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.
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.
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.
Our first port of call is visiting the area where the sumo wrestlers live and train. 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!
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. We leave the mountains behind and travel 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 your leisure to walk down the dimly lit Pontocho Alley, and sip on some sake in one of the bars overlooking the river and smply 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 the 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 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.
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 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 afternoon, 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 room upgrade' applies for single travellers and needs to be added to the 'Dormitory' price.
Shana was excellent. She gave clear daily itineraries. She was very organized and friendly! The tour was good. I especially liked the sushi and calligraphy classes and the monkey park. The shrines and palaces; as well as the hikes on the old highways gave a historical background for me. I also enjoyed the natural beauty of Japan. The steam vents of the volcano and Mt. Fugi! Shana exposed us to different restaurants allowing us to try different foods. All were fantastic!”