Exploring Japan, 11 days
Day 1 Tokyo.
Welcome to Japan. Today is all about exploring Tokyo, get your bearings with a Tokyo Morning tour, and tonight experience authentic Japanese cuisine and Karaoke. Kanpai! (Cheers!).Tokyo Morning Tour.
Take in Tokyo's most famous temples, shrines and gardens in the morning and have the afternoon free The tour begins with the tranquil Meiji Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji, the first emperor of modern Japan. Then, travel by bus past the national Diet Building on your way to the Imperial Palace East Garden, the site of the original Edo Castle.
From there you can browse the many colourful stores lining the Nakamise walkway in Asakusa, leading up to Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo's oldest and most famous Buddhist Temple.
The tour finshes at the Tokyo Tourist Information Centre in Yurakucho which is located adjacent to Ginza, Japan's world-renowned shopping and entertainment district.Kanpai Tokyo: Shinjuku Drinks & Neon Lights.
Shinjuku, Tokyo's entertainment town, is where locals go to grab a bite and a drink after dark, and we're joining them on this drink tour that'll introduce you to local nightlife. Our evening will kick off at a Japanese izakaya-style eatery for happy hour. As is a favourite pastime for many Japanese, you'll start the night off spending some leisurely time chatting with your fellow tourmates over drinks and snacks.
Once we're warmed up, well meander through Omoide Yokocho, a collection of alleyways full of tiny bars and eateries. Get a peek at the different types of food joints the locals usually eat at, from yakitori restaurants and soba shops to cafes and bars. Should you like to come visit again on your own time, Omoide Yokocho can be a great place to sit and eat elbow-to-elbow with the businessmen and see how they unwind after working hours.
Our tour takes us onward to Kabukicho, an area full to the brim with over 3,000 shops, restaurants, nightclubs, karaoke and the like. Awash in bright neon lights, Kabukicho is one of Tokyos most photogenic areas. With streets filled with people and music blaring from every corner, you're sure never to have a boring evening in Kabukicho.
The evening will end in Golden Gai, a compact neighbourhood full of tiny bars that can usually only seat six to eight people at a time. It is here in Shinjukus most popular drinking spot where we'll pop into one of your guides favourite bars and say kanpai (cheers) over more drinks.
From here, your guide can either give you directions back to your hotel or next destination, or leave you chatting through the night with new friends.
Day 2 Tokyo.
Enjoy a full day trip to Mt Fuji, followed by a free evening to explore the sights and lights of Tokyo.Spectacular Mt Fuji.
Visit the majestic Mt Fuji, the highest and most iconic mountain in Japan. This mountain, with its snow covered peak, has inspired artists and poets throughout the centuries, becoming almost symbolic of Japan itself.
Visit Oshino Hakkai, also known as Oshino Eight-Ponds, where you can enjoy a relaxing stroll around tranquil waters, indulging in the pleasant atmosphere and scenery.
After sampling some local delicacies, make your way towards Oshino Shinobi no Sato, the ninja village Learn about the history and culture associated with Ninjutsu martial arts, and have your photo taken with a Japanese ninja. Then visit the historical Shinto shrine at the foot of Mt Fuji.
Continue your tour with the unique 4D Fuji Airways experience. This spectacular ride gives you the illusion of flying over Mt Fuji and the surrounding region and allows you to experience the mountain as it appears during different seasons.
Finally, explore Kawaguchi-ko, one of the Five Fuji Lakes, often referred to as the Gate to Mt Fuji. This is the best location to admire the mountain and on a clear day it is reflected in the mirror-like pool.
Day 3 Tokyo to Kyoto.
Use the famous Japanese railway to travel to Kyoto, take time to settle into your new surroundings and explore the lanes of Kyoto this evening.Lanes and Lanterns Kyoto.
Experiencing Kyoto by night is an essential part of any visit to Japans city of tradition. Walking through the old towns lantern-lit wooden streets is an otherworldly experience not to be missed.
We'll begin our Kyoto tour at Minamiza Theatre in Kyotos famed Geisha district of Gion. As we wander, there's a good chance you'll see both Geiko and Maiko breezing through the narrow alleyways of the old quarter.
From there, well avoid the crowds and traverse the serene backstreets of Higashiyama via the unique but rarely visited Yasui Konpira Gu Shrine, the marvellous Yasaka Pagoda and the bustling and colourful Yasaka Shrine.
We'll then avoid the crowds a second time as we dart into the backstreets of northern Gion, walking through the narrow streets lined with smaller and more modern clubs and bars a fascinating contrast to the quarters old buildings and historical air.
Crossing the Kamo River, we'll take in the sprawling view of Kyotos restaurant district as it stretches into the distance along the river, before crossing into Pontocho. A centuries-old entertainment district now lined with bars and restaurants, Pontocho is lit almost entirely by traditional Japanese lanterns of every shape and size. Each restaurant has its own unique menu and atmosphere, but all retain an old-world From Pontocho, we'll cross to Teramachi, a traditional Japanese-style arcade strip that stretches off into the distance. Roofed with glowing, cathedral-like arches, Teramachi is home to a countless variety of merchants and restaurants, including traditional Japanese bookstores and the ubiquitous, brightly lit Manga comic shops. Here, you can find everything from statues of ancient gods at a Butsudan-ya (Buddhist altar shop) to high-quality sushi knives and vintage clothing.
Leaving Teramachis arcade, we'll head past the Nishiki food market to check out a tachinomiya translated in English, tachinomiya literally means stand and drink shop. Bars with no seats offer locals a chance to enjoy drinks and light snacks en route to home or engagements elsewhere.
Day 4 Kyoto.
Start the day off getting your blood flowing with a Kyoto Cycling Tour, the rest of the day is yours to explore more, or maybe relax at one of the bathhouses you saw on your tour.Kyoto Cycling Tour.
Discover the real Kyoto while cruising the streets of Japan's cultural capital on this half-day Kyoto bike tour. With a history spanning over 1,200 years, the city streets have a lot to say, so make like the locals and jump on a bike to discover it all.
Start the day cycling along the Kamo River, taking in the views of the city's downtown and passing the wealth of traditional riverside restaurants. Call by the Heian-Jingu Shrine, built in 1894 to commemorate the 1,100 anniversary of the foundation of the capital.
Next, weave your way along quaint canals to reach the impressive Nanzenji Temple. Admire the temples spacious grounds with a surprising feature: a scenic aqueduct with the Higashiyama Mountains as their backdrop. This is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan, so soak up the surrounds before jumping back on your bike and heading off down the Path of Philosophy.
Arguably the most popular walking path in Kyoto, the Path of Philosophy is shaded by hundreds of cherry trees that erupt into bloom every April. It's a spectacular sight to see then, but it's rather beautiful the rest of the year as well. It's a great place to contemplate the tranquillity and beauty of the area, just like Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan's most famous philosophers, did when he named this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University.
Cycle back towards Kyoto Station, along a beautiful canal with old teahouses and traditional bathhouses among the cherry trees and traditional narrow backroads. We'll end this Kyoto city tour back at the city's buzzing station.
Day 5 Kyoto.
Open your eyes to the beauty of the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest this morning and experience the Tenryu-ji Temple, one of Kyoto's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Enjoy your last free evening in Kyoto.Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Morning Tour.
Arashiyama is a pleasant district is the western outskirts of Kyoto. The area has been a popular destination since the Heian Period (794-1185), when nobles would enjoy its natural setting. Okochi Mountain Villa is the former villa of the popular samurai film star Okochi Denjiro (1896-1962), and consists of several beautiful gardens and buildings, including living quarters, tea houses and a zen meditation hall. Here you will enjoy some matcha green tea with a snack.
Next, take a walk through Arashiyama's famous bamboo groves, which are particularly attractive when there is a light wind and the tall bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth. The bamboo has been used to manufacture various products, such as baskets, cups, boxes and mats at local workshops for centuries. Nonomiya shrine is a Shinto shrine where in ancient times, unmarried imperial princesses stayed for a year or more to purify themselves.
Ranked among Kyoto's five great Zen temples, Tenryu-ji is the largest and most impressive temple in Arashiyama. Founded in 1339 at the beginning of the Muromachi Period (1338-1573), the temple is one of Kyoto's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition to its temple buildings, there are attractive gardens with walking paths.
You will also have time for a brief photo stop at Togetsu-kyo or 'Moon Crossing bridge' one of the most famous bridges in Japan. There has been a bridge at this location for over 1000 years and it offers an excellent vantage point to view the tree lined river.
Day 6 Kyoto to Osaka.
Jump aboard the train from Kyoto to Osaka and take an evening tour to get to know the old world charm as well as the modern side of Osaka.Kansai Soul.
Osaka is often missed on the map when people take a whirlwind trip across Japan. In between the bright lights and fast pace of ultra-modern Tokyo and the old-world charm and culture of Kyoto, people often forget that there exists a city that combines the best of both worlds Uptown Osaka is a sea of sleek skyscrapers, bright lights and modern living - travel further south and you come to the real heart of Kansai. Osaka's rich and vibrant culture is as unique as it is robust - people greet each other with 'Have you eaten yet?' more often than not.
Your Osaka tour begins outside Nipponbashi Station and leads into Kuromon Ichiba market, a street containing over 500 metres of lively market stalls selling Osaka's freshest meat, fish, and vegetables. You'll have a chance to experience downtown's classic market culture up close, punctuated by rich aromas and the boisterous Kansai-ben (Osaka dialect) of the locals.
We'll move on to Doguyasuji to see the infinite array of Japanese cooking utensils, as well as stopping to look at the ubiquitous 'fake food' selection - a surprisingly large market exists for this uniquely Japanese trade From here we'll go to Dobutsuenmae Station and walk to Shinsekai, entering the true core of Osaka's famous downtown.
Shinsekai (literally meaning 'New World') was created as an amusement area in 1912, modelled on New York City. Complete with a viewing tower and the now infamous Luna Theme Park, Shinsekai represented Japan's ambitious move toward the future. The area is still home to the ghosts of those ambitions over 100 years later, caught between the hum of neon lights and the gentle swaying of traditional paper laterns. We'll have a chance to see a traditional Sento (Japanese bath) and a newer Supersento- a stalwart of everyday Japanese life As we leave Shinsekai, we can sample the much-loved Shinsekai kushi-katsu (deep fried or basted meat and vegetable skewers) and pass atmospheric and traditional izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) before moving onto the glittering jewel of southern Osaka, Dotonbori.
Dotonbori is easily the most famous sight in Osaka, complete with a long canal flanked with shimmering shops and restaurants, a well-known running man, and a giant mechanical crab The subject of postcards and tourist photos in equal measure, Dotonbori is home to endless clusters of restaurants, street vendors, bars, and pubs. You can sample Osaka's most famous food, takoya (fried batter balls containing octopus legs) and walk along the canal, passing ever-moving neon signs and the billowing steam of Osaka's liveliest restaurants. If Kyoto is the heart of western Japan, Osaka is truly the soul.
Day 7 Osaka.
Today is a free day to do whatever your heart desires.
Day 8 Osaka to Hiroshima.
Onwards to Hiroshima, why not visit the Hiroshima Castle and climb the stairs to see the amazing skyline and gardens on the castle ground. Or if you are a car buff, the Mazda museum.
Day 9 Hiroshima.
Today experience the spiritual island of Miyajima and take in the Atomic Bomb Dome memorial.Hiroshima and Miyajima Day Tour.
After meeting a guide at a meeting point, hop on board a boat and make your way to the historic and spiritual island of Miyajima. Explore the romantic location and listen to your guide share the fascinating background of the area. Behold Itsukushima Shrine, a treasured World Heritage Site, which emerges from the sea during high tide and can be seen close up at low tide.
Make your way to Hiroshima and view the sobering Atomic Bomb Dome, a memorial to the thousands that died in the atomic bombing of 1945. Finally, learn about the fascinating history of this World Heritage Site at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park & Museum.
Day 10 Hiroshima to Tokyo.
One last train ride back to your starting point, Tokyo. Hit up any sights you may have missed and pick up an 'Omiyage', the Japenese art of souvenir giving.
Day 11 Tokyo.
Say Sayounara to Tokyo, it's time to head home.
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