Equally known for its vibrant city life and mountainous beauty, Japan offers a well-rounded visit, filled with liveliness, adventure, and variety. On your 12-day journey, you will explore the high-energy tech and fashion trends of Tokyo, enjoy the breathtaking views and temples of Kyoto, and relax at a hot springs retreat in Hakone. Immerse yourself in Japanese culture, complete with the exceptional, authentic dining of Osaka.

Highlights

  • Explore innovative trends in Tokyo and visit Senso-ji Temple
  • Relax and soak in your own hot springs resort in scenic Hakone
  • Visit the historic temples and lush gardens in Kyoto where geisha roam
  • Take a ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima to explore "Shrine Island"
  • Eat authentic Japanese delights, like okonomiyaki, in Osaka

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Meet Your Airport Chaperone in Tokyo Tokyo
Day 2 Guided Tour of Tokyo Tokyo
Day 3 Explore Tokyo on Your Own  Tokyo
Day 4 Hot Springs Retreat in Hakone Hakone
Day 5 Museum and Site Tours of Hiroshima Hiroshima
Day 6 Ferry to Sacred Miyajima Miyajima
Day 7 Tour Kyoto Culture and Gardens Kyoto
Day 8 Guided Tour of Kyoto Temples and Shrines Kyoto
Day 9 Day Trip to Nara Kyoto
Day 10 Eat in Japans's Kitchen - Osaka Osaka
Day 11 Guided Tour of Osaka Osaka
Day 12 Fly Home From Kansai Airport  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Meet your airport chaperone in Tokyo

Haneda Airport
Haneda Airport in Tokyo

Welcome! Your airport chaperone will meet you at either Narita Airport or Haneda Airport and will take you to your hotel in Tokyo by public transportation. Your escort will provide you with your rail passes (and seat reservations), as well as a personal Wi-Fi device, so you can access the internet throughout your trip. If you have any questions about the trip ahead, feel free to ask them at this time. 

The train ride from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station will take about 65 minutes, while the ride from Haneda Airport will take 30 minutes. Once you arrive in Tokyo, make sure to get some rest, so you can wake up refreshed for your guided tour of the city tomorrow!

Day 2: Guided tour of Tokyo

Sensō-ji Temple
Sensō-ji Temple in Tokyo

In the morning, your private, local guide will meet you in the lobby of your hotel to show you around Tokyo. In addition to the guide's suggestions, you can make personal requests to ensure you see everything on your own to-do list. You can visit: 

  • Shinjuku: Experience an animal café and visit the Samurai Museum.
  • Harajuku: Enjoy people-watching and shopping among flocks of iconic, high-fashion Japanese teenagers. 
  • Asakura: Explore your first of many Japanese temples, the landmark Sensō-ji.

Your guide will also offer suggestions for dinner and activities for the following day since you will be on your own to discover more of the exciting city of Tokyo. 

Day 3: Explore Tokyo on your own

Tokyo Nightlife
Tokyo sites and lights at night

Now that you have become acquainted with Tokyo with the help of your guide, you can feel comfortable discovering more of the city on your own today. 

In the morning, start your day at the Tokyo Skytree, which is the tallest structure in Japan, measuring more than 2,000 feet high!  Here, you can enjoy amazing panoramic views of Tokyo from the observation deck, along with plenty of options for dining and shopping located inside of the tower, itself. 

Once you've had your fill of the tower, you can walk over to the nearby Ryogoku area, where you can watch a morning sumo practice. Witnessing the strength and smarts of these famous wrestlers is a unique experience, especially if you are an avid sports spectator. 

For lunch, head to Tsukiji Outer Market. Formerly known as Tsukiji Fish Market, the wholesale sect was relocated, and now goes by Toyoso Market. Although you can no longer watch the live fish auctions unfold, fresh seafood is delivered from Toyoso to the area daily, and you can enjoy sushi, among other authentic dishes, at many of the restaurants lining in the area. 

As nighttime approaches, you can head back over to Shinjuku, where the nightlife is vibrant until the wee hours. Your options are vast, depending on your mood. You can make a reservation at the Robot Restaurant, where high-tech entertainment unfolds. For a more casual feel, grab a hearty bowl of ramen, and hit the Golden Gai, a strip of six alleys housing nearly 200 tiny, Izakaya-style pubs. If you're a gamer, in nearby Kabukicho, you can experience a pachinko parlor (a mix between pinball and slot machines). 

After a long day of exploration, make sure to get some downtime in, since you depart Tokyo in the morning. 

Day 4: Hot springs retreat in Hakone

Hakone Hot Springs
Relax in the hot springs of Hakone

After breakfast, you will travel on a 1-hour train from Tokyo Station to Hakone, which hosts the finest hot spring resorts in Japan. Popular as a hot spring destination for hundreds of years, its natural beauty and abundance of hot spring baths make it an ideal spot to relax after spending time in the capital, just as feudal lords did hundreds of years ago.

While in Hakone, you will have the chance to walk parts of the old Tokaido Trail–which once connected Edo (Tokyo) with the Kyoto of times past. You can also take a scenic ride on the Tozan Railway through the mountains to get to Gora. There, you will transfer to the cablecar to access Lake Ashinoko. This breathtaking waterside setting shares views with the famed Mt. Fuji, and you can even take a sightseeing boat to cruise along the lake for a closer look. 

You will stay the night in the Ryokan Inn, where you can unwind with another hot spring soak. 

Day 5: Museum and site tours of Hiroshima

Hiroshima at Sunset
Hiroshima at sunset

Today, you will take the bullet train for 4 hours and 20 minutes from Hakone to Hiroshima. Known as the first city to ever experience an atomic bomb, Hiroshima was physically destroyed during World War II. The people of Hiroshima, however, rebuilt the city, filling it with charm and history.

There is plenty to do around town. Take in some local sightseeing: 

  • Explore Peace Memorial Park, which is home to the Peace Memorial Museum, the A-Bomb Dome and the Cenotaph, a tomb for the victims
  • Enjoy the beautiful Shukkeien Garden, known for mini landscape depictions and lush greenery
  • Go to Hondori Street to visit the pedestrian-only Hondori Shopping Arcade, where you can buy apparel, jewelry, games, and souvenirs

For lunch, make sure to try the food specialty: okonomiyaki, an inexpensive savory pancake dish that can be filled with whatever you like! 

Day 6: Ferry to sacred Miyajima

Miyajima
Miyajima hosts the floating Itsukushima Shrine

Today, you will take a 30-minute train from Hiroshima Station to Miyajimaguchi Port. Then, you will board the ferry to Miyajima, which literally means "Shrine Island," located in the Seto Inland Sea. Considered to be a sacred place, Miyajima is a prime example of how the Japanese seamlessly blend architecture with natural beauty.

Deer and monkeys wander freely around Miyajima, especially on Mt. Misen, the tallest mountain on the island. Hike one of three trails or take the ropeway to the top to capture the most magnificent views of the island. 

In Miyajima, you will stay at another Ryokan Inn. Indulge in a seafood-based kaiseki meal, featuring oysters from the local sea, along with other fresh delicacies. 

Day 7: Tour Kyoto culture and gardens

Kyoto
Colorful gardens in Kyoto

Welcome to Kyoto! The former imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is where the traditional Japanese ‘high arts’ flourished. On your first day in Kyoto, you can explore the arts culture on your own. Consider indulging in a tea ceremony, learning calligraphy, taking a flower arranging class, and even studying ninja arts!

If you enjoy shopping, Kyoto is famous for its textiles. You can visit Kyoto Station and Downtown Kyoto, where you will find items like kimonos, ceramics, teas, and antiques. 

Nearby Kyoto Station, you can dine at Musashi. Known for its conveyor belt-style sushi delivery system, you may encounter a wait, however, since this is a popular stop. 

Round out the day with a stroll through scenic gardens. Ryoan-ji Temple is known for its dry landscapes that lend to the gorgeous Zen garden structure, while Okochi-Sanso Villa in Arashinyama is known for its stunning bamboo groves. 

Day 8: Guided tour of Kyoto temples and shrines

Fushimi Inari Temple
Fushimi Inari Temple in Kyoto

In the morning, your private, local guide will meet you in the lobby of your hotel. Your guide will take you to Japan's most beautiful and historic temples and shrines, and you will walk down ancient streets where Japanese nobles once strolled.

You will begin at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, known for its thousands of vermillion torri gates, which lead to a forest of the sacred Mount Inari, belonging to the shrine gods. The shrine honors Inari, the Shinto god of rice. 

Then, you will visit the Higashiyama District to see Kiyomizudera. Founded in 780, it is one of the most celebrated Japanese temples and sits on the Otowa Waterfall along the wooded hills. You can also walk over to the Jishu Shrine, which honors love and matchmaking. 

Next, you will visit Gion which is known for its geisha-filled streets. The animated area is home to the Yasaka Shrine, which is more than 1,350 years old and is illuminated by hundreds of lanterns at nightfall. Close by, you will find Zen at Kenninji, which serves as one of the head Rinzai Sect temples of Japanese Buddhism, where the paintings of dragons and thunder gods are striking. 

Finally, you will make the trip north to Kinkakuji, the gold-clad waterside temple that represents the affluence of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu's reign. 

Day 9: Day trip to Nara

Nara Park
Sagi-ike Pond in Nara Park

This morning, you will take a 45-minute train from Kyoto Station to Nara Station. Nara is located in the central west of Honshu, the Japanese main island.

Formerly known as Heijo-kyo, this city occupies an important position in the history of Japan as the first capital, from 710 until 784. During this period, a large number of shrines and temples were erected under the protection of the imperial family and aristocrats. However, when the monks in the surrounding hills started gaining too much influence, and eventually tried to seize power, it was decided to move the capital to Heian-kyo, which is now known as Kyoto.

Many of the temples built at the height of Heijo-kyo are currently registered as World Heritage Sites. Both Japanese and foreign tourists visit the city to see these temples. A visit to Todaiji will allow you to view one of the country's largest bronze Buddha statues, while a trip to Horyuji includes a viewing of the world's oldest wooden structures still in existence. 

End your day among nature and the free-roaming deer in Nara Park, where scenic mountains surround the city. You will then return to Kyoto on the train. 

Day 10: Eat in Japans's Kitchen - Osaka

Okonomiyaki
Traditional okonomiyaki in Osaka

Take the 40-minute train from Kyoto to Osaka, where the end of your journey will begin to unfold. Famous for its inhabitants and local cuisine, the people of Osaka are widely known for their outgoing spirit and friendliness and the local dialect has been adopted as the standard for stand-up comedians and actors.

Osaka’s regional cuisine is said to be the best in Japan. If you missed your chance to try okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, now is the time! You can also taste native favorites like takoyaki (octopus dumplings), udon noodles, and Japenese BBQ–don't forget about the Kobe beef! 

Following a great meal, make sure to get some rest. Tomorrow, your guide will join you for a tour of the town.

Day 11: Guided tour of Osaka

Osaka
Take a stroll through Osaka at night

In the morning, meet your private, local guide in the hotel lobby, and prepare to see more of Osaka! A city filled with hidden gems, your guide will lead you to nooks that most tourists do not know exist. 

To start, you will visit Doguyasuji Arcade, which is a cooking mecca! If you are looking to spruce up your kitchen tools, this is the place to shop. Just make sure you check how much space is left in your luggage, first. 

Next, you will visit Kuromon Ichibi in the Chuo Ward. This is the place to feast on plenty of Osaka street food. With a variety of food stalls and 25 restaurants, you can expect to sample plenty of noodles, curries, grilled meats, and of course, seafood. 

Finally, you can head over to Amerika-mura, which hosts more than 2,000 stores, restaurants, bars, clubs, and cafés. Make a pitstop in Sankaku Koen Park, the triangular plaza, which is a popular place to people-watch for the unique fashions and latest trends of the young Osaka creatives. 

Day 12: Fly home from Kansai Airport

Rinku Park - Osaka
The view of Rinku Park outside of Kansai Airport

Today, you will take a train to Kansai Airport, where you will travel home with memories of Japan that will last a lifetime. 

Map

Map of Explore the Golden Route of Japan - 12 Days
Map of Explore the Golden Route of Japan - 12 Days