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Overview

Take a spiritual sojourn through Japan. From praying alongside Shingon monks to soaking in therapeutic hot springs, from Zen Buddhism lessons to ritualistic tea ceremonies, connect with Japan’s rich culture. Stays in charming traditional inns and authentic, healthy meals round out this holistic holiday experience.

Trip Highlights

Enlightenment Japan

Learn the art of Zazen

Travel to a Zen Monastery and practice meditation with a local instructor, relaxing the mind in a tranquil setting.

Partake in a traditional tea ceremony

Meet a tea master in Kyoto’s Gion district, join in a deep-rooted Japanese ritual and learn about its cultural importance.

Delve into Shingon Buddhism

Visit UNESCO-heritage Koyasan, exploring the origins of Shingon Buddhism and watching monks deep in prayer.

Itinerary

1

Arrival in Tokyo

Narita International Airport (NRT) to Central Tokyo: 1.5 h Haneda International Airport (HND) to Central Tokyo: 50 mins

Upon arrival to Tokyo’s airport, our representative will be waiting to assist with transport to the hotel, either helping to board the appropriate train or find the proper hotel shuttle bus.

After checking in to the hotel, the remainder of the day is free at leisure.

Overnight in Tokyo

2

Tokyo

Start (guided tour): 09:00 Duration: 8 h *including pick-up/drop-off and transfer times

After breakfast at the hotel, meet with the guide in the hotel lobby and depart for a full day of Tokyo city sightseeing utilising the city’s efficient train system.

Begin the day with a stroll through Hama-Rikyu Teien, the former private garden of an Edo period lord. Take a break in the tea house known as ‘Nakajima No Chaya’ which stands elegantly amidst the park’s lake. Enjoy the chance here to sample the renowned matcha, or Japanese green tea.

Next comes an opportunity to see Tokyo from a different angle, on a boat cruise along the Sumida River.

After the cruise, head to Asakusa, a part of Tokyo’s shitamachi, or old town. Asakusa is the city’s oldest Geisha district and also houses Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. The streets around Senso-ji feature many traditional shops that sell Japanese crafts and souvenirs; a delight to wander through.

In the afternoon, head across Tokyo to Omotesando, commonly referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysee. This broad, tree-lined avenue boasts a multitude of flagship fashion stores designed by internationally renowned architects.

Before the tour ends, spend some time exploring the Meiji Shrine - Tokyo’s most famous shrine.

Note: The order of this itinerary may change depending on the location of the hotel.

Overnight in Tokyo

3

Tokyo - Yamanouchi

JR Tokyo Station to Yudanaka Station: 2.5 hrs

Today is a self-guided day.

Depart from Tokyo Station for Nagano via the Hokuriku bullet train. Upon arrival to Nagano Station, transfer to the limited express train for Yudanaka Station, where a complimentary shuttle bus will be waiting to provide transport to the ryokan (available between 15:00 and 18:00.)

Kokuya is a traditional Japanese-style hotel (ryokan) with a 400-year history. The present owner is the 16th generation to run the place. The ryokan has six different, 100% natural hot springs, which are rich in health-giving minerals that benefit the muscles, joints, and skin.

The ryokan is located on the Shibu Onsen “spa street,” which has nine public onsen to try. Being an onsen town, visitors stroll the streets in their yukata (light robes), hopping from one onsen to another.

Dinner this evening is a kaiseki, or Japanese traditional meal, comprised of nine or more dishes. The meal is made up of seasonal dishes using only the freshest of local Nagano ingredients.

Overnight in Shibu Onsen

4

Shibu Onsen

Kokuya Ryokan to Jigokudani parking lot: 10 mins (taxi) Jigokudani parking lot to monkey park: 15 mins (on foot) Yudanaka Station to Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop or Kanbayashi Onsen-guchi: 9-15 mins (bus) Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop / Kanbayashi Onsen-guchi to monkey park: 30-35 mins (on foot) Yudanaka Station to Obuse Station: 45 mins

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

This morning, pay a visit to the Jigokudani Park, home to the famous Snow Monkeys. Jigokudani literally means “hell’s valley” due to the steam and boiling water that bubble out of small crevices in the frozen ground. It is in these hot spring baths where the resident Japanese Macaques like to soak. Going to the park from the nearest bus stop can only be done on foot, requiring around half an hour of trekking. Comfortable shoes are advised!

The monkeys live in large social groups, and it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions. Accustomed to humans, they can be observed from very close and almost completely ignore their human guests. Although the monkeys live in the area all year round, they are particularly numerous during the colder months (December – April) while less likely to be spotted in Autumn.

In the afternoon, visit to the charming nearby town of Obuse, which features a number of traditional houses and stores. More than 100 houses in the town participate in an ‘Open Garden’ event. If this sign is displayed in front of the house, it means guests can enter the property and enjoy the gardens, offering a unique insight into Japanese houses.

Obuse is also the home of Hokusai, the famous ukiyo-e (woodblock) painter during the Edo period, and Masuichi-Ichimura, the local sake brewery that produces high quality sake from locally produced rice.

Note: Transportation to/from Jigokudani can only be arranged on spot (at own expense)

Another amazing dinner will be served at the ryokan.

Overnight in Shibu Onsen

5

Shibu Onsen – Kyoto

Yudanaka Station to Kyoto Station: 5.5 h

Today is a self-guided day.

Before heading off for the cultural capital of Kyoto, enjoy one final soak in the onsen.

Founded in 794 AD and formerly called ‘Heian-kyo’ (meaning “capital of peace and tranquility”), Kyoto was chosen as the seat of the emperor and was modelled on the capital city of China during the Tang dynasty. Kyoto’s culture, therefore, comes from an amalgamation of several influences – the imperial court, the samurai, the patrons of Zen Buddhism, and the tea ceremony. Kyoto is also the home to an astonishing 2,000 shrines and temples, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The rest of the day is at leisure.

Overnight in Kyoto

6

Kyoto

Start (guided tour): 08:15 Duration: 8 hStart (Zazen): mostly at 09:00 Duration: 90 minStart (Tea Ceremony): 15:00 Duration: 45 min

Rise early in the morning to experience a quintessential Japanese enlightenment experience – Zazen (Zen seated meditation).

The guide will provide a pick up from the hotel for transport to the Zen Temple to learn the basics of sitting meditation: folded legs, erect posture, half-closed eyes, and a focus on measured breathing, ultimately leading to awareness of the way the mind works.

After the class, the guide will lead a brief tour of the nearby temples and will teach the difference between praying in a Shinto shrine and in a Buddhist temple.

The spiritual day finishes with a Tea Ceremony in one of the teahouses in Gion district. A Tea Master will provide a full explanation of Japanese tea as well as the tea ceremony itself, its long history, and its relationship with Zen Buddhism. After the tea ceremony, the guide can provide an escort back to the hotel. Alternatively, spend some extra time in Gion to explore the area a bit more.

Overnight in Kyoto

7

Kyoto, Day Trip to Nara

JR Kyoto Station to JR Nara Station: approx. 45 min *via Rapid train

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

 In the afternoon, head out of town and travel to Nara using the Japan Rail Pass. For 74 years during the 8th Century, Nara was Japan’s capital and many of the temples and shrines built at that time still remain.

Nara is just a small town, with most of its main tourist spots located around Nara Park, which is also home to a large number of tame deer. Visit the Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden building and home to Japan’s largest Buddha, or Kasuga Taisha, Nara’s most celebrated shrine.

Overnight in Kyot

8

Kyoto - Koyasan

Kyoto to Koyasan: approx. 3 hTime: Start (guided tour): upon arrival at Koyasan Station (around 11:00) Duration: 4 h *including pick-up/drop-off and transfer times

Home to over 100 temples, Koyasan has been the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect, for over 1,200 years. Koyasan, and its vicinity, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

The journey to Koyasan is one of the highlights of the visit, with the final ascent being on a cable car, which offers one of the most scenic journeys in Japan, as it winds its way up to the mountains.

Meet the guide at Koyasan Station and spend the afternoon exploring a couple of popular sites that give an insight to Japanese Buddhism.

Visit Kongobu-ji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism and home to Japan’s largest rock garden. On rare occasions, guests might witness a small group of worshippers led by a monk chanting some scripts in front of the temple.

Continue on to Okuno-in, Japan’s largest cemetery that holds the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. The classic approach starts from Ichinohashi Bridge and stretches up to 2km, filled with more than 200,000 tombstones that belong to feudal lords, prominent monks, and even well-known Japanese companies. Gokusho Offering Hall, Torodo Hall of Lanterns, and Kobo Daishi’s Mausoleum are located at the end of the trail.

Afterwards, the guide will provide an escort to the shukubo (temple lodge), where famous Buddhist cuisine is served.

Overnight at Koyasan.

9

Koyasan - Osaka

Koyasan Station to Nankai Namba Station: 2 h

Today is a self-guided day.

To complete the Koyasan experience, it is highly recommended to join the morning prayer, which usually starts at 06:00. This offers the chance to witness the monks praying and gives a glimpse inside the worship room (only in Japanese; taking photos inside the prayer room is discouraged). Afterwards, enjoy another shojin ryori meal for breakfast.

The rest of the morning is free to further explore Koyasan before continuing the journey to Osaka, Japan’s culinary capital. Osaka’s flamboyance, fun-loving people, and amazing food make up for what it lacks in tourist attractions.

Suggested Self-Guide Itinerary:

In Osaka, the following places are recommended:

Dotonbori

Dotonbori is a restaurant mecca which has long-been referred to as Osaka’s entertainment district. It is well-known for its bright neon lights, energetic shop owners and food stalls that are filled with some local Osakan delights such as takoyaki (octopus balls) and fugu (poisonous puffer fish).

Umeda

Umeda is where most of the city’s most modern buildings are found. Some of the notable buildings are HEP (Hankyu Entertainment Park), which features a big Ferris wheel and is perfect for some last-minute shopping; Kitashinchi District, housing some of the city’s culinary specialties; and the Umeda Sky Building, a pair of skyscrapers connected in “mid-air”, built in an unusual architectural form rarely seen anywhere in the world. Feel the fresh air and enjoy 360-degree panoramic views at the ‘Floating Garden Observatory’.

Optional Tour: Osaka Soul Food Tour

There is no better place in the country to experience the flamboyant and colourful world of Japan’s street food and nightlife scene than in Osaka. The city’s motto is ‘kuidaore’ or eat-till-you-drop, and just one visit shows that it’s not very difficult to do this! Locals are particularly proud of their famous soul-food offerings, such as Okonomiyaki (savory cabbage pancake with pork), Takoyaki (savory ball-shaped pancakes with octopus), and other local delicacies. Osaka also offers one of the most authentic experiences when it comes to spending a night out, thanks to the city’s warm-hearted and curious inhabitants.

Meet the food expert at a designated meeting point in Dotonbori and enjoy about 4 different venues during the tour.

Start the experience by discovering Osaka’s best-loved dishes in one of the liveliest areas in town, with innumerable little shops, restaurants and tiny taverns and bars. Alongside our local English-speaking food expert, enjoy the bright neon lights of one of the main entertainment areas in town before diving into some narrow, hidden alleyways to discover all the local delicacies Osaka has to offer.

With the help of the guide, taste some of the staples of Osaka’s soul-food such as fresh Okonomiyaki, prepared on the spot, and Takoyaki, which have been featured in the Michelin guide. Continue the gourmet journey with fresh sushi and a local brew, plus the opportunity to interact with the sushi chef. To conclude the tour, stroll through the neighborhood with its uncountable tiny bars, each with their very own distinctive style.

Time:

Start: 17:30

Duration: 3 h

Overnight in Osaka

10

Departure from Osaka

JR Namba Station to Kansai Airport: 50 min JR Shin-Osaka Station to Kansai Airport: 50 min Namba (OCAT) bus terminal to Kansai Airport: 50 min

The rest of the day is at leisure until the time comes for the guests’ scheduled transfer via train or airport shuttle bus to Kansai International Airport.

Important Information

Our Services Include:

  • Hotel accommodation with daily breakfast
  • Meals as mentioned in the itinerary (B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner)
  • Meet and greet at the airport and return transfers to the airport
  • PASMO Card for local transportation in Tokyo and to/from Koyasan with 1,500 JPY worth of credits

(Note: Additional credit will be charged by our guides to cover transportation during guided days. Clients are free to further charge their card should they wish to make use of it during self-guided days).

  • 7-Day Japan Rail Pass in ordinary class, activated on Day 3
  • Roundtrip limited express train tickets from Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station for Days 3 and 5
  • English-speaking guides for tours in Tokyo (Day 2), Kyoto (Day 6), and Koyasan (Day 8) (for other languages, supplementary charges apply)
  • Roundtrip tickets to Koyasan (Day 8 & 9)
  • All entrance fees and public transportation fees as mentioned in the itinerary on Days 2, 6, and 8
  • Information Pack

Our Services Do Not Include:

  • International and domestic flights (quoted separately)
  • Some local transport
  • Meals other than mentioned above
  • Personal expenses (e.g. drinks, laundry, telephone, and other expenditures of a personal nature)
  • Travel insurance (please see below)
  • Other services not clearly indicated in the package inclusions above

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    We’re experts who take pride in tailor-made itineraries that suit any need. Please fill in the form below and a member of our team will be in touch shortly.

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