Take in the contrasts of Japan on this privately guided journey from the skyscrapers and idyllic gardens of Tokyo to the onsens and snow monkeys in Yudanaka, the cultural gem of Kyoto to a temple stay on Mt. Koya, and a night in lively and colorful Osaka. Complete with English speaking guides, train transportation, hotel and ryokan accommodation, immersive cultural experiences, Japanese cuisine, and much more!
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This itinerary is privately guided and crafted to give you an idea of what is possible.
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Prices, if shown, are per person based on a party of at least 2 adults traveling together. A Single Room Supplement is applicable for those who would like a single room. If traveling alone, please contact us for a solo traveler cost.
Accommodation with daily breakfast, Shukubu Temple Lodging at Koyasan with private bath, dinners as indicated, services of expert English speaking local guides as specified, entrance fees to sites listed on the itinerary, guided tours conducted using the efficient public transit system, train tickets as indicated, and shared (group) airport transfers. International flights are not included, please enquire.
Interested in this itinerary but would like to make changes to the hotels, destinations, sites, or anything else? Contact us at email@example.com to customize this itinerary just for you.
On arrival at Narita International Airport, you will be met in the arrivals hall by a representative holding a name-board and then transferred to the limousine bus for your group transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is at your leisure.
Take a day tour of this fascinating city with a local guide, making use of Tokyo’s comprehensive and user friendly public transport system. The day begins with a visit to Meiji Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji and a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings. Take a walk down Omotesando shopping street, a broad tree lined avenue home to the flagship stores of the world’s top fashion brands. Head across town to Asakusa, Tokyo’s old town where you can soak in the atmosphere of the Tokyo of old. Visit Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple and wander down Nakamise, a shopping street that has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries.
Take a boat cruise on the Sumida River passing under 12 bridges. Disembark at the Hamarikyu garden, an Edo Period Japanese garden surrounded by the Shiodome district’s futuristic skyscrapers, a great example of how Japan is the land of contrasts, where you will stop for a cup of steaming matcha and Japanese sweets in a tea house on a small island in the park’s lake.
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel and the morning at your leisure. In the early afternoon, meet your guide and board Japan’s world famous Shinkansen bullet train. With a top speed of 300km/h (186 mph), the Shinkansen takes 100 minutes to reach Nagano. Whilst in Nagano, you will pay a visit to the historic Zenkoji temple, a short bus ride from Nagano station (luggage can be stored in a coin operated locker at the station). One of the most visited temples in Japan, Zenkoji was founded 1400 years ago and stores what many believe to be the first Buddhist statue ever brought to Japan.
From Nagano, you will then take a local train to Yudanaka (45min), and then it is a short ride in the shuttle bus to your ryokan. Your traditional style accommodation has tatami mat flooring, futon beds and hot spring onsen baths.
Dinner tonight will be a Japanese traditional kaiseki meal, comprised of 9 or more dishes. The meal is made up of seasonal dishes using only the freshest of local Nagano ingredients.
This morning, with your guide, you can head to the Jigokudani Yaen Koen to see the famous Snow Monkeys. Jigokudani literally means ‘hell’s valley’ due to the steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground, and it is in the baths of this boiling water that the resident Japanese Macaques like to soak in. The monkeys live in large social groups, and it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions. Accustomed to humans, they can be observed from very close and almost completely ignore their human guests. Whilst the monkeys are most numerous during the colder months, they can be observed all year round.
In the afternoon, you will visit the nearby charming town of Obuse, with traditional houses, stores and streets. Obuse is known for its delicious chestnuts and as the home of Hokusai, the famous painter and printmaker from Japan’s Edo period, and a visit to his museum here is a must. No visit to Obuse is complete without stopping in at the Masuichi sake brewery for a taste of their delicious sake made from the high quality local rice.
Guiding is not included this day, arrangements can be easily made on your own from your ryokan. Instructions for self-guiding will be provided.
Today you will take the Shinkansen bullet train to Tokyo and then change onto another Shinkansen to Kyoto. Capable of speeds of up to 185mph (360km/h), the journey will take a total of 3.5 hours.
This afternoon you will have the opportunity to visit the home of an instructor of one of Japan’s Traditional Arts. One of our assistants will meet at your hotel and escort you to the instructor’s house. You may choose from Flower Arrangement, Calligraphy or Origami. Enjoy learning these hands-on traditional arts with the support/advice from the professional instructor and interpretation from our assistant. Please note guests are requested to choose the same activity and this must be communicated to us at the time of booking.
This morning experience the quintessential Japanese enlightenment experience – Zazen (Zen meditation). Your guide will meet you in the morning and take you to a Zen temple, where you can learn the basics of the same sitting meditation that led the Buddha to Enlightenment: folded legs, erect posture, half-closed eyes and a focus on measured breathing that leads to awareness of the way the mind works. After Zazen, head to Chion-in temple. Chion-in is the head temple of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Japanese Buddhism, which has millions of followers and is one the most popular Buddhist sects in Japan. The Sanmon Gate, Chion-in's main entrance gate, stands 24 meters tall and 50 meters wide, making it the largest wooden gate in Japan and dates back to the early 1600s.
Continue with a visit to Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), which was originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun. After his death it became a Buddhist Temple at his request, and is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. Last stop is Nijo Castle, an ornamental castle that was built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate as his Kyoto residence and is surrounded by stunning surrounding gardens. The main building was completed in 1603, and is famous for its architecture, decorated sliding doors and ‘chirping’ nightingale floors.
Walk along the Philosopher's Path, a pleasant stone path through the northern part of Kyoto's Higashiyama district, with your guide. The path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. Approximately two kilometers long, the path begins around Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) and ends in the neighborhood of Nanzenji. The path gets its name due to Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan's most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University. There are many small temples and shrines to stop off at along the walk. Return to the hotel and have the afternoon at your leisure.
This morning you make scenic journey to holy Mt Koya (Koya-san). The 2 hour train ride is one of the best in Japan, as the local train winds its way up into the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture. The final ascent to the top of Koya is made by cable car. Your knowledgeable local guide will be waiting for you on arrival to show you Koya-san’s sights and explain about Japanese Buddhism.
Mount Koya is the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi. Since then over one hundred temples have sprung up along the streets of Koyasan. Koya-san and its surrounds are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tonight you will be staying at a shukubo, Japanese temple lodging. Dinner will be shojin ryori, traditional Buddhist cuisine. This vegetarian meal is not only healthy but delicious as well.
You will have an early start today as you will be able to witness the monks chanting their morning prayers. This spiritual experience is followed by a shojin ryori breakfast. The rest of the morning is free to further explore Koya-san, before making the 2 hour trip by train to Osaka. Japan’s third biggest city, what Osaka lacks in sightseeing it makes up for with its flamboyance, fun loving people, and amazing food.
Your guide will meet you at your hotel and take you on a tour of Osaka by public transportation. Start your day visiting the magnificent Osaka Castle. The castle is one of Japan's most famous, and played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century. It has been completely rebuilt, faithful to the original appearance, after its destruction during World War II; the inside is modern and functional and serves as a museum of Osaka history. Next stop is the Floating Garden Observatory. Built on top of the highest building in Osaka, it’s an open air observatory from which you can enjoy stunning views of the city and the bay.
Hop on the underground for today’s last stop: the bustling district of Dotonbori, a former pleasure district turned restaurant and entertainment mecca.
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel and the morning at your leisure. Checkout at 12 noon. At the appointed time you will take the airport shuttle bus to Kansai International Airport.
Day 4: See the interesting site of the monkeys at hot springs in the Jigokudani Park.
Day 8: Stay one night at a temple retreat in Koyasan.
This itinerary has been tried & tested and can be booked as-is. However, should you wish to customize your tour, you may contact us here.
GRAND TOUR OF JAPAN
HIGHLIGHTS OF JAPAN