Over the past few years, we’ve shown thousands of travelers how customized, meaningful travel to Japan is possible—and affordable, too. We’ve been referred to as a modern travel agent for Japan, a concierge, a planning guru, the “Stitchfix of travel,” and, perhaps most affectionately…”not your Grandma’s travel agency” (with the oh-so-important caveat that Grandmas do, indeed, love us, too).
But because no catch phrase really, truly encompasses who we are at our core, we figured we’d put together a guide to just what it is we’re trying to do, and how we go about doing it.
And while we've put this together with Japan in mind, the information below applies to all of the 75+ destinations that Journy covers.
So if you’re thinking about traveling but aren’t sure where to start or how we can help, you’re in the right place.
Table of contents:
- About Journy
- How much Journy costs
- Benefits of Journy
- Experience an itinerary
- Step-by-step how it works
- Journy vs traditional travel agent
- Meet Journy’s Japan trip designers
- Meet Journy’s Japan experts
What exactly is Journy?
We’re a personalized trip planning service that covers 75+ destinations, with Japan as our most popular. Here’s how it works:
- You tell us how you like to travel by filling out a questionnaire that covers your tastes, preferences, priorities, budget, dietary restrictions, etc. If you have a list of restaurants that a friend who’s been before has shared with you, or a restaurant that you’ve been dying to go to, or a Pinterest board of inspiration, the questionnaire is your time to share that with us, too, so we can vet everything and work it into your itinerary.
- Then, we pair you 1-on-1 with an expert Japan trip designer—who, yes, is human (no bots around here).
- Your trip designer will build a custom daily travel plan, aka itinerary, for you complete with accommodations, restaurants, activities, transportation, cultural etiquette tips, and more.
- You’ll have the opportunity to review the itinerary and provide feedback to your trip designer, who will make revisions until everything is perfect.
How much does Journy’s trip planning cost?
We charge a simple, flat-rate daily planning fee for our pricing-per-day option.
- Fewer than 5 days: $60 per day, per group
- 5-day trip: $275 per group, with additional days at $55/day
- 10-day trip: $500 per group, with additional days at $50
But I love travel planning! I can do it on my own, right?
We hear that all the time. But what most travelers don’t realize is that travel planning takes a long time (we’re talkin’ 10-30+ hours).
And even if you do have the time to properly dedicate to it, there’s the question of whether you’re willing to deal with the logistical headaches of figuring out if that restaurant is open on Monday, whether you should buy the JR pass, if you need to buy tickets in advance for the Ghibli Museum (you definitely do), whether you can make it to both Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari Shrine on the same day—not to mention working out how best to navigate within the city to get from point A to point B.
But perhaps the most difficult part of tackling travel planning solo is just how much noise there is on review sites, and how seemingly impossible it can be to cut through it all to land on the restaurant or activity or café that actually is “authentic” and that won’t surround you with hoards of tourists.
While those three challenges apply to pretty much any destination you’re traveling to, there are additional pain points unique to Japan—pain points that make it particularly difficult to plan for by yourself.
#1: Dinner reservations are absolutely necessary (unless you’re eating ramen or other super casual fare)
Restaurants in Japan can be tiny (we’re talking 10-seater hole-in-the-walls), which means they fill up quickly. Dinner reservations are necessary and, for the most part, set in stone—especially since many fine dining restaurants will thoughtfully source their ingredients from local markets days in advance of diners visiting. For this reason, many establishments will charge cancellation fees equivalent to the cost of the meal—sometimes the cutoff is 24 hours, other times up to five days.
Reservations are primarily only accepted by phone, which presents two main challenges for foreign travelers:
- Time difference
The window when most restaurants accept reservations is often during the middle of the night in the US.
- Language barrier
Even if you do manage to get through on the phone, odds are the person on the other end won’t speak English.
And, more likely, no one will pick up at all since many establishments only accept reservations from a local Japanese number. And sometimes they don’t even field calls from third party travel agents at all.
If you do stroll into a restaurant without a reservation, don’t expect to be put on a waiting list. Even if there’s a spot open in two hours, you won’t be asked for your name and phone number. You’ll simply be turned away. (That being said, there are select spots that can accommodate diners sans reservations—and if this is something you’re looking for, Journy can help.)
We steer you in the right direction so you avoid wasting time waking up in the middle of the night on a fool’s errand to try and get a reservation at a restaurant that—surprise!—is booked for the next 16 months (or will only let you in if you’re a regular).
And we mark our calendars with the exact date and time that a reservation opens, so you don't have to. We know the best ways to contact the restaurant, what type of communication they’re most receptive to and who they’re most receptive to receiving it from. And we make sure, above all, that your experience is nothing short of incredible.
#2: Certain museums and tourist attractions need to be booked in advance—but it’s not as easy as purchasing tickets online.
Touring the Imperial Palace, entering the lottery to attend the tuna auction at the fish market, experiencing a traditional tea ceremony, taking a food tour and visiting a handful of museums (especially Ghibli Museum, Yayoi Kusama Museum, and teamLab Borderless Digital Arts Museum) are examples of attractions and experiences that require advance booking.
However, there’s often a specific day and time that bookings open for the specific day that you want to attend the attraction. So for the Ghibli museum, for example, you have to be online at 10AM Japan time on the 10th of the month prior to the month you’ll be visiting. If you don’t click to purchase the moment tickets become available, you’ll likely miss the opportunity to do so. Plus, because there’s so much targeted traffic at that specific time every month, the site tends to crash.
Traveling with Journy means it’s OUR job to take care of that. As long as you request far enough in advance, we’ll mark our calendars and work with local reservationists who do everything in their power to secure these tickets for you, whether that means purchasing in-person at a vending machine or navigating the confusing, sometimes poorly translated websites.
Keep in mind that there are also select temples and events (e.g., baseball tickets) that do not sell tickets online. The Saiho-ji Moss Temple in Kyoto, for example, only accepts reservations via a physical postcard, which is then returned (but only to Japan addresses) as a confirmation of your visit. In cases like these, Journy’s local reservationist handles the bookings.
For more on how we can help you plan an amazing trip to Japan, hear what real Journy travelers like Jasmine Nobis-Olson, Dr. Sukhjeet Batth, Sarah Pace, and Carol Kazimierski had to say about the experience.
What’s the itinerary like?
While the word “itinerary” may conjure up images of PDFs or vague outlines for how to spend your time in Japan, here at Journy we do things differently. Our itineraries are detailed, comprehensive, specialized, and 100% customized, every time.
From a tucked-away breakfast spot all the way to the post-dinner cocktail bar where the local chefs hang when they’re off-duty, you can expect a fully fleshed out daily travel plan that’s logistically optimized to make the most of your time—which means everything is planned with geographical proximity in mind so you’re not criss-crossing the city to go from lunch to a museum and back to your hotel (the interactive Google maps on our app helps with this). What’s more, each item on your itinerary includes phone numbers, opening hours, and reviews. All reservations, confirmations, and tickets are there, too, making your Journy itinerary a one-stop shop for, well, everything.
From start to finish, what does the step-by-step process of traveling with Journy look like?
Step #1: Submit your Journy request
If you know where you’d like to go*, the first step in the process is to complete the travel questionnaire, which will ask you questions about where and when you’re traveling, as well as your budget, preferences, and any special requests.
*If you’re not sure where to go but know you want to go somewhere (or have an idea for the type of travel experience you want—e.g., pure relaxation, mix of relaxation and culture, etc), there’s actually a step before the questionnaire that’d we recommend…schedule a call with us. We’d be happy to help you decide where to go and how long to spend in each place. Remember, we’re human!
Step #2: Get paired 1-on-1 with your trip designer
Once you submit your request, your trip designer will reach out to you within 24 hours to confirm your preferences and ensure s/he knows exactly what you’re looking for. From there, your trip designer will get to work building a custom daily travel plan for you—starting with accommodations (if you don’t have that booked already), and then tackling all meals and experiences. Behind the scenes, your trip designer will be tapping into Journy’s network of local Japanese experts (chefs, sommeliers/bartenders, hoteliers, etc) to ensure you don’t miss out on the absolute best things to see, eat, and do.
Step #3: Provide feedback to your trip designer
Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to review and provide feedback to your trip designer on the proposed meals and experiences until your itinerary is perfect. Travelers will have the opportunity to communicate with their trip designer via email or live chat.
Step #4: Finalize the itinerary and get ready for your trip
Before you take off, we’ll load all your tickets and confirmations into the app. We’ll also send out a thorough email with pre-departure information (e.g., download and load money into the SUICA app to easily pay for the subway in Japan). We’ll also handle all bookings and reservations, as well as on-the-ground transit, private transfers, coordination with private guides, and in-person pick-ups.
Step #5: Travel!
Take off with confidence knowing that everything you need is at your fingertips with our easy-to-use app. And if you have any questions while you’re on your trip, you can easily live chat us.
How is Journy different from a traditional travel agent?
Reason #1: Our itineraries are customized
Unlike traditional travel agencies that spit out off-the-shelf itineraries for you based on your trip duration, we build itineraries from scratch just for you—which means no two itineraries are the same. We consider your preferred pace of travel, budget, dietary restrictions, interests, special requests, and so much more. We’ll even vet your family and friends’ recommendations and factor them into your itinerary as well. After all, travel is personal. That’s why we are, too. Oh—and because we plan more trips in a week than most luxury travel agents do in a year, you can rest assured knowing we’ve done this many times before, and that we’ve got you covered.
Reason #2: Our itineraries are comprehensive
On any given day of your trip, you can expect your itinerary to feature a breakfast spot, morning activity, lunch spot, afternoon activity, time allocated to rest up at your hotel, pre-dinner drinks, dinner spot, and, if you’re up for it, a post-dinner activity. Not in the mood for an item on your itinerary or find yourself stuck with extra time to kill? Not to worry, we’ll also provide plenty of additional vetted options by neighborhood. You can view your itinerary as an overview on the app, a day view (with a toggle for transportation between activities/meals by foot, public transportation, or car), or a specific location view with the establishment’s phone number, opening hours, and Yelp/Tabelog/FourSquare reviews. In other words, we don’t skip the details.
Reason #3: Our on-the-ground expertise means all our recommendations are specialized and unique
We have a pulse on the heartbeat of every city we cover: what new restaurants have popped up (and what to order), what well-designed cafés are worth a visit, which new museum exhibits you should fit in during your time, and where the best neighborhoods are for you to stay based on your interests.
All of this means that we’ll only recommend spots that are, in fact, the best—whether it be for the food, quality of the experience, or overall attitude towards foreigners. Sometimes, it’s a spot you’ve heard of before. Other times, it’s not. Sometimes, it’s what you may think of as quintessentially Japanese (e.g., sushi and ramen). Other times, it’s a taste of the dozens of other cuisines that Japan has to offer. Remember—oftentimes the best experiences aren’t found on Google. But because we map our all your meals, we’ll make sure you get a taste of everything.
Reason #4: Our pricing structure is transparent, and our recommendations unbiased
Traditional travel agencies/tour packages bake their fees into a total package fee, the breakdown of which is not transparent. This means that they could be charging 20-30%+ in addition to the cost of your trip. For example, if your travel package costs $500 per traveler per day, the travel agency could be making upwards of $100 per day on that package itself—with incentives to send you to certain hotels, restaurants, or activities to get a commission.
Journy does things differently. We charge a flat rate, which covers planning for up to four travelers (as opposed to generic trip package costs, the breakdown of which tends to be unclear). Because of this transparent, flat rate structure and the fact that we don’t have direct partnerships with restaurants or activities, you can rest assured knowing all our recommendations are unbiased.
Who will be planning my trip?
We have two expert trip designers for Japan—Sarah and Misako.
Sarah is a Pacific Northwest transplant on the East Coast. She honed her trip planning skills on a year-long adventure around the world that took her to 21 countries across Asia, Southern Africa and Europe. Prior to that, she covered art, culture, food and festivals as a journalist in Las Vegas after graduating from college in LA. When she’s not planning trips for Journy, she’s probably planning her own, or reading at the coffee shop around the corner.
Misako was born and raised in Japan in an international household (her maternal relatives lived in France). She developed a deep appreciation for Japanese traditions and culture, including how to conduct a formal tea ceremony. She moved to Brooklyn ten years ago to work in the fashion industry but still makes her way back to Japan twice a year to visit friends and family. In her spare time, Misako attends art openings and music events, and enjoys hosting events for friends and co-workers.
Traveling outside of Japan and curious who covers your destination? Meet our other trip designers.
Who are Journy’s Japan experts?
Sarah and Misako source recommendations from our unrivaled network of local Japan experts—including Michelin-starred chefs, award-winning sommeliers, and fashion influencers like…
Chef & Owner, Sumibiyakiniku Nakahara
Kentaro Nakahara is a self-taught chef behind Tokyo’s legendary barbecue (or yakiniku) restaurant, Sumibiyakiniku Nakahara, along with the casual offshoot, Henry’s Burger. Born in San Jose, Kentaro spent four years living in the states (where he went by Henry, hence his eponymous burger joint) before eventually moving back to Tokyo.
Who says models don’t eat? Aiste is a Lithuanian supermodel-turned-expert gourmand. Her blog, Luxeat, started in 2004 as a way to share her jetsetting experiences with family, but quickly turned into a go-to source for the stories behind fine dining all over the world. She's our go-to expert on dining in Paris, London, Spain, Japan and beyond.
Local Tokyo food writer, Tokyo Food File
Robbie is a British-born food writer who has been living in Tokyo for close to 40 years. He has a bimonthly column, Tokyo Food File, in the Japan Times that covers restaurant reviews, and he also manages a blog of the same name, through which he "serves up morsels from the foodiest city on the planet."
Frequently Asked Questions:
What destinations in Japan does Journy cover?
We cover all of Japan, with the most popular spots being Hakone, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Naoshima, Osaka, and Tokyo. Although the majority of our local, on-the-ground expertise resides in these six cities, we are also familiar with smaller, more remote cities throughout the country and will cover them as part of larger, multi-destination trips.
Can Journy book flights for me?
Journy doesn’t handle flight bookings, but if you’re traveling within a region and have multiple stops to make (e.g., you’re visiting multiple cities across Europe), your trip designer can provide links to specific flights to book. We’ve also put together this handy guide on how to find the best flight deals.