This fantastic 14 day tour of Japan does just what it says . . . it unmasks the Land of the Rising Sun, giving you the chance to see just what makes this fascinating country tick. Ancient temples, futuristic cities, mist-shrouded hills, beautiful blossom, lightning-fast bullet trains, smart suited businessmen and kimono-clad geisha - you will see it all. If traditional culture is your thing, you will love cities like Kyoto, with their temples, shrines, kabuki dancers and tea ceremonies and museums packed with treasures from Japan's rich artistic heritage. If you are interested in modern culture and technology, the cities won't disappoint with their trend-setting cafes and fabulous restaurants. And you will find natural wonders the length and breadth of the archipelago.
The tour begins in Tokyo. Your included Japan Rail Pass will cover your airport transfer to your hotel in the capital city where you will collect your Info-Pack. The hotel is in Tokyo’s funky Ikebukuro district. Close by you will find the world’s two largest shopping centres, one of the world’s largest car show rooms and the city's second largest building, Sunshine City, which houses a planetarium, aquarium, oriental museum, a theatre, and some of the world’s fastest elevators! Meet your tour leader and the rest of your group then head out for an amazing meal.
Today your tour leader will take you on a day's sightseeing tour. There are so many fantastic things to do and see in this amazing city . . . museums, gardens, and shrines, and your will enjoy an itinerary for the day to suit everyone’s taste. If you want to explore on your own your tour leader will help with any plans. You will also have a Japan Rail Pass, should you wish to make one of the many exciting day trips out of the city.
You leave this vibrant city behind in style as you depart by Japan’s famous Shinkansen Bullet Train to Nagano. Nestled in the Japanese Alps, Nagano Prefecture is home to nine of Japan’s 12 highest mountains, and was the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Nagano City’s most famous attraction is Zenko-ji temple. Tonight will be a real highlight as you have the opportunity to stay overnight near this amazing 7th century temple in a shukubo – traditional Japanese temple lodgings.
An early start today to watch the monks chanting – a spine tingling experience. Following this you can take an excursion to Yudanaka Onsen to see Japan’s famous Snow Monkeys. These cheeky macaques come down from the surrounding hills to bathe in natural hot springs and you are guaranteed plenty of amazing photo opportunities! After lunch make the short journey by train to Matsumoto, which is home to one of Japan’s most stunning original castles. Other attractions include the Ukiyoe (woodblock print) Museum, and strolling through the old merchant’s district.
Continue today on our journey through the Japanese Alps to the market town of Takayama. Due to it’s remote position in the mountains, it was cut off from the rest of Japan for most of its history and has maintained a unique and traditional atmosphere. Experience one of your accommodation highlights here, staying in a traditional Japanese minshuku. You will sleep on futons laid out on traditional tatami flooring and be able to have a steaming hot onsen bath to relax. There are so many great experiences to be had in Takayama, from strolling through the old streets to visiting the museum. Join your tour leader for dinner and try some of the region’s famous Hida beef.
Today is free to further explore this charming town. First stop should be the lively morning market, offering lots of free tastes of the local fruit and vegetables. The Hida No Sato folk village, an open air museum of traditional Japanese farm houses, is not to be missed. Your tour leader will be on hand to show you around and will be more than happy to help you cap what is sure to be a fantastic day by taking you for some tastings at the local sake breweries.
There will be time for some last minute shopping at the morning market before you head off by train to your next destination, Kanazawa. Located on the Japan Sea coast, Kanazawa is a showcase for the country's traditions. Take a stroll through the beautifully preserved Nagamachi samurai district or the Chaya geisha district; explore the hidden rooms and secret trap doors in the ninja temple, or just sip a cup of green tea and contemplate life in the stunning Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s top three gardens.
Today you can truly enjoy the wonder that are Japanese trains, as you take a Limited Express from one coast to the other, and then hit top speed on the Bullet Train as you hurtle along the Sanyo Coast to Hiroshima. Known for all the wrong reasons, these days Hiroshima is a vibrant city which has chosen not to dwell in the past but to strive ahead for a better future. With some truly world class art galleries, a manga library, a beautifully restored castle and Japan’s worst baseball team, your tour leader, as always, will help you take in the sights.
A free day to enjoy all that Hiroshima has to offer. You may choose to take a trip out to the sacred Miyajima Island, home to shrines, temples, and deer but best known for one of Japan’s top three views – the vermillion red floating torii gate. If cars are more your thing, your can visit the Mazda Museum, where you can see their fully automated production line. Hiroshima is famous for its local dish Hiroshima- yaki, a kind of as-you-like-it pancake cooked on a grill in front of you, so you should try one today.
A short trip today on the Bullet Train and a local train which takes you to the charming canal town of Kurashiki. Here you will have the day free to explore some of the quaint local museums and renowned art galleries. Or maybe you can sit and relax at one of the cafes lining the canals, sipping a hot green tea as you ponder on the town’s fascinating history.
Your next destination is Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto, which is a short train ride away. Today, weather permitting, there is an optional bike ride on the Kibi Plains, one of the most beautiful and historical paved bike rides in Japan. You will pass through ancient burial mounds, rice fields, local temples and Buddhist cemeteries. Or, you may decide to head straight to Kyoto to start your sightseeing, or shopping. Your tour leader will help with any arrangements.
A free day in Kyoto to explore this classic city. Bursting with temples, shrines, World Heritage sites, gardens, museums, geisha and everything that you ever associated with Japan, your tour leader will take an optional tour of some of the famous sites and hidden gems. Of course, if you want to explore on your own, you will be given all the help and advice you need.
Today you take your final journey on the Bullet Train back to Tokyo. Your time today is free to make the most of the largest city on earth. Perhaps you could view Japan from the Sky Tower or have a blast in a Karaoke room in Shinjuku. Though your dinner is not included in the cost of the tour tonight we would recommend getting together with your fellow travellers to celebrate your last night on tour.
Today your memorable tour of Japan comes to an end. A chance for some last minute sightseeing or shopping before catching the direct airport train to Narita Airport in Tokyo to board your onward flight or begin your journey home.