This unique 14-day tour will take you to the major cities and destinations of Japan as well as hidden destinations that few tourists explore. You'll see Tokyo's futuristic neon lights, explore rice fields during a homestay in Izumo, wander through traditional temples in the company of native deer in Nara, relax on pristine beaches in the remote Goto islands, and more. Traveling through various destinations by steam train, ferry, and a traditional boat, you'll get an intimate glimpse into Japanese ways of life.

Highlights

  • View Tokyo's skyscrapers from the top of a ferris wheel
  • Experience Japanese culture during a homestay in Izumo
  • Ride an open-air steam train through gorgeous mountain scenery
  • Explore the abandoned islands of Goto
  • Craft your own customized bottle of sake infused with local fruits
  • Take in one of the world's best night views in Nagasaki

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Create Your Own Japanese Sake Tokyo
Day 2 Enjoy Views of Tokyo Tokyo
Day 3 Go Back in Time to the Edo Era Tokyo
Day 4 Discover the Future of Japanese Tech  Tokyo
Day 5 Relax During a Countryside Homestay in Izumo Izumo
Day 6 Walk Through Rice Fields in Izumo Izumo
Day 7 Meet a Geisha & See Yasaka Shrine Kyoto
Day 8 Explore Amanohashidate's Temples & Shrines Kyoto
Day 9 Wander Around Nara with Native Deer Kyoto
Day 10 Take the Steam Train to Arashiyama Ferry
Day 11 Discover the Mysterious Goto Islands Fukuejima
Day 12 Explore Oushima Island  Fukuejima
Day 13 Enjoy Huis Ten Bosch Theme Park Nagasaki
Day 14 Nagasaki Historical Tour - Depart Japan Tokyo

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Create Your Own Japanese Sake 

Sensouji temple
Sensoji Temple in Tokyo

Welcome to Japan! Get oriented in Tokyo with a visit to the world’s tallest tower. At 2,080 feet (634 meters), the Tokyo Skytree offers spectacular views as far as Mount Fuji from its 360-degree observation deck. Afterward, take a walk through the grounds of Sensoji, the city's oldest and most historically significant temple. Legends say it was founded when two brothers fished a statue of the goddess Kannon out of the Sumida River

Today you will also have the chance to create your own authentic Japanese fruit liqueur. First, you will taste Japanese sake at a superstore with over 100 different varieties of sake, all sourced from different places around Japan. Then choose the fruits that you would like to incorporate into a unique blend. Plums are often a popular choice! After you have sourced all your ingredients, you will start preparing your concoction using traditional Japanese methods. Once you have finished, it will marinate for two weeks. At the end of the tour, you will be able to try out your very own fruit liqueur.

Day 2: Enjoy Views of Tokyo

Shibuya crossing from a birds-eye view
Shibuya from a bird's-eye view

Enjoy magnificent views of Tokyo from three famous viewpoints today, each of which offers a unique perspective on the bustling city. First, you will descend more than 66 feet (20 meters) below the surface of the city to the Underground Temple. After you’ve explored the expansive underground of the temple, you will depart for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. You will ride up 756 feet (230 meters) for a panoramic view of Tokyo, including breathtaking architecture across the city. You will end the day by visiting the world-famous Shibuya intersection. This spot offers you an on-the-ground experience of the city and the opportunity to choose one of the many great restaurants in the area for an evening meal.

Day 3: Go Back in Time to the Edo Era

The Imperial Palace
Reflections at the Imperial Palace

Today, you will learn a little bit about Tokyo’s past. The day will start fairly early in the morning with a visit to see sumo wrestlers training for competition. Afterward, head to the heart of the city to the gardens of the Imperial Palace, then onward to Tsukiji for an inside look at one of the world’s busiest fish markets. Next, prepare to transport yourself back in time to the Edo era during an authentic kabuki theater show. You will also visit a small sumo wrestling exhibit and dine in a local restaurant before heading out to zig-zag your way through the hundreds of bars in the glittering Golden Gai district.

Day 4: Discover the Future of Japanese Tech

The man-made island of Odaiba
The manmade island of Odaiba

Today you'll explore the artificial island of Odaiba, a hot spot for futuristic fun. The trip to this shopping and entertainment district is enjoyable, whether you arrive by taking a cruise through Tokyo Bay or by crossing the colorful Rainbow Bridge. Start at TeamLab, a permanent interactive art exhibition on the island that gives new meaning to the term "modern art" — be prepared to follow art as it moves along the walls. Car enthusiasts can also visit the nearby Toyota City Showcase. Check out the latest innovations in the technology zone, reminisce about the old days in the vintage car collection rooms, or test-drive a favorite car on their private track (an international driving license is required). The nearby Miraikan Museum (officially the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) is a fantastic place to learn about everything future-tech in a fun and interactive way.

Day 5: Relax During a Countryside Homestay in Izumo

Woven slippers in the entryway of a Japanese home

Transfer by train today to the town of Izumo. You'll meet your Japanese host family and get settled in your homestay, where you will spend the next two days. The homestay offers an authentic experience of small-town life in Japan, vastly different from the fast-paced lifestyle of Tokyo. While spending time with a Japanese family, you will have an incredible opportunity to discover and experience the local culture.

The itinerary for this portion of the trip depends on what your host family would like to show you during this time, which will be shaped by your interests. Whatever you do today, the experience gives you the chance to build new relationships with Japanese people, learn more about the culture, eat traditional Japanese food, and gain a better understanding of the Japanese lifestyle and etiquette.

Day 6: Walk Through Rice Fields in Izumo

Izumo Taisha shrine
Izumo Taisha, an ancient Shinto shrine

After breakfast in the home of your host family, take some time to explore Izumo and the surrounding area. Walk through peaceful rice fields, visit Izumo Taisha — one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan — or head out to some of the region's beautiful beaches and relaxing natural hot spring bathhouses. You'll enjoy another homecooked meal with your host family in the evening, then stay overnight in the homestay once more.  

Day 7: Meet a Geisha & Visit Yasaka Shrine

A geisha walking the streets
A geisha in the street in Kyoto

After saying farewell to your host family, you will head to Kyoto. Start your visit in the Higashiyama district of the old capital with a meet and greet with a geisha in training (a maiko, or as they are sometimes known in Kyoto, a geiko). Together, you'll enjoy some matcha tea and conversation. Afterward, head to Yasaka Shrine to view one of the only shrines open at night. To finish off the day, explore the Pontocho area, packed with world-class restaurants, then walk along the Kamogawa River while enjoying the mellow evening ambiance of Kyoto.

Day 8: Explore Amanohashidate's Temples & Shrines

Amanohashidate in winter
Amanohashidate in winter

The day will start early as you make your way to the scenic sandbar of Amanohashidate, a hidden gem in the Kyoto region and one of Japan’s top three scenic sites. This sandbar's name literally translates to "the bridge to heaven," and the place is known for making wishes come true. The region is home to beautiful beaches, making it a fantastic destination in summer, but it's equally stunning in the colder months when a light covering of snow gives the area a winter wonderland feel. While here, you will also visit Chionji Temple and Motoise Shrine. Then return to Kyoto to spend the night. 

Day 9: Wander Around Nara with Native Deer

An inquisitive deer
An inquisitive deer 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. Then head to Naramachi, the city's former merchant district, to see traditional homes and buildings preserved from as far back as the early 1600s. 

Day 10: Take the Steam Train to Arashiyama 

The Arashiyama bamboo forest
The Arashiyama bamboo forest

The day will start with a trip to Kameoka on an open-air steam train that weaves its way through a spectacular and colorful mountain landscape. Then, you will take a traditional boat ride down the river, making your way to the Arashiyama district to 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.

To end the afternoon, leave Japan's old capital behind and transfer to the island destination of Fukuoka. Go for a dip in natural hot springs before catching an overnight ferry to the Goto Archipelago.

Day 11: Discover the Mysterious Goto Islands

Goto Islands
Pristine beaches on the Goto Islands

This morning you will wake up in the middle of an island-speckled sea before docking on Fukue Island. (If you wake up in time for the sunrise, you can expect a spectacular view from the front deck of the boat.) Welcome to the Goto Islands, an archipelago steeped in mystery with a rich history. Kuroshima is a near-abandoned island with only two residents: a 96-year-old woman and her daughter. Your journey starts on the main island of Fukuejima, which was settled by Christians fleeing persecution. You'll learn about their story and enjoy a bike ride around the island to Dozaki Church, where you will see relics that held significance to Christian settlers. Stop at one of the island's pristine beaches to take in the scenery and go for a swim, if the weather's warm. To cap off the day, you'll visit a one-of-a-kind ramen karaoke bar for dinner, drinks, and entertainment.

Day 12: Explore Oushima Island

Hidden islands in Goto
A quiet isle in the Goto Islands

On your second day exploring the Goto islands, visit Oushima (Yellow Island). This fascinating island was once heavily populated during the whaling boom in the region. Today, there are more cats than humans on the island. While abandoned schools, homes, and boats are common sights here, this small fisherman’s island is still alive in its own way. After walking around the island, you'll visit a cave, then make your way back to Fukue Island for some free time. Dine on freshly caught fish in a local restaurant on your last night in the archipelago. 

Day 13: Enjoy Huis Ten Bosch Theme Park

The view from Mt Inasa
The striking view from Mount Inasayama

Today you'll take a trip to Sasebo and spend the day at the theme park Huis Ten Bosch. Designed to look like a Dutch village, this exciting theme park is twice the size of Disneyland. In the evening, continue to Nagasaki to see one of the best night views on earth from the top of Mount Inasayama. Look out at the amazing lights of Nagasaki and the harbor below on your last night in Japan.

Day 14: Nagasaki Historical Tour - Depart Japan

A local in Dejima
Walking around the island of Dejima

On the final day of the tour, visit some of the historic sites around Nagasaki. Start at the reclaimed island of Dejima to learn about the influence that the Dutch had on Japan as well as the relationship between the two nations. After that, visit Peace Park to learn about the events that took place in the city during World War II. Then head back to Tokyo to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

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Map

Map of Off the Beaten Path in Japan - 14 days
Map of Off the Beaten Path in Japan - 14 days