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, Matsumoto, Nakasendo, Kyoto
Best for: Culture History, Imagine Favourites, Walking Trekking
This itinerary is designed for those looking to discover rural and urban Japan. It combines the well-known locations of Kyoto and Tokyo with more authentic and historical rural towns and villages, such as Matsumoto and The Nakasendo Walking Trail.
To start planning your tailor-made holiday, call us on (646) 934-8916
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This wonderfully diverse discovery of Japan combines city and countryside, displaying the best of what the country has to offer. From the urban modernity of Tokyo and the traditional city of Kyoto to the rural town of Matsumoto and the ancient Nakasendo Way, both boasting spectacular scenery and a slice of less-travelled Japan. Starting in the incredible capital of Tokyo, you will have plenty of time to visit its highlights, such as the world’s busiest crossing, the Imperial Palace, the Tokyo Skytree, and much more. Matsumoto is a glorious mountain city, surrounding by verdant hills and valleys. Spend time strolling around the charming streets, visiting museums, shrines and the famous theatrical-looking Matsumoto Castle, made from black wood. Your next stop is the Nakasendo Walking Trail, where you will trek and travel by train, (depending on how you feel on the day) staying in small charming 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. Kyoto is the next urban experience on this itinerary, still dominated with authentic districts and beautiful scenery, but brimming with modern life and futuristic architecture, Kyoto is a must see. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and some of Japan's finest gardens. End with a night in Tokyo before flying home after the most varied trip.
Days 1 - 4 : Tokyo, Japan
Stay at Hotel Niwa Tokyo for 3 nights
Start your wonderful discovery of Japan in the capital, Tokyo, where you have 3 days to explore everything from contemporary architecture and vivid pop culture, to old fish markets and leafy parks. There are many experiences you can enjoy in Tokyo, such as a sumo training lesson, sake brewery tours, Harajuku backstreet walks, and discovering Old Tokyo. Spend time with one of our handpicked guides or head out to explore at your own leisure.
On departure from Tokyo you will take a direct bullet train to Matsumoto. This journey will take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Days 4 - 6 : Matsumoto, Japan
Stay at Buena Vista Matsumoto for 2 nights
Your next stop is Matsumoto, where you will spend 2 days. This mountainous city is renowned for its dramatic-looking castle, which has thick black walls and looks quite particularly spectacular in the autumn and spring when the cherry blossoms or fiery leaves provide a stunning backdrop. Stroll around the city visiting museums and shrines, as well as hiking into the forests along the leafy walking trails.
From Matsumoto you will take a direct bullet train to Nakatsugawa which is a journey of 1 hour and 15 minutes. From here you will take a local bus to Magome which is where you will start the Nakasendo Walking Trail.
Day 6 - 7 : Tsumago, Japan
Stay at Tsumago - Local Guest House for 1 night
The next 2 days will find you walking the Nakasendo Trail, Japan’s famous 17th century postal route from Kyoto to Tokyo. You will only walk from Magome to Kiso Fukushima via Tsumago, the most attractive part. 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 7 - 8 : Kiso Fukushima, Japan
Stay at Kiso Fukushima - Local Ryokan for 1 night
Walk from Tsumago to Kiso Fukushima along the Nakasendo Walking Trail.
From Kiso Fukushima you can choose to travel directly to Kyoto, via Nagoya which is approximately a journey of 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Days 8 - 11 : Kyoto, Japan
Stay at Royal Park Hotel Kyoto for 3 nights
The next location on this all-encompassing itinerary is Kyoto, where you will stop for 3 days, giving you plenty of time to explore. With breathtaking views of the surrounding hills, the city is clean and peaceful, intersected by rivers and canals and dotted with traditional houses and backstreets. Discover the Gion district where you might be lucky enough to spot an elusive Geisha walking down the cobbled street. Kyoto is also famed for its 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, mainly glistening temples and gardens.
From Kyoto you will take a direct bullet train to Tokyo which is a journey of approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Day 11 - 12 : Tokyo, Japan
Stay at Park Hotel Tokyo for 1 night
At the end of this fantastic itinerary you will return to Tokyo for 1 night. Soak up the magnetic atmosphere of the city before you head home, experiencing the busy city illuminated at night. Try some delicious street food and maybe even enjoy dinner and a show at a robot or ninja restaurant.
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 - Calligraphy
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 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.
Tokyo Evening Gourmet Food Tour
Street food is an essential part of the Tokyo way of life and this evening you will enjoy two small areas of the city famous for a particular speciality. A local guide will accompany you and help you tell your Yakitori from your Monjayaki.
Local's Tour of Tokyo by Night
Join a Tokyo resident and guide as you explore a selection of some of the hundreds of tiny bars and restaurants in Shinjuku, the hub of Tokyo nightlife and home to some of its finest delicacies and local characters.
Full Day Kyoto Highlights
Taking advantage of Kyoto’s transport network, this full-day guided tour showases some of Kyoto’s architectural and cultural wonders. The city is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and you will discover castles, temples and an historic market.
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.
Tokyo East Tour
Explore eastern Tokyo from its origins to modern day, including museums, districts and from above. On this half-day tour, your guide will introduce you to Tokyo’s past, formation and into its exciting future.
Full Day Tokyo Highlights Tour
Using the extensive public transport system, explore Japan’s vibrant capital as you join your guide to uncover past and present Tokyo. Discover ancient shrines, lush gardens, bustling shopping streets and learn the art of tea drinking.
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.
Nishiki Market, Sake Tasting and Cooking Lesson
Three important features of Japanese society come together in this half-day tour. Experiencing Street markets, Sake and Japanese cooking with a private guide make for a fantastic take on modern Japanese life.
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 full-day tour, you will get the chance to wield a sword and learn some traditional techniques before visiting some of the key temples of Nara.
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.
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.
Half-Day Tokyo Highlights
Using the extensive public transport system, join your guide to explore Japan’s vibrant capital on this half-day tour. This offers a great introduction to Tokyo’s history and key highlights, whilst helping you understand what makes Tokyo tick.
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 private lesson will teach you some exciting Samurai movements.
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.
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 $2847 per person
All accommodation and breakfast
Selected transport and guides during sightseeing