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Discover Japan's enchanting mix of ancient and modern influences, exploring history, culture and cuisine. Travel on the bullet train through a land of contrasting flavours, taking in the bright lights of Tokyo as well as the freshest seafood at busy fish markets. Head to the mountains to learn about rural life in the Edo period, and enjoy a traditional Japanese dinner in a family-run minshuku.
Explore Tour Leader
10 nights comfortable hotel
1 nights simple ryokan
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
The trip starts today in Tokyo, the most populous metropolitan area in the world, home to more than 26 million people including the Japanese imperial family. The city holds a lot of history as well as modern shopping centres and the neon-illuminated signs it's famous for. Half of the city was rebuilt after being destroyed in the war but there are still many historic temples and gardens that remain and await exploration.
Your Leader plans to meet everyone in the hotel reception at 6.30pm for the welcome meeting. If some of the group are arriving on later flights then the main introductory briefing will be conducted on the morning of day 2 with everybody present. Afterwards there is the option to head out for dinner at a nearby local restaurant where you will have the chance to sample various types of 'izakaya' style Japanese cuisine. There are no other activities planned today. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) or Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT). The city centre is around an hour away from Haneda Airport and an hour-and-a-half from Narita. You will be met in the Arrivals Hall at Tokyo Airport, and transferred to the start hotel by public shuttle bus or private vehicle. The shuttle bus may stop at other hotels, before dropping you at the joining hotel.
Sunroute Asakusa Hotel (or similar)
This morning we start our exploration of this thriving metropolis on foot and by use of the super-efficient metro system. Firstly, we visit Tsukiji Outer Market, one of the biggest and busiest fish markets in Japan where freshly caught fish and seafood are on display. The inner market, famous for its tuna auctions, was moved in 2018 and is no longer open to tourists. Taking a break from the hustle and bustle, we visit the beautiful Hamarikyu gardens with a backdrop of skyscrapers for our first introduction to a traditional Japanese garden. A sushi lunch is included today so you can sample some of the delicious fresh seafood and learn all about what makes great sushi.
After lunch we will take a stroll through Kappabashi Street. Known locally as Kitchen Town, the shops here have been selling everything a professional or home cook could dream of for nearly a century - great for souvenirs. Aside from artisan pottery, high quality knives and ornate chopsticks you can also see sampuru or plastic models of food that have become popular to display in front of most Japanese restaurants.
At a convenient time in the day we will get our Japan Rail Passes validated in a nearby station. Please note that for late bookings, and people who have not provided their passport copy in time as requested, it will not be possible to issue a Japan Rail Pass and you will be provided with individual train tickets for the included journeys instead.
Finally, in the centre of historic Asakusa, one of downtown Tokyo's low-rise central districts, we visit Nakamise Shopping Street for a dessert street food tour where you can see and try local street food such as Senbei (Japanese rice crackers, usually savoury but sometimes sweet), ningyoyaki (sweet baked doll shapes filled with sweet red bean paste) or age manju (bun filled with same paste then battered and deep-fried).
The rest of the afternoon is left free from about 4pm. We suggest a visit to one of Tokyo's oldest temples - Senso-ji - originally built in the 7th century. Tokyo has endless fine dining options including the most Michelin star eateries in the world so we have left tonight and tomorrow evening free for those wishing to visit a restaurant of their choice.
We start our second day in the capital with a visit to Meiji Jingu, an important Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of the first Emperor and Empress of modern Japan at the end of Japan's feudal era. Its forested grounds offer a peaceful haven in this densely built-up city. For lunch we are going to try okonomiyaki, a delicious savoury pancake that translates literally as \ griddled as you like\ . There are regional variations and it is a cooked on a teppan or hot plate, combining a batter with cabbage and meat, topped with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and pickled ginger. With expert instruction, you get to cook on your own teppan at the table.
The Harajuku area and in particular, Takeshita Street, is the beating heart of Japanese youth fashion culture. Apart from shopping, the streets are lined with unique cafes, restaurants and bars and we have included dessert from one of the side street food carts. Take your pick from Japanese-style crepes, giant cotton candy or cute character-shaped ice-cream. The late afternoon and evening are at your leisure and options include a visit to the Yebisu Beer Museum.
Say sayonara to Tokyo as we travel by fast train to historic Takayama, a town in the mountainous Hida region. The train journey will last 4-5 hours, firstly on the Shinkansen bullet train to Nagoya followed by a regional train to Takayama. It is a great chance to buy an Ekiben for the journey - a beautifully curated bento box meal especially for the train, often made from local food specialties and a real taste of Japanese culture.
The preserved old town of Takayama retains an authentic, traditional feel like few others in Japan. During feudal times the city was a source of highly-skilled carpenters and therefore controlled directly by the shogun, leading to a thriving and prosperous trading community. The narrow streets of the Sanmachi Suji district are lined with dark wooden merchants' houses, many of which are 300 to 400 years old. In the afternoon we plan to visit the fascinating Hida No Sato thatched roof village on the outskirts of town. This open-air museum is made of original houses from the Edo period (1603 to 1867), where you can gain an insight into the rural life of the region during this period.
This evening is spent in a family run minshuku. A type of ryokan usually found in the countryside, they offer a very traditional Japanese experience, sleeping in twin rooms with tatami mats and futon beds, with shared bathroom facilities. A traditional Japanese dinner is cooked and served by the host family. The region's pure mountain water and cold winters make ideal conditions for making sake and you may like to try some from one of the traditional local sake distilleries.
Our main luggage will be sent on to Kanazawa today, as we travel light and make do with an overnight bag for tonight.
Minshuku Iwatakan (or similar)
This morning we explore the old town of Takayama and at the morning market you will be able to try the famous and delicious Hida beef. Made from a breed of Japanese black cattle reared in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture, this prized local product is known for high quality fat marbling, tender texture and delicious flavour. You can try a BBQ skewer and nigari sushi style, with lightly seared beef sitting on a small bed of rice.
Late morning we catch the highway public bus through the remote countryside of the Shogawa River Valley to the historic village of Shirakawago. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, we will find a number of beautifully preserved gassho-zukuri farmhouses. With their steep thatched roofs, constructed to resemble the praying hands of Buddhist monks, some of these houses are over 250 years old. Developed over many generations and designed to withstand the heavy falls of snow that regularly envelope the region in winter, these roofs are constructed without nails and the large attics were traditionally used to cultivate silkworms. In the late afternoon we travel by public bus (2hrs) onwards to Kanazawa, a city that rivalled Kyoto and Tokyo in the 17th and 18th centuries when it was home to the powerful Maeda samurai clan.
Hotel Torifito Kanazawa (or similar)
As the town was not targeted during World War II, much of Kanazawa consists of old buildings and gives a sense of what Japan was like in the 19th century. This morning we visit Kenrokuen Garden, designated as one of Japan's three most beautiful gardens. Taking nearly two centuries to complete and translating from their original Japanese as the 'Garden of the Six Sublimities', Kenrouken was begun by the Maedas in 1632 and covers over 11 hectares of land on the outskirts of Kanazawa Castle.
Our next stop will be to try our hands at making wagashi, a traditional Japanese confectionery made of red bean paste and mochi rice dough. The dough gets moulded into shapes that symbolize Japanese items or the four seasons and they are usually served with green tea. For lunch we will try temaki, a type of sushi wrapped in toasted seaweed and formed into a cone, and you can choose your ingredients that combine with the rice.
The rest of the day is at leisure and we recommend a stroll in Higashichaya district, one of the country's best-preserved geisha districts, with stunningly elegant buildings dating back to the Edo period. The surviving geisha establishments remain off limits to tourists. You can wander around the atmospheric samurai district with its narrow lanes and earthen walls, learning about how the legendary warrior class lived. Another highlight is the Myoryuji Temple, commonly known as the 'Ninja Temple' due to its ingenious defensive devices which include secret rooms, hidden tunnels, traps, and a labyrinth of corridors and staircases.
First thing this morning we wander around the colourful stalls of Omicho market, where some of the best seafood in Japan is brought daily from the Sea of Japan. Sending our main luggage on to the accommodation makes for a relaxing journey by train (over 2 hours) to Kyoto - the cradle of all things uniquely Japanese. This imperial capital was at the heart of events that shaped Japan's destiny for more than 1000 years. As the only major Japanese city to remain unscathed by World War II bombings, signs of the past are in its grand temples and palaces, as well as in the many quaint shops selling traditional wares.
Kyoto is regarded as Japan's loveliest city, with more than 2000 temples and shrines, many set in manicured landscaped gardens. We will start with a visit to Nijo Castle. Built in 1603 as a Shogun palace, it is a great example of the sumptuous setting in which the Shogun would have held audiences with his samurai warriors. The grounds and gates are impressive but the real highlights are the nightingale floors and the extensive gardens. Later this afternoon, we head to the famous geisha district of Gion. Here, we hope to catch a glimpse of these enigmatic entertainers as they scuttle to work in the teahouses or high-class restaurants.
Enjoy free time before an izakaya dinner. These casual drinking establishments are one of the most common restaurant types in Japan, with a lively, relaxed atmosphere similar to tapas bars, customers order a variety of small dishes that can be shared at the table, with a wide variety of Japanese and sometimes international dishes.
Hotel Elcient Kyoto (or similar)
Start the day with a short train ride to Uji, famous for growing the highest quality of green tea, whose finest leaves milled into a fine powder and used for matcha. We will visit Byodoin Temple, a striking example of Buddhist Pure Land architecture, that features on the ten yen coin. After trying some matcha sweets and ice cream we return to Kyoto.
This afternoon we visit Higashiyama district, one of the city's best-preserved historic districts and take part in a private tea ceremony. A tradition steeped in history with deep roots in Zen, it is a traditional method of preparing and drinking matcha green tea by following a precise ritual, typically in a tearoom with tatami floor. You will also be guided on the process of making your own tea by the master. At the end of the day we drink in a breathtaking view over Kyoto from Kiyomizudera Temple. The rest of the day is at your leisure.
Getting around Kyoto is easy and there is a lot you can explore this morning. Nishiki Market is an important market for locals and tourists alike, you will find all sorts of pickles, snacks, and typical Kyoto dishes. This afternoon we visit the entrance to Fushimi Inari Shrine, the most important of thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari - the Shinto god of rice - famous for its endless vermilion torri gates that feature in the film 'Memoirs of a Geisha'.
Next we stop is at the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum where we learn all about this alcoholic fermented rice drink, try different varieties of sake to appreciate the difference in flavour, aroma and taste. Dinner tonight is a Teppanyaki, a post-war style of Japanese cuisine where the chef cooks in front of guests on a hot plate or teppan, and the entertainment is as much watching the skilled chef as enjoying the delicious food.
We leave Kyoto this morning and take the train a short distance to our final destination of the holiday, the large metropolis of Osaka. Known by many as the food capital of Japan, Osaka is ultra-modern, bright, vivacious and friendly. We will travel with our luggage this time and drop it off directly at our hotel on arrival. We start exploring Osaka with a visit to the quirky Instant Ramen Museum, where visitors can have a go at creating their own cup noodle!
After lunch we visit Osaka castle, a 1930s reconstruction of the 16th century castle tower, with great views of the surrounding park and city beyond. The rest of the afternoon is left free and we recommend exploring the Namba area, one of Osaka's most vibrant and interesting districts where kilometres of covered arcades criss-crossed by canals and rivers, open up to back streets filled with history and small shops. This evening we will take you on a street food tour through Shinsekai district for dinner where you will be able to try local dishes including local favourites kushikatsu (deep fried skewers) and takoyaki (octopus and dashi mixed in batter and fried).
Via Inn Umeda (or similar)
Our first visit today is to Namba Yasaka shrine, an atypical Shinto shrine featuring a ritualistic performance stage in the shape of a lion's head. Next stop is the world-famous Dotonburi area where you can see towering neon signs, unofficial mascot the Glico Man and endless shops and restaurants. We then take a trip up the impressive Umeda Sky Building for unobstructed 360-degree views of the whole city.
Left free for lunch and the afternoon there is plenty to explore. We meet later this evening for our farewell dinner. Shabu-shabu is Japanese hot pot with thinly sliced meat and vegetables cooked in a broth and served with dipping sauces. Inspired from mainland Asia in the 20th century, the name is onomatopoeic derived from the 'swish swish\ sound when the ingredients are stirred in the cooking pot.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Osaka. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel, so you can head out for some last minute shopping or sightseeing.
Transfers to the airport will be by train, your leader will provide tickets locally and advise on the best train time to meet your flight. If you would like an airport transfer today, you need to depart from Kansai International Airport (KIX) which is approximately 2 hours away, or Osaka International Airport (ITM) which takes around an hour.
Japan's climate is mostly temperate, with five distinct seasons. Summer is from June to September with temperatures reaching 30°c, although it can vary from warm to very hot after mid-July with temperatures in the mid-30s. July and August can be very hot and humid. Spring and Autumn are mild throughout Japan. Winter, October to April, is cold with snowfall. The main rainy season is June. Japan can be prone to short, tropical cyclones in August to October. October / November although cooler is a great time to see the Autumn colours. For trips that visit the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Onsen, you're very likely to see them all year around, aside from in October/November when there is enough food in the forest to prevent them coming down to the baths. You may still see some at this time but not in the numbers found during the rest of the year.
2 Pin Flat
Buddhism, Christian and Shinto
Rain gear is essential all year. In fact, in Japan it is the norm to carry an umbrella, which is much preferred over wearing a wet rain jacket. You will need warm clothing from October through until April when temperatures drop, especially at night. From December to February the temperature is around 5 to 10 degrees in the day, and can approach freezing on some nights so bring extra layers if you are travelling at this time.
Comfortable shoes, and sandals for relaxing. Shoes that are easy to put on and take off are recommended for visiting temples and for your stay in a ryokan.
We recommend you bring a daypack (also big enough to carry what you need for an overnight stay) and one main piece of luggage (total allowance: 44lb/20kg). For the night spent in Takayama you will not have your main luggage, as we forward this from Tokyo to Kanazawa, so you will need to pack the day bag with your essentials. Please note that the minshuku accommodation in Takayama provides clients with yukatas (pyjamas), soap, shampoo, conditioner, disposable razors, towels and tooth brushes. In fact these amenities are provided for all nights on the tour in each accommodation.
Japan has an excellent luggage forwarding system that makes it easy for travellers to send on heavy cases when travelling by public transport. There are two occasions when we include this service: On day 4 from Tokyo to Kanazawa and on day 7 from Kanazawa to Kyoto.
Japan's rail network has a policy that requires passengers with oversized baggage to reserve a specific seat in an oversized baggage area. This relates to baggage with overall dimensions of over 160cm (taken by adding the height+width+depth measurements). These overall dimensions are around the same for which oversized baggage fees are charged on international airlines, so it's unlikely that you will be bringing a suitcase of this size. However, it is worth checking the dimensions and then repacking with a smaller case if necessary. Due to the complexities of booking these seats, if you arrive with an oversized bag, our team in Japan will ship the luggage from one place to the next from the beginning to the end of the tour, at an additional cost that you will be required to pay locally.
Bring a water bottle to save on purchase of plastic bottles and a small torch. Hairdryers are provided at all the hotels.
Public Bus, Train
On this trip you are able to choose to purchase a single room (please see the dates and prices for the applicable single supplement price). However, this option does not include a single room on day 4 of this holiday in Takayama. We are not able to offer a single room on this night, as the minshuku guesthouse we use only has enough rooms to accommodate all the passengers of a full group on a twin share basis. In Takayama we stay in a traditional Japanese style accommodation. A type of ryokan, the minshuku are smaller, family run and usually found in the countryside. The rooms are twin bed with traditional tatami-mat (woven soft 'igusa' straw) flooring and futons to sleep on. Generally the rooms are simply decorated with a low 'kotatsu' table to sit around, a scroll or picture in an alcove and a Japanese tea set. The two futons are brought out at night. Shoes are removed in the entrance way to the room and the accommodation has shared toilets and traditional same sex communal baths and showers.
The Japanese are rightly proud of their rich food culture and delicious cuisine. While varied, the food in Japan and the majority of our included food experiences feature a lot of meat and seafood and for this reason we suggest that this trip is not ideally suited to vegetarians and vegans, as they will not be able to fully participate in them. Of course vegetarians and vegans are welcome to book but where meat and seafood are included we cannot provide appropriate substitutes. The included meals do not cover alcoholic or soft drinks.
Can you drink the water?
It is generally possible to drink the local tap water, therefore to reduce the need for single-use plastic bottles we recommend you bring a refillable water bottle with you. Your leader will advise you on refill points each day.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
British passport holder do not require visa to enter Japan for tourism purposes. All visa related issues for other nationalities should be confirmed with the relevant Embassy prior to departure. Japan Rail Pass - A clear copy, either as a scanned photocopy or photo, of your main passport photo page is required. Please ensure that all the information is clearly visible with none of the edges missing. This is required by our local agent to issue your Japan Rail Pass and is required no later than 6 weeks prior to travel. Explore will request this from you approximately 8 weeks prior to departure. If your passport copy is not received on time this will mean we cannot issue you a Japan Rail Pass. Instead you will be issued individual rail tickets for the included journeys and you will not have the benefit of a Japan Rail Pass, which enables you to travel effectively for free on local trains and the Tokyo Monorail in your free time while the pass is valid. Similarly for late bookings it will not be possible to issue a Japan Rail Pass if the cut off date has already passed, and you will be issued single tickets instead. Although not required, by registering on the visit Japan Web website, travellers are able fill out the Disembarkation Form and Custom Declaration Form in advance. By filling out these forms online, two QR codes will be produced that can be shown during entry procedures into Japan. This may help you proceed through customs and control quicker. As this step is not required, travellers can instead fill out physical paper forms upon arrival as well. More information can be found here: https://www.digital.go.jp/enervices/visit_japan_web-en/
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory. We recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, infectious hepatitis and polio. The use or possession of Vicks inhalers and some other common prescription and over-the-counter medicines (e.g. for allergies and sinus problems or even certain mild painkillers, such as those containing certain levels of codeine) are banned under Japan's strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law. Customs officials may not be sympathetic if you claim ignorance about these medicines. If in any doubt about customs procedures for such items, you should check with the nearest Japanese Embassy before visiting Japan. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.