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, Miyajima, Kanazawa
Best for: Highlights, Imagine Favourites, Spectacular scenery
One of our favourite in depth journeys, this unique itinerary explores the best of Japan. From Hiroshima to The Nakasendo Walking Trail and from Kyoto to Kanazawa, this wonderful two-week journey really brings the true essence of Japan to life.
To start planning your tailor-made holiday, call us on (646) 934-8916
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This fantastic and extensive itinerary is a journey through the areas of Japan less frequented by tourists, as well as some of the classic cities along the way. It's ideal for second timers too. From the dazzling neon lights of Tokyo to the quaint cobbled roads of the Nakasendo Way, this is a total immersion into Japan, both ancient and modern. Beginning in Tokyo, you will have plenty of time to explore the main highlights of the city as well as some more unusual experiences, such as anime tours, sumo matches and sushi making classes. Journeying to the Nakasendo Way, you will trek and travel by train, (depending on how you feel on the day) staying in small local ryokans at night. Visit local temples, explore forests and head through tiny Edo period villages to experience a slice of life that dates back hundreds of years. Your next stop is Japan’s ‘cultural capital’, Kyoto, where you will discover the highlights, including charming rock gardens and bamboo forests, with unique tours on offer such as a geisha dinner or a ninja workshop. Spend a few days in Hiroshima, learning about the fatal atomic bomb tragedy of 1945, seeing some of the city sites, and meeting the famously friendly local people. 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. At the end of this itinerary you will spend one more night in Tokyo, before flying home.
Days 1 - 4 : Tokyo, Japan
Stay at Park Hotel Tokyo for 3 nights
This wonderful itinerary begins with 3 days in Tokyo, giving you plenty of time to experience some of the less tourist-dominated areas, and the more unusual cultures of the city. A pop culture walk, an anime tour, and a Harajuku backstreet gourmet food tour are the best ways to understand modern life in Tokyo, whilst a sumo training experience or a traditional cooking lesson in a local home will help to bring authentic Japan to life. Alternatively enjoy a more classic guided tour of the city, or simply explore yourselves.
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 between Magome and Kiso Fukushima, 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
Continue along the Nakasendo Walking Trail from Tsumago to Kiso Fukushima.
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
After walking along the Nakasendo Way, you will travel to Kyoto, where you can spend 3 days enjoying some wonderfully unique experiences. Visit a studio in the centre of the city to enjoy a geisha makeover and try on traditional kimonos, learn the tricks of being a ninja with a workshop, where you will even learn how to throw ninja stars, or explore classic Kyoto, exploring highlights such as the beautiful temples and lush Zen gardens. You might simply want a classic guided tour with one of our expert guides, or you may simply want to explore at leisure using our recommendations.
Depart Kyoto you will take a direct bullet train to Shin-Kobe which is a journey of 30 minutes. Here you will have time to change trains and platforms in order to take your onward train to Hiroshima which will take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Days 9 - 11 : Western Japan
Stay at Sheraton Hiroshima for 2 nights
The next 2 nights on this itinerary take place in Hiroshima, a vibrant city obsessed with baseball and famous for its kind and friendly people and delicious crispy udon noodles. Characterised by the tragedy of the atomic bomb attack of 1945, you can visit the Peace Park and Peace Memorial Museum to learn more about the tragic events. The shrunken garden, Shukkeien, is a lovely place to stroll around and reflect afterwards.
From Hiroshima you will take a direct bullet train to Shin-Osaka which is a 1 hour and 20 minute journey. Here you will have time to change platforms and trains before continuing your journey to Kanazawa with another bullet train. The journey from Shin-Osaka to Kanazawaa is approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Days 11 - 13 : 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. There are many experiences on offer here, such as an authentic tea ceremony.
From Kanazawa you will take a direct bullet train to Tokyo which is approximately 3 hours.
Day 13 - 14 : Tokyo, Japan
Stay at Park Hotel Tokyo for 1 night
At the end of this wonderful itinerary, you will spend one last night in Tokyo before flying home. Experience the city as it lights up at night, try some delicious street food, and maybe even 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
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.
Half Day Miyajima Highlights Tour
A half-day tour to Miyajima Island, the home of the famous floating torri gate. Here you can explore the temples and shrines in the complex and look around the rest of the island before returning to Hiroshima on the ferry.
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 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.
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 Art and Culture Tour
Japan’s art and distinct cultures are two of its most famous traditions. On this full-day tour, discover two of the most iconic, calligraphy and swordsmanship, as you get to try both first hand and learn about their origins.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Full Day Naoshima Excursion from Hiroshima
An experience that contemporary art and architecture enthusiasts should consider, visiting Naoshima Island to explore the Art House Project, Chichu Art Museum and Benesse House Museum, with two exciting journeys on the bullet train.
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!
Full Day Hiroshima and Sake Village Tour
This full day tour of Hiroshima and Saijo takes you to the delightful Shukkeien Garden with its tiny landscape scenes, before heading to atmospheric Saijo to learn about all things sake.
From $3125 per person
All accommodation and breakfast
Selected transport and guides during sightseeing