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This 11-day classic tour will take you into the country��s picturesque mountain area, where tradition is maintained in streets, houses, gardens, and crafts �� the region produces skilled woodwork and gold-leaf items.
Surrounded by mountains, Takayama is home to Edo-period (1603-1868) streets lined with tiny shops, merchant��s houses, taverns, museums and eating places, many of which have been preserved unspoiled, in nearly the same state as 200 or 300 years ago.
The small village of Shirakawa-go is known for its gashho-zukuri thatched houses, shaped like praying hands. Exploring slowly on foot, visitors will have enough time to soak in the traditional rural lifestyles.
Also visit Kanazawa, Kyoto and Tokyo, three cities with strong cultural identities and vibrant views.
- Enjoy a cup of steaming matcha in a tea house, on a small island in the lake at Hamarikyu Garden.
- Visit the lively Tsukiji outer market to gain insights on the Japanese enthusiasm for food and learn to prepare different kinds of sushi at a local home.
- Meander around the beautifully preserved old town of Takayama and have a classic drop of the renowned Japanese sake.
- Explore Shirakawa-go with its renowned ��praying hands�� houses and learn about architectural details.
- Enjoy the breathtaking views in Kenroku-en garden, one of the top three gardens in Japan.
- Walk around Higashi District, the grandest pleasure district outside Kyoto and Tokyo, and see a variety of gold-leaf products, a specialty of Kanazawa.
- Experience hands-on in Kyoto a few crafts such as pot-making and Yuzen-dying, before finishing your day trip in Gion, the famous geisha district.
- Take a walk through Arashiyama��s famous bamboo groves and visit a great Zen temple, Tenryuji temple, one of Kyoto's UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- Knead and dry tea leaves in Uji, a traditional town famous for its quality green tea. While strolling through the picturesque town, sample tea and sweets from local shops.
- Tours and transfers (subway, bus, coach, shared car) as specified, including entry fees
- English-speaking local guide for all listed sightseeing
- 7-day Japan Rail Pass
- Hand-picked local 3-star hotels to match your preferences
- One-to-one consultancy with our travel expert
- A 24/7 helpline while you are traveling
- Government tax and services charge
Itinerary in detail
We arrange plenty of hands-on experiences to help you understand local culture.
These include learning to wrap up and roll sushi at a local home; visiting a region that specializes in pottery and making a pot by yourself; visiting a Yuzen Gallery and trying out Yuzen dying, for dying kimonos; and learning how to knead and dry tea leaves and how to brew tea with boiling water.
Also, you will have plenty of opportunities to help you feel more connected with Japan.
These will include enjoying a cup of steaming matcha on a small island in a lake; visiting local markets with a colorful range of food stalls, selling fresh and prepared food; having a cup of sake at a sake brewery and learning how to judge sake on five distinct qualities; and walking around the old district with well-preserved Edo-period merchant��s houses, specialty shops and tea houses.
Day 1 Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Tokyo, one of the world��s most exciting and energizing cities, where Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, reminders of a more contemplative time, stand next to skyscrapers.
You will be met on arrival at Narita International Airport and share a transfer to your accommodation. The rest of the day is free for you to spend at your leisure.
A late-afternoon stroll as the neon starts to light up will take in both sides of this fascinating, bustling area. Shinjuku has several huge department stores, music stores, and electronics stores, along with hundreds of bars and restaurants catering to every taste.
Day 2 Tokyo Full Day Highlights | Meiji Shrine, Omotesando and Asakusa
Enjoy a day-tour of this fascinating city, with a local guide.
The day begins with a visit to Meiji Shrine, the most important Shinto shrine in Tokyo, dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji. During the New Year holidays, it is the most heavily visited place in Japan, with crowds of people worshiping here and buying good-luck charms for the year ahead.
Walk along Omotesando shopping street, a wide tree-shaded sidewalk, home to dozens of boutiques showcasing top fashion brands.
Head across town to Asakusa and visit Tokyo��s most sacred temple, Sensoji Temple. Watch worshipers burning incense and paying respects by throwing coins, lighting candles, and worshipping.
Wander down Nakamise, a shopping alley providing a variety of traditional wares, including obi sashes, fans and hair combs. All make good souvenirs.
End your day by enjoying a cup of steaming matcha and Japanese sweets in a tea house, on a small island in the lake at Hamarikyu garden.
Receive Your JR Pass
Turn in your Exchange Order (with your passport) to receive your Japan Rail Pass at a Japan Rail Pass exchange office in a major JR station. Your guide will help you validate your rail pass and make any necessary seat reservations.
Day 3 Tokyo Tsukiji Outer Market Visit and Sushi-Making Lesson at a Local Home
The tour starts in the early morning.
Take your time as you explore the lively outer market, where you will see many unusual varieties of freshly caught fish, and some of the freshest sushi and seafood. Shops and stalls lining the streets and alleys sell everything from raw fish slices to fresh wasabi plants.
You will then visit a typical Japanese home. Your guide will answer all your questions about Japanese culture and everyday life in Tokyo during the transfer by public transport.
In someone��s home, learn to prepare maki sushi (rolled sushi), gunkan maki (sushi rice wrapped with a strip of seaweed and topped with soft ingredients), and nigiri sushi (sushi rice topped with a slice of raw fish).
Enjoy your homemade sushi for lunch. The tour ends in central Tokyo.
Recommended Free Time Activities
The tour ends at the closest station to your Japanese host��s home. Save the rest of the day for casual exploring, since Tokyo��s dazzling streets and prosperous commercial centers are attractions in themselves.
If you are looking for an unrivaled shopping experience, go to Ginza and Nihonbashi, which offer a mix of huge department stores and affluent side-street boutiques; or Akihabara, for discount electronics and software.
To get a glimpse of the Imperial Palace, go to the Kokyo Gaien, the large plaza in front of the palace, where you can see the Nijubashi, a double-arched stone bridge, the most famous landmark there.
Day 4 Tokyo to Takayama
This morning, make your way to Shinjuku station. Use your JR pass together with your reserved seat ticket to board the shinkansen (fast train) to Takayama. Bring a light bag for the next three days in Takayama and Kanazawa, as your other luggage will be delivered to Tokyo directly via Japan��s luggage porter system.
A five-hour journey is enhanced by the softly changing landscape of Japan��s countryside. On arrival at Takayama station, make your own way to your hotel. The rest of the day is free for you to spend at your leisure.
Stay in the Heart of Takayama
Just a 5-minute walk from Takayama Station, Hida Hotel Plaza features a rooftop spa with mountain views, a heated swimming pool and various dining options
Treat yourself to a hot-spring bath and a selection of well-prepared dishes.
Day 5 Takayama and Shirakawa-go Full Day Highlights, Ending in Kanazawa
Today you will take a guided tour with a local guide to the beautifully preserved old town of Takayama and the UNESCO site, Shirakawa-go village.
Start the day with a visit to the local Miyagawa Market along Miyagawa River in the old town. Most stands sell local crafts, or farm products such as vegetables, pickles and flowers.
Take a walk in the San-machi Suji district, the traditional home of Takayama merchants and sake brewers, which has been preserved in nearly the same state as 200 or 300 years ago. It is home to inns, shops and taverns, which trace their history back many generations.
Visit the Takayama Jinya. In 1692, because of its valuable timber resources, the Hida Region around Takayama was put under direct control of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Takayama Jinya served as the local government office, headed by officials dispatched from Edo.
The present building complex includes rooms for administrative purposes, offices, kitchens, toilets, bathrooms, residential space, a court room and storehouses. It was in official use until 1969, and is now open to the public as a museum.
End the morning by stopping at a sake brewery, where you can enjoy sampling Japan��s national brew. Takayama��s sake is renowned nation-wide, thanks to the clear water in the surroundings.
By afternoon, reach the Shirakawa-go region. Your guide will show you around the village, famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.
Gassho-zukuri translates as ��praying hands��, as the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer, and are designed to withstand the heavy snows which fall in the region.
After the visit, you will separate from your guide and continue on your own to Kanazawa (transport is included, but you will be unaccompanied). On arrival at Kanazawa, make your own way from Kanazawa station bus stop to your hotel.
Stay in the Heart of Kanazawa
Located near the tourist area, Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel provides easy access to most attractions, which are within walking distance. Nagamachi Samurai District is just a 2-minute walk from the hotel, while Kenroku-en Garden is less than a 10-minute walk. JR Kanazawa Station is 10-minutes away by bus and 6-minutes away by taxi.
Day 6 Kanazawa Full Day Highlights | Kenroku-en garden, Nagamachi Samurai district, Higashi Chaya District
Today you will take a tour with a local guide to explore Kanazawa.
The highlight of any visit to Kanazawa is Kenroku-en garden. Ranked one of the top three gardens in Japan, its breathtaking beauty shines through in any season.
You will also visit the imposing Kanazawa castle, next to the garden. Nearby Kagayuzen Kaikan offers demonstrations of the centuries-old Yuzen silk painting technique.
Head on to visit the Nagamachi Samurai district, where you can enter Nomura Samurai House, a traditional Japanese home with a tea-ceremony room, an interior courtyard garden and artifacts from the Edo period (1603-1868).
The Higashi Chaya District is the largest and by far the most interesting of Kanazawa��s Geisha Districts. Many of the buildings along the central street now house cafes and shops.
One of the shops, Hakuza, sells gold-leaf products, a specialty of Kanazawa, and displays a kura warehouse-style room which is completely covered in gold leaf; you will also have an opportunity to visit the Shima teahouse, a functional tea house, which opens its doors to the public. To finish the day, you can enjoy a cup of green tea there.
Day 7 Kanazawa to Kyoto
This morning, make your way to Kanazawa station, and use your JR pass together with your reserved seat ticket to board the shinkansen to Kyoto.
On arrival at Kyoto station, make your own way to your hotel. The rest of the day is free for you to spend at leisure.
Hotels in Kyoto
We have selected hotels with different styles and for different budgets. Let us know your preferences and we will help you find the right one.
For experiencing traditional Kyoto, we recommend boutique hotels, located in the heart of the Gion district, with amenities providing the best of Kyoto atmosphere and allowing guests to visit conveniently the city��s best-known geisha quarter.
For those wishing to travel the city by public transport or to be just a short walk away from some famous sites, we recommend hotels near subway stations or near the Kawaramachi area.
For easy access to all city attractions as well as to Nara, Osaka and beyond, we recommend business hotels conveniently located right in front of Kyoto Station, a major hub in Kyoto where the bullet trains stop.
Day 8Kyoto Full Day Traditional Crafts | Make a Pot, Yuzen Gallery, Gion
On this fascinating one-day tour in Kyoto, you will experience hands-on a few of the crafts that make the city famous.
First, journey to the eastern part of Kyoto, which is a famous pottery district. Here you will have an opportunity to make a pot by yourself. The pottery laboratory will then bake it and send it directly to your home in your country!
Next, visit a Yuzen gallery. Yuzen is the method for dying kimonos. At the gallery, you will be able to try your hand at Yuzen dying as well, and keep your work of art as a souvenir.
After a traditional lunch, you will visit Nijo Castle, a 17th century ornamental castle built for a shogun, and currently a UNESCO World Heritage site.
To conclude the day, you will walk through Nishiki Food Market, which will mesmerize you with many stands for traditional ingredients of Japanese food.
Finally, visit Gion, the famous geisha district, where if lucky you will be able to see geisha as they hurry to their first appointment of the evening.
Day 9 Arashiyama Half-Day Highlights | Okochi Mountain Villa, Bamboo Groves, Tenryuji Temple
Arashiyama is a pleasant district in the western outskirts of Kyoto. The area has been a popular destination since the Heian Period (794-1185), when nobles would enjoy its natural setting.
Okochi Mountain Villa is the former villa of the popular samurai film star Okochi Denjiro (1896-1962), and consists of several beautiful gardens and buildings, including living quarters, tea houses and a Zen meditation hall. Here you will enjoy some matcha green tea with a snack.
Next, take a walk through Arashiyama��s famous bamboo groves, which are particularly attractive when there is a light wind and the tall bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth. The bamboo has been used for centuries in local workshops to manufacture various products, such as baskets, cups, boxes and mats.
Nonomiya shrine is a Shinto shrine where in ancient times, unmarried imperial princesses stayed for a year or more to purify themselves.
Ranked among Kyoto's five great Zen temples, Tenryuji is the largest and most impressive temple in Arashiyama. Founded in 1339 at the beginning of the Muromachi period (1338-1573), the temple is one of Kyoto's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition to its temple buildings, it has attractive gardens with walking paths.
In a traditional building inside the temple grounds overlooking the beautifully landscaped garden, enjoy a beautiful vegetarian shojin-ryori (traditional Buddhist cuisine) lunch built around yuba, tofu and seasonal vegetables.
Recommended Free Time Activities
The tour ends in the Arashiyama area. You may spend the rest of the day exploring Arashiyama by yourself.
Take a ride on the Sagano Scenic Railway. This is a sightseeing railway line that runs along the Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka. Its charming, old fashioned trains wind their way through the mountains at a relatively slow pace, taking about 25 minutes to make the seven-kilometer journey and giving passengers a pleasant view of the scenery.
Day 10 Uji Half-Day Tea Experience
Enjoy a half-day tour to Uji, a traditional town near Kyoto famous for its superior quality green tea. While Kozanji Temple in Kyoto is believed to be the original site of tea cultivation in Japan, in the 1100s Uji's tea became better known for its superior quality.
After a 20-minute train ride taking you directly from Kyoto into Uji, you will first have your tea-making experience.
In a group of no more than 5 people, your guide will translate so you can learn from local Uji residents about the kneading and drying of tea leaves in this 1.5-hour experience.
Afterwards, stroll through the picturesque town sampling tea from local store sellers. You need not feel under any pressure to purchase, but if you like green tea, this would be a great place for you to purchase some while you are in Japan.
Recommended Free Time Activities
The tour ends at Kyoto Station.
You may walk around the station the rest of the day, as the station itself offers a vast array of shopping and dining options. Isetan Department Store occupies 10 stories on the west side, selling clothing, local souvenirs, stationery and fresh food. The Cube Shopping More, in the basement of the station building, offers a variety of local souvenirs, cosmetics, fashion accessories and restaurants.
If you would like to visit the Fushimi Inarai Shrine, the most famous of the many thousands of shrines, ask your guide to help you buy a ticket. Boarding the train, continue on your own to Fushimi. You will arrive within 10 minutes.
If you feel like walking the Philosopher��s Path, a pleasant stone path through the northern part of Kyoto's Higashiyama district, ask your guide to take you to the right bus stop, where you can board a public sightseeing bus. After a 40-minute ride, you will arrive at Ginkakuji, the starting point of the path.
Day 11 Departure from Kyoto
The tale of Japan��s classic charm comes to an end.
Be ready at your hotel for a shared transfer to Kansai International Airport for your international departure. Have a good trip.
Asia Highlights handpicked hotels
We have selected hotels with different styles and for different budgets. Let us know your preferences and we will help you find the right one.
We recommend business hotels conveniently located near a major subway station, or a short walk away to some famous sites, in the larger cities.
A newly-built, next-generation hotel focused on providing convenience, efficiency, and comfort opened on the side of the old Shinjuku Koma Theater, the heart of the area around Shinjuku Station��s East Exit.
Hida Hotel Plaza is a convenient property for stays in Takayama with close access to the train station. In addition to offering both Western and Japanese style rooms, this hotel also has a public bath filled with natural hot springs water that comes from the hotel's own source.
The Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel is stylishly designed and has a prime location near the major sightseeing spots of the city such as Kenrokuen gardens, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Nomura Samurai House.
Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Sanjo is great option for those looking to travel the city by public transportation due to its close proximity to the nearby subway station. Besides your in-room bath, this hotel also features a Japanese-style indoor public bath so you can go for a soak after a long day of traveling.
- SeasonJapan can be visited year-round, though there are benefits and drawbacks of every season. There are also some events such as the blooming of the cherry blossoms that can be only experienced during certain times of year.
Spring is one of the most popular times to visit Japan because of the beautiful, comfortable weather and the arrival of the cherry blossoms. The blooming of cherry blossoms or sakura has been a major part of Japanese culture for over 1,000 years and can only be experienced in the spring.
Because of the opportunity to witness sakura and the beautiful weather throughout the country, spring is high season in Japan, the time of year with most crowds and highest cost. If traveling to Japan in spring, it will be important to book flights and hotels well in advance.
Summer is the festival season in Japan, offering visitors an opportunity to experience multiple holidays and firework-shows in another country. Crowds are smaller in Japan in the summer, which means that standard prices for accommodation and flights are often lower.
Although not as busy as spring, fall is the second most popular time to travel to Japan. In the fall, the weather cools down and the lower humidity allows for more comfortable traveling outdoors.
Many people choose to visit Japan in the fall due to the changing colors of the leaves, turning brilliant orange and red, in the countryside near Kyoto and Tokyo.
During winter, especially at the north of the Japanese islands, there are icy winds from Siberia often accompanied by heavy snows. This makes for great opportunities to participate in winter sports, such as skiing, in some of the many famous resorts and mountains.
- Accommodation Japan offers a wide range of accommodation in both Japanese and western styles. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that offer a glimpse into a more traditional way of life. A ryokan room usually has tatami (traditionally rice-straw, today sometimes polystyrene foam or compressed wood chip) mat flooring, a futon (mattress), tables and chairs. Guests sleep on a futon laid out on the tatami.
While ryokans are the perfect places to stay in Hakone and other scenic and rural areas of Japan, when staying in the larger cities such as Tokyo or Kyoto, it's often best to choose hotels according to comfort, combined with location and convenience.
Business hotels, catering to budget-conscious business travelers, are generally located in city centers near train stations. They are very convenient, especially for tourists with a half-independent, half-guided itinerary. Most hotels provide two room categories �� standard twin and standard double. Rooms are western-style, small (usually 16-22 square meters) and clean.
Let us know your style preferences, and our travel consultant will find the most suitable hotel room for you.
- MealsMeals are not included. During a full day tour, your guide will take you to a budget or mid-range restaurant for a quick lunch. These restaurants are often near the train stations, or in malls. You will need to pay on the spot in cash when finished with your meal.
Japan��s cuisine is based on combining staple foods, typically rice or noodles, with a soup and okazu �� dishes made from fish, meat or vegetables, to add flavor to the staple food. These are typically flavored with dashi, miso and soy sauce. The most famous Japanese food is sushi. This is cooked vinegared rice (shari) combined with other ingredients (neta).
Other prominent foods are: sashimi, fresh raw meat, most commonly fish, sliced into thin pieces; tempura, seafood or vegetables covered in batter and deep fried; and sukiyaki, a popular dish of thinly sliced beef, served with vegetables, tofu and vermicelli, and usually cooked on a sizzling iron skillet at the table.
If you have special dietary requirements, simply tell your travel agent at the time of booking. Come with an open mind and open mouth, and you won��t be disappointed.
- Traveling Around by TrainPublic transport services in Japan are admirable. Most major cities are connected by shinkansen bullet trains, which speed along at an incredible 300 km/hour. Many famous sightseeing areas lie on or near the bullet train lines between Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka, making it convenient to visit places such as Kyoto, Himeji Castle and Hiroshima.
Flying is probably best when travelling from the country��s main hubs to some of the more far-flung destinations, such as Okinawa and Hokkaido. Ferries are surprisingly uncommon, as all the major islands are linked by bridges and tunnels.
The Japan Rail Pass offers overseas visitors unlimited travel on a vast network of trains. You can choose a 7-day, 14-day or 21-day pass, first or standard class. It must be purchased before a trip.
- Traveling Within Cities by Public Transportation Local transport systems in major cities are efficient, safe and clean. For example, Tokyo has an extensive metro and over ground rail system, and it is best to use a pre-loaded transport card, such as Suica, to get around. Hold your card against the barriers at the station entrance to access the platform.
Kyoto��s bus system is quite convenient for getting around the city and is the best way to reach many of the main attractions. The ICOCA electronic card or a 1-day pass are valid on most forms of city transport.
Taxis can be useful over short distances but they are very expensive during peak travel hours. Not only is public transport typically very convenient in Japan, it is also much cheaper than the average $1,000 a day needed to rent a private car with driver.
Private cars can be arranged, only at a higher price. We recommend using private car services for travelers in family groups, or groups of about 5 people, seeking a more intimate experience.
- Pack LightWe recommend packing light and smart for your trip, as you will be required to carry your own luggage between train stations and hotels. This will involve climbing stairs and slopes. Light luggage is also better for bullet trains, which often provide little space for luggage larger than a carry-on suitcase.
For travelers with heavy baggage, it can be difficult to find a particular train or exit during rush hour. But again, Japan��s travel infrastructure is among the most advanced in the world, and railway staff and local people generally try to be helpful to foreigners.
- Book EarlyWe always advise booking as early as possible when making travel arrangements in Japan, especially when travelling during the peak periods of March-May or October-November.
Closure of tourist sites can occur at short notice on public holidays. Please be advised that many long-distance trains, ferries, and airlines will be fully booked, as well as hotels and guest houses, during the following peak periods: New Year holiday season (December 29 to January 3, plus adjacent weekends); ��Golden Week�� holiday season (April 29 to May 5, and adjacent weekends); ��Bon�� Festival season (one week around August 15).
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