Konnichiwa! Welcome to Japan. Your adventure begins in the country’s lively capital, Tokyo. A shared airport shuttle to your hotel is included – please see the joining point instructions in the Essential Trip Information for more details. You will meet your small group and local leader for a 6pm welcome meeting at the hotel. If you get to the city early, there are many sides of Tokyo to explore, from fascinating museums and world-class shopping, to neighbourhood backstreets lined with hole in the wall eateries and bars. After your meeting, join your new travel companions for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. Tokyo’s food scene is undoubtedly one of the world’s best, and the city truly celebrates the art of eating well. Sample a range of regional and seasonal delights including handmade soba noodles, crispy tempura and yakitori. After dinner, you may like to experience Tokyo’s vibrant drinking culture and head to a local izakaya.
Bursting with contemporary urban culture and historic temples and shrines, Tokyo has so much to uncover. Exploring the world’s largest city alone can be a daunting task, but today your leader will introduce you to the old and new Tokyo on a half-day tour. Begin in the Asakusa area, one of the older and more traditional parts of Tokyo, often called the temple district. Here you’ll stop by Senso-ji, the city’s oldest temple – founded almost 1400 years ago when Tokyo was nothing more than a fishing village. Browse the many interesting stalls filled with tasty treats, crafts and souvenirs that line the shopping street of Nakamise dori. Then hop aboard the Sumida River Cruise and see Tokyo from a different perspective. Your leader will point out significant buildings like the Sky Tree Tower, the Sumo Stadium and the Tsukiji Fish Market complex before you disembark at the Hama Rikyu Garden. Take some time to stroll along its sea water pond, the water level of which changes with the tide. Then jump on the metro to explore the buzzing Shibuya area. Check out one of the busiest intersections in the world before heading into a depachika (underground food hall) for a tempting array of Japanese treats. Afterwards, enjoy some peaceful bliss at Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine before diving into Harajuku district, the home of quirky youth pop culture. The rest of the afternoon is yours – perhaps take in history by visiting the outer moat and park surrounding the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo or see ancient treasures at the National Museum in Ueno.
This morning, get ready for a delicious experience at the famous Tsukiji Outer Market, where fresh seafood from Tokyo's largest wholesale fish market (recently relocated to a new site at Toyosu) is delivered and ready to sample daily. Your leader will provide insight into the underwater treasures that go into the local cuisine, then you will attend a wonderful sushi making class from a 4th generation sushi family to learn about the art and history of this Japanese cuisine that's so loved across the world. Learn how to make nigiri sushi and hand-rolled sushi, then enjoy your fresh creations for lunch. After learning some valuable skills to take home with you, you can join your leader for a short walking tour in the Ginza area and then enjoy a free afternoon in the city. Perhaps check out the Yayoi Kusama Museum for its amazing exhibits by the avant-garde artist (advance reservation required), browse high-end shops in Ginza, experience the theatre of a kabuki play, or create your own entertainment with some karaoke.
Say sayonara to Tokyo this morning and board a train bound for the mountainous onsen (hot spring) town of Hakone. Away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Hakone offers tranquillity among stunning natural scenery. In the afternoon, take a cable car up the mountains to the sulphur vents of Owakudani, followed by a boat trip across the serene Ashinoko Lake. Enjoy spectacular views, and on a clear day, you will catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji in the distance. Later on, check in to the Susukinohara Ichinoyu, your feature stay accommodation for the evening. Here you’ll experience the design and ambience of a traditional Japanese ryokan without sacrificing modern comforts. Each room comes with a private onsen, and there are also larger public indoor and outdoor onsens that overlook the surrounding greenery to make use of. Tonight you’ll enjoy dinner at the on-site restaurants which serves up a feast of classic Japanese dishes, then after getting your fill, spend a blissful evening relaxing in your onsen.
Today, travel to Takayama via shinkansen (bullet train), with a few changes along the way. Takayama is a charming Edo-period town located in the Japanese alps. Renowned for its traditional inns, sake breweries and tranquil atmosphere, this riverside jewel of central Honshu may well be one of the most enjoyable stops on your trip. On arrival, head out on a walking tour with your leader who will point out examples of beautiful traditional architecture as you explore the old part of town. Learn how the town’s isolated location caused it to develop a unique culinary scene. The area is particularly famous for Hida beef, which comes from a black-haired Japanese cattle breed that has been raised in Gifu Prefecture for at least 14 months. Stop off on your tour to sample delicious Hida beef sushi or skewers. Then pay a visit to the Takayama Showa-kan Museum. This is not your average museum – here you’ll find a celebration of pop culture from the turbulent period of Emperor Hirohito’s six-decade reign. Discover exhibits showcasing everything from kitchen appliances to karaoke machines.
Enjoy a free evening and your leader will be able to point out some great restaurants to try more signature local food.
Start the day with a visit to the Takayama morning market. The Gifu region is known for its production of high-altitude vegetables, and local women have been travelling in from the countryside to sell their produce for more than 600 years. Your leader will guide you through the market stalls selling colourful pickles, bags of miso wrapped in leaves, genkotsu ame (soy bean candy), preserved fish, spices, and the delicious marshmallow treat of owara tamaten. After some time to peruse the local treats, hop on a public bus and head to the village of Shirakawa-go, home to charming thatched-roof cottages built in the gassho-zukuri style. Learn about ancient countryside life with your leader and explore the fairy-tale village against the magnificent backdrop of the Japanese Alps. Enjoy some free time in Takayama after you return in the afternoon. Perhaps check out Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall which has an excellent array of festival floats on display.
Today you will travel by train to Hiroshima, a friendly and cosmopolitan city with a tragic past. Today Hiroshima is thriving – the city is full of distinctive cuisine, tightknit communities and a focus on promoting world peace. On arrival, head out with your leader for an orientation walk to familiarise yourself with the city. After working up an appetite, head to a local restaurant for dinner and try some of Hiroshima’s signature dishes. The city is renowned for its fantastic oysters and okonomiyaki – a delicious savoury pancake made with egg, cabbage, soba noodles and meat or seafood.
This morning you’ll visit the Genbaku (A-Bomb) Dome and the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Your leader will share the devastating story of the fateful day in August 1945 when Hiroshima was attacked by atomic warfare. The dome was just metres from the atomic site and was able to retain its shape – serving as a reminder of the attack and now symbol of peace. The memorial park serves a similar purpose, and has museums, memorials and monuments dedicated to the memory of victims, education on what lead to the bomb’s use, as well as advocating world peace. After your visit, take a short ferry ride to the island of Miyajima. The island is home to the Shinto shrine of Itsukushima, known for its huge bright orange gate (torii) that rises majestically out of the sea. Miyajima is an ideal place for walking. There is the lovely Momiji Park from where it is possible to walk or take a cable car up to the top of Mt Misen. Return to Hiroshima for at evening at leisure.
As you speed north to Kyoto on shinkansen, you’ll stop en route at Japan’s most impressive samurai castle at Himeji. The building, which has survived earthquakes and war since the mid-16th century, was restored to its full glory in 2015. Explore the castle that was once home to over 10,000 samurai families, learn about their lives and look out over the castle grounds and the city below. Arrive at Kyoto mid-afternoon. Originally founded as Heian-kyo (literally 'tranquillity and peace capital') by Emperor Kammu in 794, Kyoto had its golden age during the imperial court's heyday from 794 to 1185. Join your leader and walk around Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, and learn about the history of geisha culture as you explore old wooden teahouses and exclusive restaurants. It's a great idea to return here in the evening when it really springs to life. You might spot geikos (geishas) or maikos (apprentice geishas) with their elaborate dress and make up on their way out to events.
Begin your day with a city tour around some of Kyoto’s sights. Visit the extravagantly decorated Kinkakuji Temple, immortalised in Yukio Mishima’s novel 'The Golden Pavilion'. Afterwards visit Daitokuji Temple – the head temple of the Daitokuji School of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism – built about 800 years ago. Take part in a short guided meditation session, then enjoy a cup of green tea while you speak to a monk about the philosophy of Zen Buddhism and the art of meditation, dedicated to finding inner peace. This spiritual experience will reveal a side of Japan that most visitors don’t get to see, and is sure to be one of the lasting memories of your journey. The rest of the day is yours to enjoy – perhaps check out the range of Urban Adventures we run in the city, or grab a bite to eat at the Nishiki Market, called ‘Kyoto’s kitchen’ by the locals.
This morning, head to Kyoto’s famed Fushimi Inari Shrine – known throughout the world as the ‘Path of the Red Gates.’ Take time to appreciate the quieter corners of the shrine, and if you’re feeling fit, a walk to the halfway point provides stunning city views. Continue with a short train ride and walk to the renowned Gekkei-kan Sake Brewery. With centuries of local history built into its beautiful wooden halls, Gekkei-kan is considered Japan’s industry leader in both the tradition and innovation of sake creation. A visit to the brewery and museum covers every aspect of sake creation – with full-scale historical artefacts in abundance and a chance to taste different types of sake at the end of your visit. The shop is also fully stocked with some of Japan’s finest sake should you wish to bring some back home with you! In the evening, celebrate the end of your adventure in Japan over dinner with your travel companions at a local restaurant sharing the authentic flavours of Kyoto.
There are no activities planned for the day and you’re free to depart at any time after check out at 10 am. If you are departing later, you can arrange luggage storage at the hotel. We highly recommend spending more time in Kyoto to explore this great city.