Japan in May - Spring Tours 2020

Tokyo skyline Kyoto Kyoto Gion

Japan in May 2020 Tours

May in Japan is still spring, but we welcome warmer and more settled weather.  The cherry blossom gives way to wisteria and it is a great time for travelling before the hotter summer months arrive.  For previous years we have conducted several tours during the month of May.  These have incorporated many of the famous sights of Japan with an exotic mix of locations including traditional experiences like onsen and ryokan stays through to the modern Japan of today as seen in Tokyo.  Our popular 2017 and 2018 editions included visits to the historic Kumano Koda pilgrimage trails combined with the coastal Shirahama beach resort. 

For May 2020 we intend to repeat a version of our garden themed Best of Japan tour with a schedule covering just over two weeks.  As with many of our trips there is flexibility and while we highlight some of the beautiful gardens and landscapes of Japan, there is a lot more to experience across the two weeks.  There are also optional additions at either the start or end of the trip. 

If you would prefer different dates for this tour, please let us know. If you are interested in joining, or would like your own custom trip during May, you can use the contact us form or email us at admin@japancustomtours.co.nz.

Schedule - Japan Spring Garden Tour (May 2020)

Saturday 9th May Tokyo: The start of the tour is Saturday 26th and this is treated as the arrivals day. Some guests may be arriving into Japan in the days before the official start of the tour and will therefore have this as a free day in Tokyo.

As part of our planning we aim to meet everyone at the airport (either Haneda or Narita) and transfer you to the  hotel in central Tokyo.

Sunday 10th May Tokyo: Start the day with a visit to Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo.  Features of the temple are the Asukusa Kaminarimon ("Thunder gate"), Hozomon and five story pagoda. An array of stalls lines the approach to the temple, known as Nakamise Street.

Departing Sensoji we head to the nearby Ueno and the expansive Ueno Park. The park contains several museums (including Tokyo National Museum that we visit) and the beautiful Tōshō-gū shine that enshrines the first Shōgun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Finishing our visit in Ueno we include a walk through the old style market of Ameya-Yokocho with its many varied stalls and small shops including many located under the railway tracks.

Monday 11th May Tokyo to Hiroshima: From Tokyo we travel south to Hiroshima. With an early afternoon arrival time, there is then an opportunity to visit the Peace Park and Museum in Hiroshima city.  Other options for afternoon sightseeing include the Shukkei-en miniature garden or the rebuilt Hiroshima Castle.

Tuesday 12th May Hiroshima: The day is dedicated to a visit to the famous Miyajima Island.  Highlights include the Daishoin Temple and Itsukushima Shrine. This is the location of the famous "floating" torii gate.

Also on the island we can make use of the ropeway (cable car) and head to the top of Mount Misen for views across the Seto inland sea.

Wednesday 13th May Hiroshima to Okayama: Arriving into Okayama midday the afternoon is reserved for visiting the Korakuen Japanese garden.  Korakuen is a beautiful landscape garden and is ranked as one of Japan's three best landscape gardens. It is located just beside Okayama Castle, the main building of Okayama Castle is the six story castle keep.

Thursday 14th May Okayama: From Okayama there is an option to visit the Adachi Museum of Art near the city of Matsue.  The two hour train journey through the mountains is a scenic ride before  getting the shuttle to the museum. The museum houses a collection of nearly 1300 twentieth century paintings and artworks, and is famous for its garden which has been named the best garden in Japan annually since 2003.  Note, the garden is viewed rather one that people are allowed to walk through.

An alternative that we have offered is a day trip to the "Art Island" of Naoshima.  Accessed by a short train and ferry ride it is possible to visit the Art House Project and the Benesse Art Museum easily in a day.  The island boasts a number of other art installations and museums.

Friday 15th May Okayama: A short trip south of Okayama is the township of Kurashiki and the picturesque Bikan Historical Quarter and canal district. The preserved canal area that dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867).  Some of the buildings have been converted into museums (there are more than a dozen in the area) and includes the Japan Rural Toy Museum displays toys from the 1600s to the 1980s. The Archaeological Museum has artefacts from more ancient cultures, and there is also a natural history museum.  As a more relaxed day of sightseeing there is ample time for you to explore the area before returning to Okayama in the late afternoon.

Saturday 16th May Okayama to Kyoto: Leaving Okayama we take the shinkansen to Kyoto, which delivers us to the previous, historic capital of Japan. During the afternoon we visit the Fushimi Inari Shinto shrine with its famous 10,000 torii gates. The walk to the top of Inari Yama (to see all 10,000!) takes a couple of hours and is definitely optional. 

From Fushimi Inari we can visit Sanjusangendo temple.  This impressive site holds more than 1,000 hand carved statues that were more than 100 years in the making.  

Sunday 17th May Kyoto: Start the day by visiting the "golden pavilion" Kinkaku-ji in the north east of the city before visiting the nearby Ryoan-ji Temple. Ryoan-ji is the site of Japan's most famous rock garden. From Ryoan-ji we then head to Nijo Castle for the elaborately decorated palace buildings (one the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era), and its beautiful palace garden.

From Nijo the central city area is a short subway ride away. The afternoon is available to explore the 300 year old Teramachi shopping covered street and the 400 year old Nishiki Markets (known as Kyoto's kitchen).  The quaint Pontocho district and the Gion quarter are also nearby for those wishing to explore during the afternoon.

Monday 18th May Kyoto: To experience one of the most important cultural and historic places in Japan, we visit Nara, Japan's first capital. Nara boasts many temples and shrines, too many to visit in a single day.  We do visit Todaiji Temple which houses the world's largest bronze Buddha in one of the world's largest wooden buildings, the Kagusa Shinto shrine and its thousands of lanterns, and the Nara Deer Park with many deer roaming the precincts.   

Tuesday 19th May Kyoto to Kanazawa: From Kyoto we take the 'Thunderbird' Express train to Kanazawa.

Arriving midday we can visit the Omicho seafood and produce market for lunch at one of the sushi restaurants.  The market exhibits a wide range of products with one of the local specialities being huge snow crabs. 

Following lunch we head to the nearby Kanazawa Castle Park and the beautiful Kenrokuen Gardens, one of the top three landscape gardens in Japan.  The city also boasts the interesting 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art which is also an option to round out the day.

Wednesday 20th May Kanazawa to Takayama:  Kanazawa has a number of additional attractions including an old Chaya district and a small samurai district that are available for an early morning visit. Later in the morning we leave Kanazawa for the Japanese Alps to the onsen (hot spring) mountain town of Takayama. The journey from takes us through some very scenic valleys and into the mountain interior of central Japan.

After arrival there is time to explore the town's preserved historic district and shops on foot. The local specialty is Hida beef, very good quality - we recommend enjoying it at one of the local bbq restaurants.

Thursday 21st May Takayama: The morning is available to explore the town and its easy walking courses; enjoy the local morning markets or visit one of the several small museums and temples scattered around the town.

Takayama is famous for its woodworking and its biannual floats festival (matsuri). A visit to the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall is a recommended stop on our tours. An additional stop is the 'Showa' period museum (covering exhibits from  1926 to 1989).  The museum is set up as a set of small shops/buildings that you walk through and is a great place for nostalgia.

After lunch we head to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go with its unique steep thatched-roofed houses.

Friday 22nd May Takayama to Tokyo: Departing from Takayama there is a scenic route continuing through the mountains to the castle town of Matsumoto.  From Matsumoto there is an express train directly back to Shinjuku and Tokyo.

Saturday 23rd May Tokyo: There are many great gardens in and around Tokyo that are worth visiting including the Shinjuku National Gardens or the huge Showa Memorial Gardens in western Tokyo.  As day trips the Kairakuen Garden in Mito is ranked among Japan's three finest landscape gardens, or the Asikaga Flower Garden Park are possible destinations.

Alternatively, the day can be used to visit one of the other famous locations in the city such as the Meiji Shrine, or simply used as free time.

Sunday 24th May Tokyo: Final time in Tokyo before heading to the airport for your flight home.

Price Inclusions/exclusions

The price for the full sixteen day Japan Spring Garden Tour including accommodation for fifteen nights, is from Y695,000 per person share twin/double.  Optionally, for those wanting a two week tour we can offer the tour with accommodation for thirteen nights and finishing in Tokyo on the Friday 22nd from Y595,000 per person share twin/double

The price includes:

Exclusions are generally items such as theatre performances, sporting or other special events, theme parks, lunch and evening meals, snacks/drinks and other incidental costs such as hotel room service/laundry.  

Bookings and Inquiries

If you are interested in joining this tour, please contact us or email us directly at admin@japancustomtours.co.nz.