We've put together a guidebook with everything you need to know about Japan. Written by our specialists, it details destination information, some suggested itineraries and plenty more to inspire your holiday. Fill in the form below and if you live in UK, your guidebook will arrive by post within the next couple of days. For those who live abroad, we will send you a link by email which will allow you to download your own copy.
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.
With its stunning and varied landscapes, Japan is a walker’s paradise. From a self-guided trek along the Nakasendo Highway to tackling the imposing peak of Mount Fuji, there are endless opportunities to get out and about on foot. Here are a few of our favourites...
The secret world of the geisha has long been lived out behind the sliding doors of exclusive teahouses across Japan. For generations, kimono clad women have been an enduring image of Japanese tradition, culture and sophistication with their elaborate dress, striking appearance and towering wooden platforms. The geisha has become an icon of Japan’s fascinating past, a stark contrast to the country’s sleek, shiny and futuristic present.
Beyond the neon lights, soaring skyscrapers and high-speed travel of Tokyo, Japan is a country where natural wonder knows no bounds. Outside of its cosmopolitan hubs, the country is a patchwork of meticulously landscaped gardens, historic castles, ornate temples and vast national parks. There, ancient walking trails connect forgotten villages, whilst its higgledy-piggledy coastline remains all but explored. Steeped in tradition and with both feet firmly planted in the past, this is a Japan almost unrecognisable from its glorious, glittering cities. Hike along the Nakasendo Way, stay in a traditional ryokan or soak in a natural onsen for the perfect antidote to a city escape in Japan.
Time is precious, but we are convinced that even with ten days to spare, you can really get under the skin of a complex and captivating destination like Japan. Acquaint yourself with its ancient traditions, otherworldly cities and extraordinary landscapes for the perfect introduction to Japan and its fascinating culture.
Whilst ticking off everything Japan has to offer in fourteen days is a near-impossible feat, this curated selection of itineraries showcases the astonishing diversity of Japan. For first time visitors or those returning time after time, these itineraries are just the start when it comes to planning your next adventure to Japenese shores.
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.
Japan is a place of contradictions – visitors often describe it as both comfortably familiar and endlessly surprising at the same time. It’s an intricate blend of East and West, and past and present. The delights on offer range from Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, tea ceremonies, sumo tournaments, and beautifully clad Geisha, to sleek, modern shopping malls, high-tech gadgetry and delectable cuisine – not to mention the raft of intricate customs, etiquette and traditions. We spoke to Pete, our Imagine Asia specialist, who recently returned from this intriguing country.
Think of the Japanese Alps and world class skiing, traditional ryokans and steaming onsens spring to mind. Yet few places are as unique to the area as the Jigokudani Monkey Park, located between the onsen towns of Shibu and Yudanaka and home to Japan’s indigenous primate, the Japanese macaque. Otherwise known as snow monkeys, these playful creatures have frolicked and bathed in the natural hot springs of Jigokudani for centuries, continuing to fascinate locals and visitors alike. A favourite for families, but also amongst active and adventurous travellers, visiting the park is best paired with a stay in a nearby ryokan.
Tokyo, Takayama, Kanazawa, Kyoto
Best for: Culture History, Highlights, Imagine Favourites
This is a fantastic option for first time travellers to Japan, wanting both highlights and variety. Enjoy the neon lights of Tokyo, the ancient gardens and geisha districts in Kyoto, the samurai quarter in Kanazawa as well as idyllic Takayama.
To start planning your tailor-made holiday, call us on (646) 934-8916
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This superb itinerary is the ideal choice for those travelling to Japan for the first time, looking to take in all the highlights of the country. Beginning in iconic Tokyo you will have the chance to experience the classic sights of this spectacular city, such as the Tsukiji Fish Market and the Imperial Palace, witnessing its varying pop cultures and general eclectic atmosphere as you wander around the city. Don’t forget to take a stroll around some of its unexpected leafy parks during your stay. The green luscious mountain city of Takayama is your next stop, famous for its Matsuri no Mori festival, quaint wooden traditional districts, and the nearby Shirakawa-go village, which is protected by UNESCO due to its unique mountain architecture. From here you will then 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. Your wonderful itinerary ends in Kyoto, Japan’s ‘cultural capital’, where you can soak up the classic sights of the city, such as its beautiful temples, shrines and Zen gardens. This last stop is a great place to pick up authentic souvenirs and gifts to take home with you.
Days 1 - 4 : Tokyo, Japan
Stay at Park Hotel Tokyo for 3 nights
The first stop on your classic itinerary is the home of Japanese pop culture, iconic capsule hotels, the world’s busiest crossing, and Japan’s most refined culinary scene. Spend 3 days in Tokyo exploring the best of the city, with some fantastic experiences on offer, and even a visit to a sword maker’s studio or a sumo wrestling match. Our guides can help you get the best out of Tokyo and find your feet in Japan, but otherwise we recommend exploring some of the time at your own leisure using our recommendations.
On departure from Tokyo you will take the bullet train to Nagoya where you will change trains and platforms for your onward train to Takayama. The train from Tokyo to Nagoya is approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes and the train from Nagoya to Takayama is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Days 4 - 6 : Takayama, Japan
Stay at Best Western Hotel Takayama for 2 nights
Your next 2 days will be spent in Takayama, a city nestled in the verdant mountains, famous for puppet shows and the colourful Takayama festival. Explore the wonderfully preserved old town, sip sake at a local brewery, and see the spectacularly designed floats at the Matsuri no Mori museum. Nearby you'll also find the wonderful town of Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On departure from Takayama you will take a shared coach transfer to Shirakawago which is a beautiful journey and just over an hour. Here you will change to another coach that you will continue onto Kanazawa and will take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Days 6 - 8 : Kanazawa, Japan
Stay at Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel for 2 nights
For the next 2 days you will stay in Kanazawa on Honshu’s northern coast, otherwise known as ‘Little Kyoto’. Famed for sushi, sashimi, 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. There are many experiences on offer, such as a traditional tea ceremony, gold leaf crafts, a visit to the 20th Centurary Art Museum and meeting a local monk.
From Kanazawa you will take a direct bullet train to Kyoto which will take approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Days 8 - 11 : Kyoto, Japan
Stay at The Screen for 3 nights
The last stop on your classic itinerary is the ancient city of Kyoto, characterised by its combination of authentic tradition and Japanese modernity, where you will stay for 3 days. You may want to enjoy a tranquil private tea ceremony, a unique ninja experience where you test your ability with throwing stars, and even dinner with a geisha. The gardens here are some of the best in Japan, so we recommend having time at your own leisure to explore this incredible world class city.
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
Kyoto Home Visit - Private Calligraphy Class
Writing and calligraphy in Japan is an art form in its own right. With roots in china, the characters came to Japan well over a thousand years ago. This lesson will teach you the complex skills of calligraphy and let you try some writing yourself.
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.
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.
Private Temple Tea Ceremony
The tea ceremony is one of Japan’s most sacred rituals and far more than simply the act of drinking tea. This experience will teach you the importance and symbolism of the practice in the unique setting of a 17th century temple teahouse.
Private Geisha Evening 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.
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.
Sword Wielding Experience
A symbol of Japan, the history of the country is intertwined with that of its iconic swords. Today on this afternoon experienc you will get the chance to wield a sword and learn some traditional techniques.
Visit Nara from Kyoto
The capital of Japan in ancient times, Nara is within easy reach of Kyoto and home to several majestic temples, which collectively form the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which this half-day tour will explore.
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 - Whisy and Sake
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.
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.
Tokyo Contemporary Art Tour
While internationally known for its classical art, Japan has a thriving modern art scene and no city showcases this as much as Tokyo. This full-day tour will take you through Tokyo’s contemporary architecture and galleries.
Samurai Dance Experience
Fabled warriors, the Samurai are synonymous with Japan. While romanticised in battle with their katana swords, a Samurai’s discipline was built around etiquette and stylised dance. This group lesson will teach you some exciting Samurai movements.
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.
Takayama Sake Brewery Visit and Japanese Tapas Cooking Experience
A fun and distinctive tour in Takayama’s old historical hub, visiting a sake brewery, followed by a Japanese tapas class, where you can eat what you have made and enjoy delicious sake afterwards.
Takayama Rural Cooking Class Experience
An unforgettable day cooking with an experienced home chef, learning about the local culture and traditions and enjoying the beautiful natural surroundings of this little town.
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.
Iga Ninja Experience
Along with ‘geisha’ and ‘samurai’, one of the words most closely associated with historical Japan is ‘ninja’, the black-clad masters of espionage who were especially active during the 15th-17th centuries in feudal Japan.
Kyoto Cooking Lesson with Professional Chef
Japanese cuisine is so culturally significant, that it has gained UNESCO Intangible World Heritage Status. Learning the craft can take decades, so a lesson from a profession chef is an invaluable and enlightening experience.
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.
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.
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.
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!
From $3339 per person
International economy class flights and airport taxes from the UK
All accommodation and breakfast
Selected transport and some guided experiences
Ask our specialists for prices excluding flights from the UK. This price is as a guide only. The actual price is influenced by fluctuations in exchange rate, time of year, travel class of flights and the use of private versus shared excursions. Single supplements are likely to apply.