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, Yudanaka, Kyoto, Mt Koya, Osaka
Best for: Spectacular scenery, Food Drink, Honeymoon
Brilliantly varied and at times getting truly off the beaten track, this journey is a wonderful option for those wanting to see a the more authentic and Buddhist side to Japan, without missing out on Japan's highlights such as Kyoto and Tokyo.
To start planning your tailor-made holiday, call us on (646) 934-8916
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A great choice for those looking to learn about Buddhism in Japan, this peaceful itinerary is a journey through the less-trodden parts of the country, as well as the highlights of Kyoto and Tokyo. Expect Zen gardens, landscaped to represent the concept of Ying and Yang; traditional ryokans, with clean geometric lines and minimalist interiors and spectacular mountain views amidst tranquil countryside. The itinerary begins in Tokyo, where you will have time to explore the iconic sites, such as the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Skytree, as well as stroll around the leafy parks, and visit the numerous Buddhist temples. Travelling by train, you will reach the mountainous hot spring resort of Yudanaka, where you can rejuvenate in natural steaming onsen and catch a glimpse of the snow monkeys relaxing in the water. Journeying back to urban life, you will next visit Kyoto, Japan’s ‘cultural capital’, filled with charming little rock gardens featuring miniature ponds and bridges. Indulge in the peacefulness of the bamboo forest or enjoy a quaint private tea ceremony or dinner with a geisha. Visiting Mt Koya, surrounded by verdant hills and countryside, gives you the chance to relax and take in the views, as you stay for one night in a charming ryokan. Visit the ancient Buddhist complex on your doorstep, seeing hundreds of temples and shrines. This Zen journey ends in Osaka, where you will have a night to experience the delicious food that the city is famous for and pick up some gifts and souvenirs before flying home.
Days 1 - 4 : Tokyo, Japan
Stay at Conrad Tokyo for 3 nights
This Zen itinerary begins in Tokyo, where you will spend 3 days. Tokyo is a vibrant and often chaotic capital city, famous for its enormous population, but despite this, there are plenty of beautiful parks and gardens, that will transport you away from the busy streets to a tranquil natural world. Embark on a garden and fire ceremony tour, visiting an 18th century ‘stroll garden’ and a peaceful Buddhist temple, or head to Nikko National Park, just outside of the city, to walk around the lovely gardens, forests and lakes. Just let us know your interests, and we'll tailor make your time in Tokyo for you.
Depart Tokyo and take a direct bullet train to Nagoya which is a 1 hour and 30 minute journey. From here you will have time to change platforms and trains in order to take your onward express train to Yudanaka. This journey is approximately 50 minutes.
Days 4 - 6 : Yudanaka, Japan
Stay at Jinpyokaku Honten for 2 nights
For your next stop, travel through mountains and valleys until you reach the hot spring resort of Yudanaka, famous for being the home of the iconic Japanese Macaques. Spend a few days here exploring the traditional highland villages and rejuvenating onsen, as well as visiting the snow monkeys to watch them relax in the steaming water, all the while taking in the stunning natural setting.
Depart from Yudanka and take the express line to Nagano which is a 50 minute journey. Here you will change train and platform for your onward 3 hour journey to Nagoya. At Nagoya you will have one final change and will take your final train of the day to Kyoto which will take just 50 minutes.
Days 6 - 9 : Kyoto, Japan
Stay at The Screen for 3 nights
Next you will travel to Kyoto where you will spend 3 nights. The city has 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and there is plenty of time to take in the glorious ancient gardens and temples. There are some lovely experiences to be had here, such as a private tea ceremony and a meeting with a geisha. A gardens tour is a great way to see all the strolling gardens and zen rock gardens with a guide who can teach you about the culture and traditions that accompany them.
Due to the number of changes and local lines needed our advice is to drive from Kyoto Mt Koya.
Day 9 - 10 : Mt Koya, Japan
Stay at Eko-in for 1 night
The next stop is Mt Koya, where you will spend 1 night staying in a traditional ryokan in the charming countryside. Nestled amongst verdant hills and forests, there are plenty of walking trails to embark on that will lead you to temples and shrines that worship the natural world. This ancient Buddhist complex has over 100 temples and is the very heart of Japan’s spiritual history.
Due to the number of local train lines required, our advice is to drive from Mt Koya to Osaka.
Day 10 - 11 : Osaka, Japan
Stay at Intercontinental Osaka for 1 night
Your Zen itinerary ends in Osaka, where you will spend just 1 night before heading home. Osaka is famous for its downtown Dontonbori area that serves up delicious authentic food on the side of the road, so head there for dinner to try some scrumptious okonomiyaki. For some peace and tranquility, visit Nakanoshima Park, with its rose garden, pottery museum, retro buildings and beer garden.
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.
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.
Evening Osaka Gourmet Tour
A tour around Dontonbori in Osaka to experience the culinary pleasures of this famous buzzing city. Foodies will love this tour as there are two authentic dishes and a delicious drink included.
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.
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.
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.
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 $4098 per person
All accommodation and breakfast
Selected transport and guides during sightseeing