After clearing customs and immigration (which can take up to an hour and a half due to increased tourism to Japan), you will be met at Tokyo’s Narita Airport by a Samurai Tours guide. The guide will then purchase a limousine bus ticket for you and help you board the bus to the hotel. After checking in, the evening is free. No meals are included.
After breakfast, you will start the day with a Welcome/Orientation meeting. Next, the licensed, English-speaking guide will escort you to the Tokyo Tower. The Tokyo Tower is a communications and observation tower in the center of Tokyo. At 332.9 metres (1,092 ft), it is the second-tallest structure in Japan. The structure is an Eiffel Tower-inspired lattice tower, with a main observatory at 150 meters that is reached via elevator or a 600-step staircase. Thanks to the tower’s central location, the observatory offers an interesting view of the city despite being only at a relatively moderate height. Afterwards, we will travel to the famous Ginza district. Ginza is recognized by many as one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world, attracting visitors and regulars alike from across the globe. Before continuing we will stop for a lunch of Kushiage (fried meat and vegetables on bamboo skewers). Next we will travel to the nearby Asakusa area. Here we will tour the Nakamise-dori, Senso-ji Buddhist Temple and the Asakusa Shrine where you will learn about Buddhist and Shinto Japanese religious practices. We will return to the hotel, where we will go through the train tickets for the rest of the tour. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch at a local restaurant included.
Before leaving for the morning, you will prepare your luggage to be transferred to Takayama, and will be traveling to Hakone and Takayama with an overnight bag only. You should prepare your overnight bag with enough items for 2 days and 1 night. After breakfast you will travel to Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest fish market. It is estimated that 20% of all the fish caught in the world passes through this market. There are two parts to the Tsukiji Market- the inner market and the outer market. The inner market is for wholesale business and the outer market is for retail. Since groups are not allowed to walk together in the inner market, you will be given some time to wander around the inner market on your own. We will then take some time to walk around the outer market as a group. After this we will go to a restaurant near the market that is popular with locals, and owned by the self-proclaimed “tuna king” for a sushi lunch. After lunch you will have some free time in Tokyo. It is a short walk to the Kabukizatheater. There, you can attend one act of a Kabuki play if a play is scheduled on that day. Admittance is first-come, first-served, and you will have to wait in line to get in. Ask the guide for availability, admittance procedures and the schedule for that day if you are interested. You will meet back at a predetermined time and location to travel to Hakone YumotoOnsen, where we will stay overnight. Here you can enjoy the thermally-heated mineral baths at the ryokan. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local Japanese restaurant are included.
After checking out of the ryokan, we will tour Hakone. Hakone is famous for its natural beauty and the view of nearby Mt. Fuji (weather permitting). We will be taking many different forms of transportation (electric train, funicular, gondola and bus) around Hakone including the Hakone Sightseeing Boats on Lake Ashi. In good weather, a fine view of Mount Fuji, and enjoy Hakone’s rich scenery reflected on the lake’s calm surface. After returning to Hakone Yumoto and picking up our overnight bags, we will continue on to Takayama. Takayama, in the middle of the Japan Alps, with its traditional inns, shops, and sake breweries, has managed to retain its traditional charm. Breakfast at the ryokan and bento box lunch is included. (PLEASE NOTE: High winds and/or heavy rain can, and will often cause cessation of services on the Sightseeing Boat cruise. Should this occur, we will not be able to operate the itinerary as listed above, and will replace it with the best possible alternative given the weather conditions. Also, in the case of bad weather, even if the boats are still operating, we may alter the itinerary for your comfort and safety as Mt. Fuji will not be visible anyway.)
This morning we stroll through the farmer’s market, sampling the numerous options from vegetable stands and stalls selling herbs, pickles, and souvenirs. After that, we tour the Takayama-jinya, which was the governing office of Takayama and the surrounding area since the early 17th century. The guide will take you to the Sanmachi-suji district, consisting of merchant homes dating back to the 16th century. The rest of the day is free to roam and explore Takayama. Visit the many temples, shrines and museums, rummage through antique shops, or relax at one of the sake breweries. Breakfast and lunch at a local restaurant are included.
Before leaving Takayama, you will prepare your luggage to be transferred to Kyoto, and will be traveling with an overnight bag only. You should prepare your overnight bag with enough items for 2 days and 1 night. In the morning, we will travel by express train and Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. For many, just the name of Kyoto conjures up the classic images of Japan: streets of traditional wooden houses, the click-clack of geta (wooden sandals) on the paving stones, geisha in a flourish of brightly colored silks, and a tea master deliberately warming water and making tea. Steeped in history and tradition, Kyoto has in many ways been the cradle of Japanese culture. A stroll through Kyoto today is a walk through 11 centuries of Japanese history. After lunch we will visit Nijo Castle. Built in 1603, it was the Kyoto home of Tokugawa Ieayasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun. The ostentatious style of construction was intended as a demonstration of Ieyasu’s prestige, and to signal the demise of the emperor’s power. The finest artists of the day filled the castle with delicate transom woodcarvings and paintings by the Kano School on sliding doors. One of the castle’s most intriguing features is the so-called “nightingale” floors. To protect the Shogun from real or imagined enemies, these floorboards creak when stepped on. Finally, we will visit Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is one of Kyoto’s, as well as Japan’s, most recognizable attractions. The gleaming building covered in gold leaf seems to float on the aptly named Mirror Pond, especially on a sunny day. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant is included.
After breakfast, we are off by train to the nearby city of Fushimi, one of the largest sake producing regions of Japan. Here we will visit the Fushimi Inari shrine. This Shinto Shrine, established in the 8th century, is famous for the long tunnels of vermilion torii gates straddling a network of trails leading to the top of the heavily forested Mt. Inari. We will then travel to the Higashiyama District. This area of narrow, cobblestone alleys with its temples, shrines, numerous shops and restaurants is truly enjoyable and relaxing. We will stop for lunch in the Higashiyama District. We will then visit the Yasaka Shrine, also known as the Gion Shrine. This shrine, built over 1350 years ago, is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. The shrine’s main hall combines the honden (inner sanctuary) and haiden (offering hall) into a single building. Next, we will walk to the famous Gion Geisha District. Here, you will see where the Geiko (in Kyoto they call themselves Geiko, not Geisha) and Maiko live and work. We will have the opportunity to meet a Maiko (a Maiko is a Geiko in training), and eat dinner at a local restaurant. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch and dinner at a local Japanese restaurant are included.
Before leaving Kyoto, you will prepare your luggage to be transferred to Takamatsu, and will be traveling with an overnight bag only. You should prepare your overnight bag with enough items for 2 days and 1 night. We will board an express train to Osaka, and then continue to Koya-san by train and funicular. Koya-san, the world headquarters of the Shingon School of Esoteric Buddhism, was established in the year 816 by Kobo Daishi, considered by many to be the most influential religious person in Japanese history. After dropping off the luggage at the temple, we will enjoy a vegetarian lunch. After lunch, we will wander through the huge cemetery leading up to the Okuno-in temple. Kobo Daishi is buried at this temple, and many Japanese still believe that he is not dead, but merely in a very advanced state of meditation, waiting to awaken at the appropriate time. After touring the Garan Temple complex and checking into our shukubo (Buddhist temple lodging), you are free to roam and visit one of the 110 temples in the area or just rest in the garden at the shukubo. Your dinner of shojin-ryori (traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine – no meat, fish, onions or garlic) will be served by the Buddhist Monks from the temple. Breakfast at the ryokan, Shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) lunch at a local restaurant and Shojin-ryori dinner at the temple is included.
Early in the morning, we will attend a Buddhist prayer service held at the temple. After a vegetarian breakfast, we will travel back to Osaka, and continue by Shinkansen to Himeji where we will tour Himeji Castle. Built about 400 years ago, it is one of the oldest and largest of the remaining original castles in Japan. It is only one of four castles in Japan that has been designated as a national treasure and has also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After touring the castle, we will continue to Takamatsu by Shinkansen and express train. The sprawling city of Takamatsu is located on the northern shore of Shikoku, the smallest, islands of Japan. Despite a relaxed atmosphere, Takamatsu hums with an urban energy. Walking down the city’s wide, sunlit boulevards or numerous covered shopping arcades you will find funky shops, artsy cafes and exciting nightlife. Shojin-ryori breakfast at the temple, a bento box lunch, and dinner at a local restaurant is included.
Before leaving Takamatsu you will prepare your luggage to be transferred to Matsuyama, and will be traveling with an overnight bag only. You should prepare your overnight bag with enough items for 2 days and 1 night. We will start the day at Ritsurin Garden, thought by many to be one of best gardens in Japan. This garden was designed by the local feudal lord family and took over 100 years to create. The more than 1,400 twisted and contorted pines set this garden apart from other gardens. We will also stop for tea and sweets in a tea house overlooking a beautiful koi-filled pond. Next we travel by street car to the nearby city of Kotohira, where we will visit Kompira Shrine. Kompira Shrine is the main shrine of multiple Kompira shrines found around Japan that are dedicated to sailors and seafaring. Located on the wooded slope of Mount Zozu in Kotohira, the approach to Kompirasan is an arduous series of 785 stone steps. Before returning to Takamatsu, we will tour the Kanamaruza Kabuki Theater. Built in 1835, KanamaruzaTheater is Japan’s oldest surviving, complete kabuki theater. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch at a local restaurant included.
In the morning, we will travel by express train to the city of Matsuyama. We will start the afternoon at Matsuyama Castle. Matsuyama Castle is one of Japan’s most beautiful original castles. It is located on Mt. Katsu, a steep hill in the city center providing visitors to the castle with a bird’s eye view of Matsuyama and the Seto Inland Sea. The castle was constructed between 1602 and 1628. The current three storied castle tower was constructed in 1820 after the original five storied one was destroyed by lightning. In the evening, you will visit the famous DogoOnsen. It is thought this was the first onsen in Japan, and the history of the onsen goes back 1,000 years. The current main onsen building was built in 1894, and includes a bath reserved exclusively for visiting Emperors. Breakfast at the hotel is included.
Before leaving the hotel in the morning, we will transfer the luggage to Nagasaki. You will need enough items for three days/two nights. In the morning, we will tour the nearby temple of Ishiteji. This temple is one of the 88 temples (#51) on the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Ishiteji is known for its Niomon Gate, a designated national treasure. The main hall and pagoda are also designated important cultural properties, and all of the structures exhibit the typical architecture style of the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). In the afternoon, we will travel by high-speed ferries to Miyajima Island. The Japanese proclaim Miyajima Island to be one of the top three scenic sights in Japan. The evening is free to enjoy the solitude and ambiance of the island after all of the day-trippers head back to the mainland. Breakfast at the hotel and Kaiseki-style dinner at the ryokan is included.
The entire day is a free day to enjoy Miyajima Island. The afternoon and evening is free to enjoy the solitude and ambiance of the island after all of the day-trippers head back to the mainland. Ride the cable car to the top of the mountain on Miyajima Island, or visit the Itsukushima-jinja shrine which was built in its present form in 1168. You can also stroll around the island while enjoying grilled oysters, the island’s specialty. Breakfast at the ryokan and Kaiseki-style dinner at the ryokan is included.
We will travel by ferry and train to the city of Hiroshima. Here we will visit the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum, both sobering monuments to the tragic event on August 6, 1945. Late in the afternoon, we will travel to Nagasaki on the island of Kyushu. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant included.
We will start the day by visiting Dejima. Dejima was a man-made island in the port of Nagasaki constructed in 1636. A few years later, the Dutch trading factory was moved to Dejima. The Dutch workers, the only remaining Westerners allowed in the country, were restricted to Dejima during Japan’s two centuries of isolation. Today, Dejima is no longer an island, as the surrounding area has been reclaimed during the 20th century. However, a number of Dejima’s historical structures have been reconstructed, including various residences, warehouses, walls and gates. There are many displays in these buildings documenting the daily life of the Dutch residents. Next, we will tour Glover Garden. Glover Garden is an open air museum, exhibiting mansions of former western residents of Nagasaki. It is located on the hill where western merchants settled down after the end of Japan’s era of seclusion in the second half of the 19th century. You can also enjoy a panorama of the city from the garden. The rest of the day will be free. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant included.
Before leaving Nagasaki we will transfer our luggage to Hakodate. (You will need enough items for three days/two nights. Please make sure that your JR pass and ticket package are in your day pack or overnight bags NOT the luggage you will send ahead) (PLEASE NOTE: Normally, the transfer company will use trucks and trains to transfer the luggage. Because of the long transfer distance, the transfer company will send the luggage by airplane for this transfer. They will not send the luggage by air if there are any liquids or creams in the luggage, and they will send the luggage by train or truck. That means you would not receive your luggage until 2 or 3 days after the scheduled date. Since it is OK to carry-on liquids and creams on domestic flights in Japan, The entire day is a travel day. We will be traveling by air to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s largest city and host of the 1972 Winter Olympics. After arriving, we will visit the JR Sapporo Tower where you will be able to get a bird’s eye view of Sapporo. In the evening, we will enjoy dinner at the Sapporo Beer Garden, located in the original Sapporo Beer Brewery, where you can try the local specialty of grilled lamb, cooked yourself at the table. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at a local restaurant included.
After breakfast, we will next visit the Old Hokkaido Government Building. Affectionately known by the locals as “Red Bricks” (akarenga in Japanese), it was built in 1911 and has been designated as an important cultural asset. Next, we will visit the Clock Tower, the symbol of Sapporo. The building was constructed in 1878 as a drill hall of the Sapporo Agricultural College. The American-made clock was added in 1881. In the afternoon you will have some free time in Sapporo before we will travel to NoboribetsuOnsen, one of the most popular and famous hot spring resorts in Japan. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at the ryokan included.
The morning is free to explore NoboribetsuOnsen, including the Jigoku-dani (Hell Valley) and the other geothermal activity in the area. In the afternoon, we will travel to the city of Hakodate. Hakodate was one of the first cities open to the west after the Meiji Restoration. In the evening, we take a cable car to the top of Mt. Hakodate, where we will enjoy a panoramic view of Hakodate’s night lights. Breakfast at the ryokan is included.
Before leaving, we will transfer our luggage to Tokyo. (You will need enough items for three days/two nights.) Early in the morning, we will visit the Hakodate Morning Market, where the sellers can prepare the specialties of Hakodate (crab, sea urchin and squid) fresh from their stalls for breakfast. Next we will visit the Goryo-Kaku, Japan’s first western-style fort. Built in 1864 by the Tokugawa Shogunate in the shape of a five-pointed star, it was designed to trap attackers in a deadly crossfire. We will go to top of the Goryo-kaku tower next to the fort, providing a view of the fort and the surrounding city. We will then tour the Motomachi historic area. This is where many of the westerners who lived in Hakodate lived at the end of the 19th century. Overlooking the western bay at the foot of Mount Hakodate, there are numerous sloping streets lined with 19th century churches, consulates, shops and homes of the foreigners who first opened this area of Japan to commerce. In the afternoon, we will travel to Sendai. Breakfast at the hotel is included.
Today we will tour Matsushima. Matsushima, near Sendai, is known as one of Japan’s three most scenic areas, and has been visited by numerous dignitaries over the years including the famous haiku poet Basho who wrote a very famous poem about Matsuhsima published in the late 17th century. First, we will take a sightseeing boat that will navigate between the 260 small islands sculpted by the waves and covered with pine trees. During the cruise, you will see how Matsushima got its name (Matsu means pine and shima means island). After the cruise, we will visit the Kanrantei Pavilion given to the Date feudal lord family of Sendai by ToyotomiHideyoshi which was used for moon viewing and tea ceremonies. Here we will enjoy the view while sampling green-powder tea and sweets. We will also visit Zuiganji Temple. Originally founded by the Tendai Buddhism sect in 828, the current buildings were built by the Date feudal lord family in 1606. Here, along the entrance to the temple, we will find the numerous Buddha statues carved by hand into the rocky-cliff face by buddhist monks to show their dedication. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch at a local restaurant is included.
We board a Shinkansen (bullet train) and local train to Nikko, where the Tosho-gu Shrine is located. This shrine, built by Tokugawa Iemitsu, is a dedication to his grandfather, Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. (James Clavell’s fictional Shogun in his novel Shogun was based on this person.) One of the most elaborate monuments in Japan, no expense was spared in this shrine’s construction. After touring Nikko, we will travel by local train and Shinkansen to Tokyo. In the evening, we will enjoy our Sayonara dinner. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch and dinner at a local restaurant is included.
You will travel to the airport by express train to catch your flight home. Breakfast at the hotel is included.