Best of Kyoto and Beyond

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Steeped in history and tradition, Kyoto has in many ways been the cradle of Japanese culture. A stroll through Kyoto today is a walk through 11 centuries of Japanese history.

Destinations

Kyoto, Osaka, Fushimi, Arashiyama, Nara, Himeji

Kyoto is endowed with an almost overwhelming legacy of ancient Buddhist temples, majestic palaces, and gardens of every size and description. For many, just the name of Kyoto conjures up the classic images of Japan: streets of traditional wooden houses, the click-clack of geta (wooden sandals) on the paving stones, geisha in a flourish of brightly colored silks, and a tea master deliberately warming water and making tea.

You will meet a “maiko” (geisha-in-training) face-to-face, climb to the top of a Samurai castle, participate in an authentic tea ceremony, copy a Buddhist Sutra in the middle of one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan, marvel at the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue built in the 8th century, and much, much more.

Combine this tour with the Best of Tokyo and Beyond tour for a more complete Japanese experience. Or, if you only want to spend a few days in Tokyo either before or after the tour, we can arrange this for you. Contact us for details.

DAY 1Arrive Osaka

You lose a day flying to Japan due to crossing the International Dateline, but you will gain the day back when you fly home. You will be met at Osaka’s Kansai airport by a meeting service who will escort you to the ryokan where you will be staying. No meals are included.

Travel: 1-1/2 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 2Kyoto – Ryoanji, Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), Tea Ceremony, Nijo Castle

After breakfast, you will start the day with a Welcome/Orientation meeting. We start the day at Ryoanji. One of the most famous gardens in Japan, Ryoan-ji is part of the Rinzai School of Zen Buddhism. There is considerable debate concerning the origins and evolution of Ryoanji’s famous rock garden. The garden’s designer is unknown, and left no explanation of the meaning of the garden. The garden is an example of karesansui (dry landscape) garden in its purest form. The dry-style garden consists of three groupings of 15 rocks surrounded by raked sand, and the garden is enclosed on three sides by a blank clay wall and on a fourth side by a veranda. 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 take a bus to Kinkakuji. Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, was originally built in 1393 as a retirement villa by Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, the fifth Ashikaga Shogun. After his death, his son converted the villa to a Buddhist temple. The gleaming building covered in gold leaf seems to float on the aptly named Mirror Pond. In the Shinden style of the Heian Period, the pavilion sits on the edge of the pond, surrounded by a Chinese-influenced garden whose focus is the pond studded with rocks and pine-covered islands. Each floor of the three-story structure has a different architectural style, with a golden-colored phoenix standing on the roof. The original building was destroyed by a fire in 1950 set by a mentally-ill monk with metaphysical aspirations. The copy, as seen today, was quickly rebuilt in five years. The exterior of the building was regilded in 1987 at great expense. Yoshimitsu lived his retirement years here in seamless luxury while the rest of the country and Kyoto suffered from a series of famines, earthquakes and plagues. It is thought the local Kyoto death toll alone reached 1,000 people per day during this time. It is unknown, however, if he told his aides to “Let them eat cake”. Yoshimitsu designed the garden on the basis of earlier Heian Period gardens, with the pond as the focus of the garden. Though there is a path around the pond, the garden was designed to be viewed from a boat or from the Golden Pavilion itself. The banks of the pond are planted with bushes and pruned trees, whose size in the foreground, near the pavilion, is small. Taller trees and bushes on the further bank lie in front of even larger trees to create the illusion of considerable space, augmented by the borrowed mountain scenery in the distance. Before continuing, we will take a short walk to a nearby noodle shop for lunch. After lunch, we will attend an authentic tea ceremony. The stylized and regimented Japanese tea ceremony has been performed the same way for over 400 years. Once considered standard training for Samurais, today the tea ceremony is enjoyed by the modern Japanese as a means of relaxation. Next, we travel by bus to Nijo Castle. Built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun, its ostentatious style of construction was intended as a demonstration of the Shogun’s prestige and to signal the demise of the Emperor’s power. The garden next to the Nijo Castle is a perfect example of a Warrior’s Garden, meaning it was designed by Samurai. Afterwards, we will return by bus to the ryokan. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 1-1/2 Hours; Walking: Heavy

DAY 3Kyoto – Ginkakuji, Philosopher’s Path, Honen-in, Higashiyama, Fushimi Inari

We will start the day at Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion). In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today’s temple, modeling it after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), his grandfather’s retirement villa at the base of Kyoto’s northern mountains (Kitayama). The villa was converted into a Zen temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490. Ginkakuji became a center of contemporary culture, known as the Higashiyama Culture in contrast to the Kitayama Culture of his grandfather’s times. Unlike the Kitayama Culture, which remained limited to the aristocratic circles of Kyoto, the Higashiyama Culture had a broad impact on the entire country. The arts developed and refined during the time include the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, noh theater, poetry, garden design and architecture. Next we will take a short walk along the Philosopher’s Path. The path gets its name due to Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University. We will next travel to the southern Higashiyama District of Kyoto (the Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka area). The Higashiyama District along the lower slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains is one of the city’s best preserved historic districts, and is a great place to experience traditional and old Kyoto. To finish the day, we will take a train to the nearby city of Fushimi to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It is 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. Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant is included.

Travel: 1-1/2 Hours; Walking: Heavy

DAY 4Arashiyama – Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Tenryu-ji, Saiho-ji (Moss Temple)

We travel by train to the nearby town of Arashiyama. Once a favorite relaxation spot of the Emperors, Arashiyama is located on the hillsides bordering the banks of the Katsura River northwest of Kyoto. We will first visit the bamboo gardens which Arashiyama is famous for, located just outside the north gate of Tenryu-ji. This dense bamboo forest, with its rows upon rows of long, ringed, smooth stems, provide a feeling of composure and tranquility. The sound of the wind blowing through the bamboo, the stems knocking against each other and the rustling of the leaves is revered in Japan. Next, we visit Tenryuji Temple. Tenryu-ji is part of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, and was originally built in 1339 on the former site of Emperor Go-Daigo’s villa. A priest had dreamt of a dragon rising from the nearby river, hence the name which means “Heavenly Dragon”. The garden represents a transition between earlier pond gardens and the karesansui (dry landscape) gardens that later became popular in Zen temples. The focus of the garden is a pond that lies at the base of the hills rising to Mount Arashi, which is incorporated in to the design of the garden in the earliest known example of borrowed scenery (shakkei). At the far end of the pond are two rock groupings. These rock groupings are orientated on a vertical alignment, which was a departure from the horizontal alignments in earlier gardens. After finishing the tour of the temple and garden, we will enjoy a Shojin-ryori lunch (Buddhist vegetarian diet with no garlic or onions) at the temple. After lunch, we will visit Saihoji (commonly known as Kokedera, or “Moss Temple”). Saiho-ji is considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best garden in Japan. Created in 1339, the garden uses over 100 different types of moss creating waves of varying green colors. The moss is contrasted with trees, rocks and a small pond only. The garden is large (about 4 1/2 acres), and moss covers every ground surface and even some of the vegetation, creating a serene environment. The designer of the garden believed firmly in the value of gardens as a meditation aid, writing that the garden could be a means of reaching enlightenment. In addition to exploring the garden, the monks at the temple ask visitors to copy a sutra (a Buddhist scripture), giving you an opportunity to practice your calligraphy skills. Breakfast at the ryokan and Shojin-ryori lunch at Tenryuji is included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Heavy

DAY 5Himeji – Himeji Castle, Kokoen Garden

We will take a Shinkansen (bullet train) to the nearby city of Himeji. Himeji Castle, also known as White Heron Castle due to its elegant, white appearance, is widely considered Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size and beauty and its well preserved, complex castle grounds. The castle is both a national treasure and a world heritage site. Unlike many other Japanese castles, it was never destroyed by war, earthquake or fire and survives to this day as one of the country’s twelve original castles. The castle recently underwent extensive renovation over several years and was fully re-opened to the public in March 2015. Himeji Castle lies at a strategic point along the western approach to the former capital city of Kyoto. The first fortifications built on the site were completed in the 1400s, and were gradually enlarged over the centuries by the various clans who ruled over the region. The castle complex as it survives today is over 400 years old and was completed in 1609. It comprises over eighty buildings spread across multiple baileys, which are connected by a series of gates and winding paths. After touring the castle, we will visit the nearby Kokoen Garden. Kokoen is a relatively recently constructed Japanese style garden, which was opened in 1992 on the former site of of the feudal lord’s west residence (Nishi-Oyashiki). It consists of nine separate, walled gardens designed in various styles of the Edo Period. Among the gardens are the garden of the lord’s residence which features a pond with a waterfall, a tea garden where visitors can enjoy green tea in a tea ceremony house, a pine tree garden, a bamboo garden and a flower garden. Late in the afternoon we will return to Kyoto by Shinkansen (bullet train). Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant is included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 6Nara – Kasuga Shrine, Nara Deer Park, Todai-ji (Great Buddha), Meet a Maiko Session

We take a train to the original capital of Japan, Nara. Nara was the capital of Japan in the 8th century before it was moved to Kyoto. We will first visit Kasuga Shrine. This shrine was first established in the 8th century, and was completely rebuilt every 20 years according to Shinto tradition until the 19th century. There are thousands of stone lanterns lining the entrance to the shrine. We then walk through Nara Park on our way to Todai-ji. Along the way, you will run into the famous Nara deer. These deer have been here since the 7th century, and roam at their free will protected by Buddhist traditions. Todai-ji is the largest wooden building in the world, and houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha. In the late afternoon, we will travel back to Kyoto to the Gion Geisha district. Here, in a teahouse, we will attend a Meet a Maiko session. (A Maiko is a Geisha in training.) She will perform a short dance, answer any of your questions and pose for pictures with you. After this we will have a walking tour of the Gion Geisha district. Here you will see where the Geisha and Maiko live and work. We may even see one on their way to their appointments. After this we will enjoy our Sayonara Dinner. One complimentary glass of an alcoholic beverage (not bottle) will be included at the dinner. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch and dinner at a local Japanese restaurant included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 7Kyoto – Free Day

Today is a free day. Breakfast at the ryokan is included.

Travel: TBD; Walking: TBD

DAY 8Home

It’s time to say “sayonara” (goodbye). You will be escorted to the Kyoto train station, and then take the Express train on your own to the Kansai International Airport, just outside Osaka. Breakfast at the ryokan is included.

Travel: 1-1/2 Hours; Walking: Light

As a general rule:
Light – 0 to 2 miles on level ground
Medium – 2 to 4 miles on level ground or 0 to 2 miles on hilly ground
Heavy – 4 to 6 miles on level ground or 2 to 4 miles on hilly ground

Inclusions

The full-time services of a Samurai Tours guide.

Travel Guard Gold Policy from Travel Guard, one of the world’s largest travel insurance providers, will be provided to everyone from the United States. All others will receive a $100 per person credit and will be responsible for obtaining their own travel insurance in their own home country. (The insurance provided by Samurai Tours will cover the land portion only. Insurance to cover airfare and other additional expenses is the tour member’s responsibility.)

Click Here for more Coverage Information

The provided insurance coverage includes:

  • Trip Cancellation (up to trip cost)
  • Trip Interruption (up to 150% of trip cost)
  • Trip Delay (up to $750)
  • Missed Connection (up to $250)
  • Baggage and Personal Effects Loss (up to $1,000)
  • Baggage Delay (up to $300)
  • Medical Expense (up to $25,000)
  • Medical Evacuation and Repatriation of Remains (up to $500,000)
  • Accidental Death or Dismemberment (up to $10,000)
  • Coverage for financial default of tour operator
  • Cancel for Work Reasons
  • A waiver of any pre-existing medical conditions that could eventually cause you to interrupt your trip (entire trip, including airfare must be insured  for pre-existing waiver to be valid.  Contact travel guard for for information)

Travel Insurance Surcharge: Depending on your age at the time the travel insurance is purchased, you may be subject to the following surcharge for your travel insurance. Travel insurance surcharges will be due at the same time as your tour deposits. (the surcharge itself is not insured)

  • Up to 69 – $0
  • 70-74 – $57
  • 75-79 – $109
  • 80-84 – $218
  • 85+ – $349

Travel Insurance Opt-Out: If you would prefer to opt out of the travel insurance, please note this at the time of registration. You will receive a $100 credit per person, which will be reflected on your invoice. In the event that you would need to cancel your tour, cancellation penalties may apply. See the Terms and Conditions page for the Cancellation Fees Schedule.

Transfers to and from Osaka’s Kansai Airport or Osaka’s Itami Airport.

Meeting service at Osaka’s Kansai airport or Osaka’s Itami Airport and sending service to the Kyoto Train Station. (The meeting service will meet you at the airport and escort you to the ryokan in Kyoto. The sending service will escort you to the Kyoto train station and make sure you board the correct train. The sending service will not accompany you to the airport. For those requiring meeting or sending services on other than the scheduled arrival/departure dates, there will be a $100 fee for the meeting service from the airport into Kyoto or the sending service to the Kyoto Train Station.)

Lodging for seven nights in Japanese-style ryokans

Meals

  • Japanese-style or Western-style breakfast every morning.?(Please Note: Some ryokans offer Japanese breakfasts only.)
  • Five Japanese-style lunches
  • One Japanese-style dinner

All transportation costs when traveling with the group. (Transportation costs during scheduled free times are the tour member’s responsibility.)

Admission fees to the destinations and activities listed in the Tour Highlights column on the right. (Itinerary specifics subject to change.)

Sayonara dinner at the end of the tour

Each tour member receives a tour handbook. This handbook is full of tips and suggestions taken from our Japan travel experiences that allow you to better plan and prepare for your trip, and therefore enjoy your trip even more. The tips and suggestions included cover everything from how to save while exchanging money, what to pack, some basic Japanese-language tips, general etiquette do’s-and-don’ts, ryokan customs, etc.

Exclusions

Airfare is NOT included

Alcoholic beverages are NOT included – except at the sayonara dinner. One complimentary glass of an alcoholic beverage (not bottle) will be included at the dinner.

Tour Map

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Overall Customer Ratings

Individual Customer Reviews

Debra Pearson – Jul 03, 2016 to Jul 10, 2016

Ying C. – Jul 03, 2016 to Jul 10, 2016

Rebecca Ekmark

Yolanda Lopez

Bradley Fowler – Nov 02, 2014 to Nov 09, 2014

Stan Cullick and Pat Dashiell – Aug 31, 2014 to Sep 07, 2014

Anonymous – Aug 31, 2014 to Sep 07, 2014

Meghan Connolly – Jul 06, 2014 to Jul 13, 2014

ruth haddad

Sharon Poe-Kelly

Jonathan Larson – Jun 30, 2012 to Jul 07, 2012

Shan Baker – Apr 14, 2012 to Apr 21, 2012