If you don’t want to miss anything in Japan, then the Best of Japan in 22 Days Self Guided tour for you. From Sapporo to Nagasaki, you will enjoy the best Japan has to offer including some of Japan’s best onsens, gardens, castles, natural scenic areas, historical districts, temples and shrines, cultural activities and much, much more in a tour that will create travel memories to last a lifetime.
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You’ll stay overnight at a mountaintop Buddhist temple where Buddhist monks will serve you meals of shojin ryori (the traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) and attend prayer services at the temple early the next morning, climb to the top of a samurai castle, stroll through farmer’s markets, see where the geisha live and work, stay overnight on beautiful and quiet Miyajima Island, soak in the thermally-heated mineral waters at some of Japan’s best onsens and admire sacred Mt. Fuji (weather permitting), the icon of Japan.
You’ll enjoy Tokyo where the sheer energy level will sweep you away, and Sapporo, host to the 1972 Winter Olympics with its many, fine restaurants, explore the morning market of Hakodate, where you can have the local specialties of crab, sea urchin or squid prepared for you for breakfast. You will enjoy Matsushima, considered to be one of three most scenic places in Japan, visit the sobering testament to peace of Hiroshima and the ostentatious over-the-top shrines and temples of Nikko. The rural, mountainous island of Shikoku will charm you with its natural beauty, and the island of Kyushu with the history-filled city of Nagasaki will surprise you with its diversity.
After clearing customs and immigration (which can take up to an hour and a half due to increased tourism to Japan), you will be met at Tokyo’s Narita airport by a Samurai Tours guide. The guide will then purchase a limousine bus ticket for you and help you board the bus to the hotel. After checking in, the evening is free. No meals are included.
Travel: 1-1/2 Hours
After breakfast, the licensed, English-speaking guide will meet you in the lobby of your accommodations. The guided tour will start with traveling to Tokyo Tower. The Tokyo Tower is a communications and observation tower in the center of Tokyo. At 332.9 metres (1,092 ft), it is the second-tallest structure in Japan. The structure is an Eiffel Tower-inspired lattice tower, with a main observatory at 150 meters that is reached via elevator or a 600-step staircase. Thanks to the tower’s central location, the observatory offers an interesting view of the city despite being only at a relatively moderate height. Afterwards, we will travel to the famous Ginza district, the most expensive real estate in the world. Ginza is recognized by many as one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world, attracting visitors and regulars alike from across the globe. Before continuing we will first stop for a lunch of Kushiage (fried meat and vegetables on bamboo skewers). Next we will travel to the nearby Asakusa area. Here we will tour the Nakamise-dori, Senso-ji Buddhist Temple and the Asakusa Shrine where you will learn about Buddhist and Shinto Japanese religious practices. We will return to the hotel, where we will go through the train tickets for the rest of the tour. Breakfast at the hotel and lunch at a local restaurant included.
Travel: 1 1/2 Hours; Walking: Heavy
Before checking out, you will transfer your main luggage to Takayama, and will be traveling to Hakone and Takayama with an overnight bag only. The morning can be spent exploring Tokyo’s Ueno Park, the Tokyo National Museum, or anything else you may have missed yesterday. Later in the afternoon, you will travel by local trains to Hakone Yumoto Onsen. Here you can rest and relax the in thermally-heated mineral waters of the bath at the ryokan, or go on a hike to discover the natural beauty of Japan. Breakfast at the hotel included.
Travel: 1 1/2 Hours
After checking out, you will tour the Hakone area. Hakone is famous for its natural beauty and the view of nearby Mt. Fuji (weather permitting). Be sure to stop at the Owakudani. Owakudani offers magnificent views of Mount Fuji in what is still an active volcanic region. Here at Owakudani, you will have free time to explore the thermally-heated pools and mud pots. You can try one of the ‘black eggs’, which are eggs hard-boiled in the thermally-heated mineral waters. It is said if you eat one of these eggs, it will add seven years to your life (it is probably said by the people who sell the eggs). Late in the afternoon, you will leave Hakone by local train, bullet train and express train to Takayama. Takayama, in the middle of the Japan Alps, with its traditional inns, shops, and sake breweries, has managed to retain its traditional charm. After checking in, you can enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants specializing in Hida Beef. Hida Beef is the same thing as the more famous Kobe Beef. You can retrieve your main luggage from your accommodation when you check in. Breakfast at the ryokan included.
Start the morning at the farmer’s market strolling past the vegetable stands and stalls selling herbs, pickles, and souvenirs, sampling the numerous options as you go. Or visit the Takayama Jinya, the governing office of this area since the 17th century. In the afternoon, the choices for what to do are abundant. You can roam and explore Takayama, visit the many temples, shrines and museums, rummage through antique shops, or relax at one of sake breweries. Take the bus to the Hida-no-Sato Open Air Museum with its traditional, thatched-roof homes from the surrounding area. Or visit the Yatai Kaikan, a museum chronicling the famous festival held every April and October in Takayama. Breakfast at the hotel included.
In the morning you will transfer your main luggage to Kyoto then travel by express train and Shinkansen (bullet train) to the city of Kyoto. For many, just the name of Kyoto conjures up the classic images of Japan: streets of traditional wooden houses, the click-clack of geta (wooden sandals) on the paving stones, geisha in a flourish of brightly colored silks, and a tea master deliberately warming water and making tea. Steeped in history and tradition, Kyoto has in many ways been the cradle of Japanese culture. A stroll through Kyoto today is a walk through 11 centuries of Japanese history. Here you can visit Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is one of Kyoto’s, as well as Japan’s, most recognizable attractions. The gleaming building covered in gold leaf seems to float on the aptly named Mirror Pond, especially on a sunny day. If you would like, visit Nijo Castle next. Built in 1603, it was the Kyoto home of Tokugawa Ieayasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun. The ostentatious style of construction was intended as a demonstration of Ieyasu’s prestige, and to signal the demise of the emperor’s power. The finest artists of the day filled the castle with delicate transom woodcarvings and paintings by the Kano School on sliding doors. One of the castle’s most intriguing features is the so-called “nightingale” floors. To protect the Shogun from real or imagined enemies, these floorboards creak when stepped on. Breakfast at the hotel included.
Travel: 3 1/2 Hours
Today is free to tour the Kyoto area on your own. We suggest you travel by train to the nearby city of Fushimi, one of the largest sake producing regions of Japan. Here you can visit the Fushimi Inari shrine. This Shinto Shrine, established in the 8th century, is famous for the long tunnels of vermilion torii gates straddling a network of trails leading to the top of the heavily forested Mt. Inari. Next, you can visit the famous Kiyomizu-dera temple. Kiyomizu-dera literally translates to “Pure Water Temple”. For centuries, visitors and pilgrims have climbed the hill to the temple standing on a steep hillside with fine views of the city of Kyoto. Supported by 139 pillars, the temple juts out over the valley. Finding the courage to set out on a daring, new adventure is likened to “taking a leap from the veranda of Kiyomizu”. From Kiyomizu, you can walk through the Higashiyama District of Kyoto. This area of narrow, cobblestone alleys with its numerous shops and restaurants is truly enjoyable and relaxing. Next, walk to the famous Gion Geisha District. Here, you will see where the Geisha live and work. You may even see one on their way to one of their appointments. Your main luggage will arrive at the hotel while you are out. Breakfast at the hotel included.
After you send your main luggage to Takamatsu and have breakfast you will board an express train to Osaka, and then continue to Koya-san by train and funicular. Koya-san, the world headquarters of the Shingon School of Esoteric Buddhism, was established in the year 816 by Kobo Daishi, considered by many to be the most influential religious person in Japanese history. Drop off your luggage, check into your shukubo (Buddhist temple lodging), and the afternoon is free to explore Koya-san. You can wander through the huge cemetery leading up to the Okuno-in temple. Kobo Daishi is buried at this temple, and many Japanese still believe that he is not dead, but merely in a very advanced state of meditation, waiting to awaken at the appropriate time. Next you many want to explore the Garan Temple complex. Don’t forget that your dinner of shojin-ryori (traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine – no meat, fish, onions or garlic) will be served by the Buddhist Monks from the temple. After dinner you are free to roam and visit one of the 110 temples in the area or just rest in the garden at the shukubo. Breakfast at the hotel and Shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) dinner at the temple included.
Travel: 4 Hours
Early in the morning, you can attend a Buddhist prayer service held at the temple. Then, after a vegetarian breakfast, you will travel back to Osaka, and continue by Shinkansen to Himeji where you will tour Himeji Castle. Built about 400 years ago, it is one of the oldest and largest of the remaining original castles in Japan. It is only one of four castles in Japan that has been designated as a National Treasure and has also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After touring the castle, you will continue to Takamatsu by Shinkansen and express train. The sprawling city of Takamatsu is located on the northern shore of Shikoku, the smallest, the least populated and least visited of the four major islands of Japan. Despite a relaxed atmosphere, Takamatsu hums with an urban energy. Walking down the city’s wide, sunlit boulevards or numerous covered shopping arcades you will find funky shops, artsy cafes and exciting nightlife. Pick up your main luggage from the hotel when you check in. Shojin-ryori breakfast at the temple included.
Travel: 4 Hours
Today is a free day in Takamatsu. After sending your main luggage to Matsuyama we suggest you visit Ritsurin Garden, thought by many to be one of best gardens in Japan. This garden was designed by the local feudal lord family and took over 100 years to create. The more than 1,400 twisted and contorted pines set this garden apart from other gardens. Next you can travel by street car to the nearby city of Kotohira, to visit the Kompira Shrine. Kompira Shrine is the main shrine of multiple Kompira shrines found around Japan that are dedicated to sailors and seafaring. Located on the wooded slope of Mount Zozu in Kotohira, the approach to Kompirasan is an arduous series of 785 stone steps. Breakfast at the hotel included.
After breakfast you will travel by express train to the city of Matsuyama. We suggest starting the afternoon at Matsuyama Castle. Matsuyama Castle is one of Japan’s most beautiful original castles. It is located on Mt. Katsu, a steep hill in the city center providing visitors to the castle with a bird’s eye view of Matsuyama and the Seto Inland Sea. The castle was constructed between 1602 and 1628. The current three storied castle tower was constructed in 1820 after the original five storied one was destroyed by lightening. In the evening, you can visit the famous Dogo Onsen. It is thought this was the first onsen in Japan, and the history of the onsen goes back 1,000 years. The current main onsen building was built in 1894, and includes a bath reserved exclusively for visiting Emperors. Pickup your main luggage from the hotel when you check in. Breakfast at the hotel included.
Travel: 3 Hours
In the morning you will transfer your main luggage to Nagasaki. Then we would suggest touring the nearby temple of Ishiteji. This temple is one of the 88 temples (#51) on the Shikoku pilgrimage. Ishiteji is known for its Niomon Gate, a designated national treasure. The main hall and pagoda are also designated important cultural properties, and all of the structures exhibit the typical architecture style of the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). In the afternoon, you will travel by high-speed ferries to Miyajima Island. The Japanese proclaim Miyajima Island to be one of the top three scenic sights in Japan. The evening is a great time to enjoy the solitude and ambiance of the island after a delicious Kaiseki-style dinner at the ryokan. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at the ryokan included.
Travel: 3 1/2 Hours
The entire day is a free day to enjoy Miyajiima Island. You can ride the cable car to the top of the mountain on Miyajima Island, or visit the Itsukushima-jinja Shrine which was built in its present form in 1168. Or just stroll around the island while enjoying grilled oysters, the island’s specialty. Breakfast and Kaiseki-style dinner at the ryokan included.
You will travel by ferry and train to the city of Hiroshima. Here you can visit the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum, both sobering monuments to the tragic event on August 6, 1945. Late in the afternoon you will travel to Nagasaki on the island of Kyushu where your main luggage will be waiting for you. Breakfast at the ryokan included.
Travel: 5 Hours
We would suggest starting the day by visiting Dejima. Dejima was a man-made island in the port of Nagasaki constructed in 1636. A few years later, the Dutch trading factory was moved to Dejima. The Dutch workers, the only remaining Westerners allowed in the country, were restricted to Dejima during Japan’s two centuries of isolation. Today, Dejima is no longer an island, as the surrounding area has been reclaimed during the 20th century. However, a number of Dejima’s historical structures have been reconstructed, including various residences, warehouses, walls and gates. There are many displays in these buildings documenting the daily life of the Dutch residents. Next, we suggest touring Glover Garden. Glover Garden is an open air museum, exhibiting mansions of former Western residents of Nagasaki. It is located on the hill where Western merchants settled down after the end of Japan’s era of seclusion in the second half of the 19th century. You can also enjoy a panorama of the city from the garden. Breakfast at the ryokan included.
The entire day is a travel day. After sending your main luggage to Hakodate you will be traveling by air to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s largest city and host of the 1972 Winter Olympics. After arriving, we suggest you visit the JR Sapporo Tower where you will be able to get a bird’s eye view of Sapporo. In the evening, we recommend enjoying dinner at the Sapporo Beer Garden, located in the original Sapporo Beer brewery, where you can try the local specialty of grilled lamb, cooked yourself at the table. Breakfast at the ryokan included.
Travel: 8 Hours
After breakfast you can visit the Old Hokkaido Government Building. Affectionately known by the locals as “Red Bricks” (akarenga in Japanese), it was built in 1911 and has been designated as an Important Cultural Asset. Next, we would recommend visiting the Clock Tower, the symbol of Sapporo. The building was constructed in 1878 as a drill hall of the Sapporo Agricultural College. The American-made clock was added in 1881. In the afternoon you will travel to Noboribetsu Onsen, one of the most popular and famous hot spring resorts in Japan. Breakfast at the hotel and dinner at the ryokan included.
Travel: 2 Hours
The morning is free to explore Noboribetsu Onsen, including the Jigoku-dani (Hell Valley) and the other geothermal activity in the area. In the afternoon, you will travel to the city of Hakodate. Hakodate was one of the first cities open to the West after the Meiji Restoration. In the evening you can take a cable car to the top of Mt. Hakodate where you can enjoy a panoramic view of Hakodate’s night lights. Pick up your main luggage when checking into the hotel. Breakfast at the ryokan included.
Travel: 3 Hours
First thing, you will transfer your main luggage to Tokyo. Early in the morning we suggest visiting the Hakodate Morning Market, where the sellers can prepare the specialties of Hakodate (crab, sea urchin and squid) fresh from their stalls for breakfast. Next, you can visit the Goryo-Kaku, Japan’s first western-style fort. Built in 1864 by the Tokugawa Shogunate in the shape of a five-pointed star, it was designed to trap attackers in a deadly crossfire. You can climb to the top of the Goryo-kaku tower next to the fort, providing a view of the fort and the surrounding city. We would then suggest touring the Moto-machi historic area. This is where many of the westerners who lived in Hakodate lived at the end of the 19th century. Overlooking the western bay at the foot of Mount Hakodate, there are numerous sloping streets lined with 19th century churches, consulates, shops and homes of the foreigners who first opened this area of Japan to commerce. In the afternoon, you will travel to the city of Sendai. Breakfast at the hotel included.
Travel: 4 Hours
Today is a free day in Sendai. We would suggest you tour Matsushima. Matsushima, near Sendai, is known as one of Japan’s three most scenic areas, and has been visited by numerous dignitaries over the years including the famous Haiku poet Basho who wrote a very famous poem about Matsuhsima published in the late 17th century. First, you can take a sightseeing boat that will navigate between the 260 small islands sculpted by the waves and covered with pine trees. During the cruise, you can see how Matsushima got its name (Matsu means pine and shima means island). After the cruise, we would suggest visiting the Kanran-tei Pavilion given to the Date feudal lord family of Sendai by Toyotomi Hideyoshi which was used for moon viewing and tea ceremonies. Here you can enjoy the view while sampling green-powder tea and sweets. We would also suggest visiting Zuigan-ji Temple. Originally founded by the Tendai Buddhism sect in 828, the current buildings were built by the Date feudal lord family in 1606. Here, along the entrance to the temple, we will find the numerous Buddha statues carved by hand into the rocky-cliff face by Buddhist monks to show their dedication. Breakfast at the hotel included.
Travel: 2 Hours
In the morning you will travel by Shinkansen (bullet train) and local train to Nikko, where the Tosho-gu Shrine is located. This shrine – built by Tokugawa Iemitsu – is a dedication to his grandfather, Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. (James Clavell’s fictional Shogun in his novel Shogun was based on this person.) One of the most elaborate monuments in Japan, no expense was spared in this shrine’s construction. After touring Nikko, you will travel by local train and Shinkansen to Tokyo. Pick up your main luggage when you check into the hotel. Breakfast at the hotel included.
Travel: 4 1/2 Hours
It’s time to say “sayonara” (goodbye) to Japan. You will travel to the airport by express train to Narita or local train to Haneda to catch your flight home. Breakfast at the hotel included.
Travel: 1 1/2 Hours
$5,267.00 (per person, based on double occupancy)
January 6 – February 28
June 16 – July 9
August 24 – August 31
November 16 – December 24
$5,699.00 (per person, based on double occupancy)
March 1 – March 14
May 7 – June 15
September 1 – October 14
$6,145.00 (per person, based on double occupancy)
March 15 – May 6 (Cherry Blossom & Golden Week)
July 10 – August 23 (Obon Holiday/Olympics)
October 15 – November 15 (Fall Foliage)
December 25 – January 5 (New Years)
Adjustments for 2023 Tours
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In every way we thought the trip that you provided was superb. We hope to visit Japan again, and if so, we will be in touch. I am already recommending Samurai tours to anyone who mentions a desire to visit Japan.
This was our second independent tour for us by Samuraitours and just like the first one, EVERYTHING worked perfectly and exceeded our expectations. I don’t know you did but even after expecting the best you were able to outdo yourselves again. You’ve made so many great memories for us. Thank you.