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 Meet & Greet, and 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 and your evening is free. Feel free to join me for a de-brief cocktail!
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 confirmed pre departure. Approx NZD$TBC per person depending on size of Group. Rate subject to change.)
Day 4 – Matsumoto – Narai
Today we escape the Greater Tokyo region and are whisked away to the city of Matsumoto. Matsumoto is in the heartland of the Japan Alps with beginnings that go back to the 8th century. It became an important castle town ruled by a powerful clan during Japan’s feudal period. Today, the city is popular for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and galleries.
It’s also home to the impressive Matsumoto Castle, Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of five castles designated as National Treasures. Still in impeccable original condition, we’ll explore its wooden interior and climb to the top of its distinctive black-and-white turret.
After a quick bento style lunch, we continue to the Kiso valley and the small town of Narai, an atmospheric example of a post-town on the ancient Nakasendo way between Kyoto and Tokyo (or Edo as the city was known in the feudal period). Another beautifully-preserved post town with many well-preserved houses and former inns, we will take time to explore its charming streetscape at our leisure or simply relax in our *minshuku-style accommodation. Dinner will be mountain cuisine at our minshuku made fresh that day from locally-sourced produce.
*Minshuku (民宿) are family-operated, Japanese-style bed and breakfasts. It is a great opportunity to meet local families and experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle.
Overnight: Narai (Ikariya Machida Minshuku or similar – Japanese-style room with futon) (B / L / D)
Day 5 – Tsumago – Magome – The Nakasendo Trail
After breakfast, there will be more time to wander the beautiful streets of Narai – shops, cafes shrines and museums.
A short journey will bring us to the village of Tsumago. Another of the post-towns on the former Nakasendo trail, Tsumago has been beautifully preserved – a living museum, which is still inhabited by the local residents with old lattice-clad buildings in dark wood fronting both sides of its long main street. We can wander the streets, taste gohei-mochi and skewered balls of pounded sticky rice covered in a sweet paste of miso, sesame and walnuts.
From here, we start our walk on a favourite stretch of the Nakasendo Way, the Tsumago – Magome trail, one of the most popular sections of the route.
The trail winds its way over the Magome Pass for just over 8 kilometres to the neighbouring town of Magome. You will have the opportunity to walk this lovely section of the trail through forest and countryside, past farms, streams, rice fields, traditional houses and pretty gardens. *For those that do not want to walk, we have an alternative!
Magome-juku was the forty-third of the sixty-nine stations of the Nakasendō, an ancient road that connected Kyoto and Edo during the Edo period. It was also the last of eleven stations along the Kisoji, which was the precursor to a part of the Nakasendō, running through the Kiso Valley. Magome has been beautifully restored with a broad stone walkway lined with carefully tended foliage, its’ embellished preservation contrasts with the rugged authenticity of neighbouring Tsumago.
We arrive in time to check in to our minshuku, a lovely family-run inn / guesthouse and sleep in a traditional Japanese room with futon bedding. Dinner tonight is a hearty family meal at the minshuku which has 14 Japanese-style rooms, and the women and men’s hot spring baths are open 24 hours a day. Soaking in a natural hot springs bath after a day in the fresh air, you’ll soon realise why visiting an onsen remains one of the ultimate pastimes for the Japanese!
(Total walking distance today – about 8 km)
Overnight: Magome (Tajimaya or similar – Japanese style room with futon) (B / L / D)
Day 6 – Magome – Takayama
This morning after a typical Japanese-style breakfast – a nutritious, protein-rich mix of grilled fish, miso soup, tofu, rice, and pickles – we can have another stroll through Magome before continuing to Takayama.
Takayama is in the Gifu prefecture, located in the heart of Hida mountains in the Japanese Alps, its full name being Hida-Takayama. This ancient feudal city is surrounded by mountains and beautiful foliage in the Autumn, and is famed for its beautifully preserved streets of merchant houses dating from the late 17th century. Nicknamed the ‘Little Kyoto’ because of its parallel streets made out of Kyoto’s map, Takayama reveals a very rich historical heritage.
Arriving in Takayama, we will take a quick walk along Sanmachi Street to get our bearings.
Your evening is free.
Overnight Hotel Wood Kanazawa. (B / L)
Day 7 – Takayama
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.
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.
Our guide will lead us to some of the most famous spots in town and provide many chances to savour 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 – the likes of Ateya – featuring the amazing Hida beef that Takayama is famous for.
Overnight Hotel Wood Kanazawa. (B / Tasting Snacks)
Day 8 – Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa
This morning we are picked up by our Driver and transferred to Shirakawa-go Village where we will meet our Guide.
Shirakawa-go, 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 Kanazawa and check into our Hotel.
In the 17th century, the beautifully preserved castle town of Kanazawa used to be Japan’s wealthiest area and a thriving centre 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 transferred to our hotel and we check in and your evening is free.
Overnight TBC Kanazawa. (B / L)
Day 9 – Kanazawa
This morning our luggage will be transferred to our Kyoto hotel. We will keep only an overnight bag with enough clothing to see us through this evening & one more night.
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.
We return to the hotel and your evening is free.
Overnight TBC. (B / L)
Day 10 – Kyoto
Today we depart for Kyoto by a Limited express (tokkyu) Thunderbird Train.
After breakfast we will have plenty of time to pack and relax before we are transferred to Kanazawa Station to board our first bullet train. We can buy ourselves a Bento Box for the journey, and board the train. The 2 odd hour journey to Kyoto follows the northern coast of Japan, before heading south along Lake Biwa to Kyoto. One of the ten best views by train in Japan!
We are met at Kyoto Station and transferred to our hotel where we check and refresh. We can meet in the bar for a quick cocktail before we depart for our fabulous evening with a Maiko.
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 / D – Maiko evening)
Day 11 – Kyoto
Today we discover fabulous 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 / Sweets with Tea Ceremony)
Day 12 – 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 Philosopher’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.
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; our evening is free.
Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B / L)
Day 13 – Kyoto
This morning we will meet our Guide and Driver for a tour of rural Arashiyama. Arashiyama is filled with temples and shrines, but the star attraction is the sublime Arashiyama Bamboo Grove which we will take a walk through.
We then visit a beautiful property called Okochi Sanso Villa and Garden. Formerly the estate of the famed film actor Okochi Denjiro (1898-1962), this sublime villa and surrounding gardens are some of the finest examples of traditional Japanese residential architecture anywhere, the gardens are mind-boggling and the teahouse is a wabi-sabi gem.
We will visit the mesmerizing Tenryuji temple. Built in 1339, Tenryuji is the most important temple in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district; a sprawling Zen temple with one of the finest gardens in Kyoto and wonderful mountain views. We will have a very special lunch of a shojin-ryori (Zen vegetarian cuisine) on the temple grounds.
We will then see the Shinto gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine. (It is about an hour’s drive). Perhaps the single most impressive sight in all of Kyoto, bar none, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine is arguably the most important shrine in the entire city. We will walk through the thousands of torii gates for which Fushimi Inari is most famous. Fushimi-Inari is an entire world of shrines and shrine gates spread across an entire mountain in Southeast Kyoto. It takes about two hours to get to the summit, so we will only be able to go up part of the way (!!!), but the temple structures and ambiance are remarkable from any angle.
We return to Kyoto city in the afternoon and we walk the amazing, mile long Nishiki market, passing by some interesting food stalls and learning about the local Japanese produce. Rich with history and tradition, the market is renowned as the place to obtain many of Kyoto’s famous foods and goods, and is a perfect opportunity to grab some bites for a light meal.
Depending on energy levels, and time, we may then go into to the backstreets to visit a former sake brewery and have the chance to sample the local brew.
We return to the hotel for a fabulous rest, and the rest of your evening is free.
Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B / L)
Day 14 – 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.
Tonight is a fabulous opportunity to splash out on one of Kyoto’s amazing restaurants; Hyotei – with 3 Michelin Stars, Lurra – with 1 Michelin Star, Ifuku – with 2 Michelin Stars, Kiyama – with 1 Michelin Star, Sushi Saeki, and Ogata – with 2 Michelin Stars. *NOTE: If we are to dine at one of the mentioned restaurants, pre-Booking is necessary.
Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B)
Day 15 – 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.
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 Hotel The Flag Shinsaibashi (B / Tasting Snacks / Farewell Drink)
Day 16 – Depart
This morning our tour ends.
We are transferred to Kansai Airport for our onward flights.