This itinerary exposes you to various essential aspects of Japan from cities, culture, history, and more! Visits include Tokyo, Hakone (Mt. Fuji area), Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto. Begin your journey in the fascinating city of Tokyo and enjoy the myriad of sights, sounds, and tastes it has to offer. If Tokyo's concrete and neon is getting to you then you might like to head north to Nikko or south to Kamakura, both easily accessible from the capital as day trips. Continue on to Hakone, where you can spend your time taking in the sights or simply relaxing in one of the superb natural hot spring baths. Continue on to the vibrant modern city of Osaka where you'll enjoy a unique Izakaya experience - allowing you the opportunity to take in the Osaka philosophy of 'kuiadore' - eat, drink and enjoy life! Next your off to Hiroshima where you'll have time to explore the city and nearby Miyajima independently. End your journey in Kyoto, the ancient capital and true heart of Japanese history and culture.
Welcome to Japan! 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, 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. (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.
Today you will have the services of a private guide for four hours. You will be 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 the city and you can ask your guide any questions you may have about Tokyo and life in Japan. Your guide will come to your hotel at around 9:00 AM (or any time you choose) to meet you and your guiding will proceed from there. (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.
You will take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Odawara Station, the gateway city for the Hakone National Park. You will be using your Japan Rail Pass for this journey which will take just 40 minutes.
From Odawara Station you will use your Hakone Freepass to take the bus up into the mountains of Hakone and on to your accommodation. The road twists and turns as you head higher passing through several small villages en-route.
We have included the 2 Day Hakone Freepass. The pass is valid for two days from today and entitles you to unlimited use of 6 different forms of transport in the Hakone region. These include the mountain buses and railway, one of the longest cable cars in Japan and a funicular railway as well as a pirate ship which cruises across Lake Ashi! These all criss-cross the region making it easy to explore and enjoy the surroundings as well as some of the many top quality art museums. The pass also gives you small discounts at many attractions in the area so be sure to show your pass when purchasing tickets. And of course, if you are lucky with the weather, you will be rewarded with stunning views of Mount Fuji.
Hakone is a beautiful national park area around 50 miles west of Tokyo and just to the south of Mount Fuji, Japan's most sacred peak. The area consists of a handful of small villages and hamlets all connected by a variety of local transport that winds itself through the region's hills and valleys. Hakone has plenty to see and do, from tasting eggs boiled in volcanic waters to taking a boat trip across beautiful Lake Ashi. The outdoor sculpture park and Picasso gallery is a great place to wander around for an afternoon. Or maybe you will just sit back and relax while soaking in one of the many therapeutic hot spring baths that Hakone is so famous for.
The other main draw to this area is the proximity to Japan's most sacred and iconic mountain, Fuji-san (Mount Fuji) with its near perfect symmetrical form soaring skywards and towering over the surrounding hills. From Hakone you have one of the best chances of getting a view of Mount Fuji from the various view points to be found throughout the area. However, be sure to have your camera at the ready; Fuji-san is notoriously shy and you do not want to miss that precious photo opportunity!
Exploring the Hakone region is a lot of fun, with a great mix of scenery, culture and history. The classic circular sightseeing loop will take you around the major points of interest, including some great viewpoints for Mount Fuji (weather permitting!), the boat cruise on Lake Ashi, and the Hakone checkpoint, highlighting the region's important historical role.
There are many excellent museums in Hakone, so you might like to step off the classic circular loop to visit some of these. The other major attraction is of course the hot-spring baths, so you may like to do as the Japanese do, and spend some (or all!) of the day soaking in the famous waters of Hakone.
After your time in Hakone, you will use your Hakone Freepass to make the journey by bus down from the mountains to Odawara Station.
From Odawara you will use your Japan Rail Pass to take the Shinkansen on to Osaka. The journey will see you racing down Japan's eastern seaboard by Shinkansen and takes a little over 2 hours.
Osaka is Japan's second city and an extremely vibrant and lively place to stay. There may not be any real 'tourist' sights but it is just the life on the streets that makes Osaka such a fascinating city to visit. Osaka people work hard and play hard and it really shows with the vast number of restaurants, bars and all round entertainment available. The city aquarium is world class and you cannot stay in Osaka without taking a ride on one of the city's several giant big wheels, perhaps the most dramatic of which is perched on top of the Hep 5 department store in the Umeda district of the city - just don't look down if you are afraid of heights!
Osaka Castle is well worth a visit despite being a reconstruction as the original was burnt down during the firebombing at the end of World War II and you will find a variety of very interesting museums scattered throughout the city. After dark, Osaka really comes alive, and a walk through the bright lights of the Nanba district is a great way to take in the atmosphere, with some great people-watching opportunities. With literally thousands of restaurants, bars and entertainment spots to choose from, Osaka is perfect for a big night out, some hearty local food and the chance to let your hair down. Osaka really is one of Japan's truly all action cities and a stay here is a chance to experience what life in modern day urban Japan is really like.
Our Osaka resident guide Ayako Kiyono will take you on a street food tour of Osaka's exciting Nanba district tonight. Ayako will meet you at your hotel and you will head first to the famous Dotonbori 'restaurant' street in the heart of Nanba. Famed for its vast array of culinary options, Dotomburi is known as a food paradise throughout Japan. A vast array of eateries and bars line the neon illuminated street to left and right, from the basement to the upper floors, 8, 9 or 10 stories up. Hole in the wall takoyaki stands and street side ramen bars rub shoulders with upscale eateries serving the finest wagyu beef. Everywhere people, young and old, are out to enjoy the culinary pleasures of the nation's most famous restaurant district. This is where Kansai people come to cheer on their local baseball or football team, or any other excuse to celebrate!
You'll be sure to stop off at the 'Glico running man' neon ad which along with the giant moving crab statues has become a symbol of the area. You will also be able to take a view from the waters on a short boat cruise down the river that runs parallel to Dotonbori, learning a little of the history (old and new) of the area. To ensure good luck for the rest of your trip, Ayako will take you to Hozenji Yokocho to splash water on to the resident “Ofudosan”, a Buddhist God for love and business. Food wise, you’ll have the chance to try Kushikatsu (skewered vegetables and meat dishes), Takoyaki (the very famous 'octopus balls') and a variety of delights at a traditional Izakaya (pub-restaurant). Tonight will be a great chance to sync with the Osaka philosophy of 'kuiadore' - eat, drink and enjoy life! Food, transport and a couple of drinks are all included.
(This service is on a private basis.)
Today you have a free day to explore Osaka. Osaka has recently been voted the world’s top city for food by several newspapers and it won’t take you long to discover why. As well as several Michelin star restaurants, Osaka boasts fantastic and inexpensive street food. Down to earth Osakans are rightly proud of their earthy cuisine. Be sure to try takoyaki or octopus dumplings!
Once you've had your fill of all the food Osaka has to offer you could make your way to the city's towering replica samurai castle and spend some time exploring its sprawling grounds. The castle building hosts a brilliant museum with a great introduction to Japan's feudal history, with a large amount of the exhibits in English. The top tower of the keep also affords you great views across the gardens and city.
From Osaka you will be traveling further down the east coast of Japan to the city of Hiroshima. You will be using your Japan Rail Pass for the journey starting out at Osaka Station with the one stop, 2 minute ride across the river to Shin-Osaka from where the Shinkansen departs. Once at Shin-Osaka station you will need to follow the transfer signs to the Shinkansen.
If you haven't already made a ticket reservation you can do so at any of the ticket offices within the station. You can not travel on the Nozomi Shinkansen which is the fastest of JR's impressive fleet. However, from Shin-Osaka you can take the Hikari Rail Star. This 700 Series Shinkansen offers first class standard seats for all passengers with seat reservations but with no supplement to pay. Definitely one to take advantage of. Of course, if you do not have a seat reservation you can travel in the unreserved carriages.
Your Info-Pack will include all the information you need regarding the departure time from Shin-Osaka. Total journey time to Hiroshima is just 90 minutes for the 212 mile journey. En-route, look out for the Seto Ohashi Bridge and Himeji Castle from the left hand windows of the train.
Hiroshima is a city that needs little introduction. It is of course infamous for being the site of one of two atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of the Second World War. Despite it's tragic past, Hiroshima is now a bustling and vibrant city which has risen phoenix-like from the ashes. The Peace Park and Museum are a poignant reminder of the reason for Hiroshima's fame and everyone should spend an afternoon in this part of town.
Other attractions in Hiroshima include Hiroshima Castle and the baseball stadium. Shukkei-en Garden is well worth an afternoon stroll with a number of tea houses dotted about the grounds. The Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of Art contains some wonderful paintings by both Japanese and Western artists. The local food is ‘okonomiyaki’, literally meaning ‘what you like’. You choose the ingredients and cook the cabbage-based pancake-style dish yourself over a hot plate at your table.
From Hiroshima you can easily make a half day excursion to the scenic island of Miyajima, set in the Inland Sea National Park. Miyajima is famous for its 'floating' tori gate at Itsukushijima which is ranked as one of Japan's 'top three sights' and is a World Heritage site. You'll get your first glimpse of this as you take the ferry to the island.
Other highlights include taking the scenic cable car to the top of Mount Misen for sweeping views of the whole area as well as the chance to encounter some of the native monkeys! There are a number of nice shops near the port. From Hiroshima (city center or train station) you can take a tram or train to Miyajima-Guchi Station and hop on a ferry there. Details will be provided with your Info-Pack.
You will board a Shinkansen train at Hiroshima Station and head east to Kyoto. Journey time is around 2 hours.
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.
While Japan rushes to embrace modernization, scratch a little deeper in Kyoto and the ancient rituals of Japanese life are still to be found. Nowhere is this more so than at Tondaya. Preserved in the same family for 13 generations, Tondaya is a classic example of a Meiji period 'machiya' or town house. Located in Kyoto's Nishijin textile district, the house was built as a textiles shop with living quarters stretching far behind. There are three storehouses, six small gardens reflecting the seasons, a tea ceremony room and an annex where Noh performances were once held.
Today you will take a tour of the beautifully preserved 'machiya' and its antiques. As part of your 90 minute tour you will be shown how to dress in kimono. Once in your kimono, you will be instructed in the time-honored techniques of the tea ceremony. Afterwards, a ‘bento’ lunch served on authentic Meiji period dining ware is included.
(This service is on a group basis.)
Today you might like to make a day trip to Nara. Nara lies just 40 minutes by local train from Kyoto and is renowned for the wealth of its Buddhist and Shinto heritage. Nara was formerly the end of the Silk Road and was for this reason, the area which first saw Buddhist teaching making the transition across the ocean from China and over into Japan.
In 710 Nara became the first permanent capital of Japan and with this the large monasteries rapidly gained in political power and influence resulting in frequent bloodshed as the different sects fought for supremacy and power. Such was the rise of the monasteries that in 784 the capital was moved away from Nara in order to protect the position of the Emperor and the central government, eventually settling in Heian (Kyoto) in 794 where it remained for the next 1,000 years.
Today Nara retains many dramatic sights as reminders of its former power and influence. The daibutsu or big Buddha is hugely impressive as is the huge wooden structure which houses it, to this day, the world's largest wooden building despite the current structure being a third smaller than the original. The myriad of shrines and temples are all set against the backdrop of the low lying mountains and in the midst of Nara park which is famously home to a vast population of pesky deer who given half a chance, will munch on your guide books, umbrellas, scarves, and about anything else they can get their noses into! You can also buy official deer cookies to feed them with, but do so at your own peril!
Trains run regularly between Kyoto and Nara starting shortly after 5 AM and continuing until late in the evening. Timetables and sightseeing suggestions for the day will of course be in your Info-Pack.
Time to say sayonara to Japan! The Shinkansen will take you east to Tokyo, where you will change to an express train to reach Narita Airport. Total journey time is around 4 hours.
Designed by Piero Lissoni, an internationally renowned Italian designer, the stylish Mitsui Garden Hotel Ginza represents a sophisticated and tranquil retreat in the heart of Tokyo. The interiors and suites of the hotel were designed in rich earth-tone colors to provide a sense of calm and relaxation in contrast to the urban backdrop of the push and pull of Tokyo. Furthermore, The Mitsui Garden Hotel Ginza is the only high-rise building hotel in the Ginza area of Tokyo, providing fantastic vistas of the skyline, especially at night. Simple pleasures of enjoying an evening bath take on new dimensions when gazing down onto the city nightscapes of Tokyo. The location of the hotel will also allow you quick access to major tourist and city attractions of Tokyo, including Roppongi and Odaiba.
The Yumoto Kansuiro Ryokan in Tonosawa, Hakone, was founded in 1614 in the Motoyu hot springs area of Hakone - one of the seven major hot springs in the area. The building has been designated as a heritage building and registered as a prized Cultural Property of Japan. Kansuiro Ryokan is also well known and visited by many celebrities, from politicians to artists. In fact, the name 'Kansuiro' (the High Palace surrounded by green areas) was derived from a Chinese poem given to the first Japanese prime minister when he enjoyed his first stay at Kansuiro. Natsume Souseki, a famous writer whose portrait is printed on the former Japanese 1000 Yen bill, had stayed at Kansuiro. Seasonal cuisine is also a highlight of the Kansuiro Ryokan where a monthly Japanese Kaiseki style of cuisine is also waiting for you. You can enjoy a private dinner in your room and imagine yourself in the days of Shogunate.
The Cross Hotel is a smart hotel is located on Dotombori, one of the most famous and lively streets in all of Japan never mind just Osaka. The hotel has been recently refurbished in a sleek, modern design, giving it something of a boutique feel. Rooms follow the same theme and are generously sized. The hotel's great location means you have a plethora of restaurants and bars to choose from in the streets around the hotel, making it a perfect place for indulging in one of Osaka's main attractions; good food and drink. Despite its lively location the hotel itself is a quiet and peaceful place, so should you be looking for an early night you will not be disturbed.
Hotel Granvia is conveniently located near the Hiroshima rail station. The hotel features a number of restaurants and well sized, modern rooms. The Peace Park and Museum are a short tram ride away and Miyajima Island is also easily accessible from here.
With its elegant accommodations, including 535 beautifully decorated rooms, there is simply no better place to stay in Kyoto than the Hotel Granvia Kyoto. Hotel Granvia Kyoto is an integral part of the architecturally striking masterpiece, the JR Kyoto Station Building, which also includes a department store, museum, musical theater, and a vast underground shopping mall. Moreover, with 13 meeting and banquet rooms including a ballroom that accommodates up to 1400 for seated events, as well as 13 restaurants & bars and fitness facilities, the hotel is perfect for both leisure and business visitors to Kyoto.