Friendly Planet Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Traveler tips for a trip to Tokyo

Our staff at Friendly Planet is made up of many travel enthusiasts.  Most of us travel every chance we get, for both business and pleasure. When we return to the office, we often find ourselves having in-depth conversations with one another to share and compare our travel stories and experiences.

I’ve invited some of our staff members to share their travel experiences on the blog to give you a snapshot of some of the most fascinating places around the world, as well as their personal accounts from their trips. First up is Terence Foley, who works in product development here at Friendly Planet. Here’s his description of his most recent trip to Tokyo, in his own words:

“In September, I took a trip to Tokyo, Japan. This remarkable city is comprised of 27 special wards, each with their own distinct feel and attraction. From high-rise business centers and entertainment districts, to beautifully manicured parks and gardens, Tokyo has it all.

I visited most of Tokyo’s major attractions: Tsukiji fish marketMeiji ShrineGinza shopping districtTokyo-Edo Museum, and Asakusa Temple, just to name a few. I even went to Tokyo’s Sushi Academy and learned how to prepare fresh sushi. And, to top it all off, I also made a visit to the Tokyo Skytree’s observatory, 1,150 feet up, for a panoramic sunset view of the sprawling metropolis.

To be honest, I was a bit wary of using Tokyo’s metro system, especially after looking at the map, which looked like a plate of rainbow spaghetti. But to my surprise, it was actually quite simple. In fact, if you find yourself looking at a map for more than a few moments, a friendly Tokyoite is likely to approach you to offer help.

I’ve heard people planning trips to Japan say they were not interested in Tokyo because it’s just another big city. Well, Tokyo is big, but it is unlike any other major city I’ve ever visited. At times, I felt like I had traveled into the future, and other times back to the Edo period. The food was delicious, the people were friendly, and the culture was vibrant. I fell in love with Tokyo and I cannot wait to return!”

I share Terence’s enthusiasm for Tokyo, and can’t wait to return myself. Thanks for sharing about your trip Terence!

2 reasons why the Far East isn’t so far away for Friendly Planet travelers

We’re always trying to think of new, innovative tours to offer our customers at a great value. We’ve created two of these new tours in the Far East, which incorporate cities that are geographically close in proximity, but vastly different in history and culture. I wanted to fill you in on the details:

Tokyo skyline at night

Beijing and Tokyo: A Sale of Two Cities. On this 10-day tour, travelers visit two of the most attractive destinations in the world, Beijing and Tokyo, for an outrageously low price. The package combines two of Asia’s cultural and economic powerhouses that exhibit impressive modern achievements within ancient and incredibly rich cultures. Spend four nights in each city, with touring included, which provides just enough time to experience all that Beijing and Tokyo have to offer. Since we’re coming up on the cooler winter months, travelers will be able to take advantage of less crowds and incredible prices with this tour—a great perk! While the moderate temperatures in both cities throughout the winter months still provide an enjoyable climate for touring.

Taste of China and Hong Kong. This 13-day tour was created for the traveler who wants to see all of the sights and ancient culture that the vibrant international cities in China and Hong Kong have to offer. Visit three of China’s most awe-inspiring cities, ShanghaiXi’an, and Beijing, and then continue on to the beautiful, cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong. The best part? We’ve calculated that travelers will save over $1,000 with this tour, as compared to booking on their own. You simply can’t beat that for these attractive travel destinations!

Are there any Far East destinations that you’d like to see us offer next? Let us know in a comment below!

Making a very friendly return to Japan

Japan has been one of our favorite destinations for a long time. But we were forced to cancel all departures in March 2011 when one of the most devastating earthquakes ever recorded rocked the east coast of Japan. So in 2011, Friendly Planet Travel didn’t send a single traveler to this fascinating country.

But we’re excited to announce today that Friendly Planet Travel is once again resuming tours to Japan with a brand new series of departures on our Japan Panorama tour. We know it’s our time to return to Japan because you have been calling and writing to ask us when our departures would start. And for our part, we could not be happier to resume our tours. We know what a beautiful destination Japan is and how much it is appreciated by everyone who visits.

And on a personal note, tourism to Japan has truly suffered from the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunamis that followed. We can’t wait for our friends in the Japanese tourism industry to begin to feel the recovery by seeing the smiling and friendly faces of our travelers arriving to tour the country.

A recent survey conducted by the Japanese government found that 82 percent of Japanese people feel favorably towards the United States and its people. Visitors who go to Japan will sense the warmth and friendship as soon as they arrive in the country, along with it’s gorgeous scenery. Japan has dramatic scenery and ancient monuments juxtaposed with modern, sleek skyscrapers; sophisticated nightlife; and bustling cities.

Even more significant, its citizens are truly an example to the world of stoicism at its finest. When you see how the Japanese people have come together as a nation to help each other recover from devastation and loss, you will be touched and impressed. So there’s no better time than now to see what this beautiful country and its citizens are all about.

Check out our Japan Panorama tour to get all the details about where we’ll be going, what we’ll be seeing, and the fun things we have in store for travelers. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me or speak to a member of our reservations team at 800-555-5765.

Why we need to help Japan recover

A month has passed since the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. And as you know, Japan is being rocked with aftershocks and the nuclear crisis continues to threaten the country.

You would think that the Japanese people would be in a state of mayhem and disorder, but it’s quite the opposite. What we’re seeing in Japan is how evolved, calm, and reasoned people behave during a crisis.

There’s no looting nor protests, and everyone is trying to help one other. It is the dignity and grace of the Japanese people that make their country so wonderful.

For example, right now the cherry blossoms are in bloom in Japan. Their blossoming sparks celebration. People go outside and enjoy picnics, parties, music, and the beauty of the trees. But this is not the case this year.

In the southern part of Japan, the damage was minimal compared to the north. But the people in the south who aren’t dealing with the aftermath of the disasters feel that it’s not appropriate to celebrate while their countrymen are suffering so much.

Instead, everyone is cutting back on everything. From cherry blossom celebrations to ordinary things, such as electricity and water to conserve resources. They’re doing this to stand in solidarity with their countrymen and women, and essentially, to do whatever they can to help one other out.

There’s a strong sense of responsibility in the Japanese culture and psyche. Their consideration of one another is remarkable and worth appreciating. It’s also one of the many reasons why we want to resume tours to Japan as soon as possible. However, we won’t go back until we feel it’s safe for our travelers.

Unfortunately I don’t see us resuming our Japan Panorama tours this year. The touring season is very short in Japan, and so we’ll have to wait until 2012 to go back. But until then, we can help Japan recover through donations.

We’re always looking for ways to get money directly to those who need it the most, and right now we’re asking you to make donation to Doctors Without Borders and the International Red Cross. Thank you for your help. I know the people in Japan truly appreciate it.

Discussing Japan travel on Around the World Travel Radio

Although the nuclear crisis in Japan caused us to suspend Friendly Planet Travel’s Japan Panorama tours, we will be among the first tour operators to resume travel to Japan when it’s safe.

I was able to tell this to Arthur von Wiesenberger on Around the World Travel Radio last Thursday. Tune into the podcast to get an update on the situation in Japan and how it’s affecting travelers.

You’ll also find out why Friendly Planet travelers aren’t losing any money when we suspend tours, why other travelers should hold off on traveling to Japan until the nuclear crisis is resolved, and why the Japanese need time to recover before welcoming travelers back. Thanks again Arthur for having me as a guest!

Japan nuclear crisis prompts cancellation of Japan Panorama tours

The complex issues around Japan’s nuclear crisis are not short term. And as a result, Friendly Planet Travel is suspending our Japan Panorama tours.

We always act in the best interest of our travelers, and their safety is our number one priority. So the tour will remain suspended until we are certain our travelers can visit Japan safely.

If you are booked on one of our Japan Panorama departure dates, we’ve already contacted you with this news. You’ll be able to book any one of Friendly Planet Travel’s other tours. Even if it’s sold out, we will work with you to get a tour you want. Or if you don’t wish to do that, you can receive a full refund.

I’m saddened to see Japan suffer like this, and our thoughts go out to everyone in Japan as they deal with the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and now a nuclear crisis. Hopefully Japan will be able to get the nuclear problem under control soon and start the recovery process.

We will certainly reinstate our tours to Japan the moment it looks as though our travelers will be safe. If any news on this situation changes, watch this spot for updates. In the meantime, we are urging everyone who can to donate whatever amount is possible to Doctors without Borders or the International Red Cross. Both agencies are very much engaged in helping the people of Japan recover from the horrific disasters of the past weeks.

Japan update: Travel news and ways you can help

Since my last update on Japan, I’m happy to report that our representatives in Tokyo are safe. We also have been in contact with our airline partners, Singapore Airlines, who have extended the deadline to cancel flights to Japan without penalty from March 20 to April 10.

That means insurance coverage is guaranteed only through April 10. However, I believe this deadline will be pushed back, as the nuclear emergency in Japan has complicated things.

So in order to make sure our travelers don’t suffer unnecessary penalties for canceling their April 19 departure or later for the Japan Panorama tour, which is not yet protected by waivers from suppliers, we’re not making any changes or canceling any tours at this time.

If you’re on our April 19 Japan Panorama departure, we’ve already contacted you with a list of options to choose from at this time, including booking another Friendly Planet Travel destination or a later Japan departure date.

Once we have a better sense of damage to the particular regions visited on the Japan Panorama itinerary, we will be better able to determine how to proceed. I want to assure you that we will act in your best interests. Flip back to my previous post to get more details about this decision.

Amid this disaster that has reshaped Japan physically, it’s clear that the Japanese people are methodical, strong, and united. One journalist I heard this morning on the BBC spoke of spending the night in a standing apartment in a village in the earthquake zone.

The family who lives there has no electricity, water, phone service, and very little food. Despite this, the journalist was welcomed warmly and invited to share whatever meager resources the family had. The journalist was surprised by the lack of hysteria and the stoic, calm attitude of the people she has met.

I’m not surprised. I’ve been working with the Japanese for years and know that they will recover and emerge from this better and stronger than before. That is just how they are as a people. For example, our representatives in Japan expressed their gratitude at having been spared the worst of the earthquake and the tsunami, but are worried about people in the worst impacted areas. Their message to me ended with this stoic line: “We will fight this tragedy together and recover, for sure.”

This is just one of the reasons why people — especially those of us who value independence, strength of character, and the ability to look ahead and work toward a better future — will not cancel, but postpone travel to Japan. And, at the first possible moment, they will make a beeline to be among the first to witness the recovery.

Friendly Planet Travel is looking for the best ways to help the Japanese people at this terrible time. We will get back to you with some suggestions for places to send donations that assure the help gets through quickly and to those who need it the most.

In the meantime, we are recommending Doctors Without Borders as a good place to send donations. They are very active in the Japanese recovery and have indicated they will need special funding to handle the crisis. I’ll continue to post updates to the blog, Facebook, and Twitter about the situation in Japan.

Japan earthquake travel update

This post has been updated here.

I don’t have to tell you about the natural disasters that struck Japan, devastating the country.

I love Japan and am heartbroken to see this beautiful country go through this horrible event. Our hearts go out to everyone effected by this disaster.

Thankfully, Friendly Planet Travel does not have any travelers in the country at this moment. However, we do have a scheduled departure date for our Japan Panorama tour on April 19, which is presently on hold.

For the moment, we have been informed that tickets issued for travel to Japan can be cancelled without penalty only through March 20. After that date, issued tickets can be cancelled, but for a penalty of $100 per person.

Since we have not been able to reach our land agents in Japan yet, we can’t determine if land penalties will be waived for April departures. We believe, however, that all of our suppliers will be lenient under the circumstances.

It is out of the question to even begin to determine the extent of the destruction in Japan at this early hour. In fact, a second earthquake occurred just a short while ago in the Nagano area, and there are likely to be aftershocks in the hours and days ahead.

In order to determine if travel in April will even be possible, we will need to assess the viability of the buildings in the cities where our travelers would stay. In the best case scenario, this will take weeks. The safety of our travelers is always our number one priority.

We will need to wait a few days until we make contact with our representatives on the ground in Japan. From there we’ll determine how cancellations of tours for April will be handled in order to make a final decision about our departure dates.

If you’re one of the travelers booked on our April 19 Japan Panorama tour, we are contacting you right now to give you all the information we have. Once the options are known, we will send them to you without delay. And be assured that no matter what option you choose, we will work with you to ensure you get a trip you are happy with.

The tsunami that hit Japan triggered tsunami alerts in other parts of the world where we do have Friendly Planet Travelers, including the Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica. I spoke with our representatives in the Galapagos Islands and they they told me everyone is safe and has been moved to higher ground until the alert expires. Costa Rica was issued a “green alert,” which is considered not threatening.

In events such as these, it’s a good time to remind you of the importance of buying travel insurance. If your trip is cancelled, travel insurance typically covers up to the total trip cost. But there are some caveats.

In this case, travel insurance will cover the trips that are cancelled right now, that is, for departures through March 20. For the moment, airlines are waiving cancellation fees only through March 20 and insurance companies are following suit. It is to be seen how this disaster evolves. If it is not possible to conduct tourism as usual, that March 20 date will be moved back, and the coverage will also be extended.

Please be patient. The situation is still evolving, and it will take a few days to understand the full impact of the earthquake and tsunami. But be assured that we’re working 24/7 and monitoring the situation closely.

I will continue to post updates on the blog, Facebook, and Twitter as news develops. Most importantly, keep everyone in Japan in your thoughts. We will be creating a way you can help the people of Japan. I’ll tell you more about that in a future blog post.

Japan Panorama tour: Four 2011 departure dates available

Tokyo Tower at dusk

Japan might be the most expensive travel destination in Asia with the shortest touring season, but Friendly Planet Travel’s Japan Panorama tour is consistently one of the best for the least. Those of you who have been calling and writing to us asking when our 2011 dates will be posted, you’ll be pleased to know that they’re ready and are available at prices that are hard to beat.

Our 10-day Japan Panorama tour starts at $3,199, with departure dates on: April 19, May 10, May 24, June 14, and July 5.

Japan’s futuristic cities, ancient temples, and peaceful countryside epitomizes its ultra-modern life while respecting and coexisting with its cultural heritage. It’s this mixture of technological innovation and tradition that puts Japan on top of Friendly Planet’s list of must-see destinations.

Your 10-day exploration of Japan begins in Tokyo, one of the world’s main economic centers and Japan’s modern capital, as well as its largest city. You see all of the main attractions, including: Tokyo Tower, modeled after the Eiffel Tower in Paris; the historic Imperial Palace, which dates back to the 15th century and is the present residence of the Emperor of Japan; Sensoji, or Asakusa Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy and compassion; and the Ginza, Tokyo’s most famous up-market shopping, dining, and entertainment district.

Mount Fuji 

After a good night’s sleep at the Tokyo Prince Hotel Park Tower, it’s off to Mount Fuji, a beautiful snow-capped volcano. Experienced hikers can trek from the summit to get some amazing panoramic views.

After lunch take a cruise on Lake Ashi, a slender body of water formed in the Hakone caldera about 400 thousand years ago. Board the Komagatake Ropeway, and don’t forget your camera, because you’re treated to a picturesque ascent up Mount Komagatake and sweeping views of Hakone National Park and Mount Fuji.

The following day you have the chance to explore Tokyo independently or join an optional tour to Nikko, a city filled with shrines and pagodas. The tour takes you to to the Toshogu Shrine, it is the original site of the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys, which are carved on one of the gates.

The bullet train

Then get ready for a high-speed adventure the next morning aboard the Shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train. The train itself is an experience. It links the major cities in Japan efficiently, while reaching speeds of over 170 miles per hour. It takes you to Kyoto where you check in at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto.

While in Kyoto, Japan’s spiritual capital, visit the 17th-century Nijo Castle. You can see the architecture change as you go from the most public spaces to the private chambers of the shogun, which were protected by a highly imaginative security system comprised of floorboards deliberately built to squeak when walked upon.

Proceed to the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji Temple), which is covered in gold leaf and whose three stories each reflect a different architectural style. Continue to the Handicraft Center, where you can pick up some souvenirs on one of its five floors. Complete your day with a walking tour around the Gion neighborhood, where the best-selling novel “Memoirs of a Geisha” was set.

Then take advantage of a day of leisure in Kyoto or hop on the bullet train for an optional tour of Hiroshima, including a ferry ride to Miyajima. After breakfast the next day, you’re driven to Nara, one of the earliest capitals of Japan.

Todaiji Temple

Tour the Todaiji Temple, whose Buddha is the largest bronze statue in the world, and whose main structure is the world’s largest wooden building. Continue to Osaka, which remains a vital center for trade and entrepreneurial culture. On a city tour, you see the Osaka Castle, which played a major role in the unification of the country during the Azuchi-Momoyama period.

Stroll down Dotonboroi Street, a former pleasure district now famous for its theatres, shops, and restaurants, as well as the colorful neon and mechanized signs. You might recognize the snack/candy manufacturer Glico’s giant electronic display of a runner crossing the finish line. On your final day in Japan you’ll board the bullet train for Tokyo and your flight home.

Packaged in the price, from $3,199, are round-trip flights from Los Angeles via Singapore Airlines (voted the world’s #1 airline for safety, comfort, and service) non-stop jet service, including fuel surcharges; all intra-Japan ground transportation; superior first-class hotels; American buffet breakfast daily plus one lunch; fully escorted touring program with entrance fees; professional, English-speaking tour director and local guides; and more.

With limited departure dates and a price point that’s hard to beat in the travel industry, I’m expecting this tour to fill up fast. So if you’ve ever wanted to see Japan, book the 10-day Japan Panorama tour for $3,199 by Oct. 28.

And if you’ve been on this tour before, post a comment to let fellow travelers know how you liked it. And as always, if you have questions, you know the drill. Visit our website for the full tour itinerary, write to me, or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

Around the world in 12 minutes with Gary Arndt

Gary Arndt on a glacier in New Zealand

Gary Arndt is doing what so many people fantasize about: traveling around the world. He’s been to 70 countries — a lifelong endeavor for some people. But you might be surprised to find out he’s visited them all in the past three years.

Gary went from your average business owner to world traveler seemingly overnight. The idea struck him like a flash of lightening. He sold his house and off he went.

Last week, Gary was in Bangkok, Thailand, and I was able to pick his brain about his travels in a podcast, which you can listen to below. As Gary put it, living like a nomad is something you just can’t prepare for.

Gary’s been documenting his journeys on his blog, Everything Everywhere, which is now one of the most widely read travelogues on the Internet.

In our podcast, I talked to Gary about what he’s discovered so far, including why history books make the best guide books and why Argentina and Japan have the best food. He discusses what it’s like to be in an area where there is political conflict, and much more.

He says the best thing about his blog is that it not only lets him communicate with people, but it’s a great way to get feedback from readers on where he should go next. Gary just doesn’t write on his blog either, he produces weekly podcasts with travel experts and posts his beautiful photography.

Click play to step inside Gary’s world. Seventy countries down, only 125 to go. ;)

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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