A space for me to reflect on Japan and my tours. Thank you to all my fellow travellers.
Sunday, September 18, 2022
Riki's September 2022 Newsletter
We did it! First post-COVID tour done!
Riki's Tours Japan is back! We cleared all the steps, enjoyed each day and completed our first tour post-COVID! At all the accommodation where we stayed, we were told that we were the first tour group from overseas since COVID began. We were treated so kindly and I appreciate everything they did for us. Despite this, I understand why we were one of the first because it was almost too much to prepare, and there were also so many what ifs before we went. However, eight fellow travellers trusted us by joining our 20 day City Lights & Alpine Trails walking tour from Kyoto to Hokkaido. They trusted us to organise all the documents needed to acquire a tourist visa, and they also had to present a PCR negative test result before flying to Japan (fortunately, no longer needed). Anyway, our fellow travellers had a great time and we had lovely warm weather filled with sunny days (as pictured above on Mt Kurodake in Daisetsuzan NP, Hokkaido a few days ago). I'm so happy to be able to get back to do what I enjoy. Ookini for walking with me!! The next City Lights & Alpine Trails tour is in May and is filling fast, so get in touch if you would like to join.
Devil Ark sponsorship
We have been donating to Devil Ark on an ad-hoc basis for some time now, but this year we have taken up their offer to be a special 2022 sponsor. This required us to donate $2022 to help with the running of their ark for Tasmanian Devils. In return, we get some social media mentions and most excitingly, a private tour of their park north of Sydney. For more information about Devil Ark and to donate however you can, go to their website or Facebook page.
Four spaces available on Autumn Colours tour!
Our Autumn Colours tour is one of our most popular, but unfortunately we had four travellers recently pull out. This could be good for you though because it was sold out, but now it's not! This itinerary includes not only Tokyo and Kyoto but also Kanazawa, Kurashiki, Nara and Miyajima. Please contact us ASAP if you'd like to enjoy the beautiful colours departing November 19!
When will "true" independent tours be possible again?
Unfortunately, Japan is still not open to "true" independent travellers despite what you may have heard. It is still necessary to have all flights & land arrangements pre-organised from the Japan side, who will certify your travel and then issue a visa. It's not the way most independent Australian travellers want to travel, who prefer to buy their air tickets themselves. According to the media & newspaper reports in Japan, PM Kishida will make another announcement about lifting restrictions for independent tours, which may include visa free travel to Japan. However, we have no details about when this will occur nor how it will be. It's a frustrating situation for those who have pre-purchased airline tickets by themselves and are now waiting for Japan to be truly open, but we just have to wait and see. Our apologies to everyone who has contacted us that we cannot help at the moment. We hope to be arranging independent tours again in the new year. We'll let you know when this becomes possible!
We are delighted to tell you that our first tours since the COVID pandemic began are ready to go! We have five tours scheduled until the end of the year, starting with City Lights & Alpine Trails at the end of this month. All tours are sold out except for our ceramics & art tour - Earth & Fire in November, and our penultimate aesthetic tour - Autumn Colours also in November. The last couple of years have been a tricky time for us since COVID appeared at the start of 2020, but we made it to the other side and we are thankful to everyone who has supported us.
When will Japan open to international travellers?
You may have heard that Japan is now open to international travellers, but if the truth be known, there are still several restrictions in place. First of all, you can only visit Japan as part of a guided tour (like mine). And although you "can" visit Japan independently, you are required to be locally guided every day, and as this is extremely costly, independent travel as you know it, isn't really a thing in Japan yet. We are hoping that next year, independent travel returns to normality because it was actually the largest part of our little business.
Our 2023 tours are on sale
We are happy to announce the release of our tours for the first half of 2023. The year kicks off with our Classic Sakura tour at the end of March. Next up is our North Sakura tour in late April, which takes you on the road less taken for cherry blossoms in the far north of Japan. Spirit of Japan, our walking tour of the Kumano Kodo and the Nakasendo, departs in May and is always very popular. Lastly we have a May departure of our signature tour, City Lights & Alpine Trails. Please get in touch if you would like to join any of these tours.
We had wanted to advise you of the opening date for tourists by now, but the Japanese government has not indicated a date yet. However, it’s looking more positive than last year as overseas student & working visa holders can enter Japan now so many think the opening date for tourists will be announced after the national election of the upper house in July. One thing Japan won’t be relaxing for sure is mask wearing on public transport. Also, they ask you to refrain talking which has proven to be hard for some of my fellow travellers.
Can Riki's Tours Japan survive?
Thank you for thinking about us as we’ve been asked this many times. We’re ok thanks to our simple way of operating with just Jason and I working from the front room; no rent to pay for office space, no stock on the shelves or any significant outgoings. However, not doing any guiding with my fellow travellers for almost three years has made me realise that I miss my work, so I really want to get back into it and do better job in the future hopefully soon. Fortunately, I have had the chance to try out some new places in Japan a bit myself - as pictured above at Motonosumi Shrine in the far west of the main Honshu Island.
A gift for you
We have 50 copies of the “100 Experiences in Japan” magazine made by JNTO (Japan National Tourism Organisation). It includes beautiful pictures and 100 suggestions of things to do from well-trodden sights to more unusual adventures and contemporary experiences. We’ll send this copy to our first 50 readers who respond this newsletter with your mailing address. We’re always looking forward to hearing from you!!
Availability for 2022
We have five tours prepared and ready to go from this September. Four of them have sold out and so the only one left for you is Autumn Colours, which has just four more spots. Please let us know if you’re interested in this tour. You can safely book with us. We have consistently refunded all customers who missed out on tours due to COVID. What’s more, our booking terms allow you to cancel with 100% refund until the day before your departure for any COVID related impediments to travel.
We hope that you have been well over these difficult times and have coped with the impact of lockdowns and other health orders. Ookini (Thank you) to everyone who has shown support to us since the pandemic struck in March last year. We had a full schedule of tours booked and ready to go last year, but sadly none of them could materialise, yet could return all monies paid by our customers. We are very thankful for the support from Japanese suppliers, who assisted us with refunds. We are also grateful for the various operating grants provided by the Australian Government (Federal & NSW) that ensured our company could remain viable and ready to restart. Thank you!
Tour status for 2022
Despite not knowing when we can leave this island or what will happen to us on return, we've started work on our 2022 tours. This is because of interest from our customers and also the plans of the airlines. Qantas, JAL and ANA have all released their schedules and fares for 2022 and are showing excellent value. So our focus for now is on our three tours in April during the cherry blossom season: - Classic Sakura (a couple of spots remain, and filling fast) - Earth & Fire (a few spots remain) - North Sakura (a few spots remain) All of our other tours are also on sale so please get in touch if you would like us to pencil you in. We will not call for deposits until we know when our borders will re-open, and any pandemic related cancellations will be 100% refundable.
Before the pandemic struck, we had many customers with plans ready to go for an independent tour with us in 2020. And just like our small group tours, all of these arrangements were cancelled. Fortunately, we could refund all money paid to us, including the deposits. Just recently, we have started to receive calls from these customers about rebooking their trip for 2022, so if you're itching to travel to Japan independently, please get in touch.
What we do with ourselves in lockdown in Sydney
With life being in and out of lockdown, we keep things close to home. We visit our local park (Sydney Park) most days for a jog or a walk, and also our local supermarket. Jason has recently started an online course in training and assessment, and I have become more interested in our little garden. Raising marigolds and sunflowers from seedlings has become a particular thing of interest for me. How about you? What do you do to stay well over these hard times?
Ookini (Thank you) to everyone who joined our Autumn season tours this year. I just returned safely to Australia and I'm happy that my customers have done likewise. My Spirit of Japan tour enjoyed great weather before things changed dramatically with Typhoon Hagibis in early October. Unfortunately, Jason had to cancel the Shinetsu Trail Full Trek while my group of Golden Alpine Trail travellers were battening down the hatches on Mt Madarao. Things cleared after that so we could continue with our travels, and my Deep North Autumn Walks tour also had some great blue sky weather (pictured right). Back in Australia, I am saddened to hear about all the bushfires. I hope everyone and their families are OK.
Information night 12 Dec: Dewa Sanzan, the pigrimage trail less taken
Jason & I will be hosting a talk at 6pm on December 12 at Trek & Travel in Sydney about our new hiking tour - the Dewa Sanzen Pilgrimage. Taking in the three sacred mountains of Dewa in north-western Tohoku, this 8 day tour is a fresh addition to our line-up for keen walkers. While Dewa Sanzen is less well known than the Kumanokodo or the Nakasendo, it has a long history steeped in Buddhism + Shintoism. The mountains lie in the pristine nature of the Asahi-Bandai National Park, and have been continually worshipped by yamabushi, the mountain ascetics, for hundreds of years as a place for spiritual rebirth. Come along to our feast for your imagination, supported by sake, sushi, and special guest (yamabushi), John McBride. Register your interest here or just show up!
Private group tours
Do you have a small group of friends who would like to travel together in Japan? For 2020, we have some spare time available in nice travel season for groups of travellers with a common interest. These travel times include:
- late April (ideal for sakura in the north)
- early June (ideal for mountain trails)
Get in touch with us if you would like to take one of these available times.
We have just finished updating our website for 2020. All tours are now on sale. We have a similar line up to 2019, with the addition of a new tour on the Shinetsu Trail & Nakasendo. Be aware that both the Classic Sakura tour and the City Lights & Alpine Trails tour have almost sold out already - so get in quick for the last spots. Unfortunately, we have had to increase prices a little due to the effect of the fall in the Australian dollar as well as an increase in Japan's consumption tax from 7% to 10%.
ANA direct from Perth
Perth travellers can now enjoy direct daily flights with All Nippon Airways to Tokyo Narita from 1st September. This is a big time saving as previously you would have had to travel through Sydney or somewhere else in Asia. See their website for deals.
New tour: Half Trail Plus
For 2020, we have created a new short walking tour of Nagano Prefecture to see the display of early summer flowers in the mountains. The 9 day Half Trail Plus tour will have you on two gentle sections of the Shinetsu Trail and two historical parts of the Nakasendo. This tour will be escorted by Jason with the help of a local mountain guide on the Shinetsu Trail. In early June, Jason worked with the local guides on trail maintenance and provided English lessons for them (pictured left). He loved the beauty of the Shinetsu Trail in this season, like the lovely native Camelia (above), and would like to share it with you.
Both Jason and I got back to Sydney last week, and now is the time that we plan for 2020. Our sakura tours are on sale (see below). We are also considering two new walking tours in early summer just before the Tokyo Olympics. One may be a tour of the Shinetsu Trail and the Nakasendo, and the other could be a pilgrimage of Dewa Sanzan in Yamagata Prefecture. I'll go to investigate the area in a couple of weeks. Look out for details in the next newsletter. My tour prices for 2020 have had to increase a little due to the fall in the Australian dollar and an increase in Japan's GST rate but they still present great value with nice accommodation on all tours.
My Classic Sakura tour was one of the first tours I designed when we set this small company up in 2013. It has changed little since then and is one of my most popular tours. It suits first time travellers to Japan, and also those who are want to see the sakura at their best in some classic locations.
We think the North Sakura tour is popular with Australian travellers because they enjoy taking the road less travelled, and they also enjoy being closer to rural areas and nature. Another advantage (or disadvantage perhaps) is that this tour has you sleeping on western beds for the entire journey! This tour suits travellers who are visiting Japan for a second time because I'll take you to some lovely places that see fewer tourists.