This custom itinerary is designed to show you many sides of Japan rarely experienced by the casual visitor. The trip is perfectly balanced with a mix of structure and plenty of free time to allow you to explore Japan at your own pace. You will have all the support you need, from meet and greet on arrival to a personalized info-pack with a plethora of truly useful information designed specifically to your trip.
You will be met on arrival at Tokyo Narita Airport today and taken by shuttle bus to your hotel in Tokyo. Please note that as other people will be in the same bus there may be a few stops before you arrive at your hotel (maximum of 3 other stops). Journey time is around 2 hours and this is a comfortable and easy way to make today's transfer. Look out for some great views as you ride the elevated highways into town. (This service is on a group basis.)
One quarter of all Japanese live in Tokyo or the near vicinity and with a population of over 12 million inhabitants, Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world. With its huge skyscrapers, underpasses, overpasses and crowds of pedestrians, Tokyo may not seem the most attractive city on the surface, but the city has a vibrant charm all of its own. The street level detail is what makes Tokyo such an incredibly interesting place to explore and at every turn you will be met with an array of sights, sounds and smells to enliven the senses. The city has many major sights to visit such as Senso-ji Temple in the old downtown area of Asakusa or the fashion hub of Shibuya from where all new trends are said to emanate. All in all a stay in Tokyo is to experience one of the world's most vibrant and interesting cities; a capital hurtling headlong into the future while maintaining its links with the traditions of ancient Japan.
To make things as straightforward as possible, I have included in your package Tokyo Transport Passes (Pasmo Cards). The passes are valid for all over ground railways and subways in the greater Tokyo region. The passes will have 2,500 yen of credit. When you run out, you can just top up at the automatic ticket machines at any station.
The Pasmo Card is far more than just an easy way of using the subway; you can also use the card to pay the fare in most taxis, to make purchases at many convenience stores and even to buy drinks from the countless vending machines that line Tokyo's streets.
Today you will take a full day private tour of the city with a local guide, traveling by public transport, as Tokyoites do, in order to help you to get a real feel for the Japan's capital. This will be a fantastic introduction to Tokyo and the chance to get a personal insight not only into the classic sights, but also into some more unusual and unique features of the city. With a guide at your disposal you are free to set the pace of the day to be as busy or relaxed as you choose. The guide can help you discover aspects of Tokyo that you would not find by yourself and can also help you get to grips with the city's excellent transport network.
Your guide will come to your hotel at around 9:00 AM (or any time you choose) to meet you and your day will proceed from there. Rather than fix an itinerary in advance we like to give you the flexibility to see and do what takes your fancy. This means you will need to pay for your entrance fees on the day. You will also need to cover your local transport and that of the guide. We are eager to help you get the most out of today, so if you have any specific areas of interest please let us know in advance, so we can pass this on to the guide. Your day of guiding will finish at around 5:00 PM with the guide either dropping you back at your hotel or anywhere else in the city you wish to spend the evening. (This service is on a private basis.)
Tokyo is one of the world's most vibrant cities and today you will have a full day available to explore the sights, shops and restaurants! Although initially a little overwhelming, Tokyo's first class public transport system makes getting around quick and easy and with careful planning you can see a lot in a short space of time.
Tokyo is made up of districts each with their own distinctive flavor and atmosphere: Asakusa is the old town area with Senso-ji, the city's oldest temple at its heart; a chance to experience a little of what Tokyo was like before the economic miracle of the 1970s and 80s. The Ginza in the very center of the city is a shopper's paradise with endless boutiques and department stores interspersed with some of the city's finest restaurants and European style cafes; Shibuya is Tokyo at its most fun and youthful, attracting a lively mix of students and young professionals to its bars, restaurants, manga shops and all night clubs.
Just down the tracks you will find Shinjuku, soaring skyscrapers to the west of the station; endless neon lights to the east in one of the city's premiere entertainment areas. Shinjuku is what many people think of when they imagine Tokyo and as such is a must see; and in the center of the city, close to the iconic Tokyo Tower is Roppongi, the after hours playground of the city's expat community, teeming with clubs and bars and restaurants from the very upscale at the impressive Roppongi Hills development to street-side kebabs and yakitori at Roppongi crossing. These are just a few of the districts to explore - there are many, many more if you have time.
Tokyo has so much to offer any visitor and just wandering the streets of this megalopolis is a fascinating experience with new sights, sounds and tastes to be had around every corner.
The direct express train to Matsumoto leaves from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station (the world’s busiest with nearly 3 million passengers a day passing through the ticket barriers). Journey time is in the region of 2 hours 30 minutes as the train takes you out through the suburbs of Tokyo before you reach the open countryside with paddy fields, rivers, lakes and of course, the steep-sided peaks of the Japanese Alps. We will be supplying you with Limited Express Ordinary tickets for this journey. If the weather is clear be sure to keep an eye open for Mount Fuji from the left hand windows of the train as you travel through Tokyo's outer suburbs.
Matsumoto is an alpine city surrounded on all sides by the towering peaks of the Japan Alps and has an almost European feel to it. The city is most famous for its original castle which is only a short distance from the station. This is one of the only original castles in Japan and really gives you a sense of ancient Japan and how the samurai used to live and fight. The city also boasts a number of sake breweries; hidden in the backstreets amongst the traditional buildings, a good museum of Ukiyoe woodblock prints, and is the home of soba noodles, the local specialty which is particularly delicious. The city has a really relaxed atmosphere and a cosmopolitan feel befitting of a city renowned for its musicians and authors.
You should visit Matsumoto Castle. When you arrive at Matsumoto station you can leave your bags in a locker and head off to the castle, about a 10 minute walk away or short taxi ride. The castle is one of Japan's best examples of original castles and unique colored black known as the "black crow castle". There are often volunteer guides at the entrance which are well worth taking advantage of!
Your package includes the 7 Day Rail Pass (Ordinary Car). The pass entitles you to unlimited travel on any trains in the extensive Japan Railways (JR) network. This includes all of the famous Shinkansen 'Bullet' Trains (with the exception of the Nozomi Shinkansen). You will receive an exchange voucher which must be exchanged for the pass itself after you arrive in Japan. Full details of when and how to do this will be provided with your documents. You can use your rail pass to make seat reservations for no extra charge. However, this cannot be done before you have exchanged the voucher.
Today delve further into the alps, to the exceedingly charming town of Tsumago. To get here you will utilize your Japan Rail Pass and board the train to Nagiso (1 hour).
Upon arrival at Nagiso station you'll then take a 5-minute taxi to Tsumago. The taxi will cost around 2,000 yen (not included). Full details will be provided in your Info-Pack.
Tsumago, the jewel of the Kiso Valley, was once a post town on the old Nakasendo highway linking the ancient capital of Kyoto with Matsumoto. Today, Tsumago is loved for the residents’ efforts to preserve the town’s Edo Period ambiance. Power lines are hidden away and cars banned from the main roads during the daytime so that the beautiful, traditional buildings and flag-stone streets can be seen in their true glory. A stay in Tsumago is to step back in time and experience old Japan; a world away from the robots, gadgets and gizmos that many associate with modern Japanese cities. The walk along the old samurai trail from the neighboring village of Magome through Tsumago and on to Nagiso is highly recommended.
You will have the service of an English-speaking guide today for 4 hours, to help you get the most out of your time in the Kiso Valley. The walk between the villages of Tsumago and Magome is a great way to soak up the traditional atmosphere, and your guide will be able to give you an insight into the history of the region and its vital role in connecting Tokyo and Kyoto.
The Nakasendo was one of the five routes used to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period and walking it today will reveal a side of Japan seldom seen by either foreigners or Japanese alike. Waterfalls, stone paths, mountain views, and tiny villages all make this a walk that truly shouldn't be missed! You will need to pay on the day for any entrance fees or local transport, but this is unlikely to run to much, as the area is best enjoyed on foot. (This service is on a private basis.)
Today it is time to depart for Kyoto. From Nagiso station you will board a train to Nagoya (just over an hour), where you will change to the Shinkansen to reach Kyoto (35-50 minutes). You should be able to spot the Sanyo Solar Arc on the way, just past Gifu Hashima station.
Kyoto is one of the most culturally rich cities in Asia. Home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, over 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, this ancient city showcases the heart and soul of traditional Japan. Kyoto boasts an array of world-class gardens, majestic festivals and delicate cuisine, all of which make much of the rhythms of nature and the changing of the seasons. On first glance however, visitors will see that like any large Japanese city, grid-like Kyoto has its fair share of neon and concrete. But the discerning eye will soon pick out Kyoto’s treasures: sacred shrines tucked in among shopping arcades, time-honored tea houses nestled among modern businesses and mysterious geisha scuttling down backstreets among the tourists and souvenirs. Kyoto’s charm lies in these details and whether you’re here for three days or three years, the closer you look, the more you’ll discover.
For today I have scheduled in a full day tour of the city by public transport with a private guide. Your guide will come to your accommodation at around 9:00 AM and take you on a tour that will encompass some of the more famous sights but also some lesser known places of interest. Today there will be no fixed itinerary and entrance fees and transport will be paid on the day (you'll also have to cover the guide's transport). This is to give you the maximum flexibility to enjoy each place in your own time. With a knowledgeable local by your side you will be set for a great day in this amazing city and are sure to discover things that you might otherwise miss. Please let us know in advance if there are any sights you particularly wish to see, or areas of interest you have, as we can pass this information on to the guide for you. Your day of guiding will finish at around 5:00 PM either back at your accommodation or anywhere else in the city you wish to spend the evening. (This service is on a private basis.)
Today you have a free day in Kyoto. This is an opportunity to further explore the city. Kyoto has a tremendous amount to offer whether you wish to discover some of the smaller temples and shrines dotted around the city or stroll through the bustling Nishiki Shijo market. The Kimono fashion show in the Nishijin textile district is well worth a look and if you wish to see some of the natural beauty of the Kyoto area then the Hozugawa river trip makes for a great afternoon or morning travelling down the river on a traditional style boat. If you have any special requests please ask and we will see what we can do.
Today you will be able to enjoy a private cycling tour around Kyoto accompanied by an attendant. The recommended half day Back Street Tour visits Miyagawacho and the Gion Geisha districts, as well as the old streets around the Shirakawa-river and the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park. Where you go is open to your input and interests.
Accident insurance and entrance fees are included (for sites mentioned). In the case of bad weather, please note that we recommend making this a walking tour instead. (This service is on a private basis.)
From Kyoto you will use your Japan Rail Pass to take the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Journey time is between 2h16 and 2h45. Not long past Shizuoka keep your eyes open for the views of Mt. Fuji from the left side windows of the train.
Sadly your time in Japan must come to an end. You will transfer by shuttle bus today to Tokyo Narita Airport. The driver will wait for you in the lobby of the hotel with a sign with your name on it. Please note that as other people will be traveling on the same bus there may be a few pick-ups in Tokyo before you head to the airport (maximum of 3 other stops). Journey time is around 2 hours and this is a comfortable and easy way to make today's transfer. (This service is on a group basis.)
Ibis Tokyo Shinjuku offers everything its more expensive west Shinjuku rivals do and is closer to the station then most of them. It has an excellent range of facilities including restaurants, a bar, and karaoke room. The rooms are compact but clean and come with TV, en-suite facilities, towels, hair dryer, soap and shampoo. There is a coin laundry on the 4th floor open from 6am to 10:30 pm. Rooms are moderately sized but have everything you need.
The Nunoya is a delightful Japanese style inn located in the lovingly preserved old town area of Matsumoto. This 80 year old ryokan is housed in a 3 story wooden building and is a 12 minute walk from Matsumoto station and a similar distance from the castle. Each of the 8 rooms are clean and well kept with an authentic Japanese simplicity of touch. As is traditional in Japan, the rooms do not have attached bath but the shared Japanese style bath is available for private use. All in all a great base for your stay in this historic city.
Tsumago's Minshuku Daikichi has appeared on TV Tokyo's Top Ten Minshuku program and been patronized by many celebrities. This is an authentic old-style minshuku (small family-run traditional accommodation) known for its warm welcome and local cuisine. Look out for the fried grasshoppers! The minshuku has just 5 guest rooms. Rooms are not en-suite but there is a shared bath which can be used privately.
Kohakuan - the Amber Cottage - is a lovingly restored "machiya", a traditional Kyoto townhouse. You will have exclusive use of the house which has 2 bedrooms (one western style, one Japanese style), a dining area and kitchen, a bathroom, two washrooms and a discreet computer corner (laptop provided). The dining area can be used as a third bedroom if need be. The house is on two storeys and has its own lovely Japanese style garden. The dining table and cushions as well as the bedding are hand-made by skilled Kyoto craftspeople. The wood-built cottage is in a great location a short walk from Tofukuji Station (one stop from Kyoto main station) and just a short taxi ride from Gion. Tofukuji Temple, Sennyuji Temple and the World Heritage Sanjusangen-do hall are just 10 minutes on foot. This self-catering house comes complete with Skype phone and Plasma TV, Washing machine and dryer, kitchenware & tableware, a microwave, fridge and air conditioning in all rooms. There is a convenience store 30 seconds away, a supermarket just beyond that and a post office with ATM just around the corner. This is a fantastic base for your stay in Kyoto.
The Villa Fontaine Shiodome is a great base in Tokyo, just a short walk from Shimbashi station and close to Ginza, Hamarikyu Gardens and the Tsukiji Fish Market. This hotel has excellent design and compact but modern en-suite rooms including flat screen TVs. The staff speak some English and there is a simple western style complimentary breakfast each morning. The hotel also has free internet access in the lobby.