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.
Four Seasons Kyoto
Best for: Culture History, Luxury, Spectacular scenery
With an 800-year-old contemplation garden at its core, the Four Seasons Kyoto brings together both ancient and modern Japan in the heart of Kyoto’s temple district uniting traditional local touches with the famed Four Seasons service.
To start planning your tailor-made holiday, call us on (646) 934-8916
Set in the scenic district of the temples, the Four Seasons Kyoto is superbly located to experience all the wonders of Kyoto. It is a state-of-the-art and luxurious hotel, that also honours the history of the area and the heritage of the site within which it was built. It houses a traditional tea house and a 800 year old Shakusuien Pond Garden at its heart, whilst providing superb facilities and modern amenities for its guests.
In line with the style of the hotel, each room or suite blends together contemporary styles, modern luxury and elements of traditional Japanese décor. The rooms are comfortable, spacious and light, with views of the Shakusuien Pond Garden or the historic Myoho-in temple through floor-to-ceiling windows.
The Four Seasons Kyoto has superb services and amenities within the hotel complex. There is a full-service spa, fitness centre, large indoor pool, steam room and sauna, offering guests space for absolute relaxation. There are also four restaurants and lounges, boasting both excellent cuisines and enchanting settings. Sushi Wakon, a creation of Michelin-starred Chef Rei Masua, is a unforgettable dining experience serving the most fresh and delectable sushi in a stunning venue. The Brasserie and the Lounge are the more simple dining options, serving a wide selection of international snacks, tea and coffee. Shakusui-Tei is the name of the traditional Japanese tea house nestled in the centre of the pond garden, specialising in tea and sake.
There are endless experiences and sights to see within easy reach of the hotel. Experience early morning mediation at the Zen temple, enjoy a tea or a monko incense-smelling party, explore the city by Jinrikisha, visit a Japanese Garden or take a boat ride along the Hozu-Gawa River - to suggest a few. The possibilities are truly endless, and the hotel's concierge is always on hand to advise and organise anything guests may need for an a enjoyable and memorable stay.
When to go
The best and most popular times to visit Kyoto are the climatically stable seasons of spring (March to May) and autumn (late September to November). The highlight of spring is the cherry-blossom season, which usually arrives in Kyoto in early April. Bear in mind, though, that the blossoms are notoriously fickle, blooming any time from late March to mid-April. Autumn is an equally good time to travel, with pleasant temperatures and soothing autumn colours, which usually peak between late October and mid-November. Be warned that Kyoto is crowded with domestic and international tourists during the cherry-blossom and autumn-foliage seasons.
Of course, you can visit Kyoto at any time of year, although the summer, from June to August, can be very hot and humid, and winter can be a little chilly for some people’s taste.
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.
Imagine Asia Suggests: Ideas for your free time in Arashiyama
Arashiyama is a beautiful and very green district in Kyoto, and home to the famous bamboo foest, located at the base of Kyoto's western mountains. A comprehensive guide is provided before you travel about what to do in Kyoto and Arashiyama.
Half Day Fushimi Inari Shrine with Sake Tasting
One of Japan’s mist iconic and photogenic highlights, Fushimi Inari Shrine’s 10,000 bright orange Torii Gates are simply a must-see. This half-day tour lets you explore the hills around the temple before an introduction to Sake at a nearby brewery.
Kyoto Cooking Lesson in Machiya Townhouse
When a nation’s cuisine gains UNESCO Intangible Word Heritage status, it is definitely worth learning more about. On either a morning or afternoon lesson, you be invited into a local townhouse to try your hand at one of two essential dishes.
A really fun opportunity to take in some Japanese culture, play dress up and get some great photos. This experience lets you see what it takes for a Geisha or apprentice Maiko to prepare for their work with a photographer on hand to capture it.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ine Fishing Village Excursion
North of Kyoto sit many quaint seaside villages that offer a wonderful break from the city. This full day tour takes you to traditional fishing communities and sake breweries, gets you out on a boat and lets you see one of Japan’s three great views.
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!