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Behind the scenes: tour leading in Japan

| Words by Liana Chan |

In early 2012, Jacqui joined Insider Journeys as a tour leader.

Japan remains her absolute favourite destination in Asia. When visiting Japan listen closely as Jacqui’s voice has featured on many Japanese television commercials and in the early 2000’s she made the English announcements on Japan’s Shinkansen-Bullet trains! Soon to be leading a very busy schedule of small group tours in Japan we asked Jacqui a few questions about tour leading and life in this increasingly popular destination.

1. How many small group tours have you now led in Japan?

15 to date. Although I was often a “tour leader” during many of the years that I’ve lived in Japan, with my friends and family coming to visit. It was great experience before joining Insider Journeys.

2. Twitter style - could you summarise Japan in under 140 characters?

That’s way too hard to put into only 140 characters! How about this:

Organised, efficient, safe and clean. Across the country the locals are so very welcoming and always eager to help.

Fantastic, healthy food! Amazing Hot Springs! From the beautiful way the seasons change (spring and autumn, especially) to the delectable seasonal food. I love the way old traditions and buildings blend with the brand new. Japan is constantly updating and improving whether it is the cuisine or public transport! You can never get bored.

3. You lived in Japan for a number of years. What do you love most about the country?

Yes I’ve lived here for 20 years. Apart from the points I’ve mentioned above, I also love winter here. With wonderful snow conditions, there is nothing better than a hot spring after a day on the ski slopes, followed by some karaoke and sake.

Geisha in Kyoto. A well-know traditional part of Japanese culture

4. Is there anything guidebook tend to underrate about Japan?

Yes…the cost of everyday things. It’s often cheaper than most Western countries, including Australia and the UK. Fresh produce, eating out, souvenirs are far cheaper than people expect. You can get a nice evening meal for around USD$20pp and a local Udon soup for lunch will cost around USD$10. If you want a fun local experience the head to a train station and eat breakfast with the locals for around USD$5! Entrance fees to museums and attractions rarely exceed USD$20 and public transport is very reasonable with an IC (pay-as-you-go card).

Getting about on Japan's trains (shinkansen)

5. How does tour leading in Japan differ from other destinations in Asia?

I find it’s a little different in Japan compared to the other destinations in Asia I have worked in, mainly because the locals are not very confident speaking English (or understands the nuances and accents that come along with speakers of our colourful English language!) Being able to speak Japanese, I often find that I have to fill in the gaps.

6. We hear you are fluent in Japanese. What's one word you could not live without?

“Gaman” This word means “patience”. It is an essential part of being Japanese (or a long-term resident). Japanese people (have to) apply this idea to all areas of life. From waiting patiently in line for 3 hours just to buy the latest fad food, to putting up with and agreeing with your superiors, even though you may completely disagree with them.

7. And what do your travellers love most about Japan?

The unbelievable efficiency of the Shinkansen (bullet train), hot springs, the food, Mt Fuji, cherry blossom (known locally as Sakura) and the incredible colours that autumn brings. Many of our travellers seem more impressed with autumn than they are with spring and cherry blossom.

The old town of Takayama during autumn

8. Your most amusing Japan experience so far?

Meeting a man dressed as a woman on a train platform, with my group on the first day of touring. He was wearing a tutu, a Wham –“Wake me up before you go go” crop top, hair in pigtails and an NYC baseball cap!

I engaged in conversation with him as our travellers wanted to know what he was up to. He was on his way to appear in court, as he had been fined for illegally protesting against his own local government for not allowing him to run for office.

He told me he likes to wear women's clothes to stand out from the crowd. Our travellers loved him and he was happy to pose for photos with them!

9. What is your favourite Japanese dish and beverage?

Again too hard to choose just one!

Maguro Sashimi (a raw tuna) Yakitori (chicken on a stick) and Sake (traditional rice wine). The food here is so diverse I seldom have trouble accommodating the different tastes of our travellers.

Mmmmmm. Beef ramen! This image was taken by Michelle from our UK office just a few days ago while she was visiting Tokyo.

10. Finally, what would be your one piece of advice for first-timers to Japan?

Don’t be afraid to try something different, whether it be a type of food you would never dream of eating or taking all your clothes off with a bunch of strangers to enjoy a hot spring!

Jacqui leads many of our Japan small group tours. Read more about Mount Fuji or browse our collection of cherry blossom images.