Walk the Nakasendo Highway between Tsumago and Magome.
Visit Kanazawa's beautiful Kenroku-en garden.
Stay in a traditional Buddhist temple lodging.
Spot geisha in Kyoto with an expert guide.
Spend several days in cosmopolitan Tokyo.
- Mount Koya
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Day 1 Tokyo
After passing through customs and luggage collection, you're met by an airport guide who will give you your trip documents and direct you to the shared shuttle service which takes you to your hotel. After checking in, spend the rest of the day at leisure, resting and relaxing after your flight. If you do feel like starting exploring, you may wish to walk around the Imperial Gardens.
Day 2 Tokyo
Your guide will meet you today in the hotel lobby to run through your trip and offer any local advice to you so you can enjoy the country with confidence. In the first section the guide will explain your itinerary in more detail and answer any questions you might have. This can take up to two hours so afterwards head out with your guide to see some of the highlights of the city. Perhaps start with taking a cruise up from the Hamarikyu gardens up to the old district of Asakusa to see the beautiful Sensoji temple. In the evening, head out on a street food tour of Tokyo to enjoy some of the local flavours for which Japan is so famous for.
Day 3 Tokyo
Today we suggest getting out of the city and visiting the mountain town of Kawagoe, just a 30 minute journey from the capital. Its main street is very reminiscent of Edo (the old capital) and hence why Kawagoe is seen as "Little Edo" for its clay-walled buildings or 'kurazukuri'. Here it was an important trading area for merchants from the old capital. As such it prospered in financial as well as architectural wealth.
Day 4 Tokyo
A second full day in Tokyo presents the chance to visit the Asakusa district. Later, explore the Imperial Palace Gardens or the Meiji Shrine, a large but tranquil Shinto shrine in the middle of the buzzing Harajuku district.
Day 5 Tsumago
Today you travel by express train to Nagoya, where you pick up the bullet train taking you to Tsumago. The journey lasts around three hours. After arriving in Tsumago, a quiet postal town, check in to your traditional ryokan (inn) accommodation. You have the rest of the day to relax or start exploring this town. Notice how certain parts of it are free from TV antennae or other trappings of modern technology to preserve its old-world character.
Day 6 Takayama
Today walk part of the Nakasendo Highway between Tsumago and Magome, along the road that once connected Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. The scenery is beautiful and classic: paddy fields, cedar woods and sleepy villages. Later, travel further into the Japanese Alps to Takayama, a quaint town with an interesting merchant district and sake breweries. The journey takes around four and a half hours by train.
Day 7 Takayama
Take a morning cycling tour around Takayama. Explore the warren of the Sanmachi district, crammed with shops, galleries, museums, sake breweries and 17th-century kura (storehouses). Explore the shrines of Teramachi's wooded park and try local specialities such as Hida beef and Japanese pickles. You could also make the 15 minute train journey to the lesser-known but equally charming town of Furukawa.
Day 8 Kanazawa
Take a two-hour bus transfer to Kanazawa, home to one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan, Kenroku-en. You might want to start your visit of the city by seeing one of its more contemporary sides and browsing the galleries of the excellent 21st Century Art Museum.
Day 9 Kanazawa
This morning, head as you early as you can to Kenroku-en. The garden is best enjoyed while it's quiet, so you can wander among the ponds, streams, trees and teahouses and consider its design in peace: according to Japanese garden aesthetics, Kenroku-en contains the six attributes considered crucial in the creation of a perfect garden. Later, explore Kanazawa's Geisha district and Samurai quarters, along with the artisan gold leaf making workshops.
Day 10 Hiroshima
Take the express train to Osaka and then board the bullet train on to Hiroshima. The journey takes four and a half hours. You have the afternoon at leisure after this long day of travel, or you may wish to have a stroll down the city's leafy avenues.
Day 11 Hiroshima
A day at leisure to explore Hiroshima in depth. Visit the evocative Peace Park, Memorial Museum and Atomic Bomb Dome. You can also see a reconstructed castle and the Shukkei-en Gardens. Meaning 'shrunken scenery', this space is a great example of how Japanese gardens seek to mimic natural formations and represent natural features like mountains and forests in miniature. Food-wise, this is the place to okonomiyaki (pancakes with a variety of savoury fillings).
Day 12 Hiroshima
Today you could take the 20 minute ferry crossing over to the scenic Miyajima Island. Its vermilion torii gate - often described as 'floating', when the gate appears to hover in the water at high tide - is one of the most iconic spots in Japan. You could also take the train to Iwakuni (a journey of just over 50 minutes) to see the Kintai-kyo Bridge, a feat of a bridge made with five arches and not a single nail.
Day 13 Kyoto
Travel east to Kyoto, the ancient capital and cultural heart of Japan. By bullet train this takes about two hours. In the afternoon, head out on a tour with one of our local guides who can help you make the most out of your time in this multi-faceted city. You could stroll around the Ryoanji gardens and Silver pavillion temple or head to the geisha quarter, Gion at dusk and hopefully spot a Geisha.
Day 14 Kyoto
In the morning, join a local food instructor to learn the methods of cooking and preparing a traditional Japanese bento box. Afterwards, explore Kyoto at your own pace taking in some of the temples, shrines and shopping streets. The best way to see it is on foot, wandering the quiet gardens and grand palaces that sit side by side with more modern areas as well as narrow traditional streets of wooden buildings.
Day 15 Kyoto
Another day at leisure in Kyoto. You may wish to visit the Golden Pavilion - if the weather's fine you'll be treated to the sight of its reflection shimmering in the pond surrounding it. In the evening, your private guide and geisha expert meets you and takes you on a walk around the Gion district, where geisha still live and work. He'll explain about the culture surrounding these enigmatic women and you'll try to spot geisha on their way to work.
Day 16 Kyoto
Take a short (under 20 minute) train journey to the Fushimi-Inari Shrine this morning to see the tunnels of bright orange torii gates snaking up the hillside. Later, continue by train (about 45 minutes) to Nara to see the Todaiji Buddha and tame deer park.
Day 17 Mount Koya
Using your separate rail pass including in your pack, you will head south to the area of Mount Koya, one of Japan's top three spiritual homes, where you will enjoy the simple life with a short stay in temple lodgings. It's beautifully quiet and quaint in the simple accommodations.
Day 18 Hakone
Rise early to explore the town today, when its temples including Garan Temple are much quieter and more atmospheric. Take the train back down the mountain to Osaka, and then continue by train to the Hakone National Park. This latter leg takes four and a half hours. This is a long day of travel but with some great scenery en route, especially as you approach Mount Fuji National Park.
Day 19 Hakone
Using the travel pass provided, explore Hakone National Park independently. Take in the Open Air Sculpture Museum, Owakudani Valley and ride the cable car that provides views of Fuji on a clear day. You can also visit other viewpoints to get views of Fuji, or relax in the park's hot thermal springs.
Day 20 Tokyo
Return to Tokyo by train (which takes one and a quarter hours) for your final afternoon in Japan. Head to explore a new area of the city, or you might like to go back to an area that caught your imagination at the beginning of the trip. Alternatively, we could arrange tickets for the ever-popular Ghibli Anime Museum, an interactive exhibition celebrating Japan's leading animation studio.
Day 21 Return home
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