Set off on a 16-day cultural discovery across Japan's vibrant cities and natural landscapes. Begin the adventure in Tokyo, where you'll explore the city's oldest temple and delve into bonsai culture at a nearby museum. Then, take a train to Takayama to admire ornate festival floats and learn how to make traditional crafts. From here, visit Shirakawa-go to see traditional farmhouses, watch a geisha performance in Kyoto, and stay in an active temple on Mount Koya before ending this whirlwind trip in Osaka.


  • Visit a saké museum in Kobe and sip Japanese whisky at the foot of Mount Fuji
  • Join a traditional crafts workshop and choose between activities, like silk-dying
  • Read the wishes of 10,000 donors inscribed on torii gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha
  • Hike a portion of the 14.9-mile (24 km) Koyasan Choishi Michi Pilgrimage Trail

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Tokyo, Food & Walking Tour in the Yanaka District Tokyo
Day 2 Full-Day Tokyo City Tour with Senso-ji Temple Tokyo
Day 3 Explore Omiya Bonsai Museum & Omiya Bonsai Village Tokyo
Day 4 Fuji Five Lakes Tour, Whisky Tasting at Fuji Gotemba Distillery Tokyo
Day 5 Train to Takayama, Explore the Town at Your Own Pace Takayama
Day 6 Full-Day Tour of Takayama Takayama
Day 7 Transfer to Kanazawa via the Village of Shirakawa-go Kanazawa
Day 8 Visit Kenrokuen Garden & Kanazawa Castle, Make Traditional Crafts Kanazawa
Day 9 Train to Kyoto, Walking Tour of Gion & Geisha Performance Kyoto
Day 10 Discover Kyoto's Temples & Shrines, Shop at Nishiki Market  Kyoto
Day 11 Rickshaw Tour of Arashiyama Kyoto
Day 12 Train to Mount Koya, Visit the Okunoin Cemetery on Your Own Mount Koya
Day 13 Explore Mount Koya's Temples, Pagodas & Pilgrimage Trails Mount Koya
Day 14 Train to Osaka, Explore the Port City on Your Own Osaka
Day 15 Visit the Hakutsuru Saké Brewery Museum & Himeji Castle Osaka
Day 16 Depart Osaka  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo, Food & Walking Tour in the Yanaka District

Walk down the azalea-lined pathway to the main hall of Nezu Shrine

Welcome to Tokyo, the bustling capital of Japan! Meet your driver outside the airport and transfer to your hotel in the city. After refreshing, follow your guide to the Yanaka district on a food and walking tour, starting at Nezu Shrine, a Shinto shrine built in 1705. Enter through the towering torii gates and follow the path lined with colorful azalea bushes to the main hall. Admire the intricate carvings and vibrant colors of the shrine, then explore the sacred grounds full of koi-filled ponds, vermillion bridges, and stone lanterns.

After exploring the shrine and its natural surroundings, continue to a nearby café to rest and enjoy traditional sweets and drinks. You can also try your hand at painting a ceramic maneki-neko (lucky cat) to obtain happiness and luck and take home a personal souvenir. Don't fill up on snacks here, as your next stop is to street food stalls selling mochi, a sweet rice cake typically filled with red bean paste, and dorayaki, red bean pancakes. Break up the sweets with a delicious bowl of soba noodles for lunch to end the half-day tour.

Day 2: Full-Day Tokyo City Tour with Senso-ji Temple

Stroll down the bustling shopping street of Nakamise-dori to get to Senso-ji

Spend a full day exploring some of Tokyo's most iconic landmarks, starting at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, built in 1920 to commemorate Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Step through the towering torii gate into the expansive grounds enveloped in a lush forest. Follow the gravel path to the main complex to take in the grandeur of traditional Japanese architecture and witness solemn Shinto ceremonies. Participate in a ritual yourself by praying and leaving an offering at the shrine before continuing to the Tsukiji Outer Fish Market, a bustling hub for food enthusiasts.

Navigate the narrow lanes lined with stalls offering a variety of seafood-heavy dishes, such as fresh sushi or grilled scallops. Once you've had your fill, continue to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace to stroll along the meandering paths and look out at the traditional tea houses, scenic ponds, and picturesque bridges. Another highlight is a stop at Senso-ji, the oldest temple in the city, built in 645 CE. Walk down the busy shopping street of Nakamise-dori to get to the main hall adorned with sacred artifacts. On your way out, pick up an omikuji to read your fortune and end the tour.

Day 3: Explore Omiya Bonsai Museum & Omiya Bonsai Village

Learn about bonsai trees and how to care for them at the Explore Omiya Bonsai Museum 

Leave Tokyo behind for the day as you transfer 30 minutes north to Saitama to visit the Omiya Bonsai Museum. Enter to discover the vast collection of miniature bonsai trees, as well as artwork, like pottery and paintings, depicting bonsai trees in different natural landscapes. After exploring inside, stroll through the beautifully landscaped garden surrounding the museum to see 40 to 50 stunning bonsai trees on display. 

In the afternoon, continue to Omiya Bonsai Village, renowned as the epicenter of bonsai culture as many gardeners fled here after the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 in search of suitable land and soil to cultivate bonsai. Walk along the narrow pathways throughout the village, looking out at the bonsai trees, ranging from lofty pines to delicate flowering specimens. Pop in and out of the nurseries and private gardens welcoming visitors to learn about the meticulous care and techniques involved in shaping these natural wonders before returning to your hotel in Tokyo in the evening.

Day 4: Fuji Five Lakes Tour, Whisky Tasting at Fuji Gotemba Distillery

Climb up to the Chureito Pagoda for panoramic views of the snowcapped Mount Fuji

Trade the city for the countryside this morning as you transfer 1.5 hours to the Fuji Five Lakes region to see Mount Fuji from Arakurayama Sengen Park. Ascend to the Chureito Pagoda perched on the hillside for panoramic views of the snowcapped mountain against the backdrop of seasonal foliage (like pink cherry blossoms if you visit in spring). In the afternoon, jump on a boat and cruise across Lake Kawaguchi to appreciate Mount Fuji from the glassy waters. If you're not a fan of boats, you can take a ride on the Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway instead.

As the cable car gracefully ascends, enjoy sweeping views of the lake, the lush greenery, and the picturesque villages. When you reach the observation deck, look out at the snowcapped peak of Mount Fuji. After thoroughly appreciating the mountain's beauty, start the drive back to Tokyo, stopping at Fuji Gotemba Distillery on the way. Step inside and learn about the meticulous whisky-making process, from the malting to the fermentation and distillation stages. Sample the different malt and grain whiskies before returning to your hotel in the city.

Day 5: Train to Takayama, Explore the Town at Your Own Pace

Visit the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall to see the ornate floats used in annual festivals

Bid farewell to Tokyo this morning as you head to the station to catch a 4.5-hour bullet train to Takayama, a historic city nestled in the Japanese Alps. When you arrive, make your way to your hotel to refresh, then venture out to explore the area on your own. Stroll down the Higashiyama Walking Course, a scenic path that winds through the heart of the town. Follow the cobblestone paths flanked by historic temples, shrines, and traditional merchant houses. If you visit during spring, you can stroll beneath the canopies of cherry blossom trees or vibrant plum trees in winter.

When you've completed the path, head to the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall to learn about the town's renowned spring and autumn festivals. Step into the main hall, where you'll be greeted by a dazzling display of ornate floats full of intricate carvings, vibrant tapestries, and elaborate mechanical puppets. Browse the exhibits detailing the history and significance of these masterpieces before ending your self-guided tour at the Miyagawa River to enjoy a walk along the waterway and pick between a wide range of restaurants for dinner.

Day 6: Full-Day Tour of Takayama

Admire the well-preserved merchant houses and storefronts in Takayama

Dive into Takayama's rich history and culture on a full-day tour, starting at one of the city's morning markets. Browse the stalls full of handmade crafts, fresh produce, and culinary delights to look for souvenirs or sample street food like Hida beef skewers or mitarashi dango, a sweet rice dumpling glazed with soy sauce. Continue to Nakabashi, a crimson bridge spanning the Miyagawa River. Look out at the well-preserved Edo-period buildings and crystal-clear water before crossing the bridge to Kusakabe Folk Museum, which you can find in a restored merchant house.

Slide the delicate paper doors open to discover each room full of artifacts, traditional tools, and household items, providing insight into what the daily life of a prosperous merchant family was like. End the tour at Kamisannomachi, the town's historic district, to wander along the cobblestone lanes lined with artisanal shops, traditional teahouses, and ancient machiya houses. In the evening, visit one of the many restaurants in the old town to try shabu shabu, a Japanese hot pot with thinly sliced meat, such as Hida beef, and vegetables. 
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Day 7: Transfer to Kanazawa via the Village of Shirakawa-go

Admire the traditional farmhouses in the UNESCO-listed village of Shirakawa-go

Venture into the Japanese countryside this morning with a visit to the UNESCO-listed village of Shirakawa-go, just one hour outside of Takayama. Disembark from the bus and follow your guide through the village to admire its distinctive gassho-zukuri architecture (traditional farmhouses characterized by their steep, thatched roofs). Stroll along the cobblestone streets to see the well-preserved farmhouses up close, some dating back over 250 years. Visit the Wada House, one of the largest farmhouses in the village, to explore the museum within.

Go from room to room to learn about the daily life of the Wada family, who inhabited the house for over two centuries. Browse the collection of artifacts and tools, then continue to the Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck for panoramic views of the village. Look out at the rural landscape, which changes depending on the season, but is always idyllic. After thoroughly exploring the area, jump on a bus for a 1.5-hour transfer to Kanazawa, nestled on the coast overlooking the Sea of Japan. Upon arrival, make your way to the hotel, where you can relax for the rest of the evening.

Day 8: Visit Kenrokuen Garden & Kanazawa Castle, Make Traditional Crafts

Learn how to create your own pottery or participate in other traditional craft workshops

Start your half-day exploration of Kanazawa at the tranquil Kenrokuen Garden, which was constructed by the Maeda family during the Edo period. Stroll along the garden's paths, looking out at the meandering streams, serene ponds, bubbling water features, and traditional tea houses. After exploring the garden, continue to Kanazawa Castle to learn about Japan's feudal history. Enter through the iconic Ishikawa-mon Gate and cross the well-manicured gardens to explore the Hishi Yagura keep. Browse the collection of artifacts, then head to the top floor for panoramic views of the modern cityscape below.

In the afternoon, discover why UNESCO deemed Kanazawa a City of Crafts in 2009 by partaking in a traditional crafts workshop. Choose from a variety of crafts, including lacquerware coloring, making ceramics, pasting gold leaf on small items, dying intricate silk, or learning the art of mizuhiki, Japanese knot-tying. No matter which craft you choose, you're sure to enjoy yourself, and you'll be able to take home a unique souvenir to commemorate your trip. In the evening, visit Higashi Chaya, the geisha district, on your own to enjoy a meal at one of the teahouses or restaurants lining the streets.

Day 9: Train to Kyoto, Walking Tour of Gion & Geisha Performance

Watch the geisha, adorned in colorful kimono, dance to traditional Japanese music

After breakfast, head to the station to catch a 2.5-hour bullet train to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. Make your way to the hotel, where you can relax until you join a walking tour in the evening. When it's time, follow your guide through the alleyways of Gion, a historic geisha district full of traditional wooden machiya houses. Stroll past quaint teahouses, high-end ryotei restaurants, and the torii gate marking the entrance to Yasaka Shrine, a Shinto sanctuary dating back to 656 CE.

Learn about the geisha's traditions and lifestyle, then sit down to an authentic show displaying the skill and grace of geishas and their apprentices. Sit on the floor atop tatami (straw mats) and watch as the women engage in classical music, dance, and tantalizing conversation. Admire their elaborate kimonos, intricate hairstyles, and precise movements while they tell a story without words. After the performance, take pictures with the geisha, then ask any questions you may have to gain a deeper insight into their rituals and daily life before returning to your hotel.

Day 10: Discover Kyoto's Temples & Shrines, Shop at Nishiki Market 

Stroll down the bustling alleys of Nishiki Market, sampling local delights

Although Kyoto is no longer the capital of Japan, it's still considered the country's cultural capital and is home to numerous shrines, temples, palaces, and gardens. Spend half the day exploring some of these sites, starting at the UNESCO-listed Kinkaku-ji, better known as the Golden Pavilion, as it's covered entirely in gold leaf. Stroll through the landscaped gardens and look out at the golden structure reflected in the surrounding ponds. Since you can't enter the temple, continue to another UNESCO World Heritage site, Ryoan-ji, a Zen temple built in 1450.

Pass through the famed rock garden to get to the main hall, known as the Hojo. Open the fusuma doors adorned with exquisite ink paintings to enter and watch as the sunlight filters through shoji screens. After taking in the peaceful atmosphere, visit Fushimi Inari-taisha, a shrine home to over 10,000 red torii gates, all donated by individuals or businesses and inscribed with their names and wishes. Follow the torii-lined route up to the observation deck atop the mountain, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the gates and the surrounding forest.

In the evening, visit the 400-year-old Nishiki Market, often called "Kyoto's Kitchen," to browse the hundreds of stalls offering an array of fresh produce, Kyoto specialties, and handmade goods. Sample pickled vegetables, yuba (tofu skin), Kyoto-style sushi, and other regional delights before ending the night with a sweet matcha-flavored treat, such as mochi, ice cream, or dorayaki, a pancake filled with matcha paste. Before you leave and return to the hotel, check out the Japanese kitchen knives, ceramics, and tableware to admire the artisans' attention to detail.

Day 11: Rickshaw Tour of Arashiyama

Relax and enjoy the views during a rickshaw ride through the iconic Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Sit back and relax today as you board a rickshaw, a two-wheeled vehicle pulled by a guide, to explore the district of Arashiyama on the outskirts of Kyoto. Start in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, where your guide will take you through the forest of towering green stalks that almost block out the sky. Continue to the nearby Togetsu-kyo, also known as "Moon Crossing Bridge," for panoramic views of the bamboo grove and the lush mountains surrounding the city. Once you cross the river, you'll be greeted by Iwatayama Monkey Park, home to over 120 Japanese macaques. 

Leave the rickshaw behind to climb up to the park's summit and interact with these curious creatures up close. Purchase food to give to the monkeys or just watch them play with each other against the backdrop of Kyoto's sprawling landscape. Jump back in the rickshaw to get to the UNESCO-listed Tenryu-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple built in the 14th century. Take a stroll through the manicured Sogenchi Garden and enter the temple's main hall to admire the traditional architecture. After exploring the temple, return to Kyoto on the rickshaw. 

Day 12: Train to Mount Koya, Visit the Okunoin Cemetery on Your Own

Stroll through the Okunoin Cemetery to see the moss-covered tombstones 

Say goodbye to Kyoto this morning as you head to the station on your own to catch a three-hour bullet train to Gokurakubashi Station, where you can jump on a cable car up Mount Koya, disembarking at Koyasan Station. From there, you can easily access the various temples and shrines nestled along the sacred mountain. Make your way to your shukubo, a temple lodging, to leave your bags behind and refresh before venturing out to explore on your own.

Follow signs to the Okunoin Cemetery, one of the largest and most revered cemeteries in the country. Pass the ruins of ancient temples and monasteries until you reach the sacred burial grounds. Enter the lantern-lit corridor of Torodo Hall and walk along the centuries-old tombstones belonging to countless monks, samurai, and other notable figures. At the end of the trail, visit the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. After paying your respects, return to your shukubo to meet the monks and enjoy shojin ryori, a Buddhist vegetarian dinner.

Day 13: Explore Mount Koya's Temples, Pagodas & Pilgrimage Trails

Head down the Koyasan Choishi Michi Pilgrimage Trail, starting at Daimon Gate

Spend another day exploring Mount Koya's temples, pagodas, and pilgrimage trails on your own. If you're up for a trek, you have plenty of options, including a portion of the 14.9-mile (24 km) Koyasan Choishi Michi Pilgrimage Trail. Start at Daimon Gate, following the cobblestone path through the cedar forest. Don't worry about getting lost without a guide, as there are stone markers every 357 feet (109 m) that were built in the Kamakura period to guide pilgrims. As you walk through the serene landscape, look out for ancient temples, emerald rice fields, and bubbling streams along the way.

You can turn around at any point and walk back down the same path or take a train from one of the stations lining the trail. Those who want to dive deeper into the area's rich culture and history can visit Kongobu-ji instead, as it's the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism. Admire the towering Konpon Daito Pagoda, a revered symbol of enlightenment, as you stroll through the Banryutei Rock Garden. Enter the main hall to discover the intricate paintings and religious artifacts inside. End your self-guided tour at the Reihokan Museum, where you can browse the collection of cultural treasures and artwork.

Day 14: Train to Osaka, Explore the Port City on Your Own

Climb to the top of Osaka Castle for panoramic views of the cityscape below

Get ready for an early wake-up call so you can participate in morning prayers with the monks and enjoy a traditional vegetarian meal for breakfast. After refueling, explore more of Mount Koya on your own. Visit the Okunoin Cemetary if you haven't been yet, or take a stroll through the quaint town center. When it's time, head to the station to catch a two-hour bullet train to the port city of Osaka. Make your way to the hotel and then venture out to explore the area on your own. A good place to start is Osaka Castle, a grand structure that served as both a castle and fortress in the 16th century.

Cross over the moat to get to the main tower, adorned with gilded embellishments and imposing stone walls. Ascend to the upper floors for panoramic views of the modern skyline and discover the museum within. Browse the collection of artifacts, armor, and artwork before continuing to the Shinsaibashi-suji shopping street to explore the kaleidoscope of fashion, entertainment, and gastronomic delights. Pop in and out of shops, ranging from international brands to quirky boutiques, then sample some local delights for dinner, like yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), at one of the street food stalls.

Day 15: Visit the Hakutsuru Saké Brewery Museum & Himeji Castle

Try different varieties of saké at the Hakutsuru Saké Brewery Museum

Transfer 30 minutes along Osaka Bay this morning to Kobe, Japan's seventh-largest city. Head to the Hakutsuru Saké Brewery Museum to learn about the rich history of this traditional rice wine. Discover the saké-making process, from rice polishing to fermentation and bottling, and sample one of the premium saké varieties before continuing to Kobe Harborland, nestled along the city's scenic port area. Explore the sprawling shopping complexes or just take a walk along the waterfront promenade. When you get hungry, sit down for lunch at one of the many local and international restaurants. 

In the afternoon, visit the UNESCO-listed Himeji Castle, often called the "White Heron Castle," as it resembles a majestic bird in flight. Ascend the steep stone path and navigate the labyrinthine interiors to discover the castle's ingenious defensive features, such as hidden staircases and strategic openings for archers. When you reach the top floor, take in the panoramic view of the expansive castle grounds and bustling cityscape. After exploring the castle, return to your hotel in Osaka for the night.

Day 16: Depart Osaka

Visit Kuromon Ichiba Market before your flight home to pick up some last-minute souvenirs

After spending 16 days immersing yourself in Japan's rich culture, your journey comes to a close today. If you have time before your flight, you can take a cruise along the Okawa River, passing intricate bridges and towering buildings. Look out for iconic landmarks on the shores, like Osaka City Hall with its distinct twin towers. Then visit the Kuromon Ichiba Market, to pick up any last-minute souvenirs or sample local delights. When it's time, meet your driver back at the hotel to transfer to the airport for your flight home. Safe travels!

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A note on diacritical and retroflex markings: In order to support the best technical experience and search functions, diacritical markings have been omitted from this article.


Map of Japan Cultural Discovery Tour: Tokyo, Kyoto, Mount Koya & Osaka - 16 Days
Map of Japan Cultural Discovery Tour: Tokyo, Kyoto, Mount Koya & Osaka - 16 Days