Best of Japan - Fully Escorted Tour
16 Days/14 Nights
- Introduction •
- Itinerary •
- Map •
- Inclusions •
- 2013 Dates & Prices •
- 2014 Dates & Prices •
- Download Tour PDF
- Optional Cultural Activities •
- Western-Style Room Option
Best of Japan - Fully Escorted Tour Detailed Itinerary
|Light||0-2 miles in flat areas or 0-1 miles in hilly areas or with many stairs|
|Medium||2-4 miles in flat areas or 1-3 miles in hilly areas or with many stairs|
|Heavy||4-6 miles in flat areas or 3-5 miles in hilly areas or with many stairs|
Day 1: To Tokyo
Depart home for Tokyo's Narita Airport. No meals are included.
(Travel: 12 - 15 hours; Walking: Light)
Day 2: Arrive Tokyo
You lose a day flying to Japan due to crossing the International Dateline, and gain the day back when you fly home. You will be met at Tokyo's Narita airport by a Samurai Tours guide, who escorts you and your group to the ryokan in Tokyo. After checking in, the evening is free. No meals are included.
(Travel: 1-1/2 hours; Walking: Light)
Day 3: Tokyo
After breakfast, you will start the day with a Welcome/Orientation meeting. Next, the licensed, English-speaking guide will escort you by subway to the Tsukiji Fish Market. This market is the largest in the world, and it is estimated that 20% of all of the fish caught in the world passes through this market. Next, we will take the subway to Roppongi Hills, where we will visit the Tokyo City View. From the observation deck on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills Building, you will get a bird's eye view of Tokyo while also getting oriented to Tokyo, and a glimpse as to just how large Tokyo really is. On a clear day you might even see Mt. Fuji. Afterwards, we travel by subway to the famous Ginza district, the most expensive real estate in the world where we will first stop for a lunch of Kushiage (fried meat and vegetables on bamboo skewers). After lunch, you will have some free time to wander through the numerous boutiques and department stores. Or visit the Nissan and BMW showrooms to see the latest auomobile technology. Or explore the Sony Building where you will find many of Sony's products on display, some of which aren't on the market yet. After riding the subway to the Hinode Pier, we take a relaxing cruise on the Sumida River back to the Asakusa area. Here we will tour the Nakamise-dori, Senso-ji Buddhist Temple and the Asakusa Shrine where you will learn about Buddhist and Shinto Japanese religious practices. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant included.
(Travel: 1 3/4 Hours; Walking: Heavy)
Day 4: Kamakura
We board a subway and an express train to the ancient city of Kamakura, the former capital of Japan in the 13th century. We will start at Hase-dera. This temple, originally established in the 8th century houses a famous Kannon statue made from wood and gold leaf, and also has a commanding view of the nearby ocean. Next we will visit Kotokuin, the home of the famous Kamakura Great Buddha. This 40-foot tall bronze statue of Buddha, built in the 13th century is an icon of Japan. After a relaxing noodle lunch, we continue by taxi to Hokokuin Temple, also known as the Bamboo Temple. Here you will be able to relax and enjoy the serene atmosphere of the bamboo garden while savoring tea and sweets. A local, licensed English-speaking, Japanese guide will be joining us for the day. After arriving back in Tokyo, we will enjoy a Kaitenzushi dinner. (Kaitenzushi literally translates to Sushi-go-round.) The sushi moves by on a conveyor belt, and you grab what looks good. Breakfast at the ryokan, lunch and dinner at a local Japanese restaurant are included.
(Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Medium)
Day 5: Tokyo, Hakone Yumoto Onsen
The day is free to explore Tokyo on your own. Go shopping for that perfect souvenir, visit the Meiji Shrine dedicated to the Japanese emperor of the 19th century, or wander through the trendy Shibuya or Harajuku districts where you will more than likely see interesting and far-out fashions. Late in the afternoon, we will travel to Hakone Yumoto Onsen, where we will stay overnight and where you can enjoy the thermally-heated mineral baths at the ryokan. Before leaving Tokyo, you will prepare your luggage to be transferred to Takayama, and will be traveling to Hakone and Takayama with an overnight bag only. Breakfast at the ryokan is included.
(Travel: 1 1/2 hours; Walking: Light)
Day 6: Hakone, Travel to Takayama
After checking out of the ryokan, we will tour Hakone. Hakone is famous for its natural beauty and the view of nearby Mt. Fuji (weather permitting). We will be taking many different forms of transportation (electric train, funicular, gondola and bus) around Hakone including the Hakone Sightseeing Boats on Lake Ashi. In good weather, passengers aboard the sightseeing cruise can get a fine view of Japan's most famous peak, Mount Fuji, and enjoy Hakone's rich scenery reflected on the lake's calm surface. Along the way we will be stopping at the Owakudani on the ropeway. The large windows of the gondola allow visitors to observe the panorama of Hakone's unspoiled natural setting. Owakudani offers magnificent views of Mount Fuji in what is still an active volcanic region. Here at Owakudani, you will have free time to explore the thermally-heated pools and mud pots. You can try one of the `black eggs`, which are eggs hard-boiled in the thermally-heated mineral waters. It is said if you eat one of these eggs, it will add seven years to your life. (It is probably said by the people who sell the eggs.). After returning to Hakone Yumoto and picking up our overnight bags, we will continue on to Takayama. Takayama, in the middle of the Japan Alps, with its traditional inns, shops, and sake breweries, has managed to retain its traditional charm. After checking into the ryokan, the evening is free to enjoy one of the many nearby Hida Beef restaurants. (Hida Beef is the same thing as the more famous Kobe Beef.) Breakfast at the ryokan is included.
(Travel: 5 hours; Walking: Medium)
Day 7: Takayama
This morning we stroll through the farmer's market, sampling the numerous options from vegetable stands and stalls selling herbs, pickles, and souvenirs. After that, we tour the Takayama-jinya, which was the governing office of Takayama and the surrounding area since the early 17th century. The guide will take you to the Sanmachi-suji district, consisting of merchant homes dating back to the 16th century. From here the rest of the day is free to roam and explore Takayama. Visit the many temples, shrines and museums, rummage through antique shops, or relax at one of the sake breweries. A Kaiseki-style dinner will be served at the ryokan in the evening. Breakfast and Kaiseki-stlye dinner at the ryokan are included.
(Travel: None; Walking: Medium)
Day 8: Koya-san
We will travel to Koya-san with overnight bags only. The rest of the luggage will be delivered to our ryokan in Osaka where we will be staying the following night. We board an express train and Shinkansen bound for Osaka, and continue to Koya-san by train and funicular. Koya-san is the world headquarters of the Shingon school of Esoteric Buddhism. Kobo Daishi, considered by many to be the most influential religious person in Japanese history, established a religious community here in the year 816. After checking into our shukubo (Buddhist temple lodging), you are free to roam and visit one of the 110 temples in the area, wander through the nearby ghostly cemetery at the famous Okuno-in temple, or just rest in the garden at the shukubo. Your dinner of shojin-ryori (traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine - no meat, fish, onions or garlic) will be served by the Buddhist Monks from the temple. After dinner, one of the monks from the temple will give instructions on meditation. Meditation is an important part of Buddhism, and the path to enlightenment. Breakfast at the ryokan and shojin-ryori dinner at the temple are included.
(Travel: 8 hours; Walking: Light)
Day 9: Koya-san/Osaka
Very early in the morning, we attend o-inori (Buddhist prayer services). Afterwards, a shojin-ryori breakfast is served. Following this meal, we wander through the huge cemetery leading up to the Okuno-in temple. Kobo Daishi is buried at this temple, and many Japanese still believe that Kobo Daishi is not dead, but merely in a very advanced state of meditation, waiting to awaken at the appropriate time. We will stop for a Shojin-ryori lunch before we tour the Garan Temple complex. A local, English-speaking, Japanese guide joins us at Koya-san. Then back to Osaka by train. After picking up our luggage and checking into our ryokan, the evening is free to visit the Dotombori-dori, the nearby nightlife and restaurant district. While there, you can visit the Ebisu-bashi bridge, which will make you feel like you stepped into the movie "Blade Runner." Shojin-ryori breakfast at the temple and Shojin-ryori lunch at a local restaurant are included.
(Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Heavy)
Day 10: Osaka Castle/Miyajima Island
Before leaving in the morning you will need to prepare your main luggage for transfer to Kyoto. We will then take the subway to Osaka Castle. Osaka Castle is one of Japan's most famous castles, and played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century. It was the home of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the son of a farmer who unified Japan after a 100-year civil war. After lunch at the ryokan, we will continue on to Hiroshima by Shinkansen, and then a local train to the harbor where we will board a ferry for Miyajima Island. Miyajima Island is said by the Japanese to be one of the top three scenic sights in Japan. The evening is free to enjoy the solitude and ambiance of the island after all of the day-trippers head back to the mainland. Breakfast, lunch and kaiseki dinner at the ryokan included.
(Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Heavy)
Day 11: Miyajima Island
The entire day is free to enjoy and relax in the beauty and ambiance of Miyajima Island: ride the cable car to the top of the mountain on Miyajima Island where you can visit with the local monkeys, or visit the Itsukushima-jinja shrine which was built in its present form in 1168. Or just stroll around the island while enjoying grilled oysters, the island's specialty. Breakfast and kaiseki dinner at the ryokan included.
(Travel: To be determined; Walking: To be determined)
Day 12: Hiroshima/Kyoto
After taking the ferry back to Hiroshima, we tour the Peace Memorial Museum and the Peace Memorial Park, which are both sobering testaments to the dropping of the A-bomb on August 6, 1945. Afterwards, we are off to Kyoto via the Shinkansen. Once in Kyoto, we pick up our luggage and check into our ryokan, where we stay for the remainder of the tour. The evening in Kyoto is free. Breakfast at the ryokan is included.
(Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Heavy)
Day 13: Kyoto
We will start the morning at Ryoan-ji. To many, the temple's name is synonymous with the temple's famous karesansui (dry landscape) rock garden, thought to have been built in the late 1400s. Perhaps the most famous garden in Japan, the garden's designer is unknown and left no explanation of the meaning of the garden. The dry-style garden consists of three groupings of 15 rocks surrounded by raked sand. From the viewing point on the veranda, only 14 rocks can be seen at one time. Move slightly and another rock appears at the same time that one of the original 14 rocks disappears. In Buddhism, the number 15 denotes completeness. You must have a total view of the garden to make a meaningful experience. And yet, as in the conditions of the real world, that's not possible. Next we will visit Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is one of Kyoto's, as well as Japan's, most recognizable attractions. The gleaming building covered in gold leaf seems to float on the aptly named Mirror Pond, especially on a sunny day. After lunch we will visit Nijo Castle. Built in 1603, it was the Kyoto home of Tokugawa Ieayasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun. The ostentatious style of construction was intended as a demonstration of Ieyasu's prestige, and to signal the demise of the emperor's power. The finest artists of the day filled the castle with delicate transom woodcarvings and paintings by the Kano School on sliding doors. One of the castle's most intriguing features is the so-called "nightingale" floors. To protect the Shogun from real or imagined enemies, these floorboards creak when stepped on. Next we will tour the Nishiki-koji Open Air Market. Also known as Kyoto's Kitchen, the Nishiki-koji covered shopping arcade was established 400 years ago. This is where many restaurants and ryokans come to buy that day's meals. We will finish the day at the famous Gion Geisha District. Here, you will see where the Geisha live and work while you learn about this mysterious worldl. You may even see one on their way to one of their appointments. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant included.
(Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Heavy)
Day 14: Fushimi/Nara/Uji
Today we are off by train to the nearby city of Fushimi, one of the largest sake producing regions of Japan. Here we will visit the Fushimi Inari shrine. This Shinto Shrine, established in the 8th century, is famous for the long tunnels of vermilion torii gates straddling a network of trails leading to the top of the heavily forested Mt. Inari. Next, we are off by train to Nara, the original capital of Japan in the 8th century before it was moved to Kyoto. Here you will see Todai-ji, which is the largest wooden building in the world and houses the world's largest bronze statue of Buddha. Along the way, you can feed the famous Nara deer. They have been in this area since the 7th century, and roam freely protected by Buddhist traditions. We will stop for lunch before continuing to the city of Uji. Known as the tea capital of Japan, Uji tea has been the tea of preference of Emperors, Shoguns and feudal lords for hundreds of years. After a short walk past numerous small shops selling their aromatic, local green tea, we will participate in an authentic tea ceremony. Immediately following, we will tour Byodoin. The most spectacular feature here is the Phoenix Hall. Built in 1053, the Phoenix Hall with its surrounding garden is a perfect example of Pure Land Paradise architecture, and was influential on later temple architecture. The Phoenix Hall can be found on the back side of the Japanese 10 Yen coin. A local, licensed, English-speaking, Japanese guide joins us in Fuishimi, Nara and Uji for the day. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local Japanese restaurant in Nara are included.
(Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Heavy)
Day 15: Kyoto
The morning and afternoon is free. Click here for sightseeing options. During the day, we can arrange for a home visit for those who are interested. This is an opportunity to visit with a local Japanese family in their home. (There is no extra fee for this. If you are interested in this, please let us know when you register.) In the early evening, we will travel by taxi to a restaurant to enjoy our Shabu-Shabu Sayonara dinner. During the dinner in a private room, we will be joined by a "Maiko" for a private Maiko dinner party. A Maiko is a geisha in training. She will perform a short dance, answer any of your questions, pose for pictures with you and teach you some traditional Japanese party games. Breakfast at the ryokan and dinner at a local Japanese restaurant included.
(Travel: 30 Minutes; Walking: Light)
Day 16: Home
It's time to say "sayonara" (goodbye). You will be escorted from the ryokan to the Kyoto train station. From there, you will take the express train on your own to the Kansai International Airport, just outside Osaka, or return to Narita Airport by Shinkansen and Narita express train on your own for your flight back home. (If you are flying out of Narita Airport, be sure to schedule a flight in the late-afternoon or evening.) Breakfast at the ryokan is included.
(Travel: 2-4 Hours; Walking: Light)