Day 1 – Arrive Tokyo
Arrive at Tokyo, pass through immigration; collect your luggage and clear customs.
Our assistant will meet you just outside of the secure area and they will take you to the hotel by private mini-bus transfer. The journey from Narita, on the far outskirts of Tokyo, into the city center takes about 90 minutes or more, depending on traffic. Check into our hotel and relax.
For those that have the energy – we will meet this evening in the bar for a Welcome Drink.
Overnight Niwa Hotel. (Welcome Drink)
Day 2 – Tokyo
Today, after breakfast we will explore Tokyo by private vehicle with our fabulous English-speaking guide.
We visit Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s most famous shrine, dedicated to the spirit of the late Emperor Meiji. Next to Meiji Shrine is Harajuku, Tokyo’s youth fashion mecca. Whether you are a Goth, a punk or somewhere in between, there is a shop in Harajuku that caters for you. If you’re a photography enthusiast, the area is photogenic at night.
We will then visit the Ginza district. Ginza is Tokyo’s most famous up-market shopping, dining, and entertainment district. Ginza is the best place to shop in Japan, and is also of interest for its architecture, dining, tea rooms, entertainment, and attractions.
We take advantage of the Cherry Blossom season and visit Ueno Park. It is one of the best places to see the blossoms.
A short walk will take us to Kappabashi, also known as the ‘Kitchenware Town’. Lined with dozens of stores selling everything that restaurateurs need, we will find specialized stores for dishes, pots, pans, cooking utensils, stoves, tables, chairs, signs, lanterns, and much more. **Time permitting, we will visit Ameyoko-cho in the Ueno district. Ameyoko is an atmospheric open-air market.
Return to the hotel where our evening is free. You can eat in the hotel restaurant or choose a nearby eatery.
Overnight Niwa Hotel. (B / L)
Day 3 – Tokyo
After breakfast, we meet our guide in the lobby for a Taste of Tokyo tour by train / metro.
First stop is the famous **Tsukiji Fish Outer Market. Tsukiji Fish Market (Tsukiji Shijo) is one of the most exciting markets in the world. It is the world’s largest fish market; an amazing place if you’re a foodie, love markets, or are a photographer – or simply someone who enjoys visiting unique places.
From the market we walk to Hama-Rikyu, the former private garden of an Edo Period lord. After strolling through the gorgeous garden, we take a break in the tea house known as ‘Nakajima No Chaya’ which stands elegantly in the park’s lake. We will taste matcha, or Japanese green tea, paired with a Japanese sweet.
Then, it’s time to see Tokyo from a different angle – aboard the boat cruise along Sumida River. We will cruise towards Asakusa, a part of Tokyo’s shitamachi or old town. Asakusa is the city’s oldest Geisha district and also the home to Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. The streets around Senso-ji feature many traditional shops that sell Japanese crafts and souvenirs and are a delight to wander through. Asakusa is also famous for tempura, so we will stop by one of the area’s local restaurants for a set course lunch.
We continue to the Imperial Palace Plaza, from where you will be able to enjoy the iconic view of the famous Nijubashi Bridge.
We carry on to Yanaka Ginza, a narrow street lined with food stalls, specialty shops, and teahouses. Then we visit Tennoji Temple. The temple has a peaceful decor and atmosphere, and a big bronze Buddha statue sits on the left of its main building. We end out tour at approx 5pm and return to the hotel. Our evening is free to relax and rest!
Overnight Niwa Hotel. (B / L)
**OPTION: Tokyo by Night Tour (6pm – 10pm).
Tonight you can enjoy a walk around some of the brightest and liveliest districts in the city of Tokyo together with a Guide who will make sure you experience the more local and hidden neighbourhoods. First head to Ebisu, where modern and western-style nightlife meets Japanese tradition. Bright neon lights will lead you to the most fashionable restaurants and bars, while the more traditional lanterns will take you to the many izakayas (Japanese style pubs). We will go to Ebisu Yokocho, one of the most traditional areas of Ebisu, where narrow streets are filled with traditional Japanese-style taverns selling finger food, traditional appetizers, Japanese-made beer, and other traditional drinks. (First drink included). A 20-minute walk will take us to Shibuya, one of the hearts of Tokyo’s nightlife. Here we will find the world-famous Shibuya crossing, considered the world’s busiest intersection with more than a thousand people crossing every time the traffic lights change. This is one of the most renowned sights in Japan and one of the best spots to take a picture. Next, a quick train ride will take us to Shinjuku, the world’s busiest railway station and an extremely popular entertainment and shopping district. Our Guide will take us to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, a network of small alleys and narrow passageways famous for its unique atmosphere and tiny bars. (Must be booked/confirmed 4 weeks pre departure. Approx NZD$75 per person depending on size of Group. Rate subject to change.)
Day 4 – Hakone
This morning we make our way by private vehicle with our guide to Hakone, a hot spring resort area on the outskirts of Mt Fuji.
We will take a ride on the Hakone Railway (gondola) across Owakudani valley. Owakaduni Hell Valley is up on the mountains of Hakone; boiling steam comes up from the mountain to create an atmosphere that looks a bit like hell. The area is famous for its gorgeous views and the Hakone Ropeway is the perfect place for enjoying the scenic panorama. On clear days, majestic Mount Fuji is visible. The area is also famous for the black egg called Kuro-tamago. The eggs are ordinary chicken eggs, but the shell turns black due to being boiled in the hot sulfur spring. Local tradition holds that for each black egg eaten, seven years is added to one’s life.
Our day finishes with a visit to the Hakone Open Air Museum, with world famous art works on display in meticulously landscaped gardens. The Museum is an outdoor sculpture park that plays with nature. Situated in the mountains of Hakone, it spreads across 70,000 square meters and has beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. This museum opened in 1969 and was the very first of its kind in Japan. It has collections of artworks made by Picasso, Henry Moore, Taro Okamoto, Yasuo Mizui, Churyo Sato, and many others, featuring over a thousand sculptures and works of art.
We will also explore some Sakura spots when and where we can.
We return to Tokyo, and to our hotel where our evening is free.
Overnight Niwa Hotel. (B / L)
Day 5 – Kanazawa
Today we depart for Kanazawa by Shinkansen / Bullet Train.
After breakfast we will have time to pack and relax before we are transferred to the Tokyo Station to board our first bullet train. We will buy ourselves a (fabulous!) Bento Box for the journey, and board the train. The 2.5-hour journey to Kanazawa passes through the Hokuriku Region along the Sea of Japan coast and offers pleasant countryside and spectacular natural scenery. In the 17th century, the beautifully preserved castle town of Kanazawa used to be Japan’s wealthiest area and a thriving center for culture and the arts. And with its proximity to the sea and surrounded by fertile farmland, Kanazawa holds a reputation throughout the country as a gourmet paradise. Although Kyoto is generally the first city associated with kaiseki, or multi-course cuisine, Kanazawa also has a long and heralded history of this Japanese treat, and there are a number of excellent restaurants to choose from – such as Suruko, Zeniya, or Jugatsu-ya. Regardless of where you go, prepare to spend at least two and a half to three hours to savour each distinct course and the superb sake served alongside. Each course arrives like a work of art, the colours, textures, and flavours all flawlessly balanced. As you eat your way through the freshest seasonal ingredients, try to enjoy each mouthful as a unique and fleeting experience of perfection.
We are met at the station by our Kanazawa Guide and we walk to our hotel. (our hotel is basically across the road from the entrance of the Station). This evening is free, or we can eat together at a nearby local restaurant. But first, we can meet in the Main Bar on the 29th Floor for a quiet cocktail and magnificent views.
Overnight Hotel Nikko Kanazawa. (B)
Day 6 – Kanazawa
After breakfast we meet with our guide and depart for Kanazawa sightseeing.
We visit Kenroku-en Gardens – ranked as one of Japan’s top 3 gardens. The gardens are mesmerising to wander through. Plants in this lovingly cared for garden includes azaleas and traditional Japanese Trees. Located adjacent to Kenroku-en is Kanazawa Castle, which is accessed through Ishikawa Gate, one of the major gates of the castle.
We visit the fabulous 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, a new-style art museum that opened in 2004. It exhibits works of acclaimed contemporary artists from Japan and all over the world and is among Japan’s most popular art museums. The museum is a circular building, 112.5 meters in diameter, with no facade or main entrance. It was designed without a front or back to discourage its patrons from approaching the museum, and consequently its art, from only one direction. Interspersed among the public spaces of the museum are permanent installations such as Leandro Erlich’s “Swimming Pool”, a pool where people appear to be underwater and James Turrell’s “Blue Planet Sky”, an exhibit exploring light as a medium which has counterpart exhibits around the world.
We then walk to the nearby Omicho market, known throughout Japan for its fresh seafood and fine sushi. Our guide will introduce us to a local restaurant where we will sample the local wares.
After lunch we continue to Nagamachi, the old samurai district of Kanazawa. Here we find Nomura-ke, a restored samurai house that showcases the artefacts during the golden era of the Japanese warriors.
We then make our way to the Higashi Chaya District, one of the three, well-preserved chaya districts in Kanazawa. A cha-ya, which means ‘tea house’ in Japanese, was where geisha used to entertain her guests with a song or a dance. Your evening is free.
Overnight Hotel Nikko Kanazawa. (B / L)
Day 7 – Shirakawa-go, Takayama
This morning we are picked up by our Driver and transferred to Shirakawa-go Village where we will meet our Guide.
Shirakawago, and its neighbouring Gokayama region, lines the Shogawa River Valley in the remote mountains that stretch from Gifu all the way to Toyama Prefecture. Both prefectures are famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. They were also declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Gassho-zukuri means “constructed like hands in prayer,” as the farmhouses’ steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The architectural style developed over many generations, intricately designed to withstand the large amounts of heavy snow that falls in the region during winter. The roofs, which were constructed without nails, provided a large attic space used for cultivating silkworms.
We visit a private 300-year-old family home – Ogimachi Wada House.
We have lunch in a local restaurant before we continue to Takayama and check into our Ryokan.
We will take a quick walk along Sanmachi Street to get our bearings. This evening we will eat traditional Japanese Kaiseki cuisine at the Ryokan.
Overnight Ryokan Asunaro. (B / L / D)
Day 8 – Takayama
After breakfast, our luggage will be transfered to our Kyoto hotel. We will keep only an overnight bag with enough clothing to see us through this evening & one more night.
This morning after breakfast, approx 930am, our Guide will collect us for a Food & Culture Walk around Takayama’s old town and market, an area full of traditional houses, shops and restaurants, all of which have maintained their strong traditional touch.
Our guide will lead us to some of the most famous spots in town and provide many chances to savor some of the most famous products of the region, such as miso (Japanese paste made from soybeans, salt and rice), Takayama’s typical rice dumplings dipped in soy sauce, and some Japanese style home made sweets and confectionery. There will also be a possibility to taste the locally produced sake. A tasty way to expand your knowledge about Takayama’s delicious cuisine and unique traditions.
This afternoon is free time, or you can join in on a short walk to Takayama Jinya, also known as the Historical Government House – the only surviving government office building from the Edo period. Now it serves as a museum, featuring some well-preserved meeting and conference rooms, a collection of century-old artifacts and office supplies, and a 400-year-old rice storage room. Then visit the Takayama Festival Floats Museum to see the colorful floats that parade through the town during the famous Takayama Festivals in spring and autumn.)
This afternoon is free time and this evening you are free, or we can eat together at a favourite local restaurant featuring the amazing Hida beef that Takayama is famous for.
Overnight Ryokan Asunaro. (B / Tasting Snacks)
Day 9 – Kyoto
This morning we have free time before we need to board our train so we can visit the Miyagawa Morning Market where locals sell their handmade crafts and local produce (depending on the season, the markets open as early as 6:00 a.m.). This is also the perfect place to purchase some souvenirs such as chopsticks, Ichii Itto-bori (wood carvings) and the iconic Sarubobo
We then walk to the train station with our Guide – we can buy a Bento Box for our lunch – where we board our Express Train for Kyoto. On arrival, we are met at the station and transferred to our hotel.
*Our train departs Takayama, we change at Nagoya, and arrive at Kyoto. The total duration of this train journey is approximately 4.5 hours. We will be carrying only our overnight bags.
We check into our hotel and our evening is free. We can meet in the bar for a cocktail before we decide on the nights eats – in the hotel, sushi up the road, or just to bed and rest!
Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B)
Day 10 – Kyoto
Today we discover Kyoto on a tour by private vehicle that takes in this historic city’s best-known sights. We will visit temples, castles, and Japan’s most famous Zen rock garden.
We meet our Guide and start with a visit to Nijo Castle, famous for its Momoyama architecture, decorated sliding doors, and ‘chirping’ nightingale floors.
We visit Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion perhaps Kyoto’s most iconic site. Originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun, after his death it became a Buddhist Temple at his request and is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples.
We have a noodle lunch near to Kinkakuji, then we head further north and visit Ryoanji and its famous Zen rock garden.
Blessed with one of the most distinct cultures on the planet, Japan is home to several unique and defining arts. We will visit a traditional Kyoto style wooden house – Camelia Gardens, a traditional house which sits amongst stunning gardens and is over 100 years old – where we will partake in a Tea Ceremony with an expert instructor. Located just minutes from the main gate of Ryoan-ji, the striking surroundings make it one of the most beautiful locations to experience tea ceremony in Kyoto. We are provided with insight into the Tea Master and will take part in a tea ceremony, a quintessential part of Japanese culture. This allows you to learn about every aspect of Japanese tea culture, from making the tea to the movements involved in serving it.
After this divine ceremony, we return to the hotel, and our evening is free.
Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B / L)
Day 11 – Kyoto
This morning we have an utterly amazing Japanese Cultural experience. The Japanese kimono is perhaps the most exquisite national dress on earth and a real treat to try on. Although kimono is no longer worn daily by most Japanese, they are still proudly put on for special occasions such as weddings and coming of age ceremonies. We visit a kimono rental store where there are hundreds of different kimonos and different obi or belts that we can choose from. Once you have selected a kimono, the staff will help us put it on. You can select from quite a few different hairstyles, and when your hair is done in a style that matches the kimono you picked, you’ll feel as elegant as you ever have…Once we are ready, it’s time to head off for some photos. It really is a great morning!
We then visit Ginkakuji Temple, the Silver Pavilion, in the Higashiyama District. The second most famous temple in Kyōto and little brother of Kinkaku-ji, it was planned to be covered completely in leaf silver, but the silver coating was never actually applied, and it is now a wooden temple.
From the Silver Pavilion, we will begin our walk on the Philospher’s Path. The Philosopher’s Walk is a pedestrian path that follows a cherry-tree-lined canal in Kyoto, between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji. The route is so-named because the influential 20th-century Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro is thought to have used it for daily meditation. It takes about 30 minutes to complete the walk (without stopping!). We have lunch en-route (own expense).
We then stroll through the atmospheric Kiyomizu street which is filled with quaint shops selling souvenirs including Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets, and pickles. We also wander the Gion District. This walking tour begins in front of Minami-za Theatre and continues past local shops and restaurants, before reaching the Yasaka Shrine. A quick detour leads through the streets of Hanami-koji, the most popular street in Gion where lavish teahouses are lined up. From the Yasaka Shrine, we cross the Tatsumibashi Bridge and pass Tatsumi Daimyojin (a small street shrine), Gion Komori (a once dignified teahouse) and the Shirakawa Canal.
We return to our hotel and have time to relax and re-fresh before our Maiko Dinner.
EVENING: One of the many unique aspects of Japanese culture is its Geisha. When hearing the word “Japan,” one’s mind immediately conjures up images of these elegant and mysterious ladies, with their elaborate hairstyles, white-painted faces and bright red lips, wrapped in an elegant kimono. Kyoto is considered the home of the Geisha, & this evening, we have a unique opportunity to have dinner with a “Maiko”, an apprentice geisha. She is a younger woman who is training in the arts of the geisha / geiko. Our dinner will be kaiseki ryori (traditional multi-course dinner) and during the dinner, there is ample opportunity to interact with the hostess and ask questions about her craft and the world of Maiko. The Maiko will perform traditional dances and even invite guests to play Japanese drinking games. After this unforgettable experience, it is time to return to the hotel and wind down from the day’s events.
Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B / Maiko Dinner)
Day 12 – Kyoto
This morning we will meet our Guide for a tour by private vehicle of rural Arashiyama and a walk through the bamboo forest, and then see the Shinto gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine. (It is about an hour’s drive). We will walk through the thousands of torii gates for which Fushimi Inari is most famous. It takes about two hours to get to the summit, so you will only be able to go up part of the way (!!!), but the temple structures and ambiance are remarkable from any angle.
We will have lunch at a local restaurant (own expense) before returning to Kyoto.
This afternoon we walk the, amazing, mile long Nishiki market, passing by some interesting food stalls and learning about the local Japanese produce. We may then go into to the backstreets to visit a former sake brewery and have the chance to sample the local brew before our traditional cooking class. We will be taught how to prepare some typical dishes like miso soup, tempura, a salad and chicken / rice. Our chef will share with us the techniques in preparing these authentic Japanese dishes. After our class, we will sit down and share the meal.
We return to the hotel for a fabulous rest!
Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B / D – Cooking Class)
Day 13 – Kyoto
Today we explore more of Kyoto and indulge in some Kyoto style art.
We first visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple, literally “Pure Water Temple”, and one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. The temple’s veranda juts out of the side of a mountain supported by 13-meter-high wooden columns. The main hall with its distinctive hip-shaped roof of cypress bark rests to the rear of the veranda and houses within it a priceless statue of Kannon Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy. From the veranda, you get a great view facing west over the city of Kyoto. Several other buildings designated as “national treasures” dot the grounds, as do waterfalls which have entered popular lore. Thus people come to the temple to drink water from the falls by collecting it in tin cups; the water is said to have therapeutic properties, and drinking from the three different streams is said to confer health, longevity, and success in studies.
We then have a pottery Class at Taiken Kiyomizu. Accompanied by a craftsman’s demonstration and explanation, we will create a couple of works with a big injection of Kyoto traditions. The instructors will help us get a feel for the heavy clay, pottery wheel and traditional painting techniques. We will create a unique memento of Kyoto, so we can remember our trip every time you use your pottery cup or dish!
We will have a lunch reservation at gorgeous Sodoh Restaurant (payable direct).
For those further interested in Kyoto style pottery, we then have a tour of Unrakugama, a studio & workshop making handmade Kyoto style pottery & tea-ceremony ware, also offering factory tours. Skilled craftsmen, or kilogens, turn the pottery in front of you. You can see Kyoto’s distinctive technique which cannot be seen elsewhere. **this tour is only available if you purchase the product. It is not available otherwise. A visit takes approx 30-40 minutes and reservations must be made in advance. We return to the hotel and our evening is free.
Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B)
Day 14 – Osaka
This morning after breakfast we check out and transfer onto Osaka in our Private Coach.
En-route, we stop at Nara, where we visit the impressive Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden building and home to Japan’s largest sitting Buddha statue. We also wander through Nara Park, called Deer Park by locals due to the large population of tame deer living there.
We will have lunch at local restaurant.
After lunch, we visit a well-established Sake Brewery. We will learn the detailed process of how rice turns to sake and are invited to taste 3-4 types of sake.
We continue our transfer to Osaka. On arrival in Osaka, we will go to Doguyasuji shopping arcade, a unique market where you can find anything related to the food industry – including the plastic food models you find outside Japanese restaurants, pottery and gorgeous lacquer ware. Then, depending on everyone’s energy levels, it is time to have some snacks. So, our next stop will be in Dotonbori, a restaurant mecca which has long-been referred to as Osaka’s entertainment district and former “pleasure district.” We will see a wide array of food stalls and restaurants – & we can choose to have either an order of takoyaki (octopus balls) or okonomiyaki (“Japanese pancake” with cabbage, pork, ginger, nori, and a special sauce). While in Dotonbori, we may want to spare some time and pose in front of Kani Doraku, the huge crab with moving legs, or stand on Ebisubashi with the of the running Glico man as our backdrop. After taking some photos, we continue, passing by Hozenji Yokocho, an area with narrow alleys filled with more than 60 traditional restaurants and izakaya (traditional Japanese pubs).
We continue to our hotel, check in and then we can have a Farewell Drink together. Dinner (if you have any space or energy!) can be in the hotel, or in one of the many nearby restaurants.
Overnight Cross Hotel Osaka, or similar – (B /Farewell Drink)
Day 15 – Depart
This morning our tour ends.
We are transferred to Kansai Airport for our onward flights.