You arrive at the airport for your overnight direct flight to Tokyo.
On our arrival, we transfer to our hotel, the excellent four-star superior New Otani, for three nights with breakfast. Perfectly located in the heart of Tokyo, close to the Japanese parliament, the nearest metro stop is just a couple of minutes’ walk allowing you explore at ease (all station names are given in English). This afternoon we have our first taste of Tokyo with a short orientation walk in the surrounding area, with rest of your first day to relax after the flight.
This morning we commence the exploration of Japan’s capital and largest city. At first glance, Tokyo might seem similar to other great Asian cities like Singapore or Shanghai, with its gleaming glass skyscrapers and busy, fashionable shops. But you’ll soon begin to notice some of the many fascinating differences – like the spotlessly clean and surprisingly quiet streets. There’s no beeping of horns here, that would be far too impolite! Our first stop is the famous Shinto Meiji shrine, dedicated to one of its past emperors. Set in outstandingly lush parkland, this is a working religious site where you may be lucky enough to see a typical Japanese marriage underway. Then we move on to some of Tokyo’s most renowned quarters, including Omotesando Street, Tokyo’s ‘Rodeo Drive’, full of luxury brand shops. Then there’s the Harajuku area where teenagers sport the latest outrageous fashions and the Akihabara electronic town, home to one of the first stores devoted to personal robots. We savour some Japanese cuisine at our included lunch.
This morning we visit Tokyo’s Asakusa district. Full of traditional small houses and shops, it’s a unique insight into the Tokyo of a hundred years ago. We will then transfer by boat down the Sumida River to Ginza, widely recognised as one of the world’s most luxurious shopping destinations. It’s brimming with ultra-modern department stores, boutiques, restaurants and coffee houses. Your afternoon is free to shop, explore, or perhaps indulge in some fascinating people-watching. Another option is to head to the Tokyo National Museum, just a few stops on the metro. Here you’ll find the world’s largest collection of Japanese art, with pottery, painting and prints, textiles, fashion and oriental antiquities.
Saying goodbye to Tokyo we drive towards Mount Fuji, probably Japan’s most instantly recognisable sight. Fringed by thick forests and a crescent-shaped ring of shimmering lakes, we are presented with one of the world’s greatest and most spectacular views. We visit two of these beautiful lakes to give you the best chance of appreciating and enjoying the stunning panorama from two different angles – and some of life’s most amazing photo opportunities. Our first stop is at Lake Kawaguchi, well known to the Japanese but as yet undiscovered by most foreign visitors. Next we head south to explore the fascinating mountain resort of Hakone. Descending to the smooth dark blue waters of Lake Ashi, we take a cruise on a rather unusual Japanese version of an early 19th-century pirate ship. From here, especially on a clear day, the views of Mt Fuji are one of the world’s greatest panoramas. Arriving at the four-star Hakone Hotel, we stay for one night with breakfast and dinner. The entire area here is geo-thermally active, and provides the perfect opportunity to try one of Japan’s unmissable experiences – bathing in an ‘onsen’, a hot spring at our very own hotel.
This morning we travel to Hiroshima on Japan’s iconic gleaming white bullet train. With reclining seats, plenty of legroom, air conditioned comfort and speeds up to 189 mph, this is an incomparable way to travel. Arriving at lunchtime, we’re on our way to one of the country’s most distinctive views on the nearby small island of Miyajima. A huge red ‘Torii’ gate sits just offshore; widely celebrated, at high tide it appears to float between the sea and sky. This popular little island is easy to explore on foot. It has a relaxed holiday atmosphere, lots of interesting shops and a covered market. Returning to Hiroshima, we stay for two nights at the four-star superior Sheraton Hiroshima, with breakfast.
There’s a sobering reminder of the horrors of war this morning as we visit Hiroshima’s Peace Park and museum, displaying the remains of the only building to survive the atomic bomb blast of August 1945. The city has been completely rebuilt and there are no signs left of the devastation of that fateful day. Yet you may notice a small digital counter indicating the number of days since the last atomic test – it’s surprisingly recent. Your afternoon is at leisure to experience this charming city.
Leaving Hiroshima by coach, we head towards the old imperial capital of Kyoto. En route we’ll visit the superb Korakuen garden at Okayama – built in 1700 and renowned as one of Japan’s most exquisite gardens, with lawns, lakes, wooden bridges and shrines and teahouses! We use good, centrally located four-star hotels for your four-night stay with breakfast in Kyoto: the Century Hotel or New Miyako Hotel.
This morning is one of the real highlights of the tour as we explore some of the overwhelming treasures of Japan’s most revered city. First is the spectacular and beautiful Golden Pavilion, dating from the classical Muromachi age of Japanese temple design, perfectly overlooking its lake and garden. The whole of the upper floors, covered in gold leaf, glow in the morning light with an almost blinding intensity. Nearby is the Ryoan-ji temple, or the Temple of the Dragon at Peace, home to Japan’s most famous Zen garden, consisting of fifteen rocks surrounded by white gravel carefully raked by monks daily. As a complete change, we then move on to the amazing Arashiyama bamboo forest – experiencing an almost other-worldly feel as the light streams through the tall green columns of bamboo, up to 30 feet high! Yet another iconic Kyoto monument is next – Nijo Castle. Set at the heart of the city and built in the 17th century, it’s famous for its wooden floors remarkably designed to creak like a nightingale’s song, thus warning its occupants of any impending stealthy attack! Finally we take a walking tour through Kyoto’s Gion district. Here is the classic image of Japan; streets of wooden houses, the unmistakable sound of wooden sandals reverberating on the avements, bright, silk-clad geishas, cherry trees and a host of traditional restaurants. We also experience a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony’
Capital city before Kyoto, Nara is just a few miles south. Firstly we see one of the country’s most iconic shrines, made from thousands of red Torii gates forming two extraordinary vermilion-coloured wooden tunnels up a hillside. Arriving at Nara you’ll be greeted by the dozens of tame deer considered for centuries to be messengers of the gods. The main sight though is the amazing Todai-ji temple, astonishingly the world’s largest wooden structure. Housing a huge bronze Buddha, this is a truly inspiring sight and just one of Nara’s several UNESCO World Heritage sites.
You’re free today to explore and discover the many delights and attractions of Kyoto. There are still more enchanting temples to see - like the 15th century Silver Pavilion and the even older Eikando temple, marvels of architectural and garden design within an easy walk of each other along the charming Philosopher’s Path. Other delightful options are a lesson in origami, dressing as a geisha or learning to cook a typical Japanese meal. All of these unique experiences can be arranged by your tour manager during the tour or you can pre-book them – see our Personalise Your Holiday section on the previous spread. These are a wonderful way to gain a deeper understanding of Japanese culture. Tonight you also have the option of staying in a ryokan, a typical Japanese inn. You’ll sleep on a rolled out futon with tatami matting on the floor. You’ll also enjoy a traditional ‘kaiseki’ multi-course dinner. Beautifully prepared and served, it’s just as stunning to look at as it is to eat. Please see ‘Personalise Your Holiday’ section for details.
After a last free morning at leisure, we take our bullet train to Tokyo staying overnight at the four-star Excel Tokyu near the airport.
We fly directly back to the UK, arriving later the same day, with memories of an incomparable tour full of the most extraordinary insights and experiences that Japan has to offer.