Along with two major cities–modern Tokyo and traditional Kyoto–this itinerary also takes you to the beautiful mountainside areas of Nikko and Hakone. The former is a place of much spiritual significance, and the latter is one of the best areas in the country to experience the Japanese hot springs. A mixture of old-meets-new Japan, this trip has all you need to experience multiple sides of the country.

Highlights

  • Visit the Tokyo Skytree for the best panoramic views available in the city 
  • Take a food and sake tour of Tokyo to explore current food and drink trends
  • Go on a day trip to Nikko to discover Toshogu Shrine and Rinnoji temple
  • Soak in the hot springs of Hakone with beautiful mountain views all around
  • Schedule a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto among the geishas

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Tokyo Tokyo
Day 2 Tokyo - Technology Tour Tokyo
Day 3 Nikko - Day Trip Tokyo
Day 4 Tokyo - Free Day Tokyo
Day 5 Tokyo - Food and Sake Tour Tokyo
Day 6 Hakone - Onsen Hot Springs Hakone
Day 7 Kyoto - Temple and Culture Tour Kyoto
Day 8 Arashiyama - Day Trip Kyoto
Day 9 Kyoto/Kansai - Free Day Kyoto
Day 10 Depart From Japan  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo

Welcome to Japan!
Welcome to Japan!

Welcome to Tokyo! When you arrive at the airport, you can request to have a driver pick-up take you to your hotel. Then, you will meet your travel representative, who will get you acquainted with your trip, and organize your train passes and any tickets needed for the duration of your stay.

Depending on your time of arrival, your trip representative will arrange for you to explore Tokyo, the largest city in the world!

First, you can visit the Tokyo Skytree to get the big picture of Tokyo from more than 2,000 feet high. Take advantage of the 360° observation deck. On a clear day, you may even get a glimpse of the famed Mt. Fuji at a distance. 

Next, take a stroll through the grounds of the city’s oldest and most historically significant temple, Sensoji. Said to have incepted when two brothers fished a statue of the goddess Kannon out of the Sumida River, this is a great way to learn about the Buddhist culture in Japan. The neighboring Asakusa shrine also highlights the differences between Shinto and Buddhist belief systems.

For dinner, head to Shibuya, where you will have your pick of restaurants and can try some of the city’s best cuisine. End the night at the Golden Gai, where you can bar-hop between the hundreds of Izakaya pubs and taste different kinds of Japanese spirits, including shochu, sake, and umeshu.

Day 2: Tokyo - Technology tour

A room full of lanterns
A room full of lanterns

Today, you will visit the manmade island of Odaiba, which has so many amazing and futuristic things to see and do. Even traveling to the island, itself, is fun, since you can take a stunning cruise through Tokyo Bay to get there.

To start, TeamLab has a new permanent interactive art exhibition on the island that provides an absolutely mind-blowing visit. It gives new meaning to the term 'modern art.' Be prepared to color, follow art along the walls, gasp in awe, and take loads of photos here.

All of Japan’s major corporations have their concept technology housed around the island, and the Toyota City Showcase is the perfect place to visit–if you're a car enthusiast. Check out all of the latest innovations in the technology zone. Then, reminisce about the old days as you wander the vintage car collection rooms at the history garage. You can also test-drive your favorite car on their private track (an international driving license needed, however).  Even the little ones can get behind the wheel of go-karts and mini-hybrids, which they’ll learn to assemble before driving.

In the evening, get ready to experience one of Tokyo's wackiest shows at the Robot Restaurant. Less of a culinary experience and more of a theatrical one, this 90-minute show is jam-packed with neon lights, vibrant music, and gives you a glimpse into the crazy technological culture in Japan.

Day 3: Nikko - Day trip

The carvings of Toshogu shrine
The carvings of Toshogu Shrine in Nikko

Today, you will head just north of Tokyo to Nikko, home of the UNESCO World Heritage-awarded Toshogu Shrine, which is also the mausoleum of Japan’s last shogun ruler. The shrine is by far one of the most beautiful in Japan and breaks the mold of the typical and characteristically simple Shinto structures. Some say it is one of the top three sites of the entire country! It's impossible not to be amazed at the sheer detail of the hundreds of intricate and carefully painted figures which almost seem to grow out of the shrine building, itself. 

You’ll also visit Rinnoji, Nikko's most important temple. On the grounds, you will find a treasure house with fascinating exhibits from both shogun and Buddhist history, a small, yet charming Japanese garden, and a shrine which is said to house Nikko's three mountain gods.

No visit to Nikko is complete without a trip to the recreated Edo era ‘town’ of Edo Wonderland. This cultural theme park is a must for some lighthearted fun! Bring out the child in you–dress up in traditional Edo attire and choose from a variety of activities, like Hariko doll painting, makeup artistry, samurai sword fighting, and archery, just to name a few. Make it a point to see the fantastic ninja and magic shows, mazes, and ninja trick house, as well.

After the day trip, you will return to Tokyo, where you can stroll the city at your leisure, grab some dinner, and relax for the evening.

Day 4: Tokyo - Free day

Tokyo Tower amidst a sea of buildings
Tokyo Tower amidst a sea of buildings

Today, the city is yours to discover. Tokyo is packed with both fast-paced and leisurely activities, depending on whether you want to experience as much as you can, or simply relax for the day. We highly recommend visiting:

  • Disney Sea: Although there are Disney Lands in several parts of the world, Tokyo is the only city with a Disney Sea theme park! Spend the day exploring hidden volcanic islands, riding gondolas in Mediterranean harbors, and riding whirlpools in mermaid lagoons as you enjoy getting lost in the world of Disney. 
  • Picnic in Yoyogi Park: All you need is a few lunchboxes or 'bentos' from a nearby store, a ball/frisbee, and some refreshing drinks to enjoy the wide lawns, ponds, and forests in Tokyo's largest park. Especially beautiful in autumn, when hundreds of trees spout golden leaves, it is equally enjoyable during the seasons of the year.  
  • Shimokitazawa: Another super-trendy suburb of Tokyo, this district is popular with the youth and is filled to the brim with vintage clothing stores, live music venues, and dozens of Izakaya pubs offering the most delicious food and drink.
  • Hike Mt. Takao: This is one of the closest mountains to the city, and offers numerous hiking trails for any outdoor enthusiasts. If the day is clear, you may also spot the snowcapped peak of Mt. Fuji in the distance.
    Attend a festival: Festivals or 'matsuri' are an amazing opportunity to see a side of Japanese people most visitors never get to.
  • Depending on the time of year, you can expect anything from parades and food stalls to dancing, music and traditional arts. Your trip specialist will let you know if there are any festivals coinciding with your dates of travel.  
  • Animal cafés: Tokyo is full of places to hang out with your favorite furry friends including cats, hedgehogs, owls, and rabbits, just to name but a few.

If these are not your style, your trip specialist will come up with some plans that suit you. You can also elect to join a food tour that will introduce you to some of its best offerings.

Day 5: Tokyo - Food and sake tour

Tokyo Food Tour
Go on a food and drink tour in Tokyo

Today, you will explore the food scene in Tokyo. Japan has been dominating the culinary scene for the past few years, and Tokyo is definitely one of the cities at the epicenter of this trend. Packed with hundreds upon hundreds of fantastic restaurants, from high-end, Michelin-starred establishments to back-alley holes in the wall dishing up the most marvelous food, this city has everything. Get a taste of what Tokyo has to offer with a tour of some of the city's most famous foodie areas–tastings included!

Later, a visit to one of Tokyo’s sake tasting centers is a fun way to learn what sake goes best with which foods as you travel. Drink as much or as little as you want at this center, which offers more than 80 different kinds of Japanese sake and shochu. For your enjoyment.

In the evening, enjoy your final night in Tokyo. You’re off to the mountains in the morning.

Day 6: Hakone - Onsen hot springs

Hakone
Soak in the hot springs of Hakone

Today, you’ll depart from Tokyo and head into the mountains. No trip to Japan would be complete without seeing one of the country’s most iconic natural landmarks–the majestic Mt.Fuji, and one of the best places to see it is in the region of Hakone.

A scenic cruise across the lake, followed by a ropeway right to the top of Mt. Owakudaniwill reveal stunning views of the surrounding forest, and of course, Mt. Fuji. This mountain city is also famous for its onsen hot springs. Arrangements can be made for a private experience, or to soak in a Japanese bathhouse. 

Hakone has so many other things to do, and its backdrop encourages you to experience the outdoors. The mystical Hakone Shrine and Old Tokaido Road, which dates back to the Edo era, are among the popular stops to make while in town.  

As an optional add-on, the town boasts an onsen theme park you can visit. The park offers guests the opportunity to experience more than 20 different types of hot springs, including baths which allow you to bathe in liquids like wine, coffee, green tea, and sake! For those seeking a more conventional experience, simply relax in the open-air hot springs and saunas, or enjoy a more stimulating adventure with a visit to the waterslides, cave baths, and splash pools.

Day 7: Kyoto - Temple and culture tour

A 'maiko' walking the streets of Kyoto
A 'maiko' walking the streets of Kyoto

Today, you will travel to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. Overflowing with history and a lot more traditional than its Tokyo counterpart, things here move at a much slower pace, and the people tend to be a lot more laid-back. While here, a visit to what is arguably the most famous shrine in Japan–Fushimi Inari–is an absolute must. Featured in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, this shrine has more than 10,000 picturesque red torii gates donated by people and various businesses from all over Japan as a sign of appreciation to the god Inari for blessings received. 

Your visit to Inari perfectly sets the tone for your next stop: a traditional Japanese arts show. As well as offering a chance to see a performance by a maiko (geisha in training), this hourlong theatrical experience also introduces you to various skilled artists, including ikebana (flower arrangers), puppeteers, koto (Japanese harp players), and court musicians.

In the evening, talk a walk through the bustling streets of Pontocho. Right next to the Kamogawa River, this area is packed with restaurants and bars offering mouthwatering fare and beverages. If you prefer, you can also request a private dinner/tea ceremony with a geisha, for a more catered, authentic experience.

Day 8: Arashiyama - Day trip

Arashiyama bamboo grove
Arashiyama bamboo grove

Good Morning! Today, you will travel to the tranquil area of Arashiyama. You will start your day with a ride on a stunning, open-air train that provides amazing views of both the river and the surrounding forest. (Note: This train does not operate in the winter months.) You’ll then travel down the Hozugawa River on a traditional, three-manned Japanese boat. This activity is often the highlight of many trips and depending on the season, you’ll be floating past banks lined with white and pink cherry blossoms in March, the deep green leaves of a warm summer in July, or the brilliant and fiery colors of autumn trees in November.

Upon arrival to this beautiful district, you will embark on a tour of some of its more well-known sites. Tenryuji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and houses one of the most picturesque and ancient landscape gardens in the entire country. Behind it, you will find its world-famous bamboo grove, which transports visitors into another realm–or at least appears to. Also in the area, you will find Nonomiya shrine, and the Iwatayama monkey park, where macaques roam freely. 

If you're up for a walk, there is a special temple which houses hundreds of statues–all carved by different individuals. If you look closely, you'll find some of these Buddhist statues sporting glasses and carrying cellphones, a reflection of how modern life has also affected spiritual practices!

As an optional add-on, there also just so happens to be a place in Arashiyama where you can not only witness a swordsmith forging Japanese steel, but actually forge your own kogatana, which is essentially like a mini samurai sword! This activity can easily replace the open-air train for those who definitely want this hands-on experience.

Day 9: Kyoto/Kansai - Free day

Imperial Palace
The gardens surrounding Imperial Palace

Today, explore Kyoto on your own time. Not only is Kyoto packed with tons of amazing activities and places, but it is in a prime position for easy day trips to multiple, nearby areas. Some suggestions for your free day include:

  • Breakfast and shopping in Nishiki Market: This expansive area of shops and food stalls is a great place to stock up on souvenirs and drown yourself in a seemingly never-ending selection of delicious foods and aromas. 
  • A day trip to Kobe: This picturesque port city has various attractions, including the world's longest suspension bridge, an earthquake museum, several sake breweries, and dozens of restaurants where you can enjoy its famous A5-quality wagyu beef. 
  • Walking the gardens of the Imperial Palace: Before Tokyo took its place, Kyoto used to be where the imperial family resided. Although you cannot enter the buildings, the outside grounds give you a good idea of how large the palace is. There are also tours which take place on most days. 
  • A day trip to Himeji: This city is famous for its castle, which is said to be the most beautiful in Japan.  
  • A visit to the Wazuka tea plantation: This small town produces almost half of the country's matcha tea and offers visitors the opportunity to pick leaves and experience a tea ceremony, among other activities.
  • Hopping on the train to Osaka: One of the country's most vibrant cities and famous for its food, choose from a variety of things to do, including a street food tour, visiting Osaka Castle and the Umeda Sky building, partaking in karaoke, and much more!
  • Exploring Koyasan: This spiritual center is the beginning and end of the Shikoku pilgrimage route, and is, therefore, an extremely significant place in the Buddhist culture of Japan. Choose from a variety of stunning hiking trails, or simply enjoy the beauty of the multiple temples in the area. 

In the evening, plan something special in Kyoto for your grand finale. You will depart tomorrow to head home.

Day 10: Depart from Japan

Saying goodbye
Farewell, Japan!

Today, you will bid farewell to Japan, and reflect on all the fantastic memories you've made during your trip. Until next time!

Map

Map of Explore Japan: Tokyo, Nikko, Hakone, & Kyoto - 10 Days
Map of Explore Japan: Tokyo, Nikko, Hakone, & Kyoto - 10 Days