Tour begins: The Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, 6:30 PM. A transfer is included from Narita International Airport or Haneda Airport to the five-star Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, conveniently located in the Nihonbashi district in the heart of the city. This evening join us for a welcome reception and dinner at your hotel.
Tokyo - Today and Yesterday
A drive through Tokyo gives you an overview of one of the world's most dynamic capital cities, touching on both history and modern life, en route to an exhilarating taiko drumming performance; rhythm, melody, and movement combine to create an extraordinary musical experience. Your discoveries continue at a sushi-making experience followed by lunch. This afternoon explore the Edo-Tokyo Museum, focused on Tokyo's development from its roots as a fishing village called Edo. The rest of the day and evening are free for further exploring on your own. Your hotel is near many good restaurants, and your Tauck Director can make suggestions for places to try.
A lake cruise & Okada Museum of Art, and Japanese traditions
This morning board the legendary bullet train (shinkansen) for a short ride south to Odawara and continue on to the scenic hot springs resort town of Hakone. Enjoy a cruise by private boat on Lake Ashi; weather permitting, see views of Mt. Fuji, Japan's highest mountain, looming over the landscape. Have lunch, followed by a visit to the Okada Museum of Art; the exhibits include Japanese, Chinese and Korean works of art, dating from ancient times to the present day. This afternoon, get your hands around an authentic Japanese tradition during a sushi and miso making demonstration, followed by a "homey" dinner at your hotel, ideally located in Hakone.
Exploring Traditions in Hakone
Today begins with a visit to the Itchiku Kubota Museum, where you'll enjoy magnificent views of majestic Mt. Fuji and serene Lake Kawaguchi. Itchiku Kubota, (1917-2003) is considered one of the most important Japanese textile artists of the 20th century; he rediscovered, revived and subsequently modernized a traditional Japanese kimono dyeing technique, which was lost since the 15th century, creating exceptional artistic kimonos; the museum celebrates his art and legacy. Following lunch, return to the hotel where you have a choice. Join us for an excursion to the Hakone Open Air Museum, the first open-air museum in Japan, renowned for its outdoor sculpture park with beautiful views of the mountain. The grounds are the permanent home of approximately 120 works by well-known modern and sculptors including Rodin, Bourdelle, Miro, and Moore. Or, you might indulge in some pampering at your hotel's spa, perhaps taking a dip in the healing hot springs (onsen). Later this afternoon you have an opportunity to learn ikebana - Japanese flower arranging - with a teacher who gives a class and demonstration. Dine in the French restaurant of the hotel this evening.
The Japanese Alps and Matsumoto
As your Japan trip continues, travel north through the forested mountain landscapes of the "Japanese Alps," through winding valleys dotted with rice farms, lakes, rushing rivers, and small villages to the hot springs town of Matsumoto, where, after lunch you'll see 400-hundred-year-old Matsumoto Castle, Japan's oldest castle and a national treasure, also known as the "Crow Castle" because of its black exterior. Continue to your hotel, combining the authenticity of a traditional Japanese ryokan with the comforts of a contemporary hotel, including western-style and Japanese rooms. Dinner tonight is Japanese style, yukatas and slippers on, in a private room with musical entertainment.
Old Takayama and a Sake brewery
Depart Matsumoto this morning and head for Takayama, a mountain city long famed for its artisans and woodworkers. Do some sightseeing along the narrow lanes of its historic center, and have lunch at a local restaurant known for its Hida beef. Following a lesson in sake making and a tasting at a local brewery in Takayama, continue on to Kanazawa, just inland from the Sea of Japan. Arriving here marks your having crossed all the way from one side of Japan's main island of Honshu to the other. Enjoy an included dinner at your choice of your hotel's restaurants either tonight or tomorrow.
Gardens, art & more in Kanazawa
A full day's sightseeing in Kanazawa includes: a guided stroll through celebrated Kenroku-en Gardens, considered among the country's top three landscaped gardens; time exploring the historic Samurai District, where samurai homes are tucked among narrow lanes and canals behind earthen walls and private entrance gates, with a visit to the restored Nomura Samurai Family Residence for a look at the lifestyle of the samurai during feudal times, when they were prosperous; lunch at a Paul Bocuse restaurant; and a choice of afternoon visits to either Kanazawa's renowned 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, or Higashi Chaya, the city's geisha district. Spend the rest of the afternoon and evening as you please at your hotel or exploring on your own in Kanazawa.
A train ride to beautiful Kyoto
Depart Kanazawa by train for Kyoto, arriving midday for a four-night stay at Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto; small group departures will stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto. Have lunch and begin your exploration of the city considered one of Japan's most beautiful. On your introductory sightseeing tour, discover a city center of glass and steel skyscrapers ringed by hidden temples, shrines, and gardens that exude the tranquility and charm of Japan's ancient culture. You may choose to dine at our selected local restaurant either tonight or tomorrow.
A castle, a temple & a Kyoto Geisha District
Kyoto sightseeing today begins with a visit to the famous golden-topped Kinkaku-ji Temple (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), set in an ancient garden on the edge of a lake - a position symbolizing its place "between heaven and Earth." Hear the story of how this 14th-century temple was burned to the ground by a young monk and then completely reconstructed. Continue on to Nijo Castle, surrounded by stone walls and a moat; tour this 17th-century shogun's residence and UNESCO World Heritage Site - and discover the secret of its "nightingale" floors. After lunch at a local restaurant, meet up with a geisha expert who leads an exploration of the back streets of one of Kyoto's geisha districts, and shares insights on the "flower and willow" world of the geishas, past and present.
A private home visit in Kyoto
Begin your day with a prayer at the Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple) established in 778; the current buildings were rebuilt in the 17th century. Drink the water here in long-handled cups as you wish for longevity, success or love. Kyoto is known as the craft capital of Japan, and many traditional arts have been passed down through the generations. Experience the revered customs of Japanese culture firsthand during a visit to a private home here; take your shoes off, come in, and your gracious hostess will demonstrate the very specific rituals of a Japanese tea ceremony, followed by a lesson in the paper art of Origami. Return to your hotel where the afternoon is free for you to enjoy Kyoto's charms as you like. Join us for a special dinner tonight at a local restaurant.
Kyoto as you please
Continue exploring Kyoto as you pursue your own interests today. The city's classic cultural gems span the centuries, and your Tauck Director will have suggestions for places to visit.
Traditions in Tokyo
Travel by rail from Kyoto back to Tokyo, arriving for lunch at the celebrated restaurant Nobu. After lunch, visit the Meiji Shrine - honoring the deified spirits of Japan's Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken, who died in 1912 and 1914, respectively - and take in a live performance of traditional Shinto music and Kagura dancing. As your Japan trip draws to a close, tonight's farewell reception and dinner take place at a local restaurant, where you'll witness a larger-than-life demonstration by sumo wrestlers.
Tour ends: Narita International Airport or Haneda Airport. Fly home anytime. An airport transfer is included from Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo to Narita International Airport or Haneda Airport. Please allow a minimum of 3 hours for flight check-in at the airport.