* Discover Nikko National Park
* Visit Kyoto's historic temples and shrines
* Visit Hiroshima's haunting Peace Park and Museum
* Stay in an authentic shukubo temple lodging
* Admire Himeji Castle, Japan's largest
* Stay in a traditional farmhouse in the Japanese Alps
Discover Japan's most important cultural and historical monuments as you visit the temples of Nikko, the Peace Park at Hiroshima, and Himeji Castle, staying in outstanding accommodation - including a thatched farmhouse in Shirakawago and a temple lodging on Mount Koya.
Your adventure begins and ends in Tokyo, a beacon of modernity whose radical architecture and irrepressible pop culture provide a fascinating counterpoint to the rich historical monuments that provide the inspiration for this itinerary.
Just a short journey from Tokyo lies Nikko, home to the mind-bogglingly intricate temple complex that serves as the final resting place of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu: one of the most important figures in Japanese history.
Mount Koya provides a link to another celebrated personage, the monk Kobo Daishi, who introduced Shingon Buddhism to Japan. Here you'll stay in a shukubo temple lodging, eat vegetarian shojin ryori cuisine and watch as monks perform their solemn morning rites.
The cities of Kyoto and Hiroshima harbour a diverse array of remarkable historical gems. In Hiroshima visit the atmospheric Peace Park, where the tragic events of 1945 come hauntingly alive. Kyoto is home to no less than 17 World Heritage locations, from much-loved Kiyomizu-dera Temple to the "nightingale floor" of Nijo Castle, and offers the chance for a day trip to another World Heritage hotspot: the ancient capital of Nara.
Shirakawago, a peaceful village amid the bucolic scenery of the Japanese Alps, offers a very different experience: a stay in a traditional thatched-roof farmhouse with an included meal of locally sourced cuisine.
Finally, crowning your World Heritage trip is a visit to Himeji Castle. Recently renovated, Himeji is by far the largest and most spectacular of all Japan's castles - there really is nothing else like it!
➕ Day 1-3
Begin your Japanese adventure with a three-night stay in Tokyo's historical Asakusa district, where throngs of street market traders and food stalls evoke the atmosphere of old Edo.
The remainder of today will be free for you to explore the area or to venture further afield if you fancy it. You might decide to visit one of Ueno Park's fascinating museums or watch a traditional Kabuki performance at the Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginza ' check you Info-Pack for lots of sightseeing ideas to keep you busy! On your first full day in Tokyo we will arrange for a private local guide to take you on a tour of the city. Highlights will include a mixture of the city's famous locations and its lesser-known gems, perhaps including a water bus ride on the Sumida River, a tea ceremony at the teahouse in the Hamarikyu gardens, or maybe people-watching in Harajuku and Yoyogi Park. The options are endless but your guide is sure to make sure that you have a fantastic day. Lunch at a local restaurant will be included as part of the tour. With another full day to explore Tokyo you can either stay within the city limits or use your Japan Rail Pass to venture further afield. We highly recommend getting up early to experience the organised chaos at Tsukiji's Fish Market and indulge in a sushi breakfast. Shopping for electronics and manga in Akihabara provides an intriguing insight into Japanese otaku (nerd) culture, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Building offers incredible views over the city ' including Mount Fuji when the weather is favourable!
Overnight: Asakusa View
➕ Day 4-5
Spend two days in Nikko, home to Japan's most ornate religious architecture and a spectacular national park.
Today you will speed north through the Tokyo suburbs by Shinkansen bullet train to Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. On arrival you will be met by one of our experienced local guiding duo, Mr and Mrs Ota, who will take you to explore Nikko's UNESCO World Heritage complex ' the most ornate collection of religious buildings in all Japan. Keep your eyes peeled for the original carving of the three wise monkeys from the Buddhist maxim "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." Lunch at a local restaurant will be included in your tour today. Besides the temple complex, Nikko is also the location of a stunning national park where, 20,000 years ago, the eruption of the sacred Mount Nantai created Lake Chuzenji. A favourite spot for viewing the changing of the leaves in autumn, this area is criss-crossed with hiking trails and boasts some outstanding natural features such as the Kegon Falls and the breathtaking views from the Akechidaira plateau. Your guide will make suggestions for your time and your Info-Pack will also include full details of the highlights of the national park.
Overnight: Kanaya Hotel
➕ Day 6-8
Explore the cultural and historical heart of Japan, including a visit to the famous Saiho-ji moss garden and an optional day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima.
Today you will travel by Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto, in the Kansai region of Japan. You'll have this afternoon free to begin exploring this fascinating city armed with your personalised Info-Pack, which will be packed with exciting sightseeing suggestions. On your first full day in the city you'll have a private guide at your disposal to show you some of Kyoto's more famous sights as well as some lesser-known places of interest. The itinerary for today will be flexible and your knowledgeable guide will discuss their ideas with you this morning. A visit to the Saiho-ji moss temple (Koke-dera) will be included as part of your tour. Viewable by appointment only, the gardens of this temple are justifiably famous throughout Japan, and all visitors are asked to join in a 30-minute session of sutra-chanting before exploring the garden ' a great insight into Japanese religious rituals. Lunch will also be included as part of the day's sightseeing. With another full day at leisure in Kyoto, we highly recommend taking a day trip to one of the excellent destinations within easy reach of the rail network using your Japan Rail Pass. Just a short distance away is Nara, another ancient capital city with an impressive collection of World Heritage Sites without the crowds of Kyoto's main attractions, whilst nearby Osaka is ideal for those seeking the bright lights and entertainment value of the big city.
Overnight: Kyoto Tokyu
➕ Day 9-10
Spend the night at an authentic Buddhist shukubo temple lodging, where you can participate in the rituals of temple life and try traditional shojin ryori cuisine.
Journey on to the Kii Peninsula today, where you will arrive at the sacred community of Mount Koya, established by the revered monk Kobo Daishi in 816. The 123 temples that make up this mountain village are surrounded by cedar trees, giving it a truly remote and peaceful atmosphere. Here you'll be spending two nights at a Buddhist shukubo temple lodging, where you will have the opportunity to experience the daily rituals of the monks and try authentic vegetarian shojin ryori cuisine. For your second day on Mount Koya you will be shown around the town by a local guide, who will be able to give you some great insights into life in the mountains and provide some background to the area's temples and the vast graveyard, Okunoin. Lunch at a local restaurant will be included in the tour today, and you will have another sumptuous shojin ryori feast at your shukubo tonight.
Overnight: Fudoin Shukubo
➕ Day 11
Admire Japan's largest and most impressive original samurai castle, Himeji's "White Heron".
Today you will make your way by funicular railway and rural train out of the mountains and to Himeji, known throughout Japan as the location of the country's finest samurai castle: the "White Heron". Himeji Castle is one of only 12 original castles still extant in Japan, and it is easily the largest, with impressive ramparts and a dramatic keep that dominates the city skyline. After visiting the castle we recommend stopping at Koko-en Gardens just next-door, where you might like to stop at the teahouse for a rest and a cup of green tea. If you fancy travelling further afield whilst in Himeji, half an hour's bus ride will take you to Engyo-ji Temple complex at the top of Mount Shosha ' a wonderful and atmospheric place to visit away from the crowds that flock to the castle.
Overnight: Nikko Hotel Himeji
➕ Day 12-13
Head west to Hiroshima and Miyajima, one an exciting modern city; the other a beautifully tranquil island just across the bay.
On day 12 of your adventure you'll continue your journey west as you make your way to Hiroshima, the first city to be hit by an atomic bomb during the Second World War. Though the events of 1945 will never be forgotten ' and every visitor to Hiroshima should pay a visit to the haunting and informative Peace Park and Museum ' Hiroshima today is a lively and exciting modern city that refuses to be defined by its tragic past. Whilst here you must be sure to try the local dish, okonomiyaki, a delicious kind of savoury pancake cooked on a hotplate. After a night in Hiroshima you'll have the chance to visit Miyajima, a small island on the Seto Inland Sea. Miyajima is particularly well-known for is population of friendly deer and for the brilliant red Itsukushima Shrine with its "floating" torii, but venture a little beyond and you'll find other lovely temples and shrines hidden in the surrounding woods. We recommend making your way to the top of Mount Misen (take the cable car unless you're a real masochist!) for spectacular views across the Seto Inland Sea.
Overnight: ANA Crowne Plaza Hiroshima
➕ Day 14-15
Explore wood-panelled streets in Kanazawa, a World Heritage city on the Japan Sea Coast.
On day fourteen of your itinerary you'll be making your way across Honshu Island to the Japan Sea Coast and Kanazawa, sometimes known as "Little Kyoto" for its impressive collection of historic sights ' though without the crowds that Kyoto draws! On day fifteen you'll have a full free day in Kanazawa to explore the sights of the town. The gardens of Kenrokuen are a must-see and a stroll through the bukeyashiki samurai houses give the visitor a chance to step back in time and enjoy the romance of old feudal Japan. The beautiful geisha quarter has a couple of tea houses which are open to the public to take green tea - sadly without the presence of a geisha though! Your complimentary InsideJapan Tours Info-Pack will be full of sightseeing ideas and details of what to see and do to make the most of your time in this charming city.
Overnight: Nikko Hotel Kanazawa
➕ Day 16
Spend the night in a thatched-roof farmhouse in Shirakawago, a World Heritage village in the Japanese Alps.
Today you will make the journey into the Japan Alps to Shirakawago, an alpine village that is widely considered to be one of the most scenic locations in Japan. The area is well-known for its collection of beautifully preserved gassho zukuri (literally "praying hands") farmhouses, some of which are still standing after 200 years, and you'll be spending the night in one of them tonight, with a delicious home-cooked meal of alpine fare included. This really is a unique experience not to be had anywhere else. Before leaving Shirakawago we highly recommend walking up to the viewpoint to look over the village ' it's a view that's not to be missed!
Overnight: Gassho Minshuku Ootaya
➕ Day 17-18
Swap traditional towns and peaceful countryside for a final night in Shinjuku, the biggest and brashest of Tokyo's entertainment districts.
Today you will leave behind one ancient capital to return to today's capital, Tokyo. Here you will be staying in Shinjuku, Tokyo's dynamic, high-rise entertainment and business hub ' a striking contrast to the ancient temples, national parks and small towns you've visited so far on your adventure! This is the perfect spot for some last-minute shopping and sightseeing, and the choice of restaurants and bars for this evening is never-ending. Sadly your adventures must come to an end, and on your final morning you'll catch the Narita Express to the airport in time for your departure flight. Have a safe journey home.
Overnight: Century Southern Tower