About Us

Community Travel Service, LLC, was founded in San Francisco in 1982 by Mariko Watanabe-Harumi. The office was moved to Oakland in 1986, then moved to Albany, California in 1999. Today, the company specializes in Japan tours and travel only. Mariko organizes and leads Japan trips several times a year and provides consultations for independent travelers. Community Travel's Japan tours were featured three times in 2004 in the San Francisco Chronicle's Thursday travel section as unique Japan tours.

mariko

About Mariko

Interview with Mariko Watanabe-Harumi

Q: Tell me about your background?

I was born and raised in Kyushu, Japan. I moved to San Francisco, CA in 1975. I have a BA in Integral Studies, and a Masters Degree in Nonprofit Administration. I'm married and have two grown-up sons. I live in Albany, CA with my husband of 39 years. I've been living at the same address for 33 years, and have operated Community Travel Service for 35 years. My credit rating is great!

Q: Why do you organize Japan tours?

When I was in Japan, I used to work as an English-speaking tour guide. But, the standard tourist attractions for visitors from overseas did not seem to offer a view of the 'real' Japan. The 'real' Japan to me is where the 'real' people live and work. When I travel overseas, I am curious about the everyday life of the people: their lifestyles, attitudes, culture and traditions. I enjoy beautiful scenery, but when I return home from a trip, it's the people I've met that I remember best. I think personal encounters are a key element of any journey. I organize Japan tours, because I want to offer travelers a chance to see and experience the 'real' Japan.

Q: Your tour includes visits to non-touristy venues. Why?

People in the countryside are in general more relaxed, open and friendlier. Visitors are often welcomed not as tourists but as special guests. For example, we've been visiting a small village by the Japan Sea coast for several years. As we are now regular guests at their annual festival, we are even invited to take part in a ceremony at an ancient shrine, which is not usually open to outsiders. It's a very special experience.

Q: How do you find such venues?

I make many scouting trips myself before I offer a tour to discover the best venues and people. It takes a lot of patience, luck and intuition, but it's a crucial part of creating tours.

Q: What do you enjoy most in escorting Americans in Japan?

I appreciate their sense of humor. People in Japan tend to be formal and serious in business environments. Americans seem to find humor in any situation. I love traveling to Japan with American tourists.

Q: What else do you do at Community Travel?

I also help independent travelers plan and arrange Japan trips. I enjoy sharing my travel experiences and resources with them and helping them create the Japan trip of their dreams. It's one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had.

Q: What is your favorite phrase?

small is beautiful.