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Ever-welcoming and always fascinating, Japan is a land of ancient cultures, austere traditions and groundbreaking technology. Join us on this ultimate journey that takes you from futuristic, neon-lit Tokyo to the dense forests of the southern island of Yakushima; from sacred temples in Nikko, Kyoto and Kotohira to feasts at a Takayama market. Be wowed by the creativity of modern art at Naoshima Island, make a sobering visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and try for an Indiana Jones stunt crossing the vine bridge at Iya Valley. Discover ancient castles, lush countryside and fascinating feudal history on this authentic 24-day adventure.
TokyoKonnichiwa! Welcome to Japan. Bursting with contemporary urban culture, 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. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm tonight. You can arrive at any time during the day, as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please check with hotel reception or look on the reception noticeboard for where and when the meeting will take place. Have your insurance and next of kin details on hand as we'll be checking them at this meeting. Afterwards, join your new travel companions for an optional dinner at a local restaurant.
Tokyo - NikkoCatch an express train today (approximately 1 hour) and then a local train (approximately 1 hour) to get from Tokyo to Nikko. Japanese trains are a quintessential experience and one of the best insights into culture (and efficiency!) of the country. Enjoy shopping for snacks at the train station or purchase a bento box on board. Once you arrive in Nikko you’ll have free time for the rest of the day. Stay in a small inn tonight, known as a ryokan.
NikkoYou have a full day to explore Nikko today, an ancient town overflowing with beautiful shrines and temples. You'll visit Toshugu Shrine, a resting place of a Tokugawa shogun who was one of the most powerful rulers of the country. The opulent shrine contrasts with the traditional minimalist style commonly used throughout Japan. Every corner of this monument is covered in intricate gold leaf, lacquer work, paintings and patterns. Here you can also visit the Museum of Art at the back of the temple complex. This 1920s mansion has one of the country’s most beautiful collections of sliding doors and screens decorated by the best Japanese painters of the day. In your free time, you can pay a visit to the red-lacquered Shin-kyō bridge, one of the town’s most famous landmarks, and the Buddhist temple of Rinnō-ji, home to fearsome statues and an elegant garden. Or you may prefer time exploring Nikko’s beautiful natural setting with a visit to Chuzenji Lake and Kegon Falls. Kanmangafuchi Abyss is another highly recommended spot in Nikko to visit where you'll see about 70 Jizo Buddhas looking out to the river. Stay in our ryokan again tonight.
HakoneLeaving Nikko, you'll have a long travel day today to our next destination - Hakone. Travel by local train followed by two shikansen bullet trains and finally a bus. Phew! Total travel time can vary depending on the connections, but we will usually arrive by mid afternoon.The journey is certainly worth it as Hakone is a scenic hot-springs resort in the foothills of Mt Fuji. You’ll be staying at a family run ryokan tonight, with tatami-mat rooms, shared bathroom facilities and a lovely outdoor hot-spring onsen.
HakoneThis morning, hop on a boat across Ashinoko Lake and then take a cable car ride to the top of the surrounding mountains. The area around the lake offers plenty of stunning views, and you may even catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji in the distance if weather conditions are clear. The afternoon is free to further explore Hakone’s spectacular mountain scenery and volcanic sites. Perhaps visit the boiling sulphur springs of Owakudani, or Hakone Jinja Shrine with its red torii gate rising from the shore of Ashinoko Lake. Or go for a walk through the hills of the famed grassland ecosystem of Sengokuhara. There’s also a great collection of art at the Hakone Open-Air Museum and the Pola Museum of Art, an eclectic mix that includes work by the likes of Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Gallé. Not what you would expect to find in a small Japanese town, right?
TakayamaTravel by a local train first then a shikansen towards Takayama in alpine Gifu Prefecture today. You’ll reach speeds of 270 kilometres per hour and it will take around 4 hours to get there in total. Takayama is a charming Edo period town located in the Japanese alps, famous for its traditional inns, sake breweries and the Hida Folk Village. The latter is your first stop, an outdoor museum where the traditional thatched-roof architecture unique to the area has been relocated in a delightful mountain setting in an effort to preserve traditional Japanese culture. Discover the techniques used to build farmhouses that could withstand fierce winters and long periods of isolation due to snow-closed roads. The thick thatching kept in warmth and the roofs were angled so as to minimise snow build-up. Each house is like its own self-contained museum, with displays of personal items and traditional tools. We stay in another delightful ryokan tonight where you can experience traditional Japanese hospitality, sleeping on futon in tatami-mat rooms. Your included dinner tonight will give you the chance to taste some of Takayama’s famous signature dishes.
TakayamaEnjoy a typical local breakfast this morning at the ryokan before our visit to the morning market. Gifu prefecture is known to produce many fine high-altitude vegetables, and these markets have been held for over 600 years. Browse the stalls of seasonal vegetables brought in from the surrounding countryside, set up by local farm women from 6am every morning. Look out for the unique local style of pickles, the bags of miso wrapped in leaves, Genkotsu ame (soy bean candy), preserved fish, spices, and the delicious marshmallow treat of owara tamaten. The alpine climate and crystal clear mountain waters are perfect for creating sake, so you'll also visit a local brewery for a taste of the region's prized signature drop later today. The rest of the day is free for you to explore this delightful little town.Takayama is also very famous for Hida beef. Don't miss the opportunity to try some of the country’s best while you're in town for lunch or today.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
HiroshimaTime to leave Takayama and travel by express train and shinkansen (approximately 5 hours) to Hiroshima. Depending on arrival times, we will either visit Hiroshima’s Peace Park this afternoon or tomorrow morning. The Genbaku (A-Bomb) Dome and Peace Memorial Museum stand testament to the fateful day in August 1945 when Hiroshima was chosen as target for the first ever wartime use of the atomic bomb. The dome was just metres from where the bomb detonated so it was able to retain its shape and the fact that it looks almost exactly as it did after the bombing has made it an enduring symbol of peace. The memorial park serves the same purpose, and has museums, memorials and monuments dedicated to the memory of victims. This evening, maybe try one of the city’s signature dishes for dinner – okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake of egg, cabbage, soba noodles, and meat or seafood. Our accommodation tonight will either be a simple ryokan or hotel.
Miyajima - HiroshimaToday you'll make your way to the nearby island of Miyajima with its famous 'floating' torii gate. You might like to further explore the island by climbing to the top of Mt Miyajima (or hopping on the cable car instead) for 360-degree views of the Inland Sea. Keep your eyes out for inquisitive and hungry deer that roam the streets. You have the rest of the day free to enjoy some of the other sites in this very welcoming and pleasant city. You could stop by the magnificent five-storied Hiroshima Castle, which originally dates from the 1590s. It was destroyed by the bomb but reconstructed in all its glory in the 1950s, and now holds an informative museum. The wonderful Shukkeien Garden, with its graceful teahouses and waterfalls, is also a perfect place to decompress on a break from sightseeing. For something a bit louder, there are local baseball and soccer teams (if the day is right), or endless shopping choices. Ask your leader for other tips and suggestions as there is plenty to see and do.
KyotoLeave Hiroshima today and head to Japan’s most impressive samurai castle at Himeji by shinkansen (approximately 1 hour). The building, which has survived earthquakes and war since the mid-16th century, was restored to its full glory in 2015. The moats, baileys, towers and walled alleyways were ingeniously designed to trick attackers – perhaps so intimidatingly that they were never in fact tested. Explore the castle that was once home to over 10,000 samurai families and look out over the castle grounds and the city below from the seventh floor. Hop back on the shinkansen for the 1 hour train trip to Kyoto. 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. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years (the name means “Capital City”) but the emperor and government are now located in Tokyo. With over 2,000 temples, shrines and gardens, Kyoto is a great place to get lost in. Your leader will take you on an orientation walk on arrival to get your bearings and you may like to spend some further time getting acquainted with Kyoto by wandering through its historical streets lined with traditional machiya houses. Stay in a ryokan or simple hotel during our time here.
OsakaToday you will travel to Osaka for the second part of this combination trip. Please note that your tour leader and group composition may change today. Enjoy some free time in this unofficial culinary capital before the briefing at 6pm today.
TakamatsuDepart Osaka this morning and begin the journey west. Take the train across the bridge spanning the stunning Inland Sea and onto Takamatsu (approximately approx 3-4 hours). This may be the largest city on the island of Shikoku (the smallest of Japan’s four main islands), but it's a beautifully unpretentious town full of history, top-notch food and interesting local art. Here you'll visit Ritsurin Garden, one of the most beautiful gardens in the country. Dating back to the Edo period, it comprises several ponds and arched bridges designed around strolling paths, tea pavilions and historic trees, with a western garden an addition to the Japanese one. The garden also houses the Sanuki Folkcraft Museum which displays a variety of ceramics and basket-work dating from the time of the Tokugawa shoguns.
Naoshima - TakamatsuTake the ferry (around 1 hour) for a day-trip to the island of Naoshima, located in the Inland Sea between Takamatsu and the mainland, which is famous worldwide for its modern art galleries, museums, avante-garde architecture and lovely natural setting. Explore the island by public bus or bicycle to take you between the different galleries and installations. Wander between artworks, hear the sound of waves lapping at quiet coves, and stumble unexpectedly upon outdoor sculptures. Return to Takayama after a full day on the island.
KotohiraIt's back on the train this morning and off to the small town of Kotohira (around 90 mins), which is famous for Kompira-san, Shikoku's most celebrated shrine. Popular with pilgrims, Kompira-san is dedicated to seafaring, and although the approach to the shrine is not particularly straightforward, it's well worth the effort. Passing some historical landmarks on the way, climb the 785 steps to the main hall and take in views overlooking Kotohira Town and the Inland Sea far below and check out a real submarine on display. For those interested, just to the east of the entrance to Kompira-san you can also find Kanamaru-za, said to be one of the oldest kabuki theatres in Japan. You can go backstage and see how they ingeniously worked the revolving stage and trapdoor hundreds of years ago. Stay overnight in a small guesthouse tonight.
Iya Valley - MatsuyamaBefore heading west by train along the Inland Sea coast to the attractive castle-town of Matsuyama, we make a day trip to the secluded Iya Valley by local train and private coach. Traverse the winding passes and head to the atmospheric Kazura-bashi (which translates as ‘vine bridge’) located in a remote part of Oku-Iya (known as ‘deep Iya’). When the Heike clan fled here some 800 years ago, they built these bridges as the only way to span the gorges and Iya River; if they were attacked then they could cut the vines at a moment’s notice. Only three of these bridges remain, and they look like something out of Indiana Jones. You'll also visit the Nagoro ‘scarecrow village’, where a local artist 'repopulated' the dwindlling village by positioning life size scarecrows through the village, and Buke Yashiki, a restored thatched-roof samurai house which lies at the top of a steep valley slope and towering cedar trees. This was once the home of village leaders, and now offers displays of samurai armour and superb views over the valley.
MatsuyamaThis morning, visit hill-top Matsuyama Castle, one of Japan's finest surviving castles and located right in the middle of this lovely provincial capital with its old trams and refined feel. Unlike most castles in Japan, this one has an interesting collection of artefacts inside, so take the chance to check them out and learn a little more about Matsuyama's feudal history. With free time in the afternoon, maybe relax and unwind at the beautiful Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest bath houses in Japan, or visit Ishiteji Temple which is the 51st of the 88 temples that make up Shikoku’s ‘88 Sacred Temples’ circuit, Japan’s most famous pilgrimage route.
NagasakiWe have a long day of travel ahead of us today (around 8 hours in total) as we leave Shikoku, cross the beautiful Inland Sea once more and head further west to Kyushu, the third largest of Japan’s four main islands. We arrive in Nagasaki in the afternoon and have an orientation walk with our leader to stretch our legs after our journey. Though its name has strong connotations of bombs and war – and the military history sites are important to visit – Nagasaki is a delight to explore, with its hills and harbour, shrines and temples, churches and other remnants from its long involvement with Asian and European traders.
NagasakiThis morning, visit the Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum for a sobering reminder on what happened on that dreadful day of 9 August 1945. If you wish to reflect and explore further, there are other interesting museums nearby worth visiting. With a tram pass at your disposal, take the time to explore other parts of Nagasaki in the afternoon. Consider heading over to Dejima. This fascinating artificial island, once a Dutch trading post in the 17-19th centuries (and the sole foreign presence in the whole country at one point) is well worth exploring. The 26 Martyrs Memorial, Oura Catholic Church, Glover Garden and Dutch Slopes also give you a glimpse into the life of the early Christians and European traders in Japan. Then in the evening, perhaps slurp on some champon noodles – ramen Nagasaki-style!
YakushimaFrom Nagasaki we take a limited express and shinkansen bullet train through Kyushu’s attractive hinterland to its southern-most point. Here jump on a hydrofoil to travel a few hours to the island of Yakushima, arriving in the afternoon. A remote island even by Japanese standards, the journey is well worth the effort. Much of Yakushima’s adundant natural resources have been preserved without exploitation, making it particularly picturesque. It was justifiably added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1993. The forests of Yakushima are said to have inspired the forest setting in Hayao Miyazaki's film ‘Princess Mononoke’, and it's easy to see why. Its ancient cedar trees and shady green splendour are a delight to behold, and at times give the feeling of walking through another world. Your stay in Yakushima will most certainly be one full of magic. Tonight we enjoy a dinner of local Yakushima cuisine.
YakushimaSet off on a hike today through the lush green forests of Yakusugi Land (approximately 2.5 hours). Yakusugi Land is a beautiful national park home to the ‘yakusugi’ – the island’s magnificent ancient cedar trees which are over 1000 years old (some are as old as 3000 years!). If you’re lucky along the way you might encounter a Yakushika deer or Yakuzaru monkey. After your hike, kick back and relax. You may want to spend some free time soaking in the natural onsen baths by Yakushima’s shoreline. In the summer season (May-July), the lovely Nagata Inaka-hama Beach is the place to be. Here, when it's the season, giant turtles lay their eggs in the sand at night.
OsakaSay goodbye to the magical forests of Yakushima and jump back on the hydrofoil and head back by shinkansen through Kyushu to Osaka. Tonight you have the option to join your leader and travel companions for a final celebration of your time in Japan.
OsakaThe trip comes to an end this morning. There are no planned activities today.
KyotoWith its many cultural landmarks and historical sites, and the abundance of traditional arts and literature, Kyoto is regarded as the cultural heart of Japan. Your tour leader will take you to visit two of the best temples this morning. Afterwards, it's your free time to explore this charming ancient capital. You will have almost one and half free days here to exploreand there is a lot to see and experience here. Your tour leader will be able to help you with making the most out of your time. Fushimi Inari is definitely one of the most photographed shrines in Japan. For the more active, hiking up the mountain following the red torri gates is a great way to enjoy the expansive forest on the shrine’s grounds and views of the city below. Otherwise, maybe head off to Arashiyama to enjoy a wander through the Sagano bamboo forest, or cycle along the Kamo River. Another great stop is the architecturally impressive Higashi Honganji Temple and the almost surreal Sanjusangendo, home to 1,001 statues of Kannon, or the Nishiki food market. A gentle stroll through Kyoto's eastern hills along the ‘Path of Philosophy’ that links Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, with Nanzen-ji Temple is also recommended. This walk can be extended south through the well-preserved ‘old town’ areas to Kiyamizu-dera (Temple of Clear Water) with its famous viewing platform. Also recommended, for those visiting in spring, is a visit to the theatre for a presentation of Miyako Odori (Cherry Blossom Dance) performed by elaborately dressed maiko (apprentice geisha), or a visit to the extravagantly decorated Kinkakuji Temple, immortalised in Yukio Mishima’s novel “The Golden Pavilion”. On one of the evenings, your leader will take you on a stroll through Gion, Kyoto's famous Geisha district. Even today you can observe the age-old tradition of geisha as they head out to perform dances and song for members of the wealthy elite in small teahouses tucked away in tiny back streets.
- Nikko - Toshogu Shrine
- Hakone - Cable car/Ropeway
- Hakone - Lake Ashinoko boat cruise
- Takayama - Hida Folk Village
- Takayama - Market visit
- Takayama - Sake brewery tasting
- Hiroshima - Peace Park & A - Bomb Dome
- Hiroshima - Peace Museum
- Hiroshima - Miyajima Island
- Himeji - Himeji Castle
- Kyoto - Temple/Shrine entrance (2)
- Kyoto - Gion District walk
- Takamatsu - Ritsurin Garden & Sanuki Folkcraft Museum
- Takamatsu - Naoshima day trip (ferry, public bus & bicycle)
- Kotohira - Kompira-san
- Iya Valley - Kazura-bashi (vine bridge), Nagoro "Scarecrow" Village & Buke Yashiki samurai house
- Matsuyama - Matsuyama Castle
- Nagasaki - tram day pass
- Nagasaki - Peace Park & Atomic Bomb Museum
- Yakushima - Shiratani Unsuikyo National Park hiking
2 Breakfast(s) Included
3 Dinner(s) Included
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