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Overview

Explore the fascinating roots of Japanese culture with a two-week tour of the country’s UNESCO sites. From the famed geisha-filled streets of Kyoto to the lesser-known grass houses of Shirakawago, this insightful holiday delves deep into the traditions and customs of one of the world’s most intriguing destinations.

Trip Highlights

World Heritage Japan

Visit Japan’s cultural capital

Explore a selection of Kyoto’s 17 UNESCO sites and partake in traditional tea ceremony to gain insight to Japanese culture.

Discover Japan’s ancient customs

Visit a samurai district, witness monks’ morning chants, experience a tea ceremony and more for a glimpse of Japan’s heritage.

Explore Japan’s gardens

Learn about traditional Japanese landscaping at two of the coutry’s most famous spaces, Ryoan-ji Zen’s rock garden and Kenroku Garden.

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, one of our representatives will be waiting to assist with transport to the hotel (boarding the right train or finding the appropriate shuttle van.)

The rest of the day is at leisure.

Overnight in Tokyo

2

Tokyo

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

Meet up with the guide this morning at the hotel for the trip to 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 its most attractive aspect is its teahouse called Nakajima-no-Ochaya.

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

From the park, take a 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 one 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

3

Tokyo, Day Trip to Nikko

Tokyo Station to Nikko Station: 2 hTime: Start (guided tour): before 11:00 at JR Nikko Sta. Duration: 4 h

Take the journey into the mountains of Nikko, another prefecture that holds a couple of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Upon arrival at JR Nikko Station, meet up with the local guide and head to some of the famous places in Nikko, including the following:

Toshogu Shrine Complex

The shrine was built as a mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate who ruled Japan for over 250 years. This lavishly decorated shrine complex consists of more than a dozen Shinto and Buddhist buildings located in a beautiful forest setting.

Tamozawa Imperial Villa

This lovely villa once served as the summer house of the Imperial Family before WWII. Take note of the intricate interior design of the house, with some parts transferred all the way from Tokyo. There will also be a chance to walk through the gardens and see the house from the outside. The beauty of the garden does not disappoint, for it remains breath-taking no matter the season.

Afterwards, head back to the station to catch the train back to Tokyo.

Note: Toshogu Shrine is currently undergoing partial renovations.

Overnight in Tokyo

4

Tokyo – Takayama

Tokyo Station to Takayama Station: 4.5 h

Today is a self-guided day.

Depart for the journey to Takayama, a small town nestled high in the Hida Alpine region of Gifu Prefecture.

The first leg of the trip will be on a bullet train that can reach speeds of up to 260 kph. Next is on the limited express train Wide View, which offers one of the most scenic train journeys in Japan.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

We recommend strolling in Takayama’s shitamachi, where the streets are lined with century-old merchants’ homes and sake breweries. Stop by one of the breweries for a taste of the local drop or queue for the famous Hida beef sushi in one of the special food stalls.

In Takayama, experience a stay in a ryokan, the traditional Japanese-style inn furnished with low tables and chairs, sliding shoji doors, and tatami flooring.

Overnight in Takayama

5

Takayama – Shirakawago

Takayama Bus Terminal to Shirakawago Bus Stop: 50 min

Today is a self-guided day.

Optional Tour: Food & Culture Walk

Enjoy some time exploring the food shops of Takayama with a knowledgeable local guide. Learn about the town’s colourful history and treat the taste buds with some 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 close on certain days). Food and sake tastings are also included.

Time:

Start: 09:30

Duration: 2.5 h

Around 12:00, 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 but are intricately designed to withstand large amounts of snow.

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

While in Shirakawago, experience a stay in a minshuku, the traditional Japanese-style inn usually owned and run by families. The amenities are basic but the experience is sure to be one of a kind.

Overnight in Shirakawago

6

Shirakawago – Kanazawa

Shirakawago Bus Stop to Kanazawa Eki-mae Bus Terminal: 75 min

Today is a self-guided day.

Start early and hop on the bus to Kanazawa, the castle town that thrived as the center for culture and the arts in the 17th century.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

Start with the pristine Kenroku-en Garden, which is ranked as one of Japan’s top three gardens. Discover the oldest water fountain in the country, a couple of teahouses and a large villa that used to be the retirement home of one of the richest clans in Kanazawa.

Adjacent to the garden is Kanazawa Castle, easily accessed through the Ishikawa-mon Gate, a designated Important National Cultural Asset.

If time permits, enjoy lunch in one of the local restaurants in Omicho Market, known throughout Japan for its fresh seafood and fine sushi.

Overnight in Kanazawa

7

Kanazawa – Kyoto

Kanazawa Station to Kyoto Station: 2 h 15 min

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

Enjoy the day free at leisure. Choose to go shopping for some souvenirs or visit a couple more places in Kanazawa, such as:

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

This museum is known for its progressive architecture and ever-changing exhibits. One of the permanent artworks in the museum is Leandro Erlich’s “Swimming Pool,” a pool wherein people can enter and appear as if they are underwater.

Old Town of Higashi Chaya District

One of the three, well-preserved chaya districts in Kanazawa. A “chaya” (teahouse) was where Geishas used to entertain their guests with a song or a dance. Higashi Chaya has several artisan shops, including Hakuza, a specialized store that sells gold leaf products and features a tearoom covered in gold.

In the afternoon, travel by limited express train to Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capital and home to around 2,000 shrines and temples, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Overnight in Kyoto

8

Kyoto

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

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 in the list is the serene Ryoan-ji Temple, which is famous for its well-maintained rock garden and known to be 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 is relatively smaller than that of most temples and shrines in Kyoto but what is undoubtedly impressive is the pavilion that is completely covered in handmade gold leaves.

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

9

Kyoto

Start (cultural activity): 09:30, 12:00 or 14:30 Duration: 2 h

This half-day tour offers a unique and unforgettable chance to learn about Japanese culture in a machiya, or a traditional Kyoto-style wooden townhouse which has been beautifully restored.

Begin with a short tour of the house, getting some insight into its architecture before trying on a traditional kimono, the iconic Japanese garment.

While wearing the kimono, take part in a tea ceremony led by a tea master, a quintessential part of Japanese culture. This experience offers the chance to learn about every aspect of the Japanese tea culture, from making the tea to the movements involved in serving it.

This cultural experience ends with a choice of two options:

Option A:

A walk through the old neighborhood and a visit to a nearby sake brewery,with a chance to try the local brew.

Option B:

A short introduction to origami, the Japanese art of paper folding.

Note: In case the sake brewery is closed, an origami class will be arranged instead.

Overnight in Kyoto

10

Kyoto, Day Trip to Nara

Kyoto Station to Nara Station: 45 min

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

In the afternoon, head out of town and travel to Nara with 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 home to a great number of tame deer. Visit 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 Kyoto

11

Kyoto – Koyasan

Kyoto Station to Koyasan Station: 3 hTime: Start (guided tour): upon arrival at Koyasan Station (around 11:30) Duration: 4 h *including pick-up/drop-off and transit 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. The final ascent of the journey via cable car 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 providing some 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 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

12

Koyasan – Miyajima

Koyasan Station to Miyajima-guchi Station: 5 h Miyajima-guchi Port to Miyajima Port: 10 min

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. Please note, 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.

Before 12:00, start the long journey to Miyajima, a small sacred island located in the Seto Inland Sea.

Overnight in Miyajima

13

Miyajma and Hiroshima

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

Together with the guide, explore the island and sample some local delicacies like oysters, saltwater eel, and maple leaf-shaped cakes.

Start with Itsukushima Shrine, declared as one of Japan’s three most beautiful views. The shrine is designed in a pier-like structure and dates back to the 6th century. Its huge vermillion o-torii gate seems to be floating in the water during high tide.

Walk towards the mountain to visit Daisho-in, the most visited Buddhist temple on the island. Along the stairs is a row of spinning sutras that lead up to the main hall. It is believed that anyone who spins these sutras will be blessed.

Early in the afternoon head to Hiroshima to visit Peace Memorial Park and Museum. There is also the heart-rending A-Bomb Dome and the Children’s Peace Monument.

Note:

  • The Peace Memorial Museum is currently undergoing renovations, with some areas closed until mid-2019.
  • The base of the iconic torii gate will undergo large-scale repairs from June 2019, expected to last for 14 months. The gate will be surrounded by scaffolding and the view will therefore be obstructed during this time.

Overnight in Miyajima

14

Miyajima – Osaka

Miyajima Port to Miyajima-guchi Port: 10 mins Miyajima-guchi Station to Shin-Osaka Station: 2 h

Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

From Namba Station, walk through Osaka’s liveliest and most colourful shopping and dining streets, starting with Doguyasuji. A unique market that sells anything related to food, Doguyasuji is known for its plastic food models, which are often used in restaurant displays.

Just nearby 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 Kamagata Ukiyo-e 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

15

Departure from Osaka

Namba Station to Kansai Airport: 45 min

The rest of the day is at leisure until the scheduled transfer by train 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)
  • English meet and greet at the airport and return transfers to the airport
  • 14-Day Japan Rail Pass in ordinary class, activated on Day 2
  • 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).

  • Bus tickets on Days 5 (Takayama to Shirakawago) and 6 (Shirakawago to Kanazawa)
  • Roundtrip train tickets to Koyasan (Days 11 & 12)
  • English-speaking guides for tours on Days 2, 3, 8, 11, and 13 (supplementary charges apply for other languages)
  • All entrance fees and public transportation fees as mentioned in the itinerary on Days 2, 3, 8, 11, and 13
  • Japanese cultural experience in Kyoto on Day 9
  • Information pack

Our Services Do Not Include:

  • International and domestic flights (quoted separately)
  • All optional tours and activities
  • Some local transport (e.g. some local city buses, taxi transfers, etc.)
  • 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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