Start Point – Tokyo
Finish Point – Osaka
Tour Style – Hosted Tour
Accommodation – Premium Hotels, Boutique Hotels
Meals – As per itinerary
Transport – Private Coach / Van, Bullet Train, Boat
Max Group Size – Min 10, Max 12 guests
MAI JOURNEYS HAS PARTNERED WITH BREAST CANCER CURE FOR THIS VERY SPECIAL TOUR OF JAPAN DURING CHERRY BLOSSOMS. BREAST CANCER CURE EXISTS AS A FUNDRAISING ORGANISATION, SO WE ARE THRILLED TO BE A SUPPORTER BY DONATING FOR EVERY GUEST BOOKED. YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT THIS AMAZING ORGANISATION – AND WHAT THEY ACHIEVE – VIA THIS LINK: BREAST CANCER CURE. Mums, sisters, aunties, best friends, every 3 hours someone’s diagnosed with breast cancer. We are honoured to do our part to support breast cancer research and keep future generations free from the fear of breast cancer.
Cherry Blossoms Japan 2023. Japan in Spring is a wonderland with the sakura – cherry blossom – the national flower of Japan and a symbol of renewal. Japan is a land of vast cultural diversity with ultra-modern cities, Buddhist mountain sanctuaries, hidden hot springs and cultural arts. It will mesmerize you with its culture, age-old traditions, and elegant sophistication.
This Cherry Blossoms Women Only Hosted tour explores Japanese culture, history, art, and food in its most iconic cities. The Sakura of Japan are well known around the world for their radiant, delicate and transient beauty, but they are more than simply beautiful cherry blossom trees. Sakura are tied to Japan’s history, culture and identity. Originally used to divine the year’s harvest, Sakura came to embody Wabi-sabi philosophy and shinto ideals of impermanence, hope and renewal. Adding to their magic and mystique, the sakura are usually only really in full bloom for around one week. After the brief period of full bloom, the flowers start to flutter gracefully from their trees. Some say the blossoms are the most beautiful in their final stage as the white and pink petals gently float to the ground. They are a fickle lot – there is no promise of bloom nor drop, but the promise is, it will still be fantastic.
We are taking it slow for this trip & we will spend more time immersing and discovering. More time getting under the skin of this amazing country. Beginning in Tokyo, we will visit unforgettable sites such as the Meiji Shrine and the old Geisha area of Asakusa. We visit Hakone onsen town, Kyoto – Japan’s imperial pearl, Himeji Castle and Osaka. We learn the art of a Tea Ceremony; and enjoy sake tasting. We will visit ancient townships, majestic temples and royal gardens. We eat exquisite and exciting cuisine. We stay in boutique accommodation, try out an onsen, dine on world-renowned kaiseki cuisine, and be mesmerised by Japans harmonious mix of ancient and hyper-modern. And all the while we will visit fabulous Cherry Blossom viewing sites that will be painted in beautiful pink.
This enchanting Cherry Blossoms Japan 2023 journey immerses you into the culture, the art, and the cuisine of Japan – a perplexing but fascinating country. And we are delighted to be collaborating with Breast Cancer Cure to help ensure that world-class research continues on a ground-breaking path towards a breast cancer cure. Research continues to be pivotal in developing the understanding and prevention, managing and curing of cancer. “Our goal is to find a cure, the more donations we receive, the faster we reach it.” Sonja De Mari | CEO
Start Point – Tokyo
Finish Point – Osaka
Tour Style – Hosted Tour
Accommodation – Premium Hotels, Boutique Hotels
Meals – As per itinerary
Transport – Private Coach / Van, Bullet Train, Boat
Max Group Size – Min 10, Max 12 guests
*If on suggested group Flights. If outside of these flights, then you will need to pay a supplement service.
18 Mar 2023 – 01 Apr 2023
– from NZD$12950 per person Twin Rate
– from NZD$15990 per person Single Rate
*Rates are per person based on Twin Share & Single Room.
*Prices are subject to change until paid in full.
*International Airfares are not included. PLEASE ASK US FOR A QUOTE.
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, a Welcome Cocktail and some snacks.
Overnight Niwa Hotel. (Welcome Drink & Snacks)
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.
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.
After lunch we visit 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.
We take advantage of the Cherry Blossom season and visit Ueno Park, one of the best places in Tokyo to see the blossoms.
Return to the hotel and your evening is free. Feel free to join me for a de-brief cocktail!
Overnight Niwa Hotel. (B / L)
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 viewing the blossom trees, 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 our day at approx 5pm and return to the hotel.
Our evening is free to relax and rest!
Overnight Niwa Hotel. (B / Tea & Sweets / 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.)
En-route, we will stop to see Chireoto Pagoda and Arakurayama Sengen Park. The view of Mount Fuji through the five-storied Chureito pagoda in the grounds of the park is absolutely picturesque. The Pagoda was built in 1963 as a peace memorial – but be ready to climb close to 400 stairs if you want the view! The effort is definitely worth it as once at the top you will enjoy one of the best views on the tallest mountain in Japan. The historic Arakura Fuji Sengen Shrine was built in 705. Located halfway up Mount Arakura, its beautiful red torii gate at the entrance of the path to the shrine catches your eye. The magnificent main hall has gathered the faith of people in prayer to the god of disaster prevention and household happiness.
We will have lunch in Kawaguchiko area (local speciality Hoto Noodle restaurant)
Continue to our hotel and check in. After a refresh, we head out 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.
Overnight Hotel Indigo Hakone Gora. (B / L)
This morning 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.
We’ll also take a cruise across picturesque Lake Ashi which provides a beautiful view of the Lake – formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano’s last eruption 3,000 years ago. The cruise is only about 30 minutes, and after we will have a coffee/tea at the Café Kisetsufu & Panorama Lounge to take in the panorama view of Ashi & Mt Fuji.
We have a light lunch locally before returning to the hotel to enjoy our tubs. All rooms at the hotel include a modern Japanese style tub with natural onsen water — the mineral-rich water from our local hot springs. Else you can book into the The Spa by HARNN, offering the best of healing rituals using ingredients indigenous to Hakone Gora. Eastern wisdom perfected over generations used to balance the body and mind.
Tonight we meet in the bar for a pre-dinner drink (own expense) before heading out to dinner at Itoh Dining by Nobu. Itoh Dining by Nobu is a secluded restaurant located away from the bustling sightseeing areas. The restaurant serves carefully selected ingredients, such as fresh seafood from Sagami Bay and vegetables from Hakone.
Overnight Hotel Indigo Hakone Gora. (B / L / D)
After a lazy morning we transfer to the train train station where we board our Express Train for Kyoto. We can buy a Bento Box at the station for our en-route lunch. We will be carrying only our overnight bags.
On arrival, we are met at the station and transferred to our hotel.
After check in, we meet in the lobby for a visit to 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 for Cherry Blossom viewing. 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!).
For those that wish, we will then take a stroll through the atmospheric, lantern-lit alleyway of Pontocho. Ponto-chō district is composed of a single narrow street extending along the Kamogawa River across the bridge from Gion. This unassuming area comes to life at night as the small restaurants, teahouses, and bars that comprise the district light up and open their doors, making it the perfect place to end your night soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying a few drinks.
Overnight Cross Hotel Kyoto: (B)
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 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 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 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 and depending on energy levels, we can head out for a bite to eat or the rest of your evening is free.
Overnight Cross Hotel Kyoto: (B / L)
Today we take a walking tour.
From here, we walk through the Higashiyama area to the Gion area. Gion is part of the Higashiyama or Kyoto’s ‘Eastern Mountain’ area. We stop 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 will wander Shinbashi-Dori, Kyoto’s most famous antiques street, which runs straight to the Tatsumi Bridge – a hotspot for Kyoto visitors dressed in beautiful kimonos to stand amidst a backdrop of the Shirakawa Canal and its striking scenery. Just get lost amongst the beautifully preserved streets, awash with traditional wooden machiya houses, tea houses, sweet shops, kaiseki restaurants, and unique boutiques.
We’ll make a stop at Kagizen Wagashi Shop, one of Kyoto’s oldest and most esteemed tea and sweet shops. It has a serene tea room out back where you can enjoy traditional sweets with cups of thick matcha tea.
The best place to see geisha in Kyoto is Hanami-koji, so we will take a wander there also. This area is interspersed with restaurants and a number of ochaya (teahouses). This is the area of exclusive and expensive dining establishments, where guests are entertained by maiko and geiko. In recent years “geisha spotting” has become all too popular in Kyoto and locals don’t take kindly to groups of foreigners milling around outside their establishment and hassling geisha who are in a hurry to get to appointments. So if we do see a geiko or maiko, act respectfully.
We will have a lunch reservation at the likes of Tempura Endo Yasaka Honten, one of the best Tempura restaurants in the Gion district.
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 Blossoms 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. Evening is free.
Overnight Cross Hotel Kyoto: (B / L)
Today after breakfast, we drive out of Kyoto for a day trip. We will head into the countryside for amazing architecture, art, nature and traditional ceramics. On our journey, you can soak up the scenery of the countryside and the densely forested valleys.
Located outside of Kyoto in the hills of Shiga Prefecture, the Miho Museum is as famous for its unusual architecture as for its impressive collection of historical artefacts. It was designed by the renowned architect I. M. Pei (the Louvre Pyramid, anyone?). It is named after Koyama Mihoko, a textile company heiress and founder of the Shinji Shumeikai spiritual movement. She is also one of Japan’s wealthiest women.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the museum is the design of its structures and how they are integrated into their natural surroundings. This is highlighted in the museum’s approach, which leads through a mixture of artificial and natural environments. The 500m approach to the main building takes your breath away first. As you pass through the beautifully illuminated tunnel and the suspension bridge spanning the hidden valley, you will feel as though you stepped into “Shangri-La” on earth. The inside of the museum continues this theme by contrasting steel and glass with warm stone and panoramic views of the surrounding valleys. The museum’s exhibits consist of works from ancient civilisations and various Asian cultures, with the pieces mainly coming from Koyama’s private collection.
We then travel to Shigaraki town, home of the world-famous Shigaraki-yaki (Shigaraki ware) where we have lunch. Shigaraki is blessed with a unique clay from the bed of ancient Lake Biwa, and this hillside town has a centuries-long history in pottery making. The central area of Shigaraki retains the nostalgic atmosphere of the old pottery town; its studios, galleries and houses stand close together along the quaint narrow streets, dotted throughout with the remaining traditional-type kilns, anagama (literally “cave kiln”) and noborigama (multi-chambered climbing kiln). On a stroll around the area, we visit some local pottery artisans, where we can talk with them and view their kilns, workshops, and galleries. Most of the studios and galleries in Shigaraki are attached to the potter’s residences, allowing you to see their workspaces and experience parts of the artisan families’ daily life. Many of the ceramic vessels you’ll see when touring Kyoto, and indeed throughout Japan, originate in Shigaraki. Shigarakiyaki ceramics tend to be rough in appearance with a special feel and is used to serve traditional kaiseki cuisine. It is very fashionable and evokes ancient forms of Japanese ceramics. Its’ popularity is all thanks to the work of master Kenzo Ogawa, who brought ceramics back into fashion.
We return to Kyoto and to the hotel. Your evening is free.
Overnight Cross Hotel Kyoto: (B / L)
This morning 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 via the Nishiki-koji food market, known to the locals as Kyoto daidokoro or Kyoto’s kitchen. There is an eye-popping assortment of fresh seafood, meats, pickles, tofu, miso, Kyoto’s famous vegetable varieties (Kyo-yasai) and many other local delicacies – and of course, there will be plenty of foods to sample. We will also explore the local vicinity, including incredible design and gallery stores, handmade paper shops, a famous Kyoto tea store, antique and textile specialists, and the wonderful depachika (underground food hall) of one of Kyoto’s best Department stores. We’ll visit many shops specialising in items for the cooking and dining enthusiast; think finely crafted chopsticks, placemats, dishes, storage containers, knives and other distinctly Japanese kitchen utensils. This is 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.
We return to our hotel and the rest of 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, Monk, 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 Cross Hotel Kyoto: (B / L)
This morning we visit Saihō-ji, Koke-dera Moss Garden. Koke-dera, which means “Moss Temple” is one of the most aptly named temples in Kyoto. It’s a lush green paradise with over 120 types of moss present in the two-tiered garden, resembling a beautiful green carpet with many subtle shades. Built on the site of an ancient temple, Saiho-ji Temple was restored and made into a Zen temple in 1339 by the monk Muso Soseki, who is also said to have designed the upper tier of the garden. It is acclaimed by many as Kyoto’s most beautiful garden and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage.
And now we have something gorgeous in mind. Kodo (Koh-do), the “Way of the Fragrance”, is one of the three principal classical arts that any woman of refinement was expected to learn. So this morning, we will focus on traditional incense making. We will visit a 200-year-old incense company – Yamado Matsu – and take part in a traditional practice known as kneaded incense. After being introduced to incense materials, we make our own original blend kneaded incense. In ancient Japan, the nobility were used to make their own kneaded incense to rival each other in fragrance. Nowadays kneaded incense is mainly used for room scenting. We all know about the power of the sense of smell, how a scent can instantly transport a person back to a place from their childhood etc. In Japan, the burning of incense and prizing of rare scented wood has been transporting people to a different spiritual plane for many centuries.
Kodo is said to have ten physical and psychological benefits or virtues: Sharpens the senses – Purifies the mind and body – Removes mental or spiritual “pollutants” (kegare) – Promotes alertness – Heals feelings of loneliness – Creates a feeling of harmony even under stress – Even in abundance, is not overwhelming – Satisfies, even in small quantities – Does not decay even over centuries – Does no harm even if used every day. Simply smelling something is like looking at a one-dimensional image. But as you sit there, deeply inhaling and analysing the fragrant smoke, earthy notes of spice or citrus begin to take shape: the story of that particular incense being told.
After lunch, we will take a fragrance factory tour of the Shoyeido Incense Co.
We stop for a coffee at Otafuku, a retro kissaten. Drinking coffee at a kissaten is a different experience in itself. These retro cafes serve ink-black coffee, and their environments recall hints of European belle époque. We’ll have to descend the stairs to this warm little basement café, and as we walk through the door, the din of downtown Kyoto subsides, replaced by cool jazz along the lines of Miles Davis.
OR: We make a stop at Saryou Housen for afternoon tea. Saryou Housen is one of the city’s finest shops for tea and sweets and is well worth seeking out. The teahouse is a traditional house with a tatami mat-lined dining room. The Japanese-style garden is a pleasure to behold, with its slopes of moss, maple trees, pines, and Andromeda flower bushes. There are few more Kyoto-esque experiences than sipping on matcha while gazing upon a garden.
Return to the hotel for rest & refresh. We can then meet in the bar for a quick cocktail own expense) 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 Cross Hotel Kyoto. (B / L / D)
After breakfast we are transferred to Osaka, approx 1 hours drive. We check into our and relax.
Osaka is one of the busiest cities in Japan and is perhaps most well-known for the towering Castle and street food, and this afternoon we will discover this incredible building. 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. It is a popular cherry blossom-viewing spot during spring. We hope to catch the afternoon blooms and Night Illuminations.
After, we visit 40 Sky Bar & Lounge in the Conrad Hotel for a cocktail. (Own Account). The Bar & Lounge is located on the 40th Floor, offering stunning views of the river and Osaka city. Glittering night views are the main attraction here, but the bespoke cocktails and a globe-spanning wine list come a very close second!
Overnight Hotel The Flag Shinsaibashi. (B / L)
This morning after breakfast we transfer to the train station for our Shinkansen to Himeji. The train journey takes about 40 minutes.
Himeji Castle (aka Himeji-jo) is the biggest medieval Samurai castle in Japan. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and also a National Treasure of Japan.
The first place we’ll visit after arriving at the station is Mt. Shosha. This mountain is home to Engyo-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple complex built in 966. With gorgeously verdant surroundings and many impressive wooden structures still intact, it’s a great escape from hectic urban settings. We take the ropeway cable car up to Mt. Shosha. The Maniden (Main Temple of Kannon Worship) is one of the first buildings we’ll encounter. This is a 1933 reconstruction of the original building, which burned down in 1921. The view from the verandah is amazing, overlooking lush canopies and flowering trees.
After lunch, it’s time to visit the city’s pride and joy – Himeji Castle. Also known as the White Heron Castle, it dates back to 1333, and has survived natural disasters, WWII bombing, and sheer wear and tear. In 2015, it underwent restoration works, which helped return its facade to a brilliant white. While the castle facade is a brilliant white, with gorgeous tilework on the roof, the inside is dark and unfurnished. (Note: there are no lifts inside either – you will be climbing narrow, steep staircases if you want to visit up to the sixth floor.)
After exploring Himeji Castle, we visit Koko-en Garden. Koko-en Garden consists of nine separate walled gardens across a sprawling nine acres, each with a different theme. They were designed according to various styles prevalent during the Edo Period (1603-1868). The gardens were designed to have a different view at every turn – so that at every corner, you seem to have entered another garden altogether.
We stop for tea at Soji-an Tea House in the gardens. The exquisite balance between the artisan’s traditional craftsmanship of the house, and the appearance of the tea house in the garden, emphasizes not only the beauty of nature, but also the tasteful elegance the tea ceremony room. While drinking a cup of green tea and viewing the garden, you may just forget the flow of time completely.
We return to Osaka on the train and back to our hotel for some well-earned rest.
Overnight Hotel The Flag Shinsaibashi: (B / L)
This morning after breakfast we journey out to discover Osaka in all its’ glory.
We take a 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, for a refresh before having one last Farewell Drink together. The Bible Club is a fabulous speakeasy bar and a perfect choice for a final tipple.
Overnight Hotel The Flag Shinsaibashi: (B / L / Farewell Cocktail)
This morning our tour ends. We are transferred to the Osaka airport for our flights home.