* Take a full-day tour of Yakushima Island with lunch included
* Take a helicopter ride over the largest active volcano in Japan
* Admire Sakurajima volcano from across the bay in Kagoshima
* Visit Dejima and Glover Gardens, remnants of Nagasaki's cosmopolitan past
* Bask in hot spring baths at a traditional ryokan inn in Unzen
* If all this sounds great and makes you want to see even more, why not extend your stay in Japan!
Kyushu is a little-visited oasis filled with steaming volcanoes, bubbling hot springs, lush rainforests and sandy beaches. Not only is its countryside some of Japan's finest, but Kyushu's cities have plenty of cosmopolitan charm ' without the crowds that Tokyo is famous for!
For centuries, Kyushu was Japan's only gateway to Asia and the rest of the world, leaving it with a legacy of European influence and architecture that lasts to this day. During this time, the only contact with the outside world was through Dejima - or "exit island" - an artificial island off Nagasaki Port, where Portuguese and Dutch traders were permitted to operate.
In Nagasaki you'll visit Dejima Island and Glover Garden, home to the oldest western-style residence in Japan. In Kagoshima city you'll spend a day with a private local guide and admire the volcano of Sakurajima from across the bay. Finally, in Kumamoto city you'll stop to admire the impressive Kumamoto Castle and perhaps pick up a "Kumamon" mascot as a souvenir!
Kyushu's cities harbour plenty of appeal, but it is in the lush countryside that this pocket of western Japan really comes into its own.
In Unzen you'll admire Mars-like landscapes swathed in clouds of volcanic gas and soak in wonderful hot spring baths. At Mount Aso you'll take a helicopter ride over the crater lake, and on Yakushima you'll explore the primeval rainforests that inspired Hayao Miyazaki's animated masterpiece Princess Mononoke.
Bookending your tour will be stays in Kyoto, the "City of Ten Thousand Temples". Here, lush bamboo groves, golden temples, ancient palaces, hilltop shrines and a traditional geisha district are just some of the treasures in store.
Kyushu Elements is the perfect tour for those who want to discover Japanese culture in a stunning location away from the crowds, and for second (or third!) time visitors to Japan who want to venture further afield.
If this sounds good and makes you want to see even more,
Important Practical Information
Max Group Size: 14
Single Supplement: This tour has a single supplement. This guarantees a single room throughout the tour.
Transport: Please note that all transfers are by public transport making use of Japan's first-rate transport network.
Luggage: We highly recommend that to make your stay more enjoyable you pack reasonably light. Large suitcases will be an inconvenience to you. A small case or bag with wheels or a rucksack are most appropriate for this tour as you will have to carry your bags for short distances and some stations do not have escalators or elevators/lifts. You will also need a small overnight back-pack (for up to two nights) for use when we forward our main bags to the next location.
Accommodation: The accommodation in Kyoto (start and finish), Nagasaki, Unzen, Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Yakushima is equipped with full en-suite facilities (attached bath, shower and toilet). The accommodation in Aso has shared bathing and toilet facilities (single sex).
International Flights: This tour starts and finishes in Kyoto for arrivals and departures at Osaka Kansai Airport.
Check-in: Please note that rooms at the Kyoto hotel are only available from 3pm. (You can, however, securely leave your luggage at the front desk at any time). Fitness: Even when not using public transport, sightseeing in Japan often involves walking between sights, climbing up steps in temples and being 'on the go' for much of the day. To enjoy any of our Small Group Tours you should be of moderate fitness, able to walk and climb stairs without difficulty and able to maintain a pace that is comfortable for the majority of the group.
➕ Day 1-2
Touch down in Kyoto, Japan's ancient imperial capital and home to an amazing array of World Heritage Sites.
Welcome to Japan! On arrival at Kansai Airport on Japan's main island you will be met by your driver and make the transfer to your hotel in Kyoto, where your tour leader will be waiting to meet you in the lobby. Later in the evening you will have an orientation meeting with your group, followed by an included evening meal to help you get to know your travelling companions ' not to mention providing you with a great introduction to Japanese food and etiquette! On day two you will have the option of taking a tour of Kyoto with your tour leader. As Japan's imperial capital from 794 until 1869, Kyoto is an incredible repository of cultural and historical treasures ' including a staggering 17 World Heritage Sites. In fact, during World War Two, Kyoto's cultural importance was considered so significant that it escaped bombing entirely, meaning that many of its original buildings remain intact today. There are so many beautiful and fascinating sights to see in Kyoto that you will certainly not have time to see them all, but some highlights will probably include the spectacular Golden Pavilion at Kinkaku-ji; the hilltop temple of Kiyomizu; and the traditional Gion district ' where you may be lucky enough to spot one of the city's elusive geisha.
Overnight: Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto
➕ Day 3-4
Explore Glover Garden and Dejima Island, fascinating remnants of Nagasaki's past as the only point of contact between Japan and the outside world.
On day three of your adventure you'll be hopping aboard Japan's famous bullet train, or Shinkansen. Having just reached its fiftieth birthday, the bullet train is an exciting experience in itself ' reaching top speeds of up to 320 kph (200 mph) on some sections of track! A further journey on a limited express train will bring you to Nagasaki on Japan's Kyushu Island. Nagasaki is most famous as the second city to have been hit by an atomic bomb in World War Two, and today you'll catch the tram to ground zero for a sobering visit to the Peace Memorial Park and museum. Nagasaki today has moved on from the tragic events of 1945 and on your second day here you'll have the chance to enjoy some of the city's other offerings. Most interestingly, perhaps, Nagasaki served as the only point of contact between Japan and the outside world during the country's long period of isolation. During this time, first Portuguese and later Dutch traders were allowed to live and trade on the tiny Dejima "exit island" off the coast of the city. Today you'll visit both this area and nearby Glover Garden ' containing Japan's oldest surviving western-style residence.
Overnight: Hotel Nagasaki BW Premier Collection
➕ Day 5
Take a walk through Unzen, where bubbling hot springs and clouds of sulphurous gases add to the otherworldly experience.
On day five you'll take the bus along some lovely winding mountain roads from Nagasaki to Unzen Onsen, a national park area known for its Mars-like landscapes, billowing clouds of sulphurous gases and bubbling hot springs ' also known as "hells". This afternoon you'll take a walk around the area and ascend the Fugendake peak, which last erupted in 1991, before retiring to your traditional ryokan inn for the evening, where you'll have a delicious included dinner made up of many small dishes, including plenty of seasonal produce and local specialities. As Unzen is a renowned hot spring area, no trip would be complete without a nice, long soak in your ryokan's onsen bath before bed tonight.
Overnight: Fukiya Ryokan
➕ Day 6
Enjoy views of Kumamoto Castle, one of the few remaining original samurai castles in Japan.
After a Japanese-style breakfast you'll continue your journey by bus and ferry to Kumamoto, another of Kyushu's exciting cities. Kumamoto is home to one of the few remaining original samurai castles in Japan and Suizenji Garden, a beautiful landscape garden featuring a miniature Mount Fuji and representations of all the stations on the old Tokaido Highway trade route. This is a "strolling" style garden, so please enjoy an amble through its fabulous grounds, landscaped around a central pond. Kumamoto is also famous for its tonkotsu ramen noodles, so try to slurp up a bowl at some point during your stay here!
Overnight: Mitsui Garden Hotel Kumamoto
➕ Day 7-8
Take a cable car to the top of Japan's biggest volcano, Mount Aso, for spectacular views across the national park.
Heading easterly out of Kumamoto, our private coach will take you into the lush, green volcanic caldera of Mount Aso, where you will be spending two nights at a lovely Japanese-style inn. The journey itself is thoroughly enjoyable, with beautiful views of the passing scenery as you travel deep into the heart of this volcanic complex. We've arranged a local guide to lead a walk taking in waterfalls, rice paddies and stunning mountain vistas. After working up a healthy appetite it will be time for a home cooked lunch followed by a kyudo Japanese archery experience. This evening you will have a chance to relax in your inn's onsen hot spring baths before another fabulous kaiseki feast at your accommodation. On day eight you will have the opportunity to explore Mount Aso by private bus with your tour leader. Mount Aso is the largest volcano in Japan and amongst the largest volcanoes in the world. Its last eruption, taking place around 90,000 years ago, scattered ash and debris over the whole of Kyushu ' but this is not something that you'll have to worry about on your trip! Today's highlight is an included helicopter flight over the caldera allowing for a bird's eye view of this stunning volcanic landscape (conditions permitting). The day's excursions will also include a cable car ride up to view the caldera lake of Nakadake Peak from its crater rim, which may be visible or obscured by clouds of gases, and a visit to the local museum. The scenery around this area is spectacular, so don't forget to bring your camera. Dinner will be included again this evening at your ryokan.
Overnight: Sozankyo Ryokan
➕ Day 9-10
Take a tour of Kagoshima, a laid-back city dominated by beautiful views of Mount Sakurajima across the bay.
Today you'll travel to Kagoshima, Japan's southernmost major city, which is sometimes known as Japan's Naples for its similar climate, palm tree-lined streets, hot-tempered inhabitants and Sakurajima ' Japan's Vesuvius. The afternoon will be free for you to begin exploring the city at your own pace, and your tour leader will have plenty of great suggestions as to how to spend your time. After a good night's sleep at your conveniently located western-style hotel, on day ten of your itinerary you will be joined by a private local guide who will be able to show you some of Kagoshima's superb attractions as well as give you extensive background information on the area. Some highlights of today might include the fantastic Meiji Restoration Museum, where the history of Japan's dismantling of the samurai class and assimilation into the global community is told through animatronic displays; the beautiful Senganen Gardens; and the Shiroyama Viewpoint, from where you'll enjoy fabulous views across the city with Sakurajima volcano across the bay in the distance.
Overnight: Richmond Kinseicho Kagoshima
➕ Day 11-12
Spend two nights on Yakushima, a subtropical island covered in dense primeval forest and populated by deer and monkeys.
Today you will board a Jetfoil ferry for the journey from Kagoshima to Yakushima, a subtropical island that was the inspiration for animator Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece Princess Mononoke. Yakushima is mountainous and almost entirely covered in primeval forest, which contains Japan's oldest living trees. Jomon Sugi, the oldest of them all, is thought to be between 2,000 and 7,200 years old ' perhaps even the oldest tree on the planet. The island is also famous for its thriving population of deer and monkeys, which are said to number more than humans. After a night in your luxurious hotel, where you'll enjoy a delicious meal, day twelve of your tour will be a full-day tour of Yakushima by private bus with your tour leader and an expert local guide. Some highlights today may include a visit to a tea farm, a two-hour walk through Yakusugi Land (a nature park full of ancient cedar trees), and some of the island's beautiful waterfalls and beaches. Please be aware that the Yakusugi course weaves through the forest on a mixture of paved and unpaved paths, which are uneven at times. There is also a lot of rain in the area, so the course may be slippery in places. Lunch will also be included as part of the tour. Tonight you will return to your hotel for another delicious meal, followed by a chance to relax and soak in the wonderful hot spring baths at your accommodation.
Overnight: Yakushima JR Hotel
➕ Day 13-14
Return to Kyoto on Japan's main island for a final night in Japan's cultural capital.
Today you will make the long journey by ferry, train and Shinkansen back to Kyoto for one final night on Japan's main island. This will be a chance for you to toast the end of a great trip and say farewell to your group with an optional final-night meal at one of the city's superb restaurants. On day 14 it's time to pack your bags and make your way by shared taxi from your hotel to Kansai Airport for your flight home.
Overnight: Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto