Grand Tours - Longer Trips - Japan in Depth
Japan Grand Tours
We have designed our Japan Grand Tours for people that want a more in depth visit to the country. With additional time to explore, trips of four or more weeks can take in many different locations ranging from traditional experiences, historical sites, through to the modern, industrial Japan of today.
Our previous Grand Tours have included the month of September for a summer trip, and most recently a five week tour stretching from Hiroshima in the south to Sapporo in the north. In each case, the schedule was customised for our guests.
A Sample Schedule
(Actual schedule details will depend on your wishes.)
Day 1 Tokyo: Meet&Greet at the airport and transfer you to your hotel in central Tokyo. Upon arrival, after clearing Immigration, luggage collection and Customs, we meet you at the exit of the Arrivals Hall. For Narita arrivals we use the Narita Express (N'Ex) train into the city.
Day 2 Tokyo: For the first day we first head to the Asakusa district. Starting at the Kaminarimon ("Thunder gate''), we have some good views of the Asahi headquarters that face the Sumida River. The buildings and roof-top sculpture were designed by Philippe Starck from France. A feature of Sensoji (and many other temples) is Nakamise Street, where for the past few centuries, stalls and shops sell souvenirs to visitors to the temple. The temple complex also features the Hozomon gate and a five story pagoda. The 634 meter tall Skytree is also clearly visible from locations around Asakusa.
Departing Asakusa we then head to Ueno which provides some good options and variety for lunch adjacent to the expansive Ueno Park. The park also contains several museums (including Tokyo National Museum that we will visit) and Tokyo Zoo (optional, one of the main attractions are the giant pandas) and the beautiful Tōshō-gū shine that enshrines the first Shōgun of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Day 3 Tokyo: We start the day with a visit to the Meiji Shrine. As an important period of change in Japan's history we explain some of the historical elements of the Meiji Restoration before visiting the shrine buildings located in a central Tokyo forest. As the shrine is adjacent to Harajuku, we then walk through Takeshita Street, which is a trend-setting shopping area for Tokyo youth. Leaving Harajuku there is a distinct transition as we move to the nearby upmarket shopping district of Omotesando to access the subway to take us across to Shinjuku.
In the afternoon, we head to Shinjuku to see the expansive Shinjuku National Gardens . From the gardens, we head to the Golden Gai area of old style bars before seeing Godzilla towering above the night life area of Kabukicho. We end the day with a visit to the Tokyo Metropolitan building for a bird's eye view of the city from the 45th floor (200 meters up)
Day 4 Tokyo to Hiroshima: From Tokyo we travel to Hiroshima. This is one of our longer travel days, covering 900km in less than four hours by shinkansen (the high-speed 'bullet' train). As the travel crosses the middle of the day we recommend getting a bento (Japanese lunch box) or other food for lunch, before we board in Tokyo. With an early afternoon arrival time, there is time to visit the Peace Park and Museum in Hiroshima city.
Day 5 Hiroshima: With a full day in Hiroshima we have time to explore a couple of different destinations. The main attraction for the day is Miyajima Island and its 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. If feeling energetic, the walk back down the mountain provides some good viewing and vantage points (otherwise we can get the ropeway back down).
An option for the start of the day is to visit Iwakuni and the famous Kintai-kyo Bridge. Beyond the bridge is an interesting array of attractions including stores selling 164 flavours of ice cream (as featured on TV), a white snake museum, Kikko shrine and a selections of older style buildings and gardens. We find this area provides an opportunity to see a more 'down-to-earth' side of Japan than the more manicured and established temples and shrines in locations like Kyoto or Nara.
Day 6 Hiroshima to Okayama: From Hiroshima we take the short shinkansen ride to Okayama. The afternoon is reserved for visiting Korakuen Japanese garden at Okayama 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. The keep's interior is modern and displays exhibits on the history and development of the castle.
Day 7 Okayama - Adachi Museum of Art day trip: (Option) Heading across the island towards the coastal city of Matsue we arrive at Yasugi before getting the shuttle to the museum. The museum houses a collection of nearly 1300 twentieth century paintings and artworks, but is probably almost as famous for its garden which has been named the best garden in Japan annually since 2003. (This is one of the options for Okayama, others include a day trip to the Art island of Naoshima or exploring the scenic canal district of Kurashiki.)
Day 8 Okayama to Kyoto: Leaving Okayama we take the shinkansen to Kyoto, which delivers us to the historic old capital of Japan. On the way we have an opportunity to visit Himeji and their world famous castle, one of the finest examples of Japanese castle architecture including its impressive array of supplementary buildings as well as the large donjon (main castle keep).
Arriving in the historic old capital of Japan around midday, during the afternoon we usually visit the very accessible 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.
Day 9 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 the beautiful Arashiyama district, enjoy the view across the Oi River from the Togetsukyō Bridge. A visit to the Tenryu-ji temple gardens is very nice, and a ride on one of the punt boats on the river can insert a relaxing interlude to the day. Among the famous sights in the area is the Sagano bamboo grove (although the large numbctorian era architecture alongside er of tourists makes it hard to get "travel brochure" photos.)
Day 10 Kyoto: One of the locations we like to show people in Kyoto is Nijo Castle. The palace buildings are one the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era, dating from 1603 and providing a window into an important period of Japanese history of stable government (mostly) and a relatively quiet and prosperous period in a beautiful setting.
Following our visit to Nijo, because we have four nights planned for the city we have extra time and options for our day. That might include visiting some of the less crowded (but interesting locations) like Nanzen-ji temple with its Meiji era aqueduct (the temple grounds are nicely laid out, but the presence of what we might consider of a several hundred year old temple can be a little incongruous). Nanzen-ji is also located at one end of the Philosopher's Walk.
Day 11 Kyoto: Nara day trip: To experience one of the most important cultural and historic places in Japan, we visit Nara, Japan's first capital. At Nara is Todaiji Temple which houses the world's largest bronze Buddha. (The temple was the world's largest wooden building until 1998.)
Day 12 Kyoto to Kanazawa: Continuing our journey across Japan's biggest island (Honshu), we take the 'Thunderbird' Express train to Kanazawa. Arriving around mid-day we visit the Omi-cho food market where we can sample local cuisine including fresh sushi and sashimi for lunch.
After lunch, we head to the beautiful Kenrokuen Gardens (one of the top three landscape gardens in Japan) and the Kanazawa Castle. The city also boasts the interesting 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art which is also an option to round out the day.
Day 13 Kanazawa: We have several options for the day. Our recommended option is a trip to the craft village near Kaga onsen to the south of Kanazawa. This provides opportunities to try a number of Japanese crafts (gold leaf, silk painting, soba noodle making) is an interesting "theme" park. Also on the bus route to/from the park is a car museum or a stop at the nearby town of Komatsu and their hands-on science museum.
In Kanazawa city itself there are a number of additional attractions including a temple district, an old Chaya district and a small samurai district. (Kanazawa is also a useful location to do a laundry run if wanted/required.)
Day 14 Kanazawa to Takayama: We leave Kanazawa and travel by shinkansen to Toyama and then by local train into the Japanese Alps, to the onsen (hot spring) mountain town of Takayama. The journey from Toyama is through some very scenic valleys and into the mountain regions of central Japan. After arrival there is time to explore the town's historic buildings and shops on foot. The local specialty is Hida beef, very good quality - we recommend enjoying it at one of the local bbq restaurants. Accommodation can be at either a Japanese inn (ryokan) with onsen, or at a more conventional western style hotel (which might also have onsen depending on which we pick). It will depend on your preferences.
Day 15 Takayama: 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 we have recently added is to 'Showa' period museum. The Showa period covered December 1926 to Jan 1989 and the museum is a great place for nostalgia and a look back to a period in history many people remember fondly.
After lunch visit the world heritage site of Shirakawa-go (a half day bus trip) with its unique steep thatched-roofed houses. The Hida Folk Village provides a different range of historic buildings and could be included in the morning activities.
Day 16 Takayama to Tokyo: Departing from Takayama From Takayama there are two scenic routes available. One is the train through the mountains to Nagoya before re-joining the Shinkansen network for the two hour bullet train back to Tokyo. A second option is to journey by bus (approximately two hours) to the city of Matsumoto to visit the famous "black crow" castle. From Matsumoto we would then take the Azusa express train back to Tokyo arriving in the evening.
To experience a different side of Tokyo we recommend staying in one of the satellite cities giving you additional experience of what the local neighbourhoods look like. For our June Grand Tour our guests stayed in Tachikawa and visited the expansive Showa Gardens (Tokyo's largest park), explored the local shops and restaurants and the occasional 800 year old shrines. Tokyo city for regular sightseeing is 40 minutes away.
Day 17 Tokyo: Tokyo sightseeing. A mix of local and big city attractions. during the previous two week we will be finding out what you are interested in and what you like, so the day will be based on an agreed plan. Free time to explore and have a break is also available.
Day 18 Tokyo to Nagano: Departing from Tokyo we head to the Japanese Alps and the city of Nagano. Typically we make a visit to Zenko-ji temple. The temple was founded in the 7th century and houses the first Buddhist image in Japan (552CE) and the city grew around the temple. Among the interesting features is the passageway beneath the inner chamber and people search for the "key to paradise" and numerous important cultural properties.
For Nagano we have an option to stay at a traditional ryokan in the onsen town of Togura. Before dinner there is time to have a soak in the ryokan's onsen (hot spring baths) or explore the neighbourhood (including a walk up to the temple and castle behind the inn for a view of the Chikuma River and valley). Dinner is traditional keiseki style (course meal) dinner and we arrange for geisha entertainment (music and dance) as part of the evening meal.
Day 19 June Nagano: After breakfast, we head to Nagano station and take a bus to Jigokudani Monkey Park. Depending on the time of year it can range from very cold (winter) to hot (summer). There is an approximately 2km walk to visit these famous "snow monkeys" and we visit in all seasons, including when there is no snow.
Day 20 Nagano to Niigata: Departing Nagano we take the shinkansen to the coastal city of Niigata one of the larger cities on the western coast (800,000 people). The afternoon provides some free time to explore the city, the river-side or some of the parks in the city.
Day 21 Niigata: Visit Sado Island by jetfoil. The remoteness of the island made it ideal for exiles and retains a distinct "out of the way" atmosphere. The objective for the day is to be able to view the island as we head to "the gold mine" on the west coast of the island. With the population decreasing from 120,000 to 60,000 over the last 50 years the island has a unique abandoned feel to it.
At the Sado gold mine, we explore the Edo period and Maji period mines covering the past 400 years. The two sections provide a fascinating insight and contrast into this amazing complex of tunnels (400km) and the huge amount of gold (400 tonnes) and other precious metals (silver and copper) that was extracted from this site.
Day 22 Niigata to Akita: We continue our journey by limited express train as it makes its way along the western side of Japan as we cover 275 km at a fairly leisurely pace to Akita.
During the afternoon we visit the site of Akita Castle and its ruins in Senshu-koen park (nearby to the hotel that we use). One of the dinner options for the city is a "Namahage" themed restaurant that we have visited before (mostly fish).
Day 23 Akita: A relaxation day allowing a short trip to Kakunodate to explore the old Samurai district and houses.
Day 24 Akita to Aomori: From Akita to Aomori is one of the most scenic train trips in Japan. The train, known as the Resort Shirakami takes the Gono line around the north-west coastline. (The train departs at 8:20 a.m. so an early start to the day.)
There will be time during the afternoon to see Wa Rasse, a museum celebrating the summer Nebuta festival, or the floating car ferry museum in the port area.
Day 25 Aomori Hakodate: Taking the newest shinkansen link under the Tsugaru Strait (via the Seikan tunnel) transfer at Shin Hakodate to Hakodate, Hokkaido's third largest city. Suggested sights include Japan's first western style fortress, Fort Goryokaku, and take the ropeway to the top of Mount Hakodate for views of the city.
Day 26 Hakodate to Sapporo: The Express train to Sapporo is approximately four hours. Arriving in the afternoon gives from free time to see the botanic gardens (and interesting museums on site) and the major city space at Odori Parkbut a good evening activity would be to visit the local beer museum.
Day 27 Sapporo: We have reserved this day for a trip across to Otaru, its beautifully preserved canal area and merchant street areas. We intend to take in the railway (and science) museum, the canal district, local history museums and shopping/food area. The town is small and interesting, facing the weather from the north and with a rich history that is worth learning a bit about. Our previous visits have been between a 1/2 and full day (depends a bit on what you want to look at).
Day 28 Sapporo: Sightseeing around the city. A trip to the Nopporo Forest Park including the Hokkaido Museum and the Historic Village of Hokkaido is a good destination and interesting.
Returning to the city, he Sapporo Beer museum and adjacent beer garden offers a "Genghis Khan" mutton bbq option that might be a nice way to round out the day.
Day 29 Sapporo to Aomori: The journey back to Aomori breaks up our travel. After re-checking into our hotel visit the Sannai Maruyama site from the Jomon period (13,000BC to 300BC). Next door is the Aomori Art Museum.
Day 30 Aomori: There are several options including a day trip to Mount Osorezan (one of the most sacred sites in Japan) or visit the extreme end of the island at Cape Oma. (Oma is also known for its huge tuna.) Another option is to visit the nearby town of Hirosaki, famous for its castle and park (with 2600 cherry trees)
Day 31 Aomori to Sendai: Taking the Hayabusa shinkansen at speeds up to 320 km/h we cover the 366km to Sendai in around two hours. After dropping luggage at our hotel the afternoon is available for a visit to the Date Masamune mausoleum (Zuihoden).
Day 32 Sendai: A day trip across to Matsushima Bay, one of the "three views of Japan". We take a cruise around the bay with its many beautiful pine-tree covered islands. After viewing the pine covered islands, we then go to Fukuura Island.
The nearby area around Zuigan-ji (a famous local temple) has many caves carved into the rock wall on the approach to this temple. The caves were used for memorial services and as a cinerarium to house the ashes of the deceased. The caves were constructed some 700 years ago and remained in use until a few hundred years ago.
Day 33 Sendai to Tokyo: Taking the shinkansen we return to Tokyo for final time in the capital city..
Pricing mainly is based on the length of the tour and the requests and included activities. The exact price will depend on chosen options and tour schedule.
Our pricing includes:
- Our tour service, including all of the planning process and a dedicated guide for the duration of your tour. That includes a meet&greet at the airport and transfers to the hotel in Tokyo on arrival.
- Accommodation, averaging 4* - 5* properties and usually including breakfast. We aim to book superior rooms to give additional space and comfort during your trip.
- Transport; the train travel, subways, and transfers during the tour. Taxis are also covered during the day for our some of our scheduled sightseeing, as are the occasional bus connection. Transport outside of the daily schedule is not included. Examples are travel in the evening to a restaurant or choosing to return to the hotel by taxi where we have scheduled a different option.
- Entrance fees for temples, shrines, castles, parks, gardens, and museums. These are listed in your agreed tour schedule.
- Breakfast is included for the majority of hotels at we use. Evening meals at ryokan (Japanese inn) accommodation may be included depending on the specific tour arrangements. In general, we do not include lunch and dinner meals because Japan has a huge range of foods and we prefer not to restrict options, especially when food is a significant part of enjoying Japan.
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