Visiting Japan - I don't take tours, but I'm often asked about visiting Japan. Please bear in mind I am not a travel agent and I haven't visited everywhere in Japan! My blog has a lot of information about my previous visits.
Q. I want to visit Japan on a tour - who can you recommend?
There are many tours to Japan, including specialist textile tours, which often include a trip to the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival, held annually in January. Wabi Sabi Designs also run excellent tours annually with BeBe Bold, which are the only ones to really focus on sashiko and kogin, visiting Yuza Sashiko Guild and Hirosaki. Celtic Quilt Tours, well known for the their UK and Ireland tours, are running their first Japan tour in 2020, but it has already sold out.
Q. Where can I buy sashiko threads and materials?
I have a whole page on this now, covering Japan and other countries - click here.
Q. I want to visit Japan on my own. How do I plan my trip?
There's no reason you can't organise your own trip, but once you get away from the main tourist centres (e.g. Tokyo, Kyoto etc.) you will need to be able to speak some Japanese if you want to get around easily. Google is your best bet for working out where you want to go. We usually fly with KLM and book our hotels via booking.com.
Q. What time of year should I go?
Unless you like very hot and humid weather, avoid the summer. Winter weather is severe in the north of Japan, so be prepared for snow and some travel disruption. Spring and Autumn are good times to visit, although Spring is quite early in some areas and Autumn can still be very hot. Japan is a long landmass, with varying climates, so use the internet to check the likely weather for your trip. It is also quite difficult to plan a trip to coincide exactly with cherry blossom, because it often comes up to two weeks early.
Q. I want to visit the Tokyo Dome Quilt Show. How do I do it?
There are lots of tours that go to the show (see top of page). The show's correct name is Tokyo Internation Great Quilt Festival. The exact dates are announced in July each year. The show organiser's website isn't available to view before then. You can buy tickets online if you are organising your own trip. There are hotels nearby.
Q. Should I get a Japan Rail Pass?
This really depends how much traveling you intend to do. I used a 14 day JR pass for my trip in April and May 2018, when I traveled from Tokyo to Hirosaki, to Yamagata, Kyoto and back to Tokyo, and also on my January 2016 trip, when we traveled from Tokyo to Yuza-machi, to Niigata, Hida Takayama, Hamamatsu and back to Tokyo. In September 2014, we used the JR East pass, valid for 5 days out of any 14 day period. If you are only traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, it isn't worth it. You can't use the Japan Rail Pass on the Nozumi shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto anyway, only on the older shinkansen services, but if you are buying an individual shinkansen ticket, the price difference is less than 1000 Yen! Some shinkansen services, such as the Hayabusa, which runs between Tokyo and Shin Aomori, are reserved seating only. On our February 2019 trip to Shonai, we flew to Shonai airport rather than taking the train - much quicker, but somewhat dependent on weather.
For travel around Tokyo, get a Suica travel card. It saves a lot of time trying to figure out which ticket you need for which rail line.
For a trip to Hakone, buy the Hakone Free Pass.
Q. Should I learn Japanese? Yes!
If you can't find any classes near you, try using NHK World Video on Demand - they have several Japanese courses that are fun and easy.
There is a lot of information on the internet - use it to research your trip. Google maps is excellent for working out travel times and costs by railway. Good luck and happy planning!