Escorted small-group Japan tour highlighting spring cherry blossoms and autumn foliage.
13-day Best of Japan Tour
Tokyo – Mt. Fuji – Hakone – Kanazawa – Takayama – Shirakawa-go – Kyoto – Nara – Osaka
This extraordinary journey of cultural discovery showcases the best of the Land of the Rising Sun. From the present capital of Tokyo to the former imperial seat of Kyoto, Japan’s perfect blend of ancient traditions with super modernity is on full display.
This Japan tour isn’t just about sightseeing. Special events include sushi making lesson, sake tasting, a traditional cultural show, and full course Japanese dinner banquets.
- Small group size (20 maximum).
- Expert local guides hand-picked by company owners.
- Experienced tour leader.
- No forced shopping stops.
- Authentic local cuisine.
- Sushi making lesson.
- Traditional full-course Japanese dinners.
- Cultural show in Kyoto.
Meal Code: B = breakfast / L = lunch / D = dinner
Scroll down for dates, prices, hotel list and documentation requirements.
Day 1/Thu: Departing Home City
Your Japan tour begins with your transpacific flight departing from a city of your choice. You’ll lose a day upon crossing the International Date Line.
Day 2/Fri: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Tokyo!
If you arrive via Narita Airport and between noon and 8:00 PM, you will be met by our representative who will arrange your transfer to the centrally located hotel by Airport Limousine Bus service which has a stop at our hotel. The 125-minute ride costs 3,100 Yen (JPY) or US$28 per adult; this is our recommended mode of transportation. If you choose taxi, the 60km drive would cost you more than US$200.
The shuttle bus transfer from Haneda Airport to the hotel takes about 70 minutes and costs 1,230 Yen or US$11. Detailed information on transfer to the hotel will be provided to guests arriving via Haneda or for those arriving at Narita past 8:00 PM.
Day 3/Sat: Tokyo (B/L/D)
Tokyo, literally meaning Eastern Capital and officially known as Tokyo Metropolis, is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan and one of the most populous mega-cities in the world with 13.5 million living in the prefecture and close to 38 million in the Tokyo-Yokohama region. Formerly known as Edo, the city has been the de facto seat of government since 1603 when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu made the city his headquarter – Shoguns, although appointed by the emperor, were the de facto rulers of Japan during the shogunate period from 1192 to 1867. The city was renamed Tokyo after Emperor Meiji moved his seat here from Kyoto in 1868. Covering an area of 2, 188 square kilometres, Tokyo Metropolis was formed in 1943 from the merger of the former Tokyo Prefecture and the city of Tokyo.
Our full-day sightseeing begins with a stroll through the plaza outside the Imperial Palace (the palace itself is not open to tourists). This is followed by a visit to tranquil Meiji- Jingu, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife.
We then drive through ritzy Ginza shopping district on our way to Nakamise-Dori in Asakusa. Nakamise-Dori is a vibrant promenade lined with food stands and souvenir shops. The street connects the famous Asakusa sightseeing spots of Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) and Asakusa Kannon Temple (also known as Senso-ji Temple), the oldest temple in Tokyo dating back to 628 AD.
We spend the rest of the day exploring the history of Tokyo at Edo-Tokyo Museum. The main features of the permanent exhibitions are the life-size replica of the Nihonbashi bridge, the Nakamuraza theatre and scale models of towns and buildings from the Edo, Meiji and Showa periods.
If time allows, we will also go up to Tokyo Skytree for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Enjoy a full-course Japanese style welcome dinner.
Day 4/Sun: Tokyo – Mt. Fuji – Hakone – Tokyo (B/L)
Full day excursion to Mt Fuji and Hakone by coach. Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain (3,776 m) in Japan, is a two-hour drive from Tokyo. We first stop by the Fuji Visitor Center to learn about current weather conditions as well as the history, formation and ecology of Mt. Fuji through exhibits and films. We then proceed to Mt Fuji’s 5th Station sitting at 2300 metres above sea level.
After lunch, we enjoy a 15-minute cruise on Lake Ashi. This is followed by a breathtaking ride of the Hakone Ropeway, which, on a clear day, offers stunning views of Mt. Fuji and surrounding mountain slopes dotted with lakes. Tour the Owakudani Geothermal Valley before returning to Tokyo.
Day 5/Mon: Tokyo (B)
Free day to explore on your own. Please feel free to ask the tour leader or local guide for recommendations.
Day 6/Tue: Tokyo – Kanazawa (B/L/D)
This morning we ride the bullet train to Kanazawa. The 2.5-hour journey is a perfect way to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Japan. On arrival, we walk across the station to our centrally located hotel. In Japan, a train station is generally located in the heart of a city. The lunch we have on the train is what the Japanese call bento (boxed meal).
Kanazawa is a jewel of Japanese tourism often bypassed by foreign tourists due to its relatively remote location. However, Japanese themselves come here in droves. Travellers visiting here are richly rewarded with a best preserved Edo-period city where the Samurai, merchants, Geisha and the Daimyo (lords) all left their marks. Kanazawa is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Crafts and Folk Art. Its cuisine is famous throughout Japan.
Afternoon sightseeing begins at Kenroku-en Garden. One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan (Koraku-en in Okayama and Kairaku-en in Mito being the other two), Kenroku-en was developed from the 1620s to the 1840s by the Maeda clan, the daimyo who ruled the former Kaga Domain. Kenroku-en means “garden which combines six characteristics” – the six aspects considered important in the notion of an ideal gardens: spaciousness, serenity, venerability, scenic views, subtle design, and coolness.
We then walk across the road to Kanazawa Castle, to which Kenroku-en Garden used to be part of. The restored castle was first built in 1580 for Maeda Toshiie, the fourth son of a minor samurai family who entered the service of a powerful daimyo at the age of 15 and quickly rose through the ranks. The castle was reconstructed multiple times mostly due to fire damages. The last time the castle was destroyed by fire was in 1881.
The Hishi Yagura turret, Gojikken Nagaya warehouse, and Hashizume-mon Tsuzuki Yagura turret were faithfully restored in 2001 to their 1809 form, using traditional construction methods. Today’s pillars are Japanese Hinoki Cypress with massive American cypress as ceiling beams. The castle’s distinctive, whitish roof tiles are made of lead.
Day 7/Wed: Takayama – Shirakawa-go (B/L)
Today we embark on a full-day excursion by coach to Takayama and Shirakawa-go.
Famous for its inns, sake breweries, food festivals and local folk art, Takayama, 118 km southeast of Kanazawa, is a delightful town nestled among the Japanese Alps. Our sightseeing takes in an open-air market, Sanno-machi Historic District and a sake brewery.
We return to Kanazawa in the afternoon and visit Shirakawa-go en route. Sitting at 400 meters above sea level, Shirakawa-go is part of the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama – a World Heritage Site inscribed by UNESCO in 1995. Located in a mountainous region that was cut off from the rest of the world for a long period of time, these villages with their Gassho-style houses subsisted on the cultivation of mulberry trees and the rearing of silkworms. The Gassho-style large houses with their steeply pitched thatched roofs here are the only examples of their kind in Japan.
Day 8/Thu: Kanazawa (B/L)
The first stop of our morning sightseeing is Nomura Samurai Residence located in a historical preservation area where people actually live and go about their daily lives. A highlight of the restored house is the small but supremely exquisite traditional garden.
We then proceed to our sushi making class for a session filled with fun and laughter. You’ll have to be careful with what you make because that will become your own lunch! Sushi is a native to Japan and consists of cooked rice mixed with a small amount of vinegar and combined with ingredients such as raw seafood, vegetables and sometimes tropical fruits. Ingredients and forms of sushi presentation vary widely but rice is always part of it. Raw seafood served without rice is called sashimi.
Afterwards, we visit the Higashi Chaya Geisha street and then have the balance of the day at leisure.
Day 9/Fri: Kanazawa – Kyoto (B/L/D)
Walk to the train station after breakfast and board an express train (2.5 hours) to Kyoto. After lunch, we arrive at Kiyomizu Temple, whose massive veranda provides stunning views of the city; the temple represents the best of classical Japanese garden making.
We spend the rest of the day exploring Gion Preserved District and also attend a stage show that incorporates traditional Japanese tea ceremony and Kyo-mai dance.
Day 10/Sat: Kyoto (B/L)
Nicknamed City of Ten Thousand Shrines, Kyoto (literally: capital city) served as Japan’s capital for more than one thousand years before the imperial court moved to Tokyo in 1868 AD, at the beginning of Meiji Restoration (1868 to 1912 – a historical period responsible for the emergence of Japan as a modernized nation in the early 20th century). Kyoto is a scaled replica of China’s Chang’an (present-day Xi’an), Chinese capital during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD). With a population of 1.5 million, Kyoto forms a major part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area.
We begin this morning with an excursion to Arashiyama (Storm Mountain), a nationally-designated Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty. Sites to visit here include the Togetsukyo Bridge and the Bamboo Forest.
Afternoon schedule takes in Saihoji Temple and Kinkakuji Temple. Saihoji is where the famous moss garden is located; before entering the garden we will sit down on the wooden floor with shoes off to copy a page of Buddhist script accompanied by the monks chanting the text.
Kinkaku-ji, meaning Temple of Golden Pavilion, is a Zen Buddhist temple and one of the 17 locations comprising the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site. The official name of the temple is actually Rokuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple) but is widely known as Golden Pavilion Temple because of the three-story building on the grounds of the temple. The top two stories of the pavilion are covered with pure gold leaf.
Day 11/Sun: Kyoto – Nara – Osaka (B/L/D)
Full day excursion by motor coach to Nara and Osaka takes in Nara Park (where 1,200 wild sika deer roam free) and Taodai-ji Temple (Great Image Buddha) in Nara, and Osaka Castle and Dotonbori District in Osaka.
Nara is the capital city of Nara Prefecture and former capital of Japan (710-794). With a population of roughly 370,000 and an area of 280 square kilometers, the city occupies the northern part of Nara Prefecture. Eight temples, shrines and ruins together with Kasugayama Primeval Forest collectively form “the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara” – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Situated at the mouth of the Yodo River on Osaka Bay, Osaka is Japan’s third largest city by population after Tokyo and Yokohama, and serves as a major economic hub. Osaka was once known as the “nation’s kitchen” because of its role as Japan’s rice trading centre during the Edo period.
Farewell dinner at a restaurant within walking distance of the hotel.
Day 12/Mon: Osaka (B)
Free day to explore on your own. Please ask you guide the day before for recommendations. If you wish to go back to Kyoto, which is only one hour away by train, you may want to check out Nijo Castle and Kyoto Imperial Palace.
Day 13/Tue: Osaka – Return Home (B)
Your Japan tour ends today. Transfer to Kansai International Airport or Itami Airport (aka Osaka International Airport) on your own. Your guide will provide assistance with your airport transfer.