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 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.
Lunch today is in the Nezu neighbourhood, an area of narrow alleys still imprinted with the memory of the way things were before Tokyo became a modern megalopolis. Kamachiku is a stately two-story red-brick kura storehouse, preserved, refurbished and converted with style and contemporary sensitivity. Architect Kengo Kuma oversaw the conversion; the external brickwork may look Western, but inside feels entirely Japanese. You remove your shoes, then shuffle across the polished floor and sit on thin zabuton cushions at low tables, all fitted with horigotatsu leg wells. There’s only one choice to make here – noodles: zaru, cold udon with a cold dipping sauce or or kama-age, noodles served in hot water, with a piping-hot dip…. but they are prepared fresh each day, rolled out and cut by hand, and brought to the table with absolutely no nonsense or pretension.
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.
We visit Ameyoko-cho in the Ueno district. Ameyoko is an atmospheric open-air market; and we take advantage of the Autumn season and visit Ueno Park.
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 – HAKONE – TOKYO
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 for some foliage viewing.
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 return to Tokyo, and to our hotel where our evening is free.
Overnight Niwa Hotel. (B / L)
DAY 5 – KANAZAWA
This morning after breakfast we are transferred to Tokyo Station to board our bullet train for Kanazawa. Departure is 0920am, and we arrive in Kanazawa at 1153am.
We will buy ourselves a 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.
We are met at the station by our Kanazawa Guide and transferred to our hotel.
This afternoon – after we have settled in – we take a trip to Shirakawago, and its neighbouring Gokayama region, which line 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 return to the hotel, an we dine in the hotel this evening.
Overnight Hotel Mitsui Garden Kanazawa. (B / D)
DAY 6 – KANAZAWA
After breakfast we meet with our guide and depart for Kanazawa sightseeing.
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. The city lies on the western coast of Honshu in Ishikawa prefecture and retains much of its Old-Japan charm. With beautifully preserved Edo period streets and a rich culture of artisanship that has birthed some of the country’s most beloved traditional crafts such as hakuichi (gold leaf ware).
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.
At one of the main entrances to the Kenrokuen Garden stands Kenjotei, a recently renovated traditional Japanese tea house built in 1820. We will stop of a tea and from upstairs we can also enjoy an incredible view of sakura and the Kanazawa Castle bridge. (The owner is very charming and also owns another business running a geisha house.) Or we will wait and visit Isseian (traditional ryotei Ohtomoro) for matcha in their 350 year old tea room. Or Kaikarao Tea House. Or maybe we will visit them all!
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 with a stunning garden 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.
Kanazawa is one of the cities with the highest consumption of wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) in all of Japan. These artistically shaped sweets are so beautifully made that you almost don’t want to eat them; so we will make a stop at one of Kanazawa’s best sweet shops – Morihachi – and stock up on some Japanese delights. These are fabulous with a cup of tea later in the evening…
Your evening is free else you can join me in dining at a local favourite.
*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 truly excellent restaurants to choose from – such as Kataori, Mekumi – with 2 Michelin Stars, Tahei Sushi, Tsubaki, Otome Sushi – with 1 Michelin Star, and Zeniya. *NOTE: If we are to dine at one of the mentioned restaurants, pre-Booking is necessary.
Overnight Hotel Mitsui Garden Kanazawa. (B / L)
DAY 7 – KINOSAKI
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 the next 2 nights.
We transfer to the train station and board our train towards Kinosaki Onsen, located in northern Hyogo Prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan.
We get off the train in Tsuruga and are met by our private van transfer. We then travel to Amanohashidate – about 2 hours away. Amanohashidate is a pine covered sandbar that spans the mouth of Miyazu Bay in the scenic, coastal region of northern Kyoto Prefecture. Viewed from the mountains at either end of the bay, the Amanohashidate Sandbar (which roughly translates to “Bridge in Heaven”) looks like a pathway between heaven and earth. The scene has been admired for centuries and is ranked among Japan’s three most scenic views. (the other two being Miyajima and Matsushima Bay).
We visit the lovely Chionji Temple – a temple at the southern entrance of the Amanohashidate Sandbar. Part of the Rinzai School of Japanese Zen Buddhism, the temple houses one of Japan’s “Three Important Statues of Monju Bosatsu”, the Buddhist god of wisdom and intellect. As such, students and other visitors come to the temple to pray for both wisdom and academic and personal success. They purchase special fortunes (omikuji) shaped like folding fans, which many people leave hanging from pine trees all around the temple grounds.
We continue to Kinosaki, where we check into our Ryokan and relax for the rest of the afternoon. Tokiwa Bekkan is a quiet Japanese Ryokan close to Onsenji temple and the gondola station. Rooms are all Japanese style ie guests sleep in futon beds on the tatami (woven mat) floor – with en-suite bathrooms. Meals are served in Kaiseki style and the menu changes according to the seasons. There are a number of hot spring baths on the premise, both indoor and open air, and a lovely traditional garden.
We eat tonight at the Ryokan.
Overnight Tokiwa Bekkan, Kinosaki. (B / D)
DAY 8 – KINOSAKI
This morning, after a lazy breakfast, we will journey along the Northern Coast road towards Ine.
Ine-cho is famous for its unique funaya (boat houses) which sit right up along the water and serve as both dock and home for the fishermen of the village. The boats are housed in the first floor, with the second floor serving as the dwelling area. Ine is a small town of about 2,200 people, tucked tightly between the mountains and Ine Bay, and is designated as one of Japan’s most beautiful villages. Around 230 funaya remain today, stretching along five kilometers of the coastline. We take a scenic boat ride around the bay as the best way to see Ine and its funaya houses is from the sea. The town itself is inhabited by working people, and most houses are personal residences. There are only a small number of shops and restaurants, so it is not a bustling epi-centre. We will have lunch here before we continue on.
After Ine, head further north to enjoy scenic driving and local culture along the Tango Peninsula, including Cape Kyoga. We will visit Sodeshi village where over 400 rice terraces stretch out between the steep mountainside and the ocean, creating a harmonious view between the village and the sea. En-route, stop by scenic Kumihama Bay and historic Inaba Honke Merchant Residence – for tea and sweets – featuring wonderfully preserved traditional architecture from the Edo-period.
We return to Kinosaki Onsen, and your afternoon is free.
Built along a willow-lined river, Kinosaki is on of Japans favourite onsen destinations. Hot springs were discovered in Kinosaki around the 8th century and since then the town has developed into a charmingly old-fashioned onsen town. In the evenings guests of the local ryokan stroll about town in yukata and geta (wooden clogs), visiting the public baths along the river. Legend has it that storks would bathe in the marshes of Kinosaki to heal their wounds. Later, bath houses were built over these very sites to take advantage of the healing waters. Kinosaki’s seven public baths are scattered across the town, about 100 to 400 meters apart from each other. All guests staying at a ryokan get a free pass to visit all seven public baths. From outdoor cave baths to ice saunas, you can enjoy the ultimate wellness heaven.
Kinosaki’s temples and shrines come to life thanks to the red and gold autumn foliage autumn brings. Onsenji Temple is located halfway up Mt. Daishi and with access by a cable car, it is easy to visit and the views from the top are majestic. The observation deck offers great views of Kinosaki and surroundings.
Whether it’s seeing Kinosaki’s picturesque temples covered in autumn foliage, hiking magnificent mountain trails or sampling some of the most delicious seasonal food, Autumn in Kinosaki means indulgence in every sense of the word.
This evening we will eat traditional Japanese Kaiseki cuisine at the Ryokan.
Overnight Tokiwa Bekkan, Kinosaki. (B / L / D)
DAY 9 – KYOTO
This morning after breakfast, we depart for Kyoto in our private van. First stop en-route is Izushi, a castle town that flourished during the Edo era, about 200-300 years ago. There are several fine displays of traditional architecture found throughout the town, which is why Izushi is designated as a ‘National Preservation District of Important Buildings’. We will see the Shinkorou (clock tower); the Izushi Castle Ruins; Arikoyama-inari and the Sake cellars. We will also take time to wander the town.
One of the main attractions of Izushi is soba noodle served on small plates of Izushi white porcelain, “Izushi plate soba”. The town is famous for its own original style of soba, Japanese buckwheat noodles; and there are approximately 50 soba shops line the town’s streets. We will choose one, such as Irusaya and enjoy the local cuisine!
After our soba lunch, we continue to Tanto to visit the stunning Ankokuji Temple to view Autumn foliage. Ankokuji is a Zen Buddhist temple with a known history dating back as far as 1345. It is a Zen Buddhist temple, part of the Haitoku-ji branch of the Rinzai School, which is one of the three Zen sects of Buddhism in Japan. The huge Dodan-Tsutsuji tree at the temple is said to be more than 100 years old and in the autumn its leaves turn a brilliant red. The view of the colored tree from the main temple is like viewing a living painting.
From here we travel onto Kyoto and check into our hotel, rest and relax before we head out this evening.
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 / L / D – Maiko evening)
DAY 10 – 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 head back towards our hotel and walk through the Nishiki market, learning about the local Japanese produce; a perfect opportunity to grab some bites for a light meal. We could even drop by for a cocktail at L’Escamoteur. Meaning ‘magician’ in old French, L’Escamoteur is owned by an actual magician from France. With an interior based on an early 20th-century herbal pharmacy, the bar’s old-timey atmosphere is certainly not out of place in historical Kyoto. And why not I say!
Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B / L / Sweets with Tea Ceremony)
DAY 11 – KYOTO
This morning we 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 wander the Gion Higashi District stopping to see the Yasaka Shrine and the Kennin-ji zen Temple. A quick detour leads through the streets of Hanami-koji, the most popular street in Gion where lavish teahouses are lined up.
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 visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple for the Autumn Light-up. Kiyomizu-dera Temple, literally “Pure Water Temple”, is 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. Depending on opening, we will also visit the divine Jojuin “Moon Garden’; best viewed in the evening when the moonlight is shining upon it. The whole point of the layout here is to focus on the reflection in the pond.
We return to our hotel and for those that wish, we will head out to the Ponto-chō area for a drink and a bit to eat. (optional)
Overnight Royal Park Hotel THE KYOTO: (B / L)
DAY 12 – 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 the hotel for a fabulous rest, and the rest of your 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 / L)
DAY 13 – KOYOSAN / MT KOYA
This morning our luggage will be transferred to our Osaka hotel. We will keep only an overnight bag with enough clothing to see us through until Osaka.
After a lazy breakfast we transfer to Mt Koya. The mountain of Koyasan (Mount Koya) was traditionally considered sacred, and is a major pilgrimage site for followers of the Shingon school of Buddhism. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Koyasan is on the beautiful forested Kii Peninsula, and features long avenues of tall Japanese cedar trees, and hundreds of temples and temple gardens.
Once we arrive, we will visit Kongo Buji, the holiest Temple on Mount Koya and headquarters of the Shingon sect. Built in 1593 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1861. The Banryutei rock garden in the Temple is the largest in Japan with 140 granite stones arranged to suggest a pair of dragons emerging from clouds to protect the temple. We continue to the Garan where you will see some of the most important buildings in Koyasan.
We hope to end our visit here with a unique experience in the form of a “Jukai”, where laypeople can receive the Buddhist precepts (jukai) in a short ceremony. The ceremony will create a very spiritual atmosphere that should put us in the right frame of mind for our stay in Koya-san!
From here, we transfer to Fudo-in, our accommodation for the night. Fudo-in is a temple stay in the holy Koyasan Buddhist mountain retreat. It is a smaller temple in the upper end of a tiny valley surrounded by forest and is well known for its refined atmosphere and peaceful setting – perfect for meditating. The separate “Hanare” rooms offer splendid views of the garden; secluded spiritual luxury.
Relax and rest before dinner – Syojin Ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine).
*Please note, this is a Temple stay and the rooms are tatami-mat floors & traditional futon beds. This is a very special stay, but it is not western style. Temple lodgings were originally accommodation facilities for Buddhist priests and practitioners, but they now also accept other guests. A Buddhist temple is also located on site, so both staff and priests will offer hospitality to guests such as: Sutra Transcription: Transcribe Buddhist sutras and a Religious Service: Observe a ritual where a Buddhist priest chants sutras, etc. (*Every morning from 7:00.)
Overnight Fudo-in Temple: (B / D)
DAY 14 – OSAKA
This morning you can opt for an early morning Buddhist ceremony in the prayer hall.
After breakfast we have a visit and guided walk through the Okunoin (‘Inner Temple’) cemetery. Okunoin is one of Japan’s most sacred places and is home to the final resting place of many of the nation’s most important historical and religious figures. It is the largest graveyard in Japan; it stretches over two kilometres and includes the graves of over 20,000 monks and other believers in Shingon’s teachings. Many figures watch over those who enter Okunoin, including the stout and friendly jizo statue. Jizo, which are ubiquitous at many Buddhist sites and along roads, are said to protect travelers, children and the souls of the dead. And people often dress them up to keep them warm.
After crossing the Ichinohashi Bridge, we walk towards the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi – a Japanese Buddhist monk, calligrapher, and poet who founded the esoteric Shingon school of Buddhism. Kobo Daishi is not considered dead by his followers but merely in a state of meditation awaiting the arrival of the Maitreya (Buddha of the Future), so believers want to be as near him as possible and thus have their graves built close to Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. Upon arrival at the mausoleum, we will time it to see the daily ritual ceremony in which monks bring meals to the cave where Kobodaishi is said to have been meditating for 1200 years. Only the most important monks are granted entry in the room where he resides. However, anyone can explore the rest of the mausoleum, which includes a meditation room and a hall of lanterns.
We return to the centre of town and enjoy a late-ish lunch.
After lunch we are transferred to Osaka, approx 2 hours drive. We check in and relax. Evening is free.
Overnight Hotel The Flag Shinsaibashi (B / L)
DAY 15 – OSAKA
Osaka is one of the busiest cities in Japan and is perhaps most well-known for the towering Castle and street food, and today we will discover some of the best that Osaka has to offer.
Osaka Castle is a true sight to behold. It was founded in 16th century by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a remarkable shogun in the Sengoku period, and is known as the symbol of his power. You can climb to the top of the castle (by stairs or elevator) for panoramic views across the city, and it is a popular cherry blossom-viewing spot during spring. (The Osaka Mint is also one of the most popular cherry blossom viewing spots in the city. However, it is only open for 1 week a year for sakura viewing, and as we don’t know when that week will be as yet, we hope it coincides with our visit.)
We then wander 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. Perfect time to pick up any last minute ceramics..
Shinsaibashi-suji, one of Osaka’s famous shotengai (covered shopping arcades), will take us through to Ebisu-bashi Bridge, which takes us over the famous Dotombori Canal. Lined with garish neon-covered buildings, the Dotombori Canal is the most iconic sight in all of Osaka. We walk a short distance south and find ourselves in the famous Dotombori arcade. This street is line with restaurants, many of which have incredibly flashy signs and symbols outside to attract customers. Time to 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. Cheesy, but necessary.
In need of a coffee, we stop at Marufuku Coffee in Sennichimae, an Osakan institution and a kissaten, an old-fashioned coffee house where the brews err on the side of dark, black, and strong. Kissaten are a dying breed, but in Osaka, they are still very much part of the shopping street landscape. In operation since 1934, the background music is a questionable and you will still find elderly men and women here, dapper in their berets and suits.
We will also eat along the way (of course!). Osaka is the city of kuidaore, or ‘to eat until you fall over or go broke’ after all. We will find somewhere like Teuchi Soba Akari, (Akari Soba), a fabulous soba noodle house run by an elderly couple and where jazz sets the tone.
We continue to the incredibly atmospheric Hozenji Yokocho, an area with narrow alleys filled with traditional restaurants and izakaya (traditional Japanese pubs). This stone-paved alley, lined with traditional and restored shops and restaurants, is one of the most beautiful streets in all of Osaka and it looks like it was magically transported from somewhere in Kyoto. Hozenji Yokocho is located right behind the Hozenji temple, hence the name “Hozenji Yokocho” which literally means the alley next to the Hozenji temple. We will stop for a final whiskey or beer before we call it a day.
We return to the hotel, and have one last Farewell Drink together before we retire for some well-earned sleep!
Overnight Hotel The Flag Shinsaibashi (B / L)
DAY 16 – DEPARTURE
This morning our tour ends.
We are transferred to Kansai Airport for our onward flights.