This trip will take you to all the places you shouldn't miss on your first trip to Japan. Discover both the traditional and modern sides of Japan at shrines and temples, witness technological innovation at an amazing digital art exhibition and a crazy robot cabaret, and get involved in hands-on cooking and craft classes. This 13-day tour is a perfect introduction to the best of Japan.

Highlights

  • Make your own sushi under the guidance of a trained chef
  • Travel back in time to Edo-era Japan at Edo Wonderland
  • Enjoy a BBQ in the shadow of Mt Fuji
  • Explore the deer-filled island of Miyajima

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Tokyo! Tokyo
Day 2 Make your own sushi at Tsukiji - Visit Tokyo's fashion district, Harajuku Tokyo
Day 3 Experience the future of technology at Odaiba Tokyo
Day 4 Sumo and sake Tokyo
Day 5 Travel to Nikko Tokyo
Day 6 In the shadow of Mt. Fuji Fujikawaguchiko
Day 7 Exploring Mt. Fuji Fujikawaguchiko
Day 8 Memoirs of a Geisha in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 9 Ride through Arashiyama Kyoto
Day 10 Day trip to Nara Kyoto
Day 11 The reborn city of Hiroshima Hiroshima
Day 12 Miyajima Island Hiroshima
Day 13 Farewell and departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Tokyo!

Welcome to Japan!
Welcome to Japan!

Welcome to Tokyo! We can arrange for someone to collect you from the airport and take you to your accommodations. You will also meet your local representative, who will orientate you to your trip as well as organize any train passes and tickets you may need for the duration of your time in Japan.

Depending on what time you arrive, we can arrange for a couple of activities to start your trip off with a bang:

  • Get an idea of just how big the city is with a visit to Tokyo Skytree. At 2080 feet (634 m), it's the world's tallest tower. As well as being the primary broadcasting site for the Kanto region, it also offers spectacular views of Tokyo, with a 360-degree observation deck and a sky-high restaurant. On a clear day you may even glimpse Mt. Fuji in the distance!
  • Take a walk through the grounds of  the city's oldest and most historically significant temple, Sensoji. Said to have been founded when two brothers fished a statue of the goddess Kannon out of the Sumida River. The neighboring Asakusa Shrine also highlights the stark differences between Shinto and Buddhist belief systems.  
  • Head to Shibuya for your pick of restaurants, and try some of the city's best cuisine. We can make dinner reservations for you for any one of the city's highly-rated restaurants.
  • Finish off the evening with a trip to a Japanese izakaya (bar) to get a taste of all of the different kinds of shochu, sake, and umeshu on offer.  

Day 2: Make your own sushi at Tsukiji - Visit Tokyo's fashion district, Harajuku

Make your own sushi
Make your own sushi

Tokyo has been home to the largest fish market in the world for the better part of a century. Tsukiji Fish Market was constructed just after the devastating 1923 earthquake, and quickly became the biggest wholesale dealer of fish in the country. Although this portion of the market has now been moved to Toyosu, the Outer Tsukiji Market still remains as lively as ever, and is a must for anyone who loves sushi.

Take a guided tour of Tsukiji and/or the Toyosu Fish Markets. After selecting your own fresh cuts of fish, use your hand-picked fish to make your own sushi under the guidance of a trained chef. 

In the afternoon you will head to the trendy fashion hub of Harajuku. As you walk down famous Takeshita Street, be sure to stop by the rainbow candyfloss and crepe stands, as well as the fascinating costume galleries and character cafes. Visit the world-famous Kawaii Monster Cafe, to get a glimpse of Japan's kawaii culture. The brightly colored food, live performances from waitresses dressed like cartoon characters, and vibrant decor make it a memorable experience. 

For a brief respite from the neon and busyness, check out Meiji Jingu Shrine, one of Tokyo's most spiritually significant religious structures. Take a leisurely stroll through its forested grounds for a respite in the middle of the city. 

You'll then walk across to Shibuya to enjoy another one of the country's most famous sights, Shibuya Crossing. Featured in several films, there can be as many as 2500 people crossing the road at a time! The area is also packed with dozens of great restaurants, as well as nightclubs if you want to extend your exploration into the night. This neighborhood never sleeps!

Day 3: Experience the future of technology at Odaiba

A room full of lanterns
A room full of lanterns

The artificial island of Odaiba has so many amazing and futuristic things to see and do. Even traveling to the island is fun, as you can take a cruise through Tokyo Bay to get there, or cross the Rainbow Bridge.

TeamLab has a permanent interactive art exhibition on the island that gives new meaning to the term 'modern art'. Be prepared to color in, follow art along the walls, gasp in awe, and take loads of photos.

As an optional extra you can visit the Toyota City Showcase. Car enthusiasts won't want to miss this. Check out the latest innovations in the technology zone, reminisce about the old days as you wander through the vintage car collection rooms at the history garage, or test-drive your favorite car on their private track (an international driving license is necessary).  

In the evening, get ready to experience one of Tokyo's wackiest shows at the Robot Restaurant. Less of a culinary experience and more of a theatrical one, this 90-minute show is jam-packed with neon lights, vibrant music, and is a great way to experience Japan's crazy techno culture.

At night, weave in and out of the alleys surrounding the famous Golden Gai district, and enjoy choosing from 200+ bars. Some bars only offer 3-5 seats, making for an intimate and memorable experience.

Day 4: Sumo and sake

Barrels of sake
Barrels of sake

Today you'll get a deeper insight into some traditional and spiritual aspects of Japanese culture.

Did you know that sumo wrestling is less of a sport and more of a spiritual ceremony? It began centuries ago as a ritual to entertain the gods, and is all about purification of one's heart and mind. You will learn all this and more as you observe a morning sumo training session in Ryogoku, and witness the pure skill and power of these athletes. 

A short walk will take you to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, where you will discover what it was like to live in Edo-period Japan. Learn about how the residents worked together to build and protect their communities while traversing the halls of a replica Edo-era town. 

Later, visiting one of Tokyo’s sake tasting centers is a fun way to learn how to pair sake with food. Drink as much or as little as you want at this center, which offers more than 80 different kinds of Japanese sake and shochu.

Day 5: Travel to Nikko

The carvings of Toshogu shrine
The carvings of Toshogu Shrine

Just north of Tokyo lies Nikko, home of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Toshogu Shrine, which is also the mausoleum of Japan’s last shogun. The shrine is one of the most beautiful in Japan, and is marked contrast to the typically simple Shinto structures. It's impossible not to be amazed at the sheer detail of the hundreds of intricate and carefully painted figures, which seem to grow out of the shrine itself. 

Also in the area is Rinnoji, Nikko's most important temple. On the grounds you will find a treasure house displaying fascinating exhibits from both shogun and Buddhist history, a small yet charming Japanese garden, and a shrine that is said to house Nikko's three mountain gods.

No visit to Nikko is complete without a trip to its recreated Edo-era town, Edo Wonderland. It's a great place for some light-hearted fun. Dress up in traditional Edo attire, and choose from a variety of activities like hariko-doll painting, makeup artistry, samurai sword fighting, and archery, to name but a few. The fantastic ninja and magic shows, mazes, and ninja trickhouse are also worth some time.

Day 6: In the shadow of Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji can be quite shy at times. On a clear day, you can see it from Tokyo, but on a cloudy day it’s hard to see it from just a short distance away. The best place to see it is from Lake Kawaguchi. Right at the base of the iconic mountain, the town offers a great choice of ryokan inns for those looking for a traditional experience. There are also multiple onsens, which offer outdoor hot springs baths with a perfect view of Mt. Fuji.

Today you will take a trip to the picturesque crafts village of Iyashi no Sato. This is an open-air museum on the edge of Lake Saiko, which used to be a small farming village. Now, the thatched-roof houses have been converted into workshops, restaurants and small shops. Dress up in traditional kimono or yukata and choose from a variety of fun and creative activities, including ceramic pottery painting, glass kaleidoscope and metal work, soba noodle making, fabric ornament crafting, and incense making.

Stroll around the northern border of the lake as you watch the sun set over the mountain, before calling it a day with a mouth-watering traditional Japanese meal before bed.

Day 7: Exploring Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji from Chureito Pagoda

There are so many things to do in the Lake Kawaguchi area. Today, the choice of what to do is up to you. Here are some of your options:

  • Narusawa Ice Caves. These 501 foot (153 m)-long caves are fascinating to explore. They are a lava tunnel formed from Fuji erupting centuries ago, and are filled with ice pillars all year long.
  • Chureito Pagoda.One of the most iconic views of Mt. Fuji can be seen from here. The pagoda is especially stunning during the spring and autumn months, when the trees turn pink and gold, respectively. However, it's worth visiting in any season.
  • Fujikyu Highland. This is one of Japan's most popular theme parks. It offers rollercoasters (one of which is the steepest in the world) as well as several anime-themed attractions based on popular films and TV series.
  • Shinobi no Sato Ninja Village. Here, you get the chance to try being a ninja. It's a ninja-themed town designed for children, with ninja shows and the opportunity to perform stunts, throw ninja weapons, and anything else you need to turn into a stealthy ninja warrior.
  • Boat rides. There are several companies offering different kinds of boat rides on the lake, from swan pedal boats to private party crafts with on-board BBQs for large groups.

Whatever you want to do today, your travel specialist will help you arrange the experience. 

Day 8: Memoirs of a Geisha in Kyoto

A 'maiko' walking the streets of Kyoto
A 'maiko' walking the streets of Kyoto

Japan's former capital, Kyoto, is bursting with history, and is a lot more traditional than Tokyo. Things here move at a much slower pace and the people tend to be a lot more laid back.

One of your first stops in Kyoto will be one of the most famous shrines in Japan, the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Featured in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, this shrine has over 10,000 picturesque red torii gates donated by people and businesses from all over Japan.

Your next activity is a traditional Japanese arts show. As well as offering a  chance to see a performance by a maiko (trainee geisha), this 60-minute theatrical experience also introduces you to other various skilled artists such as ikebana flower arrangers, puppeteers, Japanese harp players, and court musicians.

In the evening, take a walk through the bustling streets of Pontocho. Right next to the Kamogawa River, this area is packed with restaurants and bars. You can also request for a private dinner or tea ceremony to be arranged, if you wish.

Day 9: Ride through Arashiyama

Arashiyama bamboo grove
Arashiyama bamboo grove

Just outside Kyoto is the tranquil area of Arashiyama. You will start your day with a ride on an open-air train (this doesn't operate in winter). You'll get amazing views of the river and surrounding forest. Then, travel down the Hozugawa River on a traditional Japanese boat. Depending on the season, you could be floating past banks lined with 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.

Take a tour of some of Arashiyama's must-see sites. Tenryuji Temple is a World Heritage Site, and houses one of the most picturesque and ancient landscape gardens in the entire country, including a gorgeous and otherworldly bamboo grove. Also in the area you'll find Nonomiya Shrine and the Iwatayama Monkey Park, where macaques roam freely. 

If you're up for a walk, there is a special temple housing hundreds of statues, all carved by different people. If you look closely you'll find some of these Buddhist statues sporting glasses and carrying cellphones.

If you wish, you can choose an optional activity in Arashiyama. There's a place here where you can not only watch a swordsmith forging Japanese steel, but actually forge your own kogatana, like a mini samurai sword. Travelers who would like to try this creative hands-on experience can easily replace the open-air train ride for this activity.

Day 10: Day trip to Nara

A lone deer on the grounds of Nara
A lone deer in the temple grounds of Nara

Nara is famous for having the largest Buddha statue in Japan, which is an impressive sight to behold. The deer that roam freely around the temple grounds of Todaiji are also an amazing sight, and they have no fear of humans! Today will be a free day for you to spend exploring Nara at your leisure.

Day 11: The reborn city of Hiroshima

A monument at Hiroshima Peace Park
A monument at Hiroshima Peace Park

Hiroshima is a special place in Japan for many reasons. While visiting Hiroshima today you will learn about the events of World War II at the Atomic Dome Museum and the Hiroshima Peace Park, but also how the city built itself back up again.

Hiroshima has other attractions besides those related to the war. Hiroshima Castle used to be an important seat of power in this part of Japan. Like much of the city, it was destroyed during WW2, but visitors can see the rebuilt castle.

After a meal of okonomiyaki, a popular dish in the area, you will have the evening to relax.

Day 12: Miyajima Island

Red torii in the waters of Miyajima
Red torii in the waters of Miyajima

Today you'll visit the island of Miyajima, a rare location in Japan that has never experienced an earthquake. This means that many of the temples and shrines are original, and centuries old.

Travel there via a short ferry ride; be sure to stand on the deck to get a good view of the giant red torii gate of Miyajima rising out of the sea. During your time on the island you will visit Daisho Temple, Itsukushima Shrine, and Mt. Misen via a scenic ropeway. The view from the top of the mountain, across the inland sea dotted with islands, is superb. The island is also populated with friendly deer, which kids and even adults really enjoy.

Day 13: Farewell and departure

Japanese shrine
Japanese shrine

Your Japan tour has come to an end, and it's time to return to the airport for your onward travels. You'll be transferred in good time to check in for your flight. Sayonara!