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.
Welcome to Japan! Upon arrival at Narita Airport today, you will be met by a local representative 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, depending on traffic. Enjoy the ride, as this is a comfortable and easy way to make today's transfer. Look out for some great views along the elevated highways into town. Upon arrival at your hotel, check in and enjoy your first night in this bustling and vibrant city at your leisure! (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.
Included in your package, are 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 be taken on a full day private tour of the city with a local guide. In order to get a real feel for Japan's capital, you will travel by public transport, just like the locals. This will be a fantastic introduction to Tokyo, with the chance to see not only the classic highlights, but also many of the more unusual and unique features of the city. With the expertise of your guide, you can discover aspects of Tokyo you would never otherwise know about, as you get to grips with the city's excellent transport network. You are free to set the pace of the day to be as busy or relaxed as you want.
Your guide will meet you at the hotel around 9:00 AM, or any time you choose this morning, and your day will proceed from there. Rather than making a fixed itinerary in advance, you will have full flexibility to pick whatever attractions and activities interest you. This means that you will need to pay for your entrance fees on the day of the tour, and will also need to cover your local transport costs and that of your guide. We want you to get the most out of this experience as possible, so please let us know if you have any specific areas of interest, so we can pass that on to your guide before the tour. Around 5:00 PM, your guide can either bring you back to your hotel, or anywhere else in the city that you may wish to spend the evening. (This service is on a private basis.)
Tokyo is one of the world's most vibrant destinations, where exciting sights, sounds and tastes are waiting to be discovered around every corner. Today, you can enjoy the freedom of exploring Tokyo's treasures on you own. The city is made up of various districts, each with its own distinctive flavor. Asakusa is the old town area, which boasts Tokyo's oldest and most beautiful temple, Senso-ji, in the heart of the town. A tour of this area offers a glimpse into what Tokyo used to be like, before the economic miracle of the 1970's and 80's. The Ginza, nestled in the very center of the city, is a true shopper's paradise. With trendy boutiques and department stores nestled between world renowned restaurants and European style cafes, the atmosphere is buzzing. Shibuya, promises Tokyo's most fun and youthful spirit. Attracting a lively mix of students and young professionals to its bars, restaurants, manga shops and night clubs, this area is always flourishing with activity.
Just down the tracks, you will find Shinjuku. Decorated with soaring skyscrapers to the west of the station, and endless neon lights to the east of the station, it is one of the city's premiere entertainment areas. Shinjuku is what many people think of when they imagine Tokyo, and therefore this iconic district is not one that should be missed! In the center of the city, close to the famous Tokyo Tower, you will find Roppongi. This is the after hours playground of the city's expat community, teeming with clubs, bars and restaurants, ranging from the elegantly upscale, to the street-side kebab shops and yakitori.
Today, you will be taking the direct express train to Matsumoto, which 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 and 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. You will be provided with Limited Express Ordinary tickets for this journey. If the weather is clear, be sure to keep an eye out 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). This pass entitles you to unlimited travel on any trains within the extensive Japan Railways (JR) network. This includes all of the famous Shinkansen "Bullet" Trains, with the exception of the Nozomi Shinkansen. You will be provided with an exchange voucher, which must be exchanged for the pass itself, once you have arrived in Japan. Full details of when and how to do this will be included with your travel documents. You can also use your Rail Pass to make seat reservations for no extra charge. However, this cannot be done until you have exchanged the voucher.
Today, you will 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, for a one hour ride.
Upon arrival at Nagiso station, you will then take a 5-minute taxi to Tsumago. The taxi will cost around 2,000 yen, and will need to be paid for on the day of your journey. 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.
This morning you will start off by taking a bus from Tsumago to the nearby post town of Magome. After exploring Magome, you can continue your journey by walking back to Tsumago via the most beautiful remaining section of the old Nakasendo highway. The Nakasendo was one of the five routes used by samurai 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. Enjoy your final night in Tsumago! Full details of this hike will be in your Info-Pack including a rainy day alternative route.
Today, it is time for your journey to continue onto Kyoto. From Nagiso station, you will board a train to Nagoya, a ride of just over one hour. From there, you will change to the Shinkansen to reach Kyoto, another 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 all of 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.
Today, you will be taken on a full day tour of Kyoto by public transport. Exploring beside your very own local guide is the best way to discover this city, that is so rich in UNESCO World Heritage sites, it can be hard to know where to start! Your guide can offer the insight of a local's perspective, to truly reveal the area's authentic culture, iconic highlights and hidden secrets.
Your guide will meet you at the hotel around 9:00 AM, or any other time you choose this morning. From there, you will embark on the tour by public transport. Although Kyoto does offer an extensive bus route, we recommend taking a few taxis along the way as well, to speed things up. Please note that you will need to pay for lunch, transport and entrance fees on the day of your tour. It will be time to say goodbye to your guide around 5:00 PM, either back at your hotel, or anywhere else in the city you may 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 and make the most of your stay. 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 area, than the Hozugawa river trip makes for a great afternoon or morning. You can glide down the river on a traditional style boat. If you have any special requests for today, please ask and we will see what we can do.
Today you have the opportunity to visit Obubu tea farm in Wazuka, rural Kyoto prefecture. Obubu is Kyoto dialect for 'green tea'. The tour begins at 11am with a cup of tea and a brief introduction in English before you head into the mountains to visit several of the tea fields. Here your guide will explain a number of the growing and harvesting processes. A tea-soba noodle lunch is included with the tour and then later you will have a tea tasting session where you can try eight different varieties of tea. As a souvenir you'll be given two sample bags of tea to take home with you. Please note that to reach the tea farm you'll need to travel by JR train from Kyoto Station for 1 hour and then hop in a taxi for the last 15 minutes (not included) - full directions will be in your Info-Pack. (This service is on a group basis.)
You will be making the journey from Kyoto to Tokyo by Shinkansen, using your Japan Rail Pass today. Journey time is around 2.5 hours. Not long past Shizuoka, keep your eyes open for the stunning views of Mt. Fuji from the left side windows of the train.
Unfortunately, your journey through the highlights and hidden treasures of Japan must officially come to an end today. From the hotel, you will take a shared shuttle bus to Tokyo Narita Airport. Your driver will be waiting to meet you in the hotel lobby, holding a sign with your name on it. As other people will be traveling on the same bus, you may have to make up to 3 other stops en route to the airport. All in all, this comfortable ride should take around 2 hours.
We hope you had an amazing adventure and we wish you safe and pleasant travels home! (This service is on a group basis.)
Ibis Tokyo Shinjuku offers everything that its more expensive west Shinjuku rivals do, at a more affordable cost and more convenient location closer to the station, as compared to most of them. It has an excellent range of facilities on property, including restaurants, a bar and karaoke room...a great source of entertainment to end the night! The guest rooms are compact and simple, yet clean and comfortable. They come with a TV, en-suite facilities, towels, hair dryer, soap and shampoo. There is a coin laundry on the 4th floor open from 6:00 AM to 10:30 PM as well, for your convenience.
With hot spring baths and a convenient central location, Dormy Inn Matsumoto is top choice. Complimentary bowls of soba noodles (the local specialty) are available from 9.30pm to 11pm (subject to availability!). Facilities include coin- operated washing machines and vending machines, while free WiFi is available in all rooms.
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.
In Kyoto you will be staying at Anzu-An. This is a lovingly restored Machiya, a traditional Kyoto townhouse. You will have exclusive use of the house, which features two bedrooms (one Western style, one Japanese style), a dining area and kitchen, a bathroom, washroom and a discreet computer corner with a laptop. The dining area can also be used as a third bedroom, if need be. This two story wood-built cottage boasts its own Japanese style garden and is set in a great location, a short walk from Kawaramachi Station. It comes with everything you could possibly need, including a Skype phone and Plasma TV, washing machine and dryer, kitchenware and tableware, a microwave, fridge and air conditioning in all rooms. There is even a convenience store and plenty of restaurants nearby too.
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.
*Pricing is based on two persons traveling together, based on availability, subject to change.