Enjoy the quiet scenery and traditional Japanese culture in Kyoto on this refreshing adventure. In just five days, you'll visit sacred shrines, wander through ancient forests, take a boat cruise down a river lined with cherry blossoms, practice meditation with a Buddhist monk, and learn about the traditional arts of calligraphy and flower arranging. You'll also detour to the historic city of Nara, famed for its giant Buddha statue and resident population of deer, before returning to Kyoto for one last evening of sampling sushi and sake.

Highlights

  • Attend a traditional Japanese arts show
  • Visit Japan's most famous shrine, featured in the film Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Float past cherry blossoms on a boat cruise down the Hozugawa River 
  • Forest-bathe during a walk through the Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest
  • Try your hand at the ancient art of calligraphy

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Discover Geisha Culture in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 2 Explore Bamboo Groves & Temples in Arashiyama Kyoto
Day 3 Learn About Meditation & Calligraphy Kyoto
Day 4 Walk Through Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest  Kyoto
Day 5 Depart Japan - End of Trip  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Discover Geisha Culture in Kyoto

A Maiko Walking the Streets of Kyoto.
A maiko in the streets of Kyoto

Welcome to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan! Overflowing with history and a lot more traditional than its Tokyo counterpart, things here move at a slower pace and the people tend to be 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. They were all donated by Japanese individuals and businesses 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 home to a wide range of restaurants and bars. If you prefer, you can also request a private dinner or tea ceremony with a geisha. 

Day 2: Explore Bamboo Groves & Temples in Arashiyama

Arashiyama's Dense Bamboo Groves.
Arashiyama's Dense Bamboo Groves.

Travel today to the tranquil area of Arashiyama. You will start your day with a ride on an open-air train that offers amazing views of the river and the surrounding forest. (Note: This train does not operate in the winter months.) You’ll then venture down the Hozugawa River on a traditional Japanese boat. This activity is often the highlight of the trip, and depending on the season, you’ll be floating past 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).

Then you will embark on a tour of some of the area's 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 the Nonomiya shrine and the Iwatayama Monkey Park where macaques roam freely. If you're up for a walk, there's a lovely temple that houses hundreds of statues. 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.

Day 3: Learn About Meditation & Calligraphy

Practicing Shodo calligraphy in Kyoto.
Practicing Shodo calligraphy in Kyoto.

Get ready to clear your mind! Today you'll have the opportunity to learn about Zen meditation with practicing Buddhist monks. Buddhism is one of the two major religions in Japan, and your class today will allow you to experience one of its key practices firsthand. You'll also learn the ancient art of shodo (calligraphy) as you put your artistry skills to the test. Your teacher will show you how to write certain characters, then you'll learn how to write your name in Japanese. It makes for a wonderful souvenir to take home. If you're feeling adventurous, channel your inner martial arts master in a kendo lesson, learning the basics of this ancient martial art. You'll compete against the other members of your class in a fun-filled tournament at the end of the session. Relax in the evening, sampling Japanese cuisine in a local restaurant.

Day 4: Walk Through Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest 

Deer Among Ancient Stone Lanterns at Nara
Deer among the ancient stone lanterns in Nara

Today you'll side-trip to the city of Nara, famous for its traditional sites and resident herds of peaceful deer. With scenic gardens, parks, temples, and shrines, it's a quiet place that you'll enjoy exploring at your own pace. Nara also has some stunning walking trails, one of which will take you through the Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest. The Todaiji Temple, home to the giant Daibutsu Buddha statue, is a must-see before you head back to Kyoto for the evening. Enjoy one last meal of sushi and sashimi before the trip ends on day five.

Day 5: Depart Japan - End of Trip

Walking around a shrine in Nara, Japan

Today you'll bid farewell to Japan. After breakfast, you'll transfer to Osaka International Airport to catch a flight out. Safe travels!

More Japan Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Japan? Check out these other Japan itineraries, with walking tours, cultural journeys, and best-of trips to hit the highlights. 

Or, describe your ideal trip and we will connect you with a local specialist to make it happen.