Why Choose Samurai Tours?

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, 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. After clearing customs and immigration (which can take up to an hour and a half due to increased tourism to Japan), you will be met at Tokyo’s Narita airport by a Samurai Tours guide. The guide will then help you board the bus to the hotel.  After checking in, the evening is free. No meals included.

Travel: 15 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 2Fly to Kushiro, Kushiro

Before leaving in the morning, you will need to prepare your luggage to be transferred to Abashiri. You will be travelling to Kushiro with your overnight bag only. Prepare your overnight bag for 3 days and 2 nights. After breakfast, you will start the day with a Welcome/Orientation meeting. We will then be taking a bus to Haneda Airport, and then fly to Kushiro Airport, located in southeastern Hokkaido. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 3Kushiro, 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 4Travel to Abashiri, Abashiri

We travel by express train with overnight bags only to the city of Abashiri on the northeastern coast of Hokkaido. We will 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. Breakfast at the ryokan and dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 5Travel to Sapporo

Before leaving this morning you will prepare your luggage for transfer to Yudanaka Onsen. You will need to prepare an overnight bag for 3 days and 2 nights. Today we travel by train to the city of Sapporo, the capital and largest city in Hokkaido. 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. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 6 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 6Sapporo

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 7Yudanaka Onsen

After breakfast, we travel to Yudanaka Onsen 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 and another train to Yudanaka Onsen. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at the ryokan included.

Travel: 6 Hours; Walking: Light

DAY 8Snow Monkeys

After traveling by train and bus to the Jigoku-dani (Hell Valley), we will delight in the famous “snow monkeys” of Japan. The world famous 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 and dinner at the hotels included.

Travel: 1 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 9Travel to Takayama

Before leaving, you will need to prepare your luggage for transfer to Takayama. You will need to prepare for 2 days and 1 night. 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.  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 and Kaiseki style dinner are 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 is included.

Travel: TBD; Walking: Light

DAY 11Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa

Before leaving for Shirakwa-go, you will need to prepare your luggage for transfer to Kyoto. You will need to prepare for 3 days and 2 nights. 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. Later in the afternoon, we will travel by public bus to the city of Kanazawa. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch and dinner at a local restaurant included.

Travel: 2 Hours; Walking: Medium

DAY 12Kanazawa, 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

After breakfast, 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. We will then travel to the Higashiyama District. This area of narrow, cobblestone alleys with its temples, shrines, numerous shops and restaurants is truly enjoyable and relaxing. We will stop for lunch in the Higashiyama District. We will then visit the Yasaka Shrine, also known as the Gion Shrine. This shrine, built over 1350 years ago, is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. The shrine’s main hall combines the honden (inner sanctuary) and haiden (offering hall) into a single building. Next, we will travel to the Kenninji Temple. Kenninji Temple is the oldest Zen Temple in Kyoto. The temple was founded in 1202 by the priest Yousai, who was ordained at just 14 years old. There are multiple gardens at this temple to enhance the Zen experience. Next, we will walk to the famous Gion Geisha District. Here, you will see where the Geiko (in Kyoto they call themselves Geiko, not Geisha) and Maiko live and work. 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. We will enjoy our “Sayonara” dinner at a local restaurant before returning to the hotel. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch and dinner at a local Japanese restaurant are 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

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

  • Local, licensed, English-speaking, Japanese guides
  • 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 – $100
      • 75-79 – $200
      • 80-84 – $350
      • 85+ – $550
    • 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.
  • Meeting service at Tokyo’s Narita Airport and transfer to the ryokan in Tokyo
    • The meeting service will meet you at the airport and provide you a transfer to the hotel near the airport
    • Meeting service can only be provided between 6am and 9pm. If you arrive at a time outside of these hours, we will need to provide alternative directions for you to get to the hotel on your own.
  • Sending service to the Kyoto train station and transfer to Tokyo’s Narita Airport or Osaka’s Kansai Airport. (Transfers to Itami Airport are not included)
    • 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.
  • 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.)
    • Three Japanese-style or Western-style lunches
    • Ten Japanese-style or Western-style dinners (including five gourmet kaiseki dinners at the ryokans
  • 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

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, soft drinks and desserts are NOT included

Tour Map

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Overall Customer Ratings

Individual Customer Reviews

J D Johannes & Peggy Yasukochi – Jan 31, 2016 to Feb 14, 2016

Vivien Chan – Feb 07, 2016 to Feb 21, 2016

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