From bustling cities to quiet mountain villages, experience the distinct flavor of Japan during this amazing vacation. On this tour, discover Japan’s culture when you try on a traditional kimono, taste sake, partake in a tea ceremony, attempt calligraphy, learn about the Yuzen dyeing technique used on kimonos, take part in a gold leaf class, browse a farmers market, and participate in a Japanese cooking class. Also, experience the thrill of riding one of Japan’s famous bullet trains. Of course, you’ll visit Japan’s famous sights, including many of its castles and shrines. In Kyoto, see the Temple of the Gold Pavilion, a Buddhist temple covered in gold leaf, and be amazed at its beauty. In Nara, visit Todaiji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in 752 AD and one of Japan’s most significant temples. You’ll also visit Matsumoto Castle, a must-see site in Japan; dating from 1593 and designated a national treasure, it is Japan’s oldest existing castle tower. In Hiroshima, visit the Peace Memorial Park and see the dome that miraculously remained standing as all the structures around it were destroyed by the atomic bombing. The dome is now a symbol of peace, and you may even see doves flying around the park!You’ll not only see the fascinating structures and shrines, you’ll also have a chance to visit one of Japan’s greatest gardens—Kenroku-en. Keep your eyes open for the perfect photos. Be sure to taste some authentic sushi, visit a Shinto shrine, and experience some of the optional activities available. Whatever you decide to do, you’re sure to have lots of stories and photos to share with loved ones back home!
Day #1 Arrive in Tokyo, Japan. Welcome to Japan’s capital city. Hotel rooms are available for mid-afternoon check-in.
Day #2 Toyko. Meet your Tour Director and traveling companions prior to morning sightseeing in Tokyo, home to more than 8 million people. Your tour takes you to the MEIJI SHRINE, a magnificent 20th-century Shinto monument set in a man-made forest, followed by a drive to see the Imperial Palace Plaza. Next, visit an ARTIST’S STUDIO and enjoy demonstrations by a master calligrapher before trying it yourself. You will also have an opportunity to try on a traditional KIMONO and enjoy a [LF] TEA CEREMONY. Last stop is the ASAKUSA KANNON TEMPLE and the NAKAMISE SHOPPING ARCADE. The balance of the afternoon is at leisure. Tonight, join your traveling companions at a welcome dinner hosted by your Tour Director. After dinner, join your Tour Director for a WALKING TOUR among the dazzling neon lights of Tokyo. (B,D)
Day #3 Tokyo-Kamakura-Mount Fuji-Lake Kawaguchi. This morning, leave Tokyo and head south along the coast to Kamakura to see the 750-year-old Great Buddha. Continue on to the Mount Fiji area for a CRUISE on Lake Ashi followed by a CABLE-CAR RIDE for panoramic views of spectacular Mount Fuji (weather permitting). Continue on to Lake Kawaguchi for the evening. (B,L,D)
Day #4 Lake Kawaguchi-Matsumoto-Takayama. Journey to Matsumoto, gateway to the Japanese Alps. Visit famous MATSUMOTO CASTLE, dating back to 1593, and discover the history at the MATSUMOTO CITY MUSEUM. Later, continue by motorcoach through the ruggedly beautiful Japanese Alps to the quiet, isolated town of Takayama, where old traditions are untouched by the passage of time. Tonight, enjoy a wonderful Japanese-style dinner at your hotel. (B,L,D)
Day #5 Takayama. Today begins with a visit to the MORNING MARKET, where farmers display locally grown fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Then, visit TAKAYAMA JINYA, a former government office during the Edo Period from 1692 to 1868. This well-preserved building is a national historic site, and the only remaining building of its kind in Japan. Continue on to the San-Machi Suji historic district, famous for lacquerware shops and sake breweries, identified by sugidama, balls made of cedar branches, that hang over the entrances. Stop at one of the breweries for a [LF] SAKE TASTING. The balance of the day is at leisure, providing you time to explore the narrow streets where merchants buy and sell as they have for 300 years. (B)
Day #6 Takayama-Shirakawa-Kanazawa. This morning, enjoy a drive through the mountainous Shokawa Valley to Shirakawa. This remote region of Japan is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to the unique GASSHO-ZUKURI (joined hands)-style thatched houses that can be found only here. Continue to the scenic town of Kanazawa, situated between the mountains and the Sea of Japan and once the country’s richest region. Your Tour Director leads you on a tour of one of Japan’s greatest gardens, KENROKU-EN, the “Garden of Six Qualities,” dating from the 1670s. Afterward, partake in a GOLD LEAF CLASS, where you learn more about this ancient traditional craft and make your own bento box souvenir. Your included dinner tonight is at your choice of one of three restaurants at your hotel. (B,D)
Day #7 Kanazawa-Kyoto. This morning, travel along the Sea of Japan to Kyoto. Upon arrival, visit the FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE, renowned for the thousands of brightly colored Torii Gates. Next, stop at SANJUSANGENDO TEMPLE, famous for its 1,001 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Flanking the main statue are 1,000 more life-sized statues, covered in gold leaf, with 40 arms said to have the power to save 25 worlds. Continue on to the Higashiyama District to visit KIYOMIZU TEMPLE, the “Pure Water Temple,” with stunning views over Kyoto. Along the way, walk through the busy streets where shops and restaurants have been catering to pilgrims for centuries. Lastly, take a WALKING TOUR through Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district that is also known for its high concentration of machiya-style merchant houses. If luck is on your side, you may even see a geisha or a geisha-in-training, called a maiko. This evening you may choose to stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan. (B) Traditional Ryokan Stay - $450. Immerse yourself in the Japanese culture and hospitality at a ryokan (Japanese inn). Your ryokan features traditional touches—tatami mat floors, a thin sleeping mattress on the floor, and the chance to experience a Japanese-style bath—as well as the modern convenience of a private bathroom. Included: transfers to/from ryokan from/to hotel in Kyoto; traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast. NOTE: Space is limited and should be requested at the time of booking.
Day #8 Kyoto. This morning starts with a visit to stunning Kinkakuji, the TEMPLE OF THE GOLD PAVILION. Next, visit YUZEN HANDMADE CORNER to learn about the Yuzen dyeing technique used to decorate kimonos by painting dye directly on the cloth. You will be invited to participate in making your own souvenir using this traditional technique. For lunch, participate in a special [LF] JAPANESE COOKING CLASS. Under the instruction of a local chef you will learn how to make miso soup, teriyaki chicken, and makizushi, more commonly known as a sushi roll. This afternoon, take an excursion to NARA, the oldest capital of Japan. Here, visit two separate UNESCO World Heritage Sites. First, at Nara Park, is TODAIJI TEMPLE, built in 752 AD and one of Japan’s most famous significant temples. Rebuilt after a fire in 1692, the temple is only two-thirds its original size, yet remains the world’s largest wooden building. The Daibutsu (Giant Buddha) inside the main hall is made of copper and bronze, and is the largest in all of Japan, weighing in at 250 tons and standing some 49 feet tall! Nearby is KASUGA SHRINE, known for its 3,000 stone and bronze lanterns. Return to Kyoto for the evening. (B,L)
Day #9 Kyoto. A full day at leisure to explore more of Kyoto’s temples, shrines, palaces, and pagodas. Tonight your Tour Director hosts a farewell dinner to celebrate your discovery of Japan. (B,D)
Day #10 Kyoto-Hiroshima. Board one of Japan’s famous BULLET TRAINS bound for Hiroshima. Afternoon excursion to MIYAJIMA ISLAND to see the Itsukushima Shrine, noted for its floating Torii Gate. (B)
Day #11 Hiroshima-Kurashiki. Today’s sightseeing starts with a visit to the SHUKKEI-EN LANDSCAPE GARDEN. Then, stop at PEACE MEMORIAL PARK to see the PEACE MEMORIAL, commonly referred to as the Atomic Bomb Dome, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been preserved just as it was on August 6, 1945, immediately after the bombing. You will also visit the MEMORIAL MUSEUM and MEMORIAL HALL, which memorialize the lives lost that day. Then, travel by motorcoach to Kurashiki, where you will visit the OHARA MUSEUM OF ART. (B)
Day #12 Kurashiki-Osaka. Today, visit the KILN OF BIZEN YAKI POTTERY, then drive to Okayama to see KORAKU-EN, one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan. Later, arrive in Osaka. (B)
Day #13 Osaka. Your tour ends with breakfast this morning. (B)