It’s a land of delicate art and bustling commerce, of rich traditions and dizzying modernity; a jumble of sights, sounds, and tastes that for visitors are truly foreign – and truly fascinating. This well-crafted tour features the highlights of Tokyo and Kyoto, engages us in local life, and takes us off the beaten path to the lovely historic cities of Takayama and Kanazawa.
- Pricing from
- Trip Type
- Group Travel Tour, Individual Travel Tour, International Land & Rail Voyages
- Departure Dates
Oct 11, 2023 - Oct 23, 2023
COVID-19 HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS:
The well-being of our guests and staff members on tour will continue to be our highest priorities. To maintain a healthy environment for travel, we will be establishing and adhering to a detailed set of health and safety protocols for all facets of your tour. We are committed to following the guidelines of the State Department, CDC, WHO, and authorities of respective countries regarding travel to a particular destination. Detailed protocols for this tour, based on conditions at the time, will be provided approximately 115 days prior to departure.
*PLEASE NOTE: Your $500 per person deposit secures your space(s) on this tour. This deposit is fully refundable up until 95 days prior to departure, when final payment will be due. Meanwhile our tour operator, Odysseys Unlimited, will be in touch with you when the tour brochure with a detailed day-by-day itinerary is available. At that time, you will have two weeks to decide whether you would like to confirm your booking or to cancel. Once your booking is confirmed, the cancellation penalties as outlined in the brochure will apply. You will then receive a complete confirmation packet.
Depart U.S. for Tokyo
Upon arrival in Japan’s financial, commercial, and political capital, we transfer to our hotel. As guests’ arrival times may vary, we have no scheduled activities or meals planned.
We begin our day by meeting with our fellow travelers and tour director for a welcome briefing on the journey ahead, followed by a city tour. Tokyo is a vast metropolis, which actually functions more like its own small country, comprising 23 wards and 26 self-governed cities. Tokyo’s population numbers over 13.9 million, and the city sprawls across 844 square miles. It is also the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, which is, with a population of more than 37 million, the most populous metropolitan area in the world. Amazingly, it has endured earthquakes, fires, and the U.S. air raids of World War II to emerge as one of the world’s leading cities. Tokyo has managed to successfully merge the old and the new to become a fascinating and cosmopolitan destination, as we see during our stay. Our half-day excursion in Ancient Tokyo includes a visit to the famed Meiji Jingu Shrine, a peaceful enclave of temples and gardens dedicated to late 19th-century Emperor Meiji and his wife. Built in traditional Shinto style with low wooden buildings surrounded by square courtyards, the shrine is one of Tokyo’s most popular attractions. Also on today’s itinerary is a visit to the gallery of preeminent calligrapher Koshun Masunaga, where we learn about this ancient art of artistic writing and browse the collection. Our tour ends in Ginza, Tokyo’s famed shopping, dining, and entertainment district, where we can stay to explore the department stores, boutiques, and galleries as we wish, or return to our hotel for an afternoon at leisure. Tonight, we gather for a welcome dinner at our hotel.
Today we visit the Imperial Palace, surrounded by moats and ramparts and home of the Imperial Family. Called Kokyo, the huge complex dates to the 15th century, when territorial disputes required massive fortifications and complex societal norms demanded elaborate palaces to reflect the high positions of the feudal lords. When completed, the Imperial Palace was the largest district in the world. Here we visit the East Gardens, part of the innermost circle of defense of the historic Edo Castle that once stood here. We then continue on to the Asakusa Kannon Temple, which contains a golden image of the Buddhist Kannon, goddess of mercy. According to legend, two fishermen dragged the statue from the sea in 628…but visitors cannot see it since it is hidden from the public. However, guests can make their way to the front of the temple to bathe in smoke from the incense cauldron; it is said that the smoke brings good health. Then we have time to explore the Nakamise shopping arcade outside the temple, filled with stalls selling local dishes, Buddhist trinkets, and popular souvenirs. From here we then visit the Tokyo National Museum, housing an extensive collection of art and antiquities from Japan and other Asian countries. This afternoon is at leisure for independent exploration; lunch and dinner are on our own today in this city with endless dining options.
Tokyo/Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park/ Hakone
Japan’s pastoral side is on tap today as we leave Tokyo by motorcoach for Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. The park is home to one of the most photographed sights in Japan, if not the world: almost perfectly symmetrical Mt. Fuji, standing regally at 12,388 feet high. We first learn about the environmental and conservation efforts on the mountain at the Mt. Fuji World Heritage Center, then take a leisurely boat ride on Ashi Lake, where we can take in scenes of the whole park, and with luck, see Mt. Fuji. A dormant volcano, Fuji-san, as it is known to the Japanese, last erupted in 1707 and the resulting ash reached all the way to Tokyo where it actually covered buildings. The mountain’s majesty is breathtaking, as writers and artists have attested for centuries. Leaving the park, we continue on to the town of Hakone and our traditional ryokan lodgings for the night – and a special night it is indeed. Upon arrival at our intimate inn, we are shown to our Japanese-style rooms where we remove our shoes before entering. Then we enjoy a traditional Kaiseki dinner, a multi-course meal consisting of a number of artfully arranged small dishes. Tonight we sleep peacefully in a room of serene, minimalist Japanese design.
Please note: Because of limited storage space on the train from Hakone to Takayama, along with the intimate nature of the ryokan, you will need to bring a smaller, soft-sided overnight bag for your stay at the ryokan. This bag should be small and flexible enough so that you can pack it inside your checked luggage. You will meet the rest of your luggage upon arrival at the hotel in Takayama.
Our journey continues as we travel via bullet train and Limited Express Hida express to the Hida Mountain town of Takayama, considered one of Japan’s most attractive settings with its 16th-century castle, a beautifully preserved Old Town, and historic buildings dating to the Edo period of 1600 to 1868. Our explorations center on the Old Takayama District comprised of three narrow streets in the San-machi-suji district, where in feudal times, wealthy merchants lived amidst the authentically preserved small inns, teahouses, peaceful temples, and sake breweries that we see here (some of which have operated for centuries). Before we leave, guests will have the option to buy a bento box lunch, a food box artfully packed with Japanese specialties. This afternoon we attend a traditional Japanese tea ceremony where we learn this 12th century style of prepping tea. We dine tonight at our hotel.
Today we enjoy a full day tour of Takayama. We pay an early morning visit to Takayama’s centuries-old Miyagawa Morning Market, where stalls selling everything from fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers to pickles, crafts, and fish line the streets leading to the river. While here we gather fresh ingredients to take with us to our next activity – a hands-on cooking class. For lunch we enjoy the fruits of our labor. Then we visit the Takayama Jinya, a former government outpost, and discover its long list of past uses. After leaving Takayama Jinya, we visit a sake brewery (a local rice wine liquor) where we taste the variations of this warm national beverage and learn about the unique traditional brewing methods. We also pass through Takayama’s old town, whose well-preserved buildings and homes date to the Edo Period (1600-1868). Before returning to our hotel late this afternoon, we have time to explore the sweet shops and stores selling traditional crafts. Dinner today is on our own.
This morning we depart for Shirakawago Gassho-zukuri Village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising traditional thatched-roof homes. In addition to its status as a World Heritage Site, the village also is a vibrant community whose residents work together to preserve the Gassho-style architectural style unique to this region: wooden houses with steep thatched roofs made to withstand heavy snow. We tour one of the residences that also presents this style of architecture and the Ogimachi District – a cluster of 59 houses preserved to show how its inhabitants lived long ago. These houses were actually relocated from their former locations in a nearby village which was razed to make way for a dam. After touring here, we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, then depart to Kanazawa, an alluring city that survived the ravages of World War II because of its out-of-the-way location between the mountains and the Sea of Japan. Though somewhat off the beaten tourist path, Kanazawa is prized among Japanese as the country’s best-preserved Edo-period city (along with Takayama). Before reaching our hotel, we visit Gokayama Village to see and experience traditional Japanese washi papermaking. We arrive to the hotel in Kanazawa in the late afternoon. Dinner is on our own tonight.
Our full day of touring this culture-rich city includes the Hakukokan Gold Leaf Center, a museum that celebrates the art and craft of gold leaf technology and a collection dating to the late 16th century. A center of gold leaf craft, Kanazawa produced the gold leaf covering Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion that we will see on Day 10. We then call on the Kutani Kosen Kiln, where artists fashion prized, highly decorated pottery. Continuing on, we visit the renowned Kenrokuen Garden, a national landmark whose origins date to 1676. One of Japan’s three finest traditional gardens, Kenrokuen (Garden of Six Attributes) represents the six qualities required for the perfect garden: extensiveness, artifice, antiquity, waterways, panoramic views, and quiet seclusion. Its trees, ponds, waterfalls, and flowers stretch over grounds of 25 acres. More highlights of our touring include the Ishikawa Gate, the only remaining section of the town’s original castle; and the Higashi Chayagai area, with its historical row of teahouses, beautiful lattice homes and maze of continuous alleys. We dine tonight at our hotel.
This morning we board the train for the two-hour journey south to Kyoto, Japan’s Imperial Capital for a millennium and now the country’s cultural and artistic capital. A true gem with more than 1,600 temples, hundreds of shrines, three imperial palaces, artful gardens, and well-preserved wooden architecture, Kyoto embodies Japan’s rich culture and complex history. Japanese gardens, traditional cuisine, and superb crafts thrive here, attracting legions of visitors and Japanese alike. Upon arrival, we visit the Kinkaku-ji Temple (also known as The Golden Pavilion), a Zen Buddhist temple and one of the most famous buildings in Japan. The lakeside Temple of the Golden Pavilion was originally constructed in the 14th century as a retirement villa and later converted to a temple. Burned to the ground by a fanatic in 1950, the temple has been entirely reconstructed following the original design including the three distinct styles of architecture – the shiden, samurai and zen – and is covered in gold leaf from Kanazawa all the way up to the upper floors. Its setting on pillars suspended over the water makes it one of Kyoto’s most inspired – and inspiring – sights. Next, we visit Ryoan-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple where we see the site’s famous rock garden, a rectangular plot of pebbles with 15 large rocks laid out in small groups and sitting on patches of moss. Interestingly, the garden was designed for only 14 rocks to be visible at one time, no matter where the viewer stands. A 360-degree walkway around this curious garden shows that the designer implemented the plan to perfection. To this day the meaning of the garden’s design is unclear, but many believe it is supposed to inspire peace and contemplation. Late this afternoon we reach our hotel, and have dinner together tonight.
This morning’s tour reveals more of this city that was spared destruction during World War II. Our first stop is the otherworldly Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, a natural bamboo forest where the thick stalks reach several dozen feet into the air. We then visit the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts (commonly known as the Fureaikan), showcasing all of Kyoto’s 74 different métiers (including lacquerware, textiles, woodworking, metalwork, basketry, and more) in one place. Our final stop this morning: Nijo-jo Castle (c. 1603), the extravagant residence and fortifications of the shoguns who ruled Japan for more than 250 years. Featuring imposing stone walls and deep moats, the castle has many interior security measures as well, including hidden rooms for the shogun’s bodyguards and “nightingale floors” which purposely squeak when stepped on to alert occupants of intruders. Then the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure, with many options to choose from in this exciting city. There’s time to shop for exquisite Japanese crafts; the city is widely known for its goods of exceptional artistry including Kyo pottery, hand-painted silks, lacquer ware, display dolls, woodblock prints, fans, umbrellas, Noh masks, lanterns, and more. Or guests may wish to visit any number of temples, gardens, or shrines – such as Heian Shrine, built in 1895 and dedicated to the first and last emperors of Kyoto. Though the buildings here are replicas of the 9th-century originals, they still evoke the reverence and dignity of the imperial court. Dinner is on our own tonight.
We continue our encounter with Kyoto today, first at the important Fushimi Inari Shrine, with its 2.5 miles of mountainside trails straddled by some 1,000 red torii gates. This is the head shrine of the Shinto spirit kami, who oversees rice, fertility, agriculture, and industry, among other disciplines. After visiting here, we head to another sacred place: Sanjyusangendo Hall (c. 1266), an important Buddhist temple housing 1,000 statues of the Thousand Armed Kannon deity. Our final stop today is Nishiki Market, “Kyoto’s Kitchen” of restaurants, stores, and stall selling everything food-related. After a final afternoon at leisure in Kyoto, we toast our Japan adventure over a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Depart Kyoto for U.S.
We say sayonara to Japan as we transfer to the Kansai Airport in Osaka and depart for the United States.
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