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Overview

Explore the vibrant cities, natural wonders and rich cultures that define Japan. Travel from the modern streets of Tokyo to bustling Osaka, stopping along the way for a dose of Buddhist insight in Koyasan, a trek through Japan’s scenic alps and to admire historic Kyoto and Nara. 

Trip Highlights

Villages & Valleys, Temples & Towns

Embrace Japan’s modern energy

Take to the streets of Osaka and Tokyo to experience the fast-paced buzz of big city life in Japan.

Explore Kamikochi’s scenic trails

Take a nature hike in the Japanese alps, admiring towering mountains, spectacular lakes and lush woodlands. 

Discover Japan’s UNESCO heritage

Visit the unusual thatched houses of Shirakawago, Koyasan’s Buddhist temples and Kyoto’s myriad of historic monuments.

Itinerary

1

Arrival in Tokyo

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

Upon arrival to Tokyo’s airport, our representative will be waiting to assist with transportation into the city (either helping to board the right train or finding the appropriate shuttle van). After reaching the hotel and checking in, the remainder of the day is free at leisure.

Overnight in Tokyo

2

Tokyo

Meet up with the guide this morning at the hotel and depart for Hamarikyu, a Japanese garden that once served as a private villa of a powerful feudal lord during the Edo period. Its wide collection of seasonal flowers makes it one of the most visited gardens in Tokyo, however another of its top attractions is its teahouse, Nakajima-no-Ochaya.

Have a break in the teahouse and enjoy a cup of freshly made green tea while the guide shares interesting facts about chado (tea ceremony).

From the park, take the scenic river cruise to Asakusa, a part of Tokyo’s shitamachi or old town. Asakusa is the city’s oldest Geisha district and also home to Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. The streets around Senso-ji feature many traditional shops and are a delight to wander through.

The tour ends with a visit to Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s most famous shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and a popular venue for traditional Shinto weddings.

The shrine is also home to around 120,000 trees, making it easy to forget that just outside its grounds are two of the city’s popular shopping districts, Harajuku and Omotesando.

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

Overnight in Tokyo

Time:   Start (guided tour): 09:00  Duration: 8 h

*including pick-up/drop-off and transit times 

3

Tokyo - Matsumoto

Tokyo Station to Matsumoto Station: 3 h

Today is a self-guided day.

Travel to Matsumoto, a small castle town surrounded by rice fields, vineyards, wasabi farms and the great Japanese Alps.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

Spend the afternoon strolling around the city.

Visit Matsumoto Castle, one of the only twelve remaining original castles in Japan. It is well-distinguished for its black exterior, red arch bridge and views of the Japanese Alps in the background.

Right outside the castle grounds is Nakamachi-dori, a historical merchant district lined with well-preserved old buildings, including some storehouses characterized by their thick, white-painted walls.

Overnight in Matsumoto

4

Matsumoto, Day Trip to Kamikochi

Matsumoto Station to Shin-Shimashima Station: 30 min Shin-Shimashima Station to Taisho-ike Bus Stop: 1 h

Today is a self-guided day.

Make an early start and travel to Kamikochi, a popular nature trail in the valleys of Matsumoto. It is known for the pristine Azusa-gawa River and the surrounding Japan Alps.

Start from Taisho-ike Pond, with its mirror-like waters reflecting the Hotaka Mountain Range and Mt. Yakedake, an active volcano that stands at 2,455 meters above sea level. Continue walking towards the bus terminal, passing by Tashiro Marsh, to secure a seat on the departing bus. Restrooms and food stalls are available for a quick break.

Just nearby is Kappabashi Bridge, one of the places in Kamikochi that offers the most picturesque views of the area.

From this point, another hour of trekking leads to Myojin-bashi Bridge, the gateway to Hotaka-jinja Shrine and Myojin-ike Pond. There is a small dining place here called Kamonjigoya that serves grilled freshwater fish and soba.

The trail from the Myojin area back to the opposite side of Kappa-bashi is another hour of nature trekking that runs through the serene woods of this well-protected national park.

Notes:

  • This is an easy-to-moderate course that can be accomplished in around 4 hours, including short restroom and meal breaks.
  • Kamikochi is only open from mid-April to mid-November, when the roads are not closed due to heavy snow.

Overnight in Matsumoto

5

Matsumoto - Kiso Valley

Today is a self-guided day.

Start the journey through Nakasendo in Kiso Valley, one of the “Five Routes” that branched off the capital Edo and was controlled by the Tokugawa Shogunate from the 8th century.

Upon arriving in Magome, small carry-on bags can be delivered to any accommodation in Tsumago through the tourist information center (08:30-11:30, from 21st March to 30th November).

The trail that runs from Magome to Tsumago is the most popular section of Nakasendo. Exit Nakatsugawa Station and catch the local bus to Magome, one of the post towns that flourished in the Edo Period. From Magome Bus Stop to Tsumago, the ancient trail can be completed in about 3 hours, including some quick breaks (i.e. restroom, tea/coffee).

Around 2 hours in, emerge to the well-preserved post town of Tsumago. Just like Magome, Tsumago was in its Golden Era during the time when merchants and other noble and prominent people frequently passed through for trade and other formal appointments.

In the latter part of 1970, this small town was classified as a National Designated Architectural Preservation Site, thanks to the collective effort of its locals to preserve most of the remaining historical buildings.

Overnight in Tsumago

Trekking information (approximation):

  • Magome-juku to Magome-toge Pass: 2.2 km; 60 min
  • Magome-toge Pass to Otaki & Metaki Falls: 2.5 km; 50 min
  • Metaki Falls to Tsumago-juku: 3.3 km; 60 min
  • Elevation change (approximation):
  • Magome-juku (beginning of the trail): at 620 m
  • Magome-toge Pass: at 801 m
  • Tsumago-juku (latter part of the trail): at 430 m

Option: For guests who prefer to stay at a regular hotel, we recommend Hotel Kisoji in Tsumago (subject to availability; supplementary charges apply).

6

Kiso Valley - Takayama

Tsumago Bus Stop to Nagiso Bus Stop: 10 min Nagiso Station to Takayama Station: 4 h 15 min

Today start the journey to Magome, one of the post towns that flourished in the Edo Period. The trail that runs from Tsumago to Magome is perhaps the most popular section of Nakasendo.

This ancient trail can be completed in about 3 hours, including some quick breaks (i.e. restroom, tea/coffee).

Note: For a less demanding walk, guests also have the option to walk the trail from Magome to Tsumago.

After concluding the trail, ride a bus to Nakatsugawa, then a train to Kiso-Fukushima.

Overnight in Kiso-Fukushima

Distance and journey time (approximation):

Magome to Nakatsugawa Station: 15 min

Nakatsugawa Station to Kiso-Fukushima Station: 0.5 h

Trekking information (approximation):

  • Metaki Falls to Tsumago-juku: 3.3 km; 60 min
  • Magome-toge Pass to Otaki & Metaki Falls: 2.5 km; 50 min
  • Magome-juku to Magome-toge Pass: 2.2 km; 60 min

Elevation change (approximation):

  • Tsumago-juku (beginning part of the trail): at 430 m
  • Magome-toge Pass: at 801 m
  • Magome-juku (latter of the trail): at 620 m

7

Takayama - Shirakawago

Takayama Bus Terminal to Shirakawago Bus Stop: 50 min

Optional Tour (1): Food & Culture Walk

Explore some of the food shops in Takayama with a knowledgeable guide, learning about the town’s colourful history and familiarizing the taste buds with some of the local delicacies. The walking tour includes visits to a tofu seller, a rakugan shop (traditional Japanese candies), and even a sake brewery (some stores may be closed during certain days). Food and sake tastings are also included.

Time:   Start: 09:30   Duration: 2.5 h

Optional Tour (2): Walking Tour in Hida Furukawa

Spend two and a half hours with the guide strolling around Hida-Furukawa, regarded as the twin town of Takayama. The guide will explain the history and culture of the town and the lifestyle of the locals.

Today’s tour teaches not only about the humble town, but also about how Hida-Furukawa and its people maintain a culture which can be traced all the way back to the Muromachi era (1337-1573).

Time:   Start: 10:00    Duration: 2.5 h

Distance and journey time (approximation):  Takayama Station to Hida-Furukawa Station: 15 min

In the afternoon, travel by bus to Shirakawago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its gassho-zukuri farmhouses.

Gassho-zukuri means “constructed like hands in prayer,” which is represented through the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs. This architectural style developed over many generations – the roofs were constructed without any nails and are intricately designed to withstand large amounts of snow.

Despite being private homes, some of these houses are open to the public. One of these is the Wada House, a legacy left behind by the Wada Family who used to be the richest family and village leader in Ogimachi.

Overnight in Takayama

8

Takayama - Kyoto

Takayama Station to Kyoto Station: 3 h

Optional Tour (1): Food & Culture Walk

Explore some of the food shops in Takayama with a knowledgeable guide, learning about the town’s colourful history and familiarizing the taste buds with some of the local delicacies. The walking tour includes visits to a tofu seller, a rakugan shop (traditional Japanese candies), and even a sake brewery (some stores may be closed during certain days). Food and sake tastings are also included.

Time:

Start: 09:30

Duration: 2.5 h

Optional Tour (2): Walking Tour in Hida Furukawa

Spend two and a half hours with the guide strolling around Hida-Furukawa, regarded as the twin town of Takayama. The guide will explain the history and culture of the town and the lifestyle of the locals.

Today’s tour teaches not only about the humble town, but also about how Hida-Furukawa and its people maintain a culture which can be traced all the way back to the Muromachi era (1337-1573).

Time:

Start: 10:00

Duration: 2.5 h

Distance and journey time (approximation):

Takayama Station to Hida-Furukawa Station: 15 min

In the afternoon, travel by bus to Shirakawago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its gassho-zukuri farmhouses.

Gassho-zukuri means “constructed like hands in prayer,” which is represented through the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs. This architectural style developed over many generations – the roofs were constructed without any nails and are intricately designed to withstand large amounts of snow.

Despite being private homes, some of these houses are open to the public. One of these is the Wada House, a legacy left behind by the Wada Family who used to be the richest family and village leader in Ogimachi.

Overnight in Takayama

Distance and journey time (approximation):

Takayama Bus Terminal to Shirakawago Bus Stop: 50 min

9

Kyoto

Today’s tour starts with a visit to Nijo Castle, an ornamental castle that was originally built to serve as the private villa of a powerful feudal lord. The main building was completed in early 1600s and has since then been known for its Momoyama-style architecture, decorated sliding doors, and “chirping nightingale” floors.

Next on the list is the serene Ryoan-ji Temple, which is famous for its well-maintained rock garden, known to be the home of the Myoshinji School of the Rinzai Buddhist sect.

Just a short distance from Ryoan-ji is the stunning golden pavilion collectively known as Kinkaku-ji Temple. The temple grounds are relatively smaller than that of most temples and shrines in Kyoto, but its pavilion covered in gold leaf is nothing short of amazing.

A visit to Kiyomizu-dera Temple follows later in the day. The view from the 13-meter high building is indeed breathtaking and the fact that this veranda was built without using any nails or joiners is quite unbelievable.

The tour ends with a stroll along the busy streets of Higashiyama district, a collection of narrow alleyways lined with local stores, souvenir shops, small eateries, and even pottery centers.

Note: Kiyomizu-dera Temple is currently undergoing partial renovations.

Overnight in Kyoto

Time:  Start (guided tour): 09:00   Duration: 8 h

*including pick-up/drop-off and transit times

10

Kyoto - Day Tour in Nara

Kyoto Station to Nara Station: 45 min

Today’s tour starts with a visit to Nijo Castle, an ornamental castle that was originally built to serve as the private villa of a powerful feudal lord. The main building was completed in early 1600s and has since then been known for its Momoyama-style architecture, decorated sliding doors, and “chirping nightingale” floors.

Next on the list is the serene Ryoan-ji Temple, which is famous for its well-maintained rock garden, known to be the home of the Myoshinji School of the Rinzai Buddhist sect.

Just a short distance from Ryoan-ji is the stunning golden pavilion collectively known as Kinkaku-ji Temple. The temple grounds are relatively smaller than that of most temples and shrines in Kyoto, but its pavilion covered in gold-leaf is nothing short of amazing.

A visit to Kiyomizu-dera Temple follows later in the day. The view from the 13-meter high building is indeed breathtaking and the fact that this veranda was built without using any nails or joiners is quite unbelievable.

The tour ends with a stroll along the busy streets of Higashiyama district, a collection of narrow alleyways lined with local stores, souvenir shops, small eateries, and even pottery centers.

Note: Kiyomizu-dera is currently undergoing renovations, with proposed completion in 2020.

Overnight in Kyoto

11

Kyoto - Koyasan

Kyoto Station to Koyasan Station: 3 h

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. The ride 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 provide excellent insight to Japanese Buddhism.

Visit Kongobu-ji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism and home to Japan’s largest rock garden. Continue on to Okuno-in, Japan’s largest cemetery that holds the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi.

The classic approach to this site starts from Ichino Hashi 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.

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

Overnight at Koyasan

Start (guided tour): upon arrival at Koyasan Station (around 11:30)  Duration: 4 h

*including pick-up/drop-off and transit times

12

Koyasan - Osaka

Koyasan Station to Nankai Namba Station: 2 h

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggestion:

To have a complete experience of Koyasan, joining the Morning Prayer, which usually starts at 06:00, is highly recommended. Be immersed in the calming chants of the monks inside the prayer hall (prayers are only in Japanese but some priests provide a simple explanation in English at the end of the ceremony).

Afterwards, proceed to the dining room for a shojin ryori breakfast.

The rest of the morning is free to further explore Koyasan before taking off for Osaka, Japan’s Kitchen Capital. Osaka’s flamboyance, fun-loving people and amazing food are the highlights of the city.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

From Namba Station, walk through Osaka’s lively, colourful shopping and dining streets. Start with Doguyasuji, a unique market that sells anything related to food, from pots and other kitchenware to the lifelike plastic food models widely used by restaurants.

Right across is Sennichimae, a lane filled with small eateries that serve all the Osakan delicacies such as takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and the famed fugu (blowfish). Aside from the local restaurants, Sennichimae also hosts a couple of game centers and the vibrant Namba Grand Kagetsu Theater, the headquarters of the nationwide Japanese comedy brand, Yoshimoto.

Before reaching the end of Sennichimae, make a quick left turn in one of the narrow alleys to see Hozen-ji Temple, a small village temple dedicated to one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas. After offering coins, worshippers splash water on the statue of the deity before praying as a sign of respect.

Right outside the temple grounds and just across the humble yet historical Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum is Hozenji Yokocho, a short, narrow lane lined with expensive restaurants.

From here, emerge to the very busy Dotonbori, a restaurant mecca which has long-been referred to as Osaka’s former entertainment and pleasure district. A short walk from this street leads to the touristy Ebisubashi with the famous billboard of the Glico Running Man and a view of Dotonbori River.

Overnight in Osaka

13

Departure from Osaka

JR Namba Station to Kansai Airport: 50 min JR Shin-Osaka Station to Kansai Airport: 50 min

The rest of the day is at leisure until the departure flight from Kansai International Airport.

Important Information

Our Services Include:

  • Hotel accommodation in twin room with daily breakfast (for ryokan, minshuku, and other traditional accommodation, rooms are Japanese-style with futon and meals are half board)
  • Meals as mentioned in the itinerary (B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner)
  • English meet and greet at the airport and return transfers to the airport
  • 14-Day Japan Rail Pass in ordinary class, activated on Day 1
  • PASMO Card for local transportation in Tokyo and to/from Koyasan with 5,500 JPY worth of credits  (Note: The pre-charged credit is enough to travel to/from Koyasan. 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).
  • Roundtrip bus tickets on Days 4 (Matsumoto to Kamikochi) and 7 (Takayama to Shirakawago)
  • English-speaking guides for tours on Days 2, 9, and 11 (supplementary charges apply for other languages)
  • All entrance fees and public transportation fees as mentioned in the itinerary on Days 2, 9, and 11
  • 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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