11-Day Classic Japan Tour

11-Day Classic Japan Tour

By Nora OuUpdated Sep. 24, 2021
Explore a Cluster of Scenic Cities and Quaint Towns in a Remote Mountain Region

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.AH-33

Highlights

  • 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.

Journey Route

Japan tour map
Bob Bosshard March 11, 2020

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.

Nighttime scene in the district of Shinjuku Nighttime scene in the district of Shinjuku

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.

Misogi Misogi, a special kind of purification rite involving water

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.

Hozo-mon Gate in Senso-ji Temple Hozo-mon Gate in Senso-ji Temple

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.

A stall selling vegetables A stall selling vegetables

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).

Learn to prepare rolled sushi Learn to prepare rolled sushi

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.

the old houses Some of the old houses of the Sannomachi Quarter overlook the fast-flowing Miya River

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.

Takayama Jinya Takayama Jinya

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.

Shirakawa-go in Winter Shirakawa-go in Winter

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.

Gassho-zukuri Houses Gassho-zukuri Houses' steep thatched roofs is able to withstand heavy snow

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.

Kenroku-en Garden Kenroku-en Garden

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.

Kanazawa Castle Kanazawa Castle

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.

The Higashi Chaya District The Higashi Chaya District

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.

Higashiyama district Higashiyama district, remains one of the city's most charming and unspoiled districts

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 8
Kyoto 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.

Yuzen dying Yuzen dying

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.

Street view of Gion Street view of Gion
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.

Arashiyama's famous bamboo groves Arashiyama's famous bamboo groves

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.

The beautifully landscaped garden in Tenryuji The beautifully landscaped garden in Tenryuji

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.

Sagano Scenic Railway Sagano Scenic Railway
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.

Tea farms in Uji Tea farms in Uji

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.

Our Service Includes:

11 days from US$ 4,926 per person per night (based on 2 persons and 4-star hotels)
  • Private transfers and English-speaking tour guide
  • All guided sightseeing as detailed in the itinerary
  • Hotel accommodation mentioned in the itinerary
  • Breakfasts at hotels and lunches for every guided day
  • Governmental taxes

Hand-Picked 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.

standard room at Hotel Gracery Shinjuku
Tokyo
Hotel Gracery Shinjuku
Superior twin room in Hida Hotel Plaza
Takayama
Hida Hotel Plaza Takayama
Superior twin room in Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel
Kanazawa
Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel
standard room at Mitsui Garden Kyoto Sanjo
Kyoto
Mitsui Garden Kyoto Sanjo

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