Japan Holidays

Japan is a country where modernity connects with ancient history, where kimono-clad geisha hurry between traditional houses and robots serve customers in restaurants. Japan has a distinctive, original identity and is instantly loveable.

Why we like Japan

In many ways Japan is very similar to Britain - an island race, with slightly odd idiosyncratic tendencies, very reserved and  which has never been conquered (well at least not for a thousand years). Perhaps that is why we find the country so interesting and appreciate its values. And there is of course the cherry blossom in spring, delicious food and a politeness that can be beyond belief.

What to expect on your Japan holiday

Meeting the experts: Regardless of your passions or interests, the chances are good that through our excellent network of contacts we can arrange for you to meet someone in the field. From fashion designers to chefs, sumo wrestlers to bonsai masters, with enough lead time (and in certain cases, enough budget), we'll do our best to make it happen. All you need to do is ask.

Contemporary Art Tour with an Expert: For serious art lovers we can arrange a highly personal, customized exploration of Tokyo's galleries, studios and backrooms. Whether contemporary or classical, modern or classic, we'll make you meet exactly who you want to meet.

Fashion: Similar to the above with art, we can arrange to have members of the Tokyo fashion world spend time with you and arrange meetings and introductions to trending designers; visits to ateliers; tours of the hippest shops and boutiques, and much more.

Tokyo Nightlife: Let one of our local experts show you another side of Tokyo. From the tiny, hidden izakaya (like small tapas bars) to the insanity of Robot Restaurant, Tokyo comes alive after dark. It can be a bit overwhelming for first-time visitors, so having a city denizen on hand makes all the difference.

Skiing: Japan has phenomenal skiing, hosting two winter Olympics (Sapporo and Nagano) and countless championships but it's only recently that visitors from around the world are going there specifically to ski. Visitors can choose to do nothing but ski or combine skiing with some local culture. 

For Families: Many of our local partner's staff and friends have children of varying ages, so we can arrange for your children to spend some time with Japanese kids around the same age. Play dates for the little ones, teen hang outs for the older set. A great way for kids to really connect to the culture and perhaps make a new friend.

Private Fish Auction and Dinner: Watch the fishing boats come in to a small fishing town and unload and then visit a local fish auction before enjoying a fresh seafood barbeque by the port, hosted by local fishermen.

Okinawa: Many people don't think about Japan when thinking of tropical islands but Okinawa, composed of dozens of islands, has so much to offer. The southernmost group of Yaeyama islands in particular offer breathtaking scenery, many activities and cultural experiences, fantastic food and luxurious resorts. Consider starting or ending a Japan trip with a few days in the islands. 

Some ideas for a Japan holiday

  • Request a booking at the 'one table restaurant', never advertised
  • The Meijiza theatre in Tokyo's Nihombashi area is the most historic venue in the city. Catch the latest production when in town
  • Take an evening walk with a local guide through the Nakasu district in Fukuoka city centre to sample various foods at the open air food stands
  • During a stay in Tokyo participate in ancient Japanese handicraft traditions
  • Watch the world’s largest tuna auction at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo
  • Visit a Sumo wrestling match at a Sumo stable
  • Spend a leisurely few days in Kyoto, the old capital, and soak up the traditional way of life that is not so visible elsewhere
  • Participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony
  • Visit in spring to see the magnificent cherry blossom
  • Enjoy Japan’s scenery, from the picturesque Japanese Alps where small villages offer perfect conditions for trekking, to the awe-inspiring Mount Fuji
  • Experience the turquoise seas and magnificent coral reefs of the Pacific island of Okinawa
  • Hokkaido, an island in the north, is home to some of the country’s indigenous people and is an important agricultural centre

Beyond the ordinary

The 30 tropical islands of Ogasawara are designated a World Natural Heritage area yet, due to their remote and relatively inaccessible location a thousand kilometres from Tokyo, they remain a hidden gem. Only two of the islands are inhabited and they can only be reached by boat. The trip takes 25 hours so it is not for the faint-hearted. That said, these far-flung islands are a haven for wildlife, from whales and turtles to endemic birds and insects as well as offering some wonderful diving opportunities - a truly off the beaten track part of the world. 

Our experts

It takes a lifetime to become an expert on Japan and none of us would claim that distinction. However Paul and Clare have explored many of the islands between them and Paul, in particular, has ventured into many of the less visited areas. They have sampled all kinds of transport, accommodation and food and can create simple or highly complex holidays to Japan to suit all your requirements.

Japan FAQs

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Do I need a visa for travel to Japan?
British passport holders can enter Japan as a visitor for up to 90 days without a visa, although you may need to provide evidence of your return date or onward travel.
Is it easy to travel by train and public transport?
Yes, it is an incredibly efficient and relaxing way to explore the country. Within cities such as Tokyo the public transport can initially feel bewildering but there are underground maps similar to those in London and everything runs like clockwork with delays a very rare occurrence! Outside of Tokyo is it possible to travel by bullet train and scenic trains as well as a range of excellent bus services. Steppes Travel can pre-book all of these services for you.
When is the best time to visit Japan?
The weather varies from region to region making Japan a year-round destination, however below is a brief guide as to the highlights of each season:

Spring (March to May) offers lovely temperatures and the chance to see the cherry blossom in bloom.

Summer (June to August) can be hot and humid in parts but lovely in the mountains

Autumn (September to November) is another great time to travel with pleasant temperatures and the vibrant colours of autumn.

Winter (December to February) offers a different experience with some excellent skiing and fun festivals such as Harbin ice festival in the north of the country.
When can I see the cherry blossom in Japan?
Spring is the best time to see the cherry blossom in Japan, normally between the months of March and April. The blossom is incredibly fragile so there is normally a two-week window when the trees are in full bloom which is hard to predict with exact precision.
What is the food like in Japan and do they cater for vegetarians?
Japanese curry, ramen, sushi and tempura are just a few of the traditional dishes worth trying whilst in Japan. Although fish and seafood is a staple in many dishes there are plenty of vegetarian options and the Japanese people have one of the healthiest diets in the world.  
What wildlife could I see in Japan?
Although not necessarily easy to see, there is plenty of wildlife throughout Japan. Wild boar can be found across the country and other mammals include squirrel, bear, red fox, deer and wild cat. One of the most iconic animals is the Japanese macaque or snow monkey, often photographed in the steaming hot pools of the Japanese Alps, against a snowy background. Much of the wildlife resides on the northern island of Hokkaido including the endangered red-crowned crane and other birdlife including white tailed eagles and whooper swans.
Join our small group winter wildlife photographic tour with Sue Flood.
I have heard it is easy to transfer luggage from one part of Japan to another if I don't wish to travel with all of my bags. Is this true?
It is very easy and cheap to transfer your luggage from one city to another. If for example you are travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto by train via the Japanese Alps and don't wish to travel with all your baggage you can pack a smaller bag for a few nights and the concierge at most hotels will then prepare and send your main luggage to your next destination. The cost will depend on the length of the journey and the weight/size of your bags but on average you can expect this service to cost around £25 per suitcase. Luggage forwarding between the main cities will generally arrive the same day if sent by 08:00, again check with the concierge. If you wish to send your luggage to other destinations, this can be arranged but it will take longer and may arrive the next day.
Will I have a private guide and driver throughout my holiday to Japan?
You can certainly have a guide and driver throughout your holiday to Japan if you wish, however, it will come at a price. Most clients decide to ‘self-guide’ during their stay. This means that when transferring between different places, you will make your own way to the bus or train station, board the train or bus yourself and then make your own way to your hotel on arrival. Some hotels and ryokans do offer a complimentary shuttle service though. 
Travelling independently is easy in Japan as taxis are easily accessible plus addresses in Japanese are always provided in your final documentation, in case they are needed. As mentioned previously, train and bus stations are also easy to navigate with many signs now being in English. 
Most clients then book a guide for some day tours. Many of these tours also use public transport to keep costs down. Booking a guide for one of your first few days in Japan is a great way to gain confidence with the public transport and orientate yourself with the culture and surroundings. 
How far in advance do I need to book a holiday to Japan?
Japan is a very popular country to visit so once you have decided to go, it is always worth reserving your flights, hotels and tours. In this way, you will have the best chance of securing availability and having access to the best airfares. Spring is the most popular time, so it is best to book around nine months in advance if you can.  
What is the currency in Japan?
The Japanese currency is the Yen. Up to date currency rates can be found on xe.com or any other currency exchange site. Currency exchange in Japan can sometimes be a lengthy process so allow for up to 30 minutes at most banks. Travellers' cheques are also becoming increasingly difficult to change and be sure to have your passport with you if exchanging them.   

Japan is still a country that uses cash in its everyday transactions. You may have difficulty using credit and debit cards issued outside Japan and should not rely on them as your only source of income. ATM machines are the easiest way to withdraw cash and are located in many convenient locations including convenience shops. ATM’s may charge a small fee for each transaction, and it is advisable to check withdrawal amounts before leaving as some machines dispense cash in two lots. Your bank may also charge a foreign currency transaction fee, but again please check with your bank.
What is a ryokan?
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn offering the chance to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. These can range from small family run establishments to luxury boutique options and larger hotels. All offer traditional accommodation with rooms featuring tatami mats, rice paper screens and futon beds. A high-end ryokan may have rooms with private hot spring baths whereas larger ones offer access to communal baths. Shoes are removed upon check in and Japanese robes and slippers are provided. Mealtimes are also a very traditional affair with a colourful multi course kaiseki dinner offering the chance to try many local dishes.
Can I travel by bullet train in Japan?
Definitely. Bullet train, otherwise known as shinkansen operate on various routes throughout Japan with one of the most popular being between the cities of Tokyo and Osaka via Kyoto. Travelling at speeds of up to 320 kilometres per hour it is a fun and efficient way to travel.
Are there any nice beaches in Japan?
Japan is not known as a beach destination, however being a long thin country made up of four main islands and over 2,000 smaller ones, there is plenty of coastline and many beaches. The best beaches for swimming and sunbathing are probably on and around the island of Okinawa, a region located in the East China Sea to the south of the country. Made up of over 150 islands the beaches here are known for their white sand and turquoise waters with temperatures rarely falling below 15 degrees. 


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Tokyo Fish Market, Japan

A new location for Tsukiji fish market

Tokyo's famous fish market re-opens for business in October 2018, in a new, modern and high tech location. A popular attraction for visitors to Tokyo Tsukiji is known for being the biggest fish market in the world and famed for its early morning tuna auctions where huge tuna can sell for up to $10,000.
The new location is only a mile from the old site but the building could not be more different. The new market will consist of three buildings, each with viewing platforms for visitors wishing to watch the auction, before the chance to wander around the market and even sample some of the fresh seafood. 
Traditional Rice Paper Balloons, Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Metro and Museum pass for 2018

Unlike many cities in the world, it is easy to spend a day at leisure in Tokyo, exploring independently using the incredibly efficient public transport. 
From April 2018 to the end of January 2019 a Metro and Grutto pass will be available giving visitors unlimited usage of the Tokyo Metro over two full days. In addition, visitors can profit from free or discounted admission to 92 galleries and museums as well as other attractions.
Little Ninja animated drawing, Japan

For the modern Ninja - Samurai museum in Tokyo

The Samurai museum is in modern Kabukicho. A great day out for young and old that share a passion for the spirit of the Japanese warriors.
Spread over two floors, the first floor depicts the battle of Sekigahara and the second houses Samurai weapons and swords. Catch the special samurai swordsmanship demonstration – an epic display. There is also an opportunity to try on a Kabuto and samurai costumes or sign up to classes, ranging from calligraphy to sword handling, all held at the museum.
Gundam Cafe, Robot, Tokyo, Japan

First robot staffed hotel

Always ahead of its time, Japan is no different this time and have opened the first robot staffed hotel in Tokyo. 
Multilingual robots will take care of check-in and check-out at Hen Na Hotel and beyond reception, the high-tech gadgets continue with complimentary smartphones included as standard for a stay. No wonder this hotel has reached the Guinness Book of Records.
Humpback Whale, Hermanus, Western Cape, South Africa

Whale Watching Season in Okinawa

Between the months of December and April Humpback Whales can be seen in the turquoise waters off the coast of Okinawa island.
During the winter months Humpback Whales migrate south to the waters surrounding Okinawa island. The warm waters here make ideal breeding grounds and offer the chance for visitors to the region to see these magnificent creatures. 
Young Geisha (Maiko), Kyoto, Japan

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"With childlike excitement she told me that in one month she would be able to paint her top lip too but she was also scared of the expectation and pressure this would bring."

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Client Reviews

Bamboo Fountain, Japan
''I know that you can always telephone to ask a question...
... to people that have first hand knowledge of a destination.''

Andrew Hart

Snow Monkeys, Japanese Alps, Japan
''What fantastic service. 
We cannot wait to start planning our next trip with you.''

Paul Wheeler

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Holiday Ideas in Japan

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