Meet the team

Here are the InsideJapan Tours staff who will be on hand throughout your RWC journey to ensure everything runs smoothly and get you to the right place at the right time for those all-important matches.

UK Team

UK Team


Ben Guest

Benjamin Guest

With his passion for Japan matched only by his passion for competitive sport, 2019 is set to be an exciting year for Ben. Ben is one of our expert travel consultants, and spent six years living in Japan before joining our Bristol-based team in 2015. Ben has enjoyed seeing the growing excitement and interest for rugby in Japan over the past few months, and feels certain that, thanks to Japan’s uniquely fascinating culture, this tournament will be unlike any that’s gone before.

Though he’s an England fan, Ben’s choice of rugby trip this summer would be our Welsh Kimono Dragons Self-Guided Adventure, which follows the Welsh team south to Kyushu, an area famous for its beautiful scenery, hot spring baths, down-to-earth residents and fiery local liquor. Ben’s top tip for first-timers to Japan is to learn a few basic phrases before you travel. Japanese is a lot easier than it sounds, and it’ll definitely help you make a few friends while watching the rugby!


Kester Wright

Kester Wright

Kester’s passion for Japan has led him all over the country, from being a student in Kobe, to lifeguarding in sunny Okinawa, to working on a search and rescue team at a ski resort – to name just a few of his many roles. For the past three years, however, he’s been a travel consultant on our team in Bristol, putting his extensive knowledge to work in the service of superb holidays. For Kester, this year’s rugby tournament offers an opportunity to share his love of Japan with people who might never have considered it as a destination before, and a chance to show the world just how well Japan does sporting events!

If he could choose any of our rugby-themed trips this summer, Kester would join our Wales and Wallabies Small Group Tour – mainly because he thinks that spending two weeks with a bunch of Welsh and Aussie rugby fans would be such a blast. His top tip for first-timers to Japan is to be brave and walk into one of the tiny bars and restaurants that you’ll see lining the streets of any city. They can seem daunting from the outside, but the small space usually makes for great interactions with the staff and other customers, and often leads to a fantastic night.


Louise Lee

Louise Pigot

Coming from a family of Wigan-worshipping rugby players (albeit league, not union), Louise was always going to have a passion for the game. Growing up in Singapore, she made sure to see as many Sevens matches as she could, and when she eventually began working in sports travel, it was a match made in heaven.

Louise began her career designing luxury tailor-made trips to the Orient and Australasia, before going on to work for the British & Irish Lions on their 2013 and 2017 tours to Australia and New Zealand, as well as for England Rugby on their 2011 and 2015 campaigns. She’s now been with InsideJapan for over 2 years, and describes working in travel for the Japan Rugby World Cup as a dream come true.

Louise can’t wait to introduce lots more people to Japan when it hosts the rugby this year. She’s looking forward to all the matches and meeting all InsideJapan’s clients. Louise’s top tip for first-timers to Japan is to pack light, and make use of Japan’s amazing luggage forwarding system. It’s a game changer!


Rachel Rykala

Rachel Rykala

Rachel has been going to watch family members play rugby since the age of two, so you could say the game is in her blood. Growing up in the Welsh valleys, she frequently caught matches in Cardiff, and her most memorable match was Wales versus Uruguay at the Millennium Stadium in 2015. Though the match itself wasn’t great, seeing the Uruguayan players get emotional as they absorbed the pre- and post-match atmosphere was something really special to see.

Besides a personal passion for rugby, Rachel knows the travel industry inside-out. She’s worked in Spanish hotels and been a tour guide in the Maldives, but for the past nine years it’s been all about Japan. Before joining InsideJapan Tours four years ago, she spent five years living in rural Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, where she enjoyed fantastic skiing, bowls of warming ramen noodles, and lots and lots of snow! She’s not just a country bumpkin, though. Rachel has also spent several months living in Tokyo – which just happens to be her favourite rugby host city for 2019.

If Rachel could pick any of our rugby tours this year, it’d have to be one of the Welsh packages (of course!). Welsh supporters are (she says) the most passionate and patriotic of all rugby fans, and she’d love to soak up the match day atmosphere with like-minded people. Her top tip for first-timers to Japan is not to be scared of the food!


Madeleine Bromige

Madeleine Bromige

Some of Madeleine’s earliest memories are of collecting rugby stickers from cereal boxes during the tournament in South Africa in 1995, so when Japan was announced as the host in 2019 she knew she had to be involved.

Madeleine’s passion for Japan began during conversations with Japanese school friends in her rugby-mad hometown of Bath. They inspired her to study Japanese at university, after which she moved to Tokyo for six years. Though she loves the excitement of the city, she made sure to take every opportunity to explore further afield, and particularly enjoys hiking in the mountains. In 2018, Madeleine’s two passions – Japan and rugby – met when she got to see England play Japan at Twickenham during the autumn internationals. It was undoubtedly her most memorable rugby experience, and one that proved that Japan is more than ready to host in 2019!

Madeleine is now based in our Bristol office, and has spent two and a half years helping put together our rugby-themed tours and tailor-made trips. During the tournament, she’ll be helping to make sure everything runs smoothly at our fan events, on the coaches, and on match days. Her top tip for first-timers to Japan is not to worry about the language barrier. Between our Info-Packs and the kindness of the Japanese, you’ll be absolutely fine.


Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

With nine years at InsideJapan under his belt, first as a tour leader and later as a travel consultant, few people know more about what makes a great trip to Japan than Mark. Mark studied tourism and worked in the UK travel industry before moving to Japan in 2005. He spent three years in rural Yamaguchi Prefecture, where he fell in love with the country (and his now-wife, Rie) before moving back to the UK to join our Bristol office.

This year, Mark’s excited to be getting back on the road to support our rugby trips as they make their way through southern Japan, especially Kyushu and Hiroshima. You’ll most likely find him in the front seat of a tour bus, helping out or hotels, or even leading a day tour or two – though he plans on taking every chance he gets to grab a bowl of ramen and wolf down some okonomiyaki.

When it comes to rugby, Mark’s a staunch Wales fan (despite not being Welsh), and his most memorable rugby experience was seeing his adopted team play New Zealand at Cardiff Millennium Stadium. Mark’s top tip for Japan first-timers is to bring comfortable slip-on shoes. You’ll find you’re constantly taking your shoes on and off in Japan, and laces get really annoying!

 


Japan Team

Japan Team


Mike Reddy

Mike Reddy

Tour leader Mike was born and raised in Long Island, New York, and first visited Japan on holiday many years ago. He loved it so much that he decided to return for a homestay in Shizuoka Prefecture, before eventually making Tokyo his permanent home. Though Mike’s first foray into Japanese culture came through video games, his interest quickly grew to include Japanese architecture, anime, manga, and all kinds of technology, so he’s now a thoroughly well-rounded Japanophile. He’s also a keen photographer, so he’s one of the best people to ask about getting those enviable holiday snaps just right.

This year, Mike is looking forward to introducing all you jet-setting rugby fans to the delights of Japan, and hopes to be able to show you a little bit about what makes this country so great. Since he lives in Tokyo, he’ll be helping with local fan events, leading tours around the city, and generally making sure you all get the most out of your time in Japan’s capital


Mark Rawlins

Mark Rawlins

Mark first came to Japan “almost by accident”, knowing almost nothing about the country and its culture on arrival. Eight years later and that’s all changed. Mark now has a degree in Law and Politics from Kyushu University, speaks fluent Japanese, and has been leading our Small Group Tours all over the country for several years. Though he now lives in Saitama, Mark’s favourite place in Japan is his former stomping ground (and rugby host city) Fukuoka, with its unbeatable combination of beaches, mountains, superb food and laid-back vibes.

During the rugby, Mark will be making sure everything runs smoothly for our fans in Tokyo, before jetting north to Hokkaido to see England play at the Sapporo Dome! The lucky thing. His top tip for rugby fans is that it’s normal to drink a can of beer in the street in Japan, so feel free to indulge. Kanpai!


Brett Plotz

Brett Plotz

Brett first came to Japan in 2006, when he moved from rural Iowa to what he calls “the Iowa of Japan”: Yamaguchi Prefecture. He returned to the States after three years, but Japan soon called him back, and he’s now permanently settled in the coastal city of Yokohama. When he’s not out leading our tours, Brett loves discovering new game bars and arcades, going to all the crazy festivals, eating tonkotsu ramen (pork belly noodles), and generally just waiting to see what interesting things each day will bring. He’s also a dab hand at kyudo (Japanese archery), so don’t get on his wrong side!

Brett will be on hand throughout the rugby season this year, making sure our fans never miss a match, as well as ensuring that you get beneath the surface of the local culture. His top tip for first-time visitors is not to be afraid to get lost! The best experiences often happen when you ditch Google Maps and see where your nose takes you.


Robert

Robert Kodama

Having first landed in 2011, Robert has strayed somewhat from his original plan to spend a year in Japan. Arriving in the devastating aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake, it was the positivity, resilience and determination of the people he met that inspired him to stay for longer, and longer, and longer…

Robert has now called Japan home for eight years, and lives in the city of Osaka – famous for its excellent street food scene and laid-back attitude. Though Osaka is his favourite place in Japan, Robert’s top tip for first-time visitors is to get straight out of the cities and into the countryside, where you’ll discover what really makes the country tick. Perhaps for this same reason, his favourite tour to leader is Winter Highlights, which takes travellers far from the tourist trail to the empty, windswept landscapes of Japan’s far north.

In 2019, Robert is looking forward to seeing so many people from different countries and backgrounds getting together to enjoy the rugby and discover Japan. You may run into him in Tokyo, where he’ll be helping out at some of our fan events.


Charlea Jefts

Charlea Jefts

Tour leader Charlea first came to Japan as an intern during university, when she spent three months living in Okayama Prefecture. Later, she would return to Japan with her husband to spend a year in Osaka, before heading to her present home of Tokyo, where she has now lived for several years, leading tours for InsideJapan. She finds that Japan more than makes up for the loss of Reece’s peanut butter cups with its yakiniku (grilled meat) and Hakata ramen (Fukuoka-style noodles). In her spare time, Charlea has an impressive list of hobbies ranging from baking to drawing, but perhaps her most impressive achievement is a straight eight hours of singing karaoke – a feat few can match!

During the rugby, Charlea will be travelling all over the country, so look out for her at fan events in the host cities during your stay. She’s looking forward to the energy the tournament is going to bring to Japan, along with all the crazy fans and (hopefully) some even crazier drinking nights.


Steve Parker

Steve Parker

Steve has been tour leading for InsideJapan for eight years now, so there are few people better placed to introduce you to the joys of his adopted home country. Steve’s interest in Japan was first piqued at university, where he took a module in Japanese during his linguistics degree. He moved to Japan to become a teacher trainer in 1996 and spent a few years between Tokyo and Saitama, before leaving to work as a tour leader in various locations around the world. It wasn’t long before Japan called him back, however, and he returned for good in 2011. Today, Steve’s based in Tokyo but takes every opportunity he can to get out into the mountains for some hiking – preferably in the Japanese Alps, with their craggy peaks, snowfields, challenging ridge walks and stunning green valleys.

During the rugby, Steve will be travelling around Japan, taking fans between stadiums and helping out at events in Kobe, Tokyo and Sapporo. Like the rest of our team, Steve’s looking forward to seeing Japan put on an incredible event for the rest of the world, and to seeing international tourists coming together with the Japanese people in their passion for rugby.


Christian

Christian Closs

Given his passion for Japanese culture, which covers everything from martial arts and woodblock printing to manga and cinema, it was pretty much inevitable that Christian would end up living in Japan one day. That day came about a year and a half ago, and he hasn’t looked back. These days, he lives in Tokyo, leading our Small Group Tours around the country and taking every chance he gets to get outdoors – whether it’s among the temples and shrines of Nikko or on the ancient pilgrimage route of the Kumano Kodo. In fact, walking the entirety of the Kumano Kodo with a friend is one of Christian’s favourite memories of his time in Japan, and he’s convinced there’s nothing better than a home-cooked Japanese meal and a soak in a hot spring after a long day of hiking.

While Japan is in the grips of rugby fever, Christian will be helping make sure that every part of your trip runs smoothly – from match-day transfers and fan events, to giving you the inside scoop on where to celebrate (or commiserate) after the day’s excitement in Tokyo. He’s also an avid photographer, so you can be sure that your holiday snaps will be in good hands!


Jack

Jack Sowerbutts

Six years ago, having just graduated from university, Jack packed up all his worldly belongings and moved to Japan – a place he had never been before in his life. It wasn’t long before he fell in love with the place, and he spent the next few years living in Niigata, Ogasawara, and Kawaguchiko, at the base of Mount Fuji. The remote islands of Ogasawara, 600 miles from Tokyo, remain his favourite place in Japan, with their volcanic, jungle-clad scenery and coral reefs teeming with reef sharks and sea turtles.

Jack is looking forward to getting to know rugby fans from all over the world this year, but especially those who might not otherwise have considered Japan as a destination. Helping people get to know Japan is one of the great joys of tour leading, and it’s especially fun when your companions are discovering everything for the first time. Jack will be based in Fukuoka throughout the tournament, so keep an eye out for him at fan events and feel free to say hello!


Ben Walker

Ben Walker

When it came to selecting our team of rugby experts, there was no question that Ben would be a part of it. Ben grew up watching his father play rugby back in Australia, so it was almost inevitable that he’d catch the bug – and he did, playing at school and university before going on to join teams in the UK and Canada. These days, he’s passed his passion on to his son, who now plays for Japan’s under-20s.

Ben has spent well over a decade living in Japan, and has three years as an InsideJapan tour leader under his belt. The city of Fukuoka is both his adopted home town and his favourite place in Japan, due to its winning combination of great food, great nightlife, and its proximity to both mountains and beach. His top tip for visitors to Japan is: don’t be afraid to get lost! Japan is one of the safest places in the world, and the people are some of the kindest.

Ben supports the Wallabies (“of course”) – plus any team his son happens to be playing in. His most memorable game was the 2016 All Japan High Schools final, where is son’s team lost by just one point!


Thomas

Thomas Siebert

Thomas’s interest in Japan stems from an early fascination with samurai culture and Japanese Buddhism. Though his interests now encompass everything from skiing in Hakuba to scuba diving in Okinawa, he is still happiest soaking up the atmosphere at Japan’s historic sites, and there are few people better able to fill you in on the intricacies of Japanese traditional culture.

Originally from Germany, Thomas has lived all over Japan, including the historic capital of Kyoto. Though Kyoto will always be his favourite place, he’s now based amid the bright lights of Tokyo, where he trains in martial arts at a traditional sword school and writes English articles for a Buddhist temple (when he’s not leading our Small Group Tours, of course).

You’ll find Thomas in Tokyo throughout the tournament this summer, lending a hand with logistics and generally making sure you get the most out of your time in the capital. His top tip for first-timers is to make sure you visit some lesser-known spots as well as ticking off the famous sights, as these are often the most atmospheric and memorable experiences. Since you’ll be travelling with InsideJapan, you don’t have to worry – we’ll make sure you get the balance right!


Tyler Palma

Tyler Palma

Originally from Wyoming, Tyler first visited Japan in 2001 on a round-the-world boat trip that took him to Nagasaki and Osaka. Little did he know that it would one day become his second home! Since then, he has travelled to over 67 countries, lived all over Asia, and led hiking, kayaking and cultural tours everywhere from China to Cambodia – but Japan is where his heart is. Tyler’s interest in Japanese culture is broad, ranging from politics (he has a Master’s degree in the political economy of East Asia) to Japanese calligraphy, but his ultimate fascination will always be with the fabulous cuisine. That said, he does miss having great Mexican food at home!

While the tournament’s on, Tyler will be travelling all over the country, assisting at matches and fan events, helping out with logistics, and generally keeping his eye on things from the Tokyo office. Tyler’s convinced that Japan is going to put on a tournament to impress the world this year, and can’t wait to see the locals getting excited about rugby. It hasn’t traditionally been a big sport here in Japan, but he’s sure the Japanese will really get into the spirit of the sport and create a great atmosphere for visiting fans.


Rob Moran

Rob Moran

As a die-hard sports fan, Rob was an instant cert for our 2019 rugby team. Originally from Windsor in the UK, Rob played as a full-back for both school and club for eight years, before moving to Japan and throwing himself into the local Aoyama Touch Rugby group. When living in the UK, he makes sure to catch at least one or two games a year at Twickenham, and he looks back fondly on his days at Exeter University, when he supported the local team as they made their way to their first premiership title.

Nowadays, Rob is based in Tokyo, and is excited to see rugby move beyond Europe and the “big three”: Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. He’s also quick to point out that though the Summer Games in 2020 will be very Tokyo-centric, 2019 will see rugby fans travelling all over Japan, discovering regions they’d never have heard of otherwise. His friends in northern Japan can’t wait to meet international fans on their home turf, and it promises incredibly rewarding encounters for both visitors and hosts.

During the tournament, Rob will be travelling around Tokyo, meeting fans at hotels, stations and stadiums, assisting with transfers, attending events, and generally infecting everyone with his enthusiasm for the sport. He’s looking forward to seeing you there!