JP6 Experiential Japan Tour

SEARCH TOUR

Traditional & Modern

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS:

Immerse yourself in Japanese culture and society; visit major sites and monuments and special places out of the way; Ryokan and temple stays; strong culinary aspect - fun and educational cooking class; travel via famed Bullet Train

  • DATES & PRICES
  • FULL ITINERARY
  • MAP & HOTELS
  • TRIP INFORMATION

Dates & Prices

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Prices are in US Dollars (USD), before any applicable taxes. The pricing reflects twin-sharing, per-person costs without airfare to/from the tour; however, we can book flights from your home airport for an added cost. Contact us for a no obligation quote.


Start DateEnd DatePriceMore Info
Sat 13 Apr 2019Fri 26 Apr 2019 $5990 USD Limited availability, please contact us
Sun 20 Oct 2019Sat 02 Nov 2019 $5990 USD
Sat 11 Apr 2020Fri 24 Apr 2020 $5990 USD
Sun 18 Oct 2020Sat 31 Oct 2020 $5990 USD

Our tour end point (Kyoto) is best-served by Kansai Airport (Osaka) from which most international flights depart. Flights that connect in Japan before going international will likely depart Itami, the domestic airport serving Osaka.

Optional Single Supplement: $688 USD (number of singles limited).


Tour Overview


Our Experiential Japan tour is designed and intended for those travellers who want to directly experience Japanese culture and society, ancient and modern, and to venture beyond the main tourist route.

We've been offering unique itineraries in Japan for almost two decades, and this exciting new trip responds to many past travellers who have expressed a desire to return and to more fully engage with Japanese society and traditions beyond the experiences and sites featured by our more mainstream Japan programs.

This trip also appeals to the foodie, and to those who see food and eating as a very instructive window into the soul of a culture.

To this end, we invite you to open your minds, pack your sense of adventure, and lets us help you delve deep into the magic that is Japan, at once strongly traditional and unabashedly modern.

Regions visited: Central Asia And Far East
Countries visited: Japan


Full Itinerary

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Day 1 Arrival in Tokyo
Today we arrive in Tokyo and transfer to our hotel.

Tokyo is Japan's capital and the country's largest city. Prior to 1868, Tokyo was known as Edo. A small castle town in the 16th century, Edo became Japan's political centre in 1603 when Tokugawa Ieyasu established his feudal government there. A few decades later, Edo had grown into one of the world's most populous cities. Today it's a fascinating, mind-boggling amalgam of the traditional and the hyper-modern, and the perfect place to begin our immersion into Japanese culture and society.

Overnight in Tokyo.

Included Meal(s): Dinner

Day 2 Tokyo: City Touring
This morning we kick off our (bus-based) sightseeing with a visit of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

The Imperial Palace, or 'Kokyo,' built on the site of the Edo-jo Castle, is an impregnable fortress that housed the Tokugawa Shogunate for 265 years. Surrounded by moats, the original outer walls extended for over 16 km (10 miles) and were thick enough for a squad of samurai to walk six abreast on top. Even in its original state, it deceptively looked more like an administrative villa than a fortress. Once inside, it was a maze of moats, bridges, dead-ends and cul-de-sacs, all perfect for defense, and now perfect for private and public strolling parks and gardens. Occupied by the shogunate for 265 years until Emperor Meiji moved the court here in 1860's, the buildings survived until they were all but obliterated by the fire bombings of WWII.

After peering into this amazing complex, we continue on to the Ginza area of Tokyo. We will stroll through the food halls where you will see the amazing variety of beautifully presented foods being sold at unbelievably high prices. Seeing where and how the Japanese shop, what they buy, for whom and for what occasion, offers instructive glimpses into a highly sophisticated social strata where conventions of human interaction and presentation are minutely-defined.

We continue from here on to Ueno, home to the National Museum and the finest collection of Japanese art in the country. After our guided tour of the museum we will return to our hotel.

Overnight in Tokyo.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 3 Tokyo: Fish Market & Sushi Making Class
This morning we take a fascinating dive into Japanese seafood cuisine during a 3-hour combination walking tour of a local fish market and cooking class, where we can learn to prepare traditional style 'washoku' food items like sushi and a Japanese omelette.

We meet up with our guide in front of Tsukiji Honganji Temple, located just outside the famous seafood market. Then we step inside this temple to all things seafood for an in-depth shopping session including plenty of time for photography and exploration. As you wander the aisles of this colourful and chaotic market, you’ll observe everything from giant tuna to sea urchins to octopus arranged for sale.

We'll then proceed with our guide to the gourmet cooking studio of one of Asia's largest culinary schools, boasting more than 150 studios throughout the region. Following the instruction of an experienced cooking teacher, we'll learn to prepare two 'washoku' recipes, a style of Japanese cuisine emphasizing traditional and homemade techniques. This typically includes a sushi roll along with a Japanese style omelette called Tamagoyaki, plus side dishes. This will be an excellent and fun introduction to Japanese cuisine, definitely a highlight of any trip to Japan.

We finish our session by digging into our tasty creations for lunch accompanied by drinks. We'll leave with full stomachs and a new-found appreciation for the wondrous world of Japanese cuisine and its top-notch ingredients.

This evening, you may be able to take in a cultural performance, if available. Kabuki is a possibility (though constant schedule changes tend to make this unpredictable), or possibly a traditional musical performance. Your Tour Leader can advise of possibilities while on the tour.

Because of our included lunch and to leave the evening open to activities, dinner is on your own this evening.

Tomorrow our large luggage is transported to Nagano for us -- please pack an OVERNIGHT BAG for TWO NIGHTS. Your Tour Leader will advise in advance re recommended items to have with you for the next two days.

Overnight in Tokyo.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Lunch

Day 4 Tokyo - Bullet Train to Yamagata - Mt Haguro & Sanjin Gosai-den
Today we travel to Yamagata Japan's exciting and super-efficient Shinkansen "bullet train" (about 2.5 hours).* Yamagata is a large prefecture along the Sea of Japan coast in the southern Tohoku Region. The area is known for its agricultural products, especially cherries; hot springs, rural flair, and natural beauty. On arrival we travel by private coach to Mt Haguro.

The first few days of our trip are weighted toward matters spiritual, with temple and shrine visits and an immersion in Japan's venerable culture and traditions. With this in mind, we'll visit Sanjin Gosai-den, the largest wooden building with a thatched roof in Japan. The present structure is from 1818 but its history reaches much further back in time. Looking at the impressive over two meter thick thatched roof, you don’t want to image the amount of labour that goes into repairing it.

On top of Mount Haguro there are a number of temples and shrines, although this is said to be a shrine complex. It just shows that Buddhism and Shinto were entwined before the two religions were forcefully separated in Japan's Meiji Restoration, the events that events that restored imperial rule to Japan in 1868 and that heralded the begin of a new era in Japan.

The trail up the mountain starts after you pass through a 'torii' gate near the Ideha Cultural Museum (if you care not to walk, a taxi can be arranged). Actually the trail first descends into a valley where you will find a small waterfall, Suga-no-taki, and a shrine near a red-lacquered bridge, called Shinkyo, or God's Bridge. Pilgrims perform purification here before they walk across the bridge which marks the entrance to the sacred precinct of Mount Haguro.

A short walk will bring you to a centuries-old wooden pagoda and nearby you will also find a cedar that is said to be 1,400 years old. It is marked by a sacred rope. Actually there were two of them and they were thought of as a "couple" but one was destroyed by lighting. The remaining ancient cedar stands proud amongst its younger cousins that are "only" a few hundred years old. In any case, all of these cedars are older than we will ever get. Walking in the forest of these old huge cedars makes you feel humble and small.

We continue to the vicinity of Mt. Haguro. People have been drawn to this spot because of its solemn atmosphere and the 1,400 year history since the founding of the shrine. Mount Haguro is considered sacred by followers of Japan's Shinto religion and of Shugendo, an ancient Japanese tradition of mountain worship whose practitioners are commonly known as Yamabushi ("those who lie in the mountains"). Taking their faith very seriously, they come
every year on a pilgrimage to worship their deities.

Apropos of the nature of our surroundings, our night's 'Shukubo' temple accommodation reflects the solemnity of this special place. Originally the lodgings for the Buddhist monks, the story goes that Shukubo became available for ordinary pilgrims around 1,200 years ago during the Heian Period. From that time, there seemed to be Shukubo that was managed by persons other than Buddhist monks. About 400 years ago, when it became the Edo period, Shukubo became even more popular. Guests are encouraged to take part in temple activities and to learn about traditional temple life. Accommodations are spartan, but comfortable and atmospheric -- truly an unforgetable and quitessentially Japanese experience.

* This morning our large luggage will be sent ahead to Nagano for us.

Overnight at Mt Haguro.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 5 Mt Haguro & Yamadera Temple - Matsushima
This morning, after breakfast and morning prayers, we visit Yamadera Temple, famous for the haiku poem by Basho Matsuo. The temple grounds extend high up a steep mountainside from where there are great views down onto the valley. The temple was founded over a thousand years ago in 860 as a temple of the Tendai sect under the official name Risshakuji. Its popular name, Yamadera, literally means "mountain temple" in Japanese.

We then travel by coach to Matsushima Bay. For hundreds of years, Matsushima Bay has been celebrated as one of Japan's three most scenic views alongside Miyajima and Amanohashidate. The bay is dotted by over 200 small islands covered by pine trees.
On arrival we check-in to our traditional deluxe-class Ryokan style accommodation with time relax and enjoy our splendid surroundings and the amenities.

Ryokan are Japanese style inns found throughout the country, especially in hot spring resorts. More than just a place to sleep, ryokan are an opportunity to experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle and hospitality, incorporating elements such as tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local cuisine. This evening you can enjoy the onsen (hot spring baths) and a traditional Japanese dinner.

Overnight at Matsushima.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 6 Matsushima Bay - Sendai - Train to Nagano
This morning we'll have a scenic cruise on Matsushima Bay. Afterward we'll visit Zuiganji Temple, one of the Tohoku Region's most famous and prominent Zen temples, well-known for its beautifully-gilded and painted sliding doors (fusuma). Zuiganji is a reflection of the natural beauty of Matsushima and, upon entering the temple grounds, the approach to the main hall proceeds along a long, straight path flanked on both sides by cedar trees. An alternate path detours off to the right of the entrance and by a number of caves that were used in the past for meditation, and today contain statues.

We continue to Sendai from where we depart by Shinkansen for Nagano (3.5 hours). In 1998, the city hosted the Winter Olympic Games, and some former Olympic facilities can still be viewed around town. Historically, Nagano has been known for its ninja training schools.

* We will be reunited with our large luggage today upon arrival.

Overnight in Nagano.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 7 Nagano: Monkey Park & Obuse
Today we'll travel out of town we'll visit Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, which offers visitors the unique experience of seeing wild Japanese macaques bathing in a natural hot spring. The park is located in the monkeys' natural habitat in the forests of the Jigokudani Valley. While it is never guaranteed that monkeys will be seen and seen bathing (they usually only bathe in cold weather), the forest walk to get to them (+/- 30 min each way) is pleasant, especially in the fall when the leaves are in colour.

We'll also visit Obuse, a small town with a pretty town center. Hokusai, a renowned Edo Period (1603-1867) woodblock painter, who is best known for his ukiyo-e woodblock print, "The Great Wave off Kanagawa," spent the later years of his life in Obuse with his patron, a wealthy local merchant and art enthusiast. Several of the town's highlights are related to the artist and his patron, including the Hokusai Museum which we'll visit. Obuse is also well known for its seasonal produce, especially locally-grown chestnuts. Be sure to sample some of the chestnut confectionary treats available at shops throughout town.

Overnight in Nagano.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 8 Nagano: Matsumoto, Wasabi Farm & Zenkoji Temple
Today we have a full-day private coach day trip to Matsumoto.*

In Matsumoto we'll visit Matsumoto Castle,** the oldest and one of the most complete and beautiful among Japan's original castles (not a post-war reconstruction). It is a "hirajiro" -- a castle built on plains rather than on a hill or mountain. Matsumoto Castle is unique for having both a secondary donjon and a turret adjoined to its main keep. The castle structures, in combination with their characteristic black wainscoting, give off an air of grandeur and poise.

With a shift of gears, our next stop is the Daio Wasabi Farm, one of Japan's largest wasabi farms with multiple large fields and a meticulously maintained network of small streams that constantly provides each wasabi plant with clear, flowing water from the Northern Alps. Only under such pristine conditions is wasabi cultivation possible. An idyllic scene of old-fashioned, wooden water wheels alongside the river can also be enjoyed from the walking trails. The water wheels were constructed here for the filming of Kurosawa Akira's "Dreams" in 1989 and have been left standing. A shop sells a dizzying array of wasabi products to take home with you.

Back in the city, we also visit Zenkoji Temple, founded in 642 when Yoshimitsu Honda enshrined a Buddhist image at the present site. Nagano City evolved as a temple town around Zenkoji, one of Japan's most popular temples.

* OUR LUGGAGE will be sent ahead to Kyoto for us. Please pack an overnight bag for TWO NIGHTS.

** We will have time to visit the castle's interior, though please be aware that to climb up into the castle involves removing your shoes and staircases that are very steep.

Overnight in Nagano.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 9 Nagano - Train to Kanazawa: City Touring
Today we travel by Shinkansen to Kanazawa (70 minutes).* On arrival we have a walking tour of Kanazawa City.

During the Edo Period, Kanazawa served as the seat of the Maeda Clan, the second most powerful feudal clan after the Tokugawa in terms of rice production and feif size. Accordingly, Kanazawa grew to become a town of great cultural achievements, rivaling Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). During World War II, Kanazawa was Japan's second largest city (after Kyoto) to escape destruction by air raids. Consequently, parts of the old castle town, such as the Nagamachi samurai district and Chaya entertainment districts, have survived in good condition.

We'll have a walking tour of the Samurai District, a beautifully-preserved historic area that was once the residential district for the city’s samurai. It is a lovely area of canals and stone-flagged winding lanes that run between tile-topped earthern walls. Some of the former samurai houses and their gardens are also open for public viewing. We will visit the Nomura Residence, known for having one of the finest traditional residential gardens in the country.

We also visit Kenroku-en garden, Kanazawa's unchallenged main attraction and one of Japan's "three best landscape gardens," and by many considered the most beautiful of them all. Opened to the public in 1871, Kenroku-en features a variety of trees, shrubs, moss, and water features, which provide the garden with a different look for each season.

Finally we'll explore the Higashi-Chaya District. A chaya (teahouse) is an exclusive type of restaurant where guests are entertained by geisha who perform song and dance. During the Edo Period, chaya were found in designated entertainment districts, usually just outside the city limits. Of the three districts, the Higashi-Chaya is the largest and by far the most interesting. Two chaya, the Shima Teahouse and Kaikaro Teahouse, are open to the public. Other buildings along the central street now house cafes and shops. One of the shops, Hakuza, sells gold leaf products, a specialty of Kanazawa, and displays a tea ceremony room which is completely covered in gold leaf.

* This morning our large luggage will be sent ahead to Kyoto for us.

Overnight in Kanazawa.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 10 Kanazawa: Gokayama & Shirakawa Villages
Today we have full-day sightseeing in and around Kanazawa.

We will visit Shirakawa and Gokayama villages (both World Heritage Sites) where we will see the "Gassho" farmhouses. Gassho literally means that palms of hands are joined together in prayer. These are 3- or 4 story-wooden farmhouses with thick thatched roofs, some of which are almost 200 years old. These Gassho farmhouses are still occupied by families who still go about their daily lives in the village. We will visit a Gassho farmhouse, the observation deck, and the folk museum. We also enjoy a washi paper making experience nearby.

Time-permitting we'll stop at the D.T. Suzuki Museum, a small museum commemorating the life and works of Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro (1870-1966), a prominent Buddhist philosopher. D.T. Suzuki was a prolific writer who was instrumental in introducing Japanese Zen philosophy to the West.

* Tomorrow our large luggage is transported to Kyoto for us -- please pack a BAG for tomorrow's journey. Your Tour Leader will advise in advance when we expect to be reunited with our bags.

Overnight in Kanazawa.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 11 Kanazawa - Train to Kyoto
Today we board the Thunderbird Limited Express train to Kyoto (about 1.5 hours).*

Kyoto vibrates with creative energy. For 1,000 years, skilled craftsmen, wise masters, and the nation's most promising fine artists have been lured here. The deep impress of culture and the refinement is indelible; it's in the soul of the city. A long line of Japanese emperors was enthroned here, and the city retains this regal bearing through myriad festivals and commemorative customs preserved from feudal times. In diminutive home workshops along cobblestone alleyways no wider than a footpath, lacquerware, cloisonne, damascene, kimono fabrics, pottery, porcelain, fans, dolls, embroideries, and bamboo ware are still expertly turned out by hand. Kyoto attracts a sophisticated crowd to its vibrant Noh and Kabuki theatres, while the last geisha finishing schools are found in the lantern-lit side streets of the Pontocho and Gion sections of the city.

Thankfully, Kyoto's treasures were spared from bombing during WW II, when American scholars persuaded the military to leave this masterpiece of a city alone. Though Kyoto is now a thoroughly modern city, much of its spirit is intact, with over 200 Shinto shrines; 1,600 temples, 30 of which administer to the major sects of Buddhism throughout Japan; three Imperial palaces; nine major museums; and countless classic gardens.

Upon arrival we'll explore the Gion District on foot. Gion is a traditional entertainment district. Originally, the entertainment area developed here to service its many Gion Shrine pilgrims with food and drink. Later, as kabuki drama became popular on the Gion's western edges, more sophisticated forms of entertainment were developed for the theater-goers, and so today Gion is known as Kyoto's most famous geisha district.

Our day concludes with a visit to the Nishiki Food Market, a pleasant but busy atmosphere that is inviting to those who want to explore the variety of culinary delights for which Kyoto is famous. Most shops specialize in a particular type of food, and almost everything sold at the market is locally produced and procured.

* OUR LUGGAGE will be waiting for us on arrival in Kyoto.

Overnight in Kyoto.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 12 Kyoto: City Touring
Today we have a full-day Kyoto city tour by private coach.

We proceed to Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, one of Japan's most famous architectural and historical icons. We also visit Ryoan-ji, the famous raked gravel Zen Garden, for which the Zen Buddhists are renowned. The essential dichotomy and harmony of the universe, which lies at the heart of this belief system, is symbolized in these tranquil gardens.

We then diverge from the well-beaten tourist path to visit Genkou-an Temple, the most well- known features of which are two windows in the main hall that look out onto a less orderly, but no less inspiring, garden of flowering trees and stone lanterns. One window is square, representing four human afflictions: life, old age, illness, and death. The other is round, representing Zen awakening. Turn away from these windows and walk over to the opposite wall. Just to the right of the center of the ceiling is a very clear footprint.

By now you will be very aware that visitors descend on Kyoto in the thousands; however, one can still find pockets of tranquility in this area, and those in search of a special, typically Kyoto experience should look no further than Gesshin-in. Unlike many temples in Kyoto, it miraculously survived the many fires that swallowed other wooden structures of its kind, and so what you see today is the original building. In its garden is a gorgeous 600-year old 'Yuraku' camellia tree, and has been designated as a specially preserved tree by the Kyoto city government.

Our visit to Gesshin-in (the last temple on our tour!) culminates with tea ceremony experience. Tea ceremony is a fundamental part of Kyoto's aesthetic culture, and a tea session at Gesshin-in is a good introduction to its form: enjoying a tea sweet, followed by a delicious, freshly-whisked cup of matcha in the company of friends.

Overnight in Kyoto.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 13 Kyoto: City Touring
Today's half-day tour includes a visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice.

We then visit a sake brewery. You’ll be steeped in the history of Japan's most famous drink and learn how sake is made, and then enjoy a sake tasting while an expert guide describes the ingredients and process that created each characteristic flavour.

Afternoon free at leisure.

This evening we enjoy a farewell dinner with a beautiful Maiko dance performance.

Overnight in Kyoto.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 14 Departure
Departure from Kyoto.

DEPARTURE from Kyoto, which is served by Osaka's Itami Airport (for domestic flights connecting elsewhere in Japan before heading overseas), and Kansai Airport for international flights departing Osaka.

ITTE IRASSHAI!!

Included Meal(s): Breakfast

Tour Map

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

*The red tour trail on the map does not represent the actual travel path.


Hotel List


The following is a list of sample hotels at some locations included on this tour. The hotels shown here are meant to provide a general sense of the standard of hotel we usually aim for; they are not necessarily confirmed for your chosen departure.


Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu

Rating: 4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation
Location: Tokyo
Country: Japan

Right in the city heart, this hotel with its distinctive exterior is perfectly located for business and pleasure, served by
... subway lines and convenient to business, government, fashion and entertainment districts. A shopping arcade runs the length of the block-long building, with a variety of designer labels represented. Features: Satellite TV, telephone, refrigerator, hair dryer.

Read More.

Matsushima Ichinobo Ryokan

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Matsushima
Country: Japan

Overlooking Matsushima Bay, this posh hotel features upscale rooms with wood-paneled walls and ceilings, and offer flat-screen TVs, minifridges and
... along with pleasant views. An airy restaurant and a bar/lounge both have sea views. There's also an open-air bathhouse with natural hot spring water, a communal gender-segregated bathhouse and a sauna, plus an outdoor pool in a water garden.
Read More.

Shukubo Daishinbo Temple Inn


Location: Mt. Haguro
Country: Japan

A 350 year old temple inn, Shukubo Daishinbo offers Japanese-style accommodation, a large public bath and free Wi-Fi. Featuring a
... the property lies surrounded by nature. Guests can witness Buddhist prayers. Rooms have a tatami (woven-straw) floor, an LCD TV and air conditioning. Yukata robes are provided, while toilets and bathing facilities are shared. The Shukubo serves Japanese vegetarian meals in the dining area.
Read More.

Hotel JAL City Nagano

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Nagano
Country: Japan

This laid-back hotel on a tree-lined commercial street is 2 km from the 7th-century Zenkō-ji Buddhist temple and 10 km
... the Matsushiro Hot Spring. The bright, relaxed rooms offer free Wi-Fi, satellite TV and tea making equipment, as well as sitting areas.

Read More.

Kanazawa Manten Hotel

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Kanazawa
Country: Japan

A 5-minute walk from Kanazawa train station, this unassuming hot spring hotel is 3 km from both Ishikawa Prefectural Museum
... Art and Kanazawa Castle. Casual rooms with understated decor feature free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs.

Read More.

Mitsui Garden Kyoto Sanjo

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Kyoto
Country: Japan

A 3-minute walk from a metro station, this unfussy hotel along a busy street is 17 minutes' walk from 17th-century
... Castle and 2 km from Yasaka Shrine.

Read More.


Trip Information

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Inclusions

Hotel breakfast and most dinners (mostly at local restaurants) are included daily; one lunch. All transport, accommodation, sightseeing and entrance fees for sites noted as 'visited' in the detailed itinerary. Gratuities for restaurant staff, porters, local guides. Airport transfers for land & air customers arriving/departing on tour dates and for early arriving/later departing land & air customers if extra hotel nights are booked through us.

Exclusions

International airfare to/from the tour. Tour Leader gratuities, most lunches, drinks, personal items (phone, laundry, etc), international (if applicable) air taxes, and any excursions referenced as 'optional'. Airport transfers for Land Only customers. Optional trip cancellation insurance. Our post-reservation trip notes offer further guidance on shopping, not included meals.

Seasonality and Weather

Our October/November date coincides with central Japan's mild autumn season, characterized by cool temperatures and moderate rainfall. This part of Japan enjoys a relatively mild climate and we shouldn't experience any "cold" weather per se (though Nagano will likely be close to cold), but one should be prepared for some chilly mornings and the possibility of showers. The extreme heat, humidity, and heavy rainfall of summer has given way to more comfortable travelling conditions.

The main advantage of visiting at this time is the autumn colour, a particular delight in rural, forested areas, gardens, and temple grounds. This is also the season for "kiku," chrysanthemum bonsai trained into shields and rings, and even life-sized dolls constructed of the hardy fall flowers, filling outdoor stalls in October and November.

Though exact timing can vary from year to year, our spring date should coincide with plum and cherry blossoms, a colourful and festive time all over Japan. This is also a comfortable time in Japan, with cool days and prior to the hot/sticky season that arrives in June.

Transport and Travel Conditions

This is not a strenuous trip per se, with no difficult physical activity built into the program, but one very important consideration is our several train journeys on which one much be 100% independent with one's luggage. Japanese train stations are large and, though most feature escalators, one must be prepared to board/disembark trains with luggage which you will also have to store on board. To make this easier, when possible, we send our larger bags ahead via overnight delivery (you will need to pack an overnight bag).

We also visit some sites that are large and enjoy numerous walking tours or city tours with walking components. We will also have short walks to and from dinners.

Our optional temple hike at Mount Haguro is leisurely, and a vehicular option is available. Our visit to the snow monkey park involves an easy, pleasantly forested +/- 30 min walk (each way - slight incline).

Hotels all feature elevators and porters are available to assist with luggage to/from rooms.

Also pursuant to the 'immersive' and 'experiential' nature of this program, is our accommodation choices in some locations (see below) and our meal plan for the trip. Japan's culture is very much driven by presentation and aesthetics, and nowhere is this more strongly affected than its culinary traditions. Dinners at local restaurants not only allows you to fully experience every aspect of Japan's gastronomy, but also provides a unique and important insight into its cultural values. As such, it is important to have an open mind (and palate), as Western food will not be featured on any evening menu on this trip, nor will very specific food preferences be easily catered to.

Most hotel breakfasts will be more international with both Western food items and typical Japanese selections, possibly with the exception of our Ryokan and temple stays which will be primarily Japanese.

We suggest that you delve into Japanese food prior to leaving home and practice up on chopsticks, as forks are virtually unknown in Japan!

Accommodation

Our accommodation choices on this trip are extremely varied, and range from 3/4-star modern, international standard properties with en suite bath, to smaller, simpler lodging in smaller towns, and a one night stay in temple-style accommodation which is typically spartan, but comfortable and scrupulously clean. For this one night, your bed will come in the form of a futon which will be prepared for you on the floor during dinner. For this one night, private bath and toilet facilities will be shared (genders separated). Our 'ryokan' stay (Matsushima) features private bath/toilet in-room and Japanese style and decor but Western beds.

Single rooms are limited in number and likely smaller than twins.

For full details on all hotels, please click the "Map & Hotels" tab on this page (please note that the hotels shown are meant as samples only and may not necessarily be confirmed for your chosen departure).

Staff and Support

You will have a full-time Tour Leader managing all aspects of the trip from start to finish, and local guides who will join us in numerous locations. We will have local bus drivers in each location.

Group Size

Maximum 16 (plus Tour Leader)