More than any other country, the Japanese have managed to integrate ancient traditions and bleeding-edge technology harmoniously into their daily lives. With the perfect mix of new and old and our most popular itinerary, this well-rounded tour has something for everyone. In this excellent introduction to the Best of Japan, you won’t miss anything the first-time visitor to Japan should see.
In the Best of Japan tour, our most popular itinerary, 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 religious center of Koya-san, the ancient shrines and temples of 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 will attend prayer services at the temple early the next morning. Climb to the top of a samurai castle, participate in a tea ceremony, stroll through farmer’s markets, meet a “maiko” (geisha-in-training) face-to-face, see where the geisha live and work, stay overnight on beautiful and quiet Miyajima Island, admire sacred Mt. Fuji (weather permitting), the icon of Japan and enjoy three gourmet Kaiseki-style dinners and one shojin-ryori Buddhist vegetarian meal, and much, much more.
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. Next, the licensed, English-speaking guide will escort you to the Tokyo Skytree for a birds-eye view of Tokyo. 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. Afterwards, we will travel to the famous Ginza district. The 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. We will return to the accommodations, where we will go through the train tickets for the rest of the tour. Breakfast at the accommodations and 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.
$100.00 (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.
$75.00 (You must pre-register before arriving in Japan.)
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.
$125.00 (You must pre-register before arriving in Japan.)
Tour the Tokyo bay while relaxing with dinner and drinks! Sites include 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. We will provide an escort to the port, but you will travel from the port on your own with our guidance, no guide included.
$134.00 per person for Arena Section C, $150 per person for Arena Section B, $190 per person for Arena Section A (You must pre-register for the afternoon tour before arriving in Japan.)
Meet with the guide in the lobby of the ryokan at 15:00, and travel by subway and JR train (please be sure to bring your rail passes) to the Ryogoku district of Tokyo where you will attend a sumo tournament. An English audio guide which will explain what is happening (the audio broadcast is actually the English feed from NHK, the public broadcasting television channel in Japan). Of course, the guide will also be able to help explain what is happening. The tournament will finish sometime around 18:00, and the guide will escort you back to the ryokan by train and subway. Guide, English audio guide, tournament ticket, and transportation 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). 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. Breakfast at the hotel, lunch at a local Japanese restaurant and dinner at the ryokan are included.
PLEASE NOTE: High winds and/or heavy rain can, and will often cause cessation of services on the Sightseeing Boat cruise and/or ropeway. Should this occur, we will not be able to operate the itinerary as listed above, and will replace it with the best possible alternative given the weather conditions. Also, in the case of bad weather, even if the boats are still operating, we may alter the itinerary for your comfort and safety as Mt. Fuji will more than likely not be visible anyway.
Travel: 1 Hours; Walking: Light
After checking out, we will continue by Shinkansen (bullet train) and express train to the city of Takayama. Takayama, in the middle of the Japan Alps, with its traditional inns, shops, and sake breweries, has managed to retain its traditional charm. Breakfast at the ryokan and a Kaiseki-style dinner will be served at the ryokan in the evening.
Travel: 5 Hours; Walking: Light
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. The evening is free to enjoy one of the many nearby Hida Beef restaurants. (Hida Beef is the same thing as the more famous Kobe Beef.) Breakfast at the ryokan is included.
$75.00 (Or 10,000 Yen in Japan.)
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 that look like praying hands (gassho-zukuri translates to praying hand style) were built without a single nail.
Travel: TBD; Walking: Medium
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.
Travel: 7 Hours; Walking: Light
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.
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. 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 Dotombori Street. With its towering neon signs, a visit to the Ebisubashi Bridge is like stepping into the movie Bladerunner. The walking tour will begin with an Okonomiyaki dinner.
Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Heavy
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. 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. We will continue on to Hiroshima by Shinkansen, where you will eat your bento box lunch previously purchased, and then a local train to the harbor where we will board a ferry for Miyajima Island. Miyajima Island is said by the Japanese to be one of the top three scenic places of Japan. The evening is free to enjoy the solitude and ambiance of the island after all of the day-trippers head back to the mainland. Breakfast, bento box lunch and kaiseki dinner at the ryokan included.
Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Medium
The entire day is free to enjoy and relax in the beauty and ambiance of Miyajima Island: 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 and momiji manju (a popular Japanese confection), the island’s specialty. Breakfast and kaiseki dinner at the ryokan included.
Travel: TBD; Walking: TBD
After taking the ferry and local train back to Hiroshima, we tour 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. Breakfast at the ryokan is included.
Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Heavy
After breakfast, we will start the day at the Nijo Castle. 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. 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 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 participate 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. Later, we will return to the ryokan. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a local restaurant included.
Travel: 1 Hours; Walking: Heavy
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. After breakfast, we are off by train to the nearby city of Fushimi, one of the largest sake producing regions of Japan. Here we will 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. We will then travel to the Higashiyama District. This area of narrow, cobblestone alleys with its temples, shrines, numerous shops and restaurants is truly enjoyable and relaxing. We will stop for lunch in the Higashiyama District. We will then visit the Yasaka Shrine, also known as the Gion Shrine. This shrine, built over 1350 years ago, is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. The shrine’s main hall combines the honden (inner sanctuary) and haiden (offering hall) into a single building. Next, we will walk to the famous Gion Geisha District. Here, you will see where the Geiko (in Kyoto they call themselves Geiko, not Geisha) and Maiko live and work. You may even see one on their way to one of their appointments. Next, we will have an opportunity to meet with a Maiko. The Maiko will perform a short dance, answer questions. and pose for photos with you. Breakfast at the ryokan and lunch at a Japanese restaurant are included.
Travel: 1 Hours; Walking: Heavy
The morning and afternoon are free. In the afternoon, we will meet back at the ryokan and travel to the Gion Geisha district. Here, in a teahouse, we will attend a Meet a Maiko session. (A Maiko is a Geisha in training.) She will perform a short dance, answer any of your questions and pose for pictures with you. After this we will have a walking tour of the Gion Geisha district. Here you will see where the Geisha and Maiko live and work. We may even see one on their way to their appointments. After this we will enjoy our Sayonara Dinner. Breakfast at the ryokan and dinner at a local Japanese restaurant 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 fee the famous Nara deer. They have been 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). We will finish our tour of Nara 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.
Travel: 1/2 Hours; Walking: Medium
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)
Travel: 3 Hours; Walking: Light
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
|Dates||Price (land only) / Single Supplement|
(All prices are per Person)
|Mar 17, 2024 - Mar 31, 2024 |
Early Cherry Blossom #2
|Mar 24, 2024 - Apr 7, 2024 |
Late Cherry Blossom #1
|Mar 31, 2024 - Apr 14, 2024 |
Late Cherry Blossom #2
|$6,489.00/ $750.87||Only 1 seat left||Lodging|
|May 5, 2024 - May 19, 2024 |
|$5,999.75/ $750.87||Filling Fast! Only 4 seats left||Lodging|
|May 12, 2024 - May 26, 2024 |
|Jun 9, 2024 - Jun 23, 2024 |
|Jun 23, 2024 - Jul 7, 2024 |
|Jul 7, 2024 - Jul 21, 2024 ||$5,459.00/ $750.87||Available||Lodging|
|Aug 11, 2024 - Aug 25, 2024 |
|Sep 8, 2024 - Sep 22, 2024 |
|Oct 6, 2024 - Oct 20, 2024 |
|Oct 27, 2024 - Nov 10, 2024 |
Fall Foliage #1
|Nov 3, 2024 - Nov 17, 2024 |
Fall Foliage #2
Our tours and tour itineraries are the best, but as the saying goes, “you can’t make everyone happy all of the time”. There may a specific destination or a specific experience you may want to include in your visit to Japan that may not be included your tour. Choose from our Add On tours to include your interests and make your Japan tour even better.
Click HERE to view all of the Add-On Tours.
Or, use the arrows to scroll though the recommended list of Add-On Tours for this tour.
For those requiring meeting or sending services on other than the scheduled arrival/departure dates, there will be a $100 fee for the meeting service from the airport into Tokyo or the sending service to the Kyoto train station.)
Each tour member receives an electronic copy of our tour handbook. This handbook is full of tips and suggestions taken from our Japan travel experiences that allow you to better plan and prepare for your trip, and therefore enjoy your trip even more. The tips and suggestions included cover everything from how to save while exchanging money, what to pack, some basic Japanese-language tips, general etiquette do’s-and-don’ts, ryokan customs, etc.
Great tour, had a wonderful time.
Only because I am getting older and out of shape, I\’m not sure I could do this tour again in a year or two. But overall experience in Japan was lovely.
When you choose a tour vs self directed travel, you concede some flexibility and control for a pre-planned agenda and a lot of the work taken out of it. I felt that Samurai offered the best itinerary for us in the time we had. It gave us a good taste of Japan.
Overall this tour made our first trip to Japan a life changing event. As someone who was a bit concern about being on a tour and not being able to fully experience Japan, this tour eased those concerns very quickly. I felt like I could really enjoy Japan without having to worry about the logistics of how do we get to the places we want to visit, booking our hotels and getting on the right transportation. Samurai Tours went above and beyond what we expected and we are already looking to plan another trip to Japan soon. Hopefully through Samurai Tours again.
Loved it. My son and I have already discussed some of the other tours you offer.