How to Get a Free Tour Guide in Japan

If you’ve ever been to Japan, you know it’s one of the most amazing countries in the world. It’s clean and safe, and people are so polite it’s remarkable. However, the most challenging part of Japan (for me, at least) is finding locals outside of the hospitality industry that speak English—or, more likely, that will be comfortable speaking English. Supposedly English is taught in school but many Japanese aren’t comfortable speaking English out of a fear of offending anyone.

On my first visit to Japan in 2004, I learned about an incredible service the country offers: . These guides are free for tourists, and the JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization) . In Japan there’s no tipping so you don’t even have to tip. In most cases you’ll need to arrange well in advance (often three weeks) and pay for the guide’s transportation and meals while they’re with you, but that’s it.

The Goodwill Guides are volunteers, and usually retirees or students. My guide was amazing. We spent about eight hours together and he took me all over Osaka to places I would’ve never found on my own (). We kept in touch for years after. He even sent me a Christmas card!

The website that has the list of Goodwill Guides () is not that easy to navigate so it’s best to do a Control-F on your keyboard and search for the city you’re visiting. There’s usually more than one per location, so keep looking. Some of the guides will even pick you up at the airport!

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I used to be afraid to fly and at times even leave the house! I conquered my fear (long story) and now I travel to 20+ countries a year sharing my firsthand knowledge, tips and deals with friends, family and readers. Please sign up to our free newsletters and tell your friends!

5 Comments on "How to Get a Free Tour Guide in Japan"

  1. Hey Johnny, this is cool! Thanks for the tip, just what I needed. Glad to see there are several guides for Kyoto :)

  2. Is there a tour guide like that in Paris?

  3. Tipping is not necessary but a token of appreciation is a good idea. The most common thing done is a gift from near your home that represents where you are from, nothing fancy.

  4. Are there Volunteer Tour Guides in other countries?

  5. This is a great tip! I just used 2 different volunteer guides this April 2018 in Tokyo when I went to visit with my two kids and mom. I used Tokyofreeguide.org. Our guide was excellent and spoke great English.She was with us from 9 am to 6 pm. Since I wanted more than one day, I then used the Goodwill Guide mentioned above to get another volunteer for another day. Three lovely ladies walked us around Tokyo for 8 hours. Their English was not as good as Tokyofreeguide.org but it was still a lot of fun and we learned so much. These free guides were better and more personable than the Japanican.com tours we took. We did pay for their subway and their lunch and we brought them small gifts from Los Angeles. Great way to experience Japan! I wish I would have used a volunteer in Kyoto as well.

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