JTB Sunrise Tours in Japan

My wife, Paula, and I visited Japan for the first time in October ’06. Wanting to travel independently (as usual) but being a bit intimidated by the language barrier, we compromised by using a series of four all-day guided tours to cover much of our sightseeing.

After extensive research, we booked all of our tours with JTB Sunrise Tours (2-3-11 Higashishinagawa, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo 140-8604, Japan; phone +81 3 5796 5454 or visit www.jtbgmt.com/sunrisetour), which offers a huge variety of tours. Internet booking of our tours was easy and trouble-free. The only downside was that, as documented on their website, our credit card was charged in full up front.

Our tours were the “Kyoto 1-Day Tour” No. N100, at ¥11,200 (near $96), which we took during our stay in Kyoto; the “Panoramic Tokyo Tour” No. A070, at ¥9,800 ($84); the “Mt. Fuji & Hakone Full Day by Motorcoach” No. N880, ¥12,000 ($103), and the “Nikko — World Heritage Full Day by Motorcoach” No. F300, ¥13,500 ($116), which we took during our stay in Tokyo.

See JTB Sunrise Tours’ website for specifics about the attractions included in each tour. Lunch was included in each but could be omitted from both the Mt. Fuji and the Nikko tours for a savings of ¥2,000 ($17) each.

For each tour our day began with a morning pickup (at select hotels only). The Tokyo-based tours began with a bus trip to the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal, where we found our tickets and bus for that day’s tour. Both city tours ended with return by bus to the same set of hotels. The Mt. Fuji and Nikko tours ended with dropoffs in Ginza and Shinjuku. (We were provided with directions to our hotel and other destinations.)

The buses each were new, clean and comfortable but did not have an onboard washroom. The tour patrons hailed from a wide range of countries, with most not speaking English as their primary language; about one-half were Asian.

All of our tour guides were personable and knowledgeable and had a good command of English. All tours were conducted exclusively in English.

The tour guides provided a surprising amount of fascinating historical, cultural and social background information (lots of local color) well beyond what is found in tour books. They often used a variety of helpful, homemade visual aids in their talks. As a group the tour guides were excellent, but our guides for the morning half of the Kyoto city tour and for the Mt. Fuji tour we rated as outstanding.

Here are my thoughts about each tour.

Kyoto City Tour (really two half-day tours packaged together) — worthwhile. This was a well-paced, easy and efficient way to see a good selection of interesting sights dispersed across a large city with rather daunting public transit options. This tour provided more walking and less bus riding than the other three tours. Lunch was okay and was provided as an all-you-can-eat buffet with both Japanese and Western food.

Panoramic Tokyo Tour — good, but there are a lot of options for touring Tokyo, so choose those that best align with your interests. Our tour provided a good, low-stress overview of the city and included some surprises. Lunch was a fine Western-style meal (the best of the four) and included a glass of white wine. This tour is best done on a weekend to avoid traffic delays.

Mt. Fuji & Hakone Tour — excellent. A guided tour of this area is highly recommended. If you have time, a better option would be to take a 2-day guided tour to this region (note: public transit is limited). Be forewarned that Mt. Fuji is often covered by clouds; winter is the most likely time to get a clear sighting.

Lunch was an okay Western-style meal but was marred by unexpected extra charges for our (nonalcoholic) drinks.

Unless this would be your only chance to ride a Shinkansen (bullet train), don’t bother to pay the extra ¥3,000 ($25) for a return to Tokyo via Shinkansen instead of returning by bus. You won’t save time unless traffic is particularly bad. Crowds and traffic can be a problem on weekends.

Nikko Tour — okay, but try to see Nikko on your own. The best Nikko sights are clustered reasonably close together and can be seen on foot once you get to the city. With the exception of the Kegon waterfall, we weren’t impressed by the non-Nikko attractions included in this tour. Lunch was a fairly good Japanese meal. Avoid going on a weekend; traffic can extend the tour by hours.

Overall, we were quite pleased with JTB Sunrise Tours. All four tours went off without a hitch, were professionally managed, lived up to the promotional information and avoided pressure to shop rather than sightsee. Adequate time was provided at each attraction, and each tour allowed us some time on our own at one or two stops. Sufficient “biological breaks” were available.

The lunches allowed us the opportunity to meet and chat with fellow travelers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Sweden and Australia, adding to and enriching the experience.


Charlotte, NC