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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.

Journey route

What's included

  • 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.

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 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 train and subway hubs of the city.

Superior double room in Hotel Gracery Shinjuku
Located in the heart of the area around Shinjuku Station’s East Exit
Plaza luxe double room in Keio Plaza Tokyo
A room with panoramic views of the Shinjuku skyline

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, 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, 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, an uncrowded place to stroll and sit
Japanese sweets and a cup of matcha

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, 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.

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

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.

A Western-style Japanese deluxe room in Merveille Hakone Gora
Hot spring and jacuzzi bath in Merveille Hakone Gora
A Western-style Japanese deluxe room in Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort
Spa in Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort

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

Or you could stay at the hotel, enjoying the hot spring 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
A majestic replica pirate ship across Lake Ashinoko

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, 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.

Superior twin room in New Miyako Hotel
Located right in front of Kyoto Staion, New Miyako Hotel offers easy access to all city attractions as well as to Nara, Osaka and beyond

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.

Superior double room in The Celestine Kyoto Gion
Located in the heart of traditional Gion district, The Celestine Kyoto Gion holds "Experiencing Kyoto" as a concept

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.

Standard double room in Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo
Located near the Kawaramachi area, famous sites such as the Nishiki Market, are just a short walk away from Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo

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, a glimmering legacy of medival Japan

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.

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, known as "Kyoto's Kitchen"
A food stall at Nishiki Market

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

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 Great Buddha Vairocana and Nyoirin Kannon Bosatsu in Todaiji Temple

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
Feeding the deers

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

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.

standard room at Hotel Gracery Shinjuku
Tokyo Hotel Gracery Shinjuku

    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.

 Western-style Japanese room at Hyatt Regency Hakone
Hakone Hyatt Regency Hakone

    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.

standard room at Mitsui Garden Kyoto Sanjo
Kyoto Mitsui Garden Kyoto Sanjo

    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.

Journey information

  • Season
  • Japan 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.

    Cherry Blossom in Himeji Castle

    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.

    Summer in Ginkakuji Temple

    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.

    Autumn in Arashiyama

    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.

    Winter in Shirakawa-go
  • 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.

    A ryokan room with tatami mats and futons
    Kids sleeping on futons at traditional guestroom

    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.

    A deluxe Western-style Japanese room with scenic view in Hakone
    Typical business hotel, with Western-style standard double room

    Let us know your style preferences, and our travel consultant will find the most suitable hotel room for you.

  • Meals
  • Meals 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.

    Savoring a sushi meal at a kaiten zushi shop
    Sushi comes to you on a conveyor belt
    Slurping noodles inside a noodle shop
    A speciality restaurant underground Kyoto Station

    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.

    Small portions of a number of complementary dishes
    A typical set dinner in traditional surroundings

    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.

    Sushi,lightly sweetened and vinegared sushi rice topped with raw fish
    Sashimi, sliced fillets of raw fish served without rice
    Tempura, deep fried seafood
    Traditional sukiyaki pot

    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 Train
  • Public 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.

    Shinkansen, the super express train, is an appealing form of transportation for foreigners
    Local trains. Other train types include Tokkyu (limited express), Kyuko (express), and Kaisoku (rapid)

    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.

    A sample of reserved seat ticket by JR Pass
  • 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.

    Taking Tokyo subway, efficient and clean
    Kyoto city bus, a convenient way of touring the city

    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 Light
  • We 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.

    Seats of a bullet train
    JR Osaka Station

    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 Early
  • We 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).

9 Days from $3,669p/p (Based on a 2-people private group)

Local guide

Having a private guide and an itinerary allows visitors not only to see as many attractions as possible, but also to learn about them from a local. Guides can also teach travelers about important features of visiting Japan, such as how to navigate public transportation.

Public transportation

Public transport is typically very efficient, safe and clean in Japan. it is also a great way of exploring Japan's cities. Take public transport and to buy a pre-loaded card, such as the SUICA, or ICOCA cards, that can be used for underground metros and buses.

What our clients say about us

My wife and I booked a private tour with Asian Highlights and they arranged a phenomenal vacation for us. Albee Ning was our Travel Agent and she took care of everything for us and did a phenomenal job... It was the perfect vacation and they handled every detail for us from meet and greet services at each airport, baggage handling, private tour guides and drivers at each location, good restaurants, and fantastic hotels throughout... Read more
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