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I am totally captivated by Asia. Having lived in Singapore, Nepal, South Korea and Hong Kong, travelled extensively in all of our destinations in Asia, and worked in luxury travel for many years, curating exceptional trips comes naturally to me.
- from $5,441 PP
- 11 Nights
- Mar - May & Sep - Oct
- 12 hrs from London / 14 hrs from NYC
Journey deeper into Japan with this on-and-off-the-beaten-path itinerary which will provide insight into Japan’s traditional and spiritual sides. Your tour will include a thorough examination of the Japanese Alps and the historic Nakasendo pilgrimage route which cuts through them, as well as an overnight stay on Mount Koya, the atmospheric center of Japanese Buddhism. Extended time is also included in Tokyo and Kyoto to ensure Japan’s major highlights are not missed, and the tour rounds out in Japan’s buzzing second city Osaka. All key sightseeing is included, in addition to numerous intriguing alternative tours and activities to help you get under the skin of this fascinating destination.
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- 11 nights in 4 or 5 star accommodation
- One additional overnight stay at simple temple lodging in Mount Koya
- Daily breakfast plus other meals as per itinerary
- Airport departure and arrival transfers
- Train tickets, rail passes, transport cards, and taxi transfers as described
- Private guided tours as described
- Expert trip planning advice
- 24/7 support from our dedicated staff
- Itinerary fully customized for individual requirements
Day by Day Itinerary
Day 1 Tokyo: Transfer from Narita or Haneda Airport
Welcome to Japan! Upon your arrival you will be welcomed to Japan by our local representative who will assist you to the appropriate shuttle bus transfer to your hotel. If you take an overnight flight, you’ll have much of the day left to explore. Akihabara is one of the top spots for visitors, with every other store on its main street a toy shop, video game shop or a manga retailer (Japanese-style comic bookstore). You’ll find plenty of great places to dine, with Tokyo home to more than 200 Michelin-starred restaurants and plenty of places for casual bites like enticing noodle shops and sushi eateries tucked among the alleyways.
Day 2 Tokyo: Sushi-making class at Tsukiji market & guided city tour
This morning you’ll join a local guide for a visit to Tsukiji Fish Market. Until recently it was the world’s largest fish market, selling around 450 different types of fish. Although the inner market moved to a new location, the outer market is still here with fresh fruits and vegetables, and an outstanding seafood section. After taking in the market you’ll be taken to a small independent restaurant in the environs for a sushi-making class, enjoying your creations lunch. The afternoon continues with a half-day guided tour of Tokyo. Venture to Hamarikyu Tien, a scenic park and former duck hunting ground, then take a cruise along the Sumida Gawa River to Tokyo’s oldest Geisha district, Asakusa. You might want to stroll through the botanical gardens of Shinjuku Gyoen, a relaxing oasis in the city with vast lawns, walking paths and tranquil scenery. In the spring, it is one of the top spots for viewing cherry blossoms.
Day 3 Tokyo: hidden neighborhoods walking tour
This morning you will set out to discover the Japanese capital with your private guide. Using public transport to get around, you will get an insider’s look at the city – focusing on Tokyo’s lesser-known gems and offbeat neighborhoods. Start in the traditional district of Yanaka where you can still feel the old Shitamachi atmosphere; stroll along to elegant Rikugien Gardens, and then later along to buzzing downtown Shibuya and the chic shopping street of Omotesando. The afternoon will be at leisure for you to continue exploring independently.
Day 4 Matsumoto: Train to Matsumoto; afternoon self-guided tour of the ‘crow castle’
This morning you’ll take a Limited Express train to Matsumoto, a pleasant city at the foot of the Japanese Alps. On arrival we recommend a self-guided tour of Matsumoto’s stunning ‘Black Crow’ Castle, which dates back to the late 16th century castle, and is arguably the best-preserved in Japan. Also highly recommended is the city’s Ukiyoe (woodblock print) museum which houses a fine collection of traditional Japanese art as well as an excellent shop. Compared to Tokyo and Osaka, Matsumoto is a calm and walkable city with lots of good options for dinner and drinks in the evening. The local soba noodles are particularly good.
Day 5 Kiso Valley: Visit a Wasabi farm then journey into the Kiso Valley
Before departing Matsumoto this morning you will pay a visit to the Daio Wasabi Farm on the outskirts of town, where you will learn more about this absolutely key ingredient in Japanese cuisine. The farm is a pristine patchwork of fields, canals, and mills which gives an excellent taste of rural Japan. The farm shop carries an excellent range of wasabi-based products, including the adventurous option of wasabi ice-cream!
You’lll then travel by train to Nagiso, in the heart of the stunning Kiso Valley. You’ll be spending two nights staying in a comfortable rural ryokan, accommodation befitting this deeply picturesque area of Japan, which is a great base for exploring traditional villages and hiking sections of the historic Nakasendo highway.
Day 6 Kiso Valley: Walking the Nakasendo Highway
You have a full day to explore the charming Kiso Valley. The valley houses several small and beautifully-preserved villages – Narai, Kiso, Tsumago, Magome – which are linked by the Nakasendo Highway, an ancient samurai path which was once the main route between Kyoto and Edo, modern-day Tokyo. The section which passes through the Kiso Valley is arguably the most scenic: rising and falling through dramatic ridges and verdant forests as it meanders from village to village. Our favorite hike is the three-hour stretch between Tsumago and Magome, but there are several options at your disposal. Please speak to your consultant for the best way to make the most of this day.
Day 7 Kyoto: Journey to Kyoto; Evening dining tour of the Gion district
Depart the Alps this morning, making your way down to Kyoto by train via Nakatsugawa and Nagoya, a journey of approximately three hours. On arrival in Kyoto you will have the afternoon to settle in and explore independently.
In the evening you will be taken on a dining tour of the historic Gion district. This is Kyoto’s traditional heart: a network of tight cobbled streets lined with wooden machiya houses and stores, and an entrance into the world of the geisha. Your guide will walk you through the hidden backstreets of the Gion, introducing you to the history and customs of the kagai (geisha district), while getting your fill in a selection of hidden bars and restaurants. After dusk settles you may catch sight of geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha) as they float through the Gion between teahouse appointments.
Day 8 Kyoto: Cycling tour of Kyoto’s backstreets
Today you will explore Kyoto on two wheels. Starting from a quiet lane near Kyoto station, you will cycle through the Gion district, along the picturesque Shirakawa Canal lined with cherry blossom and willow trees, and down to Hanami-koji (flower-viewing street). It is then on to the Imperial Palace Park, former home of the Imperial family. Later you will cover some of Kyoto’s 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Nijo Castle, former home of the early Shoguns; Kinkakuju, a stunning Zen temple with its two top floors completely covered in gold leaf; and Daitoku-ji Zen temple complex, known for its Zen rock garden, considered best of its kind in Japan. This is a full day venture which will cover approximately 30-40km of cycling, using mostly flat and quiet backstreets to get around. The tour can be shortened to a half-day or replaced with a more conventional itinerary using taxis and public transport should you prefer.
Day 9 Kyoto: Japanese cooking class
This morning you will head to a local home in Kyoto, where you will learn how to prepare a traditional Japanese meal. Follow your helpful host’s instructions to prepare dishes such as sushi, tempura, or teriyaki, before sitting down to enjoy your creations for lunch.
The afternoon is then yours to spend as you wish. The Arashiyama bamboo grove, located on the outskirts of Kyoto, is really a must-visit. Strolling the towering green bamboo as sunlight peeks through, feels like you’re walking through a storybook. A day trip to Nara, just 28 miles south of Kyoto, offers the chance to meet its famous friendly free-roaming deer in Nara Park.
Day 10 Mount Koya: Journey to Mount Koya; nighttime tour of Okuno-in
Leave Kyoto today for a journey up to spiritual Mount Koya, located in the heart of rural Kansai. This journey will pass through Osaka and Hashimoto with a couple of changes en route, with full self-guiding instructions included in your pack. You will be spending the night in this 1,200-year old settlement; a deeply atmospheric place, home to a medley of monasteries and temples, surrounded by dense mountain forests. Your stay in Koya-san is at simple Buddhist temple lodging: not the most glamourous accommodation, but certainly very memorable! During your stay you can opt to join the evening tour of the Okuno-in ‘necropolis’ – a sprawling cemetery of over 200,000 stone stupas.
Day 11 Osaka: Journey back down to Osaka; evening street food tour
Leave Koya-san this morning for the journey back down to Osaka, repeating the steps taken yesterday on the way up from Kyoto. Later in the evening you sample the best that Osaka has to offer on an exciting and enticing food tour. Moving through several different bars and izakaya you will sample Osakan favourites such as takoyaki, okinomiyaki, kushikatsu, yakiniku, and more. As the Osakans say, now is the time for “kuidaore” – eat yourself to ruin!
Day 12 Osaka: Day at leisure to explore Osaka independently
Today is yours to explore Osaka under your own steam. We recommend indulging in more of the city’s culinary delights; visiting Osaka Castle, surrounded by hundreds of cherry trees; heading to Shinsaibashi Shotengai, a merchant district here for four centuries, home to 180 stores selling just about everything you could ever want; or finally as dusk falls, stroll the canals of Dotonbori to soak up the neon lights in the beating heart of the city’s nightlife.
Day 13 Osaka: Departure day
Sadly it’s now time to say sayonara – your time in Japan has come to an end. At the appropriate time you’ll be transferred back to the airport by express train, shuttle bus, or taxi in time for your flight home.
What's not Included
- As we have clients from all over the world. Our itineraries do not include flights. If you would like us to include flights in your trip, we are happy to do so. Please speak to your travel specialist at the planning stage to include them.
- Gratuities for local guides
- We strongly advise all guests purchase comprehensive travel insurance
- Visas if required
Park Hotel, Tokyo
Tobira Onsen Myojinkan
Hotel Fuki no Mori
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