Japan Enchantment - Japan
With a range of high-end accommodations, superb included meals and your tour leader on hand to make sure everything runs like clockwork, this is the perfect introduction to a fascinating culture often considered impenetrable by the outside world.
You'll begin and end the trip in Tokyo, icon of high modernity and a city of bewildering size and scope. Your first dinner at a local restaurant will provide you with a relaxed yet invaluable introduction to Japanese food and etiquette, and is the perfect way to get to know your tour leader and group.
Kyoto is Japan's other great city: imperial capital for over a thousand years and packed with architectural treasures. The highlight of your stay here is a private audience with a maiko (trainee geisha). Such experiences are rarely available to foreigners, giving you an exclusive window into this mysterious and captivating profession.
Complementing the city stays, you'll also get a tantalising taste of rural Japan. In the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park you'll cruise across Lake Ashi under the watchful gaze of Mount Fuji, explore the outstanding open-air sculpture park and rest your legs in volcanic hot spring baths.
In thickly forested Nikko you'll be privy to the most lavish religious architecture in all of Japan, whilst in Karuizawa you'll take a soba noodle-making class in of one of the country's finest mountain resorts.
The cities of Kanazawa and Nagano, contrasting as they are, offer yet more remarkable variety. High in the Japanese Alps, Nagano is your gateway to the famous onsen-bathing snow monkeys of Yudanaka. Kanazawa offers beautifully preserved samurai house districts, one of the very best Japanese gardens and a plethora of traditional craft workshops.
Read below for an itinerary summary or come into our branch to discuss the tour in more detail.
DAY 1: TOKYO. Arrive in Tokyo, transfer to your hotel and meet your tour leader and group
Today you will touch down in Tokyo, Japan’s capital and the tenth most populous city in the world. On arrival in Tokyo, you’ll be met by your driver and make your way by private car to the hotel in the traditional Asakusa district of the city, where our IJT tour leader will be waiting to welcome you in the lobby. This evening, you will join the group for an orientation meeting before heading out to one of the area’s excellent restaurants for a first-night meal – a great introduction to Japanese food and dining etiquette.
DAY 2: TOKYO. Gain a fascinating insight into Japan’s capital city with the help of your tour leader and an expert local guide.
On day two, you will be joined by an expert InsideJapan guide, in addition to your tour leader. Your guide is a Tokyo local with a great knowledge of the area; (s)he and your tour leader will be able to give you a fantastic depth of insight into the famous landmarks and lesser-known spots you’ll be visiting today. Included is a boat ride on the Sumida River, concluding with a cup of traditional green tea in the lovely Hamarikyu Gardens – the grounds of a former residence of successive Tokugawa Shoguns, and a real oasis amongst the skyscrapers. You will then head to the west side of the capital, to Harajuku, where the extensive precincts of Imperial Meiji Shrine are to be found just across the tracks from the latest in Japanese youth fashion district. This area is a classic example of the juxtaposition of traditional and modern in Tokyo. The tour will end in the late afternoon, when you will have the choice of either heading back to the hotel with your tour leader, or further immersing yourself in the lively districts of west Tokyo. Dinner is not included tonight, but with hundreds of restaurant options around your hotel,
you certainly won’t go hungry. If unsure, ask your tour leader for ideas!
DAY 3: NIKKO. Explore the dazzling temples and shrines of Nikko, the site of Japan's most ornate religious architecture
Today you will explore the dazzling temples and shrines of Nikko, the final resting place of Japan’s most famous shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu was the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate (military government), which ruled Japan from 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Nikko, the site of his mausoleum, is listed as a World Heritage Site and known throughout Japan for its dazzlingly ornate architecture – quite different from the austere, minimalist style more typical of Japanese design. To start the day you’ll make the relatively short journey from the capital by private coach to Nikko, where you will discover the renowned temple and shrine complex in its enchanting cedar forest setting. A local guide will be on hand to introduce you to some of the history of the area. Don’t forget to look out for the famous “three wise monkeys” warning all comers to “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil”! Tonight you’ll be staying at a deluxe ryokan inn, with Japanese-style rooms and a delicious kaiseki dinner included.
DAY 4: KARUIZAWA. Discover more of Nikko national park before an evening of flying squirrel watching in Karuizawa.
After an elaborate Japanese-style breakfast at your ryokan, you’ll head out with your tour leader on a private coach for a half day of exploration. Our morning destination will be Nikko National Park, home to several spectacular waterfalls, lakes and beautiful forests. Our first stop will be to take the cable car up to Akechi-daira peak, high above Chuzen-ji lake, for spectacular panoramic views and photo opportunities. A short coach ride then takes us on to the lakeside area itself, and the 97-metre high Kegon-no-taki waterfalls. Around lunchtime, we will continue our three-hour journey to Karuizawa, an exclusive resort town famous as a holiday retreat for the well-heeled – including the Japanese Imperial Family. Arrival at the hotel will be in the late afternoon. In the evening you will have the chance to meet some of Karuizawa’s nocturnal inhabitants when joining a guided flying squirrel watching tour. The evening will be round off with an included high-quality evening meal at the hotel.
DAY 5: KARUIZAWA. Explore Karuizawa and take a lesson in soba noodle-making.
Today you will be joined by another knowledgeable and friendly local guide, as you visit some of Karuizawa’s varied attractions - including the enchanting Shiraito Waterfall and the lunar landscapes created by lava flow on the flanks of active Mount Asama. Also included today will be a lesson in soba noodle-making, a speciality of the region. You will, of course, have the chance to eat the fruit of your labours for lunch! There should be time for a spot of shopping heading out for another included dinner, this time at a local restaurant.
DAY 6: NAGANO. Visit the hot spring bathing snow monkeys of Yudanaka.
Today you will make the short bullet train journey from Karuizawa to Nagano, an alpine city famous both as the home of Zenko-ji, arguably Japan’s most sacred temple, and as the host city of the 1998 Winter Olympics. You will then head to Yudanaka, a tiny spa town that has become famous the world over for its hot spring-bathing “snow monkeys”. Tickets are included to the monkey reserve, which is reached by a very pleasant, flat forest trail. Our primate cousins are sure to fascinate you, as they keep warm in their onsen bath, feed, groom, play and squabble! On your return to Nagano this evening, we recommend taking a leaf out of the monkeys’ book by heading to the nearby bathhouse for a relaxing outdoor soak before an optional dinner in town.
DAY 7: KANAZAWA. After a morning in Nagano, travel to one of Japan’s most beautifully preserved historic cities – Kanazawa.
This morning you will have the chance to enjoy a slow breakfast, or explore Zenko-ji Temple before leaving Nagano. You could even rise early to join the monks at their morning prayer ceremony, at which guests are invited to search for the “key to paradise” in a pitch-dark passage underneath the main hall of the temple. It’s said that grasping the key is equivalent to shaking hands with Buddha, and those who find it will find their way to Buddhist paradise! At lunchtime, you will leave Nagano and take the pleasant train rides to Kanazawa on the Japan Sea Coast. Like Kyoto, Kanazawa was spared bombing during World War II thanks to its impressive collection of religious sites and important cultural assets. Today it is therefore one of Japan’s best-preserved historical cities. The region is renowned for its great seafood, so why not join your tour leader for a fabulous sushi or fish meal tonight?
DAY 8: KANAZAWA. Stroll around the wood-panelled geisha district of Higashi Chaya and the magnificent garden of Kenrokuen.
You will be joined by a private local guide, as well as your tour leader, for an extensive tour of Kanazawa’s best sights. This is sure to include the wood-panelled geisha district of Higashi Chaya, the preserved houses of the samurai quarter, a traditional gold leaf workshop and, of course, Kanazawa’s top attraction, Kenrokuen. This sublime landscape garden is lauded as one of Japan’s top three, so we will ensure you have sufficient time to appreciate its full beauty. Additionally, if you have the energy after a busy tour, you might wish visit the local market or the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.
DAY 9: KYOTO. Travel to Kyoto and have a unique meeting with one of Kyoto’s geisha.
If Tokyo is Japan’s beacon of modernity, Kyoto is its repository of history. Serving as imperial capital for over a thousand years, Kyoto is home to a staggering 17 World Heritage Sites and a litany of ancient shrines, temples and gardens. After a wonderful express train ride along the shores of Lake Biwa, we will arrive in Kyoto with time to start exploring some of these attractions. Nishiki Food Market and the incredible Kyoto station complex are two alternative options that are not to be missed! Later in the day you’ll join your tour leader and head to Gion, the heart of Japanese geisha culture. Here you’ll have the chance to take part in a traditional tea ceremony, performed by a genuine Gion maiko (trainee geisha). A delicious evening meal at one of Kyoto’s many outstanding restaurants will be included tonight.
DAY 10: KYOTO. Continue exploring Kyoto and its many famous and beautiful sights.
On day ten you will be joined by a local Kyoto expert and board a private coach to visit some of Kyoto’s most famous sights: the opulent Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji; the tranquil gardens of Ginkaku-ji; then a wander through the historic Higashiyama district to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, perched precariously on a hillside overlooking the city. Kyoto has so much to offer that it would take you years to see it all, but with your tour leader on hand you’ll certainly see a great selection of famous sites and lesser-known locations.
DAY 11: KYOTO. Join your tour leader on a day trip outside of Kyoto or continue exploring this ancient capital on your own.
On day eleven you will have the choice to either continue exploring Kyoto, or head out of the city on an excursion to one of the many exciting destinations within easy reach by rail. Your tour leader will be heading to one of their favourite locations – perhaps the impressive samurai castle of Himeji or the ancient capital of Nara, with its giant Buddha and friendly deer. If you would prefer to break away from the group, your tour leader will be happy to help you make alternative arrangements for the day.
DAY 12: HAKONE. Relax in hot spring baths, admire world-class artworks and perhaps catch a glimpse of iconic Mount Fuji as you spend two nights in Hakone National Park.
Today you will jump aboard the bullet train and speed easterly to Hakone on the Tokaido line, following the ancient samurai highway linking old Tokyo (Edo) to the imperial capital of Kyoto. A private coach transfer will then take us to the heart of the Hakone area, located within the beautiful Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, just a stone’s throw from Tokyo. This afternoon we will provide you with tickets for the outstanding Hakone Open-Air Museum, where you’ll have the chance to wander amongst masterpieces by Moore and Rodin, set against a stunning mountainous backdrop. You are sure to love the hospitality of tonight’s top-grade hotel, where your included evening meal will be meticulously prepared and served in a dining room with lovely ambience and decor.
DAY 13: HAKONE. Today you’ll have a full day to enjoy in Hakone national park.
Today you’ll have a full day to enjoy everything that Hakone has to offer, including a remarkably synchronised network of varied transportation. We will board a funicular, then cable car to the volcanic area known as Owakudani, famed for its views of Mount Fuji and its black eggs cooked in hot spring water. If the weather is favourable, you will be treated to truly spectacular views of Japan’s most famous mountain. A cruise across Lake Ashi will drop us off in Hakone town, where we can learn about the ancient samurai Tokaido Highway, and shop for gifts and souvenirs, such as the beautiful marquetry crafts that Hakone is renowned for. We will be back in time for you to enjoy the comforts of our wonderful hotel, where a natural hot spring bath and a glass of champagne await you. This evening, you may opt for the lounge menu or hotel restaurant as your dinner option.
DAY 14: TOKYO. Toast the end of your trip with a final night at one of Tokyo’s top restaurants.
After a relaxed final morning in the verdant tranquility of Hakone, we head into the pumping heart of Tokyo’s shopping and entertainment scene, Shinjuku. You might like to use this time in the capital to get some last-minute shopping done at one of the district’s many department stores, visit the mammoth Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to admire the views from its free observation deck, or stroll the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen Park. Whatever you choose to do, Tokyo will inevitably keep you entertained during your final afternoon of the tour. This evening, you’ll join your tour leader and group for an included final-night meal at one of the city’s superb restaurants – the perfect way to toast the end of your trip in style.
DAY 15: TOKYO. Depart Japan or extend your stay with a self-guided add-on
On your final morning it’s time to say sayonara to Japan as you return to the airport by private car shared shuttle bus in time for your flight home, or to continue with your onward journey. Happy travels!
- Full-time services of your InsideJapan tour leader
- 14 nights' accommodation
- Breakfast every day, two lunches and seven evening meals
- Your InsideJapan Info-Pack
- IC transport card with 2,500 yen credit for city transport
- 7-day Japan Rail Pass
- 3-day Hakone Free Pass for transport in the Hakone region
- All transport between destinations in Japan
- Arrival & departure airport transfers by private car
- Sumida river bus ride & entrance to Hamarikyu Gardens in Tokyo
- Half-day private guide service in Tokyo including travel by private coach
- Full-day private guide service in Nikko & Karuizawa including entrance fees and travel by private coach
- Flying squirrel watching tour and soba noodle-making lesson in Karuizawa
- Full-day private guide service in Kanazawa including entrance fees
- Private transfer & entrance to the Jigokudani monkey park in Yudanaka
- Private afternoon tea with a maiko
- Full-day private guide service in Kyoto including travel by private coach
- Tickets to Hakone Open-Air Museum
- Luggage forwarding from Tokyo to Karuizawa, Karuizawa to Kanazawa and from Kyoto to Tokyo
- Shared portable Wi-Fi access throughout trip
What's not included?
- International flights
- Any local transport (subways, taxis, buses) unless covered by the included transport passes
- Entrance fees (including those for temples, shrines and museums) unless otherwise specified
- Baggage handling and luggage forwarding unless otherwise specified
Transport: We will have the use of a private minibus in Tokyo (half day), Nikko, Karuizawa, Kyoto, and for our transfer to our Hakone hotel. For all other transfers, we will be making use of Japan's first-rate transport network.
Luggage: We highly recommend that to make your stay more enjoyable you pack reasonably light. Although there is often a porter service available at hotels, large suitcases will be an inconvenience to you. A small case or bag with wheels or a rucksack are most appropriate for this tour as you will have to carry your bags for short distances and some stations do not have escalators or elevators/lifts. You will also need a small overnight back-pack (for up to three nights) for use when we forward our main bags to the next location.
Accommodation: All accommodation on this tour has full ensuite bathroom facilities. The accommodation in Hakone and Karuizawa also offer shared natural hot-spring baths for your enjoyment.
This tour starts and finishes in Tokyo for arrivals and departures at Tokyo Narita Airport or at Tokyo Haneda Airport.
Check-in: Please note that rooms at the Tokyo hotel are only available from 2pm. (You can, however, securely leave your luggage at the front desk at any time).
Fitness: Even when not using public transport, sightseeing in Japan often involves walking between sights, climbing up steps in temples and being 'on the go' for much of the day. To enjoy any of our Small Group Tours you should be of moderate fitness, able to walk and climb stairs without difficulty and able to maintain a pace that is comfortable for the majority of the group.
If you have any questions about this tour or would like to secure your places, please call us or visit our store.
Reference : IJ