Your first day begins as you board your international flight to Tokyo. We will be able to help you arrange the flight that best suits your needs. Meals will be served during the flight.
You’ll arrive at Haneda Airport this morning, where you’ll collect your bags, pass through customs and catch a shared coach to your hotel in Tokyo.
There’ll be plenty of amazing restaurants available for lunch after you arrive at your hotel for the next few nights, the three-star Shinjuku Washington Hotel (or another of similar quality), which is right in the centre of the city. Once you’ve checked in, there’s free time for the rest of the day – a perfect moment to explore one of the most vibrant cities in the world.
The hotel staff will be able to make excellent dinner recommendations in the local area.
You’ll eat breakfast at your hotel, before linking up with an Englishspeaking guide in the lobby for an incredible all-day tour of Tokyo on public transport.
The first stop is Shibuya Sky, which at 230m is one of the highest points in Tokyo, offering unparalleled views of the whole city stretching out below. From there we’ve laid on a sushi-making masterclass at Ganko, where you’ll learn the secrets of Japan’s quintessential dish – and then eat what you’ve made. You’ll also sample sushi made by the experts, including sea urchin, which is hard to find outside Japan.
That afternoon you’ll travel a little way east to the historic Senso-ji Temple and the neighbouring Nakamise shopping arcade. This is one of Tokyo’s most important Buddhist sites, and it’s a great place to pick up traditional arts and crafts. A short stop up the Metro, meanwhile, lies the district of Akihabara, a mecca for geek culture and technology lovers and a fantastic place just to explore. You’ll have time to stop in at an owl café – yes, a café where you can meet some real-life (and very friendly) owls – and a pachinko parlour, where you’ll learn how to play Japan’s favourite game.
Dinner is back in Shinjuku, where you’ll explore the socalled Golden Gai, a ramshackle cluster of atmospheric restaurants, bars and booths frequented by Tokyo’s coolest customers.
Today you leave the big city behind for something very different. You’ll be climbing Mt Fuji, the snow-capped extinct volcano that has captured the imagination of generations of poets, artists and holy men.
At 3,776m above sea level, Mt Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, dominating the skyline for miles around. The summit is only open to climbers between July and September, but the sight of the sunrise from the peak is so special it has its own name: “Goraiko”.
It’s an early start, and you’ll have to grab breakfast from a convenience store before you get to the muster point in Shinjuku at 7am. Leave your suitcase at the hotel and pack an overnight bag, warm clothes and sturdy boots, but you can rent any other gear you need from the tour company. You’ll arrive at the fifth station on the mountainside around 11, climbing for approximately five hours before you arrive at the way station where you’ll eat a well-earned dinner (included) and stay the night.
If you thought yesterday was an early start, today begins long before dawn with a mountainside breakfast to fuel you for today’s ascent.
Climbing begins at 3am, so you can arrive at the summit by 4.30am and catch that spectacular sunset. As the day fills with light, you’ll make your way back down to base camp at the fifth station and return to Tokyo by coach. The tour will stop for a few hours at some public baths, where you can wash, recuperate and grab a much-deserved bite to eat.
You’ll be back in Shinjuku by 6pm, where you can return to the Shinjuku Washington or head out to find a restaurant – you won’t be short of options in a city like Tokyo!
Today’s your last day in the capital – and you’re departing for somewhere very special. You’ll pack another travel bag and meet your guide after a hotel breakfast and leave for Tokyo’s central station, where you’ll catch the Bullet Train headed north to Nagano. You’ll rejoin the rest of your luggage in Kyoto the day after tomorrow.
You’re heading to the Jigokudani Yaen Park, an area of bubbling geothermal activity famous for its natural hot springs – and the snow monkeys who love to bathe in them. After a half-hour trek through the park, you’ll get up close and personal with these red-faced, whitefurred Japanese Macaques as they soak away the cares of the world. And while you can’t go for a dip with them, they really don’t mind an audience.
There’s a nice café near the entrance of the park where you can eat a late lunch before heading into Nagano itself. You’ll check in at the three-star Nagano Tokyu REI hotel, or another of similar quality. We’ve arranged a session at a local karaoke joint for an authentic Japanese night out, after which you can head out into town and find somewhere nice for dinner.
After your usual tasty hotel breakfast, your guide will usher you to Nagano Station. Today you’re headed for Matsuoka, a small town in Fukui Prefecture that’s home to Eihei-ji Temple, a sprawling Buddhist complex with nearly 800 years of history.
Founded in 1244 by Dogen, the Buddhist scholar who introduced Soto Zen to Japan from China, Eihei-ji remains one of the sect’s head temples – with more than 70 main buildings connected by covered walkways to protect residents during the region’s harsh winters. Lunch will a bowl of delicious soba noodles, ahead of a full afternoon spent in quiet study and contemplation.
You’ll be guided by one of the monks through a session of Zazen meditation, clearing your mind and your spirit. Afterwards you’ll be shown how to copy some of the temple’s ancient sutras – a most reverent experience. Dinner will be a simple meal of tofu, prepared to strict vegetarian Buddhist recipes at a local shukubo – a refectory for travelling monks – while you’ll stay at Hakujukan, a pleasant, simple on-site inn for the temple’s honoured guests.
Guests can take part in the morning service just before dawn. More than one hundred monks live and practice at Eihei-ji, and hearing the sutras recited in dramatic unison creates an air of true serenity for the day ahead.
Breakfast will be served at the inn, and you’ll be met once more by your guide before you set out for Kyoto, a gorgeous city that was for many years the nation’s capital and the seat of the imperial family. We recommend you participate in another great Japanese tradition – a packed lunch on the train. There will be plenty of stores at Fukui Station selling excellent bento boxes for the journey.
There’s so much history to see in Kyoto, so prepare for a hectic few days as you dip in and out of some of Japan’s grandest eras. Sightseeing will be done by private coach, starting at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple in the hills, which is built down a sheer, tree-lined cliff. You’ll then stroll through Higashiyama, one of the city’s best-preserved feudal-era districts, exploring the wonderful old buildings and alleyways.
Later that day, you’ll enjoy the tranquil hospitality of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, before you check in at the 3.5-star New Hankyu Kyoto (or another hotel of similar quality. Dinner tonight will once again be up to you, but Kyoto has a rich culinary tradition and you certainly won’t go hungry!
You’ll meet your guide after breakfast as usual at your hotel, ahead of another full day of sightseeing in Kyoto by private coach. You’ll start at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in the hills, a holy Shinto site dedicated to the fox god Inari, who’s in charge of rice, the harvest and good times. It’s world-famous for the many hundreds of vermillion torii gates that wind their way up the hillside.
You’ll rustle up some lunch on your own at the historic Nishi-ki Market, before you step further into history this afternoon at Toei Eigamura, a theme park built into a film set that really brings the past alive. It’s the size of a small town, and replicates a few famous Japanese sites, including the old Nihonbashi Bridge from Tokyo. If you like, we can arrange for your party to dress up in traditional kimonos, while there are plenty of attractions and a thrilling ninja show.
You’ll then visit Kinkaku-ji Temple, which is known as the Golden Pavilion for one very good reason – it’s covered in delicate gold leaf glinting in the summer sun. This temple to the north of the city is one of Kyoto’s iconic sights, and has to be seen to be believed.
That evening, we’ve arranged a very special cultural experience – a classical maiko dinner show. Maiko are geishas in training, and you’ll eat and drink as they dance, play music and make charming conversation with their guests in the same way as they’ve been doing for centuries.
After breakfast, you’ll leave Japan’s main island and head west towards Kyushu, where you’ll be staying in the province of Oita – One the best place in Japan to enjoy hot spring relaxation.
Travelling by Bullet Train, your first stop is Kokura Station. You’ll be eating lunch on the train once again, and there will be plenty of tasty options on sale at Kyoto Station.
You’ll switch trains at Kokura, heading to Nakatsu Station, where another English-speaking representative will help you hire a car for the next leg of the journey. They’ll explain the navigation system and the rules of Japanese roads (don’t worry – they also drive on the left here!) and then you’re ready to go!
The stunning Yabakei Gorge is roughly 20 minutes from Nakatsu, and best seen from the saddle of a bike. We recommend a 21-mile cycle trail that offers incredible panoramic views of the gorge itself, especially Hitomihakkei where and the trees lined up the cliffside. You can also try a lower-intensity walking trek lasting between one and two hours.
Another our recommendation is trekking in Kunisaki peninsula which located about 80 minutes to the east from Nakatsu. About two and half hours Mt. Monju Circuit course is forest trail with fantastic mountain view. Start from Monjusen-ji temple where Nio statues in moss are standing by the steep staircases.
Tonight’s final destination is the town of Beppu, one of the finest geothermal resorts in the whole country, and a place that’s constantly wreathed by clouds of steam that literally billow from vents in the ground. After a long ride, there’s nothing better than sand bathing at the Hyotan hot spring to wipe away the exertions of the road.
For dinner tonight we recommend another unique experience – jigokumushi, which means “hell cooking”. Even at the surface, Beppu’s steamvents can reach 100 degrees Celsius – hot enough to cook with. The local steam is loaded with minerals, and it adds a distinctly soft flavour to the food. Needless to say, steaming food in this way is also incredibly ecofriendly. Your hotel tonight is the three- star Beppu Kamenoi Hotel, or another of similar quality. Make sure you make time for a restorative dip in the local hot spring!
After a hotel breakfast, you’ll hop into your rental car and make your way to Saiki, on the coast to the south-east. We’ve arranged for you to stop for lunch at a road station called Ume, which is famous for its fried chicken – at the same time quite similar to and very different from western-style chicken.
Your guide will meet you and get you to Fujigawachi Gorge, a stunning natural feature that’s perfect for canyoning – an adventure activity that involves a wide variety of techniques including climbing, rappelling, canoeing, swimming, and even diving. It’s a brilliant way to see some of the fiercer parts of nature in this part of Japan.
That evening you’ll drive to a family farm in nearby Usuki, where you’ll meet your host family who’ll put you up this evening. You’ll be welcomed with open arms by your smiling host family, who will happily show you how to prepare and cook some of the delicious local cuisine – which you’ll then enjoy for dinner! It’s such a brilliant way to discover what life is really like in these parts.
Your last breakfast in Japan will be at your host family’s house. After saying your good-byes, you’ll drive to Usuki and pay a visit to the Kichiyomu Mura Crafts Centre, where you’ll experience a workshop teaching you how to make the local Usuki-yaki style of pottery. If you’re pleased with what you create, the workshop can even ship what you made back to your home once it’s been fired.
After a stroll around the historic castle town of Usuki, we suggest Usami for lunch, a local restaurant which serves delicious local produce on Usuki-yaki plates. Vegan options are available.
Then you’ll drive to Oita Airport to return your rental car, catching a domestic flight back to Haneda Airport. From there, you’ll board an international flight home, arriving the next day.
3 to 4 star hotels, one night in a mountain hut and a one-night farm stay as mentioned in the itinerary, subject to availability.
DURATION 12 days / 10 nights
ARRIVAL Fly into either of Tokyo’s airports: Narita or Haneda
DEPARTURE Depart from Oita Airport.
WHEN T O VISIT July, August and September.
A D V E N T U R E S I N T H E W I L D
With a two-day hike up the sacred Mt Fuji to see the most beautiful sunrise on Earth, as well as trekking, cycling, hiking, driving on your own, sand bathing and canyoning, this trip is for people who like to experience the wilderness up close and personal.
A D V E N T U R E S I N C I V I L I S A T I O N
This trip is all about adventures… including cultural adventures. From your first stop at Shibuya Sky, the best vantage point in Tokyo, you’ll experience a true slice of Japanese life. You’ll learn to make sushi, have a spin in a pachinko parlour, sing karaoke into the night, learn meditation techniques and copy sutras under the tutelage of practicing Buddhist monks, kit yourself out in a kimono, watch a maiko show and, of course, take time for the tea ceremony. There’s so much packed into these two weeks, you’ll see Japan in a totally new light by the time you’re done.
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