Japan Explorer - 13 Days
SEMI INDEPENDENT: Discover the iconic sites of Japan’s most famous cities and towns, starting in ultra-modern Tokyo to the culinary capital Osaka; marvel at the Great Buddha statue in Kamakura, discover the breath-taking scenery of Mt Fuji from Hakone NP and the picturesque island of Miyajima, enjoy ancient temples and tea houses in Kyoto and uncover Hiroshima’s harrowing history in this 13 day tour
Welcome to Tokyo! Arrive into either Narita or Haneda International Airport in Tokyo and independently travel by public transport into the city centre where you will be met by your tour leader and the rest of the group at the Tokyo House Inn Hostel. 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 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.
This morning we have some free time to explore before 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 complete “Made in Tokyo” experience, there is an optional excursion to one of Akihabara’s famous maid café’s before dressing up as your favourite Super Mario character and driving through Tokyo’s streets in your very own Mariokart!
No trip to Tokyo would be complete without a stroll through the sumo district, the area which has staged events since before the 20th century. Here, we have a chance to pass the sumo stables where wrestlers live and train and visit the sumo museum where we embark on a fascinating discovery to uncover the secrets behind Japan’s national sport. For lunch we recommend trying Chanko nabe, a hot pot dish consumed by the fighters, in one of the many restaurants in the area, many of which are managed by former wrestlers.
After lunch we make our way to the Edo-Tokyo Museum for an insight into the capital's evolution from the Edo period (1869 to present), giving visitors the chance to learn about the capital's history. Later, we gain an insight into another national sport, samurai. Watch a demonstration before trying the ancient art for yourself with the help of an expert and unleash your inner samurai. 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!
This morning finds us wandering through the grounds 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. We take time to walk through the pristine East Gardens, Kitnomaru Koen Park and Kokyo Gaien National gardens before enjoying an afternoon of traditional-modern contrast in the Harajuku area of the city. We first walk through the beautiful Yoyogi Park until we reach the famous Shinto shrine to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, who transformed Japan from a 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, 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.
Tokyo – Kamakura. Kamakura, Japan’s first feudal capital is ours to explore today. After a morning at leisure we make or way to the popular seaside location on the train. 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, which stands 45ft tall. The rest of the afternoon is yours to further 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. This morning we take public transport to Hakone, a mountain town nestled in Japan’s Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. On arrival take the Hakone Ropeway cable car to Owakudani valley, a volcanic valley awash with active sulfur vents and hot springs, offering spectacular views of Mount Fiji (on a clear day). Sample some black eggs, a local delicacy boiled in sulfur water, which leaves them coloured. The afternoon finds us descending the volcanic valley and crossing the clear-blue waters of Lake Ashi on a triple decker pirate ship. Later, we make our way into the forest for an authentic local experience in one of the onsen hot spring baths, which offer an ideal setting to unwind before spending the evening at leisure in our traditional style ryokan guest house.
Journey time: Kamakura - Hakone (approx 1.5 hours)
Hakone – Kyoto. We leave the mountains behind by bullet train this morning and make our way to Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan. Spend the afternoon meandering through the quaint hillside streets until you reach the Kiyomzu Temple, one of the most celebrated temples in the country. Marvel at the wooden stage, built without the use of nails, which houses the eleven faced, thousand-armed Kannon statue. This evening attend a live geisha performance in the famous Gion district, with other performances including puppet shows, tea ceremonies and more. The remainder of the evening is at leisure to 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 focus on the spectacular scenery of Kyoto. We begin with a boat trip 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. Experience the rush of the rapids and cruise along the ravine and the Arashiyama Hills. 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 lost in fires and wars over centuries, whereas the gardens survived and have remained in pristine condition in their original form. Take some time to walk around the central pond surrounded by the Arashiyama forest or visit the Dharma Hall and marvel at the dragon’s eyes on the ceiling that follow you everywhere. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to continue exploring Kyoto, there is also an optional karaoke night.
We have some free time this morning to relax, explore the temples of the Philosopher’s path, or check out the famous Manga Museum before independently catching the train to Fushimi Inari Taisha, famous for the thousands of red torii gates dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, and the many fox statues across the grounds which are believed to be Inari’s messengers. Pay respects to the deity by making a small offering before exploring the torii gate hiking trails through the wooded forest of Mount Inari. Return to Kyoto for an evening at leisure.
Kyoto – Hiroshima. Our final morning in Kyoto is spent seeing one of the city’s most iconic buildings, the Golden Pavillion at Kinkaku-ji Temple, whose top two floors are covered in gold leaf. 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 meditation session 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, a memorial of the children killed, where schools from around the world donate origami cranes signifying hope and peace.
This afternoon take a short ferry trip to the small 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, accompanied by the resident deer. We return to Hiroshima for an evening at leisure.
Hiroshima – Osaka. This morning we board the bullet train to our final destination, Osaka. On arrival we have some free time to explore the Namba or Shinsaibashi area to enjoy our fill of ramen, sushi, or yakitori. We then take a short train journey to Osaka Castle, whose original foundations were destroyed over centuries by war and natural disasters. We 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, after checking into our capsule hotel, 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)
Our adventure comes to an end this morning. Take the train to Osaka airport or take the bullet train to Tokyo, using your JR pass, to carry on your travels home. Airport transfers and additional nights accommodation can be arranged for an additional fee if you're not quite ready to go home.
Journey time: Osaka - Tokyo (approx 4 hours)
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 supplement' applies for single travellers and needs to be added to the 'Dormitory' price.