Day 1: Australia –– Tokyo
Depart Australia for Tokyo. On arrival in Tokyo, please make your own way to your hotel.
Please note: Some flights may depart 1 day earlier.
Day 2: Tokyo (B)
Welcome to Japan – the Land of the Rising Sun. Your first full day in Tokyo will take you through some of the city’s cultural highlights such as Sensoji Temple (Tokyo’s largest, oldest, and most important Buddhist Temple), Shibuya (casual neighbourhood that most resembles NYC’s Times Square), Harajuku (neighbourhood chock full of unique fashion and crepes), and Meiji Shrine.
Day 3: Tokyo –– Nikko (B)
From Tokyo, we’ll transfer to Nikko by express train – a stunning rural town two hours outside of Tokyo by train. Nikko is also home to Nikko National Park, which is most famous for Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine called Toshogu that we’ll visit. The area is also the former centre of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for many centuries before Toshogu was built, and Nikko National Park offers plenty of mountain hiking trails, lakes, waterfalls, hot springs and wild monkeys. In the evening, if you have any energy left, we’ll walk to Kanmangafuchi Abyss which is known for its row of about 70 stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who cares for the deceased. The statues look out over the river and across to the Nikko Botanical Garden making for a beautiful, scenic bike ride or walk.
Day 4: Nikko (B)
During our second day in Nikko, we’ll visit a local sake brewery in the morning. Sake is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice and is often referred to as nihonshu in Japanese. The foundations of good sake are quality rice, clean water, koji mold and yeast. Sake is typically filtered with the result being clear to slightly yellowish rice wines that have an alcohol content of around 15-17% and depending on where you go in Japan, the flavor profiles will change as well. Once we’ve heightened our spirits, we’ll explore Lake Chuzenji.
Lake Chuzenji is located at the foot of Mount Nantai, Nikko’s sacred volcano, whose eruption blocked the valley below, thereby creating the lake nearly 20,000 years ago. Chuzenjiko’ shores are mostly undeveloped and forested except at the lake’s eastern end where the small hot spring town of Chuzenjiko Onsen was built. Our time at the lake will also include a look at Kegon Falls, the most famous waterfall in Nikko and ranked one of the top 3 most beautiful waterfalls in Japan.
Day 5: Nikko –– Hakone (B)
Today we make our way to Hakone by express train. Given its close proximity to Tokyo, Hakone is a popular getaway for both Japanese and overseas visitors alike. Here it’s easy to spend a day enjoying nature or relaxing at one of the many onsens in the area. Take an express train from Nikko and for our two days in Hakone, options for exploring may include a leisurely boat ride around Lake Ashinoko and granted that we have good weather, we’ll be able to see Mt. Fuji from the boat.
Day 6: Hakone (B)
Today you might also like to visit Owakudani which is a stop on the Hakone Ropeway. Much of the Owakudani area is today an active volcanic zone where people can experience hot springs and hot rivers. Hakone used to be an important checkpoint to control traffic along the Tokaido highway which linked Tokyo to Kyoto during the Edo Period. A short, cedar lined passage of the old Tokaido road is located along the shore of Lake Ashinoko. We’ll take a walk through and enjoy this more traditional side of Hakone.
Day 7: Hakone –– Kanazawa (B)
Kanazawa boasts many historical attractions such as restored residences and districts, as well as modern museums. However, Kanazawa’s main attraction is Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s three best landscape gardens and by many considered the most beautiful of them all. The spacious grounds of the garden used to be the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle and were constructed by the ruling Maeda family over a period of nearly two centuries. Kenrokuen now features a variety of flowering trees which provide the garden with a different look for each season. Chaya in Japanese means “teahouse,” and Higashi Chaya is an old teahouse district with exclusive types of restaurants where guests used to be entertained by geisha who performed song and dance. Kanazawa has three, well preserved chaya districts, Higashi Chaya being the largest and most well-known of the three. Other buildings along the central street now house cafes and shops. One of the shops, Hakuza, even sells gold leaf products, a specialty of Kanazawa, and has a tea ceremony room, which is completely covered in gold leaf.
Day 8: Kanazawa (B)
Today we visit Omicho Market – a busy and colourful network of covered streets lined with about 200 shops and stalls. Most shops specialize in the excellent local seafood and produce, but you can also find flowers, clothing, kitchen tools and more on sale. Nagamachi was a former samurai district located at the foot of the former Kanazawa Castle where samurai and their families used to reside. The area preserves a historic atmosphere with its remaining samurai residences, earthen walls, private entrance gates, narrow lanes and water canals. One of the main attractions of the district is the centrally located Nomura-ke, a restored samurai residence displaying the lifestyle and artefacts of the era when samurai were prosperous. Enjoy the afternoon free at leisure.
Day 9: Kanazawa –– Kyoto (B)
Once we arrive in Kyoto via express train, step back in time with visits to Gion and a walk through Old Town Kyoto streets that lead up to Kiyomizudera Temple known as Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka. These are two of Kyoto’s most attractive streets as they are lined with beautifully restored traditional shophouses and closed off to cars. These pedestrian-only lanes that slope up towards the temple make for some of the most atmospheric strolling in the whole city. Gion attracts tourists with its high concentration of traditional wooden restaurants and teahouses where geisha often perform.
Day 10: Kyoto (B)
Today we continue exploring Kyoto including Ryoanji Gardens, Kinkakuji Temple, and Arashiyama.Ryoanji is the site of Japan’s most famous rock garden. Originally serving as an aristocrat’s villa during the Heian Period, Ryoanji was converted into a Zen temple in 1450. What is so unique about this garden is that the date of construction is unknown as is the designer, and perhaps most peculiar is that from any vantage point at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer. Kinkakuji is a beautiful Zen temple in northern Kyoto with the top two floors completely covered in gold leaf. The temple overlooks a large pond and is Kyoto’s most photographed temple. Burned down a number of times throughout history, the current structure was built in 1955. Arashiyama, a smaller district on the outskirts of western Kyoto is most famous for its bamboo forest. The walking paths that cut through the bamboo forest make for a nice walk. The bamboo grown here is used to manufacture various products like baskets, cups, boxes and even small mats used to make sushi.
Day 11: Kyoto –– Koyasan (B,D)
Today, we’ll visit Mt. Koya, the centre of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi, one of Japan’s most significant religious figures. Mt. Koya is also the start and end point of the famous Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. We’ll walk to Okunoin Temple, the site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi and one of the most sacred places in Japan and a popular pilgrimage spot.
Day 12: Koyasan –– Kyoto (B)
We’ll begin the day in silence and stillness with a morning meditation to set our intentions for the day. Once finished, we’ll return to our accommodation to collect our belongings and transfer to Kyoto by train. The afternoon is free at leisure to explore beautiful Kyoto at your own pace. Consult the guide on the places, activities and shopping areas you wish to visit. Kyoto is full of World Heritage sites with myriad of options to choose from.
Day 13: Kyoto –– Tokyo (B)
The tour concludes with a bullet train ride back to Tokyo. Enjoy the afternoon free at leisure for any last minute shopping or sightseeing.
Day 14: Tokyo –– Australia (B)
Today it’s time to say sayonara to Japan as we accompany you to the train station to catch your flight home.
Day 15: Australia
Arrive home today.