September 4-14, 2021 “Sumo, Shrines, Sake and Joy for Your Senses”
Asia is calling! Join us on an adventure to 2 countries where millennia-old traditions blend with cutting edge technology in ultra-modern cities. Japan and Korea ignite any travelers’ wanderlust and dazzle your senses! 2020 is the year for Japan as they gear up for the Summer Olympics. We’ll be there after the crowds, taking advantage of so many new venues. Even if you’ve been here, this will be a whole new experience like no other! We’re covering 7 regions and just added Japan’s food capital – Osaka!
We begin in Tokyo, a bustling city with a kaleidoscope of enticements – from its crazy animal, robot or even cuddle cafes to streets of endless noodles. Our past groups loved to just lose themselves in this city where it seems like a land of fantasy brought to life. Enjoy epic walking tours through hidden alleys with gleaming skyscrapers towering above. There’s free time to soak thermal onsen baths and visit the new Digital Museum that will leave you spellbound. “The Land of the Rising Sun” has a new meaning because you won’t want to sleep to take it all in. We even add a full day to witness majestic Mt. Fuji with Hakone Hot Springs!
A high-speed bullet train whisks us to the seaside resort town of Kobe, land of priceless Kobe beef. Savor beef and sake as we explore a brewery’s centuries-old methods of distilling rice wine. Then it’s on to glorious Kyoto, a haven of pagodas, shrines, temples and gardens. This land of geishas is the Soul of Japan, where it’s all about beauty and balance of your inner being. Become one with nature as you walk among the tame deer in the fabled Deer Park.
We wing our way to South Korea– a country that is hot on travelers’ lists for its tantalizing mix of old traditions and dynamic modern cities. One glimpse of Seoul and you’ll know why its trending. No city in the world is more adept at developing fads. It’s a whirlwind of action Gangnam style– voted the “#1 Party City in the World.” Food is at the heart of South Korea with endless culinary delights from kimchi to BBQ. It’s also the wholesale capital for shopping sprees. See 5000 vendors at G
wangjang Market after our city tour of the coolest neighborhoods. Visit the DMZ at the border of North Korea. Witness the changing of the guard at the sprawling Gyeongbokgungpalace and indulge in our sizzling Nanta dinner show!
There’s so much included. We have a great air on Asiana Airlines and gorgeous hotels. Come explore the Yin & Yang of 2 countries and to experience the world’s most unique food, art, fashion and cultures in one exhilarating vacation. Tokyo, Kyoto, Mt Fuji, Kobi, Osaka and Korea will encompass all your dreams. You have to see it to believe it. Let this Asian Affair begin!
Lonely Planet says –
Welcome to Tokyo
Yoking past and future, Tokyo dazzles with its traditional culture and passion for everything new.
More than anyone sight, it’s the city itself that enchants visitors. It’s a sprawling, organic thing, stretching as far as the eye can see. Always changing, and with a diverse collection of neighborhoods, no two experiences of the city are ever the same. Some neighborhoods feel like a vision from the future, with ever taller, sleeker structures popping up each year; others evoke the past with low-slung wooden buildings and glowing lanterns radiating surprising warmth; elsewhere, drab concrete blocks hide art galleries and cocktail bars and every lane hints at possible discoveries.
Art & Culture
In Tokyo, you can experience the whole breadth of Japanese arts and culture. Centuries-old forms of performing arts still play on stages and sumo tournaments draw crowds; every spring, Tokyoites head outside to appreciate the cherry blossoms – a tradition older than the city itself. There are museums covering every era of Japanese art history and also ones that focus on the contemporary – challenging the old distinctions between art with a capital A, pop culture and technology. But there’s a playful side to all of this, too: Tokyo is, after all, a city whose public artworks include a scale model of an anime robot.
Tokyo’s Food Scene
When it comes to Tokyo superlatives, the city’s food scene tops the list. But we’re not just talking about the famous restaurants and the celebrity chefs: what Tokyo excels at is consistency across the board. Wherever you are, you’re usually within 100m of a good, if not great, restaurant. It’s a scene that careens nonchalantly between the highs and lows: it’s not unusual for a top-class sushi restaurant to share the same block as an oil-spattered noodle joint, and for both to be equally adored. Tokyoites love dining out; join them, and delight in the sheer variety of tastes and experiences the city has to offer.
Perched on a hillside sloping down to the sea, Kōbe (神戸) is one of Japan’s most attractive and cosmopolitan cities. Kōbe is compact, designed for walking, and easily visited as a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto, or as a stopover en route to points west. Famous for its luscious beef and crisp, pure sake, the Japanese port of Kobe is a thriving metropolitan city with an international feel. The sake-brewing season runs from October through April, and that’s the best time to take a tour of a kura (the Japanese word for brewery). Visit the Hakutsure Sake Brewery Museum year-round. Naturally, the nightlife here is prime perfection.
Welcome to Seoul
Over the last decade, Seoul has worked hard to soften its industrial hard edges into an appealing urban ideal of parks, culture and design. Glass, concrete and steel are crafted into natural forms at the spectacular Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park and City Hall. The popularity of the beautifully landscaped parks alongside the central Cheong-gye stream and the Han River has spurred on the creation of more green spaces and cycle routes. Join Seoulites enjoying time out shopping in stylish boutiques and drinking at cool cafes and convivial bars.
Gaze down on this sprawling metropolis of around 10 million people from atop any of Seoul’s four guardian mountains and you’ll sense the powerful pungsu-jiri (feng shui) that has long nurtured and protected the city. History clings tenaciously to the ‘Miracle on the Han’, a phoenix arisen from the ashes of the Korean War. So while Seoul has its eye clearly on the future, you’ll also encounter fascinating fragments of the past in World Heritage–listed sites such as Jongmyo shrine, in the alleys between the graceful hanok (traditional wooden homes) in Bukchon, and striding along the magnificent Seoul City Wall.
Whatever you want, at any time of day or night, Seoul can provide. An early-morning temple visit can lead to a palace tour followed by tea-sipping in Bukchon and gallery-hopping in Samcheong-dong. Soju (a vodka-like drink) and snacks in a street tent bar will fuel you for shopping at the buzzing Dongdaemun or Namdaemun night markets, partying in Hongdae or Itaewon, or singing in a self-service karaoke noraebang. Follow this with steaming, soaking and snoozing in a jjimjilbang (sauna and spa). By the time you look at your watch, it will be dawn again.
Seoul surprises newbie visitors with its endless options for urban adventuring (thanks to a world-class transit system), closeness to nature, low-brow and high-end dining (and drinking) options, and wealth of historical sites best experienced in traditional Korean dress (called hanboks). Whether you pick any of the city’s neighborhoods and boroughs to traipse through lazily, or opt to burn major calories in a K-pop dance class, you’re bound to entertain yourself.
A huge upside to traveling here from the West is that the exchange rate works in your favor; as of early 2020, the Korean won is worth about US $0.86 — that’s a lot of KFC (Korean fried chicken)! Actually, that attractive cost of living is what draws loads of Americans like myself here, not just to visit, but to live. I’ve been here for nearly four years, and I’m still wowed daily by the colorful culture; the mountains framing every viewpoint; the widespread WiFi; the zippy mass transit; and the local food options, most delivered to your door. (Not gonna lie, I’m also all about the legal-drinking-outdoors thing. The corner 7-Eleven can be a legit night out.) The options are limitless in the Land of the Morning Calm. Here’s how to do Seoul right.
MORE: Everything you need to know before your first trip to Seoul
Our Glorious AFS Itinerary
Sept 4, 2021 – Depart USA to Tokyo
Cross international dateline losing a day that you gain upon return.
Sep 6 – Tour Tantalizing Tokyo. (Land portion begins)
Arrive at Narita airport and be taken to our ultra-modern hotel, the Shinjuku Prince in the heart of Tokyo’s popular Kobuki-cho entertainment district. We’ll get a chance to settle in a bit before meeting up for a walking tour to discover a stunning CityScape, the cool Pop Culture and the best places to eat and drink your heart out.
We’ll start in Omoide-Yokocho (Memory Lane). This retro-style alley is filled with old fashioned food stalls offering tasty local favorites like ‘yakitori’ and ‘oden.’ Continue through to the eastern end of Shinjuku, known locally as Kabukicho, or Tokyo’s Red-Light District. Get lost amidst the flurry of neon signs as you snap photos of famous landmarks like the Godzilla on top of Toho Cinema. Then it’s on to the famous Golden Gai nightlife area, home to tiny drinking dens that populate its narrow streets. This is the perfect place to end the tour so that you can enjoy your evening to explore on your own
Overnight: Shinjuku Prince Hotel (3 nights)
Sept 7 – Morning Free, Afternoon Tokyo City Tour B/D
The entire morning is free and there are some great options you may want to consider. Team Lab
Digital Museum (https://www.teamlab.art/) should be at the top of the list. The world’s first digital art museum will boggle your mind with its use of computers and projectors to help fascinate and stimulate your imagination. It’s popular, so you may want to buy your tickets online because on-site entrance tickets may run out (or not be sold at all).
Or you may want to take part in the ancient Japanese bathing rituals by visiting the nearby Heiwajima-onsen public hot springs facility (https://www.heiwajima-onsen.jp/en/), also near Odaiba. Soak to your heart’s content in one of the finest natural hot springs in Tokyo.
We’ll meet at 2pm in the hotel lobby for a half-day Tokyo sightseeing tour, including Meiji Shrine at the center of Yoyogi Park. Honoring Emperor Meiji, this Shinto shrine is considered one of the holiest in Japan. Next, it’s a total shift as we explore the colorful and trendy Harajuku fashion district. Harajuku is the center of Japan’s most extreme teenage pop cultures and fashion styles, made famous by the so-called “Harajuku Girls,” a term used to describe women and teenage girls who wear outlandish fashion in a street culture style. We’ll head to the stunning Imperial Palace and walk around the Niju-Bashi Bridge area for a great photo op of the Palace grounds.
Dinner is going to be at the fun-filled sumo-themed Hananomai Ryogoku. The food here is spectacular but we’ll also have the opportunity to learn all about the Sumo traditions.
Overnight: Shinjuku Prince Hotel
Set out after breakfast to for a full day to visit the stunningly beautiful snowcapped Mt. Fuji, one of Japan’s most enduring images. The extinct volcano rises more than 12-thousand feet and is the highest mountain in Japan. It’s obvious why this special place is UNESCO World Heritage site. We’ll get personal with the mountain, traveling halfway up to what is known as the Subashiri 5th station. This is where many hikers set out for the summit. We’ll also stop at the popular Michi-no-Eki station on the northern piedmont of Fuji. It has excellent views of the mountain and is a popular lunch spot with great shopping opportunities. Another highlight is a cruise on the crystal clear Lake Ashi with Mt.Fuji as a backdrop. Lake Ashi was formed in the caldera of Mt Hakone after the last eruption of it over 3000 years ago.
This guided one-day tour takes you to majestic Mt. Fuji and Hakone. It includes a trip up to Mt. Fuji’s 5th Station at an elevation of 2,300 meters, a cruise on pristine Lake Ashi, and a ride on the Ropeway.
08:00 Depart hotel with a guide
10:30 Mt. Fuji 5th Station
13:00-14:00 Lunch at Local Restaurant
14:30 Lake Ashi Cruise
16:30 Mt. Komagatake Ropeway
19:00 Arrive at Hotel
Owakudani Valley – may not be covered – I am double-checking if they can include it. Set out after breakfast to for a full day to visit the stunningly beautiful snowcapped Mt. Fuji, one of Japan’s most enduring images. The extinct volcano rises more than 12-thousand feet and is the highest mountain in Japan. It’s obvious why this special place is UNESCO World Heritage site. We’ll get personal with the mountain, traveling halfway up to what is known as the Subashiri 5th station. This is where many hikers set out for the summit. We’ll also stop at the popular Michi-no-Eki station on the northern
piedmont of Fuji. It has excellent views of the mountain and is a popular lunch spot with great shopping opportunities. Another highlight is a cruise on the crystal clear Lake Ashi with Mt.Fuji as a backdrop. Lake Ashi was formed in the caldera of Mt Hakone after the last eruption of it over 3000 years ago.
MAY NOT COVER: Our final destination is the scenic Owakudani Valley, or “Great Boiling Valley. We’ll get a bird’s eye view of the steaming activity by taking gondolas on the Hakone rope way across this volcanic valley, known for its bubbling Sulphur vents and hot springs. Fun food to try is the “kuro tamago”- black eggs, cooked in the naturally hot spring water. We’ll be back in the early evening and your night is free to enjoy.
INCUDED: Mt. Komagatake Ropeway
The Hakone Komagatake Ropeway, leads from the shore of Lake Ashinoko to near the Komagatake peak of Mount Hakone. When visibility is good, panoramic views of Lake Ashinoko and Mount Fuji can be enjoyed from the ropeway’s upper station.
Our final destination is the scenic Owakudani Valley, or “Great Boiling Valley. We’ll get a bird’s eye view of the steaming activity by taking gondolas on the Hakone ropeway across this volcanic valley, known for its bubbling Sulphur vents and hot springs. Fun food to try is the “kuro tamago”- black eggs, cooked in the naturally hot spring water. We’ll be back in the early evening and your night is free to enjoy.
Overnight: Shinjuku Prince Hotel
Sept 9 – Bullet Train to Kobe B/L
It’s time to hop the bullet train (fastest in the world at 199MPH) to be whisked across Japan to Shin Kobe, a beautiful seaside resort that is also flanked by mountains. We arrive at lunchtime and begin our visit by enjoying the famous Kobe beef at a local Teppanyaki restaurant where food is cooked on hibachi grills as we watch. After lunch, we head to the Nada district where we tour a Nada Sake Brewery. The brewing of sake dates back to the 17thcentury in this region and we’ll be shown the process as well as savoring a tasting.
If time permits, we’ll take a quick tour of Kobe, before checking in to the elegantly unique and fun Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel. This hotel will give you a sense of being on a cruise ship with its ocean views from every room. Our evening is free so you may want to take advantage of the hotel’s free shuttle bus service to Sannomiya, city center of Kobe. Here, you can shop to your heart’s content along one of Japan’s longest shopping street. Or you can head over to Japan’s famous Nankimachi neighborhood (Chinatown) and the nearby Daimaru Department Store. The area has over a hundred Chinese restaurants, shops, and a Chinese temple dedicated to Kuan Yin – the Goddess of Mercy.
Overnight: Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel (2 Nights).
Narrow streets of the historical part of Kyoto
We have a full day ahead of us as we head to nearby Kyoto. The original capital of Japan, Kyoto was home to emperors from the 8thcentury. It is known for its colorful temples and historic shrines. Among the most popular is the massive, mountaintop Kiyomizu Temple. It’s located in the historic and well-preserved Higashiyama District, known for its restaurants and shops. We’ll enjoy lunch at one of them before continuing to Nara.
Dating from 708, Nara flourished for centuries and Japan’s “Nara period” is known for its prosperity. We’ll visit Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden building and home of the world’s largest bronze Buddha. Hundreds of tame deer await in the Nara Deer Park, where we can have the opportunity to even feed them for a great photo op. The park is also home to the Kasuga Taisha Shrine. This Shinto shrine was originally built in 768, but it is destroyed every 20 years and rebuilt as a way to maintain its purity. We’ll be back to Kobe in the late afternoon and will have the evening free.
All new – Osaka added! The Bright Heart of Osaka after Kyoto and Nara
Enroute from Nara to Kobe, we can arrange for bus to stop at the bustling heart of Osaka as an extra bonus for the group. After a day of traditional castles, temples and shrines, change pace by visiting the most vibrant district in Osaka, the 2nd biggest city in Japan.
The lively entertainment area of Dotonbori is Osaka’s most famous attraction, renowned for its gaudy neon lights, extravagant signage and the enormous variety of restaurants and bars.
Osaka’s obsession with food is aptly expressed in the slogan “kuidaore”, translated as “ eat till you drop”! All kinds of street foods, many originating in Osaka, are available for sample along the bustling streets: Takoyaki – octopus dumpling shop where the delicious snack is cooked right there on the street. Along the side alleys are many izakaya or drinking places where you can try barbequed skewered chicken, fried kebobs skewered fish and vegetables.
After exploration of this dining and shopping area, you can take the train back to Kobe on your own.
Overnight: Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel
Sept 11 – Fly to Seoul B/L
Morning offers some last night leisure time in Tokyo and in the afternoon, we transfer to Osaka International Airport to fly to Seoul, Korea.
We arrive late afternoon and go immediately to our hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Namdaemun. Located in the heart of Seoul, this ultra-modern hotel is within walking distance to the Myeongdong district, home to world-class shopping. Your evening is free to explore.
Overnight: Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Namdaemun (3 Nights)
Sept 12 – Free Day or Optional DMZ
Today is all yours to explore Seoul, or you can choose to take advantage of a half-day Demilitarized Zone tour. This rare opportunity to visit the DMZ leaves from the hotel in the morning. This isn’t cheesy, like Check Point Charlie today with a manikin. It’s the real deal – actual history before your eyes!
Our first stop is Imjingak, a park housing statues and monuments dedicated to the Korean War. We then continue to the Freedom Bridge and the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel before heading to the DMZ Museum, where you check out artifacts and photographs. The Dora Observatory offers us an opportunity to look across the border into North Korea using binoculars which they provide. Although we can’t go into N. Korea, we can get a sense of what it is like by visiting Kijongdong. Known as Peace Village, it’s a model North Korean village. Also visit Dorasan Station, which once connected North and South Korea by train. Your guide will explain the station’s symbolic significance. Finally, pass by Unification Village, a model farming community in South Korea.
You’ll finish this tour by early afternoon and you may have free time at Imjingak for your own lunch, before returning to Seoul.
The rest of the day is free. You may want to take the time to head to Mount Namsan and the top of the North Seoul Tower for some spectacular views or explore the picture-perfect Bukchon Village, a neighborhood of traditional Korean homes known as hanoks. Many are private, but there are also numerous galleries, shops and cafes.
Overnight: Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Namdaemun
After breakfast, we discover the rich cultural traditions of Korea as we visit Seoul’s palaces and markets. The massive Gyeongbokgung Palace has more than 7,700 rooms. Originally the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty, it has been rebuilt twice, once after being destroyed by fire in the Imjin War and then again during the Japanese occupation. The palace is arguably regarded as being the most beautiful and grandest of all five palaces. It also houses the National Palace Museum of Korea. From the serenity of the palace ground, we proceed to the hustle and bustle of Seoul’s markets, Insadong and Namdaemun. Inasdome is an indoor/outdoor collection of everything from antiques to art to galleries while Namdaedmun is the largest and oldest traditional market in Korea. Lunch is on your own and this is a great opportunity to enjoy some of the wide variety of food stalls.
There will be free time in the afternoon. We’ll meet again in the evening for a night of comic entertainment with the popular show Nanta, a hilarious farce about catering mishaps before a wedding feast. Executed with high-energy body language but without dialogue, this show provides a modern twist on ‘samul nori’ — a Korean tradition of percussion played with four instruments. The performance involves four chefs running out of time to cook and kitchen implements tapping out drumbeats. Nanta is the longest-running show in Korea, first opening to acclaim in 1997 in Seoul, and still going strong to this day.
Overnight: Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Namdaemun
SEP 14 Back to the US B
We will head to Incheon International Airport in late afternoon to board our flights back home. We again cross the International Date Line, you could get home before you left!
Land Price $2395 pp twin share
8 nights first-class accommodations, Tokyo city tour, shrines and palaces, Walking Tour Memory Lane, Welcome Dinner at Sumo themed restaurant. (Optional visit to Digital Museum and new Onsen baths), High-speed bullet train to Osaka. Full day tour Mt Fuji, Owakudani Valley and Hot Springs of Hakone. City tour Kobe with Kobe lunch, Nada Sake Brewery. Full day tour Kyoto, Nara, Deer Park and Golden Pavillion, Ninomara Palace. City tour Seoul, including Palace and Markets with an optional visit to DMZ, Nanta Dinner Show,
Not Included: Gratuities, air
Group Air – Asiana Airlines (OZ) $1295 +110 taxes
LOS ANGELES VIA SEOUL TOKYO// OSAKA-SEOUL -LOS ANGELES
See trip tips for details on reserving a seat.
- Land prices per person twin share. Trip price based on a minimum number of participants.
- Single rooms limited with $ supplement. Cost varies. Email us for availability. AFS will find you a roommate.
- The earliest we present group air is 10 months prior. We’ll send email to ask who wants it. A minimum number of 12 is needed.
- Please review AFS Terms and Conditions, Heading Abroad with AFS, Covid Policy. Travel insurance is important nowadays. It’s rare, but we reserve the right to modify schedules, tour and hotels.
- Read Trip Tips on its own tab next itinerary for latest details.
IN 14SEP. -OUT 17SEP, 3 NIGHTS ACCOMMODATION
4* SHINJUKU PRINCE HOTEL
The hotel also provides Free shuttle bus service to Sannomiya, city center of Kobe, where you can shop to your heart’s content along one of Japan’s longest shopping street. Or you can head over to Japan’s famous Chinatown– Nankimatchiis a neighborhood in Kobe located south of Motomachi station adjacent to the Daimaru Department Store and is a major tourist attraction.The area has over a hundred Chinese restaurants, shops, and a Chinese temple dedicated to Kuan Yin – the Goddess of Mercy.
- All prices are per person twin share. Single rooms limited per group and a single supplement applies. Cost set by hotel/cruiseline and vary considerably. AFS will find you a roommate match. All hotel rooms are “run of house.”
- Please review AFS Terms and Conditions as well as Heading Abroad with AFS.
- Land – Price based on a minimum number of trip participants, as well as local currency exchange rates which can fluctuate.
- We write our itineraries over a year in advance. Though unlikely, we always reserve the right to modify schedules, tours and hotels if necessary.
- Group air – Airlines may add surcharges to offset fuel inflation or taxes. The total ticket cost is not final until we receive your final payment and the group is ticketed. If doing own air, airport transfer may or may not be included depending on your air schedule. Do not buy air until the group air is set or we advise – though unlikely, airlines, times and dates can change!
AFS JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA TRIP TIPS
Prepare to be thrilled by our Dual Destination Asian adventure like no other. From feisty food-obsessed Tokyo, to elegant shrines of Kyoto, summiting MT Fuji, pampered cows of Kobe to crazy fun Seoul – this vacay packs a wallop of fun! And we just added Osaka to your itinerary, Japan’s food capital loved by all. I wonder which place will be your fav? Our past groups loved our Japan trips but we enhanced it by adding cool tours and world-class shopping in Korea for another stamp in your passport. With Japan hosting the 2020 Olympics moved to 2021, the new venues will thrill you and September is the best time to visit.
We have a wonderful group of 22 solo travel lovers with space for more so spread the word to all your friends. After final payments are in, we will send you contact and room lists and give you access to the trip’s private Facebook group page.
Trip Tips are designed to answer trip-related questions. It’s your responsibility to read this information. Updates will be posted here. Please check back from time to time.
IMPORTANT PAYMENT DATES –
- 2nd DEPOSIT: None
- FINAL PAYMENT due May 25, 2021 (We prefer checks for Final Payment. Credit card fees are costly for a small company to absorb. While we build costs into smaller deposits, we incorporate a $60 credit card convenience fee as a line item on each invoice in order to defray processing costs. When paying by check, deduct this $60 amount.)
Make your payment out to AFS or Adventures For Solo Travelers, 1907 Daniel Green Ct., Smyrna GA 30080. If you won a contest on a past trip and have a coupon, mail it in and we’ll process it just like a payment made by check. You may review at any time your balance, booking information, and profile after logging into www.afstravelers.com.
Your Fearless GTL (Gracious Trip Leader, not a guide but liaison between our guides and group to ensure things run smoothly). Christie Hintz
I must state everyone loves Christie and we are delighted she’s joined our GTL tribe! Meet Christie…After being widowed, five years ago, I decided to dip my toes into the waters of international travel. My first trip was to Africa with AFS! I was hooked. Five continents, over 50 countries and 19 AFS trips later, I’m still seeking adventure. From Mongolia to Patagonia, Papua New Guinea to Mozambique, awesome memories have been created. I love meeting the local people, and making new friends on my trips. Why did I wait so long to travel?
My four grown children and I live in sunny Florida. I am originally from Long Island, NY but moved to Florida in my twenties. I am a retired, special education teacher. But now I am more active than ever with free time to embrace new joys. I sang with a local band for over 15 years. Volunteering with mentally disabled adults and also at a Safe House for foster children fills my heart and my days. My mission is to share patience, kindness and laughter everywhere I go. I’m ready for the next adventure.
Trip Prep –
- Read the revised Heading Abroad with AFS, especially if you are new to AFS.
- Ensure your passport is valid 6 months after your return date and has two blank pages. We recommend renewing your passport well ahead of any planned international travel. Take a photo of your passport to store in the cloud or bring a copy.
- To speed through US Customs, download Mobile Passport. Look in your App Store for details.
- Notify bank and cc companies of travel dates so they don’t block charges.
- Visas – none
Fitness level – 2 (No trouble walking)
Group Air – We arranged the best air schedule and price on excellent Asiana Airlines (OZ) Sept 04 from LAX into Tokyo and out of Osaka to Seoul. Four legs cost only $1295 plus $110 taxes. We only reserved 18 seats, so I suggest you book group air now for your vacation ease and peace of mind. A great schedule with no forced overnights in LA, nor long layovers. Note it is not round-trip Tokyo! You fly in USA to Narita out of Osaka and then Seoul to USA.
If you choose Group Air, we will add the fare to your invoice. Put AFS Japan/South Korea Group Air in the email subject. Include your name and we will add you. Note – The card used for your Initial Deposit will be charged $100 for reserving your air seat. If your air reservation is dropped after booking, you will be penalized $100 to cover the fee that AFS must pay the airline. We need a minimum of 16 people for the airline to consider this a group. If not enough want Group Air, we will release our seats and apply your Group Air deposit to the final balance and give you instruction for booking your own air.
Group 2021 Air Itinerary – To reserve group air email us
- OZ 203 04SEP LAX-ICN (Seoul) 1100 pm 0400 am 14SEP
- OZ 06SEP ICN-NRT (Narita) 0900 am 1120 am 14SEP
- OZ 11SEP (Osaka) KIX-ICN 1050 am 1240 pm 19SEP
- OZ 204 14SEP ICN-LAX 8:40 pm 4:30 pm 22SEP
Check-in at the airline counter at the departure city’s airport 3 hours before departure to Tokyo. For return from Seoul to your home city, set aside 2-3 hours to connect to your air flight home. Exact times subject to change.
Doing Own Air: Sept 04-14, 2021 You can arrange your own air from your hometown on September 4th to Tokyo and out of Seoul on September 14th. You must plan on being on the same internal flights as the group. You need to make sure to meet the group at the NRT airport on September 14thby 11 AM. You must fly to NRT and out of KIX and also out of ICN. Note there are 2 airports in Tokyo NRT – is international.
If you need help getting your own air, call our friend Raj Singh who’s an air expert. Call or text here at (770) 573-7400 (M-F). Give her your exact airdates, destination, passport name and details with birthdate.
Transfers- Airport transfer upon arrival and departure are included with Group Air. If your flight time coincides with the group, you may take our single airport group transfer. It’s your responsibility to find the group as they exit baggage claim. Upon meeting at NRT airport at approximately 1155 AM on September 6th, we will transfer as a group to the hotel. If your flight time falls outside of this time, you’ll need to make your own arrangements. Taxis are quite expensive. The most popular taxi services are Uber, Tokyo Taxi, and Tokyo MK Taxi. Unlike its counterparts in other places in the world, Uber in Tokyo is more expensive and only services downtown Tokyo and is not well developed in rural areas. However, they can be a bit cheaper at night when other taxi companies have a late-night surcharge, whereas Uber does not. A great planning resource is: www.taxifarefinder.com.
Without Group Air no arrival transfer provided– Fewer people booking our group air nowadays because they find better rates on their own directly from their hometown or use points. When everyone flies on their own, they arrive at scattered times, making it impossible to provide a group transfer on arrival. Therefore you’ll need to consider Uber or sharing a taxi ride with a group member. Here is a great planning resource – www.taxifarefinder.com.
We will have a single return airport transfer at the end of the trip at a time that will accommodate most schedules. If your time doesn’t work out, you’ll need to make your private transfer or taxi.
Doing Own Air– You may arrange your own air from your hometown. We like Google Flights and Skyscanner. We highly recommend that you not rush to buy air until a Group Air is set (when offered). If your arrival or departure times do not align with Group Air times, you’ll need to arrange your own airport/hotel transfers.
If you need help getting your own air, call our friend Rizwana who’s an air expert. Call or text here at (734) 752-9331. Give him your exact airdates, destination, passport name and details with birthdate.
If you go early and check-in AFS hotel before group arrives, it’s your responsibility to change rooms with your roommate if necessary day one when trip begins.
Meet Up With Group- On Day 1 on Sept 6th, we will meet at the Shinjuku Prince Hotel about 1 PM for a briefing. More on this later.
Accommodations – Please see the Air/Lodging tab on this website for details. Hotels can change, but it’s rare. Google each to see how cool the properties are.
Shinjuku Prince Hotel – http://www.princehotels.com/shinjuku/
Kobe Keriken Park Oriental Hotel – https://www.kobe-orientalhotel.co.jp/english/stay/
Seoul, South Korea:
Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Namdaemun – https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/selsn-courtyard-seoul-namdaemun/
Baggage – Think light to ease your burden – not like you’re fleeing your homeland! This trip involves you moving to different properties 3 times. 1 carry-on bag & 1 medium suitcase not to exceed 45 lbs are standard. Weigh on a bathroom scale. This weight limit is set for our porterage and luggage vans that have limited space . If you pack pre- or post-trip luggage, please make plans in advance as to where to stow excess baggage. Be sure to attach an ID tag to both pieces of luggage. Leave space for great souvenirs and gifts.
Packing – This trip is so easy and think light layers for a moderately warm, humid climate. Pack casual summer clothing including a light jacket for long flights. Also bring rain gear, sun protection, a daypack, a wide brim hat, comfy sneakers/walking shoes, and swimwear for pools, and spa.
Weather – You can expect a warm, subtropical, and humid climate with plenty of sun and almost no rain in Tokyo in September. Temps should be within the 69-81 degree range in November. Seoul will have a similar climate and tend to only be a bit cooler, with temperatures ranging from 62-79 degrees. Check Google Weather for climate in Tokyo and Seoul a week prior to departure.
Electric – Cell phones and tablets don’t need a voltage converter, but you will need an adapter plug. For Japan like USA 2 prong.
AFSers often leave charger cords in their rooms, so be sure to double-check your room before check out.
Money Matters –
You will need some cash for personal tipping, meals, and shopping – $300 should suffice. I convert half of it upon entry. Be cautious when withdrawing local currency from an ATM. The safest ATMs to withdraw from are at airports, banks, or hotels. Independent ones are risky. Always shield your pin number when entering info. Credit cards are far safer than using your debit card. I use my credit card for most purchases. Many cards now offer no foreign transaction fees.
Currency – Current Exchange Rate (approximate)
$1 USD = 110 Japanese Yen
$1 USD = 1190 South Korean Won
Follow the link https://www.oanda.com/currency/travel-exchange-rates to create a conversion cheat sheet.
Gratuities – It’s protocol to tip our local guides, assistants, porters, drivers and ground staff. Guidelines have increased globally. Japan is different than Korea but $8 per day should suffice. $50 total will be added to your invoice for ease of distribution, your GTL will tip the different ground services for the entire group each day.
Tipping on own – If service is stellar, feel free to give more directly. All we tourists leave behind is our reputation. I personally carry a personal stash of US ones in an envelope to draw from as needed. Bell staff/porters – AFSers roll bags to their room. If you use a porter, please tip $2. Restaurants – 10%.
Communication – Internet is available. With cell phones/smartphones, be sure to check with your provider for rates and coverage for international phone plans before departure. Roaming rates (used by Facebook and other apps) are expensive. To reach home – Texting, iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook messaging when using Wi-Fi are best! I don’t know anyone who makes calls home nowadays. Stay off of public Wi-Fi without using VPN if possible. Never open attachments or view financial or personal accounts on the Internet while abroad.
Want affordable data in many countries abroad? We’ve been using Skyroam. All the data you want to use Bluetooth for to access your devices is for just $10 per day. See https://www.skyroam.com for details.
Be Smart –
- “Avoid Hackers on Vacation,” experts say! Thieves not only want your money, but also your hard-earned frequent flyer points. Change passwords often. Check device security settings before you leave for your trip. Back up, update, and encrypt your devices and data using a virtual VPN. It’s worth the cost. In hotel rooms, hide iPads or laptops to avoid “evil maids” that want to clone your tech.
- Grab a hotel business card before heading out in case you get lost.
- Bottled water is always best abroad, as our gut isn’t accustomed to local tap water. Eat clean food and avoid street vendors.
Retail Therapy –
There is wonderful shopping in both Japan and South Korea. Even non-shoppers will find themselves tempted by local goodies. Our past groups have come back with the coolest stuff.
Tokyo: Big and small shops abound in the most populous metro area in the world. Ginza boasts the most expensive real estate, and therefore many of the most famous brands have flagship stores here. Akihabara is the place to go for electronics, Nakano Broadway for anime goods, Omotesando for trendy high-end clothes, Harajuku for younger women, and of course, Shinjuku and Shibuya have a bit of everything you could possibly want.
Sought out treasures include sweets and snacks (try one of the 100 varieties of Kit Kats!), matcha (green tea), wagashi (rice and bean paste sweet), and komas (traditional spinning top toys). Enjoy shopping the vibrant colors and fabrics of koinoboris (carp-shaped streamers or flags), sensus (folding fans), tenuguis (traditional Japanese hand towels), wagasus (Japanese oil-paper umbrellas), and yukatas (casual summer kimonos (traditional Japanese womenswear)). Also popular are Japanese kitchen knives, dolls, ceramics, chopsticks, stationary, and charms. Don’t forget to bring home a bottle of Japan’s infamous sake!
Seoul: Undoubtedly a shopper’s paradise. I once arrived with an empty suitcase and returned with 3 full cases. The best places to shop are not limited to shopping malls. From shopping malls and department stores, to charming boutiques and street markets, you’ll be spending hours browsing through racks of clothes, electronics, accessories, jewelry, leather goods, beauty products, arts and crafts, and antiques.
Seek out packages of ramyeon (instant noodles), soju (an alcoholic drink made from rice or sweet potatoes), Hadong tea, dried seaweed, and Korean red ginseng. Foreign travelers also love shopping for hanboks (traditional Korean dresses), Korean beauty products, hanjis (handmade paper), stationary, zodiac figurines, chopsticks, and dojang (stamps).
Photography – Before taking pictures of locals, please know it is always polite to first ask for permission.
Your Private Facebook Group Page is a great way to share your best shots with each other. AFS loves photos with group participants (not typical churches, monuments, or any shot that looks like you pulled it off of the net, etc.) on our website. The best photos are ones that include a group member with a local, children, animals, or at iconic sites in the same frame!
Websites of Interest –
Google these sites for awesome in-depth info…
Be sure to Google Team Lab Digital Museum before our visit.
Cuisines – Japan: No matter what Japanese or international dish you’re after, you’ll almost certainly find it in Tokyo. But some dishes are more Tokyo special than others – iconic Japanese foods are created or perfected here in the capital. This city is a gastronome’s delight, as there are endless lists of exceptional cuisines to sample and restaurants to visit. Nevertheless, don’t miss tasting some popular traditional dishes. These include tendon (a portmanteau of tempura and donburi – a bowl of white rice topped with deep-fried seafood and vegetables); tsukemen (dipping noodles); abura soba (oil noodles); monjayaki (pan-fried batter or savory pancake); fukagawe-meshi (rice cooked with clams); chanko nabe (protein-rich stew); omurice (omelet rice); anagi (saltwater conger eel), Tokyo buns, and, of course, sushi! Whilst sake (rice wine) is the national drink of Japan, lager-beer (pronounced “beer-ru” in Japanese) is the most popular drink. Widely available brands include Kirin, Sapporo, Suntory, and Asahi.
South Korea: Korean cuisine is readily available in many parts of the world, from street snacks to Korean Barbeque. When you travel to Seoul, there are a variety of popular local dishes that are must tries! Colorful, healthy, fun to eat and easily adaptable to many food and dietary preferences, bibimbap is one of the most well-known dishes in Korea and very easy to find in Seoul. Bibimbap consists of rice, topped with a variety of vegetables, often beef, and comes with a fried egg on top.
Common foods to savor also include hoeddeok (sweet syrupy pancakes), bulgogi (marinated beef barbecue) samgyeopsal (pork strips), japchae (stir-fried noodles), kimchi (fermented vegetables), ddukbokki (spicy rice cake), and sundubu-jjigae (soft tofu stew). Although beer, whiskey, and wine have been gaining popularity in recent years, soju remains one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Korea because of its ready availability and relatively low price.
Roomies – Single supplement rates have significantly increased – if available at all. Save money and buy yourself an awesome local gift. We all live alone, but you can save money when traveling by rooming together. I spend a lot of time on roommate matching. 99% of our clients are wonderful, and besides, you’re only in your room to sleep at night.
If you know you snore, please buy a mouth guard ($25 to $50). Walgreens, Amazon, and CVS have different types. A link for the best example of a product that works: https://snoredoc.com/product/snore-doc-anti-snore-mouthpiece/. Another suggestion is to use a white noise app. Other recommended options – See Suzy.
Leisure Time – AFS travelers revel in the element of surprise in new destinations and allow the wind to blow them where it will. It’s best to ask our local expert guides for suggestions upon arrival. Our trip is filled with awesome daily tours, but there will also be some free time. I hope you can experience the new Onsen Bath like Heiwajima Hot Springs.
Whether your interests are art, music, parks, shopping, or just strolling and riding the rails, there’s plenty of things to do in Tokyo, a city of 13 million (37 million in the greater metropolis) who are regularly entertained. This city is food obsessed. Check out all the “animal cafes” and fill up along Yakatori Street.
Beyond icons like the Imperial Palace, Tsukiji Fish Market, and the Temple of Senso-ji, the Meiji Shrine is a historic landmark popular among visitors and locals alike. The Mori Art Museum and Hara Museum of Contemporary Art are great jumping off points for what to do in Tokyo. In a city this dynamic, there are always new things to see and do, like exploring hip neighborhoods like Shimokitazawa with its hipster vibe and cool bars.
One of the greatest pleasures here is simply exploring the city on foot, not only wandering into Buddhist temples, but also into funky boutiques, noodle shops, and farther-flung residential neighborhoods. Fashion is a huge part of the culture, and you can find some of the more cutting-edge getups on Harajuku’s Takeshita Street, where people play dress up to a delightful extreme.
When you think of South Korea, you may think of K-pop, wonderfully ridiculous K-drama, shopping, and skyscrapers. But there’s another side to South Korea, one that involves palaces, enchanting side streets, gorgeous national parks, traditional villages, and delicious food markets, With so many exciting things to do in Seoul, it really is a glorious city! In your free time, enjoy the city visiting the iconic hotspots, but we’re also keen on discovering the hidden gems and off-the-beaten track experiences that a place has to offer!
Of course, you can enjoy soju and beer with your Korean BBQ, but make sure to visit Gyeongui Line Forest Park for a drink or the new Common Ground Container Park! Spend some time visiting a free museum (the four most popular free museums are the Agricultural Museum, National Folk Museum, National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, and National Museum). Cool off in the pool at the Seoullo, a rooftop sky garden with 24,000 different Korean plant species, a foot pool, and boasts stunning views of the city. Participate in a workshop at Bukchon Hanok Village, where you can learn arts and crafts from locals and even learn to play a traditional Korean instrument. Seoul has many places for street artists – both locals and travellers – with Insa Dong Street being one of the most popular spots. For a wow factor, visit palaces whilst wearing Hanbok (Seoul has five big palaces: Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Gyeonghuigung, each one unique and glorious in its own way). All night markets to shop: Dongdaemun & Nandenum.
Emergency Contact – Please call the AFS phone at: 770-432-8225, or email us at: email@example.com. Your guide can handle a call home for a true emergency. Do not expect to use your trip leader’s cell phone; you’ll need to use your own cell phone.
Cancellation Penalty –
At booking, we sent you our terms and conditions. Open the following link to review our terms again:
Optional Travel Insurance –
If you would like travel insurance and have a pre-existing condition (elderly parent, medical, etc.), you must purchase insurance within 21 days of your Initial Deposit in order to ensure coverage. For more details, click Travel Insurance 101 or follow the link: http://travelinsurance101.tumblr.com.
Click Purchase Travel Insurance online or click on one of the links below to purchase travel insurance:
- https://www.travelsafe.com/agent-insurance-plans?a=116C7AB9-8B4C-47AF-AE9E-7D26AB3A6A0E or phone them at (888) 885-7233 and give them the code “ADVGA02”. If you need assistance, I will email the form to you.
If you need assistance, I will email the form to you upon request.
Where’s the Private Group Facebook Page? –
The benefit of the Private FB Group Page is that you have an opportunity to introduce yourself to your fellow travelers before departure and share trip photos during and after the tour.
Where can I find the FB link?
Email us and we will send you the private FB page link.
Why are we are doing it this way?
We have found that some bookers never read Trip Tips and jump right to the Private FB Group Page assuming that they will get all trip info needed. But, this is not true; often, they only receive misinformation and rumors. We considered dropping the page, but many enjoy it and so we are keeping it as a compromise. Since you read this far we know you did your part. Note – Important information is ALWAYS emailed to each participant and posted here in Trip Tips under UPDATES. Nobody misses a thing!
Travel Psychology 101
Prepare for your departure joyfully with no contempt before investigation upon arrival. Please understand that whenever you travel, things are not like at home and changes may occur. Great trips work best for those with an open mind, flexible attitude and adventuresome spirit. If changes occur, embrace them with serendipity. Who knows?…The unexpected may prove to be a better experience. Adapt and go with the flow with a laid-back attitude.
Be spontaneous. Be tolerant of foreign cultures in respecting their centuries of traditions. Embrace the differences. Be curious, not shy. Smile – locals will sense your energy of kindness and kindness always begets kindness. (This goes for your roommate, too. Most of us are used to living on our own; but, have fun while being accommodating and patient when sharing a room with another fellow traveler). Our common goal is to experience different cultures, make new friends, get great photos, have large fun, and return home safely with memories worthy of recollection.
The best spirit of an Explorer requires the openness of a child – Suzy
“When traveling, remember that a foreign country isn’t designed to make you comfortable. It’s designed to make it’s own people comfortable.” – Clinton Fadiman
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