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Japan Express

From $3,995



About Janan

You arrive in Tokyo, Japan’s capital and the largest city in the world. To help you navigate this bustling metropolis, an expert guide shows you the city’s best sites while avoiding the crowds of other travelers. From an idyllic teahouse or seat on a riverboat cruise, you soak in the city’s ancient and modern beauty.
Matsumoto is a city of treasures. At Matsumoto Castle, learn about the life of the samurai and the commoners who called feudal Japan home. The castle’s gardens are a lovely sight, made more so by the spring cherry blossoms and colorful fall foliage. While in Matsumoto, you take a day trip to Jigokudani, home to Japan’s famous snow monkeys. There, you can get up close with these amazing creatures.
Magome and Tsumago are two restored cities in the Kiso Valley. During the Edo Period (1603-1868), tens of thousands of travelers stopped there during their journey between Kyoto and Tokyo, then called Edo. Today you follow in these travelers’ footsteps, walking on a restored section of the Nakasendo Trail. When you stop for the night, a ryokan inn and delectable cuisine await you, just as it did for travelers in centuries past.
Takayama is one of the most well-preserved cities in Japan. With an expansive old town, the city is a jewel in the heart of the Japanese Alps. From sake breweries to magnificent museums, Takayama provides an incomparable immersion into Japan’s past. While there, you have the opportunity to sample Hida beef, hailed worldwide for its delicate taste and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
From Takayama, you take a day trip to Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Picturesque is an understatement when describing this immaculate village, where local residents continue practicing the construction techniques handed down over the last 300 years. You can freely wander through the village, learning about everything from house building to silkworm farming.
Kyoto was the birthplace of much of Japan’s culture. Home to innumerable sites, your expert guide shows you the best of these on a leisurely bicycle tour of the city. As you travel between the temples and bamboo groves, it is easy to lose yourself in Kyoto’s natural and manmade wonders.
This tour is perfect for couples, friends, and families. It is best taken in the spring or fall when Japan’s weather is ideal for outdoor touring. 

Itinerary


Day 1: Tokyo – Yokoso to Japan!
Your flight arrives in mid-afternoon. Your guide meets you at baggage claim and guides you to a shared shuttle bus going to your Tokyo hotel.
You are free to relax for the rest of the day. Or, if you still have energy after your flight, take advantage of Tokyo’s nightlife.
What’s Included: airport transfer, accommodation
Day 2: Tokyo – A City of Many Layers
This morning, your hotel offers a buffet breakfast. After eating, your guide for the day meets you in the hotel lobby. A day of adventure awaits you. Your first stop is Hama-Rikyu Garden. Once owned by a feudal lord, this garden is located on the edge of Tokyo Bay. With its saltwater moats and freshwater ponds, the garden is a tranquil oasis in the middle of Tokyo’s bustling metropolis. At the authentic teahouse in the garden’s center, you enjoy a fresh cup of matcha green tea while looking out over the ponds.
Afterward, you take a leisurely cruise down the Sumida River. From your seat, view Tokyo’s amazing architecture, including the Tokyo Skytree, one of the tallest structures in the world.
You step off your cruise in Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s many preserved districts. In its center is Senso-ji, the largest Buddhist temple in the city. Originally a stone monument erected by two fishermen over 1,200 years ago, the Senso-ji of the 21st century is a sprawling complex. You arrive at the Thunder Gate, the largest paper lantern in the city. As you enter the complex, you pass nearly 100 small shops. Each store represents the long tradition of merchants selling goods to pilgrims and visitors. You find everything from religious tokens to children’s toys.
The temple itself is a hive of activity as pilgrims line up to offer prayers and offerings. If you wish, your guide can teach you how to ‘wake the gods’ before tossing a five-yen coin into the offering box.
After lunch near Senso-ji, you take Tokyo’s efficient metro system to Omotesando. Omotesando is a world away from Asakusa. Ultra-modern, it is likened to the Aux Champs Elysees in Paris. The tree-line boulevard and high-end stores reflect European refinement. It is a perfect place to stop for coffee at a sidewalk café and people watch.
Your final destination illustrates Japan’s past and religious traditions. Meiji Park is the largest park in the city. Unlike Hama-Rikyu, it is primordial rather than refined. Standing on the dirt path, you gaze into untamed forests. You find that it is quite easy to imagine a time before people settled here, when only wild animals lived in what would become Tokyo.
At the center of the park is Meiji Shrine. This large Shinto shrine is dedicated to the spirit of Emperor Meiji, Japan’s first modern emperor. Leading up to the shrine are large offerings of sake within dozens of colorful casks. Also included are French wine casks, as Emperor Meiji promoted westernization during his reign. The shrine itself is magnificent. This place is regarded as a holy site, where visitors speak only in hushed tones, if at all.
In the early evening, your tour ends back at your hotel. Before leaving, your guide is happy to make dinner recommendations.
What’s Included: breakfast, tour, transfer, accommodation
Day 3: Matsumoto – Experience the Life of a Samurai
Today you say goodbye to Tokyo as you begin your journey throughout Japan. At Tokyo Station, you activate your seven-day rail pass. You then board an express train to Matsumoto. The three-hour journey flies by, as your train leaves the Kanto Plain and enters Japan’s mountainous backbone. Here you find very few signs of the 21st-century besides the occasional power line or car.
Matsumoto is surrounded by mountains, which made it a formidable fortress during the Edo Period (1603-1868). In the city center is Matsumoto Castle, one of the 12 remaining medieval castles Japan. With its midnight black roof, you immediately understand why the castle’s nickname is ‘crow castle.’ Inside, the castle is open to exploration. You find many artifacts on display, from samurai armor to daily items the castle’s defenders used. Looking out the castle windows, it is easy to imagine how the city looked in centuries past.
This evening, your hotel in Matsumoto is western-style.
What’s Included: breakfast, transfer, accommodation
Day 4: Matsumoto to Yamanouchi to Matsumoto – Meet the Wildlife
This morning, you travel by JR train and bus to Yamanouchi, home to Jigokudani. Also known as ‘Hell Valley,’ this area has many naturally occurring hot springs. Throughout Japan’s recorded history, red-faced macaque monkeys have enjoyed the warm waters, taking shelter there in the cold winter months. Yet even in the summer, their presence attracts visitors from all over the world.
When you arrive in the park, guideposts instruct you on how to respect the monkeys. Yet photography is fine. They are tame creatures if left to themselves. It is an experience not to be missed.
In the late afternoon, you return to Matsumoto.
What’s Included: breakfast, transfer, accommodation
Day 5: Magome to Tsumago – Walk in the Footsteps of the Past
Today, you enter the Kiso Valley, home to the historic Nakasendo Trail. Throughout the Edo Period, the Nakasendo Trail was one of the two routes taken by people walking between Kyoto and Tokyo, then called Edo. The post towns along the route offered travelers lodging, food, and relaxation.
You first arrive in Magome. Over the last few decades, restoration work has returned Magome to its Edo Period glory. With the Japanese Alps in the background, it is difficult to believe that you have not time traveled to the 18th-century.
In Magome, there is a service to send your bags ahead to Tsumago. After all, you do not want to carry much as you walk to Tsumago on a restored section of the Nakasendo Trail. The walk is leisurely and features many places to rest along with restroom facilities. You are surrounded by nature. It is quite beautiful in the spring and fall when Japan shows off her beauty.  
Your bags are waiting for you in Tsumago. Unlike Magome, Tsumago is a much more rustic village. In the afternoon, you check into your hotel, a renovated Edo Period home known as a minshuku. Your room features tatami mat floors and futons for sleeping. This evening’s dinner is a treat, a multi-course kaiseki dinner. Kaiseki ryori is a traditional Japanese cuisine featuring local ingredients and stunning presentation.
As you fall asleep this evening, you realize that your day has mirrored that of thousands of Japanese, who, in generations past, traveled the Nakasendo Trail.
What’s Included: breakfast, transfer, dinner, accommodation
Day 6: Takayama – A Gem of a City
This morning you board a local train to Takayama. A city isolated in the Japanese Alps, little has changed here since the Edo Period. The city’s shitamatchi, or old town, has withstood the test of time. Within these centuries-old buildings, artisans continue to make sake, furniture, and textiles using traditional methods passed down through the generations.
Besides spending time exploring the old town, Takayama offers a variety of other delights. Though you may not see one of the city’s famed matsuri festivals, the Takayama Festival Floats Museum is open all year. Within, see the magnificent floats, many of them dating back to the Edo Period.
In the late afternoon, check into your ryokan. Before dinner, take advantage of the many indoor and outdoor onsen baths. Feeling refreshed, you sit down to a kaiseki dinner that includes Hida beef, a local delicacy that is regarded as one of the finest cuts of beef in the world.
What’s Included: breakfast, transfer, dinner, accommodation
Day 7: Takayama to Shirakawa-go to Takayama – Where the Past is Still the Present
After breakfast, you board a local bus for a day trip. After an hour’s journey winding through mountainous terrain, you arrive in Shirakawa-go, a sleepy village located in a mountain valley. You immediately notice the gassho-zukuri buildings, some of the most unique in Japan. The thick thatched roofs are designed to hold up the heavy snow that falls each winter. Maintaining them is a community effort, much like an Amish barn raising.
During your time in Shirakawa-go, you are free to wander the village, as many of the homes are open for exploration. One not to miss is Wada house. Once home to one of the village’s wealthiest families, the attic contains a preserved silkworm farm. During the Edo Period, silk was a prized commodity in Japan. Using mulberry leaves to feed the precious silkworms, the village’s residents practiced silkworm farming to supplement their incomes. Here you can see and touch the tools of the trade, and learn about the steps involved to raise these notoriously fussy insects.
In the late afternoon, you return to Takayama by bus. Dinner is again provided at your ryokan.
What’s Included: breakfast, transfer, dinner, accommodation
Day 8: Kyoto – The City at Your Fingertips
It is time to say sayonara to the Japanese Alps. This morning, you board a ‘wide view’ train heading to Nagoya. Your time there is brief, as you transfer onto the shinkansen. For over 50 years, the Shinkansen has maintained a perfect safety record as it has transported billions of passengers throughout Japan at nearly 200 miles per hour.
After only 45 minutes, you arrive at Kyoto Station. At first glance, Kyoto seems like many other large Japanese cities. Yet Kyoto is the birthplace of much of Japan’s culture. Untouched by war, the city is home to over 2,000 original Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, along with a variety of stunning gardens.
To enhance your time in Kyoto, it is possible to supplement your tour with a number of exciting possibilities. For example, you can learn the secrets of Japanese cuisine by taking a cooking class in a Kyoto home. Not only do you learn many tips and tricks you can apply in your home kitchen, but you also get to eat your creation! Another activity is visiting a sake brewery. Though much of the sake produced in Japan uses the latest in 21st-century technology, you can meet a group of dedicated men who use Edo Period techniques to make this fragrant and complex beverage.
If you wish to explore on your own in the afternoon, there is no better place to gain a first impression of Kyoto than at the Gion District. The Gion is a historically protected neighborhood, where geisha, known locally as geiko, entertain guests with a complex set of rituals and ceremonies. During your time in Gion, it is possible to view a geiko performance that includes participating in a tea ceremony.
For your two nights in Kyoto, your hotel is western-style.
What’s Included: breakfast, transfer, accommodation
Day 9: Kyoto – Ancient Treasures
After breakfast at the hotel, you meet your guide at Kyoto Station. Today your guided tour is unique, as you will travel between some of Kyoto’s greatest treasures on a bicycle. Without any hills to climb, this day of biking is sure to be a relaxing one.
Your first stop is Nishi-Hongaji Temple just outside Kyoto Station. Headquarters to one of the largest Buddhist sects in Japan, these impressive buildings are a photographer’s dream. From the wide roofs to the immaculate gardens, the temple is nothing less than breathtaking for first-time visitors.
You head to Nijo Castle. Intimidating as it is beautiful, Nijo Castle was the residence of the shogun when he traveled to Kyoto on business. As you head inside, you encounter one of the earliest security systems ever conceived. To protect the shogun’s life, the floors were designed to ‘chirp’ when anyone stepped on them. As you discover, these floors announce your arrival inside the castle. When you enter the room where the shogun conducted business, your guide points out the secret rooms and passageways where his bodyguards lay in wait, just in case potential assassins attempted to take the shogun’s life.
Leaving Nijo Castle, lunch is provided at a nearby restaurant. After regaining your energy, you ride to Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Completely covered in gold leaf, its brilliant exterior was the creation of a 14th-century noble who wished to honor his deceased father. Today the temple’s grandeur is accessible to all. On sunny days, its beauty is magnified by the temple’s reflection in the moat surrounding it.
Just a short ride away from Nijo Caslte is Ryoan-ji Temple. You first encounter the temple, a noble’s villa constructed 1,000 years ago. Yet this ornate building is not the temple’s greatest feature. It is the rock garden. Simple at first glance, Buddhist monks have maintained its design each day for the last 500 years. To them, the gardens hold deep spiritual meaning. The garden’s 15 large stones represent the entirety of the universe. Yet from any angle, you can only see 14 of the stones. This represents the Buddhist belief that human beings cannot comprehend all of creation.
After taking the time to meditate at Ryoan-ji, you head west to Arashiyama. Far away from modern Kyoto, you find yourself in a grove of over 2,000 bamboo stalks. With the sound of the river and sight of mountains in the distance, this area most closely reflects the Kyoto of the past. It is a place where one cannot but help feel a great connection to nature.
Your day ends back at Kyoto Station. Your last evening in Japan is free.
What’s Included: breakfast, tour, lunch, accommodation
Day 10: Kyoto – The Story Is Not Over
After breakfast at the hotel, you board an express train to Kansai International Airport, where your flight home awaits. Over the last 10 days, Japan has revealed itself to you in many ways. Yet this is not the whole story. There is still so much more to see and do. As your plane takes off, you realize that returning to Japan is not a question of if, but when.
What’s Included: breakfast, airport transfer


This trip is customizable for your private travel.





Included

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.

Not Included


  • Insurance
  • Optional
  • Additional Services