Japan delights in contrasts—flashing neon lights and serene bamboo forests, ornate temples and bustling fish markets, the frenetic energy of modern Tokyo and the traditional charms of ancient Kyoto. Navigate old and new Japan with a private guide, discovering how the country’s layered history defines its fascinating culture. Get a glimpse into the beguiling world of geishas in old Tokyo, stay at a ryokan in Hakone, and dig into the bold food scene of Osaka.
Land in Tokyo and transfer to your hotel in the heart of the capital. Meet your guide at the hotel for a brief orientation, then explore the city on your own this evening.
After breakfast, join your guide for a private tour of old Tokyo, with its traditional houses and narrow shopping lanes. Explore Asakusa, the oldest Geisha district in the city, and pass through the iconic gate of the seventh-century Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. Peruse the food stalls, artisan shops, and teahouses of the Yanaka neighborhood; and learn about Fumio Asakura, known as the father of modern Japanese sculpture, at his former workshop—now a museum. This afternoon, explore Tokyo at your leisure. For an additional cost, wield a samurai sword during a private lesson with the Japanese fight performer who choreographed Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
Park Hotel (B)
Join your guide on a private excursion to Nikko National Park in the sacred hills north of Tokyo. Begin at the Tosho-gu shrine complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site built as a mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the long-ruling Tokugawa shogunate. Explore lavishly decorated Shinto and Buddhist buildings nestled in an old-growth forest; and then drive through stunning Oku-Nikko, an area rich in waterfalls, lakes, and hot springs. Stop at Lake Yu and soak up the majesty of the fan-shaped Yutaki Falls as it crashes onto volcanic rock.
Park Hotel (B)
Rise early for a visit to Tsukiji, the world’s largest and busiest fish market. Pick out some fresh tuna and wasabi, then head to the onsite cooking classroom to learn how to roll and prepare sushi. Sample your creations for lunch, and then transfer to Fuji Hakone-Izu National Park—a sprawling natural wonderland of hot springs, lakes, volcanic islands, and soaring peaks. Tonight, stay in a Japanese inn, or ryokan, and enjoy a multi-course kaiseki dinner featuring seasonal ingredients.
Aura Tachibana (B, L, D)
Set out on a private tour of Hakone, an important security checkpoint in securing Edo—now Tokyo—during the feudal era. Learn about the active volcano that once towered where hot springs and steam vents now gurgle; and, on clear days, enjoy stunning views of Mount Fuji. Ride a cable car up Mount Komagatake, a lava dome created by an eruption some 20,000 years ago, and then continue on to Togendai. Cruise Lake Ashinoko on a replica pirate ship, and visit the Hakone Open Air Museum and its sculpture garden.
Aura Tachibana (B, D)
Hop on a bullet train for the ride to Kyoto, which served as Japan’s imperial capital for more than a thousand years. All together, 17 of the city’s temples and shrines have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. Settle into your hotel, and then join a private guide at Heian Jingu, a Shinto shrine. Later, participate in an exclusive Japanese tea ceremony at Korin-in temple, learning about the beverage’s connection to Zen Buddhism as you sip green tea brewed by a tea master.
Hotel Granvia (B)
Today, you’ll discover Kyoto by bicycle. Ride to the Nishi Honganji Temple and take in its elaborately carved, cypress-thatched gate. Cycle to the ornamental Nijo Castle, a World Heritage site known for its opulent Momoyama architecture and “chirping” nightingale floors. Continue to the Shogun retirement villa turned Zen Buddhist temple of Kinkaku-ji, famously called the Golden Pavilion. After lunch, venture farther north to the Zen rock garden of Ryoan-ji and the otherworldly bamboo groves of Arashiyama. Cap off your tour at the landmark Togetsukyo Bridge, a wooden span in the shadow of Arashiyama Mountain.
Hotel Granvia (B, L)
Join a private guide on a daylong exploration of nearby Nara, which reigned as Japan’s capital in the eighth century. Stroll the enchanting Isui-en Garden; then walk to Todai-ji Temple, once the head Buddhist temple in Japan. Step into the Todai-ji temple and peer up at the 50-foot-tall bronze Buddha inside. Pass through Nara Park, inhabited by herds of freely roaming deer, on your way to discover the bronze and stone lanterns at Kasuga Taisha, a celebrated Shinto shrine. Before returning to Kyoto, get a feel for bygone Japan among the shops, traditional inns, and cafés of the historic merchant district of Naramachi.
Hotel Granvia (B)
Transfer to Osaka, one of Japan’s culinary capitals. Visit the tiered Osaka castle, and then eat your way down Dontonbori Street on a guided gastronomy tour. Taste regional specialties such as takoyaki (octopus snack) and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) and marvel at the colorful neon signs and creative storefront displays. Stroll stone-paved Hozenji Alley, lined with traditional shops and restaurants, before returning to your hotel in the evening.
Swissotel Nankai (B)
Transfer to the airport for your flight home.
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