With our native Trip Leader and intimate groups, you’ll come face-to-face with the culture and beauty of Japan, meeting residents who are eager to share insight into their daily lives and traditional ways.
Day 1 - Welcome to Kyoto
Upon arrival at the Kansai International Airport, you’ll be met by our resident English-speaking staff and guided to the comfortable coach that will take you into the heart of Kyoto. Check in to the deluxe Granvia Hotel and take the rest of this day to relax and enjoy as you wish.
Day 2 - The Best of Kyoto
From Kurosawa’s many translated and subtitled films to James Clavell’s epic Shogun, the mystique that surrounds Japan’s ancient warrior rulers captivates the imagination of many travelers. Setting out this morning, your guided full-day tour will reveal some of the colorful stories surrounding the fabled Shogun. At Nijo Castle, you can try to walk in stealth across the Nightingale Floor, designed centuries ago to chirp in warning if would-be assassins penetrated the Shogun’s inner sanctum.
You’ll also visit Kinkaku-ji Temple, the oft-photographed Golden Pavilion, and sit down to lunch with a Maiko. Here in Kyoto, the Maiko are young women in training to become Geisha, studying under a master to refine their skills in traditional Geisha arts like dance, music and song. Then take a guided stroll through the historic Gion district, where Kabuki traditions began long ago. Our last stop of the day will be at Sanjusangendo Temple. Founded in the 12th century, this impressive wooden landmark is famed for its 1,001 statues of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Back at our deluxe hotel, you’ll have time to refresh before gathering for dinner. Meals B+L+D
Day 3 - Excursion to the Inland Sea… Miyajima Island + Hiroshima
Traveling by rail from Kyoto and then by ferry, you’ll journey this morning across the island-dotted Inland Sea. Revel in the natural beauty of one of Japan’s most picturesque regions as you make your way to Miyajima Island to visit the incomparable Itsukushima Temple, established in the 6th century. Much of its present-day architecture dates to the 12th century, and it remains a spectacular sight. Built on piers over the bay, the shrine and its magnificent red Torii Gate* appear to float over the tranquil waters during high tide.
Ride the ferry back to the main island of Honshu and continue to Hiroshima. Founded in 1589, this historic town grew into a major city and port during the Meiji Period. In the 20th century, of course, it entered the annals of history as the first city to be hit with an atomic bomb, a cataclysmic event that shaped our generation. Nearly 70% of the city was completely destroyed, but one of the few surviving structures was a domed building close to the detonation site. Today, this architectural shell stands in Peace Memorial Park close to the Peace Memorial Museum and the Memorial Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims. Visiting these sights with our compassionate Japanese guide is a sobering yet inspiring experience – a reminder of the devastation of war and the enduring spirit of humankind. After sightseeing, you’ll return to Kyoto by high-speed rail. Meals B
* Please Note that ongoing restoration at Itsukushima Shrine is expected to continue through late 2021, and scaffolding will cover the Torii Gate for much of this time.
Day 4 - Excursion to Nara, Japan’s First Capital
This morning you’ll enjoy a guided excursion to the ancient capital of Nara where Buddhism was first introduced to Japan nearly 1,500 years ago. Begin with a stroll through the lovely expanse of Nara Park, home to hundreds of freely roaming deer; in the ancient faith of Shinto, these gentle creatures are believed to be messengers of the Gods and the animals here have been designated as a natural treasure.
On the grounds of Nara Park, Todai-ji Temple is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. Inside, you will see an immense bronze statue of Buddha, towering nearly 50 feet high and flanked by two Bodhisattvas. You’ll also enjoy a guided stroll along peaceful lantern-lined paths to visit Kasuga Taisha, one of Japan’s most celebrated shrines, first established at the same time that the city of Nara was founded. Back in Kyoto, the rest of your afternoon and evening are yours to enjoy as you wish. Our in-the-know guide will be happy to assist with personal recommendations for dining, shopping and exploring at your own pace. Meals B
We Recommend… This evening, if you wish, we can arrange for you to enjoy the hospitality of a traditional Japanese inn. Set in a landmark 18th-century structure in the heart of Kyoto’s Gion district (where Geisha and Kabuki traditions began long ago), the deluxe family-owned Yoshi-ima Ryokan offers an authentic Japanese experience. You’ll spend the night in a spacious tatami-matted room with a private en suite bath and enjoy a traditional Kaiseki dinner and Japanese breakfast. The Yoshi-ima’s Buddhist Alter Room, Teahouse and Courtyard Garden enrich your memorable overnight
Day 5 - By Rail to Kanazawa
Check out after breakfast and head to the rail station to board the express train to Kanazawa, where you’ll enjoy an extensive day of sightseeing. Tracing its roots to the 15th century, this historic city was the seat of the mighty Maeda Clan, the second most powerful family at the time. Not wishing to challenge the mightier Tokugawa Clan, the Maeda were careful not to show any signs of military ambition. Rather, they channeled their great wealth into the arts. You’ll discover the legacy of this cultural patronage when you see the skilled artisans at work in the Kutani Kosen Pottery Studio.
At the splendidly restored Nomura Samurai Residence, now filled with valuable artifacts, you’ll learn about daily life in the ancient days when the samurai ruled! The day’s sightseeing ends at Kenrokuen Garden, regarded as one of the three most beautiful gardens in all of Japan. Exploring with our engaging guide, you’ll learn firsthand about the six elements of traditional landscape design which have been incorporated so perfectly here: Spaciousness, majesty, extensive views, artistry, abundant water and seclusion. Then check in to the deluxe Nikko Hotel for a restful overnight. Meals B
Day 6 - Shirakawago + Takayama
After breakfast, you’ll leave Kanazawa behind as you embark on a scenic journey into the Japan Alps. Your first stop will be the Shiroyama Viewpoint. Offering sweeping views of the mountain valley and the peaceful village of Ogimachi, this is the perfect place to begin your exploration of Shirakawago, one of Japan’s most scenic and historic alpine regions.
Then descend into the valley to explore the village. Here you’ll find traditional centuries-old farmhouses with thick, steeply-pitched roofs, a building style developed over generations and designed to withstand the heavy snows that blanket the region. Known as Gassho-zukuri, the name translates to “Joined Hands” – as the thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. Though many of these old farmhouses are now restaurants and guesthouses, your tour of a Gassho-zukuri will offer insight into long-ago daily life here in Japan’s scenic alpine region. Continue your overland journey to Takayama and check in to the deluxe Associa Takayama Resort for a 2-night stay. Meals B+L+D
Day 7 - Full Day Sightseeing in Takayama
After breakfast, a guided stroll through one of Takayama’s two morning markets offers another chance to experience a slice of local life. Mingling with city residents, you’ll engage with friendly vendors selling a wide array of products including farm-fresh produce, homemade pickles, flowers, ready-to-eat snacks and even local crafts.
Strolling through the city’s handsome Old Town, you’ll discover one of Japan’s most architecturally important towns. During the Tokugawa Era, Takayama was renowned for the high quality of its mountain-grown timber and the great skill of its carpenters. It was a prosperous town and many fine homes and shops were built during the Edo Period; they’ve been wonderfully preserved with many homes, buildings and even entire streets creating a virtual living museum of a Japanese town in the 18th and 19th centuries. A guided tour through the Kusakabe Folk Museum offers a fascinating look inside one of Takayama’s oldest merchant homes – the former residence of the successful Kusakabe family who lived here in the early 1800’s.
Twice a year, Takayama is enlivened by Spring and Autumn Festivals with traditions that date back to the 17th century. The highlight of both events is the grand parade of enormous, colorful Yatai – or festival floats. Many of these floats are centuries old and some are decorated with sophisticated mechanical figures that move and dance. At the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, you’ll have a chance to see some of these beautifully decorated floats and to learn about another example of Takayama’s legendary craftsmanship. The town is also heralded for its many fine sake breweries and you’ll end the day’s sightseeing with a sake tasting and a chance to learn about this ancient beverage. Meals B+L
Day 8 - Onward to Tokyo
Check out after breakfast and transfer to the station for your scenic rail journey to Tokyo, via Nagoya. Upon arrival in the capital, you’ll check in to the deluxe Keio Plaza Hotel, ideally located in the vibrant Shinjuku district. After time to refresh in your spacious Premier Grand room on the new Club Floor, you’ll join your guide for a walking tour in this modern city-center neighborhood where you’re staying. The area is popular with Tokyo residents for shopping, dining and entertainment. Meals B
Day 9 - Tsukiji Outer Fish Market and Tokyo Sightseeing
Fish is a dietary staple of this island nation and is enjoyed by locals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It can be served raw as sashimi, grilled, broiled and even made into fish cakes for soups and other dishes. Early this morning, you’ll enjoy a special visit to the world-famous fish market in Tsukiji where ordinary citizens and the city’s best chefs come daily to procure the freshest seafood. Then you’ll join one such chef to learn the fine art of preparing restaurant-quality sushi. Enjoy the fruits of your labor for lunch before embarking on an afternoon sightseeing tour.
Your exploration of the bustling capital begins atop the Tokyo City View Observation Deck. Soaring more than 800 feet above the very heart of the metropolis, you’ll have breathtaking 360° views over all of Tokyo. On a clear day, you can even see Mt. Fuji in the distance! Next you’ll visit Asakusa Kannon Temple. Founded in the 7th century to honor Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, this is the oldest temple in the city. The outer entrance to this Buddhist Temple is through the impressive 1,000-year-old Kaminari-mon, or Thunder Gate. Inside the gate, you’ll continue along the busy Nakamise Arcade toward the temple itself, a fascinating stroll that takes you past a bewildering number of shops and merchant stalls selling traditional sweets, savory snacks, colorful handicrafts, and souvenirs. The return drive to your hotel takes you through some of the city’s most vibrant districts and past the Tokyo Skytree; at just over 2,000 feet in height, this landmark is the one of the tallest structures in the world. Meals B+L
Day 10 - Full Day Excursion to Mt. Fuji and Hakone
Leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind, today’s excursion begins with a pleasant drive up to the 5th Station of Mt. Fuji. Situated at an altitude over 6,000 feet and nearly halfway to the summit, this is a popular starting place for those hardy adventurers looking to ascend Japan’s tallest mountain. It’s a also wonderful place to just take in the views of the surrounding countryside with its lakes and forested slopes.
Continue along scenic roads into the heart of Hakone National Park, a wonderful region beloved for its pine forests and lovely views of Mt. Fuji. A cruise across the placid waters of Lake Ashi promises a chance to relax and take in some of these enchanting views! Then ascend Mt. Komagatake for an entirely different, aerial view over the region’s forested mountains and pristine lakes. Return to Tokyo and enjoy your final evening in Japan. Meals B+D
Day 11 - Depart Tokyo
After breakfast, you’ll step aboard the comfortable Narita Airport Limousine Coach for your trip to the airport. Meals B