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This 9-day classic itinerary has been designed to cover most highlights of Japan’s 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.
- 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.
- Tours and transfers as specified, including entry fees
- English-speaking local guide for all listed sightseeing
- 3-day Hakone pass from Shinjuku
- Romance car tickets from Tokyo to Hakone Yumoto
- Train tickets from Odawara (Hakone) to Kyoto
- 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Or you could stay at the hotel, enjoying the hot spring bath.
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.
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.
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.
Nijo Castle is an ornamental castle built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate (1603–1868) 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.
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.
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.
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.
Take a wander through Nara Park, called Deer Park by locals, due to the 1,200-plus tame deer living there.
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.
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.
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 such as Tokyo or Kyoto. While, in scenic and rural areas of Japan, such as Hakone, we recommend ryokans, traditional Japanese inns that offer a glimpse into a more traditional way of life.
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.
The at-home comfort of a mountain lodge meets contemporary sophistication at Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort and Spa. Set in the Fuji-Hakone National Park, this is a property perfect for guests who want to experience the hot springs of this luscious mountain area within the comfort of a Western-style deluxe hotel.
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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