard Walk Japan tours to be cultural walking tours, of particular interest to those keen on gaining an understanding of Japanese society, customs, and history. It is Walk Japan’s policy that tours are run at the tour leader’s pace, which is a comfortable walk, and not by anyone who wants to rush on. We do not rush through Japan. Our priority is to allow for a comfortable and enjoyable walk for all allowing time to enjoy the views, take photographs, stop to talk about points of interest en route (mini-lectures from the tour leader) and to be able to hold conversations with your travelling companions while walking.
On a level 3 tour such as the Nakasendo, which we consider to be a mid-level walk in terms of its difficulty, there are steeper sections but these do not last long and are followed by easier terrain that aids recovery. The emphasis of all our tours is to absorb and enjoy rather than think one has to race to the day’s finish.
It may be that certain tours are not recommended due to their remoteness and lack of mid-way transport options, and in this regard we will also be able to advise. On the tour itself, your tour leader will discuss your desires and options in the evenings with you for the following day’s walk.
Do I need to train for Walk Japan tours?
Being in reasonable shape will help you maximise your enjoyment on tour. The best way to get in shape is to start exercise gradually and build up over a period of time. Regular walking, including some ups and downs, should be sufficient practice for the Nakasendo Way and, indeed, most of our tours.
Do I need walking poles?
We always recommend the use of walking poles. For our more rigourous tours we either strongly recommend or require their use.
I am concerned about some of the longer days on the Nakasendo Way, in particular Days 4, 5, 7, and 10. Can these days be shortened?
Regarding the 22-km walk on Day 4, we recommend that all participants walk with the group over the historic Biwa pass and as far as the post town of Okute – a distance of approximately 8km. At this point, a taxi can be called and participants wishing to carry on to Ena can do so via this method. The taxi fare will be approximately JPY 5,500, divided by the number of passengers. An early arrival in Ena means that more time can be spent at the Hiroshige Print Museum and exploring the town.
On Day 5, a short and inexpensive public bus ride to Nakatsugawa en-route is possible for those who feel tired during the morning’s walking. Alternatively, the entire morning walking distance from Ena to Nakatsugawa can be covered quickly by train, again enabling you to meet up with the group at lunchtime in Nakatsugawa.
Regarding the longest distance of 24 km on Day 7, the generally accepted alternative plan is to walk for just 6km before catching a train from Nagiso to the town of Kiso-Fukushima, where we spend the night. Upon arrival, there are various things to do and see (including a museum, reconstructed Edo-period barrier station, and natural hot spring foot baths), and an early check-in to your accommodation is also possible.
On Day 11, it is possible for you to walk with the group to the top of the Usui-toge pass and return quickly to Karuizawa by bus, avoiding the lengthy walk down to Yokokawa. Just over one hour on the Shinkansen would then speed you into Tokyo Station and the tour hotel, where you could meet up with the group in the evening.
What do you do when it rains?
Even if it rains – which is a possibility at any time of the year in Japan – we still walk. The walk remains interesting and enjoyable, and there is plenty to see and do. In cases of bad weather or fatigue on the part of participants, taking a taxi or other transport onward to your accommodation is almost always an option – your Tour Leader will advise.
10. SEASONS AND PUBLIC HOLIDAYS IN JAPAN
When is the best time to see the cherry blossom?
Cherry blossom starts to bloom in Okinawa as early as mid-January and can be seen in Hokkaido as late as the end of April. Notoriously fickle and lasting at peak bloom only a scant few days, the cherry blossom can prove elusive. However, this interesting site from the Japan Meteorological agency is an excellent resource for tracking the cherry blossom in Japan.
When is the best time to see the autumn leaves?
Given the huge difference in latitude between Japan's nothern and southern most tips it is possible to view the autumn leaves for almost three months somewhere in Japan, starting in mid-September in Hokkaido.
Visit this useful site for the best times to view the autumn leaves throughout Japan.
When is the rainy season in Japan?
The following table shows the average starting and ending dates of the rainy season for selected regions of Japan, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency:
Kinki (incl. Osaka, Kyoto)
Kanto (incl. Tokyo)
During the rainy season it does not rain every day. In fact, Tokyo registers only an average of 12 rainy days in June, while 120 hours of sunshine are recorded. As for the amount of rainfall, it varies from days with intensive downpours to other days with occasional sprinkles.
Will my tour be affected by national holidays, such as Golden Week?
Our tours are largely unaffected by Japanese national holidays, although you may find that certain areas and sights we visit will be more crowded than usual.
Please contact Walk Japan for further details.