9-Day Japan Highlights Tour: A Stimulating Fusion of East and West

9-Day Japan Highlights Tour: A Stimulating Fusion of East and West

By Nora OuUpdated Sep. 26, 2021

This 9-day classic itinerary has been designed to cover most highlights of Japans unique culture. We explore the country's most illustrious cities, Tokyo and Kyoto, and make day-trips to the nearby hilly hot-spring town Hakone and the tranquil Nara. Meanwhile, we arrange plenty of family-bonding activities to help create memorable experiences along the way.

This is an ideal tour for first-time visitors and families. Sign up for your favorite part of the tour or simply treat the whole tour as inspiration, designing each element specially for you.

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Highlights

  • Enjoy Japanese sweets with a cup of matcha tea on a small island in an Edo period Japanese garden.
  • Immerse yourself in Japan's rich art, through lessons in laido and shodo.
  • Enjoy Hakone's beautiful scenery from various perspectives, including a ropeway over Owaku-dani and a ship across Lake Ashinoko.
  • Experience total peace at a traditional Japanese ryokan and onsen in scenic Hakone.
  • Understand Japan more deeply by visiting Kyoto's World Heritage Sites and spending time in the backstreets of Nishiki Market.
  • Visit Todaiji temple, the world's largest wooden building and home to Japan's largest Buddha.
  • Wander through Nara Park and feed some of the 1,200-plus tame deer.
  • Visit Fushimi Inari, the most famous of many thousands of shrines, and quench your thirst at a sake brewery.

Journey Route

japan travel guide
Bob Bosshard March 11, 2020

Itinerary in Detail

We arrange plenty of cultural activities to help create memorable experiences along the way; such as lessons in Iaido, a form of Japanese swordsmanship, and shodo, Japanese calligraphy. We also take time to observe deer, regarded by Japanese people as messengers of the gods, and sample Japanese sake in a local brewery.

Day 1
Arrival in Tokyo

Welcome to Tokyo! It is a city of contrasts, one of the world's cutting-edge capitals. On the surface, Tokyo is a mix of digital trends and conspicuous consumption, but dig deeper and you will find a city rooted deeply in traditional culture.

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 your own 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, dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji, and a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings. Walk along Omotesando shopping street, a broad tree-lined avenue, home to flagship stores of the world's top fashion brands.

Meiji Shrine
Meiji Shrine, the most important shinto shrine in Tokyo

Head across town to Asakusa, Tokyo's old town, where you can soak in the atmosphere of the Tokyo of old. Visit Sensoji, Tokyo's oldest temple and wander down Nakamise, a shopping street that for centuries has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional snacks and tourist souvenirs.

Sensoji Temple
Sensoji Temple, Tokyo's most sacred and spectacular temple

End your day in Hamarikyu garden, an Edo period Japanese garden surrounded by the Shiodome district's futuristic skyscrapers. This is a great advert for the land of contrasts. You will stop for Japanese sweets and a cup of steaming matcha in a tea house on a small island in the park's lake.

Hamarikyu Gardens
Hamarikyu Gardens, an uncrowded place to stroll and sit

Your guide will assist you with Hakone pass and train tickets.

Day 3
Tokyo Full Day Culture | Iaido, Japanese Calligraphy and Samurai Museum

Today you will start with a lesson in Iaido, a form of Japanese swordsmanship. Iaido's emphasis is on precise, controlled, fluid motion, and is sometimes referred to as 'moving Zen'. You will have a chance to practice cutting techniques on bamboo or straw blocks, using real Iaido swords.

Iaido
Iaido, a form of Japanese swordsmanship

Time to put down the sword and take up the pen. We have a lesson in shodo, Japanese calligraphy. You will learn how, when writing kanji (Japanese pictographs), each stroke has a particular way to begin and end, and there is a correct order and path to follow. The slightest lapse in concentration will show up in one's work.

Japanese calligraphy
Shodo, Japanese calligraphy

The last stop is Shinjuku's Samurai Museum. The museum, in a traditional Japanese building contrasting sharply with the neon jungle of Shinjuku, hosts an incredible collection of armor, swords, and objects that belonged to samurai warriors throughout the ages.

Day 4
Tokyo to Hakone

Today, make your way to Shinjuku station and use your Hakone pass together with your Romance car ticket to make the 90-minute journey direct to Hakone Yumoto station.

On arrival, use your Hakone pass to board the local train to Gora station, where you may board a shuttle bus to your accommodation. The rest of the day is free time for your own leisure.

We recommend visiting Gora Park, a western-style landscape park located on the steep slope above Gora Station. It is a relaxing place for unwinding and enjoying the scenery and views of Hakone.

Gora Park
Gora Park

The park is mainly in French style, featuring a large fountain and a rose garden. It has two greenhouses, one housing a tropical botanical garden while the other contains a flower garden.

Traditional Accommodation in Hakone

Japanese ryokans are the perfect places to stay in Hakone, with their Japanese western-style rooms and atmosphere of total peace and harmony.

The accommodation we have selected caters to a range of budgets and needs, including spacious rooms with marble bath, and balconies overlooking Hakone's natural beauty, to simple, affordable, and conveniently located traditional inns.

Day 5
Hakone Free Day

Use your pass today to explore Hakone.

The pass allows you to get on and off freely within a specified area, as well as providing discount admission to various attractions in the area. It covers 8 forms of transport including trains, buses, cable cars, cableway and boat, sufficient to get you around all the major sights of the region.

Hakone Cableway
Hakone Cableway

Or you could stay at the hotel, enjoying the hot spring bath.

Japanese open air bath
Japanese open air bath

Sample Itinerary

Ride the world's second longest cable car up Mt Owakudani, passing over sulfurous fumes, hot springs, and hot rivers in this volcanic area. You can eat an egg hard-boiled in the sulfuric hot springs which make Hakone famous. If you do, it will add seven years to your life!

A majestic replica pirate ship will sweep you across Lake Ashinoko, formed 3,000 years ago by volcanic eruption. The Hakone Tozan 'switchback train' zig zags through the mountains, providing amazing views of the surrounding valleys.

Sulfurous fumes over Mt Owakudani
Sulfurous fumes over Mt Owakudani
Day 6
Hakone to Kyoto

This morning, make your way to Odawara station using your Hakone pass and use your train ticket to board the shinkansen down to Kyoto.

On arrival at Kyoto station, make your own way to your hotel. The rest of the day is free for your 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 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.

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.

Day 7
Kyoto Full Day Highlights | Kinkakuji Temple, Nijo Castle, Nishiki Market

Today you explore the former imperial capital with a knowledgeable local guide, using Kyoto's comprehensive bus system to visit some of Kyoto's World Heritage Sites.

You will start your day with a visit to Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), which was originally built as a retirement villa for a shogun (military dictator). At his request, it became a Buddhist Temple after his death, and is now one of Kyoto's most famous temples.

Kinkakuji Temple
Kinkakuji Temple, a glimmering legacy of medival Japan

Nijo Castle is an ornamental castle built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate (1603-C1868) as his Kyoto residence. It is surrounded by stunning gardens. The main building was completed in 1603, and is famous for its architecture, decorated sliding doors and 'chirping' nightingale floors.

The gate to Ninomaru Palace at Nijo Castle
The gate to Ninomaru Palace at Nijo Castle

Take a walk down Nishiki Market, a narrow, five-block long shopping street lined by more than a hundred shops and restaurants.

Known as "Kyoto's Kitchen", this lively retail market specializes in all things related to food, like fresh seafood, knives and cookware. It is a great place for seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi.

Nishiki Market
Nishiki Market, known as "Kyoto's Kitchen"

To end the day, you can choose what to visit.

You may prefer Kiyomizu (Pure Water) Temple. From the 13m-high veranda jutting out from the Main Hall you can enjoy amazing views of the whole of Kyoto, while pondering the fact that both the main hall and veranda were built without the use of nails. It is a steep walk uphill, however, and the temple is currently under repair, although it is still enjoyable and a Kyoto landmark.

Maple trees forming a sea of red along the hillside of the kiyomizu temple
Maple trees forming a sea of red along the hillside of the kiyomizu temple

Instead you may decide to visit Sanjusangendo Temple, Japan's longest (120 meters long) wooden structure. It is famous for its 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. In the center of the main hall sits a large, wooden statue of a 1,000-armed Kannon flanked on each side by 500 human-sized statues of 1,000-armed Kannon standing in ten rows. Together they constitute an awesome sight.

Day 8
Nara and Fushimi Full Day Excursion from Kyoto

Transfer to Nara from your hotel by train (45 minutes) with a local guide. For 74 years during the 8th century, Nara was Japan's capital and many of the temples and shrines built at that time still remain.

Visit Todaiji temple, the world's largest wooden building and home to Japan's largest Buddha. Next stop is Nara's most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha, established in 768 AD and famous for its hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns donated by worshipers.

The tree ensconced temple of Todaiji
The tree ensconced temple of Todaiji

Take a wander through Nara Park, called Deer Park by locals, due to the 1,200-plus tame deer living there.

Deers, messengers of the gods, in Nara Park
Deers, messengers of the gods, in Nara Park

Quench your thirst at a sake brewery. In this building constructed in traditional style, you will sample different types of sake and see which you like the most!

On the way back from Nara, visit Fushimi Inari Shrine, which was used in the movie 'Memoirs of a Geisha'. It is home to over 10,000 red tori gates, which form a path up the mountain behind the temple.

Girls wearing kimonos in Fushimi Inari
Girls wearing kimonos in Fushimi Inari
Day 9
Departure from Kyoto

Meet at your hotel for a shared transfer to Kansai International Airport.

Have a safe flight home. We trust there were some moments during your trip to Japan you will remember fondly forever.

Our Service Includes:

9 days from
US$ 3,669
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 Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel
Kanazawa
Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel
standard room at Mitsui Garden Kyoto Sanjo
Kyoto
Mitsui Garden Kyoto Sanjo

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