Home to sumo wrestling, sake, geishas, karaoke and onsens, Japan is an extraordinary land. Here you can expect a frenetic pace one day and a tranquil experience the next. Take in the neon nightlife of Tokyo, relax in the manicured gardens of Nikko and discover thousands of years of culture and history in Kyoto. From world-class sushi to legendary samurai, this enigmatic nation is a traveller's delight. Get back to basics and see the best of Japan without busting your budget.
* Japan is full of the contrasts of ultra modern (robot restaurant anyone?) and ancient tradition (just step into any of Kyoto's stunning temples). While brief, this trip will introduce you to all facets of this fascinating country.
* With a leader to show you around, a new group of friends to explore with and plenty of free time to do exactly what interests you most about the country, you will definitely be able to make the most of each day on this trip.
* The little town of Nikko is one of our favourite destinations, packed with World Heritage listed temples, picture perfect hiking trails, and one of the best places to experience an onsen ' hot springs bath.
* Eat your way from Tokyo to Kyoto with chances to try all kinds of sumptuous street food, sake, snacks and surprises, including the best sushi of course!
* Even getting from A to B is fun in Japan! Ride the shinkasen bullet train and make use of day passes for local public transport to get to and from the activities you choose in each destination.
➕ Day 1 Tokyo
Konnichiwa! Welcome to Japan. Bursting with contemporary urban culture, there are many sides of Tokyo to explore, from fascinating museums and world-class shopping, to neighbourhood backstreets lined with restaurants and karaoke bars. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm tonight. You can arrive at any time during the day, as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please check with hotel reception or look on the reception noticeboard for where and when the meeting will take place. Have your insurance and next of kin details on hand as we'll be collecting them at this meeting. Afterwards, you'll have some free time to explore Tokyo's exhilarating nightlife. Perhaps take a walk down Shinjuku's Memory Lane. This crowded alley of busy restaurants and bar stalls started in the 1940s and quickly gained infamy as a black market drinking quarter. Today, it is still one of the best spots to try some of Tokyo's famed 'fast food' dishes.
➕ Day 2 Tokyo
Today is your first free day in Tokyo. Why not start by heading up the observation deck of the Metropolitan Government Building for a stunning view across the skyline of the world's largest metropolis. Perhaps get walking and explore some of some of Tokyo's most well-known districts, like Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku and Ginza ' variously known as the fashion centre, the skyscraper district, the home of quirky youth pop culture, and the upscale shopping area. In the afternoon, maybe take some time sightseeing in the historic Asakusa area. This is one of the older and more traditional parts of Tokyo, and is often called the temple district. Here you can stop by Senso-ji, the city's oldest temple ' founded almost 1,400 years ago when Tokyo was nothing more than a fishing village. If you're pressed for choice or feeling a little lost in this enormous new city, consider doing an Urban Adventures tour, such as 'Tokyo After 5'. Speak to your leader for more information. In the evening, there's an incredible array of options for dinner ' a hearty bowl of ramen, crispy tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried cutlet), or snacks and beer at an izakaya ' the list goes on! After dinner, your leader may also have a tip on where to grab a nightcap at one of Tokyo's uber-cool underground whisky bars.
➕ Day 3 Tokyo
Enjoy another free day in Tokoyo. You might like to get up really, really early for an eye-opening experience at Tsukiji Fish Market ' the world's biggest ' where you'll dodge bargain hunters, fishmongers, and market trolleys piled high with crates of stock as you wander the narrow aisles of spectacular creatures. Afterwards, you could pop in to one of the sushi restaurants that surround the market for the freshest sushi breakfast you could ever eat. For the rest of the day there's almost an endless amount of things to see and do. See the crowds at Shibuya Crossing, the fashion in Harajuku, take in history at the Imperial Palace or the treasures at the National Museum, and see the grand shrine dedicated to the 19th-century Emperor. Spend some time in the city's green spaces like Yoyogi or Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, or see the city from a different angle with a short cruise down the Sumida River. You could always create your own entertainment with a memorable turn in a sky-high karaoke glass box. If the season's right you might even get to experience the theatre of a sumo bout.
➕ Day 4 Nikko
Reunite with the group today and catch a train to Nikko for approximately two hours. Along the way you'll see spectacular countryside scenery and enjoy some snacks on the train. Once you arrive in Nikko you'll have free time to spend as you wish. Nikko has been a sacred city since the middle of the 8th century, and is overflowing with beautiful shrines and temples. Perhaps visit the Toshu-gu Shrine, a resting place of a Tokugawa shogun who was one of the most powerful rulers of the country. The shrine contrasts with the traditional minimalist style commonly used throughout Japan. Instead, every corner of this monument is covered in intricate gold leaf, lacquer work, paintings and patterns. Here you can also visit the Museum of Art at the back of the temple complex. This 1920s mansion has one of the country's most beautiful collections of sliding doors and screens decorated by the best Japanese painters of the day. You can also pay a visit to the red-lacquered Shin-kyo bridge, one of the town's most famous landmarks, and the Buddhist temple of Rinno-ji, home to fearsome statues and an elegant garden.
➕ Day 5 Nikko
Enjoy another free day in Nikko. For those feeling energetic, Nikko National Park offers plenty of hiking opportunities. You can relax by Chuzenji Lake or climb up to the Senjogahara Plateau, where the gods of Mt Nantai and Mt Akagi are said to have battled for possession of the lake. You can take a 6 kilometre walk following the course of the plateau, or explore the various hiking trails that spread off from the lake itself. The lake area is also home to the Kegon Waterfall, and you can get the Akechi Daira Rope Way cable car over the falls and lake. A little further on is Lake Yunoko and Yumoto, where you can soak in the natural hot springs, or if you are travelling in snow season, go skiing. In the town itself you can explore the shops along Hippari Dako, maybe tasting yuba, the skin that forms on top when making tofu - a delicious treat!
➕ Day 6 Kyoto
Enjoy your last free morning in Nikko and then say goodbye to the city. In the afternoon, you'll take a shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto for approximately three hours. Originally founded as Heian-kyo (literally "tranquillity and peace capital") by Emperor Kammu in 794, Kyoto had its golden age during the imperial court's heyday from 794 to 1185. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years (the name means "Capital City") but the emperor and government are now located in Tokyo. With over 2,000 temples, shrines and gardens, Kyoto is a great place to get lost in. Spend some free time getting acquainted with Kyoto and walking through the historical streets. In the evening, head out to Gion, the famous Geisha district. Even today you can observe the age-old tradition of geisha girls visiting members of the wealthy elite. This unfolds in small teahouses tucked away in tiny back streets. You can also attend the Gion Corner cultural centre where to enjoy some Japanese performing arts, from flower arranging to the lion dance.
➕ Day 7 Kyoto
Today is a full free day and there's so much for you to explore. With its many cultural landmarks and historical sites, and the abundance of traditional arts and literature, Kyoto is regarded as the cultural heart of Japan. Kyoto is also a city that lends itself to walking, and there are a number of paths available. Recommended is a gentle stroll through the nearby eastern hills along the 'Path of Philosophy' that links Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, with Nanzen-ji Temple. This walk can be extended south through well-preserved 'old town' areas to Kiyamizu-dera (Temple of Clear Water) from where there is a justifiably famous view across a wooded gorge toward Kyoto. Also recommended, for those visiting in spring, is a visit to the theatre for a presentation of Miyako Odori (the Cherry Blossom Dance) performed by elaborately dressed maiko (apprentice geisha), or a visit to the extravagantly decorated Kinkakuji temple, immortalised in Yukio Mishima's novel "The Golden Pavilion". Another great stop is the architecturally impressive Higashi Honganji temple and the almost surreal Sanjusangendo, home to 1,001 statues of Kannon. In the late afternoon there will be a short return walking tour of Gion ' the geisha district ' with its many old teahouses. At the end of the tour, maybe go for a traditional dinner in one of the many restaurants that occupy this exciting area.
➕ Day 8 Kyoto
Make the most of your last day in Kyoto. If you haven't done so already, you may like to see Japan's largest pagoda at Toji. Consider doing one of our Urban Adventure tours, such as the cycling tour of the Path of Philosophy (see urbanadventures.com for more information). You could visit the imposing and opulent Nijo Castle, home to the Tokugawa Shoguns who had power over the country during the Edo period. Check out the 'nightingale floors' of Ninomaru Palace, which squeak to warn of intruders (like otherwise-silent ninjas). From the Castle it's a short bus ride to Ryoan-ji, perhaps Japan's most famous Zen garden, where carefully placed rocks sit in an immaculately raked sea of gravel. For some last minute shopping there's Kyoto's handicraft centre, a perfect place to pick up some souvenirs with a fine selection of woodblock prints, yukata (light cotton robes), jewellery and pottery. On your final evening you could enjoy karaoke with your new friends, or maybe splash out on a kaiseki meal in a ryotei (small restaurants serving traditional multi-course cuisine).
➕ Day 9 Kyoto
There are no activities planned for today and you can depart the hotel at any time. Check out time is 10am. If you are departing later, you can arrange luggage storage at the hotel.