JTB Kyoto Morning Tour - Warning

Old May 22nd, 2006, 05:05 AM
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JTB Kyoto Morning Tour - Warning

Just back from a fabulous first trip to Japan, which was marred only by an organised morning tour of Kyoto organised by JTB. We booked this tour through our travel agent, specifically because it was supposed to include a visit to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, and we had been uncertain how to arrange this ourselves (I now understand it's not so difficult). This tour cost the equivalent of Y11,200 for the two of us, so was not exactly cheap.

Imagine our frustration on the day of the tour when the guide casually explained that the Palace was off the itinerary due to the Aoi Matsuri festival having taken place the previous day. Didn't they know about this when they happily took our money several weeks earlier?

To make an already bad situation worse, the tour consisted of at least 50 people and just one tour guide, who came equipped with a loudhaler (!) to make herself heard over the din. Our first stop at Nijo Castle was a shambles; crowds of people from various tours (which all inexplicably arrived in the same timeslot) all jostling for position, and straining to hear the commentary. I've witnessed this sort of mass-production tour pass by in mainland China, where the "victims" are herded around like lifestock, but never imagined for one minute that this could happen in Japan, especially for the sort of money charged by JTB.

The Nijo Castle experience was so bad, we expressed our dissatisfaction to the tour guide and left to do our own thing. I am currently pursuing our travel agent for a partial refund (wish me luck!).

The lesson learnt from this sorry experience is avoid this sort of rip-off organised tour at all costs. Make your own way around Kyoto instead, you will see and understand much, much more and you will still have plenty of Yen in your pocket at the end of the day.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 08:56 AM
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I wish you would have asked on this board about the Imperial palace tour, as we could have given you the info.

I have always thought the JTB tours looked overpriced, and that was when I was thinking they provided the sites that you are paying for. If they did not know beforehand that they were not going to be able to get into the Imperial Palace that day, I think they should have given the people on the tour the option of replacing that site w/another (Nijo) and given a refund to those who did not want to do that. Did they offer any option like that at all? If not, then to blatantly take your money and not provide the place described in the tour, and not give you a way out of it, seems like fraud to me. ANd if that is the case, then shame on JTB.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 02:44 PM
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Gordon, your warning is much appreciated, but very disappointing as we are planning to go on the JTB Kyoto/Nara tour in August.

emd (and others), just how easy is it to see the sites on this particular tour on our own? The Kyoto/Nara tour includes Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto Handicraft Center, lunch, Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Shrine and Deer Park.

The plan for our 2-weeks is to do most things on our own, but add in 3 JTB tours (Mt Fuji/Hakone, Kyoto/Nara, Himeji Castle). Originally this was a compromise with my BF who thought we should just take a tour to Japan. Plus, they're kinda non-thinking days for me since there's nothing to plan beyond knowing where the p/u point is and at what time. I've already been toying with the idea of dropping the Mt Fuji/Hakone tour altogether since there's very little chance that we'll be able to see Fujiyama, but a cousin of mine went on the tour and said that it was really good. I also can't get over the idea of going all the way to Japan and NOT visit Mt Fuji. To me, it'd be like going to China and not go to the Great Wall.

Thanks!
Judy
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 03:18 PM
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It's quite easy to get around to sites on your own, especially in Kyoto and Tokyo/Hakone as they are so touristed. While a tour might give you some explanation of the sites you are seeing, you will be part of a large group, which will be part of many groups, so you will porbably have a hard time hearing any commentary anyway.

The price of 11,200 for 2 is quite high I think. You can taxi between the various sites and have a nice lunch and take your time for the same or less, much less if you use the bus system. If you have a good guidebook you'll get the same information and be able to go at your own pace and relax.

You can take the train to Hakone easily and have a nice day there. There are some trip reports on here somewhere about day trips to Hakone.

Nara is a day trip in and of itself I think, and also easy to do on your own...just hop on the train.

If you wanted a guide in Kyoto and Nara, you might want to look into a Goodwill guide. They are free (you pay admissions and lunch for them). They need to be booked in advance - do a google on goodwill guides kyoto and nara and you'll find the information. The advantage is that they are free and you pick the itinerary and pace. The disadvantage might be that many of them are retirees who want to practice English, and though they have had some training, not as much as a licensed guide. It's hit or miss I think with them, but htat's true with any guide anyway. You might really consider that option, as it's easy on the budget and flexible.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 04:05 PM
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KimJapan, do you happen to know how much it would cost (r/t) from Tokyo to Hakone? We won't have our JR Pass activated yet and the Mt Fuji/Hakone tour includes the Shinkansen back to Tokyo (motor coach from Tokyo). I think that if we do go to Mt Fuji/Hakone, we'll probably still take the tour (??? no final decision on this yet), but the question remains whether to go at all. Do you think it would be worth it to go at the end of July. I'd really like to go, but I also don't want to waste an entire day just to be able to say that I've "been" to Mt Fuji.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 04:22 PM
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A combination of shinkansen and Okdakyu train to Hakone is around 4000 yen each way. Consider the Hakone Free Pass. http://www.odakyu.jp/english/freepass/index.html

Also, Hakone isn't Mt. Fuji...you can see Fuji from there if it is clear, it's an onsen/resort town...so if you were going there to say you've gone to Mt. Fuji, well, you wouldn't have gone. If you are interested in actually going to the mountain, this link might be helpful. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6901.html

The tour to Fuji and Hakone isn't cheap...you might do better going to Hakone on your own if that interests you, or by going to one of the climbing stations on your own if that is your goa. From JR Shinjuku station(Tokyo),transfer to Fujikyuko (express)bus,get off at Kawagutiko station. From Kawagutiko,take the bus "to Fuji Gogome".

I'm not a big fan of Japanese tours, as most of the time is spent on a bus/train going from point A to point B. They are big on quick stops and looking at things out the window (on your right is....), and short on experiences.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 04:23 PM
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KimJapan - I believe the price quoted by Gordon R was just a morning tour. I just looked at the JTB sunrise site and the tour that Judy refers to - Kyoto/Nara is more than 12000 yen per person. Having recently returned from Kyoto, I think the Imperial Palace, Nijo-jo and Kinkakuji are a lot to do in one morning assuming you are going inside them and not just passing by. I took the Imperial Palace tour and it lasted more than an hour. I did Nijo-jo with the audio guide and that also must have been a good hour without going around the gardens.
Judy, I also went to Himeji and think that is an easy trip to do on your own without a tour.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 04:24 PM
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jlaughs, to add to what Kim said, I really really would NOT take a tour to Himeji. All you do is go to Kyoto station, ask the JR man at the window what track for Himeji, get on the train, get off the train, walk 15 min straight out of the train station down the main st. (or hop on the many buses going up that main st.) and you are at the castle. Take a few pgs from the internet or a guidebook describing the castle. I can't imagine paying someone to take me there.

I didn't go to Hakone on the 1st trip. But I saw a crisp clear Fuji from the window of the train btwn. Tokyo and Kyoto. Also, going to Hakone is not really going to Fuji. Does this tour actually go to Fuji or just Hakone? In Hakone, you can see Fuji if you are lucky and if you go to Lake Ashi (which we did not do, we stayed around Hakone Yumoto area). Or perhaps you can see it from the cable car? But you have just as good a chance of seeing Fuji on a clear day from the train btwn Tokyo and Kyoto.

You can get to the sites you mention in Kyoto easily on your own, by bus or cab. Kitano would not be on my short list of must-see places in Kyoto. Are you going to Higashiyama area?

I have not been to Nara. BUt I have researched going there and I would not pay someone to take me there. You just get on the train and go, have a map and guide info, and see what you want to see and get on the train back to Kyoto. It isn't hard.

Unfortunately there has never been a recommendation on this board for a good and affordable personal guide in Kyoto. If I only had a day in Kyoto I would consider getting a personal guide, but the only recommendation on here (and the only one I've seen in advertised in Kyoto ) is MK and they are tres expensive. And I think it is mostly a driving service; I am not sure how good the "guide" part of it is w/MK.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 04:27 PM
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The three of us all replied at the same time.....
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 04:28 PM
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With MK the guide is another person, in addition to the driver, and another fee. Not cheap. Good, but not cheap.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 04:34 PM
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Yes...we all are typing together

If the 11,200 yen is just the morning tour then the price is much too much for what you see and do, and the pace is much too fast to see anything in depth at all.

Gordon_R - JTB is very good about customer satisfaction, and I think you should complain about not being able to see the one thing you booked the tour in order to see...send an e-mail or call the nearest local office to you, or negotiate with your own travel agent who booked you into the tour. You certainly should have been informed of the closure of the Imperial Palace..the dates are known at least a year in advance.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 04:37 PM
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Kim that is good to know about MK and a separate guide. Someone on this baord used MK and reported on them (while back) and said it was a very good experience- I beleive MK tailored the day to what the client wanted to see and do. It is like $300 a day, if I recall correctly.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 04:53 PM
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LOL...Wow, thanks for all the quick responses!

To answer one question - the JTB Mt Fuji/Hakone tour goes to the 5th station of Mt Fuji, cruise on Lake Ashi & the Mt Komagatake Aerial cableway in Hakone. Tour includes lunch.

I guess I'm going to have to rethink these JTB tours and see how my BF feels about doing everything on our own. I realize that the tours are much more expensive than doing it on our own, but we were willing to pay the price for the ease. Also, I thought that sometimes tours are allowed easier and quicker access to sites than those sightseeing on their own. What concerns me more than the cost is the number of people in the tour that Gordon mentioned. Going on a tour with that many people is pointless. My tour to China was kinda like that and it was sometimes impossible to hear what the guide had to say. My tour to Thailand, on the other hand, only had about a dozen people and it was great. I guess that's what I was envisioning for these JTB tours.

btw, I know I can do all the research on this, but I'm taking the easy way (thank everyone!) --

What would the costs be to do the same things as above on the tour? Besides transporation to/from Tokyo, what transportation would be needed from Mt Fuji to Hakone? Is there a cost (I'm sure there is) for the lake cruise and the cableway?

I'm beginning to think maybe I should start a separate thread for Mt Fuji/Hakone and leave this one for Kyoto. Oh well...

Thanks!
Judy
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 05:01 PM
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http://www.odakyu.jp/english/ should answer all your Hakone questions. www.hyperdia.com will price out the trains for you.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 06:36 PM
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Gordon-

So sorry to hear of your miserable tour. I would definitely ask JTB for a refund. As said above, they are a big and reputable company, so I woud
ld expect they'll be gracious about this failure.

jlaughs- I have been to Japan- I don't know how many times- and have not been to Fuji yet. Been close, seen it from the train, and have heard lots of friends tales of climbing Fuji.

I don't feel like I've missed anything, because I prefer visiting temples & castles, eating, shopping, people watching, visiting friends, etc. If I'm gonna visit a mountain, I'd want to proper clothes and equiptment, and I wouldn't want to lug that around on vacation!

That said, it was really exciting to get a nice clear view of it once on the train!

You won't get to see everything in Japan, so don't worry. What ever you miss will give you something to aim for on the next trip!
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 07:13 PM
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lucy, good to see you are back on the board...you have been missed.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 07:51 PM
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jlaughs, a Himeji tour would probably be a waste of money and time. Like emd said, it is easy to get to the castle. A tour could only limit your time there. I suppose there may be other sites in the area on the tour, but they would not be nearly as significant as Himeji-jo.

You can skip the tour of Nara, too. It is easy to navigate, too. There isn't much to visiting there. From the station you can take a bus. The town is set up for visitors.

It is a bit more involved getting around Kyoto, but it is easy enough to do get around on your own.

Getting around Fuji Hakone National Park is a bit more complicated. If you want to go to the fifth station and take the boat across Lake Ashi, then the tour might save time (does the tour bus take you from Lake Ashi to the shinkansen?).

I took the Odakyu train to Hakone-Yumoto and then used a Hakone Free Pass to get around. It is a nice visit, a good break from the city and temples, and the lake is much closer to Fuji-san than the shinkansen. Would be better to spend the night.
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Old May 22nd, 2006, 11:44 PM
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Okay, so I'm convinced that we should definitely skip the JTB Himeji tour and I'm pretty sure that we'll skip the JTB Kyoto/Nara tour as well. I'll have to start doing some research in terms of how to get to places, costs, sights, etc. since I was planning on leaving all these details up to the tour company.

Still haven't decided about the Mt Fuji/Hakone tour. I was almost there in deciding to skip the tour until I read mrwunrfl's response. I kinda like the idea of maybe spending a *little* time hiking Mt Fuji instead of just stopping at the 5th station before moving onto Lake Ashi, so I was leaning toward skipping the tour. On the other hand, although I'm sure that it wouldn't be impossible for us to figure out how to get around, being only our 2nd full day in Japan, I'd like for things to not be too difficult. Plus, I just told my BF about this thread and he suggested that we take one JTB tour to see how it goes and then decide if we want to sign up for the others while we're there. The first JTB tour on our itinerary would be the Mt Fuji/Hakone tour.

Looks like more research for me to gain enough knowledge to have a good comfort level and the confidence that I know what we're doing and how to do it.
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 12:12 AM
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Well, have decided that we should skip the JTB Himeji Castle tour and am pretty sure that we will pass on the Kyoto/Nara tour as well.

I was pretty close to deciding to skip the Mt Fuji/Hakone tour until I read mrwunrfl's response. Although I'm sure that we can figure out the transportation and everything, being only our 2nd full day in Japan, I'd like for things to not be difficult. Then again, the thought of being able to maybe "hike" Mt Fuji a little bit if we wanted rather than just stop at the 5th station was really beginning to appeal to me.

I spoke with my BF and told him about this thread. His suggestion was that we take one JTB tour to see how it goes and then decide if we want to take the other two. The Mt Fuji/Hakone tour would be the first JTB tour on our itinerary. But, then he said that he trusts my judgement and he'd leave it all up to me.

Sooo...I've decided that I'm going to start doing research on Himeji Castle until I feel comfortable that I know the transportation we need, where to go, what to see, etc. Then, I'm going to start on Nara and do the same. If I have time (I know, I still have 2 months to go, but things have been crazy at work and at home), I'll see if I can move onto Mt Fuji/Hakone. If I feel confident doing this on our own, then we will. If I don't, then we'll stick with the tour.

There is just so much that I want to see and do while in Japan that my head starts spinning. I want to see/do everything, but I'd also love to be able to just do nothing and just "experience" whatever comes.

I'm going to start a separate thread about Kyoto. Hope to get your feedback.

Thanks,
Judy

btw, thanks for the warning Gordon. As you can see, it's made me rethink quite a bit of our trip.
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 12:14 AM
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Sorry about the double posts. I didn't think my first post uploaded and it seemed to just disappear, so I retyped another.
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