From the bright lights of Tokyo to the tranquil temples of Kyoto, this fast-paced tour explores Japan's highlights. We take time to reflect at Hiroshima, site of the world's first atomic attack before visiting the holy island of Miyajima, dotted with beautiful temples and free roaming deer. In Osaka we try street food and in Kyoto we relax in perfectly manicured Zen gardens. Tokyo - Explore the traditional temples of Asakusa Kyoto - Discover the temples and gardens of Japan's Imperial Capital Jigokudani Onsen - Watch the famous snow monkeys bathing in the hot springs
Arrive in Tokyo, the ultra-modern capital of Japan. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6.30pm for the welcome meeting. After this we have dinner included at a nearby local restaurant where you will have the chance to sample various types of 'izakaya' style Japanese cuisine. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Tokyo at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Haneda Airport (HND) or Narita Airport (NRT). The city centre is around an hour away from Haneda Airport and an hour and a half from Narita. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, we recommend taking the train one stop or walking along the Sumida River and then crossing over to see the Edo Tokyo Museum (it takes approximately 20 minutes to get here). This fascinating architectural structure gives a great history of Japan's capital and it is next to the sumo stadium so there is the chance to spot a sumo wrestler in the area. Also nearby is the Hokusai Museum which displays woodblock prints of Japan's most famous artist. Alternatively you can wander around the Asakusa area and explore the back streets. You will find sword shops, street food, goldfish scooping, rickshaws and plenty more just a few minutes' walk from the hotel.
Over one-quarter of the Japanese population live within a 50 km radius of the centre of Tokyo, making it the most populous metropolitan area in the world. The result is a bustling and exciting city - the economic powerhouse of Asia. However, scratching its neon-clad surface reveals a city bursting with history and tradition. A morning stroll to Tokyo's oldest temple, Sensoji, will introduce us to Tokyo's unique culture. We then board a boat for a short journey along the Sumida River. Gaining a totally different perspective of the city, we drift past high rise apartments, secluded gardens and busy warehouses. Arriving in the heart of the city near Hamarikyu Gardens, you may wish to board a train and visit the Meiji shrine and Shinjuku area, where the latest electronic gadgets dazzle from glowing shop-fronts.
No trip to Japan would be complete without a journey on a high speed train and this morning we leave Tokyo and board the Shinkansen. The bullet trains are known for the extremely punctual service, comfortable carriages and the lack of noise as you travel at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour. Alighting at Nagano in the Japanese Alps, we make our way this morning by private coach to Jigokudani Onsen, home to Japan's famous snow monkeys. Here the indigenous macaques descend from the hills to bathe and play in the hot springs, a unique behaviour not found anywhere else in the world. Despite their wintry moniker, the monkeys can be observed in and around the pool throughout the year. Our walk to the spring takes 30 minutes along a pretty forest trail which is mostly flat. Once at the spring we spend around an hour observing the monkeys before returning along the same path. Leaving Nagano behind we head for Kanazawa, until 150 years ago the 4th largest city in Japan. The city has shunned mass industrialisation and retains the charm of winding back streets, delicate tea shops and the beautiful autumn maples and spring cherry blossoms of Kenrokoen Gardens. Once ruled by the Maeda Clan, one of the most powerful Samurai families in Japan, the city has several traditional samurai districts and, along with Kyoto, is one of Japan's cultural capitals.
As the town was not targeted during World War II, much of Kanazawa consists of old buildings and gives a sense of what Japan was like in the 19th century. We'll spend some time wandering around the colourful stalls at the town's Omicho market, where fresh fish and crab are brought daily from the Sea of Japan along with vegetables from the surrounding countryside. A great dish to try here, particular to the region, is chirashi-zushi, which consists of pieces of sushi piled on the top of rice and often garnished with shredded egg. We also visit Kenrokoen Gardens which took nearly two centuries to complete and translating from their original Japanese as the 'Garden of the Six Sublimities'. This afternoon, we travel train once more to the city of Osaka. Japan's second city is famed for its modern architecture, buzzing nightlife and tasty street food. We'll take a street food tour around the Namba area, one of Osaka's most vibrant and interesting districts where miles of covered arcades criss-crossed by canals and rivers open up to back streets filled with history and small shops. We'll get to try a few local delicacies such as Takoyaki - also known as Octopus balls, Okonomiyaki - a type of savoury cabbage-based pancake filled with pretty much whatever you like, Kushikatsu - skewered meat and vegetables that are deep fried, and ramen - pulled noodles served in a meat or fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso.
A couple of morning train journeys take us to Hiroshima, where we will spend the morning exploring this thought-provoking city in our own time. Completely destroyed on 6th August 1945, when it was the target of the first atomic bomb to be used in wartime, Hiroshima has literally risen from the ashes, and is now a thriving, friendly city. You will have time to visit the Peace Memorial Park and the well-presented museum on the site of the 1945 A-bomb hypocentre. Whilst serving as poignant reminders of the nuclear holocaust, their over-whelming message is of hope that such horrors will never reoccur. Travel around the city is easy, thanks to the provision of colourful street trams, brought in from all over Japan after the war. Just off the coast of Hiroshima is the tiny island of Miyajima. The relaxed feel of this island is enhanced by the deer that roam freely through the streets. As you arrive on the ferry you can take in the famous view of the floating torii gate. Considered to be one of the most beautiful sights in Japan, these red gates appear to float on the water with the hills of the island forming a spectacular backdrop. Take time to explore some of the islands many shrines before we take the ferry back to the mainland.
After breakfast we make our way back to the train station for the journey to Kyoto, which takes around two hours. The imperial capital for more than 1000 years has more than 2000 temples and shrines, many set in perfectly manicured landscaped, tranquil gardens. We will start exploring this fabulous city this afternoon with a visit to Nijo Castle. Built in 1603 as a Shogun palace, it is a great example of the sumptuous setting in which the Shogun would have held audiences with his samurai warriors. The extensive gardens and gates are impressive, but the real ingenuity of the castle are the nightingale floors, so called because they are designed to make a chirping noise when walked upon, thus making it impossible to sneak up on the castle's inhabitants.
We spend today visiting some of the cities many temples. We start with a a traditional tea ceremony and take time to explore Kyoto's charming streets, soaking up the unique atmosphere. Accompanied by a professional local guide we will head on to Ryoan-ji Temple with its beautiful Zen gardens and famous rock garden. The exact history of the gardens is unknown, but it is thought the temple was converted from an aristocrat's villa in 1450. Whilst in the gardens try testing out the theory that at least one of the rocks is hidden from every vantage point. We then explore the famous Golden Pavilion. The temple is a three-storey building with the top two tiers covered in gold leaf. Set in a lake the building appears to float on the water and the reflections, coupled with the background of forest make it worthy of its place on many Japanese postcards.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Kyoto. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Kyoto at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel, while you head out for some last minute shopping or sightseeing. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Kansai International Airport (KIX), which is around one and a half to two hours away, or Osaka International Airport (ITM) which takes around an hour.
7 Break Fast(s) 3 Dinner(s)
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