Escorted Group Tour: See Japan in 2020! Springtime is possibly one of the best times to visit Japan, when cherry blossom trees come out in full bloom across the nation. Take in the highlights, visit some of the country’s most beautiful gardens, witness the famous Spring Geisha Dances in Kyoto, enjoy a traditional tea ceremony and sample the crop (if you dare) at Japan' oldest Wasabi Farm.
Welcome to Japan
Upon arrival in Tokyo (Narita or Haneda airport) you will be met by our transfer person who will give you your Tokyo Transport Card (referred to as an IC Card) which will allow you to move freely around the city on the subways and train systems and assist you to transfer to our tour start hotel in Shinjuku, one of the most modern districts in the city. A flight arriving to Tokyo before 16:00 would be ideal if you intend to join our Welcome Meeting commencing this evening at 18:30.
Today we embark on a full day tour of the city by public transport. We start with a cruise down the Sumida River, followed by a walk through Hamarikyu tei-en, a tranquil garden that is just a few minutes’ walk from the lively Ginza Shopping District, where we will be able to see cherry blossom trees. Later we visit the revered Meiji Shrine where the emperor Meiji and his wife are enshrined.
The last stop of the day is the Shibuya Crossing - regarded as one of the busiest pedestrian intersections in the world. It is said that up to a 1000 people converge onto the intersection with every light change. Known as 'the scramble' we'll give it a go then grab a coffee at the second floor Starbucks located directly above. The remainder of the afternoon offers free time for you to further discover this exciting city independently, before our group Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant this evening.
Overnight: Tokyo | Breakfast, Dinner
Tokyo – Matsumoto. This morning we drive to Matsumoto, and upon arrival visit the incredibly beautiful Matsumoto Castle, which is one of the original and most complete of the handful of medieval castles that exist in Japan today. The towering black and white structure holds some 400 years of history, is a National Treasure and is the most iconic landmark in the city. The reward for climbing the narrow stairs to the top are the stunning views that can be seen from the slim wooden windows (used for archers and gunmen) of the Japanese Alps, Matsumoto City and the swans circling in the moat below. This evening offers free time where you might wish to try the local specialty – soba noodles.
Overnight: Matsumoto | Breakfast
Matsumoto – Takayama. From Matsumoto we drive to Takayama, a charming town in the heart of the Hida Mountains. Established in the 16th century as the castle town of the Kanamori family, the town is famous throughout Japan for its old town area of narrow streets filled with well-preserved inns, tea houses, shops and merchants houses with latticed windows and overhanging roofs that are characteristic of the Edo period.
On our way to Takayama we will stop at the picturesque Daio Wasabi Farm, one of Japan’s largest Wasabi farms. There is free time to take in the beautiful gardens and fields and the shop on site offers many different options to try of this unique product - wasabi chocolate, wasabi beer, wasabi ice-cream, wasabi juice and much more. Upon arrival to Takayama and we drive to the outskirts of the town to visit the fascinating Hida Folk Village, an outdoor museum comprising 30 or so traditional farm houses from around the Hida region, re-built here on the hillside overlooking the town. Tonight we will enjoy a classic Japanese ryokan meal at the inn where we are staying.
Overnight: Takayama | Breakfast, Dinner
This morning we will explore the town's market stalls, overflowing with fresh produce brought in daily from the surrounding fields. Later we explore Takayama’s Old Quarter, where you can enjoy free time to wander around the shops and perhaps visit a sake distillery to sample the town’s famous and potent sake.
Tonight, we recommend you head out for dinner to sample some of Takayama’s delicious Hida beef at one of the many restaurants or beef burger cafes.
Overnight: Takayama | Breakfast
Takayama – Kanazawa. Today we travel to Kanazawa, home to one of Japan’s most impressive gardens, Kenroku-en, located opposite Kanazawa Castle. 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.
The Nagamachi district located at the foot of the former Kanazawa Castle – known for its old samurai houses. Upon arrival we will visit the Nomura Family Samurai House. After lunch we explore the lively Omicho Ichiba Market, a food market and restaurant area. Our last stop of the day is Kenroku-en, here we enjoy a traditional tea ceremony and then free time to sit, relax and admire the beautiful blossoms as the sun sets.
Overnight: Kanazawa | Breakfast
Kanazawa – Kyoto. A morning express train takes us to Kyoto, Japan’s ancient and cultural capital, where we will spend the next three nights. As one of the most culturally rich cities in Asia, Kyoto is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, over 1,600 Buddhist Temples and 400 Shinto Shrines.
Upon arrival we tour Sanjusagen-do Temple famous for its statues of Kannon. The one thousand life-size statues of Kannon are made of Japanese cypress and are completely covered in gold-leaf. Standing in rows of 10 and each hand carved, so that no two are alike. Our last stop today is the enchanted Fushimi Inari Shrine with its torii gates and picturesque tunnels.
Overnight: Kyoto | Breakfast
Kyoto - Hiroshima - Kyoto. This morning we depart for a full day sightseeing excursion to Hiroshima taking one of the fastest trains in Japan (the Nozomi Shinkansen) which reaches speeds of up to 300km on the route. Arriving to Hiroshima we visit the iconic A-Bomb Dome - one of the very few buildings left standing after the blast, Peace Park and Peace Park Museum all of which are a sobering reminder of Hiroshima’s devastating past.
We’ll also visit the Children's Peace Monument a memorial to the children killed, where school children from around the globe donate paper origami cranes, signifying hope and peace. We return to Kyoto just after sundown.
Please note: If travelling on our 31 Mar 2020 departure the arrangements of day 9 will be conducted today and the arrangements of day 8 conducted tomorrow.
Overnight: Kyoto | Breakfast
This morning we visit the stunning Zen Buddhist Temple of Kinkaku-ji, known as the Golden Temple which forms part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto's World Heritage Site. The top floor of the two-story structure is completely covered in gold and sits beside a small lake where its beauty is reflected in the calm waters. After, we embark on a guided walking tour of the UNESCO listed Nijo Castle which was built by the first Tokugawa shogun in 1603, the exquisite castle is a wonderful example of Momoyama architecture. The later part of the afternoon offers free time for you to explore more of Kyoto's beautiful sites.
We then make our way to Gion for a guided walk through the famed Geisha district. This evening we have tickets to the Miyako Odari geisha dances at the Minami-za theatre. Dinner tonight is at a Gion restaurant - keep a look out, as it's very possible to see Maiko (apprentice Geisha) dressed in beautiful kimono walking to and from their lessons.
Overnight: Kyoto | Breakfast, Dinner
Kyoto - Hakone National Park. Today a bullet train takes us to Fuji Hakone National Park, at the foot of the iconic Mount Fuji, where we will spend the next two days exploring the local area. Arrival to our hotel after lunch and this afternoon is at leisure.
During our stay, we have access to unlimited travel on nearly all the local modes of transport thanks to our Hakone Freepass card, from mountain buses, trams and switchback rail, to lofty cable cars. We'll also take a cruise across the picturesque Lake Ashi to Moto-Hakone to visit the Shinto Shrine of Hakone-jinja, where we are also be rewarded with the best views of Mt Fuji, Lake Ashi and the Red Torii Gate of Hakone.
Note: As of Oct 2019 the Hakone Ropeway has been reopened after been temporarily suspended, although some restrictions remain in place – please see the Trip Notes for further details.
Overnight: Hakone | Breakfast x 2, Dinner x 2
Hakone - Tokyo. Heading back to Tokyo, rather than staying in modern Shinjuku, this time we will be staying in old-town Akakusa, a pretty district famous for its historic Sensoji Buddhist Temple and its abundance of interesting souvenir and craft stalls. After a guided visit of Senso-ji Temple, the rest of the afternoon offers the opportunity to do any last minute sightseeing or shopping. You may also wish to head up to the Tokyo Sky Tree for some final dazzling views of the city.
Overnight: Tokyo | Breakfast
Today our holiday concludes. We offer post-tour accommodation for those interested in staying in Tokyo a little longer. Included transfer to Narita or Haneda International Airports by shared shuttle bus.
Prices & Dates
Departure dates noted with a 'G' are guaranteed to operate. All other departure dates are guaranteed with a minimum of 2 persons. Prices shown are per person when there are 2 persons sharing a room. The 'Single supplement' applies for single travellers who require their own room and needs to be added to the per person price. If you are happy to be paired up with another single traveller of the same gender on your tour, this can be arranged provided another solo traveller of the same gender is already booked upon the tour, thus avoiding the single person supplement.
The hotels listed below are ones which we frequently use on this tour. We reserve the right to substitute these hotels to ones of a similar standard.
Prince Hotel Shinjuku, Tokyo
Situated in the centre of Kabukicho, one of Tokyo's most famous entertainment districts, this hotel not only offers quick access to other major areas of the city, but some of the best shopping and restaurants. Fitted with flat-screen TVs, a fridge and safe, its guestrooms are comfortable and feature contemporary decor. There's also free WiFi and an excellent array of dining options. Choose between the casual Station Café and the delicious buffet on offer in the Prince Marche. Or head up to the 25th floor and savour creative Japanese cuisine over panoramic views of the city.
Asakusa View Hotel, Tokyo
Set in an Art Deco style, the Asakusa View Hotel offers modern accommodation in an ideal location. Guest rooms are brightly lit and feature impressive floor to ceiling windows. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available and for a surcharge guests can use the pool. The hotel also has a number of good dining options including Cafe de Kapitein on the ground floor and Karuta on the 6th – offering a great selection of Japanese cuisine. The hotel is also directly connected to Asakusa Station – so getting to and from here couldn’t be easier!
Hotel Buena Vista, Matsumoto
Situated in the heart of Matsumoto, Hotel Buena Vista boasts four restaurants and bars. This variety means that guests can choose to dine on either Western, Japanese, Chinese or French cuisine. However you’ll most likely choose the latter as French restaurant Sorpresa is set on the top floor, offering beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Guestrooms are spacious and bright, equipped with modern amenities and free WiFi. There’s also a shop selling local souvenirs and freshly-made pastries.
Hida Takayama Hot Spa Hoshokaku, Takayama
Set within a beautiful, traditional Japanese building, the Hoshokaku sits on a hill overlooking the city. The spacious rooms offer tea making facilities, low furniture and futon for sleeping. There are plenty of open air baths within the property as well as a spa and planetarium room. At meal times, guests can feast on delicious Japanese food at the hotel's onsite restaurant. The hotel is well located just 5 minutes from the Old Town and a short drive from the Takayama train station.
Takayama Ouan, Takayama
This Japanese Ryokan is well-located within walking distance of popular attractions such as the Old Town district and the Miyagawa Morning Market. The building features a traditional Japanese interior with tatami flooring throughout. However rather sleeping on tatami mats, the guestrooms offer western-style beds set low to the ground. Other amenities include free WiFi, a sauna and a rooftop open-air natural hot spring - the perfect spot to unwind after a day's exploring. There’s also a hearty breakfast buffet and complimentary ramen noodles on offer each night.
ANA Crowne Plaza Kanazawa, Kanazawa
Standing proudly in the city centre, this hotel boasts an excellent location next to the JR Kanazawa Station. Thanks to its traditional hospitality and fantastic facilities, the hotel is an increasingly popular stop for travellers. Its elegant guestrooms offer a flat screen TV, air conditioning and a fridge, alongside free WiFi and in-room dining. Guests can enjoy pampering treatments at the beauty salon or indulge in one of the four restaurants offering Japanese, Chinese and western cuisine. There’s also a sky bar, where you’ll experience a spectacular bird’s eye view over the surrounds.
Hotel Vischio, Kyoto
Conveniently located just 2 mins from Kyoto Station with easy access to Kyoto’s best highlights, this modern and inviting hotel will ensure an enjoyable stay. Featuring a fitness centre, Wi-Fi, laundromat and public baths that are equipped with saunas, spa and a wellness room. The restaurant offers flavourful dishes cooked with ingredients produced in Kyoto.
Hotel Kagetsuen , Hakone
Enjoy the sweeping views from this hotel in the Sengokuhara highlands, perfectly located to explore the local highlights of this picturesque and charming area. The restaurant offers a hearty breakfast with 40 different Japanese and Western dishes, and the spacious Western/Japanese style rooms offer A/C, Wi-Fi, refrigerator and shared bathroom facilities. Rejuvenate in the communal hot spring water baths, enjoy a game of table tennis, rent a Karaoke room, or simply relax in the garden and take in the vista.
Hotel Re Cove Hakone, Hakone
Hotel Re Cove offers guests an enjoyable stay with it included modern facilities. Partake in a game of table tennis, relax with a massage or take a dip in the traditional onsen (hot spring). Well located so that guests can make the most of their time in beautiful Hakone.
Great tour, saw everything stated on allotted itinerary, guide Mewa was very good, helpful and enjoyed her history narratives whilst travelling.”
'Happy' (her name in Japanese means happy) our tour guide was incredible. She made this trip interactive, personal and enjoyable. Excellent execution of knowledge and skills. Thank you.”
We did this tour for our honeymoon and it was fantastic! I'd recommend this trip to everyone. Our tour guide made Japan extra special. She went above and beyond to find information and recommendations for anything not included on the tour. She was polite, accomodating, very informative and was one of the main reasons our experience was so very special. We look forward to visiting Japan again and would love to have 'Happy' as our host again. ”
Our guide 'Happy' was a very organised, helpful, caring and joyful guide for our group. She helped structure our days and gave us advance planning of the following day. She worked out routes to avoid the crowds and also best places to eat etc. She made our tour a success. ”
After the mix-up with my arrival transportation to my hotel, everything was wonderful. 'Happy' was there for my welcome meeting and had everything under control from then on. I would do any tour in a heartbeat if I knew she was my tour guide!”
Our guide Mari was excellent, nothing was too much trouble.”
Overall, the holiday was fantastic with a packed itinerary and plenty of options. Hotels were excellent and the places we visited superb. The group were great too.”
Thank you so much! It was a very memorable and positive experience for us (and my 60th birthday!). Our guide Mark was fantastic and we had some great conversations with him about Japan and he was able to tell us so much. We enjoyed his company for the whole tour. Mark was very accommodating and helped us with any queries we had. He explained timing, being ready in the mornings, meeting times, dinner arrangements etc very clearly. The 14 days was well paced and we did 4 to 5 hours of walking nearly every day (either with Mark or on our own).
Just some feedback for you. Timing for the Cherry Blossoms everywhere we went was spot on! Absolutely phenomenal! By the time we returned to Tokyo on Day 13, there weren't many left flowering so glad we were there when we did.
Shinjuku Hotel - 3 nights. great location, lovely modern room, nice breakfast options. Lovely first night dinner with the rest of the group to get to meet them.
Sending our big luggage on is a great idea (we've experienced this before), however a couple of people on our tour didn't quite understand the concept of having overnight bags (while being away from the main suitcase) and they were not well prepared.
Matsumoto was fantastic. Hotel room was only just okay. Clean but dated
Takayama Ryokan was awesome! Dinner was fabulous. Also the breakfast
Just a suggestion here though. 1 x traditional dinner in the ryokan is enough. 2nd included dinner was a repeat, we would have liked to have experienced a local restaurant.
Kanazawa hotel - location was excellent however, the hotel rooms were not up to the standard.
Kyoto and Gion district - lovely. The Miyako Odori was amazing. Included dinner at Mimiu was awesome. Hakone & the Fujiya Hotel!! What a fantastic time we had there with all the history! And the private onsen was a highlight.
We didn't get to see Mt Fuji while in Hakone because it was so misty but from our View Hotel in Tokyo we were very fortunate to see her on a clear day!
Also another suggestion - include a tour to the Skytree Tower. We did that on our last morning and had lunch there with so many choices. The food hall area was amazing.
Many highlights I haven't mentioned but the whole tour was fantastic! Mark was absolutely a delight and nothing was any trouble for him. Hoping to do another trip to Japan. We hear that November is an ideal time to go.
Jo & Warren Naseby”
Mark Fujishige was fantastic and we had some great conversations with him about Japan and he was able to tell us so much. We enjoyed his company for the whole tour. Tour was well paced & loved the hotels. ”
The tour was, in a word - Fantastic. Great hotels and in great locations. Also the nights stayed in each hotel was well thought out.
Tour content was excellent. Pace was fast but that is how we like it. Cant complain about anything. ”
Extra Tour Info
Great tour, saw everything stated on allotted itinerary, guide Mewa was very good, helpful and enjoyed her history narratives whilst travelling.”