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Japan | 20d/18n:

The best of Japan

Highlights of this tour:

Tokyo including Asakusa, the Sensoji temple, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Hamarikyu Park, Shinkansen, Kanazawa including the Kenroku garden, Zen Buddhism, Onsen bath in Kaga, Kyoto, the Geisha district of Gion, Zen gardens at the Daitokuji temple complex, Okayama including the Korakuen gardens and Okayama Castle, the Naoshima artists’ island, Hiroshima including the Hirsohima Peace Park and the Atom Bomb Dome, Osaka Castle.

This package holiday includes the following:

  • Flight from the UK to Tokyo and a return flight from Osaka
  • Guide service on arrival at Tokyo, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka
  • Transfer from the Tokyo airport to the hotel
  • Welcome meeting at the hotel in Tokyo
  • IC train pass with 2500 JPY
  • Kanazawa Loop Bus one day ticket
  • Kyoto one day bus/train pass
  • One day Hiroshima Street Car Pass
  • Eco Card (one day metro/bus/tram pass) for Osaka
  • 14-Day Japan Rail Pass, 2. class with seat reservation
  • 18 nights at tourist-grade hotels with breakfast
  • Local English-speaking guide on all tours
  • 24-hour manned emergency telephone throughout the tour
  • Departure guarantee – Tour requires minimum 2 participants

The following excursion packages are included:

  • Guided full-day tour of Tokyo
  • Guided half-day tour of Kanzawa including a visit to the Kenroku garden
  • Guided half-day tour in Kyoto of the Geisha district of Gion
  • Guided half-day tour in Kyoto of the Daitokiji temple complex including the Zen gardens
  • Full-day tour of the artists’ island of Naoshima, including museum centres
  • Guided half-day tour of Hiroshima
  • Guided half-day tour of Osaka including Osaka Castle and a one-hour walking tour

Further tours as optional extras:

  • Mount Fuji
  • The Japanese Alps at Shirakawa-go and Takayama
  • Bento box cooking class in Kyoto
Single room supplement £875
Discounts for large groups.
The tour can be booked up to 60 days before departure.
Choose this trip because...

In our “The best of Japan” tour, we offer you the most famous sights and some hidden gems. Your route from Tokyo to Kanazawa, Kaga, Kyoto, Okayama, Hiroshima and Osaka, will over the course of 20 days offer you a near-complete glimpse into the culture, history and modern day of Japan. You will experience skyscrapers, modern architecture, old cultural towns, gorgeous wooden castles, the tea ceremony, living geisha districts, classic Japanese onsen baths, the Hiroshima Peace Park and the Atom Bomb Dome, as well as a look at some Japanese Zen gardens.

You travel by high-speed trains or bullet trains from city to city, as this is the most efficient way to get around. Trains and stations in Japan are an experience all to themselves; everything works like clockwork, and delays are unheard of.

Food in Japan is excellent. The Japanese eat plenty of vegetables and prefer fish and shellfish to meat and poultry, and this is reflected in their menus as well. In the bigger cities, there are of course a wealth of international restaurants to choose from too.

No matter which part ends up being your own highlight, the tour is quite simply an incredible experience in one of the greatest cultures of the East.

Detailed Itinerary
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Day 1: Flight from the UK
Day 1: Flight from the UK

Departure from selected airport in the UK. There may be connecting flights on the way.

Day 2: Arrival in Tokyo
Day 2: Arrival in Tokyo

In Tokyo, you are picked up at the airport and driven to your hotel. The arrival pick-up will be a relief. Tokyo is hectic beyond belief. Futuristic architecture, skyscrapers and neon lights flashing in every colour imaginable. And the crowds are everywhere. One would think that all the huge crowds would lead to pure chaos, but like most things in Japan, traffic (including pedestrians) moves quite smoothly. Everything and everyone has their place, and everything is unbelievably efficient – once you get the hang of it…

This first evening is set aside for a welcome meeting, where you can direct some questions to your local guide, who will also be bringing you your Japan Rail Pass. You also get an IC card, which is an electronic travel pass that can be used on local buses and trains in many cities throughout your tour. The card comes preloaded with 2500 JPY, and adding more money is easy to do if you should need to.

Overnight stay Villa Fontaine Tamachi 

Day 3: City round trip in Tokyo
Day 3: City round trip in Tokyo

You are picked up at the hotel in the morning. This day is set aside to give you an overview of some of Tokyo’s different districts. The tour starts in Asakusa. Asakusa was once Tokyo’s biggest entertainment district. This is where the geisha lived, side by side with gangsters and pickpockets. The whole area was destroyed during World War 2 and has been rebuilt at a smaller scale, and most of the geisha are here for the tourists’ sake. But you can still experience its history today, as you walk through these streets. The contrast can be felt quite clearly, just as it can be felt all over Japan – the contrast between the old and the ultra-modern.

Asakusa is also where you can find the oldest temple in Japan, Sensoji Temple. Sensoji is the oldest temple in Tokyo, and for many Japanese people, coming here to light incense is of profound importance. Nakamise street leads up to Sensoji Temple. Nakamise consists of souvenir shops and food stalls, and the street offers great opportunities to buy traditional souvenirs.

The tour of Asakusa finishes up at Kappabashi Kitchen Street, which can offer you everything in kitchenware. Perhaps you can find yourself a useful souvenir in the form of a new kitchen implement?

In the afternoon, you visit Shibuya. You probably already know Shibuya – at least from photographs. This is where the pictures of the massive crossing packed with pedestrians, surrounded on all sides by neon lights, come from. It is also one of Tokyo’s busiest shopping districts, and it is one of the places you MUST experience when you visit Tokyo. The day finishes with a great view – from the 202-metre viewing floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. On a good day, you can see Mount Fuji from here.

Overnight stay Villa Fontaine Tamachi 

Days 4 - 5: Tokyo on your own
Days 4 - 5: Tokyo on your own

The day is at your disposal – perhaps you saw something on yesterday’s tour you’d like to explore further? You have your travel pass, so feel free to move around as you please. A visit to Tokyo’s legendary fish market, the Tsukiji Fish Market, is practically a must– as long as you don’t mind an early start! If you need a break from the bustling city life, feel free to visit the Hamarikyu Gardens, where the calm stands in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city streets. In the afternoon, you can head to Shinjuku, home to some of the best restaurants in the country. Perhaps you could conclude the evening with some karaoke in the style of “Lost in Translation”?

You could also use your travel pass and make a slightly longer trip to Nikko, Kamakura, Yokohama or other destinations. You also have the option of adding an excursion on this day.

For an extra fee, you can take part in an extra excursion today:

Overnight stay Villa Fontaine Tamachi 

Day 6: Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kanazawa
Day 6: Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kanazawa

The guide will take you from the hotel to the station, where you take the high-speed Shinkansen bullet train to Kanazawa. The 450 km distance zips by in just 2 and half hours at speeds of up to 300 km/h. The bullet trains pull 6, 8, 12 or 18 cars. The information signs at the station show how many cars each train is pulling. The information signs also switch between Japanese and English. When you are down at the platform, the platform itself is marked to show you exactly where your car will arrive. Icons are painted on the platform, e.g. “6 cars – car 5” or “12 cars – car 3”. So once you get an eye for the system, it’s very convenient. The Japanese furthermore have a wonderful queuing culture. You neatly get in line at the relevant platform icon, and walk calmly and quietly into the train in the same order you arrived in – no rushing ahead or jumping the queue!

The trains run very punctually throughout Japan, and delays of more than a few minutes are exceedingly rare, and become a major topic of discussion both on the train and in national news on TV and the radio when they do happen.

Your guide in Kanazawa awaits you, and will take you first to the hotel and then on a guided tour around the city. The first stop is a samurai house. Kanazawa is known as the samurai stronghold and was – in their time – one of the richest cities in Japan. Kanazawa is also among the few Japanese cities that were spared the bombs of World War 2. After the samurai house, you visit the nearly 400-year old garden, Kenrokuen, which is one of the three most famous gardens in Japan. There is no limit to its perfection. The day concludes with a visit to the museum of the Zen master D.T. Suzuki, where you learn more about Zen Buddhism. In simple terms, one can say the currently very popular trend of mindfulness stems from Zen Buddhism. So what could be more appropriate than finishing the day with some mindfulness in the museum’s Water Mirror Garden?

Overnight stay Resol Trinity 

Day 7: Kanazawa
Day 7: Kanazawa

The day is at your leisure to explore Kanazawa. Most of the sights of the city are in walking distance. You can also choose to purchase an excursion.

You can visit the only active geisha district outside of Kyoto, Kazuemachi. As previously mentioned, Kanazawa wasn’t bombed during WW2, so many beautiful, original buildings have been preserved here. In the winter season, protective straw mats are placed against the walls to protect them.

Eat breakfast in the merchant district of Owaricho and visit the famous Omicho market, where food products are neatly arranged and presented like small works of art. Take a walk through the old samurai district and take in the city’s unique atmosphere.

Along Hirosaka street, you can find exclusive bowls made with lacquer, ceramics or a unique type of porcelain, kutani-yaki. You can find everything from traditional designs to modern versions with “Hello Kitty” characters.

In the southern end of the city is a ninja temple, heavily fortified using all the tricks of the trade. Here you can explore hidden passages and secret rooms.

Our last recommendation here is for an activity that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the Kanazawa experience: a visit to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Here you will only find art and installations made after 1980 – from both Japan and around the world.

For an extra fee, you can take part in an extra excursion today:

Overnight stay Resol Trinity 

Day 8: Kanazawa – Kaga Onsen
Day 8: Kanazawa – Kaga Onsen

A trip to Japan won’t be complete until you’ve tried an onsen bath. Bathing in the onsen is a tradition dating back hundreds of years in Japanese history. You bathe completely nude in onsen baths, and there are fixed rules for how it should be done. Up until the arrival of Western tourism not too long ago, all the baths were co-ed.  Today most baths are separated by gender, but you still experience a unique part of Japanese culture. Onsen can be found in the form of both public and private baths, but what they have in common is that they all get their water from hot springs, and bathing in the mineral-rich water is believed to be healthy and rejuvenating.

Kaga Onsen is famous all across Japan, and is a widely-loved tourist destination for the Japanese as well; for instance, there are direct buses going here from Tokyo (9 hours), and there are almost no foreign tourists, so you will have a fantastic Japanese culture experience.

Around the city of Kaga is a wide selection of Onsen, and today you take the train to Kaga. The trip from Kanazawa to Kaga takes a good half hour.

Overnight stay Hatori 

Day 9: Onsen bath in Kaga
Day 9: Onsen bath in Kaga

One of the most famous baths around Kaga is the Yamashiro Onsen. Taking the bus here is convenient, and there are several departures per hour. Yamashiro is a small town on its own, built up around the baths, and features some shops and small temples. But the main attraction is its onsen. The water is said to have a healing effect, and can help with everything from muscle and joint pain to digestive problems. The Japanese have been coming here for more than 1300 years, so there must be some truth behind it! The Japanese aren’t shy about their bodies when they’re in the onsen – a stark contrast to how they dress outside of it. You will be nude in the baths – but you get a small towel that you can cover yourself with until you’re in the water. The towel isn’t supposed to get wet, so it takes some cunning to “time” it all. But it pays off when you first get into the nice, hot water and feel all the tension in your travel-weary muscles ease up. Remember that jewellery is not permitted. And as tattoos generally are socially unacceptable, you are unlikely to get into an onsen if you have any.

Kaga is up in the mountains, and there are many good hiking tours, from short trips to full day hikes. A must is Kakusenkei Gorge, where a path follows the river for 1.5 km. On the route there are small waterfalls, and about half-way there is Kakusenkei Kawadoko, where you can buy a hot cup of matcha, a kind of green tea. Another nearby sight is the Natadera Temple.

Overnight stay Hatori 

Day 10: Kaga – Kyoto
Day 10: Kaga – Kyoto

From Kaga it takes a good two hours by the Limited Express Thunderbird train to Kyoto. On your arrival in Kyoto, you are met by a local guide, who helps you get to your hotel.

Kyoto is an incredible city with rich history, which has been, and continues to be, a major influence on the Japanese self-image. For more than 1000 years, Kyoto was the capital of Japan all the way up until 1868. About 2000 temples, shrines and imperial buildings are preserved here, and the city is home to a wealth of universities as well. Today you can find 17 buildings designated as UNESCO world heritage sites here. In Kyoto, Japanese cultural heritage is alive and kicking, and the geisha quarters with its schools and tea houses aren’t just there for the tourists. The city has a limited size, and it is easy to travel around. With its 1.5 million inhabitants, Kyoto is also one of Japan’s “smaller cities”!

In the afternoon, you take a guided walking tour of Gion. Gion has held onto the charms of old Kyoto, and is one of the few remaining true geisha districts, featuring its own school. The guide explains the high culture the geisha represent, which is often assumed to be prostitution in many Western countries – when nothing could be further from the truth. The geisha take a 5-year education in topics such as poetry, song, music, conversation and tea ceremony.

Overnight stay Hotel Vista Premio Kyoto 

Day 11: Kyoto
Day 11: Kyoto

The day is spent at your leisure.

Kyoto has so much to offer that the hard part is to fit it all in!

You can opt to rent a bicycle and go exploring along Kyoto’s countless canals. As with most cities whose roots reach far back into history, access to water has been extremely important. Kyoto is split up by a few rivers, from which hundreds of canals have been built, leading to an endless number of well springs and ponds. There is a lushness to be found in the plant life of the city, which naturally also provides some welcome shade during the hot summer months. When the cherry trees blossom, the water draws out a whole new dimension to their beauty.

You can simply walk the streets and take it all in. You will quickly discover that there are many Japanese tourists in Kyoto, and one of the popular activities here is to dress in a traditional kimono for a day – and this goes for both men and women. They are wonderfully colourful, and young people have a great time with it.

You can head to the Nishiki market, where you will find a narrow shopping arcade with over 100 businesses and restaurants, giving it the name “the kitchen of Kyoto”. The vibrant street has found its speciality in everything that has to do with food. It is definitely the right place to find special seasonal products, kitchen implements and Kyoto specialities such as the small “rice pockets”, with cherry blossom or black bean filling.

One attraction received international fame due to the film “Memoirs of a Geisha”, namely the Fushimi Inari head shrine. The paths leading up to the shrine are flanked by vermilion gates, forming a kind of long pergola. The gates are donated by a variety of people, and the donators’ names are written in black characters on the gate. A completely unique mood rests over the shrine, which holds about 10,000 vermilion gates in all.

For an extra fee, you can take part in an extra excursion today:

Overnight stay Hotel Vista Premio Kyoto 

Day 12: Zen gardens and temple complexes
Day 12: Zen gardens and temple complexes

In the northern part of Kyoto is its biggest temple complex, Daitokuji. It is home to some of Kyoto’s most beautiful – yet less famous – Zen gardens. Zen gardens don’t have many plants. They usually have a flat space with stones or sand, and occasionally a grass lawn. The gardens are ideal for meditation, as carefully placed stones and few plants help create harmony and a sense of calm. And so your train of thought won’t be interrupted by an excess of plants. The temple complex has several smaller temples, each of which have their own Zen garden. You have a few hours to explore the area on your own time – a lovely way to start the day. The guide will explain the principles of each garden on the way.

You have the rest of the day to freely explore Kyoto on your own.

Overnight stay Hotel Vista Premio Kyoto 

Day 13: Kyoto
Day 13: Kyoto

The day is at your leisure to explore Kyoto.

One attraction that is practically a must for your visit to Kyoto is the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji. The Golden Pavilion is Kyoto’s most iconic sight. The 3-story building sits with a façade facing the lake, making it a breathtaking sight when light hits the building and it casts a reflection in the water. The pavilion was built as a private estate for a shogun around the year 1400, and was later repurposed as a Zen temple. In 1950, the building was burned down by a monk, but it was rebuilt a few years later. The pavilion is no longer a temple, but it is perhaps the most iconic symbol of Kyoto.

You can also take the short trip to Nara, which was the capital of Japan in the 8th century. There are many important temples there, but the Byodoin Temple is particularly famous for its Phoenix Hall, which is depicted on the back of the 10-yen coin. Deer fearlessly wander around the Todai-ji temple, which surrounds the Daibutsuden and is considered to be the largest wooden building in the world.

Overnight stay Hotel Vista Premio Kyoto 

Day 14: Kyoto – Okayama
Day 14: Kyoto – Okayama

You travel 220 km by Shinkansen from Kyoto to Okayama, which takes 90 minutes. The day is at your disposal in Okayama.  Okayama is a big, modern city with over half a million inhabitants, but the biggest attraction has nothing to do with the metropolis.

In Kanazawa, you saw one of Japan’s three most famous gardens, Kenrokuen. The second of these, Korakuen, can be found in Okayama. There are big fields, lakes, small wooden houses and some more rice paddies and tea plantations. Another major attraction in Okayama is the beautiful Okayama Castle. “The Crow Castle”, as Okayama Castle is nicknamed due to its black exterior, was built in 1597. The original castle was destroyed during World War 2, but the castle was fully reconstructed in 1966.

In the district of Kurashiki is a network of well-preserved canals with old warehouses lined up along their banks. Today the warehouses have been converted into museums, cafés and shops. It’s absolutely lovely to take a walk here, or to sit down at one of the cafés and enjoy your surroundings, and a sail trip along the canals is practically a must.

Overnight stay Mitsui Garden Hotel Okayama 

Day 15: Okayama – full day excursion to Naoshima
Day 15: Okayama – full day excursion to Naoshima

The small island of Naoshima can be found in the inland sea off of Okayama. This island is particularly well-known for its spectacular architecture, sculpture and its many art museums. Today you will take a full-day guided tour of this little island. Aside from the art, the island offers an almost Mediterranean atmosphere with its white, sandy beaches, delightful climate and a beautiful and soothing “island feel”. The art is the highlight here, and included in your ticket is a visit to both the Chichu Art Museum and the Benesse House Museum. There will also be plenty of time to just enjoy the island – perhaps you’d like to rent a bicycle and explore its more distant corners? And we promise that even if you usually aren’t the type for sculptures, you can’t help but me impressed by what you’ll find on Naoshima Island.

Overnight stay Mitsui Garden Hotel Okayama 

Day 16: Okayama – Hiroshima
Day 16: Okayama – Hiroshima

This morning you will take the Shinkansen train from Okayama to Hiroshima. The 161-km journey from Okayama to Hiroshima takes only 40 minutes by train.

On your arrival in Hiroshima, the guide will be waiting by the train to take you to the hotel. You will then go on a guided tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The park is at the heart of Hiroshima and is a memorial to the horrors of World War 2. The Atom Bomb Dome, the iconic domed, skeletal steel industrial building that remained after the attack, is at the heart of the park. The building and its dome have been left untouched as a powerful symbol of the most destructive human force ever created, and as a powerful symbol of hope that it will never happen again. The Atom Bomb Dome was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The Peace Memorial Museum can also be found in the park, as well as the symbolic statue of the girl and the origami crane, The Children’s Peace Monument.

After the visit to the park, the guide can either take you back to the hotel or give you directions for how you can get to Hijiyama Park on your own.  Hijiyama Park is a good place to relax after the intense experiences of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and here you can take a walk or simply sit down and enjoy life. At the top of the park is a museum of contemporary art, which includes a good manga library for visitors interested in comics.

Overnight stay Hotel New Hiroden

Day 17: Hiroshima and Miyajima on your own
Day 17: Hiroshima and Miyajima on your own

The day is spent at your leisure.

We recommend an excursion to Miyajima. Miyajima is less than an hour away from Hiroshima, and is easy to reach to by public transport. Here, stretching about 20 metres up from the water is Miyajima’s world-famous vermilion gate, and at high tide, it appears to float above the surface. When you get off the ferry at the island, whose real name is Itsukushima, you pass by some tourist streets with souvenir shops, small gift delicacy businesses and cafés until you reach the location where you can see the giant gate. On the way, you are sure to encounter the island’s tame sika deer. Also on the island is Daisho-in, a Buddhist temple that is open to visitors. A peculiar trait here is that the Buddha figures are often depicted with scarves and hats on. You can also take the cable car to the top of Mt. Misen, which offers a spectacular view of Hiroshima and the inland sea, which contains over 3000 islets.

Overnight stay Hotel New Hiroden

Day 18: Hiroshima – Osaka
Day 18: Hiroshima – Osaka

Today you take the Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Osaka – the trip is 342 km long and takes an hour and a half. You are picked up at the train station and driven to your hotel.

On the guided half-day tour, the guide travels with you by public transport to Osaka Castle, which stems from the era of the Shogun. The castle is a spectacular sight, and is one of Japan’s most beautiful castles from the outside. During the visit to the castle and its park you learn about the glory days of the shogun Hideyoshi, who had 100,000 men build his castle in 3 years. The castle has been burned down and rebuilt several times, the last time being in 1931. You get a gorgeous view of Osaka from the top floor.

From Osaka castle, you take a short walk to the river, where you get on board the Aqualiner boat for a one-hour sightseeing tour of Osaka’s waterways.

After the boat tour, the guide takes you back to the hotel. The rest of the day is at your leisure.

Overnight stay Shin-Osaka Esaka Tokyu REI 

Day 19: Osaka
Day 19: Osaka

The day is at your disposal to explore Osaka.

Osaka is Japan’s biggest financial powerhouse after Tokyo, and is home to an active business community in international trade and industry. Osaka was founded hundreds of years ago, then bombed to ruins during World War 2, and so today it appears to be a young city with modern buildings.  However, in some places you can still feel the traces of history. In Osaka you will also encounter some delectable cooking in both Japanese and international cuisine. The Osakan people are known in Japan to spend their money on food. If you want to try some local specialties, we recommend kushi katsu, which is made from deep-fried vegetables or meat on skewers, or takoyaki, which is similar to Yorkshire pudding except it is made with octopus and leeks or green onions.

There is so much to do in Osaka. You could feed your inner gourmet with the cuisine the city is famous for. But another must-see is the Umeda Sky building, which was designed by Hiroshi Hara, one of Japan’s great architects. Its observation deck offers an incredible view – in clear weather, you can see as far as Awaji Island. In the basement floor of the building is the Takimi-Koji gourmet street, which is decorated with pictures of Osaka in the 1920s.

Overnight stay Shin-Osaka Esaka Tokyu REI 

Day 20: Osaka – Arrival in the UK
Day 20: Osaka – Arrival in the UK

It’s time to say goodbye to Japan. You take the train back to the airport with plenty of time to spare before departure.

 

There may be connecting flights on the way. You land in the UK after an eventful tour.

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