ITINERARY BY DAY
Day 1: Arrive Tokyo
Konichiwa and welcome to Tokyo, Japan’s ultra modern capital. Your driver will be waiting with your name on a sign board to transfer you by shared shuttle service to your hotel in Asakusa, Tokyo’s old-town district. On arrival at your hotel, you will be provided with an IC card to be used for buses and trains with 2500Y value already loaded.
With the rest of the day at your leisure, take a stroll through this historic quarter that’s home to Tokyo's oldest temple. From there, you might like to take a cruise on the Sumida River to visit Hamarikyu gardens or the organised chaos of Shinjuku before returning to your hotel for the night.
Day 2: Tokyo Half day tour
After breakfast, set off with your local guide to see city hotspots and some lesser-known areas, taking full advantage of the extensive subway system.
Located in the former grounds of the historic Kanei-ji temple, the spacious Ueno Park is a favourite spot for Tokyoites during the cherry blossom season. Although a destination in itself, the area is also home to a wealth of Japanese arts and culture. Within a small vicinity are some of Japan's best museums, such as the Tokyo National Museum and National Science Museum and National Museum of Western Art. Even though it is close to the center of Tokyo and the skyscrapers of the CBD, you can still get a sense of the area's rich history in the atmospheric backstreets of Yanaka and it’s lively shopping arcade, Yanaka Ginza.
As the Tokugawa family temple, Kanei-ji was the spiritual center of old Tokyo, and the surrounding area boasts many beautifully kept temples and shrines. It is also possible to see good examples of traditional buildings and architecture inside this area. You can find vendors specializing in traditional art supplies in the Yanaka district, too. One of the most popular is Isetatsu, a washi (Japanese handmade paper) supplier.
Enjoy a change of pace from the hectic streets of the metropolis on a leisurely stroll around Yanaka, and take in the historic scenery, while watching locals go about their daily lives. That afternoon, explore more of Tokyo on your own, and if you need any recommendations your guide will happily accommodate.
Day 3: Tokyo free day
If you need a break from the frenzy of the city or just want to venture somewhere new, an optional day trip is the perfect remedy for your third day. There are you have some great options just a couple of hours from Tokyo that can be arranged in advance.
For culture buffs who love nature, take the train to Nikko National Park, high up in the mountains. Here rests the famous Toshogu Shrine Complex and mausoleum, originally built during the Edo period. Wander around Japan’s most opulent complex and World Heritage Site up in a pristine national park. Another option is a quick train ride to the laid-back seaside town Kamakura, a former capital of Japan. Explore its delightful sights with ancient temples, a giant bronze Buddha and fascinating history. For those seeking more of an urban experience, head to Yokohama city, with a modern portside promenade and immense China Town!
Finally, for the energetic, take a hike up Mount Takao! A mere hour out of Tokyo, this mountain is rich with wildlife and biodiversity. If the fresh air appeals, but the hike doesn’t, a funicular rail is also available to take visitors soaring to the top. If you choose to stay in the city, the options are endless! You can either get up at dawn to visit the famous Tsukji Fish Market; or wander the electronics district of Akihabara or discover Tokyo’s world-class museums and art galleries.
Day 4: Tokyo - Hakone
Take the Limited Express from Shinjuku to Hakone, from where you’ll head to your guesthouse for two days in the beautiful Hakone National Park. The ultimate urban escape in the shadow of Mt. Fuji, take advantage of this time to slow down and enjoy some traditional Japanese pastimes in a beautiful natural setting.
That evening, enjoy a rest in your ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. With sliding doors, rice paper screens and tatami mats, it feels as if you’ve been transported to the Edo Period! Most importantly, treat yourself to a soak in the relaxing mineral waters of an onsen hot spring, one of Japan’s most restful cultural practices.
Day 5: Hakone free day
Rise early to see if you can get a glimpse of the notoriously shy Mt. Fuji, before exploring every corner of the park with you Hakone Transport Pass.
Catch the ropeway up Mt. Owakudani, soaring above fuming rivers with a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji if the weather is clear. At the top, taste an akuro-tamago, an egg that’s been boiled in the source of the hot springs, and adds seven years to your life according to local lore! Next, drift across the three thousands year-old Ashinoko Lake on a grandiose replica pirate ship, before zigzagging through the mountains on the Hakone Tozan ‘switchback train.’
Day 6: Hakone - Kyoto
Bid farewell to snow-capped Mt. Fuji, and set forth on the Shinkansen arriving in Japan's ancient capital, the “City of Ten Thousand Shrines,” Kyoto. Take in the bustle and modernity of the futuristic Kyoto station before transferring to your hotel.
Spend the remainder of the day at your leisure, exploring the historical cultural capital at will!
Day 7: Kyoto full day tour
That morning, set off with a professional guide to discover Kyoto! Visit some of the city’s most famous sites and more obscure corners with the help of the extensive transit system. First stop at Nijo Castle, ornamental walled castle grounds surrounded by stunning gardens, built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate. Observe the momoyama architecture, decorated sliding doors and ‘chirping’ nightingale floors as you stroll through the palace grounds.
Then, take a moment to meditate in Japan's most famous rock garden, Ryoan-ji. Get a glimpse of Zen Buddhist tradition as you gaze onto the famously precisely arranged stones. Next, head to Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion, originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun. Now a Buddhist temple it is now one of the most famous in all of Kyoto.
In the afternoon, head to a teahouse in the historic Gion district, where you'll take part in the ancient ritual of tea ceremony under the guidance of an expert in the art. An essential part of Japan’s ancient culture, watch as the tea master demonstrates every movement crucial in preparing and serving tea.
Day 8: Kyoto free day
This morning, enjoy a day at your leisure, either exploring more of Kyoto, or heading out on a day trip with the help of your Japan Rail Pass. With many neighbouring attractions, a new experience is a short train ride away! Consider a visit to Nara, an 8th-century capital, whose impressive traditional architecture remains largely intact. Hop off a train and wander over to Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden building that’s home to Japan’s largest Buddha, as well as Nara’s most celebrated shrine. You can also ride to Hikone, a city nestled by Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake. Meander down Castle Road, passing charming shops and cafes to Hikone Castle. A national treasure, the castle and it’s gardens transport you to another era.
Day 9: Kyoto - Hiroshima Half Day Tour
Hop back on the bullet train and journey to Hiroshima, a place famous for a single moment in history. A guide will take you to The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which is located at the centre of Hiroshima City. The A-Bomb Dome, also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. The building served as a location to promote Hiroshima's industries. When the bomb exploded, it was one of the few buildings to remain standing, and remains so today. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the A-Bomb Dome is a tangible link to Hiroshima's unique past.
Hijiyama park is the perfect park to go to after spending the morning visiting the museums and the Peace Memorial Park. It's a good place to unwind, perfect for walking, reading, and there are several things to see: on the one hand there's the Taman In Temple, with its buildings, statues and in the middle with a cemetery, and at the top of the park is the museum of contemporary art and a manga library for those interested in culture.
That evening, why not indulge in the local specialty of okonomiyaki, a decadent, savoury Japanese seafood and cabbage pancake that sizzles in the hot plate as it’s served
**The Peace Memorial Museum is currently undergoing major renovations, during which only one of the museum's two buildings will be open to visitors and the number of exhibits will be reduced. The renovations will be in two stages: from September 2014 to October 2016 the east building will be closed, followed by the closure of the main building until spring 2018.**
Day 10: Hiroshima Free Day
In the morning, hop on a short ferry ride to Miyajima Island for either a half or full day of exploring. Just outside of Hiroshima, Miyajima is home to some of the most photographed vistas in Japan, including the famous “floating” torii gate, the sacred gateway between the human and spirit realms. If you’re feeling energetic, hike or ride the cable car up Mt. Misen for spectacular views and to mingle with the wild deer that meander about the island freely. Enjoy the view on the seaside promenade and take in the harmony of nature.
Day 11: Hiroshima – Osaka
This morning, head eastward to Osaka, a port city renowned throughout Japan for its delicious food and fun-loving locals. Osaka is known for being bright, bash and bold! A more fun-loving version of Tokyo, with a culture obsessed with frankness, food and good times. Due to its proximity to some of the best farmland in Japan, Osaka maintains its reputation as the ultimate city for food lovers!
With the day at leisure, you can visit Osaka Castle and marvel at its grandeur or meander about the enormous aquarium, observing incredible marine life. Or, if you’d like a truly local experience, head to a sports bar and cheer on Osaka’s home-team the Hanshin Tigers! With fun and friendly locals, it’s easy to enjoy yourself while sampling the savoury snacks this city is famous for. After sun set, stroll along the neon-soaked canals and check out some of the best known food districts like Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi.
Day 12: Osaka - Takayama
Leave behind the bustle of Osaka and venture into the mountains for a taste of alpine life in rural Takayama. Ride one of the country’s most scenic train routes as you wind your way through stunning gorges and imposing mountains. Arrive in Takayama, nestled in the Hida region and take a stroll along this Edo period merchant town, with beautifully preserved buildings and distinctive culture. Grab a bite of delicious Hida beef, which is as good as its more famous Kobe counterpart and sample some sake at one of Takayama’s small breweries.
Day 13: Takayama Free Day
Wake up and head out to explore more of Takayama and the surrounding area. Hop on a short bus ride to Hida Minzoku Mura Folk Village, a fascinating open-air museum featuring traditional Edo-period dwellings, store houses and a mill - all preserved and brought in from the surrounding countryside. Easy to explore, this museum provides unique insight into the traditions and living conditions of the past. Just opposite of the museum lies the world headquarters of the Sukyo Mahikari cult. Take a look at the only shrine in Japan to feature a giant fish tank and learn more about this distinctive faith.
If you choose to stay in town, wander about the diverse range of museums, shrines, ruins or even take a gander at the goods of the early morning market.
Day 14: Takayama – Tokyo
Say farewell to the alpine air and journey back to Tokyo for your final evening in Japan. This time, your hotel is in Shinjuku, the perfect place for any last-minute souvenir shopping. Take advantage of the time left to fit in anything you missed at the beginning of the trip! With endless restaurants, bars and karaoke joints on your doorstep, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to entertainment for your final night in the capital.
Day 15: Depart Tokyo
Enjoy your final morning in Tokyo before departing to the airport for your flight.