On the Best of Japan Your Way tour, you will be escorted from city to city just like on our escorted tours. But once you arrive at the destination, you are free to explore on your own just like on our self-guided packages. Or you can join one of our daily optional guided tours. A little bit of structure with a lot of flexibility may be the perfect combination for you.
You’ll enjoy a colorful mix of large cities like Tokyo and Osaka, quaint and traditional Takayama, the ambiance and solitude of Miyajima Island, the historically significant Kamakura (the capital of Japan in the 13th century), the religious center of Koya-san, ancient Kyoto, the testament to peace of Hiroshima, the natural beauty of Hakone, the thermally-heated mineral water baths at an onsen and much, much more.
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 you can attend prayer services at the temple early the next morning. You will have the opportunity to climb to the top of a samurai castle, stroll through farmer’s markets, see where the geisha live and work, take in the view on beautiful and quiet Miyajima Island, soak in the thermally-heated mineral waters at an onsen, admire sacred Mt. Fuji (weather permitting), and enjoy a gourmet Kaiseki-style dinner and one shojin-ryori Buddhist vegetarian dinner.
After clearing customs and immigration, you will be met at Tokyo’s Narita Airport by a Samurai Tours meeting staff member. They 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; Walking: Light
After breakfast, you will start the day with a Welcome/Orientation meeting. Breakfast at the hotel included.
The licensed, English-speaking guide will escort you to the 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. 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 Ginza is one of the most upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment districts in Japan, attracting visitors and regulars alike from across the globe. Before continuing we will stop for a lunch of Kushiage (fried meat and vegetables on 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 you will receive the train tickets for the entire tour. Lunch at a local restaurant included.
Travel: 1 Hours; Walking: Heavy
Today is a free day to enjoy the world-class city of Tokyo. Go shopping for that perfect souvenir, visit the Meiji Shrine dedicated to the Japanese emperor of the 19th century, or wander through the trendy Shibuya or Harajuku districts where you will more than likely see interesting and far-out fashions.
¥11,381 (You must pre-register before arriving in Japan.)
We will be visiting the outer market of Tsukiji Market. We will wander through many of the shops selling numerous items needed for Japanese cooking, and we will even observe how a whole tuna is cut up into sushi and sashimi. After this, we will go to a sushi restaurant near the market that is popular with locals and owned by the self-proclaimed “tuna king” for a sushi lunch. After lunch, we will travel the short distance by train to Shibuya. Shibuya is a center for youth fashion and culture, and its streets are the birthplace of many of Japan’s fashion and entertainment trends. After a short explanation of the Shibuya area and the hotspots, the guide will give you a map and allow you to have some free time in Shibuya. Make sure to visit the Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. The intersection is heavily decorated by neon advertisements and giant video screens and gets flooded by pedestrians each time the crossing light turns green, making it a popular photo and movie filming spot. You can return to the hotel with the guide or stay in Shibuya and return on your own. Lunch is included.
¥14,226 (You must pre-register before arriving in Japan.)
Tour the Tokyo bay while relaxing with dinner and drinks! Sites include Tokyo Sky Tree, Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba and Tokyo Skyline from Tokyo Bay all lit up at night. Dinner includes sashimi and tempura or vegetarian kaiseki dinner with all-you-can-drink beer, sake, shochu, plum wine, whiskey, white wine, red wine, coffee, tea, and soft drinks. (You will travel to/from the port on your own with our guidance, no guide included)
Before leaving Tokyo, you will prepare your luggage to be transferred to Takayama, and will be traveling to Hakone and Takayama with an overnight bag only. You will prepare your overnight bag for 2 days and 1 night. After breakfast, we will travel by Shinkansen (bullet train) to Hakone Yumoto Onsen, where we will stay overnight. Hakone is famous for its natural beauty and the view of nearby Mt. Fuji (weather permitting). Breakfast at the hotel is included.
We will be taking many different forms of transportation (electric train, funicular, gondola and bus) around Hakone including the Hakone Sightseeing Boats on Lake Ashi. In good weather, you can get an excellent view of Mount Fuji, and enjoy Hakone’s rich scenery reflected on the lake’s calm surface. After returning to Hakone Yumoto and picking up our overnight bags, we will check into the ryokan. Here you can enjoy the thermally-heated mineral baths at the ryokan. Lunch at a local restaurant included.
After checking out, we will continue by Shinkansen (bullet train) to the city of Nagoya, Later in the afternoon, we will travel by express train to Takayama.
Here we will stop for lunch before visiting the Tokugawa Art Museum. During the Edo Period (1600-1868), Nagoya served as the seat of the Owari, one of the three major branches of the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate family. The Owari were one of Japan’s wealthiest families. The Tokugawa Art Museum was built on the grounds of the Owari’s former feudal residence and preserves and exhibits some of their treasures including samurai armor and swords, tea utensils, noh masks and costumes, poems, scrolls and maps.
This morning we stroll through the farmer’s market, sampling the numerous options from vegetable stands and stalls selling herbs, pickles, and souvenirs. After that, we tour the Takayama-jinya, the governing office of Takayama and the surrounding area since the early 17th century. The guide will take you to the San-machi-suji district, consisting of merchant homes dating back to the 16th century. From here the rest of the day is free to roam and explore Takayama. Visit the many temples, shrines and museums, rummage through antique shops, or relax at one of the sake breweries.
After finishing the scheduled tour of Takayama at the Takayama Jinya, the guide will take you on a tour of the San-machi-suji District. Lined with merchant homes, sake breweries and craftsmen’s workshops, it was the center of the old town and today it still retains its quaint atmosphere. After enjoying lunch, we will continue to the Hida-no-Sato Open Air Museum. With more than 30 traditional farmhouses and other buildings from the surrounding area, its main attractions are the “gassho-zukuri” style farmhouses. These massive farmhouses with their steep, thatched roofs which look like praying hands (gassho-zukuri translates to praying hand style) were built without a single nail. Lunch at a local restaurant is included.
We will travel to Koya-san with overnight bags only. The rest of the luggage will be delivered to our hotel in Osaka where we will be staying the following night. You will need to prepare your overnight bags for 2 days and 1 night. We board an express train and Shinkansen bound for Osaka, and continue to Koya-san by subway, train and funicular. Koya-san is the world headquarters of the Shingon school of Esoteric Buddhism. Kobo Daishi, considered by many to be the most influential religious person in Japanese history, established a religious community here in the year 816. After checking into our shukubo (Buddhist temple lodging), you are free to roam and visit one of the 110 temples in the area or just rest in the garden at the shukubo. 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. Breakfast at the ryokan and shojin-ryori dinner at the temple are included.
Very early in the morning, we attend o-inori (Buddhist prayer service). Afterwards, a shojin-ryori breakfast is served. Following this meal, we 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 Kobo Daishi is not dead, but merely in a very advanced state of meditation, waiting to awaken at the appropriate time. After touring the Garan Temple complex, we will stop for a Shojin-ryori lunch. After lunch we will return to the Namba Station the same way we came to Koyasan. After returning to Osaka and picking up our luggage and checking into our hotel, the evening is free to visit the Dotombori-dori and the Namba Districts (South Osaka), the nearby nightlife and restaurant district. While there, you can visit the Ebisu-bashi bridge, which will make you feel like you stepped into the movie “Blade Runner.” Shojin-ryori breakfast at the temple and Shojin-ryori lunch at a local restaurant are included.
¥8,536 (or 10,000 Yen in Japan)
While there are not a lot of sightseeing options in Osaka, the best way to experience Osaka is to simply explore the city on foot. And the best time to enjoy Osaka is at night when the South Osaka area of the Dotombori and Namba Districts come into its own. At this time the numerous large, neon signs and the hawkers and pachinko parlors of the area combine to create an audio-visual overload. The tour will include Doguyasuji, a street in the Namba District lined with restaurant supply stores (including stores selling the plastic food models you see everywhere in Japan). In the Dotombori District, you will visit the Hozenji Temple and Yokocho, an area that retains an old-time atmosphere and where so many locals come to pour water over the temple’s statues, they are now covered in moss. In contrast, you will also visit the Ebisubashi Bridge next to the Dotombori Street. With its towering neon signs, a visit to the Ebisubashi Bridge is like stepping into the movie “Bladerunner”. The tour will begin with a dinner at a local kaitenzushi restaurant (conveyor belt sushi) where you select whatever looks good as it passes by on the conveyor belt.
Before leaving in the morning you will need to prepare your overnight bag for 3 days/2 nights and bring it with you to the lobby of the hotel. We will then travel by subway and Shinkansen to the city of Himeji. Later in the afternoon, we will continue by Shinkansen to Hiroshima.
Here we will visit Himeji Castle. Built about 400 years ago, Himeji Castle is one of the largest and oldest original castles, and is one of only four castles designated as a national treasure and is also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today we suggest you enjoy and relax in the beauty and ambiance of Miyajima Island. You can travel there using your JR rail pass. Breakfast at the hotel included.
After breakfast travel to Miyajima Island by local train and ferry. Ride the cable car to the top of the mountain on Miyajima Island and visit the Itsukushima-jinja shrine which was built in its present form in 1168. You will return to Hiroshima on your own after exploring the island on your own.
Today we suggest touring the Peace Memorial Museum and the Peace Memorial Park, which are both sobering monuments to the tragic events on August 6, 1945. Afterwards, we are off to Kyoto via the Shinkansen. Once in Kyoto, we pick up our luggage and check into our ryokan, where we stay for the remainder of the tour.
You will be escorted to the Peace Memorial Museum and tour the Peace Memorial park with a guide before returning the Hiroshima station to and traveling to Kyoto.
Today is free to explore Kyoto on your own. Breakfast at the hotel included.
After breakfast, we will start the day at the Nijo Castle. Built in 1603, it was the Kyoto home of Tokugawa Ieyasu, 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. Next we will 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. After lunch (included) you will have some free time at Nishiki Koji. Nishiki Koji is a narrow, five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, this lively retail market specializes in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi. Following this free time, we will start our “Cultural Afternoon” by first participating in an authentic tea ceremony. The regimented discipline of the tea ceremony has been practiced for more than 400 years, and at one time was considered mandatory for Samurai as an aid to train the mind. After the tea ceremony, you will an opportunity to try your “hand” at calligraphy. Calligraphy has been an important art form in Japan for 1500 years. After the class, we will return to the ryokan.
Before leaving for the day, you will need to prepare your main luggage to be sent forward to the airport. If you would prefer to keep your luggage, you can do so. If you will be sending the luggage, you will need to keep enough items for three days/two nights. The luggage transfer forms will have been provided to you prior to this day, and you are responsible for paying for this transfer. Today is free to explore Kyoto on your own. Breakfast at the hotel included.
After finishing the scheduled tour of Takayama at the Takayama Jinya, the guide will take you on a tour of the San-machi-suji District. Lined with merchant homes, sake breweries and craftsmen’s workshops, it was the center of the old town and today it still retains its quaint atmosphere. After enjoying a ramen lunch, we will continue to the Hida-no-Sato Open Air Museum. With more than 30 traditional farmhouses and other buildings from the surrounding area, its main attractions are the “gassho-zukuri” style farmhouses. These massive farmhouses with their steep, thatched roofs which look like praying hands (gassho-zukuri translates to praying hand style) were built without a single nail.
Today is free to explore Kyoto on your own. Breakfast at the hotel included.
We will begin the day traveling by train to the nearby city of Nara. Nara was the original capital of Japan in the 8th century before it was moved to Kyoto. We will start our tour of Nara by walking through the heavily forested Nara Park. Here, we will find numerous temples and shrines hidden among the trees. Along the way, you can also feed the famous Nara deer. They have been here since the 7th century, and roam freely protected by Buddhist traditions. At the far end of Nara Park, we will find Todaiji. Originally built in 752, the main hall is the world’s largest wooden building, despite the fact that the current building, built in 1692, is only two-thirds the size of the original building. Inside the building is Japan’s largest bronze statue of Buddha (it is almost 50 feet tall). After a lunch break, we will continue our tour at Kofukuji temple. Kofukuji temple was the family temple of the Fujiwara family, one of the most powerful families in Japan during the Heian period. This temple was created in 710, the same year Nara was made the capital of Japan. At its height during the reign of the Fujiwara family, there were more than 150 buildings on the temple grounds.
You will be met by one of our licensed English-speaking guides. The guide will escort you to a nearby, small, intimate tea house in the Gion Geisha district where you will meet a Maiko (a Maiko is a Geisha
in training). The Maiko will serve you tea and sweets, answer any of your questions, perform a short dance and pose for pictures with you. After the session, we will take a walking tour of the Gion Geisha district. Here you will see where the Geisha and Maiko work and live. And there is a good chance we will see one of them on their way between parties. You can either return to your hotel or other destination, go shopping in the nearby department stores or specialty shops or you can explore the narrow alleys of the Gion on your own.
It’s time to say “sayonara” (Goodbye). The group will depart at 8:00 am unless we have determined you need to leave earlier (in which case you will not be provided sending service). You will be escorted to the Kyoto train station, where you will return on your own to Tokyo’s Narita airport, Tokyo’s Haneda airport or Osaka’s Kansai airport by train. (If you are flying out of Narita or Haneda Airport, be sure to schedule a flight after 15:00 to allow yourself enough time to catch your flight.)
Retrieve your main luggage in the departure lobby of the airport (map in appendix). Breakfast at the ryokan included.
Walking level descriptions:
Light – 0 to 2 miles on level ground
Medium – 2 to 4 miles on level ground or 0 to 2 miles on hilly ground
Heavy – 4 to 6 miles on level ground or 2 to 4 miles on hilly ground
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I took the Fully Escorted tour of Best of Japan (which was supposed to begin on the July 16th). I am still under the influence of the whole trip – Japan itself and the way the tour was conceived and executed. I keep telling people that the trip reflected the passion that you have for Japan. It shows and is expressed by the care you take to choose destinations, travel mode, food experiences and your choice of guides. I also appreciated that they were willing to share information about how ‘real’ life is in Japan. People who know me say to me: “You have travelled a lot, so when you say it was PERFECT, we know you mean it”. What else is there to say?
Congratulations to you! You are welcome to use my comments to promote this tour and your company. Gurit
I would rate this a 6++ if possible. The pace of the tour, the quality of the itinerary, and the efficiency of transporting us to a myriad of beautiful places turned 12 different types of people into a happy family, experiencing an unforgetable sampling of Japanese culture. Thank you Mike!
The only thing that I would change is to have some
western beds available if wanted.
Small points- when Tammy was going over the characters at the castle, it may have been less awkward if we each had a copy of the letters to follow.
When we entered a place or site to visit, I would have each of the guides give us a meet up place and time, just in case one got separated from the group.
Had a great time. I’ll send pictures if you like. Let me know.