Winter Wonderland

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The weather outside may be frightful, but touring Japan in winter is delightful. After you see how beautiful Japan is blanketed in snow, you’ll be saying “Let is snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

Destinations

Tokyo, Sapporo, Abashiri, Kushiro, Nagano, Yudanaka Onsen, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa, Koya-san, Kyoto

When you add the unique opportunities that only Japan winters offer with the small crowds, the result is an unforgettable travel experience. In the best that Japanese winters have to offer, you’ll wander through the ice sculptures at the world-famous Sapporo Snow Festival, feast on all-you-can-eat grilled lamb and beer at the Sapporo Beer Garden, slash through the ice flows in a ice-breaker boat in the infamous prison town of Abashiri, contemplate the nearly-extinct, Japanese Red-Crested cranes, revered in Japanese culture, visit with the “snow monkeys” while they rest in thermally-heated mineral water to stay warm, explore quaint Takayama, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go with its many snow-covered, thatched-roof gassho-zukuri (praying hand) homes, stroll one of the best gardens in Japan made even better covered with snow, stay overnight at snow-covered mountain-top Buddhist temple and attend the morning prayer service, participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, enjoy a private “Maiko” dinner party, enjoy four gourmet Kaiseki-style dinners as well as a Shojin-ryori (Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine) dinner and grilled lamb dinner, and much, much more.

DAY 1Arrive Tokyo

You will 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 will escort you to the hotel near the airport where we will be staying for the evening. After checking into the hotel we will have our welcome/orientation dinner. Dinner at the hotel included.

Travel: 1/4 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 2Fly to Sapporo, Sapporo

After breakfast we will fly to Sapporo’s Chitose Airport, and then take an express train into Sapporo. After checking in, we will have time to enjoy the Sapporo Snow Festival. This world-famous, annual event was first held in 1950, when six local high school students created snow statues. In 1955, the Japan Self-Defense Forces from a nearby base joined the fun by creating the first large snow sculpture for which the festival has now become famous. The festival gained its international fame when the city of Sapporo hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics. In the evening, we will have dinner at the Sapporo Beer Garden, located next to the original Sapporo Beer brewery, where you can try the local specialty of grilled lamb, cooked by yourself at the table. Before leaving in the morning, you will need to prepare your luggage to be transferred to Sapporo, and you will be traveling to Sapporo with your overnight bag only. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 3Sapporo

The day is free to explore the Snow Festival on your own. You can visit Odori Park or Susukino, the main sites of the festival. Here, you can enjoy the many, large snow and ice sculptures and the concerts using the sculptures as the stage. You can also enjoy the bird’s-eye view of the festival from the Sapporo TV Tower, located at one end of the 1.5 kilometer long Odori park. Or visit the family-friendly Sato site, where you will find numerous ice slides as well as a puzzling snow and ice maze. In the evening, you can enjoy the sculptures which take on a totally different perspective when they are lit up. Breakfast at the hotel included.

Travel: TBD; Walking: TBD

DAY 4Sapporo, Abashiri

We travel by express train with overnight bags only to the city of Abashiri on the northeastern coast of Hokkaido. After dropping off our luggage at the ryokan, we will visit the Okhotsk Drift Ice Museum, located at the top of Mt. Tento. From here, you will get a 360 degree view of the ice flow drifting south from the Okhotsk Sea. Breakfast and kaiseki-style dinner at the ryokan included.

Travel: 6 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 5Abashiri, Kushiro

In the morning we board an ice-breaker boat, where you can get a close-up view of the ice flow that clogs the Abashiri harbor every winter as the boat breaks its way through the ice flow. In the afternoon, we travel by train to the city of Kushiro, located in southeastern Hokkaido. Breakfast at the ryokan and dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 6Kushiro, Kushiro Marshland

Today we travel by bus to the nearby Crane Preserve in the Kushiro Marshland. Cranes are thought to live a thousand years, so they hold a special place in Japanese culture. The Japanese Red-Crested cranes at one time were on the brink of extinction, but with the help of a few dedicated groups, their numbers have been increasing. In the summer, when food is readily available and the cranes are nesting, they retreat deep into the surrounding marshland where they can’t be seen. However, in the winter, they can be found near the viewing points on the edge of the marshland. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 7Travel to Nagano

After breakfast, we travel to Nagano with overnight bags only. We will fly from Kushiro to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, take a bus to the Tokyo Train Station and a Shinkansen to the city of Nagano. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 4-1/2 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 8Yudanaka Onsen

After traveling by train and bus to the Jigoku-dani (Hell Valley), we will delight in the famous “snow monkeys” of Japan. These monkeys are world-famous for using the hot springs baths located in and around Yukanaka Onsen. The Red-Faced “snow monkeys” are only found in Japan, and during the winter, the monkeys enjoy using the baths to stay warm, just like people. Breakfast at the hotel included.

Travel: 3-1/2 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 9Travel to Takayama

Today we travel to the city of Takayama by express trains. 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 in, you can stroll around the Sanmachisuji District, an area of merchant homes dating back to the late 16th century. In the evening, we will enjoy a dinner of Hida Beef (Hida Beef is the same thing as the more well-known Kobe Beef). Breakfast at the ryokan and dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 6 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 10Takayama

This morning will be spent at the Farmer’s Market strolling past the vegetable stands and stalls selling herbs, pickles, and souvenirs. We will be able to sample the numerous options as we go. After that we will tour the Takayama-jinya, which was the governing office of Takayama and the surrounding area since the early 17th century. The afternoon is free to roam and explore Takayama. Visit the many temples and shrines, museums, rummage through antique shops, relax at one of sake breweries, or enjoy the San-machi-suji, an area of merchant homes dating back to the late 16th century. Breakfast and kaiseki-style dinner at the ryokan included.

Travel: TBD; Walking: Light

DAY 11Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa

We travel by bus to Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A number of “gassho-zukuri” style homes have been relocated to Shirakawa-go from surrounding locations. “Gassho-zukuri” literally translates to “praying hands home”, and is a fitting description of these thatched-roof A-frame style homes which are well-suited for the large amounts of snow this area of Japan receives. We will visit the Shirakawa-go Open Air Museum, where you will get a glimpse into the hard lives of 18th century Japanese farmers. We will also visit the observation area where you will have a chance to view Shirakawa-go from above. Before leaving for Shirakwa-go, you will need to prepare your luggage for transfer to Kyoto. Later in the afternoon, we will travel by bus to the city of Kanazawa. Breakfast at the ryokan and dinner and lunch at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 12Kanzawa, Travel to Koya-san

Located near the northwestern coast of the Japan Sea, Kanazawa receives a tremendous amount of snow. In the morning, we tour the Kenrokuen Garden, considered by the Japanese to be one of the three best gardens in Japan. The garden takes on a completely different perspective covered in snow. Later in the morning, we board an express train 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. In the winter, Koya-san is truly beautiful and serene. 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. Breakfast at the hotel and shojin-ryori dinner at the temple are included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 13Koya-san, Travel to Kyoto

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. In the afternoon, we travel to the city of Kyoto. Steeped in history and tradition, Kyoto has in many ways been the cradle of Japanese culture. A stroll through Kyoto is a walk through 11 centuries of Japanese history. 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. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch at a local restaurant included.

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

DAY 14Kyoto

We start the day at the nearby Fushimi Inari Shrine. This Shinto shrine was established in the 8th century, and is dedicated to Inari, the Goddess of Cereal (Rice). Spread out over the expansive hillside location are more than 10,000 vermillion-colored torii gates, donated by thankful followers and the local sake breweries. These torii gates form kilometers-long tunnels of vermillion winding through the quiet woods and past many smaller shrines. Next, we will visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Kiyomizu-dera literally translates to “Pure Water Temple”. For centuries visitors and pilgrims have climbed the hill to Kiyomizu-dera standing on a steep hillside with fine views of the city. Supported in part by 139 pillars, the temple juts out over the valley. Finding the courage to set out on a daring, new adventure is likened to “taking a leap from the veranda of Kiyomizu.” Below the temple is the Sound of Feathers waterfall, believed to be the name source of the temple. Water from this spring is drunk from long-handled cups, and thought to prevent illness, make the drinker wiser or add years to life expectancy. But you have to choose one. It is considered greedy to drink all three. Next, we will explore the narrow, cobblestone-paved streets and alleys of the Higashiyama District. We will finish the afternoon with a visit to the famous Gion Geisha District. Here, you will see where the Geisha live and work while you learn about this mysterious world. You may even see one on their way to one of their appointments. 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: 1 Hours; Walking: Heavy

DAY 15Home

It’s time to say Sayonara (Goodbye). You will be escorted to the Kyoto train station, where you will take the Express train 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 hotel included.

Travel: TBD; Walking: Light

Inclusions

The full-time services of a Samurai Tours guide.

Local, licensed, English-speaking, Japanese guides where indicated in the itinerary detail.

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.)

Download a PDF of the Travel Guard Gold Policy

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

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.

Airport transfer from Tokyo’s Narita Airport and airport transfer to Tokyo’s Narita Airport or Osaka’s Kansai Airport. (Transfers to Osaka’s Itami Airport are not included.)

Meeting service at Tokyo’s Narita Airport and sending service to the Kyoto train station. (The meeting service will meet you at the airport and escort you to the hotel near the airport. 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 Tokyo or the sending service to the Kyoto train station.)

Lodging for 14 nights in Japanese-style ryokans and western-style hotels

Meals

  • Japanese-style or Western-style breakfast every morning (Please Note: Some ryokans offer Japanese breakfasts only.)
  • Four Japanese-style or Western-style lunches
  • Ten Japanese-style or Western-style dinners (including five gourmet kaiseki dinners at the ryokans

14-day Japan Rail Pass (allows unlimited train travel.)

Domestic airfare from Tokyo to Hokkaido and from Hokkaido to Tokyo

The appropriate amount of free time to allow you to explore and discover your own personal Japan.

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

Baggage transfer from Tokyo to Sapporo
Baggage transfer from Sapporo to Kushiro
Baggage transfer from Kushiro to Takayama
Baggage transfer from Takayama to Kyoto

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

International Airfare to and from Japan is NOT included

Alcoholic beverages are NOT included – except at the dinner the first evening and the sayonara dinner

Tour Map

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Overall Customer Ratings

Individual Customer Reviews

Graeme Troy – Feb 01, 2015 to Feb 15, 2015

Katherine E. Clemm – Feb 04, 2012 to Feb 18, 2012

Sherina Fong – Feb 04, 2012 to Feb 18, 2012