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.
Are you an independent person like our supervisor (pictured)? We understand that not everyone wants to join a group tour, but we can still look after you on an independent tour. Jason does most of this work and he enjoys putting itineraries together for you. You'll get everything you need to travel independently with peace of mind backed up by all of our knowledge and experience. Please get in touch if you want to travel independently in Japan, but don't know where to start.
Kicking the plastic
We tend to accumulate quite a bit of plastic rubbish as we travel, so we've taken some small steps to reduce plastic waste. Here is our new cloth eco-bag (pictured) which we now distribute to all our travellers. The Japanese writing reads "I don't need a plastic bag". And on our Shinetsu Trail tours, instead of the throw-away bento-boxes that we use for lunch each day, we are giving all travellers their own re-usable bento-box and chop-stick set. We hope this helps to reduce our plastic footprint.
Off to see the sakura bloom
Next week, I leave Sydney for the cooler weather in Japan. The plum blossoms are already in bloom - they arrive a few weeks before the main event, the cherry blossoms! Because of the warmer winter, the blossoms are expected to bloom a little earlier than usual, but according to the forecast, they will fit my tours nicely. For travellers joining me soon, don't forget your warm jackets and hay fever tablets!
I'm sure many of you recognise the man standing beside me in this pic. Yes, it is 'Deeks' - Robert de Castella, the greatest Australian marathon runner, who first rose to fame when he won the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan in 1981. I was lucky to meet with him after finishing the Port Macquarie Half-Marathon a few weeks ago. He's now the Director of the Indigenous Marathon Foundation, which we support. Please go to their page to learn more about this fantastic program that supports indigenous youth to reach their goals.
Ookini (Thank you)!
Thank you to all our travellers, past and present, who have spread the word about our tours. We are happy to say that we have sold all our tours for 2019. If you missed out this year, hang in there! Our 2020 tours will be released in Jul/Aug. Stay tuned!
I have just finished putting the final touches on our 2019 line-up of tours. For those interested, my premier Classic Sakura tour for early April still has a few places remaining.
Golden Alpine Trails
For 2019, I am adding a new walking tour, called Golden Alpine Trails, that could see you in some of our favourite places during the brilliant Autumn season. Besides Tokyo, Kanazawa and Kyoto, we have six walks planned in the central alpine region including the Nakasendo (aka the Joanna Lumley walk), the Shinetsu Trail, Kamikochi and Shirakawago.
Earth & Fire ceramics tour
Following on from the happy group of ceramists and art lovers I toured with in September, I have released another Earth & Fire tour for 2019, this time in the lovely mid-spring May season. This follows the same itinerary as this year, taking you to the heart of artisan life and culture in western Japan, where the influence of Korean and Chinese ceramics is most clearly felt.
Japan Film Festival
The Japan Film Festival is up and running across Australia now so it is worth checking out. I recommend you see We Make Antiques, which I saw on a recent flight to Japan - it's great. Check this website for program details.
Besides the indepedent travellers that we have sent there, Jason ran our first Shinetsu Trail trekking tour in September. They were blessed with dry weather for their six day 80km trek. We have scheduled the 2019 Shinetsu Trail trek for the peak of Autumn colour in October. This tour is already selling well and is guaranteed to depart, so get in touch if you would like to experience walking in one of the best forests of Japan!
Sep and Oct tours
I have just returned from guiding four tours in Japan. Above is a pic from my Deep North Autumn Walks tour, at Hanada-san's apple orchard. It was a beautiful day and a delightful tour so thank you for joining me. I have just returned to Sydney for a brief stay before my last tour starts later this week among the Ginko trees of Tokyo in Autumn colour - see you there!
Our 2019 sakura cherry blossom tours are now on sale. Besides our popular Classic Sakura and North Sakura tours, we have developed a new tour called Sake Tea & Sakura. This exclusive tour is limited to just five fellow travellers with an interest in the traditional cuisine of Japan (i.e. everyone!). As a newly licensed Sake Master, Riki wants to share sake breweries (i.e. booze!), a tea ceremony and a gorgeous kaiseki dinner with you. It concludes in Tokyo where Japan receives its first cherry blossoms. Please be aware that our sakura tours sold out fast last year, so you've gotta be quick!
We will release the rest of our 2019 tours shortly, so watch this space. We are currently working on a new tour for hard-core nature lovers on the Kumanokodo and another for hard-core train lovers through northern Japan. Toot! Toot!
We think the Shinetsu Trail is one of the best nature walks you can try in Japan. Our Shinetsu Trail tour in September suits keen hikers and we still have spaces available. This tour will be led by a local mountain guide with Jason there to help. We also arrange treks for independent travellers so get in touch if you're keen.
Spring tour reports
Both sakura tours and my mid-spring walking tour went well for 2018 and we were lucky to have great weather on all of them. One of my fellow travellers on the City Lights & Alpine Trails tour took some beautiful pictures which he has allowed me to share. Here is one from Asahidake (the highest peak of Hokkaido) ...
... and also one from Oirase Gorge in Tohoku. Thank you Chris-san!