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ZEN JAPAN

Tokyo . Fuji . Takayama . Shirakawago .  Kanazawa . Kyoto
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Japan is Asia's most elegant destination, and a fascinating mix of tradition and modernity. Anime and manga are as evident as ikebana, tea ceremony and indigo dyeing. Shrines, temples and pagodas flank cutting edge skyscrapers. Tiny ramen shops where noodles are handmade abut conveyor belt sushi restaurants. The bullet train whisks travelers between thousand year old cities at 200 mph. This journey includes accommodation in a Zen temple, a Japanese inn and western style hotels, and features the old and the new, at a pace that allows time to enjoy it all.  

from $2899
per person sharing

12

days

PRICE INCLUDES:

All transport between destinations and to/from included activities.
3 bullet train journeys
Japan's most scenic train journey
3 nights western style hotel, Tokyo
2 nights temple stay, Fuji region
2 nights Japanese inn stay, Takayama

1 night western style hotel, Kanazawa

3 nights western style hotel, Kyoto
Bilingual guided touring as described in itinerary
11 breakfasts, 5 Japanese dinners

 

NOT INCLUDED:

International airfare; tipping; meals unless noted otherwise, personal expenses

 

GRACE NOTES:
Giveback: Second Harvest
ITINERARY:
DEPARTURES: year round

Day 1: Tokyo

On arrival at Narita airport, you will be transferred to your hotel. Rest of the day at leisure.

Day 2: Tokyo Walking Tour

Put on your comfortable shoes for a walking tour of Tokyo.  First, we’ll visit majestic Meiji Jingu the Shinto shrine that is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.  A stroll through the grounds of Yoyogi Park will bring us to Harajuku, renowned for its colorful street art and fashion scene.  From here we’ll wander toward the more traditional, upmarket boutiques lining leafy Omotesando Avenue - Tokyo’s Fifth Avenue.   

After lunch (own expense) we’ll watch the rock and roll dancers in Yoyogi Park, before continuing on the Shibuya where we will participate in a quintessential Tokyo activity.  Believed to be the busiest intersection in the world (and definitely in Japan), Shibuya Crossing is like a giant beating heart, sending people in all directions with every pulsing light change. Nothing says ‘I'm in Tokyo’ louder than this.  (B)

Day 3: Tokyo Walking Tour

Today’s exploration of Tokyo will start at Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s most visited tourist destination.  Busy Nakamise Street connects the main gate of Sensoji Temple, Kaminarimon Gate, to the main hall. The 300- yard approach is lined with many souvenir shops and food stalls and it’s a great spot to try traditional Tokyo’s street food.

After our mobile lunch, we’ll head to Ginza, Tokyo’s ritziest neighborhood. On Sundays the main intersection is closed to cars and becomes a see and be seen spot. Next, we’ll take a peek at the grand exterior of the Imperial Palace; the grounds are not open to visitors.

In the late afternoon, we’ll head to Shinjuku, a diverse neighborhood. West Shinjuku exudes wealth and power with its towering skyscrapers, the most eye catching of which is Kenzo Tange's inspired citadel. Nearby is the Hyatt Park Hotel (venue for the film 'Lost in Translation') occupying another soaring Kenzo Tange construction: the Shinjuku Park Tower. East Shinjuku, on the other hand, retains the district's original downtown roots.

 

Free time in Shinjuku could be used to visit the Yayoi Kusama or Samurai museum, shop at fabled Isetan department store, wander the narrow lanes of lively Kabikicho or take a Japanese cooking class. (B)

Day 4: Fuji region temple stay

Today we’ll take a 3 hour bus ride to Minobu and our accommodation for the following two nights, Kakurinbo Temple. This small temple, which caters to overnight guests, is conveniently located for visiting Minobusan Kuonji, the main temple for the Nichiren sect of Buddhism with its breathtakingly gorgeous Japanese garden. We’ll dine on traditional shojin (vegan) cuisine using locally-sourced ingredients. All guest rooms are Japanese-style, with tatami mat floors, futon bedding and communal bathrooms. (B,D)

Day 5: Fuji region temple stay

Today, relax at the temple, explore on your own or opt to take a gondola up to the top of Mt Minobu for views of Mt Fuji (weather permitting).  (B,D)

Day 6: Takayama

Ride the rails, traveling from Minobu to Takayama via two express trains and the bullet train. The most scenic section is the ride from Nagoya into the Japan Alps and Takayama aboard the Hida Wide View train, considered to be the most scenic rail route in Japan.  On arrival in Takayama, we will walk the short distance to our Japanese inn. (B,D)

Day 7: Takayama

In the morning, we’ll explore the Miyagawa riverside markets in the old town. Stalls sell local crafts and produce. We’ll wander through San Machi Suji the traditional home of merchants and sake brewers which has been preserved for hundreds of years.   In the afternoon, opt to visit a sake brewery for a tasting, or the Matsuri no Mori Museum, where the magnificent floats from the famous Takayama Festival are preserved.  (B)

Day 8: Shirakawago // Kanazawa

Today we’ll ride a bus through the Japan Alps to the village of Shirakawago  famous for its thatched roof gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. Gassho-zukkuri translates as ‘Praying Hands’, as the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer, and are designed to withstand the heavy snows which fall in the region. You will be able to look around inside one of these and will see how life in Japan's mountainous region used to be.

Continue by bus to Kanazawa, our stop for the night. (B)

Day 9: Kanazawa // Kyoto

During the Edo period (1603-1868), Kanazawa grew to become a town of great cultural achievements, rivaling Kyoto and Tokyo. Today, the city boasts many historical attractions such as restored residences and districts, as well as modern museums, the Nagamachi samurai district and Chaya entertainment district.

We’ll  explore Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en garden. Ranked one of the top three in Japan, its breathtaking beauty shines through in any season. Next, we will visit the imposing Kanazawa castle. Time permitting, we’ll include nearby Kagayuzen Kaikan, which offers demonstrations of the centuries-old Yuzen silk painting technique.

In the afternoon, we’ll head to the Nagamachi Samurai district, and the Nomura Samurai House, a traditional Japanese home with tea-ceremony room, an interior courtyard garden and artifacts from the Edo period. Following this visit, we’ll head to the bullet train station for our trip to Kyoto. (B)

Day 10: Kyoto

Kyoto, the jewel of Japan was spared bombing in WWII because it was considered of cultural importance to the world.   First, we’ll head to Kinkaku ji, the beautiful Gold Temple and walk around the lake and through the grounds.  Next, we’ll visit Ryoan-ji a simple but evocative zen pebble and rock garden designed to facilitate meditation.

 

In the afternoon, we’ll see Nijo Castle’s  Ninomaru Palace, which is famous for its “nightingale floors”. The decorative panels and carvings here – almost rococo in their flamboyance – reflect the enormous power and attitudes of the warlords who occupied the castle. We will end the day with free time at Nishiki Markets.

 

This evening, relax at the hotel or opt to wander the Gion entertainment area. (B)

Day 11: Kyoto

Today is a free day for travelers to explore independently - Kyoto and the surrounding areas have so much to offer, and navigation is easy.  Perhaps head to Nara to see the deer park, or into Osaka to shop along Dotonbori. Your Japan Rail Pass will cover most destinations. Ambitious travelers could even visit Hiroshima for the day.

In the late afternoon, opt to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine,  made famous in the west by the book and movie Memoirs of a Geisha.  The full pilgrimage walk takes 2 - 3 hours and is considered to be one of the top 10 experiences in Japan.  It is also possible to walk just a few minutes to see the vermilion tori gates.  

Say sayonara at our farewell dinner tonight.  (B)

Day 12: Depart

Use your Japan Rail pass to travel back to Tokyo’s Narita airport, or to Osaka’s Kansai airport for departure.  (B)

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