Unforgettable Travel Company

Alternative Japan

  • Duration12 Nights
  • StylePrivate Tour
  • When to GoMar - May & Sep - Oct
  • Price GuideFrom $6,679 Per Person
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.

At a Glance

  • Days 1-4
    • Tokyo

      • Private airport transfer from Haneda or Narita airport
      • Private gourmet food tour of Tsukiji market
      • Small group Taiko drumming class
      • Full day private tour of Tokyo’s hidden neighborhoods
  • Days 4-5
    • Matsumoto

      • Transfer to Matsumoto by train
      • Free afternoon to explore Matsumoto’s ‘crow castle’, Ukiyoe woodblock museum, and soba noodle bars
      • Small group tour of the Daio wasabi farm
  • Days 5-7
    • Kiso Valley

      • Scenic train journey into the Kiso Valley
      • Two-night stay in rural ryokan accommodation with breakfast & dinner
      • Full day free to hike the villages and woodland trails of the Nakasendo Highway
  • Days 7-10
    • Kyoto

      • Transfer to Kyoto by train
      • Evening private dining tour of the Gion district
      • Half-day private cycling tour of Kyoto including Arashiyama, Kinakuji, and Ryoanji
      • Private cooking class in a traditional machiya home
      • Half-day cycling tour to Lake Biwa with lunch in a rural home
  • Days 10-11
    • Mount Koya

      • Journey up to the summit of Mount Koya by train and funicular
      • Overnight stay in an authentic shukubo temple lodging
      • Free time to explore the forests, monasteries, and temples of Mount Koya
      • After dark tour of the Okuno-in cemetery
      • Join the early morning prayer service and Goma fire ritual
  • Days 11-13
    • Osaka

      • Train journey back down to Osaka
      • Private Osaka street food tour
      • Final free to cover any missed shopping or sightseeing
      • Transfer to Osaka Kansai Airport by express train or shuttle bus
  • Meet Our Expert

    Luke 257 246

    Luke Stapylton-Smith

    Asia Specialist

    I am totally captivated by Asia. Having lived in Singapore, Nepal, South Korea and Hong Kong, travelled extensively across all of our destinations in Asia, and worked in luxury travel for many years, curating exceptional trips comes naturally to me.

    CALL US ON: +1 844 879 7838
    Request a Quote

    What's Included

    • 9 nights in 4-star hotel accommodation with daily breakfast
    • 2 nights in 4-star ryokan with breakfast and dinner
    • 1 night stay in simple shukubo temple lodging with Shojin ryori Buddhist breakfast and dinner
    • 2x further lunches and 3x further dinners during food tours in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka
    • Private arrival transfer from Tokyo Narita or Haneda Airport to Tokyo hotel
    • Shuttle bus or train departure transfer to Osaka Kansai Airport
    • Individual train tickets for all mentioned train travel in Ordinary Class
    • PASMO Transport Card pre-loaded with JPY 2,500 credit and 2-day Kansai Free Pass
    • Privately guided tours and experiences in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka
    • Temple lodging experiences in Mount Koya
    • Comprehensive self-guide travel pack and app
    • 24/7 support from our dedicated staff
    • Itinerary fully customized for individual requirements

    What's not Included

    • International flights from your country of origin
    • Tips or gratuities to guides, drivers, hotel staff
    • Any meals, tours, or activities other than those specifically mentioned in itinerary
    • Incidental local expenses - souvenirs, laundry, taxis, etc
    • Travel insurance - we strongly recommend you purchase travel insurance as soon as you have booked your trip.

    Day by Day Itinerary

    • Day 1

      Tokyo: Private transfer from Narita or Haneda Airport

      iStock 1144678948 scaled e1608378300925500 x 333 Skyline of Tokyo

      Welcome to Japan! You will be met in the arrivals hall by our local representative, who will welcome you to Japan and go through any immediate questions you might have. They will also hand you your tailor-made document pack which includes your Japan Rail Pass, any individual train or bus tickets, public transport cards (usable for local travel nationwide) each pre-loaded with JPY 2,500 credit, a detailed self-guiding itinerary, and lots more useful information. You will then be assisted to the appropriate shuttle bus transfer in which you’ll enjoy a relaxed, hassle-free transfer to your downtown hotel. Dependent on traffic, this transfer will take around 75-90 minutes.

      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.

      Accommodation Options:

      • Shiba Park Hotel Exterior

        Shiba Park Hotel

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      • The Capitol Hotel Tokyu Exterior

        The Capitol Hotel Tokyu

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    • Day 2

      Tokyo: Food tour of Tsukiji market; Taiko drumming class

      500 x 333 Tsukiji market Tokyo500 x 333 Taiko drum Japan

      This morning you’ll travel to the world-famous Tsukiji market for a guided tour through its maze of narrow streets and produce sellers, which – of course – a heavy focus on fresh sushi. Until recently Tsukiji was the world’s largest fish market, selling around 450 different types of submarine species. Although the inner market has now moved to a new location, the outer market is still here, still busy, and remains packed with fresh fruits and vegetables and an outstanding seafood section.

      Meet your guide at the of the market and start the day with a sumptuous sushi breakfast, enjoying the freshest cuts you’ve ever tried! You’ll then be led through Tsukiji, with your guide blending in conversation with local vendors and tips to select delicious seafood. Many of the shops and restaurants here have been in business for decades and hand down the store from generation to generation. Get a taste of fresh fish cooked in different ways, and stroll through the alleys of the charming Tsukiji area while learning entertaining historical anecdotes about the area.

      Later you’ll be immersed in extravagant (and noisy) Japanese culture with a traditional taiko drumming lesson. On arrival you’ll be treated to a riotous performance by skilled musicians beating drums of various shapes and sizes with theatrical movements – a performance known as taiko in Japanese. After the performance, you’ll join a hands-on workshop to learn more about the art of drumming. Don a taiko drummer’s outfit – a lightweight jacket called a haori – and once dressed for the part, grab a pair of sticks and learn the techniques from a professional drummer. Try a variety of drums, from a handheld Okinawan model to the huge wadaiko drums.

    • Day 3

      Tokyo: hidden neighborhoods walking tour

      iStock 516494334 scaled e1608402058724500 x 333 Shibuya crossing Tokyo

      The backstreets of Tokyo are where you can find the heart and soul of this great city. Wandering around them with your experienced guide, you can see a different side to Tokyo; unique, untouched and unlike the typical tourist destinations. Your guide will pick you up from your hotel and, 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. Wander the city’s backstreets, stumbling across tiny shrines and temples, traditional festivals, artisan shops, and cosy eateries serving some of the best food visitors will ever taste in Japan.

      Today’s walking tour will focus Sugamo – famed for its bakeries and dessert shops, a tiny Elvis-themed cafe, and one of the last remaining tramways in Tokyo) and Shimbashi (a famous ‘salaryman’ area, packed with hole-in-the-wall eateries and bars). End the day by taking the monorail from Shimbashi into the futuristic Odaiba district, bringing you rapidly from the old and into the new!

    • Day 4

      Matsumoto: Train to Matsumoto; afternoon self-guided tour of the ‘crow castle’

      500 x 333 Matsumoto Japan500 x 333 Matsumoto castle Japan

      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.

      Accommodation Options:

      • Hotel Buena Vista Exterior

        Hotel Buena Vista

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    • Day 5

      Kiso Valley: Optional visit to a Wasabi farm then journey into the Kiso Valley

      500 x 333 Wasabi farm Japan500 x 333 Village in Kiso Valley Japan

      Before departing Matsumoto this morning we recommend arranging a self-guided 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! To reach the farm you will need to take a local train out of the city to Hotaka, then a ten-minute taxi ride. Self-guiding directions can be provided in your final pack.

      You’ll 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.

      You could choose to alight the train a few stops early at Narai-juku. This small post town is the end point of the ancient trail between Yabuhara-juku and Narai-juku, which used to be the most dangerous section of the Nakasendo. The old post town of Narai is also referred to as the “Narai of a Thousand Houses” for the many well-restored old buildings that now serve as souvenir shops or local restaurants. Visitors can also find many restaurants in Narai that serve local delicacies such as gohei-mochi (sticky-rice cakes) and soba (buckwheat noodles).

      Accommodation Options:

      • Fuki no Mori 4 Small 300x200 1

        Hotel Fuki no Mori

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      • Zenagi Exterior

        Zenagi

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    • Day 6

      Kiso Valley: Walking the Nakasendo Highway

      iStock 470322516 scaled e1608393081911500 x 333 Tsumago Kiso Valley Japan

      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 that was once the main route between Kyoto and Edo, modern-day Tokyo. The section that 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. To hike this leg, leave the ryokan after breakfast and take the train to Nakatsugawa and later, a bus to Magome, the start of the Nakasendo Trail. The walk to Tsumago is then well-signposted, and alternates between well-preserved old towns, farmland, and peaceful forest. This trail can be completed in around 3 hours, including breaks for rest, refreshment, and photography along the way.

    • Day 7

      Kyoto: Journey to Kyoto; Evening dining tour of the Gion district

      500 x 333 Shinkansen bullet train Japan500 x 333 Geisha in Kyoto Japan

      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.

      Accommodation Options:

      • Untitled design 2020 12 07T175316.554 300x200 1

        Mitsui Garden Kyoto Sanjo

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      • The Thousand Kyoto Exterior

        The Thousand Kyoto

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      • Ace Hotel Kyoto Exterior

        Ace Hotel Kyoto

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    • Day 8

      Kyoto: Cycling tour of Kyoto’s backstreets & private machiya cooking class

      500 x 333 Canal in Gion district Kyoto Japan500 x 333 Arashiyama bamboo forest Kyoto Japan

      This morning 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.

      In the afternoon you will meet with a Kyotoite local guide and head first the covered food market of Nishiki – the lively heartbeat of the city – for an introduction into the world of Japanese cuisine. Walk through the mile-long market, browsing the food stalls for local ingredients and spices. Loaded with local produce, leave the market and head to a machiya – traditional wooden townhouse – in the city center. Then it’s time to start cooking. Step into the kitchen and join a local culinary expert for a fun, interactive culinary experience. Learn to make rolled sushi, miso soup, and fruit salad using traditional techniques and hear about the dining habits of the Japanese people. After this delicious, home-cooked dinner, say farewell to the cook and head out to explore Kyoto’s nightlife or return to the hotel.

    • Day 9

      Kyoto: Cycling tour of Lake Biwa

      500 x 333 Lake Biwa Japan500 x 333 Lantern in Gion district Kyoto Japan

      Today you’ll get out of the city and have a taste of rural Japan on a half-day e-bike tour around Lake Biwa. On arrival, meet your local guide and hop on electric bikes, and then begin a gentle journey through the peaceful, small streets along Lake Biwa, cruising through ancient villages and bucolic scenery. Follow the guide through the countryside to terraced rice fields. Meet some farmers and help them with their seasonal farming activities, such as planting, or harvesting rice, fruits or vegetables. Talk to the farmers and learn about life in the local farming communities of rural Japan.

      Get back in the saddle and follow the guide to a local family home to assist the hostess in cooking some authentic chicken sukiyaki. The dish is prepared using the local rice and home-grown vegetables. Try some of the region’s specialties, such as pickled sour plums, that were prepared by the hostess herself. Interact with the hosts and experience life and the warm hospitality of a rural Japanese household. After this unique lunch, cycle back to JR Shiga station. Enjoy the gentle breeze blowing from the lake and the varied landscape with the Hira mountain range in the background.

    • Day 10

      Mount Koya: Journey to Mount Koya; nighttime tour of Okuno-in

      500 x 333 Cemetery Mount Koya Japan500 x 333 Monk in prayer Japan

      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 glamorous 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.

      Accommodation Options:

      • Ekoin 1 Small 300x200 1

        Ryokan Ekoin

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    • Day 11

      Osaka: Journey back down to Osaka; evening street food tour

      500 x 333 Rural train JapaniStock 1048032334 scaled e1608393960770

      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!

      The first stop will be to try a new style of tempura in an eatery tucked away in a small alleyway. Old favorites such as shrimp tempura, and more experimental combinations such as asparagus tempura and cheese can be found on the menu. Next, head to a restaurant specializing in wagyu beef dishes. Often referred to as the most expensive beef in the world, wagyu beef is of superb quality, and is on many a gourmet’s wish list. Enjoy the melt-in-the-mouth textures with a refreshing cocktail. After walking around the atmospheric backstreets, the final stop will be a small teppanyaki restaurant to try some delicious gyoza and negiyaki cooked on a metal plate right in front of guests.

      Accommodation Options:

      • Cross Hotel Exterior

        Cross Hotel Osaka

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      • Zentis Osaka Exterior

        Zentis Osaka

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      • Untitled design 72 300x200 1

        Marriott Miyako, Osaka

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    • Day 12

      Osaka: Day at leisure to explore Osaka independently

      Osaka Japan 2 1500 x 333 Dotobori district Osaka Japan

      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: Transfer to Osaka Kansai Airport by express train or shuttle bus

      500 x 333 - Depart from Toyko500 x 333 Lanterns in Japan generic

      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.

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