* Visit the ukiyo-e woodblock print museum in Matsumoto
* Visit Zenko-ji Temple, one of Japan's most important religious sites
* Prepare your own soba noodles with an expert
* If all this sounds great and makes you want to see even more, why not extend your stay in Japan!
* Visit a traditional machiya townhouse for lunch in Kyoto
* See sumo and take a cruise to Hamarikyu Gardens in Tokyo
* Try your hand at traditional Japanese crafts: paper making, pottery, cloth dyeing and more
From soba noodle-making classes to taiko drumming, from boat rides to pottery, and from traditional Japanese ryokan inns to a night in a capsule hotel ' this tour is practically overflowing with unforgettable experiences.
Food is one of the highlights of any trip to Japan, and this tour is no different. Besides a range of superb included meals, from a breakfast of the freshest sushi to a kaiseki feast in Kyoto, you'll also learn to make your own. In Takefu this means a soba noodle-making class, whilst at the Daio wasabi farm you'll make traditional pickles and perhaps try a taste of wasabi ice cream!
The creative arts are well represented, and as you continue your adventure you'll test your skills at pottery and roketsu cloth dyeing in Kyoto, traditional papermaking in Takefu and taiko drumming in Tokyo.
Enjoy superb natural scenery as you canoe through valleys and help farmers with their crops in Togari Nozawa Onsen, take a traditional yakatabune boat trip in Tokyo, and hike through the thousands of torii gates at Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Japan is famous for its rich traditional heritage, and this tour offers you a window into a wide variety of cultural institutions. In Tokyo you'll attend a sumo tournament for a glimpse into a strictly regimented world that is much more spiritual than most outsiders realise.
Matsumoto offers the chance to climb to the top of the imposing "Black Crow" samurai castle, whilst in Kyoto you'll try Japanese green tea and be entertained by a maiko (apprentice geisha).
If this sounds good and makes you want to see even more,
Important Practical Information
Maximum Group Size: 14
Single Supplement: Single rooms are guaranteed at all night stops on this tour for those paying the single supplement.
Transport: Please note that all transfers on this Japan tour 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 hotels in Kyoto and in Tokyo and the ryokan in Takefu are equipped with full en-suite facilities (attached bath, shower and toilet). The rooms in Togarinozawa Onsen are equipped with a toilet and sink, bathing is communal (single sex) and NO private facilities. The ryokan in Matsumoto has its own natural hot-spring baths (single sex communal bathing) and NO private facilities. Clothes washing machines are available at the hotel in Kyoto.
For 2017 departures only: The 9 Hours Capsule Hotel in Kyoto offers communal (single sex) bathing facilities and NO private facilities.
International Flights: This tour starts and finishes in Tokyo for arrivals and departures at Tokyo Narita Airport or Tokyo Haneda Airport.
Check-in: Please note that rooms at the Tokyo hotel are only available from 2pm. (You can, however, leave your luggage securely 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 1-3
Eat dinner on a yakatabune riverboat, learn some taiko drumming and see a sumo tournament in Tokyo.
On arrival at Tokyo's Narita Airport you will be met by your driver and travel by shared shuttle bus to your hotel. Your tour leader will be waiting in the lobby to meet you as you arrive, and in the evening you'll head out for a delicious meal at a local restaurant with your group. On day two you'll begin with a lesson in taiko drumming, a mixture of choreographed dance and drumming that always provides an invigorating start to the day! Next you'll relax as you take a river bus to Hamarikyu Gardens, a beautiful park in the centre of Tokyo's skyscraper district. Here you'll stop for a cup of matcha green tea before going on to visit the eccentric shopping district of Harajuku and finally Meiji Shrine, set in the midst of a forested park. Dinner and drinks this evening will take place on a traditional yakatabune riverboat floating serenely along the Sumida River. Day three will begin bright and early with a visit to Tsukiji Fish Market ' the largest of its kind in the world and one of Tokyo's most fascinating attractions. Here you'll wander stalls selling all manner of fresh seafood and see skilful fishmongers slicing up tuna before tucking in to a delicious sushi brunch. *Please note there are plans to relocate Tsukiji Fish Market to a new site. If this happens an alternative experience will be offered. After brunch you'll have some free time to explore the city before you meet with your group to see a sumo tournament at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium. Your tour leader will be able to explain the strict rituals and religious background of this fascinating sport as you enjoy the action. Then, after the bouts conclude, you'll head out to a nearby restaurant for some delicious chanko nabe hotpot ' real sumo food!
Overnight: Ryogoku View
➕ Day 4-5
Sleep in a traditional ryokan, go canoeing and make your own sushi lunch in the beautiful alpine village of Togari Nozawa Onsen.
Today you'll hop aboard the Shinkansen bullet train and watch the skyscrapers melt away as you speed into the Japanese Alps, arriving in Nagano at around midday. Nagano is famous as the location of the 1998 Winter Olympics and as the home of Zenko-ji, Japan's most important Zen temple. Today you will pay a visit to the temple, where visitors are invited to search for the "key to paradise" in a pitch-dark tunnel underneath the main hall. If you find the key, legend has it that you will find your way to Buddhist heaven. After your visit to Nagano you'll catch the train to the lovely alpine village of Togari Nozawa Onsen, where you'll spend the next two nights in a traditional ryokan inn with a delicious kaiseki dinner included on both evenings. On day five of your tour you'll be up early to help out on the local farm before making your own bamboo leaf sushi for lunch. Later, if the weather is good, you'll make your way up to the beautiful Lake Hokuryuko for a bit of canoeing with a local instructor. If it's raining you'll stay indoors and learn the traditional way to make a pair of chopsticks.
Overnight: Shikisai no Yado Kanoe Ryokan
➕ Day 6-7
Visit the "Black Crow" castle, learn to make wasabi pickles and marvel at the world's largest collection of ukiyo-e woodblock prints in Matsumoto.
Leaving the rural Togari Nozawa Onsen behind, today you'll head to the small alpine city of Matsumoto ' famous for its original "Black Crow" samurai castle. Entrance to the castle will be included today, and you'll have a chance to explore the wooden corridors, narrow staircases and hidden floor of this wonderfully preserved historical monument. Dinner will be included tonight at one of your tour leader's favourite Matsumoto restaurants. On day seven of your trip you'll be heading back into the countryside as you make your way by train to the Daio Wasabi Farm. Here you'll see how Japan's famous spicy green horseradish is cultivated and have a chance to try all kinds of wasabi-flavoured treats ' including wasabi ice cream! Lunch will be included, and after a tour of the farm you'll try your hand at making wasabi pickles. Later in the day you'll visit Matsumoto's superb ukiyo-e museum, home to the world's largest collection of traditional woodblock prints, and the nearby Court Museum, housed in the only wooden courthouse building left in Japan.
Overnight: Hotel Kagetsu
➕ Day 8-10
Throw a pot, explore a traditional merchant house and spend the evening with a geisha in Kyoto, Japan's ancient imperial capital.
On day eight of your tour you'll leave the Japanese Alps behind and journey to Kyoto, Japan's cultural heartland and the imperial capital of the country for over a thousand years until the baton passed to Tokyo in 1868. This illustrious history has left Kyoto with a legacy of beautiful ancient shrines, temples and gardens ' as well as a wealth of traditional arts and crafts to get stuck into. On your first afternoon in the city you'll enjoy an exclusive audience with one of Kyoto's maiko, or trainee geisha, giving you a rare and privileged window into this famously secretive world. Afterwards, your tour leader will take you to one of their favourite local restaurants for a delicious evening meal. On your second day in Kyoto you'll begin by heading to the Higashiyama district of Kyoto, famous for the Sanjusangendo ' a hall filled with one thousand life-sized statues of the temple's deity. Whilst in Higashiyama you'll explore the hall and learn to throw a pot at a local studio before heading to Fushimi Inari, a hillside shrine famous for its ten thousand red torii gates. With one final day left in Japan's "City of Ten Thousand Temples", you will begin your day with a roketsu cloth-dyeing experience ' a technique unique to this area. Later in the morning you'll head to the Tondaya Machiya, a Meiji period (1868'1912) merchant house where you'll take a tour of the house, learn the correct way to wear a kimono, participate in the tea ceremony ritual and sit down to a delicious bento-style lunch.
Overnight: Sunroute Kyoto
➕ Day 11
Explore Kyoto for one more day or take an excursion, then spend the night in a capsule hotel.
Today you will have a free day in which to continue exploring Kyoto, or to take a day trip out of the city. You might choose to take the bullet train to Hiroshima, visit the nearby ancient city of Nara to marvel at the giant Buddha, or perhaps head to the exciting city of Osaka with its fabulous street food and outgoing inhabitants. Your tour leader will be heading out on a day trip of their choice, and you will be welcome to either join them or branch off independently. Either way, they will be happy to help you plan your day in advance. Tonight you'll be bedding down at a very different kind of lodging: your very own pod at a Kyoto Capsule Hotel. Capsule hotels were originally developed to cater for salarymen in need of a place to stay after missing the last train home, but they are now popular with all kinds of traveller. This will be a great contrast to the traditional lodgings you'll encounter elsewhere on your trip! 2018 departures will not stay at the Capsule Hotel and you will instead stay a further night at the Kyoto hotel.
Overnight: 9 Hours Capsule Hotel
➕ Day 12-13
Visit the lovely town of Takefu for a chance to try your hand at paper-making, knife-sharpening soba noodle-making.
After breakfast at a Kyoto cafe near your hotel, today you'll make your way by train to Takefu, a small town in Fukui Prefecture known for its arts and crafts. You'll visit the Takefu Knife Village, with the opportunity to sharpen a knife and take it home as a souvenir. Considering Japan's illustrious history of blade-making, this is sure to provide a great insight into the skill. This afternoon you'll be having a lesson in making soba noodles, a speciality of the area ' and you will of course get to eat the end result! Tonight you'll stay at a local Japanese-style hotel known for its friendly staff and excellent seafood ' which you'll have the privilege to sample for dinner. Our second day in Takefu offers you the chance to try your hand at papermaking and to clear you mind with a guided zazen meditation session. The making of washi, japanese traditional paper, is one of Takefu's signature crafts and to start the day you'll visit a local workshop for a hands-on papermaking session with a local expert. After this you'll stop by a charming local restaurant for lunch before heading on to Eihei-ji temple for zazen meditation guidance from one of the temple's monks. Dinner will be provided at your accommodation again this evening.
Overnight: Akaboshitei Hotel
➕ Day 14-15
Return to Tokyo for a chance to do some last-minute shopping and bid farewell to your group with a delicious final meal in the vibrant Shinjuku district.
On day 14 of your trip you will catch the train back to Tokyo for a final full day in the nation's capital. Your accommodation will be in the heart of the Shinjuku district, known for its bright neon signage, towering skyscrapers and vibrant nightlife. With such a vast array of entertainment options on your doorstep, this is the perfect place to spend your last day in Japan. This evening, your tour leader will take you and your group to one of the city's thousands of excellent restaurants for a final meal and a chance to reflect on the fantastic experiences of the past two weeks. Finally your adventures must come to an end, and on your last morning you will say goodbye to your group and make your way to the airport by shared limousine bus.
Overnight: Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku