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Japan | 14d/12n:

Japan highlights

Highlights of this tour:

Osaka Castle, train travel on the Shinkansen, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, The Atom Bomb Dome, Kyoto, the geisha district of Gion, the Higashiyama temple district, tea ceremony, Kodaiji Temple, Kanazawa, Kenrokuen park, Shibuya, Harajuku, Takeshita-Dori, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku.

This package holiday includes the following:

  • Flight from the UK to Osaka and home from Tokyo
  • Guide service on arrival in Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kanazawa and Tokyo
  • Welcome meeting at the hotel in Osaka
  • Eco Card (one-day train pass) for Kyoto
  • IC train pass with 2500 JPY for Osaka and Kyoto
  • 14-Day Japan Rail Pass, 2. class with seat reservation
  • 12 nights at tourist-grade hotels with breakfast
  • 24-hour manned emergency telephone throughout the tour
  • Departure guarantee – Tour requires minimum 2 participants

The following excursion packages are included:

  • Guided half-day tour of Osaka including Osaka Castle and a one-hour walking tour
  • Guided half-day tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
  • Guided half-day tour in Kyoto of the Geisha district of Gion
  • Guided half-day tour in Kyoto of the Higashiyama temple district, Ninenzaka, Kodaiji Temple including traditional tea ceremony
  • Guided half-day tour in Kanazawa of the Terashima Kurando Samurai House, the Kenrokuen garden and the D.T. Suzuki Museum
  • Guided half-day tour in Tokyo of Shibuya, Takeshita-Dori and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Further tours as optional extras:

  • Izakaya cooking class in Kyoto
  • The Japanese Alps at Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
  • Mount Fuji
Single room supplement £470
Discounts for large groups.
The tour can be booked up to 60 days before departure.
Choose this tour because...

Do you want to experience Japan in all its facets? This is the tour for you. Japan and Japanese culture have had an enormous influence on the world. To name a few things: sushi, Toyota, Judo, bonsai, kimono and karaoke.  And Japan is a truly thrilling place to explore.

The experience begins in Osaka, which is considered to be capital of Japanese food. Afterwards, you continue to Hiroshima, where you visit the Peace Memorial Park and the Atom Bomb Dome. The heart of Japan is in the old capital of Kyoto and the seat of samurai power in Kanazawa, where you explore the historical Japan with its old, classic wooden houses and shrines, cobblestone streets, geisha and tourists in kimono. In Tokyo you are in many ways brought back into the modern day. Tokyo is the capital now, and is considered to be the brain of Japan. Everything here is ultra-modern and cutting-edge, with skyscrapers and a highly-efficient transit system. To travel between the major highlights you will use the high-speed Shinkansen bullet trains, or regular express trains. And experiencing the efficiency of Japanese rail is almost worth the trip on its own.

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

Departure from the chosen airport in the UK with possible connecting flights on the way.

Day 2: Arrival in Osaka
Day 2: Arrival in Osaka

On arrival you pass through immigration, where a 90-day tourist visa is stamped in your passport. Afterwards, you collect your luggage and pass through customs to the arrivals hall. In the arrivals hall is a guide holding a sign with the Asiatours logo. The guide will help you buy a ticket (not included) for the right train, and shows you to the correct platform.

Following arrival and check-in at the hotel, the day is free at your disposal until the end of the day.

Overnight stay Shin-Osaka Esaka Tokyu REI 

Day 3: Welcome meeting - Sightseeing in Osaka
Day 3: Welcome meeting - Sightseeing in Osaka

After breakfast a local English-speaking guide will come to the hotel for the welcome meeting. At the welcome meeting, the guide will go through the programme for the following days, explaining practical topics and answering questions. You will also receive an IC card, an electronic travel pass for trains and buses preloaded with 2500 JPY. At the welcome meeting, the guide will also take care of practical matters involving the Japan Rail Pass, which you will use for your trips between the big cities.

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 specialities, 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.

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. 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 4: Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima, half-day excursion to Hiroshima
Day 4: Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima, half-day excursion to Hiroshima

Today you will ride the Shinkansen bullet train for the first time. This high-speed train has its own platform at all of its stops, and in some cases entirely separate stations have been built for it as well, such as Shin-Osaka. You must make your way from the hotel to the train station on your own.

The train ride from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima stretches across 342 km and takes just one and a half hour.

The bullet trains pull 6, 8 or 12 cars. A few trains have 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.

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 exhibition 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 what may be 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. Pictures and objects from the bombing on 6 August 1945 and the following period are exhibited at the Peace Memorial Museum.

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 5: Hiroshima and Miyajima on your own
Day 5: 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. The island also features great hiking trails.

Overnight stay Hotel New Hiroden

Day 6: Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Kyoto, the geisha district of Gion
Day 6: Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Kyoto, the geisha district of Gion

Today you are taking the Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Kyoto with a transfer at Shin-Osaka. The trip is 381 km long and takes just under 2 hours.

For more than 1000 years, Kyoto was the capital of Japan all the way up until 1868, and is in many ways considered to be the cradle of Japanese culture.  The city was able to avoid being bombed during World War 2, sparing about 2000 temples, shrines and imperial buildings. There are also about 40 universities in and around the city. Together, this creates a melting pot of culture and knowledge. Today you can find 17 buildings designated as UNESCO world heritage sites here. In Kyoto, Japanese culture isn’t just a heritage, it is alive and kicking, and the geisha quarters with their schools and tea houses aren’t just there for the tourists. The city is easy to navigate as well.

The guide meets you by the train at the station and takes you to your hotel. Afterwards, there is a guided introductory walking tour in 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 sophisticated prostitution in many Western countries – when nothing could be further from the truth. The geisha complete a 5-year education in poetry, song, music, conversation, tea ceremony, origami and much more. While in training they are known as maiko, and maiko are the ones you may see scurrying from one tea house to the next.

Overnight stay Kyoto Plaza Hotel

Day 7: Guided walking tour of Kyoto
Day 7: Guided walking tour of Kyoto

You meet your guide at the Yasaka shrine in Gion for a half-day guided walking tour. From here you go to the beautiful Higashiyama temple district. You travel through Higashiyama to a place where you will experience a classic Japanese tea ceremony. The tea ceremony is known as “sao” or “cha-no-yu”, and covers a nearly 400-year-old tradition. You experience the tea ceremony in a traditional wooden Japanese house with thin walls and sliding doors, some of which are made from a type of paper. You sit down on the floor in front of a woman dressed in the finest kimono. The woman performs the tea ceremony with great precision, and each movement bears meaning.

After the tea ceremony the guide takes you to the protected and very charming Ninenzaka street, which is an old cobblestone street with wooden buildings that today house souvenir shops, small cafes and eateries. You will have some time on your own here.

The next stop is the Kodaiji Temple, which is over 400 years old. Kodaiji is on a hill, and perhaps this is how it maintains its serene sense of calm. The temple is surrounded by a gorgeous garden with small ponds, bridges, bonsai sections, a stone garden, and a bamboo grove with 20-metre-high stalks of bamboo. In a Japanese garden, nothing is placed at random, everything has its own specific place and meaning, and as a guest you will notice this very quickly. On the temple grounds are also two historical tea houses you can visit.

After the visit to Kodaiji Temple, the guide takes you back to the Yasaka shrine, after which the rest of your day is spent at your leisure.

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

Overnight stay Kyoto Plaza Hotel

Day 8: Kyoto on your own
Day 8: Kyoto on your own

The day is spent at your leisure. Kyoto has so much to offer that the hard part is to fit it all in!

You could opt to rent a bicycle or get your trekking shoes on. Here are some suggestions for things to spend your day on.

First and foremost is the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji. The Golden Pavilion is Kyoto’s most iconic sight. The 3-story building sits with a façade facing a lake, making it a breath-taking sight when light hits the building and casts a reflection in the water. The Golden Pavilion is seen as perfect, and in Japanese culture, perfection is key.

Next there is Ginkakuji, also known as the Silver Pavilion. The Zen temple was originally built as a Shogun’s private villa, and it is surrounded by a fantastic garden. The stone garden is particularly iconic. The way up to Ginkakuji is narrow and lovely with its many cafés and small shops. It’s usually possible to buy a rickshaw ride here as well.

Finally, there is the Fushimi Inari shrine, where the paths leading up to the shrine are flanked by vermilion gates, seeming to create a 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.

But there is also some completely normal city life along the streets and squares of the city. The shops’ selection of produce and delicacies is greatly different from what we know. You will quickly notice that packaging is important when you buy bits and bobs.

On the street, you see many local tourists dressed in traditional kimono. This is something many love to do for a day – both men and women. They are wonderfully colourful, and young people have a great time with it.

Overnight stay Kyoto Plaza Hotel

Day 9: Train ride from Kyoto to Kanazawa, guided tour of Kanazawa
Day 9: Train ride from Kyoto to Kanazawa, guided tour of Kanazawa

Today you travel by Limited Express Thunderbird from Kyoto to Kanazawa, which is on the west coast of Honshu, 225 km from Kyoto. The trip takes about 2 hours.

Kanazawa was the most powerful city in Japan in the age of the samurai. Like Kyoto, the city has a particularly well-preserved city environment, as it was spared the destructive bombings of World War 2. When you walk these streets, you can clearly sense “yesterday’s Japan”.

The guide meets you at the station and takes you to the hotel. After check-in, there is a half-day guided walking tour of some of the highlights of Kanazawa. You start at the Terashima Kurando House, which is a spectacular samurai house with a nice garden and art made by the warrior himself.

Afterwards you head to the nearly 400-year-old park, Kenrokuen, which is considered to be one of Japan’s three most beautiful parks. This has made it extremely popular. The name Kenrokuen refers to the perfect aesthetic combination of water, space and seclusion, which are some of the elements involved in creating a beautiful Japanese garden.

From Kenrokuen you walk the picturesque streets of the town leading to the captivating D.T. Suzuki Museum, made in honour of the man who introduced Zen Buddhism to the West. The small garden by the museum is the perfect canvas for the Zen philosophy, and you can conclude your day by practising mindfulness in the Water Mirror Garden.

After the tour, the rest of the day is at your leisure.

Overnight stay Resol Trinity 

Day 10: On your own in Kanazawa
Day 10: On your own in Kanazawa

The day is at your leisure to explore Kanazawa and its surrounding areas.

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.  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.

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 for an activity here is 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 11: Kanazawa – Tokyo by Shinkansen, guided half-day tour of Tokyo
Day 11: Kanazawa – Tokyo by Shinkansen, guided half-day tour of Tokyo

You travel by Shinkansen from Kanazawa to Tokyo. The trip stretches across 450 km and takes about two and a half hours.

Your guide waits for you at the station in Tokyo and takes you to the hotel. You use the metro from the station to the hotel, using the same electronic travel pass you got in Osaka.

Once you have checked in at the hotel, it’s time for a guided city tour of the metropolis of Tokyo. The tour starts in Shibuya. Shibuya is famous for many things: 1) a hot shopping district for fashion and accessories, 2) the home of new, cutting-edge fashion designers and trend-setting entertainment, and not least 3) Tokyo’s most famous and most photogenic street crossing, where busy crowds of thousands cross when the signal flashes green for pedestrians and red for drivers all around the crossing.

Afterwards, the tour continues to Harajuku, another one of Tokyo’s fashion capitals. One of Harajuku’s famous streets is Takeshita Dori, which with its side alleys has become a stronghold of teenage culture. The street is packed with young people dressed in fantastically colourful clothes here, and it seems that although basically anything goes, they are always very well-dressed.

The guide takes you from here to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, which is one of the tallest and most characteristic skyscrapers in Tokyo. The building is 243 metres high with two towers and an observation deck at a height of 202 metres. The deck offers an incredible view of the city; although it depends on the weather, you can often see Mount Fuji in the distance, but you can also see the much nearer Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, the Meiji Shrine and Tokyo Dome.

Overnight stay Shiba Park Hotel 

Days 12 - 13: Tokyo on your own
Days 12 - 13: Tokyo on your own

The days are spent at your leisure.

Tokyo has so many different experiences to offer. The Imperial Palace and the Niju-bashi bridge over its moat is one of the iconic highlights of Tokyo. Not far from the palace and the park is the district of Ginza, which is associated with the highest square-metre real estate prices in the world, and the ultra-rich bohemian lifestyle. It features everything in cafés, bars, restaurants and shopping malls. Closer to river in the Tsukiji district, at the heart of Tokyo, is Japan’s world-famous fish auction. There have been plans to move it to a different location for a while, but for now, it remains in Tsukiji. Another one of the big contrasts in the hyper-modern metropolis.

Asakusa is Tokyo’s old quarter. There are still some old buildings here, and no huge high-rises. Aside from the feel of the streets and alleys, another central highlight is Sensoji. Tourist information can be found above the entrance to the temple. Take the elevator to the top floor of the building and get a nice overview of the temple complex. Sensoji is the oldest temple in Tokyo, and for many Japanese people, coming here to light incense is of profound importance. Nakamise is a long pedestrian street crowded with souvenir shops and food stalls leading up to the Sensoji Temple. This street is never dull, and you will see women, couples, and sometimes entire families dressed in traditional kimono. They are on the way to light incense and waft some sacred smoke to themselves in hopes of curing illnesses, gaining good fortune, having children or something else entirely.

There are many great museums and galleries in Tokyo, such as the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art. You can choose to spend your days on modern art, kitsch art or manga.

Or consider the Railway Museum, where you can learn about the world’s most efficient transit system.

In the Akihabara district, you can find everything the heart desires in electronics and electrical devices. Shop after shop is packed with electronics. In more recent years, the district has also become famous as a hotspot for “otaku” culture and manga fans. This is also where you can enjoy the unique experience of visiting a “maid café”, where the staff are dressed as comic book waitresses.

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

Overnight stay Shiba Park Hotel 

Day 14: Flight from Tokyo to the UK
Day 14: Flight from Tokyo to the UK

The day is spent at your leisure until you head to the airport. We recommend you take the Narita Express train to the airport, as it is both convenient and fast. From Narita, you fly to the UK. There may be connecting flights on the way.

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