27 October 2016
From the buzzing metropolis of Tokyo to the serene Miyajima Island, this two-week tour takes in all the highlights of this enthralling country. Along the way, you'll enjoy a series of unique experiences, including a private audience with a Geisha, an authentic tea ceremony and an unforgettable visit to the chaotic whirl of the world's largest fish market.
Today you'll arrive at Narita Airport and be taken to your hotel to settle in before welcome drinks and a tour briefing with your fellow travellers and tour leader this evening.
After breakfast you'll begin your exploration of this vibrant metropolis, filled with neon lights and bustling activity, yet also home to a secret world of drinking dens and atmospheric restaurants. You'll travel to the serene Meiji Jingu shrine and the trendy district of Harajuku, then take in the panoramic views from Tokyo Tower. This afternoon you're at leisure and might like to visit Akihabara, a suburb of neon-lit electronics shops, or the Ameyoko Arcade shopping area at peaceful Ueno Park.
Today you'll visit Tsukiji, the largest fish market in the world and the very definition of organised chaos. Afterwards you'll stroll though the nearby Hama Rikyu Garden, dating back to 1654 and once the private retreat of the Tokugawa shogun, then board a boat for a cruise on the Sumida River. The short trip will take you past the headquarters of some of Japan’s most famous companies and will end near Asakusa Temple, the oldest and most beloved temple in Tokyo.
This morning you'll travel by train the short distance to Hakone in the mountainous countryside to the south of Mount Fuji, a popular destination for those in need of rest and recuperation since 1590, when the Japanese warrior Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered a natural bath to be built here for his weary soldiers. Here you'll have the chance to relax in an onsen house, and to enjoy the spectacular views from the ropeways which link the many small communities. Upon arrival you'll enjoy a short boat trip on Lake Ashi-no, and a cable-car trip to enjoy the majestic views of Mount Fuji. After checking into your traditional Japanese hotel, you'll change into your yukata and slippers to savour a sumptuous traditional dinner. Tonight you will sleep in a tatami-floored room, on a futon mattress.
Today you will travel south by local train and shinkansen bullet train to Nagoya. This industrial city is known for its recreated castle, friendly population, and pachinko (slot-machine) parlours. Here you'll visit the HQ of Toyota, to see the Kaikan Exhibition Hall, with impressive exhibits on environmentally friendly technology, safety and motor sports, as well as a factory. This evening you might like to head out and sample some local food in this friendly city.
Today you'll head into the beautiful Kiso Valley at the southern tip of the Japanese Alps, for an insight into Japanese life as it was hundreds of years ago. First you'll visit the town of Magome, in the shadow of Mount Ena, to see its tiny museums and shops selling local handicrafts. After lunch, you'll continue the short distance to Tsumago, another small town, this time set on a flat part of the Kiso Valley and surrounded by thick forests. Here you can browse the souvenir shops and meet local people. You'll then travel on, through mountain scenery, to Takayama.
Today you'll take a walking tour through Takayama, a laidback market town filled with shrines and temples. This was once home to Japan’s most skilled carpenters and artisans, as evidenced by the well-preserved wooden houses on the banks of the Miyagawa River, now filled with craft shops, food stores, sake breweries and museums covering everything from mechanical dolls to the history of the lion dance. You'll visit the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, home to the colourful floats which come out annually during one of Japan’s most famous festivals, stroll past the wooden houses on Kami Sannomachi Street and end with a visit to the Takayama History and Art Museum.
Today you're at leisure to explore. Wander through the Teramachi district and admire the temples and shrines, or catch a bus to Hida Folk Village, an open-air museum of 30 old farmhouses illustrating the traditional architectural styles of the mountainous regions of Japan. You'll want to sample the local cuisine, including soba noodles, Hida beef and mitarashi dango – rice balls dipped in soy sauce and roasted on skewers.
You'll depart Takayama today for the nearby Shirakawago district. Hidden in the pine-covered mountains of Hakusan National Park, this was once a refuge for the persecuted, where local people made a living producing silk. Today the villages are a UNESCO World Heritage site for their natural beauty and unique architecture. You'll have the chance to explore Wada House, a fine example of gassho-zukuri architecture, and take part in a Japanese paper-making workshop. This afternoon you will set out for Kanazawa, to visit Higashiyama, the city’s geisha district. You'll also visit Nagamachi to learn more about the samurai, and catch a glimpse of the small workshops where traditional crafts such as kutani pottery, kaga-yuzen silk dying and gold leaf are still practised.
This morning you'll take the short trip to Kenrokuen Garden, which dates back to the 16th century and once formed the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle. Here you'll visit a traditional tea house for a tea ceremony, where the kimono-wearing instructor will take you through the cha-no-yu ("hot water for tea"), and its four principles: harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity. Afterwards, you'll visit the food stalls of Omicho Market, then head to the train station for the journey to Hiroshima, infamous as the target of the first atomic bomb, but now a thriving modern city.
This morning you will take the short tram trip to the edge of the Seto Sea and board a ferry for the 10-minute passage to Miyajima Island. This tranquil island is home to Itsukushima Shrine, with its red floating gate – one of Japan's most famous and photographed sites. Here you'll have time to soak up the peaceful atmosphere, meet the wild deer and sample some Japanese snack food, including okonomiyaki pancakes. Next you'll head back to the mainland to the Peace Memorial Museum, the Peace Memorial Park and the eerie A-Bomb Dome, a tragic symbol, left standing in a ruinous state after more than 60 years. This evening, you'll explore the nightlife of modern Hiroshima.
Today you'll take the train to Kyoto, Japan's spiritual and cultural capital, home to more than 1,000 temples and shrines, and birthplace of some of Japan’s most fascinating traditions, including tea ceremonies, shodo calligraphy and peaceful rock gardens.
Today begins with a visit to Nijo Castle, built in 1603 as a residence for the first Tokugawa shogun and famous for its squeaky wooden floors, designed to betray the approach of unwelcome visitors. Next you'll head to the nearby 14th-century Golden Temple, then to the World Heritage-listed Kiyomizudera temple, nestled in the forest on the side of Higashiyama Hill, and the quaint Sannen Zaka and Ninnen Zaka streets. This afternoon you'll wander down the gorgeous Ponto-cho Lane to the famous Gion geisha district, setting for the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha".
Today you're at leisure, and whether you prefer to explore Japanese gardens, traditional architecture or shops, or to go hiking or take a cycle ride, your tour leader and local guide will help put together your perfect self-exploration itinerary. Your final evening will be spent enjoying a very special group dinner, as you savour a private kaiseki meal. Kaiseki balances the taste, texture, appearance and colours of food, with dishes carefully presented and beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble plants and animals. During your meal a maiko or geisha will perform traditional arts, play traditional drinking games and pose for pictures, as well as chatting with you about her life.
Today your adventure comes to an end as a taxi transfer takes you to Kyoto train station for your onward travel.
Classic fr £4358pp
Rates based on twinshare
International flights not included unless otherwise stated