Tokyo . Hakone . Kyoto
Japan is Asia's most elegant destination, and a fascinating mix of tradition and modernity.
Anime and manga are as integral as tea ceremony, ikebana flower arranging, and indigo dyeing. Shrines, temples and pagodas flank cutting edge skyscrapers. Tiny ramen shops which seat just a handful of lucky diners, where noodles are handmade, abut conveyor belt sushi restaurants that feed hundreds of guests in a few hours. The bullet train whisks travelers between thousand year old cities at 200 mph.
This escorted journey highlights Japan's popular Golden Route, from Tokyo to Kyoto. During the day, visits to a mix of contemporary and historic attractions paint a broad picture of this unique country. Traditional accommodation in a Japanese inn in Hakone exposes guests to this elegant and exotic culture and a cuisine that pleases the eye as it delights the palate.
A Japanese-speaking group leader will travel with the group throughout the trip. Using Japan's ultra-efficient public transportation system saves time that is better spent enjoying each destination.
Your giveback on this journey is the Nozomi project.
9 days / 8 nights
From $3999 / per person sharing
Bullet train journeys
3 nights hotel, Tokyo
1 night Hakone Japanese Inn
3 nights hotel, Kyoto
Japanese-speaking group leader
Custom departure: On demand
Women-only group departure: March, 2024
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)
Day 1 Arrive Tokyo
On arrival in Tokyo, take the airport shuttle to your hotel. Rest of day at leisure.
Stay: Keio Plaza (or similar)
Day 2 Traditional Tokyo tour on foot and by subway
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 to Shibuya where we will participate in a quintessential Tokyo activity - the Shibuya crossing. 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.
Stay: Keio Plaza, (or similar) (B)
Day 3 Modern Tokyo tour on foot and by subway
Today’s exploration of Tokyo starts at Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s most visited tourist destination. Busy Nakamise Street is the 300-yard approach lined with many souvenir shops and food stalls and it’s a great spot to try Tokyo 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 afternoon, we’ll have free time. Some options in Shinjuku alone are a visit to the Yayoi Kusama or Samurai museums, shopping at fabled Isetan department store, wandering the narrow lanes of lively Kabukicho or taking a Japanese cooking class.
Stay: Keio Plaza (or similar) (B)
Day 4 Tokyo - Hakone
Today, we'll take Japan’s world-famous Shinkansen bullet train to Hakone (2hr) using our JR Pass.
Equipped with our Hakone Free Pass, we'll take advantage of the extensive local transport network to explore this stunning region. From switchback trains to cable cars, ropeways to buses and even a pirate ship that will sweep you across the volcanic Lake Ashi with views of Mt Fuji.
Tonight, you will stay in a Japanese traditional ryokan, sleeping on futons laid out on tatami mats with delicious, included meals and piping hot onsen (hot spring) baths.
Stay: Parks Yoshino (or similar) (B,D)
Day 5 Hakone - Kyoto
Ride the rails on the bullet train, we'll, travel from Hakone to Kyoto. After checking into our hotel, we’ll experience a traditional tea ceremony in a temple, and stroll along The Philosopher's Path,
a pleasant stone path named after Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan's most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route daily.
Stay: Kyoto Tokyu Hotel (or similar) (B)
Day 6 Kyoto
This morning we will start at Sanjusangendo Temple, the longest wooden structure in Japan. Next stop is a celebrated UNESECO site, Kiyomizu-dera temple, famous for its wooden platform stage constructed without nails.
In the afternoon, we will visit Kinkakuji Temple a jewel set in the northern hills. A far cry from Buddhist austerity, it is covered in real gold leaf, photogenically vibrant at any time of year no matter the weather. We will finish our day at bustling Nishiki Market where we can shop for quality souvenirs and tasty snacks.
Stay: Kyoto Tokyu Hotel (or similar) (B)
Day 7 Kyoto
In the early morning, we'll head to Fushimi Inari Shrine made famous in the west by the book and movie Memoirs of a Geisha. The full pilgrimage walk takes 2 and 1/2 hours and is considered to be one of the top 10 experiences in Japan. For those who don't wish to walk this distance, it is also possible to walk just a few minutes to see the vermilion tori gates and the shrine.
The rest of the day is at leisure.
Stay: Kyoto Tokyu Hotel (or similar) (B)
Day 8 Depart
It's time to bid farewell to Japan. Using our rail passes, we'll travel to nearby Osaka (Kansai KIX airport) or back to Tokyo (Narita or Haneda airport) for departure on afternoon and evening flights. (B)