Gliding into the forefront of train travel in 1964, the bullet train, or Shinkansen, has continued to wow the world with its blistering speed and soundless stealth ever since. Now linking the very north to the south, the Bullet Train has become the reliable backbone of Japan, joining the rural to the cosmopolitan in the blink of an eye. Snaking its way across Honshu, the largest island in the Japanese archipelago, the bullet train rattles up and down the country at a staggering speed of up to 320km an hour. As synonymous with the Land of the Rising Sun as Mount Fuji, sumo or sushi, the bullet train is arguably the only way to travel in Japan.
Found across Japan, ryokans are traditional Japanese guesthouses which offer the perfect glimpse into Japanese history and culture. Most predominantly located near onsen towns, they are the perfect place to rest travel weary legs along the Nakasendo Way or as an addition to your itinerary on a tour of Japan’s highlights.
Japanese cuisine has taken the world by storm. And whilst sushi bars revolve their way around eateries in cities across the globe, the original home of this deliciously fresh and seasonal delicacy is a culinary force to be reckoned with. With its humble beginnings in street food, sushi has earned its stripes in haute cuisine and now claims many a Michelin star in decadent eateries across Japan and further afield. You only have to watch a sushi master chef in action in Japan to see why. Japanese food is an art form, it is an intrinsic part of the country’s cultural identity and motivation enough to visit.
Japan is abundant in unique experiences. From learning the art of the samurai sword, sushi or sumo, to dressing up as a geisha, discovering the world of anime, visiting a sake brewery or trying your hand at calligraphy, there are so many activities to squeeze into your Japan itinerary.
Hiking in Japan is one of the world’s best kept secrets. Whether its paving the way from village to village in the Japanese Alps, traversing the Big Snow Mountain of Hokkaido, climbing the volcanoes of Kyushu or simply walking in the hills of Kyoto, there is something for everyone to enjoy. We’ve compiled our favourite walking destinations in Japan, ideal for seasoned walkers and wanderers alike.
Tokyo, Nakasendo, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Tokyo
Best for: Highlights, Off the beaten track, Specialist
The perfect itinerary for those wanting to combine Kyoto and Tokyo with some of Japan's more authentic destinations. Trek along the ancient Nakasendo Walking Trail for two nights along with visiting Kanazawa, one of Japan's more historic cities.
To start planning your tailor-made holiday, call us on (646) 934-8916
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This comprehensive and unique itinerary is perfect for a first-time visitor who wants to see the best of Japan as well as getting a little off the beaten track to see an ancient and authentic side of the nation. Taking in both Tokyo and Kyoto in depth, this route journeys along the Nakasendo walking trail; this ancient postal route goes from Tokyo to Kyoto but you will explore the most beautiful part from Magome to Tsumago and onto Kiso Fukushima over the course of three days. You will trek and travel by train, (depending on how you feel on the day) staying in small local ryokans along the way. Visit local temples, explore forests and head through tiny Edo period villages to experience a slice of life that dates back hundreds of years. From here you will spend two nights in Kanazawa, one of Japan's most beautiful cities that has a reputation for art, sushi and local crafts; it also has its very own beautiful samurai and geisha districts. End with a night in Tokyo before flying home after the most extraordinary journey in Japan.
Days 1 - 4 : Tokyo, Japan
Stay at Andaz Tokyo for 3 nights
The first stop on your authentic itinerary is Tokyo, Japan’s glittering eclectic capital, where you will spend 3 days. Despite its futuristic architecture and ever-present pop culture, Tokyo still holds onto tradition. Stroll through one of the many leafy parks, spot old moss-covered wooden houses, attend a sumo wrestling match, or visit an ancient neighbourhood where the streets are lined with glowing lanterns and the smell of street food wafts through the air.
From Tokyo you will take two bullet trains to Nakatsugawa, with a change in Nagoya. The train from Tokyo to Nagoya will take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. There will be time to then change trains and to reach your next onward platform for Nakatsugawa. The train time from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa is approximately 50 minutes. Your final leg of the journey will be a short bus ride to Magome which will take about 25 minutes where you will start your walking journey to Tsumago.
Day 4 - 5 : Tsumago, Japan
Stay at Tsumago - Local Guest House for 1 night
The next 2 days will find you walking the Nakasendo Way, Japan’s famous 17th century travelling route. Staying in two charming local ryokans experiencing delightful hospitality, you will journey along authentic cobbled streets, through traditional wooden villages, and into the ancient forests dotted with cooling mountain streams. Dip in and out of teahouses on your way, and soak up the lovely atmosphere of the lush countryside.
Day 5 - 6 : Kiso Fukushima, Japan
Stay at Kiso Fukushima - Local Ryokan for 1 night
From Tsumago you will continue your journey trekking to Kiso Fukushima along the Nakasendo Walking Trail.
On departure from your ryokan you will be driven the short distance to Kiso Fukushima where you will board a train to Nagoya which will take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. You will then have time to change trains and platforms for your onward train to Kyoto which will take approximately 35 minutes.
Days 6 - 9 : Kyoto, Japan
Stay at Hyatt Regency Kyoto for 3 nights
Kyoto is a city of ancient shrines and rich heritage, so the perfect next stop on your authentic itinerary. You will stay here for 3 days. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, yhere is so much to here, including exploring the rivers and canals by boat, visiting traditional geisha houses, exploring century old gardens and learning how to make traditional origami with a local. We can arrange local guides for you or provide you with suggestions for your free time.
On departure from Kyoto you will take a bullet train directly to Kanazawa which will take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Days 9 - 11 : Kanazawa, Japan
Stay at Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel for 2 nights
For the next 2 nights you will stay in Kanazawa on Honshu’s northern coast, otherwise known as ‘little Kyoto’. Famed for sushi, the exquisite Kenrokuen garden, its beautiful geisha and samurai districts, and a distinct arts and craft scene, Kanazawa is one of our favourite cities in Japan. In keeping with your authentic itinerary, a great experience to be had here is a traditional tea ceremony, where you can learn about the intricacy of this ancient art and enjoy delicious green tea. We also highly recommend the Samurai district and fantastic sushi and sashimi restaurants.
On departure from Kanazawa you will take a direct bullet train to Tokyo which will take just under 3 hours.
Day 11 - 12 : Tokyo, Japan
Stay at Park Hotel Tokyo for 1 night
At the end of this wonderful itinerary you will spend 1 night again in Tokyo. Experience the city as it lights up at night, try some delicious street food and wander around the neon-clad streets, soaking up the atmosphere of modern Japan before you head home.
When to go
As Japan is made up of a series of islands, the weather varies greatly across the country. The best time to visit is generally in the spring; which takes place in March and April, or in the autumn; which is in October and November. The spring is characterised by the famous cherry blossom, and the autumn by the spectacular colours of the leaves. Both seasons are warm, often sunny with little rain.
November to December is fairly quiet but can get a little chilly. January to March is also cold in Japan, but little rainfall makes it a good time to see Mount Fuji clearly. During the colder months expect snow in Japan’s mountain ranges and in some cities. In May and June, the weather is pleasant and there are fewer tourists, so we feel this is a very good time to visit. Between July and October, the weather can be very hot and humid.
To start planning your tailor-made holiday, call us on (646) 934-8916
Things to do
Harajuku Backstreet Gourmet Tour
Just a few steps from one of Tokyo’s centres for alternative trends and pop culture sits one of it’s most stylish and up-and-coming areas. Your guide will introduce you to the boutique bars and eateries of Tokyo’s young elite on this evening tour.
Kyoto Traditional Crafts
Kyoto has a rich history in crafts and today you will get to try your hand at both pottery making and also the intricacies of kimono dyeing. This full-day tour also includes stop-offs at several landmarks before ending in the city’s Geisha district.
East Kyoto Cycling
A flat city laid out on a grid system with plenty of back streets to explore, Kyoto is perfectly suited to exploring by bicycle. This guided full-day tour combines off the beaten track exploration with some of the city’s most interesting landmarks.
Kyoto Home Visit – Origami
Origami is has been associated with Japanese culture for centuries and is often used today as dedications or gifts, especially weddings. You will be welcomed into a Kyoto townhouse to learn the history and basics of this wonderful art form.
Tsukiji Fish Market and Sushi Making at a Local Home
The Tsukiji Fish Market is a sprawling indoor and outdoor complex handling far more than just the fish it gets its name from. Your guide will help you explore the market before taking you to a local home for a lesson in sushi making.
Kyoto Home Visit - Tea Ceremony
One of the most captivating of Japanese customs, the tea ceremony has a rich history and importance in both past and present Japan. This experience allows you to practise the ceremony yourself in the home of a Kyoto tea-master.
Day 2 - Nakasendo Highway (Tsumago to Nojiri)
Today's trek is beautiful and varied and includes a hike from Tsumago to Nojiri. The trail traces small valleys and moves into forests, often bamboo or cedar. Some of this is the least developed scenery on the trail.
Private Geisha Tea House Experience
The Geisha are one of the most interesting facets of Japanese culture, and often most misunderstood. You will join an acclaimed expert in Geisha culture to explore the streets of Kyoto before meeting a Geisha for drinks and entertainment.
Day 3 - Nakasendo Highway (Yabuhara to Narai)
This morning you'll be driven back to Kiso Fukushima where you will catch the train to Yabuhara for your final day of trekking. You'll trek over the Torii pass to Narai, an atmospheric village before continuing onto your next destination by train.
Tea Ceremony in Kanazawa
One of the most fascinating of Japanese customs, the tea ceremony has a rich history and is still an important part of contemporary Japanese life. This experience allows you to practise the ceremony yourself in a teahouse hosted by a tea-master.
Sumo Experience from Kyoto
Sumo has been central to Japanese culture since ancient times and far more than just a wrestling match. This full-day tour takes in the ceremony, tradition and also the combat of Sumo alongside some of neighbouring Nara’s finest temples.
Visit Shirakawa-go from Kanazawa
Just over an hour from Kanazawa, Shirakawa-go is a wonderful UNESCO World Heritage Site, taking you back in time with its iconic triangular farmhouses. This full-day tour explores the village and its scenic highlights, including a delicious lunch.
Classic Kyoto Tour
Zen Temples, lush palace gardens and engaging walks can all be found in Kyoto and refined this full-day tour takes in some of the finest examples in the city. With the help of your guide, you will discover the contemplative side to Japanese culture.
Kyoto by Night
Kyoto is a charismatic city and really comes into its own in the evening. With a local resident, you will explore some of the charming lantern-lit back streets as you discover the food and drink that Kyotoites like to enjoy after the sun goes down.
Day 1 - Nakasendo Highway (Magome to Tsmago)
Your first day trekking along the Nakasendo Highway, an old postal route between Tokyo and Kyoto. Firstly arrive in Nakatsugawa before catching a local buy to Magome. From here trek one of the most beautiful routes of the Nakasendo, from Magome to Tsmago.
The Philosopher’s Path
Once the commute of an acclaimed Japanese philosopher, this pretty walk through Kyoto’s Higashiyama District passes many small temples and shrines. During this half-day tour, your guide will lead you along the path, exploring sights along the way.
Full Day Kanazwawa Highlights Tour
Famed for its excellently preserved heritage, Kanazawa is a wonderful and manageable city to explore and this full-day guided tour will take you through some of the highlights of the city using the brilliant public transport network.
Kanazawa 21st Century Museum
Unique in its architecture and exhibits, Kanazawa’s 21st Century Museum offers a dramatic change to traditional city highlights. With temporary and permanent displays from Japanese and international artists it is one of Japan’s most popular museums.
Kyoto Gardens Tour
Japan is a paradise for those with green fingers, and Kyoto brings together some of the finest gardens in the country. Strolling gardens, zen rock gardens, ponds and lakes are all features you will see on this full day tour.
Kyoto Golden Route Cycling Tour
Like many Japanese cities, Kyoto sits perfectly flat between stunning mountain scenery, making it perfect for cycling. This half-day guided tour takes you on a scenic historical road between Kyoto and Arashiyama, taking in sights along the way.
An Afternoon in Old Tokyo
Miraculously escaping damage in the Second World War, several downtown areas of Tokyo have preserved what life in the city used to be like. With your guide, this half day tour uncovers the magic of these hidden gems.
Tokyo Full Day Anime Tour
Anime is considered just as important culturally in Japan as traditional arts, with this full day tour offering a fantastic insight. Accompanied by a private guide, visit cafes, amusement parks and stores all dedicated to animation.
Arashiyama Half Day Tour
Famed for its beautiful bamboo forests, Arashiyama has far more to offer and is a wonderful place to explore, a short distance from Kyoto. This half-day tour takes in the bamboo as well as shrines and temples renowned for their cultural importance.
Kyoto Backstreet Cycling Tour
The backstreets and neighbourhoods of Kyoto are where you can really feel the city’s heritage and while avoiding the landmark sites, means that you can get under its skin. Kyoto’s flat geography make this perfect by bike on this half-day tour.
Private Dinner with a Geisha
This evening lets you have an insight into one of the most fascinating parts of Japanese cultures, the Kyoto Geishas. An expert guide will lead you through Kyoto’s historic Geisha districts, before you sit down for dinner and entertainment.
Kanazawa Craft Experience
Kanazawa is home to many fine gardens and architectural marvels, but is also the birthplace of several fine art and craft techniques, which are highly treasured across Japan. On this half-day tour, you will get to try your hand at two of them.
Ghibli Museum and Nakano Walking Tour
In this full day tour, your guide will introduce you to Japan’s fascination with Anime and Manga with a visit to the museum of the famed Ghibli animation studios and a walking tour of Nakano, a hub for pop culture and all things alternative.
Taiko Drum Lesson
The Taiko drums have a long history in Japanese culture and folklore from religious ceremonies, Geisha performances and even wars. This private, hour-long lesson will teach you the origins and rhythms of the Taiko, complete with battle cries!
Sumo Training Experience
An essential part of Japanese culture, Sumo wrestling is an ancient tradition steeped in ceremony. This morning tour will enable you to enter the inner sanctum of a Sumo stable and view the wrestlers in training in a very authentic environment.
From $3403 per person
All accommodation and breakfast
Selected transport and guides during sightseeing