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Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo, Welcome Dinner
Arrive at Tokyo Airport and transfer to your tour hotel in central Tokyo. This evening we will have a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 2: Tokyo Sightseeing
Our first full day in Japan is a walking tour of Tokyo using the city’s efficient public transport to get around. Today we travel by train to Ueno where we visit the Tokyo National Museum. The museum provides a wonderful overview of the Japanese arts – from calligraphy, to kimono, Japanese swords to Buddhist sculpture. We then take the subway a short distance to reach Asakusa. In Asakusa we visit Sensoji Temple. Then we travel onward by boat to the Hama-Rikyu Gardens, a strolling garden that was once the duck hunting grounds of a powerful lord.
Day 3: Exploring the Hakone Area and Mt. Fuji
We will enjoy a day in Hakone, visiting the Checkpoint Museum. If the workshop is open, we may also be able to see a demonstration of traditional Japanese yosegi or traditional Japanese parquetry. We’ll walk a section of the ‘sugi-namiki’, a trail lined with Japanese cedar trees that once formed part of the old Tokaido highway, or ‘East Sea Road’ and enjoy a cruise on Lake Ashi, or Ashi-no-ko. We travel by ropeway and cable car over the peaks of the Mt. Fuji area, in hopes of catching this notoriously shy icon of Japan. We will arrive at our
Day 4: Yudanaka Hot Spring and Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani
Today we travel by coach to Yudanaka Onsen, a hot spring village famous for its 'snow monkeys'. The Japanese macaques originally came here to warm themselves in the outdoor hot spring bath during the cold winters, and now come all year round. We then stay in a Japanese ryokan, known for its onsen (a Japanese hot spring, bathing facilities and inn).
Day 5: Matsumoto Castle & Narai Post Town
We travel by train first to the city of Matsumoto to see its beautiful castle, built in the 16th century. Then, after a tour of a miso factory and miso-based lunch, we continue by train to the Kiso valley and the small town of Narai with its traditional atmosphere of ancient Nakasendo Way, between Kyoto and Tokyo (or Edo as the city was known in the feudal period). There are many well-preserved houses and former inns.
Day 6: Tsumago
After breakfast, there will be time to wander the beautiful streets of Narai. The village is a good place to buy lacquerware and woodcrafts. Short train and bus journeys bring us to the village of Tsumago. Another of the post-towns on the former Nakasendo trail, Tsumago has been beautifully preserved - a living museum, which is still inhabited by the local residents. Wander the streets, taste gohei-mochi, skewered balls of pounded sticky rice covered in a sweet paste of miso, sesame and walnuts and visit the folk museum.
Day 7: Travel to Takayama
After breakfast, we stroll through Magome and then travel by bus and train to Takayama. Takayama has retained much of its traditional architecture and is well-known for its crafts, particularly yew-wood carving, Shunkei lacquerware, pottery and furniture. After arriving at our inn, we visit the Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall and the Sakurayama-Nikkokan. There may be time to explore the surrounding areas and relax in a hot-spring bath before dinner. In the evening we will try the local Hida beef and perhaps some locally-brewed saké.
Day 8: Takayama’s Sanmachisuji and Heritage Sites
Today we have a full day in Takayama, starting with a visit to the morning market, with stalls of vegetables, crafts, pickles and souvenirs. We see the Yoshijima Heritage House, a precious wooden structure with a famously refined architectural interior. We wander the San-machi area with its rows of old merchant houses, some open as museums. After lunch there will be free time for you to explore the city further and hunt for special treasures to bring home.
Day 9: Shirakawa-go to Kanazawa
In the morning, we travel to the Shirakawa-go area north-west of Takayama. The village is home to a large number of gassho-zukuri houses, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995. These large wooden houses have steep thatched roofs designed to withstand heavy snow, and the term gassho-zukuri refers to the shape of praying hands formed by the roofs. After time in this lovely village, we then transfer to Kanazawa where we stay this evening. In Kanazawa we will have an opportunity to try our hand at creating our own souvenir using the gold leaf the city is famed for.
Day 10: Kanazawa: Sake Brewery, Samurai District, Higashichaya and Kazue Machi Districts
In feudal times Kanazawa was the seat of the Maeda clan, one of Japan’s most powerful, and it rivalled Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). Kanazawa consists of a number of smaller well-preserved historical districts. Today we’ll visit a sake brewery. A brief walk from a bustling shopping district takes you to a tranquil neighborhood of former samurai homes and gardens. Their traditional buildings and cobblestoned lanes remain. We’ll visit one of the samurai houses. Then, we continue on to the preserved geisha districts – the most notable of these being the Higashi-chaya and Kazuemachi-chaya districts - where Kanazawa’s geisha entertained with music and dance.
Day 11: Morning visit to Kenrokuen Garden and onward travel to Kyoto
This morning we begin with a visit to one of the highlights of Kanazawa. Kenrokuen gardens were, designed as a formal walking garden that displays changing vistas as you make your way along its pathways. Kenrokuen was once the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle. Stone lanterns, koi ponds, and small teahouses dot the scenery. On the periphery of the garden are a number of museums with collections of artefacts collected by the eminent lords of the Kanazawa area.
Day 12: Sightseeing of Kyoto and Tea Ceremony
We begin a day of sighterring by traveling to Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for its vermilion torii gates that snake up the hillside. In the afternoon we make our way to the Higashiyama district and to experience a tea ceremony or way of the tea. This ancient tradition is a ceremonial way of preparing and drinking green tea and you'll learn the art from a tea master. From here, we'll take a walk through the Gion district famous for its many Riyotei (exclusive private restaurants) and Geiko (full fledged Geisha) or Maiko (apprentice Geisha).
Day 13: Kyoto: Kinkakuji and Ryoanji
We have a half-day walking tour this morning. We visit the famous Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, originally built by the Ashikaga Shogun in the 14th century as a place of contemplation and rest. From there, we will visit Ryoan-ji, with its famous rock garden of raked gravel and fifteen moss-covered boulders. In the afternoon you have a choice of free time to make your own discoveries, or you may accompany your guide to explore the downtown core. Within a short walking distance of your hotel is Teramachi Street – this section between Sanjo and Shijo streets in Kyoto used to be known as a temple town. If you look carefully off of this street and behind the parallel Shinkyogoku shopping arcades, you’ll find ancient temples tucked in behind the shops. Walking a bit further west near the Shijo end of Teramachi Street will also bring you to Nishiki market, for those who wish to explore the culinary offerings of Kyoto. The shopping arcades also provide a wonderful opportunity to purchase souvenirs that reflect the traditional crafts of Japan – washi paper cards, elegant folding fans, brightly decorated tenugui and handkerchiefs can all be found within this area, in addition to traditional Japanese sweets.
Day 14: Travel to Himeji, Visit Himeji Castle
This morning following breakfast at our hotel, we will depart by bullet train for Himeji. Himeji Castle is nicknamed "White Heron" Castle because of its white walls covered with white plaster. Himeji Castle is famous for both its huge main tower and its maze-like design. As one of the finest surviving examples of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture, it is a masterpiece of construction. The castle has recently completed extensive restoration works.
Day 15: Sightseeing of Miyajima and onward to Hiroshima
We leave Himeji and continue by bullet train to Hiroshima. From here it's a short journey on a local train to board our ferry to Miyajima Island. We begin with a stroll along the waterfront offering us outstanding views of the Great Toril and Itsukushima Shrine. The island is so sacred that the Toril stands on 6 pillars so as not to be buried deep within the sea bed. The shrine itself has multiple buildings which are linked by boardwalks.
Day 16: Peace Park and Museum and onward to Nara
This morning we travel to Hiroshima. Known throughout the world as the first city to bear the impact of the use of atomic weapons, Hiroshima today is a vibrant, modern city. Throughout the Peace Park are a number of touching memorials, including the Children’s Peace Monument, festooned with brightly colored strings of origami cranes, left by children from all over the world to express a desire for peace. The Peace Memorial and Museum provides context to the impact of the bombing on the city, the country, and the world.
Day 17: Todai-ji Temple and Nara Park
Today we have a day of sightseeing in Nara. We start with a walk through Nara Park. Famous for its free roaming deer that are considered sacred. Next, we visit Todai-ji temple, with its bronze statue of Buddha. The temple is said to be the largest wooden structure in the world. From Todai-ji we continue onto Kasuga Taisha. The shrine was established at the same time the city became the capital and is dedicated to the deity responsible for protecting the city.
Day 18: Mount Koya
We travel along the scenic Nankai Railway Line to Mount Koya, a bowl-shaped valley filled with cedars high in the mountains of the Kii Peninsula. Since the 9th century Mount Koya has been a place of religious devotion and ceremony. Today there are more than 100 monasteries, many of which have Shukubo (pilgrim's lodging). We stay in one of the elegant temples and dine on shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine). We walk through the vast Okuno-in cemetery, with thousands of graves and memorials to feudal lords and other past luminaries.
Day 19: Morning prayer service, onwards to Osaka
This morning we rise early to enjoy a morning prayer service with the monks at our Shukubo and then leave the peaceful tranquility of Koyasan behind for the bright lights and hustle and bustle of Osaka - the epitome of modern Japan. It is considered to be the commercial hub of Japan. Behind the neon glare, against the chrome and glass of new skyscrapers and developments, Osaka offers some surprises. We'll have some free time to explore and maybe pick up some last minute souvenirs before we gather together for a farewell dinner.
Day 20: Depart Osaka
Today we transfer to the airport for our flights homebound.
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