- A good mix of city and countryside to enable you to experience multiple facets of Japan
- Explore the bustling streets and city lights of Tokyo and the samurai homes of Kanazawa,
- Experience culture of Kyoto and quiet mountain villages of the Toyama region
- Attend Kanazawa’s biggest festival
This 11-day experience in Japan is packed with locations different from your standard tour, and activities to help you get the most out of your time (and wallet)! From the bustling streets and city lights of Tokyo to the samurai homes of Kanazawa, with the culture of Kyoto and quiet mountain villages of the Toyama region added in for good measure, this trip allows you to experience multiple facets of this stunning country with like-minded people – a recipe for making fantastic memories if ever there was one! We will also attend Kanazawa’s biggest festival. With dancing, drumming and parades, this is a fantastic opportunity to experience exactly what a Japanese celebration looks and feels like!
- Day 1 - Welcome to Japan! (Tokyo)
Our journey starts in Tokyo, the biggest city in the world! After meeting your tour leader and group members during a morning orientation, we delve straight into the anime, manga and electronic mecca that is Akihabara. Packed with gaming arcades, comic book and anime stores, virtual reality experiences, electronics stores and dozens of ‘otaku’ (die-hard anime fans) roaming the streets – it’s a definite eye-opening experience into a rather quirky side of Japanese culture.
We then roll up our sleeves and get creative during a traditional woodblock printing class. Here we will learn about and use the techniques Japanese artisans have been employing for centuries to print vivid texts and images as we create our very own works of art!
A short walk and an ear-popping elevator ride will take us 634m up in the air where we will enjoy a panoramic view of the city from Tokyo Skytree. On a clear day you can even see Mt Fuji in the distance! This is a great opportunity to take in the breadth of Tokyo and watch a sea of city lights appear as the sun goes down on our first day.
Spend the evening exploring the mazes of restaurants near our accommodations and treat your tastebuds to an authentic and mouthwatering Japanese meal before calling it a night.
As an optional activity in Akihabara we can arrange a heart-pumping go-kart tour. Imagine zooming through the streets and turning corners on a go-kart, dressed as your favorite Mario character. This is just another spectacularly exciting activity we could include on this day! Make sure to bring your International Drivers License with you. This item can be added on check-out.
- Day 2 - From a cooking lesson to the Imperial Palace (Tokyo)
Today will attempt to give you some insight into the traditional and spiritual aspects of Japanese culture. Did you know that sumo wrestling is less of a sport and more of a spiritual ceremony? It began centuries ago as a ritual to entertain the gods, and is all about purification of one’s heart and mind. You will learn all this and more as you observe a morning sumo training session* and witness first-hand the pure skill and power that these athletes possess.
We will then head to a cooking class where you will learn how to make one of Japan’s most popular pastries using local methods and techniques – perfect ammo for the next time you entertain any guests at home! An optional wagyu course-meal class is also available for those really wanting to roll up their sleeves in the kitchen.
The afternoon will be spent in the expansive and beautiful Imperial Palace gardens. Surrounding the home of the Emperor, these gardens are right at the center of Tokyo which, in a way, makes it the beating heart of the city! Although the Edo Castle no longer stands on these grounds, its foundation is still evident in some areas. Learn about imperial history as you take in the natural beauty of this special and historic location.
After a bit of free time to explore some of your own interests, we will meet back up and head to Shibuya to enjoy another one of the country’s most famous sights – Shibuya Crossing. Featured in several films like Fast and Furious and Lost in Translation, there can be as many as 2500 people crossing at one time! The area is also packed with dozens of great restaurants where you can eat your fill of both international and Japanese cuisine. For those not wanting the night to end, Shibuya is packed with some of the best nightclubs in the country. Dance and socialize your night away in this suburb that never sleeps!
*Please note that this is an optional activity and may not take place should the wrestlers not be practicing that morning. This can only be confirmed the day before.
- Day 3 - An art experience to blow your mind (Tokyo)
Before launching into one of Tokyo’s most exciting art exhibitions, we start the day with a sake brewery tour just outside of the city. Sake is not simply a beverage in Japan, but carries with it a vast amount of meaning and spiritual significance. Here we will learn all about the intricate process behind the creation of this rice wine, as well as tantalize our taste buds with samples from the brewery’s store.
We then shift gears a bit as we travel to the man-made island of Odaiba. All of Japan’s major corporations have their concept technology housed around the island and is an area brimming with innovation and futuristic experiences. We will spend our time here at an interactive art exhibition which gives new meaning to the term ‘modern art’. Be prepared to color in, follow art along the walls, gasp in awe and take loads of photos as you enjoy this digital art experience!
Your final evening in the city will be free for you touch on host of activities that Tokyo has on offer. Your dedicated tour guide can assist in planning a night to remember.
- Day 4 - At the base of Mt Fuji (Lake Kawaguchi)
Mt. Fuji can be quite shy at times. On a clear day, you can see it from Tokyo. On a cloudy day it’s hard to see it from just a short distance away! The best place to see it from is on Lake Kawaguchi. Situated right at the base of this iconic landmark, the town offers the most beautiful mountain views.
After dropping our bags we will take a trip to a nearby picturesque crafts village. This open-air museum sits on the edge of Lake Saiko and used to be a small farming village, but now all of the thatched-roof houses have been converted into workshops, restaurants and small shops. Not only can you dress up in traditional kimono or yukata, but you also have the opportunity to choose from a variety of fun and creative activities including: ceramic pottery painting, glass kaleidoscope and metal work, soba noodle making, fabric ornament crafting, and incense making!
We then make our way to one of the best places to view Mt Fuji – Chureito pagoda. This view is especially stunning in spring as the pink cherry blossom trees add an ethereal glow to the area. As the sun goes down, why not try some of the city’s onsen hotsprings as you spend the evening relaxing in this lakeside town.
- Day 5 - Ancient robots in Nagoya (Nagoya)
Today you will board your first bullet train as we travel to the vibrant city of Nagoya. Our time here begins with a karakuri robot experience. Did you know automatons are not just a modern invention? Edo-era inhabitants designed a robot specifically for the purpose of serving tea! We will learn all about this practice and also get the chance to interact with some more modern androids as we appreciate the depths of human innovation.
We’ll then make our way to the Nagoya City Science Musuem, home to the largest planetarium in the world! Visitors often stop by just to take a picture of its enormous silver globe. After a show and quick visit, we have the night to enjoy some of the city’s other attractions as well as the local cuisine. Nagoya is famous for its miso which you will find flavoring many dishes from sweet to savory!
- Day 6 - The Soul of Japan - Ise Jingu Grand Shrine (Ise)
Today we journey to what is one of the most historically significant structures in the entire country – Ise Jingu Grand Shrine. This complex of 125 smaller shrines dates back to the third century and is said to house the spirit of the goddess Amaterasu, the deity from whom the Imperial family is said to be descended. Ise Jingu receives over 6 million visitors a year, a testament to its cultural and spiritual importance. We will explore its expansive grounds while learning a bit about its history and relation to the Shinto religion. This will be a fairly relaxed day as we leisurely enjoy this shrine’s beautiful surroundings and have the evening to relax after a few full days.
- Day 7 - Ninja temples and samurai homes (Kanazawa)
Today we board another bullet train to the extremely well-preserved city of Kanazawa. Our first stop is Kenroku-en, a huge park right in the middle of the town and one of the three finest landscape gardens in Japan. It is home to one of Japan’s oldest fountains and is magnificent in any season. Plum flowers in winter give way to pink cherry blossoms in spring, while October brings the brilliant and fiery colors of autumn after the vibrant green of summer.
A walk through the samurai district will take us back in time to the Edo period when this city rivaled even Tokyo and Kyoto in its cultural achievements. A visit to one of the city’s historic samurai homes will give us some insight into what life was like during this time in history when the warrior-class ruled the country. From one martial art to another, we then explore the maze-like structures of Kanazawa’s ninja temple. This religious structure hides many a military secret and was designed specifically with defense in mind.
In the evening we’ll experience the children’s lantern parade, one of the first activities of the Kanazawa festival.
- Day 8 - Hyakumangoku festival (Kanazawa)
Today is all about Kanazawa’s biggest festival! This three-day celebration is packed with parades, taiko drum performances, dancing, samurai warrior marches, tea ceremonies and traditional music to name but a few – a perfect opportunity to take in multiple aspects of Japanese culture all at once!
- Day 9 - Kyoto from the seat of your saddle (Kyoto)
Morning will see us making our way to the city of Kyoto. This former capital is positively bursting with history and a lot more traditional than its Tokyo counterpart. Things here move at a much slower pace and the people tend to be a lot more laid-back.
We’ll explore the city by bicycle today with our first stop being the scenic temple of Kiyomizudera. Over 1000 years old, the temple gets its name from three streams of water – each said to bring a different kind of fortune. We will leave its magical properties a secret for you to uncover during your visit! Our wheels then take us to Japan’s longest wooden structure, Sanjusangendo, and its 1001 statues of the buddhist goddess Kannon.
We will also learn the ancient art of shodo or calligraphy as you put your artistry skills to the test. Our teacher will demonstrate how to write certain characters in hiragana, katakana and kanji, and show you how to write your name in Japanese which you can take home on a small souvenir!
In the evening we take a walk through the bustling streets of Pontocho. Right next to the Kamogawa River, this area is packed with restaurants and bars offering mouthwatering foodfare and beverages.
- Day 10 - The deer-filled temples of Nara (Kyoto, Nara)
Before we depart for Nara, we visit what is arguably the most famous shrine in Japan, Fushimi Inari. Featured in the movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, this shrine has over 10 000 picturesque red ‘torii’ gates donated by people and various businesses from all over Japan as a sign of appreciation to the god Inari for blessings received. We will enjoy its beauty early in the morning before the crowds arrive.
We then travel to the city of Nara. This was Japan’s first ever permanent capital and as well as housing several historical and important temples, its grounds are also teeming with very friendly deer which are an attraction in themselves! We take in the history of Todaiji temple while admiring its statue of Buddha, one of the largest in the country, and simply enjoy the calm that the area exudes as we learn about another aspect of Japan.
For those who are interested in trying out another Japanese pastime, we head to a karaoke bar to enjoy an evening of belting out tunes with our newfound friends as we sing the night away!
- Day 11 - Exploring Arashiyama before saying goodbye (Kyoto, Tokyo)
Today we will get the opportunity to learn zen meditation and clear our minds with practicing buddhist monks. Buddhism is one of the two major religions in Japan and this class will allow you to experience one of its major practices first-hand.
This prepares the way perfectly for the next activity as we head to the nearby area of Arashiyama where we visit one of Kyoto’s great zen temples and a UNESCO world heritage site – Tenryuji temple. Built in the 14th century, its garden is one of the few in Japan which remains in its original form. A short walk will take us to the Arashiyama bamboo forest which almost feels like another realm in its beauty.
We then move onto our final location, Nijo Castle. With its intricate architecture, it is one of the best surviving examples of construction during Japan’s feudal period. As a former residence for both the Shogun and Imperial family, it is also rich in history and full of stories.
One last bullet train ride will take us to where we began, the bustling streets of Tokyo. Here we will say our goodbyes before flying back home, or staying on for some more self-exploration. Till next time!
- 10 nights hostel accommodation
- Tour guide
- Itinerary activities
- Any private expenses
- Optional activities
- Visa applications
- Travel insurance