SEMI INDEPENDENT: Uncover the best of Japan on this Essentials tour. Staying in a mixture of hostels and guesthouses, you'll take in the sights of Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and much more. Visit the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and cross the Shibuya Crossing. Hike to the giant bronze Buddha of Kotoku-in in Kamakura, take a dip in an onsen bath in Hakone and cycle the streets of Kyoto. Enjoy a relaxing meditation session, pay your respects at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and see the iconic red torii gate of Miyajima.
Welcome to Tokyo! Arrive into either Narita or Haneda International Airport in Tokyo and independently travel by public transport into the city center where you will be met by your tour leader and the rest of the group at the Imano Tokyo Hostel.
Today's visits include a trip up to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building to take in the incredible views of the city. Try sashimi at the iconic Tsukiji Outer Market before we make our way to the city's oldest Buddhist temple. At Senso-ji we'll witness worshipers make offerings to Kannon, the goddess of compassion and meander through 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. There's also an optional trip to a baseball batting cage.
Please note: This tour begins at 10am on day 1 so we recommend arriving in Tokyo the night before your trip starts. We can arrange pre-tour accommodation for you.
This morning we enjoy a lesson in the art of sushi making from a local chef, before tasting the fruits of our labor.
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 you could explore one of the infamous "maid-cafes".
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. Our day finishes with a walk across the world’s most famous intersection, Shibuya. Grab a drink and sit in one of the many bars overlooking the crossing, 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.
This morning we wander into Tokyo's iconic Odaiba district in order to visit Joypolis, a huge indoor amusement park operated by Sega, the games company. There are lots of high-tech rides to enjoy during your free time here.
Regrouping in front of the nearby Love sign, we take a walk to see the full-sized statue of Gundam, a robot character from one of Japan's most famous anime series, Mobile Suit Gundam. We then return to the hostel, and the rest of the day is at leisure. You can book the optional Kartoon Karting through the streets of Tokyo this afternoon (needs to be booked 6 weeks in advance due to limited availability).
Tokyo – Kamakura. This morning we take the train to Kamakura, a coastal city that was Japan's medieval capital. Our hostel is right by the beach, and there's free time upon arrival for you to sunbathe or hire a surfboard and catch some waves.
Later, we visit some of the city's many ancient shrines, and we hike to Kotoku-in Temple, home to a 45ft tall solid bronze buddha. The statues dates back to the 1200s and survived a colossal 1498 tsunami that washed away the building it was housed in - it has stood in the open air ever since!
We also hike to Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine before the evening is free for you to relax with a beer and watch the sunset in one of the many beach bars near our hostel.
Journey Time: Tokyo - Kamakura (approx. 1.5 hours)
Kamakura – Hakone. Today we travel to Hakone by public transport. On arrival we enjoy a hike along the Old Tokaido before continuing to stunning Lake Ashi where we’ll have lunch and then 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. We then take the Hakone Ropeway, an epic cable car journey to 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 colored by the sulfuric water they’re boiled in.
Tonight, we will be staying at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese bath and sleeping house. In the evening, soak in the sulfuric water of a traditional Japanese outdoor bath, called an Onsen. Then change into a traditional kimono and enjoy a sake (Japanese rice wine) tasting session!
Journey time: Kamakura - Hakone (approx. 1.5 hours)
Overnight: Hakone (ryokan)
Hakone – Kyoto. We leave the mountains behind and travel by bullet train this morning to Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan. We drop our luggage at the hostel and head to Kiyomizu Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Japan's most famous Buddhist temples.
Later, there is free time in the Gion area of the city, known for its famous Geishas. Then you can spend the evening exploring Kyoto city center, or return to the hostel for an evening at leisure.
Journey time: Hakone - Kyoto (approx. 2 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 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 to 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. We also enjoy a walk through the bamboo forest. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to continue exploring Kyoto. There is an optional Calligraphy Class that needs to be booked in advance, and you can join an optional karaoke night.
Kyoto – Hiroshima. Our final morning in Kyoto begins with a bicycle ride to a Zen temple where we enjoy a meditation session led by a Buddhist monk. Then we visit one of the city’s most iconic buildings, the Golden Pavilion 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.
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. There is an optional group dinner tonight.
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. 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.
This afternoon, 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. 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. There is an optional group dinner tonight.
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 (unescorted). We can arrange post-tour accommodation for you.
Journey time: Osaka - Tokyo (approx. 4 hours)
Is this holiday for you?
If you’re the kind of traveler that doesn’t mind time spent travelling independently on public transport and sharing a mixed dorm room with other travelers, 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 and the Dorm prices shown are based on mixed dormitory rooms. There is also a Twin / Double Room Upgrade and a Single Room upgrade for solo travellers. Twin / Double room upgrades are based on two people travelling together and are subject to availability.
At a Glance
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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!”