Begin your journey in the metropolis of Tokyo. With its huge skyscrapers, underpasses, overpasses and crowds of pedestrians, this city has a vibrant charm all of its own. Continue on to Hakone, and explore the beautiful national park located at the base of Mt. Fuji, Japan's most sacred peak. From there venture on to Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan, and a fascinating historical city. Highlights include a full day private guided tour of Tokyo, Kyoto and a traditional tea ceremony. An itinerary blending Japan's super-modern & fascinating traditional aspects - all in 8 days.
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 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 a fascinating city and today you have another full day to enjoy the myriad of sights, sounds and tastes it has to offer. However, you may like to take the opportunity of this free day to take a day trip to one of the many places of interested easily accessible from the capital.
The charming town of Kamakura lies just 1 hour to the west of Tokyo and can be reached by direct train from Tokyo Station for a fare of 840 yen each way. Kamakura was formally the capital of Japan for a short period in the 12th century and at that time was possibly the world's largest city with a population of over one million. Today however, it is a sleepy coastal town which attracts large numbers of day trippers to spend time exploring the beautiful shrines and temples. The most famous site if the impressive bronze dai-butsu (Big Buddha) which is certainly a must-see for any trip to Kamakura.
An alternative trip is to Nikko, located 2 hours to the North of Tokyo. This can be reached on the Shinkansen and then by local train service (5430 yen each way) or on the Tobu Line from Asakusa direct for just 1320 each way (non reserved seat). Nikko is not only surrounded by stunning scenery that makes up the national park, but is also home to the World Heritage site of the Tosho-Gu Shrine. Nikko has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and contains many important Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples, but the most impressive and most famous is definitely Tosho-Gu with its vivid colors and many ornate carvings.
Another nearby National Park is the Chichibu-Tama National Park home to the sacred Mt Takao, with its range of hiking trails and mountain-top temple complex, virtually untouched by foreign visitors. After an easy train journey of just under an hour you will arrive at the base of the mountain, from where numerous clearly-marked hiking trails (or a cable-car!) wind their way up to the summit.
From Shinjuku station you will take the Odakyu Railways "Romance Car" train all the way to Hakone Yumoto Station, in the heart of the Hakone National Park. It's a comfortable ride and the wide windows afford a great view. The journey takes around 85 minutes.
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.
After you arrive at Yumoto Station, you will use your Hakone Freepass to make the journey by bus to the stop nearest your your ryokan.
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!
After your time in Hakone, you will use your Hakone Freepass to make the journey by bus down from the mountains to Odawara Station.
Today you will travel to Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital and the cultural center of the nation. From Odawara, the journey to Kyoto will see you racing down Japan's eastern seaboard by Shinkansen and takes approximately 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.
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.)
We will arrange a tea ceremony experience for you today at the En tea ceremony house in central Kyoto. The ceremony will take place in a lovely Japanese style room complete with ikebana (Japanese flowers) and calligraphy. Your English teacher will be able to inform you about the history and philosophy of the tea ceremony as well as its relationship with Zen Buddhism before conducting a traditional ceremony in front of you. You can then have a try yourself if you wish, taste the tea and traditional sweets and of course ask any questions that you may have. The experience lasts for 45 minutes. You will be enjoying your tea ceremony experience in the company of a small group. Please note the group can be up to 15 people in peak season.
(This service is on a group basis.)
The journey between Kyoto and Kansai Airport will be on the Haruka Express. Journey time is in the region of 76 minutes. You will be supplied with Ordinary Class reserved seat tickets for this journey.
The Hotel Century Southern Tower is one of the best places to stay in Tokyo. Located just 5 minutes walk from Shinjuku Station on the southern terrace opposite Takashimaya Times Square department store, the Southern Tower makes for the perfect base from which to explore not just Shinjuku but the whole of central Tokyo and beyond. The hotel lobby is to be found on the 20th floor of a building which also houses Microsoft's Japan HQ. The lobby offers great views of the city and on clear days you can see Mt Fuji towering up in the distance. All rooms are stylishly decorated with modern earthy tones and high quality bed linen. The bathrooms have a range of beauty products provided and rooms come with flat screen TVs, direct dial phones and a free high speed internet connection. In the evenings you will have a choice of dining in the hotel with a superb Teppanyaki restaurant, an excellent Chinese, a French influences restaurant and a café bar for light refreshments. The hotel fitness corner is also available free of charge - a chance to work out 100 meters above the city! A buffet breakfast is included in your stay served in the hotel restaurant on the 20th floor. The stunning views make a great backdrop to the first meal of the day.
The Yamanochaya Ryokan provides an authentic. Top-class Japanese onsen ryokan (hot springs inn) experience, with wonderful outdoor natural hot spring baths available, one of which can be used privately. The meals at the ryokan are superb and feature seasonal ingredients and local specialties and are served to you in your room by Kimono-clad staff. The ryokan is 5 minutes in a taxi from Hakone Yumoto station in a beautiful river-side location and reached by its own private bridge. Tonosawa station on the Hakone Tozan Railway (mountain railway) is just a 10 minute walk away and provides easy access to all of Hakone.
Opened in autumn 2011, the Royal Park Hotel is a modern, stylish hotel in a great location in central Kyoto. Rooms are good sized, and the hotel features it own restaurant and bakery café as well as a useful concierge service. The hotel is just a short walk from the City Hall subway stop.