Highlights of Japan - 11 Days
- Experience a guided tour of Tokyo, including Shibuya and Harajuku
- See the splendor of Mount Fuji aboard a boat on Lake Ashi
- Ride the high-speed bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto and Kyoto to Nara
- Take part in a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto's geisha district
- Embark on a neon-lit river cruise and then a night food tour in Osaka
|Day 1||Arrive in Tokyo, Karaoke Clubs||Tokyo|
|Day 2||Tokyo Customized Private Tour||Tokyo|
|Day 3||Day Trip to Nikko National Park||Tokyo|
|Day 4||Hakone Bus Tour from Tokyo, See Mount Fuji||Tokyo|
|Day 5||Transfer to Kyoto, Visit Nishiki Market||Kyoto|
|Day 6||Hike at Fushimi Inari Taisha & Explore Kyoto||Kyoto|
|Day 7||Kyoto's Geisha District, Traditional Tea Ceremony||Kyoto|
|Day 8||Day Trip to Nara & Uji||Kyoto|
|Day 9||Transfer to Osaka, Tombori River Cruise, Night Food Tour||Osaka|
|Day 10||Explore Osaka, Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine||Osaka|
|Day 11||Depart Osaka|
Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo, Karaoke Clubs
Welcome to Japan! After touching down in Tokyo, you'll spend the day exploring the world's biggest city and Asia's most futuristic metropolis. Start at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, where you can observe the cityscape with a 360-degree view from the 51st floor. Shinjuku isn't just skyscrapers, though—part of it is an old-world ramshackle of narrow alleyways, one of the only areas of Tokyo that has resisted post-war development. Its tumble of drinking dens, known as the Golden Gai bars, are the perfect spot for your first drinks in Japan. Cheers!
If you're looking for karaoke fun as nightfall descends, head to a bar in the entertainment district of Kabukicho. The Japanese karaoke concept is unique: you'll rent a small private room, where you'll find a screen with microphones and a menu of songs.
Day 2: Tokyo Customized Private Tour
Head off on a full-day tour of Tokyo with a knowledgeable local guide. Tokyo is a dazzling, vibrant metropolis with so much to offer—so take advantage of this customizable one-day tour by choosing the places you'd most like to see and let your guide lead the way!
After breakfast, why not start at Tsukiji Market in Toyosu, one of the country's best places to buy seafood and get a taste of local life? Move on to the Meiji shrine, dedicated to the first emperor of modern Japan. For a head-turning look at Japanese youth fashion, Harajuku is the place. Afterward, explore the iconic Shibuya district, the site of the world's busiest pedestrian crossing. Shibuya Scramble Square, a 755-foot (230 m) tower, is a great place to people-watch on the crossing below. To finish your day, take in the panoramic cityscape from the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills.
Small groups can also book a Shodo Experience lasting 90 minutes. You'll learn the ancient art of shodo, or calligraphy, as you put your artistry skills to the test. Your teacher will show you how to write certain characters and your name in Japanese. Once you have written your character or word on the fan or colored paper, you can bring it home as a souvenir. Beyond calligraphy, this is a chance to glimpse the Japanese lifestyle, as the lesson is held at the instructor's house.
Day 3: Day Trip to Nikko National Park
Nikko is a beautiful town located just two hours by train from Tokyo. The many hiking trails will allow you to breathe fresh air far from the city. On this day trip, visit Nikko National Park, where you can hike the Senjogahara Plateau Nature Trail, which offers excellent views of the marshlands and surrounding mountains. You'll discover the lovely Lake Chuzenji at the foot of Mount Nantai in the hills just above Nikko. You'll have the option of taking a sightseeing boat, hiking along the charming but hilly paths in the forest, or following the lake's shores to discover Chuzen-ji temple.
You'll also find Nikko Toshogu, a lavishly decorated shrine of more than a dozen buildings in the lush forest. Don't miss Kegon Falls. With the water plunging 318 feet (97 m), it's thrilling to see its might up close. You can view it up close from an upper observation platform.
In the evening, you can go on a foodie tour back in Shinjuku. The first stop is a restaurant known for its Wagyu beef, cooked on a shichirin (charcoal barbecue grill). You'll then become the chef, as the next restaurant will teach you how to grill the beef yourself. There will be another stop for dessert, perhaps to wind down with ice cream in a quiet café.
Day 4: Hakone Bus Tour from Tokyo, See Mount Fuji
Experience the splendor of Mount Fuji and Hakone on this full-day guided bus tour from Tokyo, around two hours away. Hakone, a town within the volcanically active Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, is known for its expansive views and rich nature. It's also in a prime position to see Mount Fuji—a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the highest mountain in Japan, at 12,390 feet (3,776 m).
Among the main attractions, you will find a cable car with which you can reach the active volcanic area of Owakudani and a short cruise on Lake Ashi from which to observe the magnificent Mount Fuji in the distance. You'll also have the chance to enjoy a local lunch and go souvenir shopping.
Day 5: Transfer to Kyoto, Visit Nishiki Market
Today, it's goodbye Tokyo, hello Kyoto! You'll ride the bullet train to get there, which takes three hours. You'll instantly see a contrast between modern Tokyo and the preserved traditional city of Kyoto. This former imperial capital is brimming with history and magnificent pre-war buildings, as it was largely untouched by bombs during World War II. The culture is also one of times gone by, from its atmospheric shrines to geisha entertainers.
Upon arrival, jump straight into traditional Japanese culture at the colorful Nishiki Market, which spans five blocks. Known as "Kyoto's Kitchen," the market is all about fresh produce, from seafood to green tea, to Kyoto specialties like pickles and sweets. Get in line with the locals to try some of Kyoto's local dishes, such as yu dofu (boiled tofu) and nishin soba (noodles with dried herring).
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 6: Hike at Fushimi Inari Shrine & Explore Kyoto
In a small group tour, you'll see the shrine of Fushimi Inari Taisha, where you can walk inside the 10,000 "lucky" red gates popularized by the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha." The walkway leads up to sacred Mount Inari, where you'll find grottoes filled with lit candles and stone foxes. If you'd like to hike the whole trail, it will take around two to three hours (3 mi/5 km, but with lots of steps). The shrine draws millions of visitors a year—but the higher you go, the fewer people there are!Finish your day visiting Nijo Castle, a UNESCO site built in 1603, as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu—one of the most powerful men in Japan. Creaky floorboards were installed to warn of anyone approaching. There'll also be a chance to visit the Buddhist temple of Kiyomizudera, in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, a setting that provides a beautiful panorama.
Day 7: Kyoto's Geisha District, Traditional Tea Ceremony
Today, you'll have the chance to enjoy atmospheric Kyoto and take in its highlights, along with a guide who will share insights into the city's history and culture. Stroll among towering bamboo at the exquisite Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, then visit the temples of Kinkaku-ji ("Golden Pavilion") and Ryoan-ji—known for its Zen garden. You'll also walk into the Gion geisha district, where you may spot ladies in beautifully patterned kimonos strolling around the preserved traditional streets.An optional activity today is a 45-minute tea ceremony to experience one of Japan's most famous traditions. Step inside a machiya (townhouse), in the historical neighborhood of Ninenzaka, at the heart of Kyoto's famous Higashiyama district. Guided by an expert, you'll discover the intricacies and delicate process of the tea ceremony and tea making while enjoying seasonal sweets.
Day 8: Day Trip to Nara & Uji
Discover the beautiful regions of Nara and Uji on a day trip from Kyoto. With their scenic gardens, parks, temples, and shrines, you'll spend the day exploring at your own pace. You'll take the train from Kyoto Station and begin at Nara's Todai-ji temple, home of the world's largest bronze statue of Buddha. In the manicured grounds, you'll find tea houses, a museum, and the roaming deer of Nara, which are tame enough to be fed by visitors. Walk around its Isui-en (which translates as "garden founded on water")—this peaceful, manicured garden features tea houses and a museum with Korean and Chinese collections.
Before leaving Nara, swing by Kasuga Taisha, a shrine with distinctive architecture and a sloping roof extending over the front of the building. Hundreds of bronze lanterns are placed around the building, donations from worshipers. The lanterns are lit twice yearly during two lantern festivals, in early February and mid-August.
Next up is Uji, located between Kyoto and Nara and 50 minutes by train from Nara. The Byodo-in temple here is the one portrayed on the back of 10 yen coins. Nearby, you'll find traditional stores offering quality green tea (try the green tea ice cream, if you dare), as well as noodles, matcha, and sweets. The Byodo-in Omotesando neighborhood is the best place for dinner and souvenir shopping.
Day 9: Transfer to Osaka, Tombori River Cruise, Night Food Tour
Transfer from Nara to your final destination of Osaka, an hour's train ride away. Say hello to one of Japan's most vibrant cities, often described as Tokyo's younger and cooler sibling. You'll start with a 20-minute river cruise in one of the liveliest areas of Osaka, Dotonburi (pronounced Dotombori). A boat along the Dotonburi River is a great way to experience the neon city lights, particularly during the Christmas season. Not only are holiday decorations strung across the bridges, the animated cruise guide even dresses up as Santa Claus.
Day 10: Explore Osaka, Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine
Take this free day to explore Osaka, or you can choose to sightsee with a private guide. Start by visiting one of the country's most famous landmarks, Osaka Castle. The castle grounds span 15 acres (6 ha) and provide a panoramic view of Osaka. You can get a different perspective of the castle on a boat trip around its moat before venturing inside to learn about the pivotal role that the castle played in unifying the nation of Japan.
Next, it's on to Sumiyoshi Taisha, one of the oldest shrines in Japan. The carefully preserved sanctuary grounds are a national treasure for their architectural and cultural value. The city's modern attractions are just as worthwhile, including bustling markets, the colorful district of Dotombori, the landmark Tsutenkaku Tower, the futuristic aquarium, and Abeno Harukas, currently the tallest building in Japan. Foodies won't want to miss a visit to the Cup Noodles Museum Osaka Ikeda, dedicated to the art of instant ramen. Come the evening, go out for modern or traditional Japanese cuisine in the evening before hitting the nightclub district.
Day 11: Depart Osaka
It's time to say your goodbyes and meet your private driver for a transfer to Kansai International Airport in Osaka. Have a safe and comfortable journey home or to your next destination!
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