11-Day Traditional Japan Tour

11-Day Traditional Japan Tour

By Nora OuUpdated May. 14, 2021
Historical Monuments and Lively Modern Cities

This 11-day tour of traditional Japan is ideal for first-time visitors who truly want to understand Japan, a uniquely adaptable place where tradition and modernity seem to merge. It is also a land of contradictions.

Visitors should spend time in the backstreets and environs of Japan's old imperial capital, Kyoto, where historical monuments are well preserved. Japan's current capital, Tokyo, is one of the world's most exciting and energizing cities, with the liveliest neon-sign districts.

The merchant city Osaka is known for its extravagant nightlife and culinary preferences. Miyajima Island is a sacred landmark, iconized by Itsukushima Shrine's vermilion Otorii, rising from the sea during low tide.AH-32

Highlights

  • Visit the magnificent Osaka Castle and the bustling district of Dotonbori, with opportunities to sample Osaka's favorite local dishes.
  • Take a short ferry ride to Miyajima Island to see the famous floating torii, acclaimed by the Japanese as one of the country's three most scenic views.
  • See 2 of Kyoto's UNESCO World Heritage sites, Kinkakuji Temple and Nijo Castle, before finishing the day at 'Kyoto's Kitchen', the lively Nishiki Market.
  • Walk the Philosopher's Path, a pleasant stone path beginning around Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion) and ending in the neighborhood of Nanzenji.
  • Explore the back streets of Kyoto's geisha districts with a leading foreign geisha culture expert and savor some matcha green tea at a private teahouse in the company of a maiko or geiko.
  • Participate in an authentic tea ceremony and take a walk through Omotesando, commonly referred to as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees.
  • Sample freshly-prepared finger food at Tsukiji Outer Market and attend a sushi-making class at a local home.

Journey Route

Bob Bosshard March 11, 2020

Itinerary in Detail

We arrange plenty of opportunities to seek out Kyoto's treasure, as the old capital reveals most of Japan's traditional culture. Investigate the back streets of Kyoto's geisha districts, visit teahouses, explore Zen Buddhist temples and stone-paved roads, and wander through local markets and shopping arcades providing insights into local life.

End your trip to Japan by experiencing Japanese enthusiasm for food and cooking: Visiting Tsukiji Fish Market, and learning how to prepare sushi at a local home in Tokyo.

Sign up for your preferred parts of the tour or simply treat the whole tour as inspiration, designing each element to suit your taste.

Day 1
Arrival in Osaka

Welcome to Osaka, Japan's third largest city after Tokyo and Yokohama! These are the top three culinary centers in Japan, with local cuisine known for its practicality rather than finesse. In lively Osaka, indulge in some of the city's best food and nightlife.

You will be met on arrival at Kansai International Airport and transferred privately to your accommodation.

The brightly lit canal district in Osaka The brightly lit canal district in Osaka

Spend the night exploring the lively downtown area of Namba, the core of the old merchant city, where you will find Osaka's best eating and drinking options. Namba's many pedestrian shopping zones are filled with a great variety of leisure spots, shops and restaurants.

Takotaki Takotaki, octopus balls, is one of the most beloved Osaka foods

Information and signs in English make Osaka a relatively easy place to explore for visitors.

Day 2
Osaka Full Day Highlights | Osaka Castle, Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum, Umeda Sky Building

Your guide will meet you at your hotel to take you on a tour of Osaka.

Start your day by visiting one of Japan's most famous castles, the magnificent Osaka Castle. During the sixteenth century it played a major role in the unification of Japan.

The imposing keep of Osaka Castle The imposing keep of Osaka Castle

The castle has been completely rebuilt, in a way that is faithful to its original appearance, after its destruction during World War II. Its inside is modern and functional, and now serves as a museum for the history of Osaka.

Next stop is the bustling district of Dotonbori, a former theater district turned restaurant mecca. You can sample the famous takoyaki, octopus dumpling, Osaka's most famous street food.

The Glico running main glowing over the Dotonbori The Glico running main glowing over the Dotonbori

A few minutes' walk away you'll find the Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum, where you can admire famed Japanese prints from the 18th century. You'll have a chance to make your own woodblock print, too! (NB The Museum is closed on Mondays.)

The Umeda Sky Building is a spectacular high-rise building in the Kita district of Osaka, near Osaka and Umeda Stations. The 173-meter-tall building consists of two main towers connected by the "Floating Garden Observatory" on the 39th floor, and offers a great view of the city.

Receive Your JR Pass

Turn in your Exchange Order (with your passport) to a JAPAN RAIL PASS exchange-office in Shin Osaka station, a major JR station. Then you will obtain your JAPAN RAIL PASS.

Your guide will assist you in validating your rail pass and making any necessary seat reservations.

Day 3
Hiroshima Full Day Excursion from Osaka | Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Miyajima Island

Make your way today to Shin Osaka station and use your JR pass together with your reserved-seat ticket to make the 90-minute journey direct to Hiroshima station. The journey is unaccompanied.

On arrival you will be met by a local guide, and visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

The A-Bomb Dome The A-Bomb Dome, all that remains of the old bombed city

On August 6th, 1945, the area where the park is now situated was 'ground zero' for the Atomic Bomb. After the bombing a Memorial Park was created and dedicated to those who lost their lives in the attack. Stroll through the park and discover the many memorials, monuments and statues there, before heading into the Museum itself.

A short ferry ride will take you from Hiroshima to Miyajima Island.

Miyajima is a small sacred island in the Inland Sea. It has been a holy place of Shintoism from early times. Here you will find perhaps the most photographed site in Japan - the floating torii gate, designated as one of Japan's '3 Most Beautiful Views'.

The famous floating torii The famous floating torii

The harmoniously arranged buildings reveal great artistic and technical skill, and have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mere 'commoners' were not allowed to set foot on this holy place, and even now it is forbidden to give birth or die on the island!

You will have time to explore the island and its many shrines and temples, and to sample local goodies like maple-leaf-shaped cakes, before heading back to Osaka.

The day-tour ends at Hiroshima Station. Use your JR pass again, together with your reserved-seat ticket, to make the journey back to Osaka. On arrival, make your own way back to your hotel. Have a good night!

Day 4
Osaka to Kyoto

This morning, make your way to Shin Osaka station, and use your JR pass together with your reserved-seat ticket to board the shinkansen (fast train) to Kyoto.

On arrival at Kyoto station, make your own way to your hotel. The rest of the day is free to spend at your own 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 5
Kyoto Half-Day Highlights | Kinkakuji Temple, Nijo Castle, Nishiki Market

On this half-day tour, visit 2 of Kyoto's 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and a local market.

Start with a visit to Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavilion), which was originally built as a retirement villa for the shogun at the time. (Shoguns were military dictators of Japan from 1185 to 1868.) At his request, after he died it became a Buddhist Temple, and is now one of Kyoto's most famous temples.

Kinkakuji Temple Kinkakuji Temple, a glimmering legacy of medival Japan

Next is Nijo Castle, an ornamental castle built by the founder of the Edo shogunate (1603-1868) as his Kyoto residence, 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

Finish the day with a visit to Nishiki Market, a lively retail market specializing in culinary delights. Known as 'Kyoto's Kitchen', Nishiki is a narrow shopping street lined with more than 100 shops, selling fresh seafood and vegetables, pickles, Japanese sweets and sushi.

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

Most shops specialize in a particular type of food and almost all the ingredients and food are locally grown and produced. Some shops give out free samples or sell sample dishes, and a few small restaurants and food-stands even sell ready-made food.

Recommended Free Time Activities

The tour ends in the Nishiki area, the best place in Kyoto to shop for food. You will have plenty of time to soak up and sink into the market's busy atmosphere.

Or walk about 10 minutes to the intersection of Shijo and Kawaramachi, which is the heart of the downtown shopping district, caters to all visitors, and is among the best places to shop for original and unusual souvenirs.

Day 6
Kyoto Half-Day Philosopher's Path Walking Tour | Ginkakuji, Philosopher's Path, Nanzenji

The Philosopher's Path is a pleasant stone path through the northern part of Kyoto's Higashiyama district. The path inherits its name from Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan's most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University.

The path follows a canal lined by hundreds of cherry trees, making it well known as one of the best cherry-blossom-viewing spots in Kyoto. During the cherry blossom season, people from all over the Kansai region gather here to enjoy this natural pleasure.

Cherry blossoms along the canal Cherry blossoms along the canal

Approximately two kilometers long, the path begins around Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion) and ends in the neighborhood of Nanzenji. If you walk without stopping, you can cover the distance in about 50 minutes, though most people take more time in order to explore the Silver Pavilion, Nanzenji, and the many temples and coffee shops along the way.

Ginkaku-ji is set within a remarkable garden with ponds Ginkaku-ji is set within a remarkable garden with ponds
lcoal temple Nanzen-ji with its celebrated, Western-style Meiji-period aqueduct

The shops are fun to explore, because they sell all types of goods from kimonos to antiques and crafts, all of which make beautiful souvenirs. Also, there are many small temples and shrines along the walk, worth examining.

Recommended Free Time Activities

The tour finishes at Nanzenji temple, a quintessential Zen temple, which has been at the center of Japanese Zen history since 1386. You may spend the rest of the day experiencing quintessential Japanese Zen Buddhism by visiting Nanzenji's sub-temples, three of which are open to the public all year round.

These three temples are: Konchi-in, featuring pines and boulders arranged in a tortoise and crane motif; Tenju-an, exhibiting a dry garden and a small garden for strolling around; and Nanzen-in, occupying the original site of Emperor Kameyama's retirement villa.

A dry garden in Nanzen-ji A dry garden in Nanzen-ji

Specialty restaurants are clustered around Nanzenji; such as Yudofu, which is also the name of a healthy boiled tofu dish, served with flavorful dipping sauces and unique to Kyoto. When passing by, you might sample some of the delicacies.

Yudofu Yudofu, a boiled tofu dish
Day 7
Kyoto Afternoon Tea with a Geisha

You will have the whole morning to explore Kyoto by yourself. In the afternoon, you will be picked up from your hotel by a taxi and taken to the Geisha district. The tour starts at around 15:30.

Explore the back streets of Kyoto's geisha districts with a leading foreign geisha culture expert, Peter MacIntosh, who has spent half his life living in Kyoto. He married an ex-geisha, studies Japanese arts and is a lecturer on Geisha Studies at Kansai University.

On a private walk through the geisha districts Peter will discuss the history and current situation of the flower and willow world of Kyoto, before stopping at a private, members-only ochaya (geisha teahouse), where you will be served matcha green tea and Japanese sweets in the company of a maiko or geiko. No other customers will be present.

There will be traditional song, dance and games along with great photo opportunities.

The tour finishes in the teahouse area. You will have the night for your own leisure.

Geisha, Geiko, and Maiko

Geisha are professional female entertainers, often regarded as famous for their beauty, but also famous for their skills. They dedicate their lives to dressing in kimonos, applying make-up, ornamenting hairstyles, dancing, and singing.

Geiko, literally 'Women of Art', is another name for Geisha.

Maiko, apprentice geishas, literally 'Women of Dance', are a Kyoto-only phenomenon. The maiko's white face, shaped red lips, distinctive hair style, elaborate kimono dress and tall koppori clogs are distinctive features of the popular image of geisha. Only in Kyoto do young women training to be geikos dress up like this.

Maiko's ornamental hairpins and the nape of the neck Maiko's ornamental hairpins and the nape of the neck

Geishas start their training when really young. Apprentices go to live in the okiya, geisha house, where they are called minarai and learn by watching. During the final stage of their training, students are called maiko (dance girls). They will learn how to serve tea, play shamisen, and dance, along with a set of useful social skills.

When the maiko is 20-21 years old, she is promoted and becomes a geisha, and will exchange the embroidered collar for a white one. This transition is known as collar change.

Geishas master music and dance, and to do so they train every day. The dance is subtle and stylized, and accompanied by traditional Japanese music. The shamisen, the main instrument used for this kind of music, is a three-stringed instrument similar to the banjo.

Geishas Geishas, specialize in dance
Day 8
Kyoto to Tokyo

This morning, make your way to Kyoto station, using your JR pass together with your reserved seat ticket to board the shinkansen to Tokyo.

On arrival, make your own way to your hotel. 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.

Hotels in Tokyo

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 usually recommend business hotels conveniently located in Shinjuku, arguably one of the liveliest districts of Tokyo, offering convenient access to Shinjuku station, which is one of the city's train and subway hubs.

Day 9
Tokyo Full-Day Traditional Tour | Kokyo Gaien, Tea Ceremony, Meiji Shrine, Omotesando

The Imperial Palace is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, and the residence of Japan's imperial family.

Although the Palace is not open to the public, from Kokyo Gaien, the large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace, you can view the Nijubashi, two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds. The stone bridge in front resembles an eyeglass, so is called Meganebashi (Eyeglass Bridge).

A glimpse of the imperial palace over Nijubashi A glimpse of the imperial palace over Nijubashi

Next, you will have an unforgettable opportunity to participate in an authentic tea ceremony. Sample freshly made green tea in a Japanese-style tearoom. The tea masters are always willing to instruct newcomers on the finer points of enjoying tea.

The tea ceremony The tea ceremony is a well-orchestrated series of events

Meiji Shrine is Tokyo's most famous shrine, dedicated to the spirit of the late Emperor Meiji, and the park that surrounds the shrine is a forest of some 120,000 trees of 365 different species. The shrine is a popular site for Japanese weddings: if you are lucky you may see a bride and groom dressed in traditional Shinto wedding attire.

Rinse hands before entering the shrine Rinse hands before entering the shrine

Take a walk through Omotesando, commonly referred to as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees. This broad, tree-lined avenue features a multitude of fashion flagship stores, within a short distance of each other, designed by internationally renowned architects.

End the day at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's tallest and most distinctive skyscrapers.

Day 10
Tokyo Tsukiji Outer Market Visit and Sushi-Making Lesson at Local Home

The tour starts in the early morning. Take your time as you explore the lively outer market, where you will see lots of different ingredients and have an opportunity to sample some freshly-prepared finger foods. Indeed, seafood lovers won't be disappointed, as the area serves some of the freshest sushi and seafood Japan's capital has to offer.

A stall selling vegetables A stall selling vegetables

You will then visit a typical Japanese home. During the transfer by public transport, your guide will answer any questions you have about Japanese culture or everyday life in Tokyo.

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

You will then get to enjoy your homemade sushi for lunch. The tour ends in central Tokyo.

Recommended Free Time Activities

The tour finishes at the station closest to your Japanese host's home.

If you are looking for unrivaled shopping experiences, you will find Ginza within walking distance. Ginza is a thriving commercial center, offering an attractive mixture of huge department stores and affluent side-street shops selling traditional crafts and hosting galleries.

If you feel like relaxing in a garden, Hamarikyu Gardens would be ideal. Situated where the Sumida River empties into Tokyo Bay, this garden was built in 1654 as a retreat for the shogun's family. Now it is still a pleasant and uncrowded place to sit down in or stroll around.

Day 11
Departure from Tokyo

In just 10 days, your family has collected a lifetime of Japanese memories. Now it's time to say goodbye.

Meet at your hotel for a shared transfer to Narita International Airport. Have a safe flight home.

Our Service Includes:

11 days from US$ 4,632 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.

 Western-style Japanese room at Hyatt Regency Hakone
Osaka
Hotel Granvia Osaka
standard room at Mitsui Garden Kyoto Sanjo
Kyoto
Mitsui Garden Kyoto Sanjo
standard room at Hotel Gracery Shinjuku
Tokyo
Hotel Gracery Shinjuku

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