Land of the Rising Sun – Experience Real Japan
17 Days STARTING FROM £6995 PER PERSON
Boots, Bullets and Saki
A frog in a well never knows the great sea
Japan is well known for it’s distinctive culture, ancient traditions, high tech cities, fast trains and beautiful scenery.
In just over two weeks, you will experience a plethora of Japan’s ‘must-dos’ including a stay in a ryokan; relaxing in an onsen; getting an insight into the life of a geisha; enjoying the sumptuous cuisine Japan has to offer and marvelling at the natural beauty of the Central Alps, all whilst utilising Japan’s wonderful rail network and travelling on the famous bullet trains.
The “Middle Mountain Way” or the Nakasendo Way follows an old 500km trading route between Tokyo and Kyoto. This wonderful itinerary you will discover bustling Tokyo and traditional Kyoto, walk a section of the route and explore the old post towns of Magome and Tsumago. Tsumago, is the best preserved of the numerous post towns, and arguably the most picturesque too. Also take in the Edo-period charm of Takayama’s old town and the traditional splendours and unique culture of Kanazawa, the big cities of Osaka and Hiroshima before relaxing at the popular thermal resort Hakone.
Gracious welcoming people, beautiful temples and incredible experiences await you on this culturally enriching journey to the Land of the Rising Sun.
WHY GO ON THIS TRIP?
DAY 1 – 3 Tokyo
Arrive in Tokyo and transfer to your hotel. Enjoy the rest of the day at leisure to acclimatise and perhaps explore the local area.
As the epicentre of the world’s largest and most cutting-edge conurbation, Tokyo is where the nation’s heart beats fastest. Rather than pivoting around a central downtown area, the capital is made up of different neighbourhoods, each with its own centre of gravity, reflecting the character of the village it was before it was absorbed into the expanding megacity.
Spend the day exploring Tokyo with your local guide using public transport. Start in Tokyo’s old town, visit Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, travel down the Sumidagawa River by Water Bus to Hamarikyu garden and visit Meiji Shrine.
Soak up the atmosphere of Tokyo’s old town, Asakusa, with its antique kimono boutiques and traditional kitchen utensil shops. Watch worshippers light incense and bow before the city’s oldest shrine, Sensoji temple, before wandering down Nakamise, a shopping street that has been providing temple visitors with local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries.
The best way to travel from Asakusa to your next stop Hamarikyu garden is down the Sumidagawa River on Tokyo’s most scenic mode of transport, the Water Bus. Hamarikyu garden is an exquisite Edo-period garden encircled by skyscrapers, where you can pause for a green tea and a traditional sweet in the delightful lakeside teahouse.
You will also visit Meiji Shrine, dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji and a popular venue for Japanese weddings – if you are lucky, you may see a bride and groom in traditional attire. Walk with your guide down the sparkly Omotesando Street, enjoying the bustle and glamour of Tokyo’s ritziest shopping street whilst marvelling at the fantastic modern architecture.
DAYS 4 – 7 Tokyo to Takayama
Today you will leave the bustling capital behind and travel by train to Kiso-Fukushima, the gateway to the Nakasendo Way. Spend the afternoon exploring the sights of Kiso-Fukushima at your own pace, including the Yamamura Residence, the Ko zenji Temple and the Fukushima Sekisho-Ato, a 270 year-old immigration office. Dinner tonight at your ryokan is included.
The Nakasendo Way became the principal transportation route between Tokyo and Kyoto, post towns developed every few kilometres to provide travellers with places to rest and eat during their arduous journey, and a few of these towns have been excellently preserved.
Take a short train journey to Nakatsugawa and on by bus to the former post town of Magome. Explore this reconstructed town before starting your walk of an 8km stretch of the Nakasendo Way, ending in Tsumago. Transfer by road back to Kiso-Fukushima for another delicious dinner at your ryokan and perhaps even a well-deserved soak in the onsen.
Continue by train to Takayama. After checking into your hotel, enjoy the rest of the day strolling through the old town, with its wooden shopfronts, coffee shops and old sake bars. A delicious Japanese-style dinner will be served in your hotel tonight.
Formerly a wealthy merchants’ quarter, Takayama’s old town holds a bumper crop of Edo-period buildings, many of them dating from the early 18th century. With a plentiful supply of spring water, Takayama is also an important centre of Sake production.
Asa-ichi (‘morning markets’) take place every day from 7am until noon in Takayama. We particularly like the one at Miyagawa, spread along the east bank of the river. Nearby, the old quarter of Sannomachi holds a lovely collection of 18th century buildings, several of which have been converted into museums where you can admire beautifully recreated interiors.
DAYS 8 – 12 Takayama to Kyoto
On this section of the journey take a tour, with a local guide, of the UNESCO-listed Shirakawa-go village, famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, before continuing on to Kanazawa. Physically remote from the rest of Japan, the thatched villages of Shirakawa-go survived for many centuries from cultivating mulberry trees and spinning fine silk. Known as gassho-zukuri (‘hands in prayer’), its traditional A-frame houses nestle amid a rural landscape of rice terraces and wooded slopes above the Shogawa River, and are designed to withstand the heavy snow which falls in this region.
More wonderful old buildings survive in your next destination, Kanazawa. With its own, unique cultural, Kanazawa has earned the affectionate nickname ‘Little Kyoto’. Escaping the bombing that levelled so many Japanese cities during World War II, many areas have retained their period character, one in particular being the samurai quarter of Nagamachi. The traditional Higashi Chaya teahouse district, or Geisha district, is a heritage enclave of double-storeyed, wood-fronted shops, among which the Shima Geisha Museum offers insights into the cloistered life of the Japanese geisha (around 40 remain active in the city). Gold leaf, a Kanazawan speciality, features prominently in the district’s many craft shops and local ice cream parlours offer it as a luxury embellishment, claiming the leaf improves digestion. Enjoy a tour of Kanazawa today by public transport, including Kenroku-en garden, the imposing Kanazawa castle, the Nomura Samurai House and the Higashi Chaya Geisha District.
Day 11, you will travel by bullet train to Kyoto. Keep an eye out for views of Lake Biwa as you pass. The rest of the day is at leisure to begin your exploration of Kyoto. You should have enough time in the afternoon to squeeze in a spot of sightseeing. A good option would be the trip up to the Fushimi Inari shrine on a hillside overlooking the city – one of the most romantic spots in the region, where lines of inscribed, red-lacquer archways form beautiful covered walkways. For dinner we would recommend Tako Nyudo, which specializes in Kyoto’s home-style of cooking, known as ‘obanzai’. Try the more-ish house speciality, ‘akashi yaki’ – pieces of delicately flavoured octopus fried in crispy egg batter. Your morning visits include the Ryoanji Zen Temple and The Imperial Palace. In your spare afternoon take a stroll along the Philosopher’s Walk, a pleasant waterfront path lined with cherry trees.
The last day is at leisure to further explore Kyoto at your own pace.
DAYS 13 – 16 Kyoto to Hakone
Board the bullet train for the two-hour journey to Hiroshima. Explore Hiroshima with a local guide, visiting the Peace Memorial Park and Shukkeien Garden. Globally known for the horrors of August 6th 1945, Hiroshima has recovered as a thriving city boasting wide tree-lined boulevards, a large recreational area, Peace Memorial Park, and is home to over a million inhabitants. Only by going to Hiroshima, is it possible to fully comprehend the scale of the tragedy – and astonishing resilience of those who survived it. Continue on to Miyajima, a pretty island historically ranked as one of Japan’s “three most scenic spots”, and home to one of Japan’s most revered Shinto complexes.
Return to Hiroshima this morning to board the bullet train to Osaka. Spend the afternoon at leisure exploring Osaka before meeting by your guide for an evening food tour, introducing you to the splendours of Osaka’s street food culture. The epicentre of Osaka’s street food culture is Dotonbori, a pedestrian-only restaurant street in the boisterous Namba district. Known as a food paradise, colourful eateries and bars line the neon-filled streets: hole-in-the-wall takoyaki (“octopus balls”) stands and street-side ramen bars rub shoulders with upscale eateries serving the finest wagyu beef – and everywhere, people – young and old – are out to enjoy the culinary pleasures of the nation’s most famous restaurant district. While in the city, don’t pass up the chance to sample its gastronomic speciality, ‘okonomiyaki’ – savoury griddle cakes prepared with a variety of delicious fillings.
You will travel to Hakone at the foot of Mt Fuji. Take the bullet train to Odawara, the gateway to the Hakone region, before continuing by local train. Enjoy dinner in your Ryokan this evening. A popular retreat, this thermal resort to the west of Tokyo serves as a springboard for Hakone National Park, whose natural wonders include Mount Fuji and shimmering Lake Ashi.
DAY 17 – Return Home
Travel back to Odawara and on to the airport to catch your flight home or onward journey.