Epic Japan Adventure - 19 Days
SEMI INDEPENDENT: Immerse yourself in the organised chaos of Tokyo, visit the home of the first shoguns in Kamakura, attend a live geisha performance in Kyoto, feed mischievous snow monkeys in Arashiyama, pay your respects for the lives lost in Hiroshima, rest your head in a traditional Buddhist lodgings on Mt Koya and traditional farmhouse lodgings in Ogimachi and cross the spectacular Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route on this incredible group tour of Japan.
Welcome to Japan. Arrive into either Narita or Haneda International Airport in Tokyo and independently travel by public transport into the city centre and check into the hostel where you will be met by your tour leader and the rest of the group. Take a trip up to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building for breath taking views of the city from the 45th floor. We then make our way to the buzzing Shinjuku district – full of Izakaya style pubs, karaoke bars and a life-sized Godzilla standing guard.
In the afternoon leave the buzz of the city behind and go in search of a dose of zen at Sensou-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddist temple. Witness worshippers offering gifts to the Kannon, the goddess of compassion and walk around the contemplative garden. The rest of the day is at leisure to continue exploring Tokyo, sit back and watch the world go by on Hoppy Street or relax like the locals do with a visit to a nearby bath house, boasting a huge variety of baths and saunas.
Spend the morning wandering through Tokyo’s iconic Tsukiji Fish Market and catch a glimpse at the variety of fish on offer, and possibly the latest haul of prized blue-fin tuna. We then take time to learn the art of sushi making with lesson from a local chef, before tasting the fruits of our labour.
This afternoon is spent wandering through Akihabara, Japan’s “electric town” and the hub for anime and manga. Take some time to geek out and visit some of the many electric shops on offer, from the branches on the main roads to the independent traders’ shops down the side streets, selling all sorts of electrical or manga goods. The rest of the evening is free to continue shopping, or for those looking for a spot of adrenaline, perhaps explore one of the infamous "maid-cafes" or join the optional Mario cart excursion through the streets of Tokyo.
Overnight: Tokyo | Breakfast
This morning finds us wandering through the gardens of the Imperial Palace, once the largest fortress in the world. Built on the ruins of the original Edo Castle site which was destroyed over the years by war, all that remains of the ancient architecture are the original moats, watch towers and entrance gates. Witness the incredible Nijubashi Bridge – two bridges that form the entrance to the Palace’s grounds.
It’s another afternoon of traditional-modern contrast in the Harajuku area of the city. First stop is the Shinto shrine to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Wander through acres of forest until you reach the shrine to the Emperor that began Japan’s transformation from feudal to modern society in the early 20th century. Later, we head to the Harajuku fashion district and witness the many diverse fashion styles from French maids, to punks, goths and lolitas, grab some hair dye and get involved! Our day finishes walking across the world’s most famous intersection, Shibuya, grab a drink and sit in one of the many bars and watch the world go by or for the best view head to the second floor of the station. This evening there is an optional excursion to a cat café, where you can enjoy a cup of tea and kitty cuddles.
Overnight: Tokyo | Breakfast
Our first port of call is visiting the area where the sumo wrestlers train and reside. It’s quite something! For lunch, you’ll have the chance to eat like a sumo wrestler by trying one of their traditional meals. We then head to the Edo-Tokyo Museum for an insight into the Tokyo’s evolution from the Edo period (1869 to present), giving us the chance to learn about the capital's history. The afternoon also sees another aspect of Japanese culture: samurai. Watch an awesome demonstration before trying out the ancient art yourself with an expert guiding you. Don’t try this at home!
The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to continue exploring these amazing districts or opt to watch a spectacular Tokyo robot show. The dazzling performance is a must see!
Overnight: Tokyo | Breakfast
Tokyo – Kamakura. This morning we make our way to the popular seaside location of Kamakura by train, Japan’s medieval capital and home to the first shoguns is ours to explore today. On arrival we take some time to check out some of the many ancient shrines before heading to the Kotoku-in temple and marvel at the iconic bronze Great Buddha, standing 45ft tall. Next, we hike to the incredible Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine, where we have the opportunity to wash our money in the spring (it is said any money washed in the shrine will double).
The rest of the afternoon is yours to further independently explore – watch the sunset from one of the many beach bars or grab a surfboard and ride the waves while the sun goes down.
Journey Time: Tokyo - Kamakura (approx 1.5 hours)
Kamakura – Hakone. After breakfast, we take the Hakone Ropeway, an epic cable car journey that drops you at Oowakudani, a volcanic valley awash with active sulfur vents and hot springs. On a clear day you can gaze at Mount Fuji in all its glory and sample black eggs, a local delicacy coloured by the sulphuric water they’re boiled in.
Next up, is stunning Lake Ashi where you’ll board a pirate ship! From the deck of this triple-decker man-of-war you’ll cross the lake’s clear-blue waters and enjoy the spectacular views. In the afternoon, experience an onsen, hot springs baths amidst the forest, making it an ideal spot to unwind before spending the evening at leisure in our traditional style ryokan guest house.
Journey time: Kamakura - Hakone (approx 1.5 hours)
Note: As of June 2019 the Hakone Ropeway has been temporarily suspended – please see the Trip Notes for further details.
Hakone – Kyoto. Bid farewell to the mountains this morning and board the bullet train to Kyoto, the country’s former imperial capital. We spend the afternoon wandering through the quaint hillside streets before reaching the Kiyomzu Temple, one of the most celebrated temples in the country. Take time to admire the structure of the wooden stage, built without the use of nails and home to the eleven faced, thousand-armed Kannon statue.
This evening we attend a live geisha performance in the famous Gion district before spending the rest of the evening at leisure. Walk down the dimly lit Pontocho alley, and sip on some sake in one of the bars overlooking the river and watch the world go by.
Journey Time: Hakone - Kyoto (approx 3.5 hours)
Today we soak up Kyoto’s stunning landscapes in traditional wooden rafts along the Hozugawa River, which was originally used to transport many of the supplies that built many of Osaka and Kyoto’s famous temples and castles. We then hike through a maze of bamboo paths in Arashiyama bamboo forest, until we reach monkey park where we have the opportunity to feed these amazing creatures from the safety of our own cage while they roam free in their natural environment.
In the afternoon we visit the Tenryu-ji Temple, the most important of the city’s five zen temples. The buildings themselves were damaged in fires and wars over centuries, whereas the gardens survived and have remained in pristine condition in their original form. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to continue exploring Kyoto, there is also an optional karaoke night.
Today offers free time to relax or independently explore. We recommend visiting the temples of the Philosopher’s path, or check out the famous Manga Museum. Perhaps catch the train to Fushimi Inari Taisha, famous for the thousands of red torii gates dedicated to the Shinto god of rice. Pay your respects to the deity by making a small offering before following the hiking trails to the torii gate in the wooded forest of Mount Inari.
Kyoto – Hiroshima. Our final morning in Kyoto is spent exploring the iconic Golden Pavillion at Kinkaku-ji Temple, whose top two floors are covered in gold leaves. Take time to walk around the lake and marvel at the shimmering golden reflection of the pavilion in the waters and unwind in this calm atmosphere before taking a journey of tranquility with a meditation lesson led by a Buddhist monk in a city temple. The afternoon finds us cycling through Kyoto’s Imperial Park in the heart of the city before reaching the iconic Imperial Palace, the former residence of Japan’s Imperial Family before the capital and emperor were moved to Tokyo. Stroll through the grounds and admire the beautiful buildings. Later we continue our journey west and catch the bullet train to Hiroshima.
Journey Time: Kyoto - Hiroshima (approx 2.5 hours)
Hiroshima, the first place to be hit by one of the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. We begin our day with a stop at the Peace Memorial Museum where we uncover the devastation left behind by the world’s first atomic bomb, and how the city has become the standard bearer for a peaceful and nuclear free world. We’ll see the iconic A-Bomb Dome, one of the very few buildings left standing after the blast and the Children’s Peace Monument.
We then take a short ferry trip to Miyajima Island, famous for the giant torii gate which appears to float on water (when the tide is low the gate can be reached on foot). On arrival to the island we make our way to the centuries old Itsukushima Shrine, like the torii gate the main buildings are built over water and connected by pillars above the sea to witness the ocean beneath your feet. Follow one of the many walking trails on the island that cut through the forest, to numerous lookout points, you may even glimpse the resident deer. We return to Hiroshima for an evening at leisure.
Note: From June 2019 the floating Torii Gate is undergoing renovations – please see the Trip Notes for further details.
Hiroshima – Osaka. This morning we board the bullet train to Osaka. We have some free time to explore the Namba or Shinsaibashi area to enjoy our fill of takoyaki and kushikatsu. We then take a short train journey to Osaka Castle, whose original foundations were destroyed over centuries by war and natural disasters. Take some time to wander through the secondary citadels, gates, stone walls and moats before getting lost in the lush green Osaka Castle Park, which houses a shrine dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. This evening we have some free time to walk around Shinsaibashi and the Dotonbori riverfront. Dive into the covered shopping arcade before walking through the neon-lit Dotonbori riverfront which offers amazing nightlife options.
Journey Time: Hiroshima - Osaka (approx 2.5 hours)
Osaka – Mount Koya. After breakfast continue our journey to Mount Koya in Koyasan a small Buddhist community living on the mountaintop. Explore one of Japan’s most sacred sites at Okunoin Cemetery and pay your respects to the 200,00 tombstones which are housed here and follow the walking paths to Torodo hall which houses more than 10,000 lit lanterns. We make our way to our accommodation for the night, shykubo temple lodgings in a traditional Buddhist temple, to get a taster of traditional Buddhist monk life. Dinner is a group affair this evening sampling the traditional shojin ryori dish (vegetarian cuisine).
Overnight: Mount Koya | Dinner
Mount Koya – Shirakawago. Wake up early this morning to witness the spectacular Buddhist morning prayer before feasting on a traditional breakfast inside the temple lodges. We then leave Mount Koya and make our way to the historic village of Ogmiachia, a UNESCO world heritage site in Shirakawago, located in the mountains boasting traditional farmhouses, some of which are over 250 years old. We’ll arrive to our farmhouse accommodation in time to watch the sun set over the valley and wander past the thatched roofs which were designed to withstand the heavy snow and resemble hands of Buddhist monks in prayer. Tonight, enjoy a traditional dinner at the farmhouse.
Overnight: Shirakawago and Gokayama | Breakfast, Dinner
Shirakawago to Kanazawa
Shirakawa-go – Kanazawa. After a traditional Japanese breakfast at our gassho-zukuri farmhouse, we set out to explore Ogimachi Village, Shirakawa-go’s largest village. Our first stop is to one of the farmhouse-turned museums, to learn about the history of this incredible landscape and rural farm life, before we go for a short hike to one of the viewpoints for awe inspiring views of the valley. Later, we board a train to Kanazawa for an evening at leisure. Be sure to enjoy Kanazawa’s buzzing nightlife packed with restaurants and Izakaya’s (Japanese pubs).
Overnight: Kanazawa | Breakfast
Today we set out to explore the city on a bike ride! Kanazawa, home to one of Japan’s most impressive gardens, Kenroku-en. Once part of the feudal lord's garden, Kenroku-en is regarded as one of the best places to see the country's famous cherry blossoms - hopefully in full bloom. In Kanazawa the cherry blossom trees are due to bloom in late March/early April. When in bloom, these delicate soft pink flowers can be seen lining the streets and filling the parks and gardens all over the city. We’ll cycle through and visit the former samurai district passing the remaining houses, narrow lanes and water canals. There is an optional excursion to the Ninja Temple, formally known as Myoryu-ji Temple and not actually associated with Ninja but rather for the its deceptive defences and escape routes. We then continue to Kanazawa Castle, where the Maeda family of the Kaga clan resided. Remainder of the day at leisure, be sure to pack an overnight bag for tomorrow as luggage will be sent to our next hostel independently.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Spend the day crossing the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, a spectacular scenic route through the Northern Japanese Alps, using a series of cable cars, buses and ropeways. Along the way we stop at Kurobe dam, Japan’s highest dam, as well as Shomyo falls, the country’s tallest waterfall. Other highlights include the single-span ropeway which provides amazing bird’s eye views of the mountain scenery. We complete our trip in Nagano, a town famous for the winter Olympics, where we have time to wander around before heading to the nearby village of Yamanouchi, our home for the next two nights. To unwind after a long day of exploring, there is the optional visit to a 200-year-old onsen with an outdoor bathing area.
Overnight: Yamanouchi | Breakfast
We begin our day with a spot of paddle boarding at a nearby lake amongst the stunning natural scenery before hiking in the hills nearby. We have the rest of the afternoon at leisure to partake in some of the optional activities on offer. Perhaps head to the famous Jigokudani Monkey Park to witness these wild animals roaming free and bathing in the natural hot springs, sit down and try some local miso and sake, or take the train to explore Nangano. We return for a final group dinner in a local fusion restaurant, with all items on the menu featuring ingredients that have been fermented.
Overnight: Yamanouchi | Breakfast, Dinner
Yamanouchi to Tokyo
Our adventure ends this morning after breakfast. We take the train back to Tokyo where our journey ends. Airport transfers or additional nights accommodation can be arranged, please enquire.
Is this holiday for you?
If you’re the kind of traveller that doesn’t mind time spent travelling independently on public transport and sharing a mixed dorm room with other travellers, then this trip will suit you just fine. There’s plenty of free time on this tour so it’s a great option if you like to explore a city at your own leisure.
Prices & Dates
Departure dates noted with a 'G' are guaranteed to operate. All other departure dates are guaranteed with a minimum of 4 persons. Prices shown are per person travelling based on mixed dormitory rooms. 'Twin/Double' upgrade prices per person apply when there are 2 people travelling, sharing a room. The 'Single room upgrade' applies for single travellers and needs to be added to the 'Dormitory' price.