Through my contact with other travellers on Instagram, I was given the ‘heads up’ about a fantastic group of volunteers conducting Kyoto walking tours. The Good Samaritan Club are a group of university students that love their city and like to practice their english skills. Out of that need, a brilliant initiative was born for all tourists visiting Kyoto.
I talked relentlessly on Instagram leading up to our girls trip and the lovely Hannah from @funflyingfour made contact to fill me in on the Good Samaritan Club operating from Kyoto. Hannah is an expat currently living in Japan with her husband and two girls. She takes some lovely photos and has loads of interesting information on the Instagram feed.
The not-for-profit organisation matches students from the University of Kyoto with tourists visiting the city. The organisation was established in 1961 and today has approximately 100 volunteer guides. The guides are happy to organise an itinerary or if you have specific things you want to see, tell them and they will organise the best way to fit it all in. Most itineraries will cover the popular places to visit in Kyoto.
When you go to the website you are asked to create an account using an email address and password. Once logged in you will be able to make your reservation directly onto a calendar. The request goes straight to the group and you will be assigned a tour guide. Don’t be concerned if it takes a little while to get back to you, I had started to think we hadn’t been successful and then I received an email not long before we were leaving. I did send a follow up email requesting information on our booking but I didn’t receive a reply so it’s just a matter of being patient and waiting for the confirmation email.
In return for this tour you are expected to provide lunch and any transportation costs that the guide may incur. Kazu our guide took us to the Yasaka Shrine in the Gion area of Kyoto, a popular Kyoto tourist attraction. This Shrine was a little more difficult to find so I was thankful to have had Kazu. He took as to a traditional Japanese restaurant for noodles on the way. It’s always hard to know which restaurant to visit when in a foreign country and having a local show you the way is priceless.
Kazu was fantastic with Alannah and was able to explain things to us that we would have missed as they were written in Japanese or information he knew from being a local. Behind the Yasaka Shrine are the Higashiyama hills which means east mountain and is a very traditional and culturally diverse area of Kyoto. At night this is the area you have the best change of sighting a geisha/maiko on her way to her evening engagements.
I had always dreamed of seeing a Geisha in an informal setting, such as on the way to work. On Kazu’s tour we walked past a Maiko which is like an apprentice Geisha and I asked Kazu if we could take a photo of her. He did better than that and we managed to have photos with her! It absolutely made my day, in fact my whole trip.
When it was time to head back Kazu escorted us to the hotel which was fantastic as I was fairly certain I would have struggled to make it back on our own. I reckon it also saved us from getting and wasting a lot of time which was something I was short of in Kyoto.
The website states that the tour guides are not expecting any payment for their service. I spoke with Hannah and she advised that she provided a very small amount at the end of the tour. I had organised the tour before leaving Australia so I bought Kazu a gift from Australia and a small amount of money. It’s not customary to tip in Japan so I don’t think Kazu was expecting anything but I felt that it was the right thing to do. Each to their own though so do what feels right for you.
We loved the Good Samaritan Group and we would not have been able to see as much as we did without Kazu. It was also nice to have had a traditional meal and being able to ask questions about the menu. We did find that english speaking service staff were few and far between so Kazu explaining the menu to us was priceless.
It was also great asking Kazu a bit about his life and the education system in Japan. He was studying engineering and was obviously a very clever young man. It was interesting to ask questions about what meals they traditionally eat at home, how many hours he usually studies and attends university and how long it takes him to travel each way.
We were really short on time in Kyoto and we had a cut our tour short as we were booked to have dinner with a Maiko that evening. We had a total of 24 hours in Kyoto, I prepared a 1- day itinerary for Kyoto for those with only a short time and how to make the most of it. We used our JR Rail Pass for travel around Japan, it is great value if you can make the most of it, our post will help you decide if it is a good option for your trip. Universal Studios Japan is a great experience for kids and only 30mins away in Osaka. It’s very easy and quick to get there, you could do it in a day trip.
Its great to experience new places but when you get to experience it with a local it is really special. Have you ever experienced a place with your own personal tour guide? Tell me about it in the comments below, I would love to hear about it.
Sal & Co.